Category: Encouragement

Witness Well

A Hurdler for Christ: Paul’s training manual for victorious Christians

On Saturday afternoon, I watched my two sons participate in a college indoor track meet. Hurdling for the Boise State Broncos, they faced a historic powerhouse in track and field — the Oregon Ducks. My oldest son, Justin Malnes, finished second in the race behind the reigning Pac-12 champion from Oregon, Jonathan Cabral. Justin’s time of 7.99 not only broke the eight second barrier for the first time, but he now owns the 24th fastest time in the nation for NCAA Division I. My youngest son, Jeremy Malnes, set a personal record as a freshman and finished a very respectable ninth in the race. Here are the reports on the meet from Boise State and Oregon.

Justin Malnes in lane three lines up in 60m hurdle final.

Justin Malnes in lane three lines up in 60m hurdle final.

Track and field has always been my favorite sport to watch. With sincere joy and gratitude, I give thanks to God for allowing me the experience to watch my sons participate in this sport at one of its highest levels of competition.

Jeremy Malnes lines up in lane three for Boise State in preliminary race.

Jeremy Malnes lines up in lane three for Boise State in preliminary race.

Several years ago, I wrote a commentary for the book of Philippians. One of my favorite verses from this wonderful book is from 3:13-15.

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

(To read the commentary on these verses entitled “The Apostle Paul and Olympic Glory” please click here.]

When you read these verses, I am given the impression that the Apostle Paul would have made a wonderful track and field coach. I believe these particular verses give great tips on how to be a successful hurdler.

The 60 meter hurdles final

The 60 meter hurdles final

Tip #1: “Forget what is behind”

When you run the hurdles, it’s not a good idea to look back. When you are concentrating too much on the previous hurdle to either celebrate your success or anguish over your failure, then you will undoubtedly crash into the next hurdle. As Christians, why do we need to look back when are sins are already forgiven. We are saints in Christ Jesus, so “strain towards what is ahead” and focus on the next hurdle that lies ahead instead of those that are behind.

Tip # 2:  “Press on toward the goal”

In running the hurdles, or any track and field event, the true measure of competition is to race against your best self. Your main competition is the clock, to set a personal record, not necessarily to beat opponents. A person could demolish their previous record, yet finish in last place. Did they win? Absolutely. They beat their best time. It doesn’t matter if a person is in the lead, in the middle of the pack, or way back in last place, the point is to try to beat their time and finish the race. For Christians, so often we try to compare our lives with others. As a result, we lose our perspective. Either discouragement begets laziness or coveting begets following the crowd. If you are being abundantly blessed and feel like you are in the lead in life, Jesus tells us to be careful. If the struggles in life make you feel that you are in last place and struggling to continue, Jesus tells you to “press on” and finish the race.

Tip #3  “Win the prize”

There is no greater accomplishment then being recognized for an outstanding performance. For some who have experienced the thrill of victory, a medal or ribbon is a monument to that achievement. For those who have placed their trust in the promises of God and Christ’s completed work on the cross, they have received the victor’s prize in heaven. A crown of glory that far surpasses any glory an Olympic gold medal can bring awaits those in heaven. That sweet taste of victory absorbs our souls and fills us with hope, peace, and joy. Coach Paul would train his athletes to be a “hurdler” for Christ. With these inspired word found in Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi, we receive a training manual on how to be a victorious saint in Christ.

Conquering Giants

Do you like rooting for the underdog?

Do you like cheering for the nice guy to win the girl in a movie or the under-sized team to conquer the over-whelming favorite?

Most of us do. We tend to think of ourselves as the underdog in life and when the book we read, the move we watch, or the game we observe has the underdog winning, we can relate them. Their victory becomes our victory and hope is instilled. Perhaps this is why people readily refer to the biblical story of when David conquered a giant with a few small stones.

There is a another story in the Bible about an underdog. It’s my favorite. The story involves a young man who is commissioned with a big project. On his own, he was laughed at, doubted, and even threatened with his very life. Yet, he took God at His Word, remembered all the times God was there for him, and boldly stepped out in faith and followed God’s directive. His name was Gideon.

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Gideon conquered the Midianites with only a few hundred men that rivals the heroics of King Aragorn, Frodo, and the rest in the Lord of the Rings.

“It’s impossible to convert them!” I’ve heard. “There’s no way to reach them!” I’ve been told. Yet, the Bible encourages us to be like David and reload — and to be like Gideon and obey — especially when God tells us to “Get up and go!” We trust God will take care of the rest.

This is especially true in our moment in history when the need is great to share God’s Word to a nation that is slowly turning its back on Him. It seems like a task that is too much to bear. “What can we do?” “How can we reach those who are lost?” “How do you conquer a giant?”

We follow God’s game plan even when it doesn’t make sense.

“But the LORD said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men.’”

When the challenge is massive, the best solution can be a simple one. God likes to take a few to reach the many. He uses the simple to accomplish the miracle. Whether it’s a few loaves of bread and a few fish to feed thousands, marching around Jericho seven times before hollering, or sending home tens of thousands from Gideon’s army for a few hundred faithful men, God works best when the odds are stacked up against him.

Right now, I like our odds.  And here’s why:

I don’t need to tell you the dangers of a false gospel. Like a well-traveled virus, souls are being infected with the thought that somehow we can contribute to our salvation. Our ingrained pride absorbs these messages that we can be righteous enough on our own if we try hard enough. It is a sickness that leads to eternal death. Sin is dismissed with the thought that everybody else is doing it — why not me. Our busy lives act as a protective device to deflect any thoughts of God, His Word, and our eternal destiny. The only remedy is the real Jesus Christ who paid for our sins in full through His substitution on the cross.

I’m glad that I’m part of a ministry that is zealous in its intent to share the only remedy of the real Christ to a people who are spreading a virus of a false gospel worldwide. Through media outreach campaigns that is rapidly growing in scope and size, Truth in Love Ministry is  spreading a message that cuts to the heart of those lost under the teachings of a false gospel.  And the ministry is making an impact!

“And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying.  Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.’”  (Judges 7:10-11)

As a result of TILM’s media outreach campaigns, doors are opening up to share the TILM approach to witnessing.  Christians are being inspired to engage Mormons with the truth of the real Christ. I’m hearing the reports from Utah and Eastern Idaho that there is an openness that has never been before to hear the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

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God’s Word works!  When Christians are equipped with the message of God’s wrath and grace spoken with the language of Mormonism and presented with love and respect, miracles can happen.  Giants can fall.  Like water into wine or multiplying loaves and fishes, hearts can be receptive and changed when presented with the truth of the real, risen Christ.

I like our odds because TILM has the power of God’s Word on its side. And history reveals that God works best with underdogs.

Download a free Bible study entitled, “Preparing for the Adventure.” It’s a four lesson study designed to equip Christians on witnessing to Mormons.

Why a loving God spares us from giving too much information

We live in the dawn of the information age. Society is being redefined where information sharing is at our fingertips. What took weeks only a generation ago to share the latest on family and friends, now is shared in an instant. With technology rapidly expanding, it’s too late to call a timeout and evaluate whether its good or bad.

But sometimes you have to wonder if it’s good to have too much information.

I wonder if the virgin Mary pondered this in her heart as she was confronted with the news that she was carrying the Christ child in her womb. She heard the shepherd’s report when they came to visit the child in the manger. Then, three important wise men came bearing timely gifts. And Gabriel’s remarkable visit certainly left a lasting imprint on her mind. I can’t imagine trying to process all of this information while trying to be a new mother, a new wife, and living in a strange land.

But did she really know? A popular song during Christmas asks the question if Mary truly knew what was going to happen to Jesus as the prophet Isaiah foretold. To me, that would be too much information.

Can you imagine being told by a prophet or an angel that a child of yours was going to tragically die in the year 2019? How would you respond? Would you even want to know if given the choice? Would it be easier if you were told that this child’s death would be for a good reason — that many would benefit as a result of their death?

It seems to me that a loving God spares us from giving too much information. He gives us all that we need to know. This not only includes information regarding our salvation, but also in life itself. We simply have to trust Him and take Him at His Word.

So many times in life, people will ask, “Why, God?” in dealing with tragedies in life.  I wrote an article a few years ago that dealt with the question, “Why does God allow so much suffering in this world?” Here is an excerpt:

Woman praying during winter

“God is not only good, but He is perfect. He created perfection out of nothing and likened it to his own image. Yet, one act of disobedience created a lasting stain. The perfect became imperfect and unacceptable. And we have suffered the consequences of that one act ever since. Evil persists in this world and sometimes God allows it and sometimes He intervenes. We simply don’t know why or why not. It’s helpful to remember the following truths. First, bad things in life causes great sorrow to God as well. Evil does not come from God nor is it His responsibility. Yet, innocent people still suffer. Second, God is omnipotent and omniscient. He is perfectly objective. Part of our faith is trusting that God knows what He is doing — even when he seems absent. There is a means to an end that defies our logic, but is perfectly logical to God.”

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I think Mary knew all that she needed to know and by faith, she responded positively to the will of God. The Lord provided her enough answers to affirm her faith and trust that God knew what He was doing. I can’t imagine that Mary knew that her baby boy was to die a gruesome death and that she was going to witness it. That would be too much information. But God did. In that glorious mystery of the God Incarnate that we can’t even begin to fathom, we recall that Jesus was God’s son too. It was at this point in human history that God became Immanuel to live and to die on our behalf.  In birth, God was exalted. In death, God took upon himself the sins of the world. That’s the most important information that anybody can text, tweet, post or email.

I’m grateful that a loving God spares me from giving me too much information, yet like Mary, He lovingly gives me enough information to ponder in my heart that God is God who is in control of all things and I am not. God is far more interested that we simply take him as His Word.

Never underestimate the value of prayer when sharing your faith

Prayer is a privilege the Lord gives us to communicate with him. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that God is God and we are not. A time of reflection on the goodness and grace of God allows us to remember that we are the receiver of blessings and gifts, not the producer. This is especially true in sharing our faith in Christ with others.

Never underestimate the value of prayer when sharing Christ with others.

Too often, especially when we are sharing Christ with friends and loved ones, frustration, impatience and anger seeps into our language and demeanor. Instead of building a bridge of trust, our sinful nature can produce stumbling blocks. Prayer helps us to remember that Christ is in charge. He will provide the fruits of patience, persistence, and gentleness we ask for and need in our witnessing. Many people are sensitive about their faith, or especially the lack thereof, and will feel attacked when the subject is brought up. Except for the stubborn-hearted, pangs of guilt breeds defensiveness. However, love can win out and provide opportunities to share the gospel message.

I helped in leading a mission trip to Provo, Utah last summer.  Many opportunities were presented to plant the seed of God’s Word to those who professed Christ, but really didn’t understand who Christ really is and why. The vast majority of people in Provo are members of the Mormon faith. They also can be quite defensive if they feel attacked. To combat this natural response, we found that offering to pray for them made a huge impression. In fact, they were caught off-guard by the offer and their hearts noticeably softened.

Those familiar with Mormonism know that personal and family prayer is important to them and widely practiced. However, we were surprised to discover that bringing personal prayer requests during corporate worship is not part of their practice. The culture of Mormonism tells people to always keep a smile on their face in public no matter what problems they may be facing.  Mormonism teaches that trials in life are opportunities to eternally progress and can be overcome by being obedient to the commands and ordinances of the LDS Church. To be prayed for could give a connotation of not being worthy which is a very important component in Mormonism, because personal worthiness is necessary in order for a person to receive all the blessings God has in store for them.

Never underestimate the value of prayer when sharing your faith. When approaching a person with love and concern, you can offer the gift of prayer. At the same time, prayer is empowering. It’s a way to remind us that when we are at our weakest, God is at his strongest. Those who find their strength in Christ can then be strong for Christ. Your offer to exhibit the love of Christ through prayer can provide opportunities to share the love of Christ through the message of the gospel.

A hidden benefit of sharing the gospel of Christ

When I ponder sharing the gospel message with others, I find treasures deep inside the pages of God’s Word.  Clues are uncovered to find deeper meanings and hidden benefits of sharing the gospel. One of those hidden benefits is the opportunity to glorify Christ.

We do not necessarily glorify God in the act of witnessing, but by simply responding to the trust that we have in Him. And when more people come to trust in Christ’s promises, then God is glorified even more. Perhaps from this truth, we gain an even deeper understanding behind the great commission to all believers.

“Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you  in his presence.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”  (2 Cor. 4:14-15)

All believers are ministers of a new covenant. Rooted in Christ, ministers can’t help but to be messengers. It’s a part of who they are by being in Christ.

These verses from 2 Corinthians are significant. In the prior verse (v. 13), Paul quotes Psalm 116:10 — “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Being ministers of a new and better covenant, believers witness Christ as an outpouring of their faith. Despite threats of persecution and hardship [perhaps even overcoming the fear and discomfort of sharing the message of the gospel], believers speak out of love and thanksgiving for all that Christ has done for them. Out of jars of clay, they speak the treasure of the gospel. And this is done for our benefit and for God’s glory!

Witnessing the message of Christ gains a new perspective because everything else pales in significance. Though we may feel like jars of clay in sharing Christ with others, the message we bring certainly isn’t. Our benefit is that we experience the power of the Holy Spirit while we speak of the gospel treasure within us.

Sharing the gospel of Christ can be considered fearful, but when granted the opportunity its amazingly fulfilling. You walk away experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit in your words.

God uses cracked pots

God uses cracked pots

“Is it possible that in some cases God actually wants cracked pots, vessels with flaws, to confirm the divine source of the gospel, to make it clear that what we accomplish is not by our might, nor by our power, but by His Spirit (Zech. 4:6)?  Is it possible that there are some weaknesses in your life that God has no intention of correcting—ever?”   (Fran Sciacca)

Perfection is the standard by which art is appraised, precious metals are valued, and advertisements implore as attainable.  When there is a flaw, value plummets along with our self-esteem.  We tend to focus on what we cannot do, of whom we are not, rather than on what we can do and who we are.  We look at personal or physical flaws as a cruel joke rather than golden opportunities.  Sure, it’s good to try to correct and improve upon our flaws, but quite often we invest all our time on self-improvement in areas of weakness, rather than on what we are good at and what God created us to be.

Flaws are o.k.  In fact, God uses flaws in our life as a means to accomplish his purposes in ways we could never imagine.  Perhaps God never wants to remove flaws or “thorns in the flesh” from our life.  For without them, we may never be molded and shaped into the person God desires us to become.

God has a way of using cracked pots.  In fact, he prefers to use them.

Though they do not hold water well and may not look attractive on a flower stand by the window, God still uses cracked pots to grow beautiful flowers.  He doesn’t give up on them nor throw them away.  In fact, the simple truth is that we are all cracked pots, people with flaws and imperfections, whom God loves.  Even though we see imperfections, God doesn’t.  By being in Christ, God sees perfection.  And he knows that the flaws in our lives are a means to perfect us even more – all for his glory.

How the Bible addresses the why questions in life

“Scripture doesn’t answer all the specifics of our ‘why’ questions, but it does sharpen our focus on the One who knows why.”   (Charles D. Kelley)

God’s Word tells us all we need to know for our salvation. The essential truth of where we will spend eternity is spelled out quite clearly and only found in the way, the truth and the life in Jesus Christ.

Faith is the key that unlocks the door of understanding and also accepts the fact that we don’t have all the answers to life’s most pressing questions. That’s why faith is called faith. With all the swirling “why” questions that hover over our head, faith allows us to look down and see that our feet are resting quite securely on all of God’s promises.

Scriptures answer the tough “Why?” questions when difficult circumstances enter into our life. God allows these circumstances to happen for one simple purpose – to grow and mature in our faith. This understanding begins to answer the “Why?” Scriptures tell us that difficult circumstances in life produces key qualities like perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5). These are all qualities that allow us to experience and know that God cares, knows about our circumstances, and desires for us to grow in them. That is his plan and his purpose.

A response prompted by the Holy Spirit is that we need not be disappointed, but be joyful in the fact that God’s fatherly love is allowing us this unique opportunity to grow in the faith as a result of experiencing the “why?” questions of life. And someday, we will know all of the answers to a waiting God who can’t wait to tell us in heaven.  With hindsight, we will see the plan, the pattern and the purpose of a life mapped out with one goal in mind – to return to our Lord and Savior with a glorified body and a radiant soul.  For is not that ultimate purpose in life and something worth waiting for?

A new twist to the story of Jonah

When we think of the story of Jonah in the Old Testament, we are accustomed to hearing about a whale or a big fish that swallowed him.  Even in the New Testament, Jesus refers to Jonah’s time inside a big fish.  But there is another part of the story that doesn’t get as much attention.  There is another part of Jonah’s story that has been a great source of comfort.

The prophet Jonah was sitting on top of the hill gazing over the great city of Nineveh.  He had just finished preaching to them and the whole city repented.  But, Jonah was not very happy.  How could God show compassion and mercy to an enemy of Israel?  While grumbling about this, overcome by frustration and depression, the Lord lovingly provides a vine for Jonah to give him shade and ease his discomfort.  To involved in his misery, Jonah barely noticed God’s care and blessing.

The very next day was very hot along with a scorching wind.  The Lord, in his wisdom, took away the vine and Jonah was left without any comfort from the shade.  In desperation, Jonah cries out, “Please, Lord, grant me death.  It would be better for me to die than to live!”

Like a father dealing with a young child’s tantrum, the Lord asks, “Jonah, do you really have a right to be angry about the vine?

Jonah replies, “You bet I do!  I’m angry enough to die?

But the Lord says, “Yes, you have been very concerned about this vine, even though you did not tend to it or make it grow.”  The Lord went on to explain to Jonah that there were 120,000 people who had no clue what they were doing in worshipping another god.  Instead of wiping them off the face of the earth, which Jonah would have preferred, the Lord exhibited great compassion and concern by sending Jonah with a message of repentance.

A self-absorbed Jonah just didn’t get it.

The Lord provides great comfort during times when we need Him most.  But how often do we recognize his blessings during these times, let alone acknowledge them?  To help us draw attention to his grace and mercy, the Lord allows us to be exposed to the elements of a sinful world, and all it pain and suffering, to draw us closer to Him in order to receive a greater understanding of who He is.

There are times in our life where we feel like throwing in the towel — to quit; to stop trusting God and his promises; to be enticed into a sinful lifestyle and to stop trying to life a life pleasing to God.   We complain to God and justify our actions by thinking that there are many undeserving people who have it much better than we do.  They don’t deserve Your mercy, Your blessing, Your love.  This becomes especially true when something is taken away from us—a job, a friend, a loved one, or even a dream.  We get angry.  We get upset.  We cry out to God in our grief, “Take my life.  It would be better for me to die than to live!!”

It is at this point that our loving God, who loves us far more than any parent, spouse or friend, tenderly reminds us that He is very concerned about us.  He has our best interest at heart.  He is the author of all blessings, not us.  Everything that He does is for our good purpose.  He is the one who molds us and shapes us — allowing us to be holy and set apart from the world.   Whether that means to be blessed with worldly wealth or success, or a life of suffering and disappointment, it is God that determines whether to provide the comfort of a vine or allow us to be exposed to the element.  All for a purpose that we can’t begin to fathom in this life.

It is helpful to remember that God not only has great concern for each of us, but also a great concern for our world.  Instead of looking at results or circumstances to deepen our trust in God, why don’t we just look to Him—the author and renewer of our faith.  He is God and deserving of our trust.