Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Walking in Integrity

     My father was a man that believed in honesty and integrity.  If there is any quality that stood out to me more than any other it was this one.  When he shook another man's hand and reached agreement, he meant to keep his part of the deal because that is what he thought was right before God.  I admired that trait more than any other because I knew I could count on him, and by God's grace, I married a man just like that as well.  This is a character quality that Christians should display in all their relationships and business dealings.
     King David wrote about this in Psalm 101:  "I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.  I will ponder the way that is blameless.  Oh, when will you come to me?  I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.  I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.  A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil" (vs.1-4).  David, in these verses, sets forth a desire to walk with integrity keeping his heart and mind from evil things within his own house.  He is aware of God's ever abiding presence with him and he desires to avoid anything which will cause him to stumble before the Lord.  This is the pursuit of holiness that we see David pledging himself to.
     When I consider these words of King David and then I look at our current society, I see how far we have fallen from the moral principles that once undergirded our nation.  T.V. programming focuses on violence, sex, and drugs to sell many programs and movies.  Likewise, there is easy access to pornography on the internet.  David said he would set no worthless thing before his eyes, yet, today, we have many Christians (even pastors) who have succumbed to pornography.  Others may not watch pornography but instead, watch violent movies, and play violent video games.  The question we need to ask ourselves is "Would we do this if Jesus was sitting next to us?"  Is this really pleasing to God that we are filling our minds with evil scenes?
     David goes on in the Psalm to say that he will not endure anyone with a haughty look or arrogant heart (vs 6).  Instead, He wants to keep company with those who are faithful and walk in a blameless manner before God.  There is wisdom in this.  Those who keep company with people who do not honor the Lord will find themselves falling into worldly patterns.  In addition, David says that no one who practices deceit or is a liar can remain in his presence (vs.7).  Once again, this is good advice.  The associates we spend time with do influence us either for good or for ill.  David hungered for righteousness before the Lord and wanted to live differently than the world.  The question is was he successful?
     We know from reading 2 Samuel 11 that David was not perfect.  He fell into adultery with Bathsheba and then, murdered her husband.  His lies to cover his tracks were not hidden from God.  When Nathan the Prophet uncovered his deceit, David repented and recognized that he had sinned against God.  We, too, shall fall from time to time and our integrity will be sullied just as David's was, but our hope is in the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  He can pick us up and restore us again to a life of integrity.
     On our own, we cannot hope to live an honest life.  It is only as we abide in the vine of our Savior that we are able to walk in holiness.  Nevertheless, we can stay true to the narrow path when we avoid watching things on T.V. or the internet which pull us away from God.  Likewise keeping accountable to Christian brothers and sisters and staying away from those who practice deceit goes a long way in keeping our feet on the road to sanctification.  We need to take a moral inventory of our lives and see if we are walking in integrity as my father did.  He had a powerful impact on my life because he lived what he believed.  We, too, can have a powerful impact on the lives of those around us by walking in honesty before both God and man.  Selah!

Monday, April 14, 2014

This I Know

John Triton Harvard
 Recently, a dear pastor and friend shared the sad news that a family with whom he is acquainted lost their five year old son in a pit bull dog attack.  The older brother (7 or 8) tried valiantly to save his brother but needed help.  When he returned with his father, it was too late to save his brother.  When I read this news, my heart went out to all concerned and I began to pray for them.  There can be no harder place to be than losing a loved one especially a child.  Our family knows this all too well.
     Years ago, when I was going through a difficult time in my life, a friend shared a wonderful scripture verse that has become a favorite of mine.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Corinth.  As we know, this church had many difficulties which Paul addressed with firmness and love.   2 Corinthians 1:3-5 reads:  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."  The words of the Scripture verse are pregnant with blessing for our hearts.  Paul calls God the Father of mercies, and indeed, He is that. He is also the God of all comfort for in Him we have a high priest who knows all about our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15) and temptations.  Furthermore, Paul makes it clear in this verse that as we share in Christ's sufferings, we will also share in His comfort.  Lets be honest here.  No one that I know of likes suffering and yet, as Christians, we are told that we will face this.
     Jesus clearly instructed His disciples and said this in John 16:33:  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  Our Savior never candy coated the life of being His disciple.  We will face affliction, loss, and suffering.  However, our peace is found in Christ who has overcome the world, sin and death.  Because the Lord made it clear that we would face hard times in this world, I believe this is why both Peter and James mentioned in their letters the need to remain strong during trials.  Peter writes (I Peter 1:6-7):  "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praises and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  Then James writes in James 1:3-4:  "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." In all these verses, we can glean two truths.  Trials make us stronger and Christ is our source of comfort since He has overcome the world.
     We live in a fallen world where it rains on the just and the unjust alike.  Therefore we should not be surprised when heartache comes.  However, we have a God of all comfort and I found that to be true when we lost our grandson.  During the days and hours after he died, I ran to God's Word to find solace.  I cried out to God to hold me, and He gave me His peace.  This is a resource that we as Christians have that the world does not possess.
     I cannot begin to understand or know the mind of God as to why he takes certain people from this world, but I know that He is sovereign and sees the bigger picture.  My "Reformation Study Bible" footnote on page 1672 reads:  "God has a sovereign purpose both in our troubles and in the comfort that He gives us in them.  If we have experienced God's comfort in suffering, we may be able to support others whose sufferings are like ours."  This is true.  We are able to pay forward the wonderful comfort of God to others facing the same painful trials.  Additionally, for those who have lost a child as this family in Alabama has, there is the hope of seeing that child again in heaven.  Jesus tells us in John 14:1-3:  "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in Me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also."  This is a promise from our Redeemer.  Our days of trouble and grief will end, and if we believe in Him, we, too, shall spend eternity in His presence with our loved ones who have placed their trust in Him.  This is what I know.  This is what I believe and this is what sustains me day by day.  Let us take the comfort which God gives to us and begin to share it with others who are hurting.  As we do this, we will know His peace and joy.  Selah!

Please be praying for the Jeff Harvard family as they laid their little boy to rest yesterday.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Repetition is the Key

     During my training in college to be a teacher, our old professor Dr. McCloud often told us that one of the keys to successful teaching is repetition.  If there is some major point we want to make, we need to go over it many times in order to make certain the students grasped the importance of this point.  He is right!  I know that because I had teachers work with me who taught me useful things like:  "i before e except after c".  When it comes to spelling, this helps a good deal.  Then, there was the old calendar rhyme to help us remember how many days were in each month:  "Thirty days hath September, April, June and November...."  I still use that rhyme when I cannot remember how many days there are in a certain month.  Teaching is not the only profession that uses repetition though.
     Our son is a firefighter/EMT and he is constantly training and going over his skills.  Why?  The department may not have a fire every day, but they need to be ready when they do.  If you know your skills backwards and forwards, you are less likely to be injured.  Safety is crucial and repetition of skill sets keeps them prepared.  The same is true in our Christian faith.
     In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:15:  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."  If we want to be a workman for the Lord, we must learn how to handle the Word of truth.  The best way to do this is by reading it over and over again.  God's Word is living and inspired.  Its truths are timeless and each time we pick it up to read it, the Holy Spirit applies some new understanding that we might not have seen the last time we read it.
     Believe it or not, I have had people tell me that they have read the Bible through once and that is enough.  If they need to review something, they will look it up but they do not see a need to continue reading it from cover to cover.  Sadly, they will miss some of the important details that deepen our faith and prepare us for the challenges that come from the world.  They will also miss some important repetitions in the Bible and that help us grow closer to the Lord.
     First, there are repetitions in the account of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The four Gospels give us a picture of our Savior and each one does so from a unique perspective even though some of the details are repeated in all four.  Matthew, the former tax collector, writes his account of the Lord's life to a Jewish audience.  Mark wrote his account for a Roman audience and as a young man, he was influenced by Peter.  Then, Luke, a physician, wrote a very detailed account for a Greek audience.  He interviewed eyewitnesses to provide a complete picture.  Finally, John wrote more about the discourses and teachings of our Lord.  This gives us a more rounded view of the Lord.  So why were there four specific accounts given with some repetition?  Jesus said in John 5:31:  "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true."  In other words, the Lord pointed out to us that a single person's witness was not enough to verify the truth.  However, when many testify to the miracles, healings and teaching of Jesus, it provides credible testimony to the events.  All the Gospels carry the one message that Jesus Christ came to die for our sins and rose to break the power of death.
     Another series of repetitions in the Bible come in the form of stories.  These can be single events that are contained and recorded in several places.  An example is the story of King Hezekiah and his reign.  This appears in II Kings 18-20, II Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36-39.  The repetition provides a way of tying books together but also, we must remember that each book of the Bible is a complete story in itself.  God provides the emphasis on the lives and events which He wants His people to know and repetition is an effective way of bringing home this information.
     Finally, the Bible contains repeated statements, ideas and words.  Again, all of this is done for emphasis.  Jesus often used the words "Truly, truly" many times when He wanted to emphasize what He was saying.  In some translations, these words are substituted with the words "most assuredly" which lacks some of the punch that "truly, truly" gives.  When we see this used by Jesus, we know it is very important.  
     When it comes to repetition of ideas, we have only to look to the Apostle Paul who wrote many letters to the churches.  His letter to the churches of Ephesus and Colosse while addressed to different congregations covered similar topics even though their themes were different.  When we read these two letters, we can see the same ideas presented in a new light in each one.  This helps us to understand what Paul is saying.
     As we continue to read the Word of God with all due diligence, we will retain the truth.  The repetition we find helps us to better know God's character, His holiness and His plan for our redemption and salvation.  We cannot handle a Word we do not know, and we cannot do battle against the ideas of this world unless we are prepared.  Just as a firefighter/EMT needs to repeat his training and skills over and over to remain ready, we also must sharpen our skills by continually studying God's Word.  After all, we have the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us into all truth.  However, we have to be in the God's Word for the Holy Spirit to do this.  Let us not be satisfied to read through the Bible once in our lifetime.  Instead let us read it over and over that the repetition provided will soak deep into our hearts.  Then, when the challenges of life come, we will be ready.  Selah!