Thursday, September 7, 2017

Like a Good Marriage

     Glenn and I recently celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary.  It seems like only yesterday that we exchanged our vows and made our covenant to live together under the headship of Jesus Christ.  I will admit that it takes daily effort to keep the wheels of relationship running smoothly.  Contrary to the media, no one just falls in love and lives happily ever after.  Life is full of heartache and challenges.  That is why it requires effort to make a marriage successful.  However, this is not the only important relationship that needs regular attention.
August 21, 1971
     As I reflected on our many years together, I also thought about being a part of a church.  There are many occasions in scripture where the body of Christ is referred to as the bride and our Savior as the bridegroom.  Like marriage, our relationship to the church is similar.   When we join a church, we agree to support it financially, with our efforts and in prayer.  Too often, I think, people tend to take their church membership in a very casual manner.  Some hop from place to place seeking to find what  in their mind is the "perfect" church.  I hate to say this...but....there is no such place.  Being part of a church is very much like marriage.  It requires effort.
     One of the key reasons why we have to work at both relationships is that it involves imperfect people.  A pastor friend of mine says, "The church would be perfect if it weren't for all those sinners who belong to it."  Indeed, we see this even in the early church where Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement over John Mark who deserted their missionary efforts at one point.  Barnabas
was willing to give him another chance but Paul was not ready.  We know later in Paul's epistles that John Mark was a comfort to him.  Just from this example alone, we can see that even at the beginning of the church nothing was ever perfect.  This is where forgiveness and growth can take place if we pray and allow the Holy Spirit to resolve conflict.  Let me share another example.
     Early in our marriage, our differences were very clear.  Glenn was highly organized, and skillful at keeping things in order.  I, on the other hand, am a spontaneous person who does things on the fly.  When it comes to packing a car trunk, I would put anything in wherever I could while my dear husband neatly places things with care.  Now I am certain that my spontaneity has many times irritated my husband and his organization has at times done the same for me.  However, together we have learned from each other and the blend has been to God's glory and our benefit.  The same is true in the church.  How many times do people get upset over the color of the carpet or other things in the church and leave as a result?  It takes God's work in the heart to overcome the imperfections we see in one another.  We are all a work in progress.
     Secondly, communication is another area of importance in both the church and marriage.  If you do not tell someone how you feel, how will they ever know it?  I remember being upset one time because I expected some flowers from my dear husband for a certain occasion.  He did not give me any.  I stewed about it and let him know I was upset.  However, he said something that helped me understand him.  He said I should tell him if I wanted flowers because he could not read my mind.  He never meant to disappoint me...he just did not know.  The same is true in church relationships.  Are you hurt over something someone said to you?  Go talk to that person and tell them.  Is there something about the church that needs to be addressed?  Do not keep it to yourself.  Go speak to your pastor, elder, deacon or leader so that they are aware.  Too many people leave a good fellowship because they feel left out.  This does not need to happen if we communicate clearly, and this leads to another important point.
      We must not approach marriage or church with unrealistic expectations.  Even if we communicate clearly our point of view on issues and accept that we are imperfect people, we will not always have things go our way.  So do we abandon our marriage or our church just because of this?  No!  We must remember in both relationships that Christ is our head.  He is sovereign and will direct us in all things.  We often fail to talk to God first about the issues that trouble us.  He is Lord...we are not.  We have to look beyond ourselves to the overall welfare of not only our spouse but also our congregation as a whole.  If there is a lack of a ministry in the church and it troubles us, then, we might want to step out and meet the need that we see.  Today, there are many people who walk away from their marriage or their church over unrealistic expectations instead of trying to keep the commitment they made to God.
     With all these things in mind, we might wonder when is it ever right to look for another church body?  If the teaching in the church ever departs from the foundation of God's Word and begins to embrace error, then, we should go to the leaders and express our concerns.  We need to pray, and if they do not turn away from serious error, we should seek another place to worship God.  This does not include things like carpet color, building programs etc.  We are talking about heretical teaching.
God has planted us where we are in order to grow us into the likeness of Jesus Christ day by day for His glory.  It is not about us, and we need to look with greater perspective at God's overall plan.
     Forty-six years is a long time, but we have stayed together because we made Jesus Christ the center of our marriage.  We have been through difficulties, joys and sorrows together.  It has taken perseverance, work and effort to sustain our relationship day by day, but it is more than worth it.  Four children and ten grandchildren are the reward of a good marriage.  Likewise, the fruit of church membership is seeing others come to Christ, watching fellow pilgrims overcome difficulties and standing by those who sorrow or are sick.  We are meant to bring glory to God through our faithful witness within the Body of believers.  Pray for the church, the leaders, the pastors and fellow believers.  As a community, we are all on our pilgrim's journey, and we need one another.  Keep in mind that it is Christ who is our head.  He will do what is necessary.  Remember these words in Ephesians 5:25-27:  "25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."  He will complete what He has begun in us.  We can depend on that!  Selah!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pray, Christians, Pray

     Our world is in turmoil.  That is an understatement isn't it?  However, we should not be surprised because it has been that way since "The Garden of Eden".  Reading the Bible each day is not unlike reading the daily newspaper.  There have been wars, rumors of wars, wicked rulers, adultery,  murder, and every manner of sin.  The people of Israel, though liberated miraculously from slavery by God, whined and complained all the way to the Promised Land and they did not like their leader Moses either.  So what is the difference between those times and today?
     For one thing, our forebearers did not have instant communication, social media and television.  In many ways, I think they were lucky.  We have 24/7 means of getting the news every day, and unfortunately, it isn't just news any more.  It is heavily laced with opinion.  With this constant barrage of information (some accurate and some not), it is easy to get upset.  This is one reason I try to limit my time on T.V.
     In addition, the rising tide of animosity between people of different races, and political persuasions has given in to violence and shouting rather than reasonable discourse.  No more polite exchange of ideas.  Instead, all we hear about are senseless murders of police officers, bystanders, and the tearing down of historical statues.  Yet, none of this will solve the problems of mankind.  Revising history by removing statues does not change what is wrong with our nation or world.  The bottom line is sin.
     Romans 3:23 says:  "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."  Then, go back to verses 10-18:  "as it is written:  'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.'"  In these last few verses, Paul quotes various Scriptures to describe man's sin and the consequences of it in terms of his behavior.  Sounds almost like today's headlines doesn't it?  We should not, therefore, be surprised at what is happening around us, but the solution is not more government or social programs.  Tearing down statues, revising history, planning demonstrations or dressing like ninjas and carrying baseball bats will not improve our lives.  The ONLY thing that can bring about right relationships with others comes when we get into right relationship with God.  Repentance, prayer and receiving the forgiveness of God for our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ is the only answer for what ails the world.  We all need a heart change.
Photo by Kevin McCoy U.S. Capitol Building
     Furthermore, we need to be praying for those in leadership.  Instead of complaining about our current president, vice president, Congress, our courts, we need to be lifting them up in prayer.  Any resistance to their leadership is considered resistance to God who has placed them in power whether we approve or not.  Look at Romans 13:1-5:  "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience."  This Scripture was intended for Christians of all persuasions.  Let us keep in mind that Paul did not live in a perfect government.  The Romans were in charge at the time of his writing.  In fact, he was a prisoner when he penned these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
     If we believe that God is all powerful, all knowing and sovereign over all the world, then we must trust in Him when it comes to those in leadership.  There have been many leaders over the years of my life that I have not particularly liked or agreed with, but I have always prayed for them because God placed them in that position for His plans to be carried out.  Christians, we are called to pray for those who lead our nation, our communities, our churches.  Bending the knee to pray has more power than all the armies of the world.  God can do what we cannot.
     Finally, we have to be in the Word of God daily because this book tells us the truth about ourselves and God.  Listening to opinionated newscasters will not calm our hearts but the Bible will.  We owe it to ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds each day that we may be conformed to God's will....not ours.  This is why I call for us all to be students of the Bible, prayer warriors for our world, nation and leaders.  Then, let us be the ambassadors of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This is how we can bring about a change that will last and bring glory to God.  Selah!
   

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

     In the comic strip "Pogo" back in the 1960's, Walt Kelly had his character make a famous statement:  "We have met the enemy and he is us."  While this quote referred to a political statement the artist was making at the time, we would do well as Christians to look at how we often undermine ourselves on a daily basis through negative thinking.  We tell ourselves things like, "I could never do that" or "I think it is impossible to accomplish".  Most often, we are our own worst enemies.
     Thinking back to high school days, how many of us would come home with hurt feelings because someone looked at us funny.  No words were exchanged but we were certain that we must have done something wrong.  When I would get those ideas, my mother used to say "Maybe they ate something that didn't agree with them and it had nothing to do with you."  I now can laugh about how silly I was to assume something without any confirmation, but at the time, my mind would run wild.  The Bible calls these "vain imaginations".  2 Corinthians 10:5 reads:  "5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;..."
     When we allow our thoughts free rein in our life, we can draw many inaccurate conclusions.  This is why it is so important to focus our thinking on God's Word.  Because we were born with a sin nature, our minds can easily revert to old patterns of negative thinking even as Christians.  God has made us new creations, but we still carry with us the "old nature" that can raise its ugly head from time to time.  This is why Paul told the Corinthians to bring every thought into captivity to Christ.
     In his letter to the believers at Philippi, Paul wrote these excellent words (Philippians 4:7-9):  "7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."  Looking at this verse, we notice, first, that Paul tells us that it is God who guards our hearts and minds.  He is our peace giver and we can rest on that promise.  As we choose to dwell on good things we find in God's Word and have in our relationship with Christ, we will experience the peace of which he speaks.  Our problems come when we start to fill our minds with what the world tells us as versus what God says we are in Christ.
       Just think about all the propaganda we listen to every day on the radio or T.V.  If we use a certain toothpaste, we will keep a beautiful smile.  Wearing a certain line of clothing means we are in style or having the right car makes us more popular.  Then consider all the misinformation we hear concerning ideas, beliefs and politics.  Is it any wonder that our imaginations run wild and we become distressed over things?  We know that worry is a sin.  Jesus told us "not to worry" in His Sermon on the Mount.  So Paul's words to the Corinthians and to the Philippians speak to the problem with have with our minds.
       In His final prayer before He laid down His life to free us from sin, Jesus prayed for us these words in John 17:17:  "“Father, sanctify them by your truth, because your word is truth.”  Reading, absorbing, memorizing, and meditating on God's Word is what will keep our thinking straight as we walk through this difficult world.  After reading the Word, we need to pray for God's insight and wisdom so we may bring our thoughts captive to Him.  It is a challenge I admit especially in this age of social media and electronic gadgets that can keep us occupied for hours.  However, we will miss the peace of God if we do not learn to think God's thoughts after Him.
      With this thought, I close.  What we read, watch on T.V., the movies we view, the games we play and the company we keep, all has an effect on our thinking.  We can either fill our minds with the world or with the truth of God.  The choice is ours.  We do not have to live in fear, worry or concern, if we follow what the Apostle Paul has laid out for us to do as believers.  Selah!