Monday, July 30, 2012

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Our daughter Jordan, son-in-law C.J., Rilyn and
     This past weekend, I was called upon to babysit for our daughter and son-in-law as they helped our middle son and his family move into a new home.  Caring for a three year old active little boy and his nearly four month old sister takes a lot of energy but it was worth every moment I spent with them.  Since my husband went to help with the move, I was on my own all day.
     Part way through the afternoon, I decided I would start a project with Gavin when he got up from his nap.  Wanting to make some memories, I decided I would bake some chocolate chip cookies and involve him in the process.  This was a great idea but also a big challenge since baby sister Rilyn had a rough afternoon.  It was as though she wanted to sleep but refused to allow herself the rest she needed.
     When Gavin got up, we began working on the cookies.  I sat little Rilyn in her bouncy seat in the kitchen close by so she could watch us.  Gavin started off well with the project and was excited to make "his" cookies, but halfway through, he got bored and started driving his toy cars through flour that had spilled on the counter.
     Once we got the cookies in the oven, little Rilyn had enough of her bouncy seat.  She was hungry plain and simple.  I tried to feed her the bottle and then, the timer went off.  I was caught in a pinch.  She needed a bottle and I needed to get the cookies out of the oven.  I thought I could stop her bottle feeding long enough to retrieve the cookies but this led to a loud wailing on her part.  At this point, Gavin said, "I can help you Grammie.  I will give her the bottle."  He hopped down from the kitchen chair and proceeded to hold the bottle for his baby sister who was ever so pleased to be reunited with her food source.

Gavin my helper and his sister's keeper
     As I watched the two of them on the kitchen floor, my heart flooded with emotion.  Every now and then, Rilyn would stop taking the bottle to smile at her brother.  It was then that I thought about how God wants us to treat one another.  We are to be our brother's keeper.  However, when sin first entered the world, the relationship between two brothers was not a loving picture.
     Most of us know the story of Cain and Abel the sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd.  When it came time to bring a sacrifice to the Lord, Cain brought some grain and Abel his best lamb.  God accepted Able's sacrifice because he had brought his best with a heart motive that was right before the Lord.  Cain, on the other hand, did not bring a sacrifice that pleased the Lord either in substance or heart attitude, and God rejected it.  The Lord warned him that sin was crouching at his door and he could stand against it.  Instead, Cain allowed his heart to become angry and jealous towards his brother.  With malice, Cain murdered his brother and buried his body.
     According to the Bible, this is what happened next:  "Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?'  'I don't know,' he replied, 'Am I my brother's keeper?'  The Lord said, 'What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground'" (Genesis 4:9-10).  Here was the exact opposite of what I witnessed yesterday between three year old Gavin and his baby sister.  God's intent for relationships is to demonstrate love and respect.  We are to have hearts willing to help one another not doing things begrudgingly, but with joy to honor our Lord.
     How many conflicts could be ended, what strife could be avoided and how many hurt feelings could be spared if only we would learn to be our brother's keeper?  It does take some time and a little extra effort, but the reward is feeling the pleasure of God and knowing we have done the right thing.  In Cain's case, he chose the selfish way and took the life of his brother destroying family unity and breaking fellowship with God.  What did he gain?  He gained a life as a marked man.

     In Christ, we have the opportunity to serve like Gavin did the other day.  He humbled himself to help his baby sister.  He was his sister's keeper.  Can we do any less?  Whom can we serve today?  Can we give up our own rights and be willing to help others even if we have done it many times before?  We all must remember the words of Jesus when He said, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine,  you did for me'" (Matthew 25:40).  We live and serve the Lord when we act as our brother's keeper.  Selah!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Learning to Give and Learning to Receive

     One of the best known and loved sayings of our Lord was given not in one of the Gospels but in the book of Acts.  Paul, in speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, said:  "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'"(Acts 20:35).  This portion of Scripture comes at the time that Paul is giving his farewell address to the believers before leaving for Jerusalem.  On this trip, Paul will be arrested and imprisoned for the glory of God.  Therefore, the words he shares with the elders are some important instructions for the growth of believers and the church as a whole.  
     My own mother repeated this scripture more times than I can remember especially when I was not wanting to share with someone.  It became ingrained in my thinking.  When I fully committed my life and heart to Christ years later, He grew in me the desire to give to others, and I found a greater joy in giving than I did in receiving.
     Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is all about "ME".  We have more takers than givers.  People feel entitled to have it all no matter what it takes or who might be hurt in the process; so the words of Christ fly in the face of man's selfish desires.  Do not misunderstand what I have written.  It is a good thing to work honestly at a job to supply the needs for our family.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to acquire items that can make our lives easier, but lusting after "things" is a form of idolatry and contrary to the teachings of our Lord.
     There are many simple ways in which we can give to others that will bring great joy to our hearts.  Each year, I try to work on some handmade gifts for our children and their spouses as well as our grandchildren.  It is a delight to pray over what I make, and my heart is full when I see them smile at the things I have made for them.  Besides gift making, we can prepare meals for those in need following surgery, during illness or just as a gift for them at a time of sorrow.
     Another way in which we can give is to volunteer.  In our community, we have a free health care system called "Samaritan's Touch" where people can come for medical care if they do not have insurance and their income makes it impossible for them to receive necessary assistance.  Places like this health ministry always need volunteers.  Likewise, local hospitals appreciate volunteers who can offer a smile to the sick.
     Giving of our time and talent (not just money) to help another person in need is one of the most fulfilling things we can participate in.  It demonstrates the love of Christ to others and opens doors to talk about our faith.  However, there is also one additional thing we all must learn to do.
     In addition to giving, we need to learn to receive, with grace,  the provision that God is making available to us.  When someone knocks on our door with a covered dish or gives us a ride to the doctor's office, we need to willingly receive this kindness with grateful humility.  So many Christians are happy to give but when someone wants to help them, their pride can get in the way.  We have to remember that we are keeping someone from a blessing if we refuse help when we really need it.  Certainly we are not to take advantage of the kindness of others, but when a friend comes to assist us in a time of need, we need to be able to thank them and God for their help.
     When we learn to give to others and to receive with a heart of gratitude, I believe we will begin to live as Jesus described in John 7:38:  "Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"  As we empty our stream out to help others, God continuously refills us so that we may live as a blessing to others.  Likewise, if our stream begins to dry up from want, God sends other servants to refresh us with gifts of love, time, and help.  Learning to give and to receive with grace brings glory to God our heavenly Father and blessings to our fellow man.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts on this subject.  Please feel free to leave your comments of encouragement.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guilt by Parenting

     Some of the best discussions take place in our office.  The other day we began discussing the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado and what could have motivated someone to do such a deed.  I piped up that I hoped people would be praying for the parents of this young man who killed and wounded so many.  I also added that I felt empathy for them as this had to be a terrible time in their lives.  Immediately, someone spoke up and said that they didn't feel sorry for these parents.  The reply continued, "Surely they must have known something was wrong with their son, and they could have intervened sooner.  After all, the mother told police they had the right man."
     Later, on the news that night, it was clarified that the mother of this man was merely identifying her son for police.  She was not making a statement about his guilt or innocence.  How easy it is for us to grab onto information and make a quick judgment about others without knowing the full story.  Certainly, no one knows the motives behind this evil attack, and probably, least of all, the parents of this young man.
     How quickly do we jump in and condemn parents for the misdeeds of their children?  Yet the Bible tells us that we are not to judge others:  "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you used it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:1-2).  In the heat of the moment after a horrendous crime, the first thing we hear is that the parents must have known that something was wrong.  Of course, no one knows that but the parents themselves.  However, even if they did know that something wasn't quite right, what could they do?  The child was an adult and had left home.  
     Most parents pour their efforts into raising good citizens.  No one plans to raise a mass murderer or even a serial killer.  Think of their horror, their shock, their heartbreak when the child they raised and loved did such a terrible deed.  For the rest of their lives they will ask why or query themselves as to what they could have done differently.  This is why they need prayer.
     By all appearances, the young man who killed so many was a high achiever and no one could point out anything which gave a clue to his intent.  Some people are like an enigma.  Look at Ted Bundy.  He was accomplished as a student, good looking and worked in a crisis center next to an ex-cop (Ann Rule).  She had no clue about Bundy's crimes.  In fact, she thought he was a great crisis counselor on the phone helping people.  They worked side by side and she never knew till later.
     On the other hand, think of all the individuals that come from troubled homes or a past of abuse and still grow up to be good citizens.  This is why I contend that it is wrong to blame parents for every failing a child may have.  Instead, we should once again  turn to God's Word for the answer as to why someone so young, so intelligent, with a bright future ahead would kill and injure others.  
     In the book of James, he writes:  "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:13-15).  This is the reason behind terrorist attacks, murders, torture and all manner of evil.  It is the sin nature.  Unless or until, each of us is drawn by God through regeneration so that we can respond to the call of Jesus Christ, we are dead in our sins and capable of  breaking all of God's commandments.  This is a terrible realization isn't it?  Along with Paul I say "but thanks be to God who leads us to victory through Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:57).  Without His sacrifice on our behalf, we would still be in bondage to sin which leads to death both physically and spiritually.  Therefore, who are we to judge?  He has given us such grace, and we are to extend that grace to others.
     Our justice system is working to sort out all the details in this case, but as they do, let us remember to pray not only for the victims and their families but also for the family of this young man.  Parents everywhere need our prayers because the job of raising children is not easy, predictable, or perfect.  We do our best and leave the rest in God's hands praying we have done a good job.  May we also remember that but for the grace of God we could have been like the young man that killed so many dreams.  The sin nature brings death but Christ brings life everlasting!  Selah!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Double Scrubbed

     Having grown up in a family with a strong work ethic, I learned at an early age to take my housekeeping seriously.  My grandmother Engel was the "Queen of clean" and passed this on to my mother.  I don't know that I am as thorough as they were, but this past week, I can honestly say they both would have been proud of me.
     On my day off from the office, I double scrubbed my tile floors.  We had just had a full family get together at our house so sixteen souls all fellowshipped under one roof.  Needless to say, the floors can get dirty; so I set to the task of deep cleaning.  Using a mop with a brush on one side, I washed the floors and used the brush to scrub out all the grout.  It took several hours of hard work to get all the grout lines clean.  Then, I followed this up with my steam cleaner on the floor.  I was appalled to see that even though I had used all the muscle power I could to clean the surface the first time there was still a good deal of dirt on the floor.  Now my floors look and feel very clean once again.  However, I bet if I went over them a third time I would have gotten even a little more dirt off of them.  This job just never ends!
     In many ways, we are just like that floor.  The floor may appear to be clean, but even new tile comes with some embedded dirt.  We are born into this world with a bent towards sin.  Our hearts are inclined to sin prior to any act of sin which we might do.  This we inherited from Adam and Eve.  Scripture tells us in Psalm 51:5:  "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."  David points out this inclination towards sin that Adam, our first representative before God, passed on to the human race.  To quote Dr. R.C. Sproul on this issue, he states:  "The doctrine of original sin makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin."
     Though we try in our own strength to eradicate this sinful nature through good works, we cannot do it on our own.  The prophet Isaiah wrote:  "We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6).  To put it simply, we are dirty from the effects of sin and we cannot clean up our own lives.  We can scrub and scrub like I did on that floor, but we still cannot remove all the dirt from our hearts.  Within the Reformed faith, we know this as total depravity.  This is not as complicated as the name implies.  Total depravity means that every part of our moral and spiritual nature is corrupted.  We are not as bad as we could be in degree, but no part of our lives are left untouched by the sin nature.
      For example, if I were to take a drop of arsenic and put it in a glass of water, would you drink it?  No one would want to drink it even though the amount of poison was minute.  The water has become infected with a deadly substance even though it is 99% water and 1% arsenic.  The same is true when it comes to our inability to believe in God or His Word.  Paul calls this spiritual death.  We are dead to the Lord until that time He changes our heart by His Spirit.  When we respond to His call and come to Christ in repentance,  He covers us with His righteousness.  He does the clean up work in our lives.  We are "double scrubbed" by His blood.  We have a new heart and are able to hear God's Word and obey.
     Now, this is the "Good News" that in Christ we have salvation.  However, we still have the old sin nature to contend with.  The difference is that we do not have to respond to that nature.  We are not slaves to it as before.  We can say "no" to sin and temptation in Christ.  Just as my floors need to be cleaned up on a regular basis because they get dirty again (I wish someone would invent self-cleaning floors), so we will experience times when we break fellowship with God by sinning.  As believers, though, we can turn again to the Lord in sincere repentance and restore our relationship (I John 1:9).
     In a few days, I will have the "pleasure" of cleaning my floors again, but this time they will not be as dirty as they were before due to my extra work.  The same is true of our hearts.  Because of the work of  Christ, our lives, though not perfected yet, are free from the bondage of sin and death.  We still have to confess when we fall, but we are not dead to God as before.  To God be the glory for doing for us what we could not do for ourselves!  By His grace, we have been "double scrubbed" and stand in the righteousness of Christ.  Selah!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Isaac Watts - Master of Hymnody

The only statue of Isaac Watts in Abney Park
Stoke Newington
     Of all the great hymn writers in history, Isaac Watts stands as an example of a man devoted to bringing glory to God through music.  He was born in Southampton, England on July 17, 1674.  He was the oldest of nine children and was schooled by John Pinhorne, the rector of All Saints, Southampton.  He received a wide classical education and later attended the academy of Stoke Newington under the leadership of Thomas Rowe, a pastor of the independent meeting at Girdlers' Hall.  Isaac studied the classics, logic,  Hebrew and divinity.  His education was thorough and in 1693, he was admitted to the communion of Pastor Rowe's church.
     After completing his studies at the Academy, Watts spent two and a half years at home during which time he began writing his hymns.  Then, in 1698, he preached his first sermon and became the assistant pastor to Isaac Chauncy in the chapel at Mark Lane.  By 1702, he became the senior pastor of this congregation.  Both Joseph Caryl and John Owen preceded Watts in the pastorate of this church making it a distinguished place of worship.
     Watts was not only a pastor, but he also authored numerous works including a catechism and scripture history, philosophical works and his book of poetry "Horae Lyricae" written in 1706.  However, his most shining work came in the form of hymns which contemplated God's glory in nature and His revelation in Christ.  His hymns were described as a new version of the Psalms.
     Isaac Watts felt that few believers ever truly learned to love the cross of Jesus Christ.  While the cross offers great deliverance, it also demands great sacrifice.  With this in mind, he wrote the powerful hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross".  He wanted Christians to be inspired by the words and music so they could genuinely worship the Lord and live holy lives.  All in all, he wrote over six hundred hymns in his life time designed to draw the congregation to deeper knowledge and worship of the Lord.
     In this particular hymn which was written in 1707 for a Communion service, Watts borrowed music from a Gregorian chant.  This was done to emphasize the solemnity of Christ's sacrifice for our sins.  The words are timeless and are still sung in church services today.

                       WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS
                              When I survey the wondrous cross
                              On which the Prince of glory died,
                              My richest gain I count but loss,
                              And pour contempt on all my pride.

                              Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
                              Save in the death of Christ, my God;
                              All the vain things that charm me most -
                              I sacrifice them to His blood.

                              See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
                              Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
                              Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
                              Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

                              Were the whole realm of nature mine,
                               That were a present far too small;
                               Love so amazing, so divine,
                              Demands my soul, my life, my all.
     Isaac Watts lived a long life and passed into glory in November of 1748.  His legacy of rich hymnody can be seen in most hymnbooks even today.
     Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to speak with a pastor of our denomination who is working with other pastors and musicians to preserve organ music in the church which seems to be fast passing away for the contemporary music found in many churches today.  It is my hope and prayer that we never lose the rich heritage of music found in the old hymns of the faith.  Selah!

Do you love the old hymns of the faith?  If so, what is your favorite hymn?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Wake Up Call

     Deep in slumber this morning, I was enjoying a wonderful dream about my family when I faintly heard a sound far off.  I really didn't want to depart the comfort of my slumber, but something kept calling to me.  I roused myself enough so that I was able to tell it was our basset hound calling for me to let him out.  Naturally, I was annoyed.  Early morning on a day off and our delightful pet had to waken me from a pleasant dream.  Nevertheless, I heeded the call and took care of his needs.
      As I sat on my couch drinking a strong cup of coffee, I began to reflect on the state of the church today.  I have been reading a book by Os Guinness entitled "The Last Christian on Earth:  Uncover the Enemy's Plot to Undermine the Church".  Written in a similar style of C.S. Lewis's tome "The Screwtape Letters", the author presents a series of communiques written by a senior leader of Satan's forces to a junior director who is taking over an area from his predecessor.  Guinness, through this clever and well-delivered series of missives, presents the many areas where the church has been asleep and ineffective.  It serves as a clarion call to Christians to wake up before it is too late.
     Already there are many cracks in the foundation of once hearty denominations.  Having grown up in the U.S.A. Presbyterian Church, I was disheartened when I heard about their vote to allow homosexuals to be ordained.  There are many conservative congregations within this body who objected, but not enough to prevent this vote.  When I was growing up, we studied the catechism and heard solid messages based on God's Word.  How did they drift so far away?  Then, I picked up a news article that spoke about the Episcopalian Church seeking to come up with a blessing for same sex couples.  This denomination already has ordained practicing homosexuals as bishops.  The question is how can they bless that which God condemns as sin in His Word?  Winking at sin to become culturally and politically correct means we have exchanged the truth of God's Word for a lie.
     Paul describes what happens when man ignores God's instructions in his letter to the church in Rome:  "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen" (Romans 1:24-25).  Any time we set up a standard for conduct which ignores God's Word as the foundation for our life, we are in danger.  Worshipping the idol of political and cultural correctness has led many astray.  In fact, Paul says in verses 22 and 23:  "Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
     In a footnote in my "Reformation Study Bible", it reads:  "Intellectual arrogance before God displays a reversed sense of values; the worship of God is exchanged for devotion to man-made and man-reflecting idols.  The indelible instinct to worship is perverted by being centered on the wrong object."  So what happens next?  The footnote for verse 24 reads:  "Judgment involves the removal of divine restraints, both on sinful actions and on their consequences."  This is what breaks my heart.  Judgment does come.  The lamp stand can and will be removed from those who do not repent before God...not just as individuals but as a whole church body.
     There seems to be a carnival like atmosphere among many who call themselves Christians today with light shows, dazzling displays of electronic gadgetry, rock band style of worship and feel good messages devoid of God's Word.  Unless we all awake from our deep slumber, we, too, shall succumb to the traps of the enemy.  As believers, what must we do?
     In the book of Revelations, the Lord commends the Church at Ephesus but gives them a stern warning:  "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen:  repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5).  We must individually and collectively repent and return to our first love through Bible study, public worship and prayer.  Our churches need to hold fast to the sound preaching of God's Word (I am grateful for the church in which I worship because the Word is faithfully given each week) and to the right use of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper).  If we do not, our lamp stand will be removed and our saltiness in this world will diminish.
     Just as my hound interrupted my deep slumber today, I believe that the "Hound of Heaven" is baying for the church to awaken.  We need not be swallowed up by our culture.   Christians are meant to influence the world not the other way around.  May God give us a heart for reformation that we may return to our first love and turn away from culture worship and man-reflecting ideas for God alone deserves the glory.  Selah!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Running Away vs. Growing Up

     When I was a child, I hated conflicts, confrontations, arguments or anything that seemed disagreeable.  My solution was to run and hide.  However, if I was the one who had brought about the conflict, my parents would inevitably find me and my day of reckoning would come.
     Later, in college, I still found myself wanting to avoid any unpleasant situations.  Once again, my solution was to avoid it or run from it rather than face it.  As my husband would say, this avoidance of facing reality started in the Garden.  Indeed, it did.  Neither Adam nor Eve wanted to face God after their act of disobedience.  However, whether it is an act of disobedience that we are trying to escape responsibility for or just a very difficult crisis in our lives, God does not want us to run away from it.
     Once again, an interesting discussion came up in our work place the other day as we were talking about a person whose spouse had Alzheimer's.  The consensus seemed to be that this is a horrible disease and no one wants to go through it and be a burden to anyone.  Naturally, no one wants to be afflicted by this disease, but as I pointed out, the person who has it is blissfully unaware of the affect it has on others.  I know.  My mother suffered from this for ten years and I looked after her.  When I mentioned this and how I managed to get through this difficult time, the response was, "Yes, but you cannot tell me it wasn't terribly painful and you wished that you could have avoided this."  Certainly, I had many struggles emotionally while watching my mother slowly move into a fog from which there was no return, but I also learned better how to love her.  God used this in my life to help grow me in His grace.  Was it easy?  No!
     As our discussion continued, I said, "Aren't we running away from God's purposes to grow us up when we say we do not or will not go through a hard place?"  Once again, it may be that in God's providence for our lives we must face some painful things that we might become conformed more to Christ.  Those ten years with an ailing mother were hard because I had four small children whom I was homeschooling at the time.  Yet, when my mother left this life, I knew I had done all I could to help her.  I had peace and a much greater love for her than ever before.  This is what Peter spoke of in his letter:  "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).  This is what God did for me.
     Jesus made it clear that in this world we would have sorrows, troubles and difficulties.  He said:  "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart;  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Lets face it.  Would we ever grow up into a deeper walk with God if we never faced problems?  Being a Christian doesn't mean that some how all of life will be easy.  However, we serve a God who will walk with us through the hard places.  He will give us peace and all that we need to find our way through it.
     If we choose to run away from difficulties, we are prolonging the process of growing in Christ.  Instead of hiding from situations, we need to run to the arms of our heavenly Father.  We need to ask Him what He wants us to learn from this situation.  Painful as life may be, we cannot avoid disease, death, heartache.  It comes to both the just and unjust alike.  The difference the world wants to see in a Christian is how you will, with God's help, walk through the trial.
     Job, after losing his family, his wealth, his health and even the support of his wife said:  "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him...." (Job 13:15a).  He certainly did not understand the test and trials he was undergoing, but in the end, God restored to Him a family and strengthened his faith in the sovereignty of God over every aspect of his life.  May we have that trust, that faith in God to yield to His purposes for our life without whining, complaining, or running away.  For those who stay the course, James has this to say:  "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).  Selah!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Loving the Unlovable

     There isn't a person reading this that has not encountered a hard to get along with individual either at work, in your family, your spouse's family, or at school.  Sad to say, some people make it difficult to be around them.  In an effort to deflect any responsibility we have in trying to get along with that person, we make up excuses like:  "We just have a personality conflict";  "We come from two different worlds";  "They rub me the wrong way and I don't need that."  In some respects, we may be correct.  The other person may have a different personality than ours or come from a different background.  Indeed, they may rub us the wrong way, but maybe...just maybe that is what God wants as He works to conform us to the image of His dear Son.
     First and foremost, God has called us to love our enemies.  Matthew 5:43-48 reads:  You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clarifies a false teaching of the day that misinterpreted Leviticus 19:18.  No one is to "hate" his enemies.  In fact, the Bible includes them as our neighbors too.  We are not to hold grudges, or bring harm to someone with whom we do not agree.
     During my college days, I held a part time job as a relief operator for the telephone company.  I really enjoyed the work as I connected calls, gave information and helped people with their problems.  One day, a very cranky, older man called and demanded to be connected to a friend in another town.  I spoke kindly to him, but he often would get into a rant.  All the other operators disliked him and would disconnect him for being rude on the phone.  I found out that this man was a retired doctor who had lost his ability to perform surgery due to a terrible car accident.  He had turned to alcohol as his drug of choice to cover his pain.  Often when he called, he was hard to understand.  Nevertheless, I persisted in being kind and as helpful as I could whenever he came up on my board.  One day, he paused as he asked for help in making the connection and said to me, "No one has ever been so kind to me when I have been so rude.  Thank you for helping me.  I appreciate it."  Those words really moved me.  Here was an unlovable older man with many issues, but a consistent gentle response won the day and broke through his crusty heart.  I believe that this is what Jesus wants us to do when we encounter a difficult person.
     Proverbs 27:17 reads:  "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  God's purpose in bringing us into relationship with one another is to sand down our rough edges.  He is not so concerned with our comfort as our character.  Therefore, he may put us in close contact with someone who is irritating, different, difficult or any  number of other descriptive terms.  Instead of avoiding this person,  God wants us to love them and pray for them.  When we pray for someone, we are less likely to spend all our time gossiping about them.  It is amazing how we change in prayer too.  We begin to see them as God sees them.  All too often, we jump to conclusions about people based on one or two encounters with them.  This colors our outlook and prevents us from really getting to know that person.  What a missed opportunity for potential friendship!  Even our worst enemies might become our best friends given time, God's love and persistence.  However, the most important thing is that we do not want to be disobedient to the Lord by hating another person.
     Conflicts on the job and in families disrupt the flow of life.  We cannot accomplish our goals unless we work together.  I know this is hard, but with God, all things are possible.  If I can crack the crust of an old man's heart on the phone through gentle kindness, I am certain we can all reach out and love those who seem so unlovable.  Today, make a list of people who really seem to rub you the wrong way.  Go down the list and pray for each one.  Make this a habit and then when you encounter them be friendly.  Do not let their problems become yours.  Instead, reflect the love and glory of Jesus Christ in your life towards them.  My mother always told me, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar".  Our call is to obey the Lord and leave the results up to Him.    May Jesus help us to love even our enemies.  Selah!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Poison of Perfectionism

     Among the many traps we can fall into in this life, perfectionism is one of the most deadly.  This bent in character can cause a good deal of unhappiness, and dissatisfaction.  My mother used to joke that she was a "perfectionist", but it was no laughing matter.
     In our home, things had to be done perfectly.  If I cleaned a bathroom and every inch did not sparkle, I often had to redo the job.  When I learned to iron my father's work shirts, they were thoroughly inspected for any signs of wrinkles.  If one was found, I had to iron that area again until it looked as good as a dress shirt.  Even dusting furniture had to be done to perfection.  Believe me, it is not easy pleasing someone whose goal in life is to be perfect.
     Little did I realize that my mother's emphasis on perfection had also infected my outlook on life.  This became clear to me in my young married days.  I had a dear friend who had been married longer than I and had a couple of children.  She was an excellent cook, could sew up a storm (including suits and coats for her husband and children), was a master at ceramics, could crochet and do many other crafts with outstanding ability.  She attempted to teach me some of the things she had learned.  I managed to learn how to crochet, I even sewed a suit for myself (after heavy labor on my part) and my cooking improved.  However, I always felt inferior around her.  She always seemed to have everything together and under control.  She was a "Betty Crocker" and "Martha Stewart" rolled into one person.  Why couldn't I be like that?
     If truth be told, I enjoyed crocheting and working on some things such as embroidery, but I never enjoyed sewing.  It did not come naturally for me.  I didn't care for ceramics either.  Somehow, I thought I must not be a very good homemaker.  My friend looked perfect, and I wanted to look that way too with a model house, well scrubbed floors, and happy children.  The old sin of envy and unhappiness crept into my life  because I felt I did not measure up to my own standards of perfection.
     Several years later, my friend confided in me that she had been having marital problems.  Her husband worked long hours, the children did not always appreciate her and her efforts on their behalf, and she nearly got into serious trouble on several jobs.  She went for counseling which helped to some extent, but her perfect world did not look so perfect any longer.  Tragically, she died in an auto accident a number of years ago.
     As I reflected on her life, I realized that I had built up a wrong perception of her which led me to dissatisfaction with my own life.  I was measuring myself by another rather than seeing how God had made me.  2 Corinthians 10:12 reads:  "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise."  Paul has it right here.  We are not to measure ourselves by ourselves.  We are to look at our lives in light of God's Word.  We are not nor can we be perfect.  There was only one who was perfect and that was our Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the one who not only saved us but is daily perfecting us according to His will for our lives.
     What I discovered about my friend is that her life was not as perfect as I thought it was.  I had fooled myself and this led to unhappiness and envy on my part.  Now, in the later part of my life, I have come to understand that God has made each one of us for His glory.  He did not mean for us to be carbon copies.  My friend had talents I did not possess.  I had talents which she did not possess.  Indeed Isaiah said it well in 49:9:  "What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.  Does a clay pot argue with its maker?  Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'  Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop you are doing it wrong!'  Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?'"  This is a picture of a perfectionist.  We, who are made by an Almighty Creator, dare to challenge Him in how He made us and the place where He has planted us.
     Reality, as found in the Word, tells us that the measure of a man or woman is not found in a sparkling bathroom, a perfect home, scrubbed, polite children, or the ability cook like Gordon Ramsey. Our worth, our purpose and our significance are found in Jesus Christ.  When we begin to comprehend this, we will break off the shackles of perfectionism that have kept us in envy, insecurity and inferiority.  We are made whole in Christ.  We lack nothing in Him.  He gives us all we need for life and godliness.
     When we are tempted towards perfectionism, we must step back and pray for His grace so that we may walk by the Spirit and not in our flesh.  Our good works, we must remember, are as filthy rags before our holy God.  However, in Him, we are more than conquerors in Christ.  Lets focus on Him and less on others or circumstances around us.  Selah!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Service with a Smile

     I remember long ago when service stations were just that....service stations.  You could drive up to purchase gasoline and a kind gentleman would come out and ask how much gas you wanted.  Then, while the tank was being filled, he would clean the windshield and check the oil and tire pressure.  Yes, those days are gone along with low priced gasoline.  Now it is self-service where you can clean your own windshield and check your own oil.
     Somehow in this modern world, we have lost the ability to serve one another courteously.  Perhaps it's because we are in too much of a hurry or maybe its because we have too few people who want to work in service jobs.  Whatever the reason, we are not off the hook in terms of our call from the Lord to serve one another.
     Matthew 20:25-28 reads: "....You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet, it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
     As Christians, we have the opportunity to show the world what service is really all about.  Instead of the power grabs that routinely take place in the world, we can show others what the true meaning of leadership is by serving one another.
Grandson Aiden serving Daddy by helping him.
     Our faith has no room for those who want to "rise to the top" at the expense of their brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Instead, our hearts are to be willing to give to others and love them with actions as well as words.  When we follow through on this, we will be demonstrating the life of Jesus Christ.  Believe me, this will catch the attention of the world around us because serving others is fast becoming a lost art.
     When others see us going the extra mile to help one another, they will want to know why.  This opens the door to share the "Good News" with them.
     We must remember that our reward lies in heaven not on this earth.  So all that we do here will help to plant seeds, nurture growth in other believers and set an example for those who follow.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus and ask Him to teach us how to serve one another with a willing heart.  Selah!

In what ways can we practically serve one another?  I welcome your thoughts and insights.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Do Not Break and Enter What God Has Closed

     Not a day goes by but what someone reading this will face a disappointment of some type.  Perhaps a job fell through that we had hoped would come our way.  Maybe a relationship ended on less than a happy note or possibly a promotion we had pinned  our hopes on did not occur.  Whatever the event that caused our hearts to sink, we need to take time for a serious talk with God.
     Nothing happens that God does not know about.  He is sovereign over the earth and our lives.  I confess that I do not always understand the way in which He works, but according to His Word, I know that His plan for us is perfect.  Jeremiah 29:11 reads:  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."  God's intentions for our life are continually good even if we do not see it that way at the time.  When we are in the middle of pain, it is hard to recognize.
An ancient door in Lincoln Cathedral England
     My husband gave some very sound advice to one of our children at one point when he said, "If God closes a door in your life, don't try to force it open again."  Those were good words of wisdom.  How many of us (lets be honest here) have tried every way imaginable to force a door open when God has closed it?  We pull out the crow bar, skeleton key, battering ram or whatever we can to break down that door which God has shut for His purposes.  In many cases, it just boils down to the fact that when we asked God to bless something "we" wanted we couldn't stand the fact that He said "no".  How could He do that when it looked so right?
     Of course, there are times when we do force our way through that door despite the Lord's warnings. At that point, God lets us face the consequences of our decision.  Samson was called to live as a Nazarite set apart to God.  He was not to drink wine or cut his hair.  His life was to be lived in a holy manner.  He also was not to tell anyone the secret of his strength.  However, he succumbed to the temptations of the world and told Delilah the secret of his strength.  As a result, he was captured by the enemy, and blinded.  God allowed him one more feat of power when he collapsed the temple of the pagan god killing many of the enemies (Judges 16).  How much more could he have accomplished if he had not done things "his" way?
     In the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), we find a king who had a heart after God's own heart.  Yet, he fell into the sin of adultery which led to murder in order to cover his tracks.  The result was the loss of the baby which came from the union and discord which remained in David's house until the day he died.    Once again,  God has provided, through the pages of His Word, another example of what can happen when we push ahead into something which the Lord has commanded us to avoid.
     When God says "no" or closes a door on a relationship, a job, or some other area, we need to accept His answer especially if we have prayed over it.  He is not denying us joy.  Instead, He may be saving us from heartache that we cannot even see or imagine.  The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but once we get there, it may be just as brown and patchy as our own.
     Instead of working hard to pry that closed door open again, we would do well to spend more time moving on and seeking to understand what God was trying to teach us.  His plans, remember, are far better, higher, and more satisfying than anything we could force our way into.  By waiting on the Lord, we will find the path He has for us to walk in and He will hold open the doors that no man can close if we will follow Him.  Remember the words of Isaiah when he wrote, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."  This is our call to trust in the Lord and wait on Him.  Don't try to pry that door open again that the Lord has closed.  Rejoice, instead, that He is opening new doors of opportunity for us to walk through if we will be obedient to follow Him.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

From Politics to Perfection

     Have you ever been in a room where the air is so thick with tension that you could cut it with a knife?  Well, I think that best describes our office reception area yesterday as politics became the subject du jour.  A friend had come in and sat waiting for his spouse.  We engaged, initially, in some friendly conversation over the happenings in our community and nation.  As the discussion became more serious, my friend suddenly piped up with a comment that people in a certain political party could not be  Christians and be in that party.  Then, he followed up with a comment on an always contentious subject namely abortion.  He believes it is the murder of the unborn.  These words brought forth two strong responses from others in the room who believe that a woman has the right to choose.  The verbal parrying went on for a short while longer and then all calmed down.  As he got ready to leave, he said, "I guess I stirred things up."
     In all honesty, I agree with my friend on some of the things he said especially as it regards abortion.  Scripture tells us in Job 1:21b:  "....the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."  This statement was made after Job lost all his wealth, and his children whom he counted dearest of all.  He recognized that God and God alone has the right to bring someone into the world and to take them out of this world.  It is not a man or woman's prerogative...not their choice.  As a Christian, I believe in God's infallible Word to us which is full of truth and sets the foundation for our moral choices.  Man can and does find ways to ignore this truth, get around this truth, make excuses or reasons for ignoring truth, but in the end, it is still the truth, and one day, we will be held accountable for what we have done with the truth as found in God's Word.
     Where I departed from my friend's approach to political discussion was in his emphasis on getting the right man in office and lining up the legislature.  Certainly, it is important to vote, know the issues and be involved, but it will not solve all the problems.  No matter where we stand on the debate as to whether our country has a Christian foundation or a Deist one, no government is perfect or able to save us.  Our salvation comes through the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   He, alone is able to change the heart of men and women.  This is what changes a nation.  Psalm 33:12 reads: " Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance."  This is what makes a difference in families, communities, states and in the nation.
     Recently, many Christian pastors, including John MacArthur, have made it clear that we are citizens of heaven.  We are passing through this earth, and while we are here, we are to be salt and light to influence those around us for good.  Our job is to be an ambassador for Christ who alone has the truth, the way and the life for those whom He calls.  Until Christ returns to this earth, we are to stand firm and point to Him.  When He comes to reign and rule, scripture tells us  "....that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11).  Christ will bring the only perfect government and sin and suffering will be no more.  This is worth waiting for!
     Putting all our hope in politicians, legislation or some other gimmick will not accomplish what we are looking for in this life.  We will always be disappointed by people.  Likewise arguing over things that some day will mean nothing in light of eternity does not bring resolution.
     As good citizens, we are to fulfill our duties by participating in our form of government and staying informed.  However, we also have to keep in mind that our ultimate destination is with the Lord.  What we think on issues in light of eternity does not matter, but what God thinks and speaks in His Word will
stand even if the world passes away.  Therefore, as believers we must know what is in the Bible for it contains the foundation for our life and conduct.
     Political firestorms will come and go.  Candidates will rise and fall.  Governments will please some and disappoint others, but none of these things will fill the spot in our hearts meant only for our Creator God.  He, alone brings us all that we have need of in this life and prepares us for the next.  Isaiah 9:6-7 tells us about the future government of our Lord and God:
     "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder,
and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
     This is our hope and our future in Jesus Christ.  Let us be engaged in our current affairs on this earth, but let us not allow them to overshadow the fact that we are citizens of Christ's Kingdom .  When He comes again, He will establish the perfect government for which men long.  Selah!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Preparing for the Big Test

     Years ago, our middle son expressed a deep desire to spend two weeks getting ready for his driving test after his sixteenth birthday.  He felt ready to get his license, but wisely wanted plenty of practice.
     His father had taken him out a number of times to practice his driving skills during the time that he held a restricted license, but the big test was ahead.  So, being the dutiful mother, I spent two weeks going over all the basics, safety tips and sitting as a passenger while he drove.  We practiced three point turns in the road over and over again.  We practiced panic stops, and we practiced how to correctly make a turn at a stop sign.
     After all the practicing was over, we made an appointment with the person in charge of the driving test.  Our son took his test and passed with flying colors.  What a joy it was for him to have his driver's license!  I know it was a big moment in his life.  Because he had prepared well of the test, he passed.
     As Christians, the Lord asks us to take an examination of our own lives before we partake of communion.  However, do we really take this seriously enough?  I Corinthians 11:28 says:  "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (NKJV).
     In considering this preparation for communion, we need to look at any sin or deficiency of love in our relationships.  Do we have a root of bitterness towards someone that has not been confessed?  Are we conducting ourselves as ambassadors of Christ in both home and business?  These and other questions are areas that we need to pray about and seek the insight of the Holy Spirit on.  If He reveals or convicts us of sin, we need to confess and deal with this before we take communion.  Why is this important?  Because we have accountability to God for our lives and actions if we are His children.
     Two scriptures which can help us to examine our lives are found in the book of Matthew.  Chapter 6:33 reads:  "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (NKJV).  This verse pertains to our relationship to God and putting Him first and foremost in our lives.
     Matthew 22:37-40 pertains to our relationship to our fellow man:  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  If we are not right in either of these two areas of relationship, then, we are not ready to partake of the Lord's supper.
     Look at verses 29-32 of I Corinthians 11:  "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.  For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (NKJV).
     Just as it is important to know how to handle a large responsibility like driving a vehicle safely, so it is also paramount that we take time to examine ourselves before we participate in communion.  If we judge ourselves rightly, then, we will be ready to sit at the feet of Jesus and renew through communion our covenant with Him as we partake of the bread and the cup.  Selah!

How do you prepare your heart as you come to the communion table?  I welcome your thoughts and insights.