Friday, March 29, 2013

The Words that Echoed Round the World

Inside Stirling Castle in Stirling, Scotland
     One of my favorite movies is "Braveheart" with Mel Gibson.  It tells the story of William Wallace a brave warrior of Scotland who fought the British to obtain freedom.  King Edward I had deposed the weak King of Scotland and declared himself king.  However, Wallace and his men killed an English sheriff and burned the town of Lanark,  He went on to defeat British forces near the River Forth close to Stirling.  Wallace was able to take Stirling Castle and for a time held the British at bay.  Eventually King Edward I took Scotland back under his rule and captured William Wallace who was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded  and quartered.
     In the movie version, as William Wallace was being tortured, he asked to speak a word.  The guard thought he was going to recant so he could have a quick death.  Wallace, once again, surprised those in attendance at his execution by yelling "Freedom"!  Following his death, Scotland did regain her freedom some fifty years later.  The story was riveting and true.  When we traveled to Scotland, we made certain to visit Stirling where we saw the William Wallace Monument and visited Stirling Castle.  What history surrounded us as we walked the grounds.  In fact, we even stayed in the William Wallace room of Dalhousie Castle near Bonnyrigg just south of Edinburgh.
     As stirring as the story of William Wallace is for us, there is another whose final words have reverberated over the centuries throughout the world.  One who died for the sins of all who are called by His name to receive the gift of salvation.  These three simple words tore the curtain in the Temple that separated man and God.  These words opened the graves of saints who went about Jerusalem testifying to God's great glory.  These three words destroyed the power of sin and death.  Look with me into the Bible.
     John 19:28-30 reads:  "After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), 'I thirst.'  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished,' and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit."  These three words "It is finished" are words of fulfillment.  Our Lord completed with perfection all the requirements of the Law and prophets.  He was
The William Wallace Room at Dalhousie Castle
the perfect Adam who came to take away the sins of those whom God had chosen before the foundation of the world.  On the cross, Jesus bore in His body the terrible wrath that had been stored up for you and me.  Because He died, we can now live in truth and fellowship with God.  This is so incredible that it is hard to believe!  The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:7-8:  "For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  These words express the mercy of God towards the unrepentant rebels that once we were outside of Christ.
     As we contemplate these three words today on Good Friday, remember that we were once estranged from God and far from Him.  There was and is even today nothing we can do to bridge that gap in our own strength.  No works, no special formula can put us in relationship with God.  Only the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect lamb can atone for our sins and allow us to enter God's presence wearing the robe of righteousness which He purchased for us.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life;  No one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6)
     When Jesus said "It is finished", all of eternity shook from the power of these words.  Yet, it is just the beginning for all who put their trust in Christ for salvation.  Today is the day of repentance and redemption for all who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
     While William Wallace ignited the hearts of all the Scots, he ultimately died and is buried.  He will be remembered for his bravery, but his cry for "freedom" pales in comparison to the words that echoed around the world when Jesus said, "It is finished."  His empty tomb stands as glorious evidence that He conquered sin and death on our behalf.  Rejoice!  Our salvation is complete!  Selah!

The Church of the Holy Ghost in Heidelberg, Germany

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

He Prayed for Us

The Praying Hands by Durer...
(public domain Wiki Commons)
     Perhaps no other chapter in the Bible touches my heart more during this Passion week than John 17.  This is known as the "high priestly prayer" of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Prayer is communication between God and man and  knowing that Christ, who is both fully God and fully man, offered up prayer for us as believers should touch our hearts with deepest humility.
     Aware that He faced death upon the cross as our perfect sacrifice, He spent time talking to God on our behalf.  He is, after all, our high priest and the only mediator between God and man.   Jesus begins His prayer by preparing Himself for what is to come.  He knows He has accomplished what the Father has sent Him to do during His earthly ministry.  Then, Jesus says in verse 2:  "...since you have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him."  Here our Lord makes reference to the fact that God has sovereignly  chosen those who would be called by His name.  Then, He gave them to His Son that they might find salvation through His sacrifice.
     As we consider the part of this prayer that deals with both His disciples and all future believers that should come after them, we can break it down into a few parts.  First, Jesus prays for our knowledge in verses 6-9.  Looking specifically at verse 8-9, we read:  "For I have given them the words that You gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given me for they are Yours."  Jesus makes clear in these verses that His prayer is not for the world at large but for those whom God has called to belong to Himself...a people after His own name.
     In verses 10-12, Jesus prays for our perseverance.  If ever we doubted the Lord's love for us, all we have to do is read these verses.  Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him.  He came to die for our sins, but in the midst of this time before the storm, He prayed for our perseverance.  He was going to the Father and asked that God would guard and protect those who were believers.  How well our Savior knew our weak frame and the temptations that would come our way!
     Not only did He pray for perseverance but He also prayed for our joy in verse 13:  "But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves."  Joy is that unspeakable assurance that God is present in our lives.  It does not mean happiness which is often here today and gone tomorrow, but an abiding peace which resides in our hearts and minds that no one can take from us.  This is a gift worth having and by the sacrifice of Christ, this joy is ours day by day.
     One of the most beautiful parts of this prayer, to me, is found in verses 14-17 where Jesus prays for our protection from evil and for our sanctification.  Jesus, here, reminds the Father that He has given us God's Word and because of this, the world hates us since we no longer belong to the world.  Jesus does not ask God to take us out of the world but to keep us from the evil one.  Then comes this verse:  "Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth."  Keep in mind that it is God who does the sanctifying. Our efforts in any of this are of no avail.  Rather, it is in and through Christ alone that we are redeemed and sanctified.  This is a blessed thought.
     Finally, in verses 20-26, Jesus prays for our unity, oneness, our mutual love and for the day when we will be with Him.  Not only did Jesus pray all of this for His current disciples who would soon be tested beyond their limits with His trial and crucifixion but He also has prayed this for us as well.  We, and all who came after the disciples,  are those of the future generations for which our Lord prayed all of these things.  Here we have provision for all we need in life and godliness in one prayer.  Because He was the perfect lamb of God, all that He asked the Father has been done for us.
     This prayer should bring us to our knees in repentance and thanksgiving.  We have such a Great Savior, who before He went to the cross, made known by prayer, His desire for our welfare, growth and sanctification.  If this does not humble us, nothing will.  We are a blessed people who are called by the name of Christ.  Meditate on this prayer offered for us during this Passion week.  Consider our Savior's ministry on our behalf even as He faced death on the cross.  Then, rejoice in His powerful resurrection which seals for us all the promises made within this prayer.  May we ever live in such a way that we bring glory and honor to our Lord who prayed for us that we might live for Him.  Selah!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why People Leave a Church

Westminster Abbey in London, England
     There have been a number of research polls taken on why people leave a church.  Some of the reasons are valid such as moving away to a new location or a change of jobs.  Likewise, a lack of sound biblical teaching is another important reason to depart.  However, there are also reasons which seem not as clear:  hurt feelings; dislike of the pastor; disagreement over carpets, paint or physical facilities; finances; being too busy;  marriage issues; gossip within the Body; no one called to visit them.  I know a number of people who will never darken the door of another church because of one of these issues.
     Having gone through the pain of leaving a church myself, I know, firsthand, how difficult it can be.  My husband and I did so only after much prayer and soul searching.  We felt we could not stay due to differences in doctrinal teaching.  Afterwards, it took us some time before we were once again able to fellowship in a church body.  Such an action can be devastating emotionally and spiritually.  By God's providence, we were invited to our present church home by our current pastor.  With the invitation to come and visit, he also gave us time until we felt ready to plunge in once again.
     When I hear people say they want to leave their church home, I think of the article I read some time ago by Dr. Dale A. Robbins entitled "Before You Quit Your Church".  He listed five things to consider before leaving:  "If you are presently in a church that  1) is scripturally sound 2) is reasonably stable and  loving, 3) has godly moral leadership 4) is doing their best to exalt Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and 5) if they're making a reasonable effort to minister to you and your family then hang in there and remain faithful!  You don't know how blessed you are to have a healthy church like that."  These are some good guidelines for all of us to keep in mind whether counseling someone who is about to leave their church or for ourselves if we are contemplating the same.
     God has some excellent reasons why we need to belong to a community of believers.  People tend to overlook these in their effort to find the "exit" door of a church.  First, God commands us to fellowship with other believers.  Hebrews 10:25 reads:  "...not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."  Within the Body of believers, we are intended to grow and help each other in our daily walk with Christ.
     Another important reason to be in fellowship is for the preaching and teaching of God's Word.  Paul exhorted young Timothy (II Timothy 4:2) to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching."  This is how God will refine us if we sit under the teaching of His Word.  Yes, we can read it on our own, but there is no accountability outside of the church to help us stay on the right path.
     Thirdly, sitting in corporate worship allows us the chance to pray together, praise the Lord, take communion and encourage each other.  This is something we cannot do on our own.  Jesus told us that He would be present whenever two or three are gathered in His name, and He gave us an example of fellowship Himself as He went regularly to the synagogues and Temple to teach.  He did not isolate Himself.
     Finally, within the boundaries of the church body, we can serve one another and bring encouragement to one another.  Galatians 5:13-14 says:  "For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  Our freedom that was bought by Jesus Christ gives us the privilege of being His hands and feet to bless those around us through service and encouragement.  The church is like our family and as we reach out to share the love of Christ with others around us, we will find the joy of the Lord.
St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland
     God's plan for believers is for us to work together to serve Him and bring glory to His name.  We are the Bride of Christ for whom He died.  Therefore, if you are thinking of leaving a church, consider the reasons for staying that Dr. Robbins listed.  If you have been through the pain of leaving a church, think about all the reasons why you need to find a new place to fellowship.  No place of worship is perfect because we are all sinners.  However, as forgiven believers in Jesus Christ, together we can glorify His name  through service in His Bride the church.  Selah!

Have you ever had to leave a church?  If so, how did God help you come back into fellowship?
I welcome your words of encouragement to help others in their walk.

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's As Plain as the Nose on Your Face

       Have you ever tucked something away because it was important and then, forgotten where you put it?  Then, when you find it, you feel silly because it was right in plain sight.  I did this with some important papers.  I thought I had put them in my desk drawer for safe keeping.  Unfortunately, I must not have been focused on what I was doing because when I went back to find them they were not there.  A feeling of panic came over me, and I began to tear apart my desk to find those papers.  After going through everything, I gave up for the night.  The next morning I decided to look just one more time.  To my surprise, the papers were exactly where I thought I had put them.  Why didn't I see them the night before?  I had gone over my desk carefully but somehow missed the papers.  My mother used to tell me, when I could not find something, that I was looking too hard.  If I would just step back, take a deep breath and regroup, I could find the lost item more quickly.  Sometimes things are as "plain as the nose on your face".
     In fact, we have a major example in God's Word of something which was in plain view but the majority of people did not see it.  The Children of Israel were awaiting their Messiah but their expectations were far removed from the words of the Old Testament and the prophecies made about Jesus.  They believed Messiah would come as a conquering king who would drive out the Romans and free Jerusalem.  Instead, God sent his suffering servant to be the perfect lamb to take away the sins of those whom the Lord would call.  He didn't seem to measure up to the notions of the Pharisees who saw Him as a man who ate with tax collectors and sinners.  They wanted political freedom and did not see that they were in greater need of spiritual freedom from sin.
     Isaiah 53:1-12 paints the picture of Messiah more clearly than any other passage.  The prophet foretold that Jesus Christ would be rejected by men:  "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not."  Our Lord walked among His people for 33 years.  However, many refused to believe that He was Messiah.
     While He walked among them, He performed miracles to confirm His identity.  He fulfilled over three hundred prophecies of the Old Testament and He fulfilled perfectly all the Law and the Prophets.  Yet, He was despised and rejected because men were convinced of a Messiah made in their own image, and this is true even in our own time.
     Sin blinds us and makes us unable to receive the truth.  Only when God awakens our dead soul can we hear, see and respond to the call of Christ in our lives.  Oh, we may tell ourselves that we would have never rejected Jesus if we had seen all His miracles; however, we are only deceiving ourselves.  A man/woman entrapped by sin cannot come to Christ unless the Spirit draws him/her.
     Often in our lives, we will overlook the obvious as I did with that set of papers I was looking for.  We will miss the answer to a problem, a solution to our dilemma, the right person for a job all because we operate on our own expectations rather than bringing God into the equation.  Sometimes, the answer IS just as plain as the nose on our face.  If we miss salvation through Jesus Christ, we have missed the most important and crucial decision of our lifetime.  Following Him is the beginning of living real life.  Secondly, if we miss hearing His voice and seeking His guidance in all our decisions, we also risk losing time and energy on second best avenues rather than His fulfilling plan for us.
     I am trying to be more mindful about where I place things now so I don't end up searching high and low for the obvious item.  Maybe you have been looking for answers or directions from God.  The first place to begin is to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Then, follow His lead because He is simple and His yoke is light.  Often God's guidance is right there in front of you waiting for you to look right at it.  Open your eyes and ears to His wisdom and step out in faith.  Selah!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Wise Guy or a Wise Believer

A crown in the gallery of "The Residence in Munich, Germany
     Reading in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I came to realize that the author, whom many Bible scholars believer is Solomon, doesn't seem to be a very positive writer.  Rather, his gloomy reflections on life and existence (chapter 1:1-18) can make us feel weighed down unless we look beyond what he is saying to the answer for our lives...Jesus Christ.
     Life is, indeed, vanity without the Lord.  There really is "nothing new under the sun" when we consider all the ideas and false religions that abound in this world.  In fact, "the preacher's" outlook is that of someone who has tried everything but found no answers inside himself.  This is not unlike our society today.
     Some years ago on the Larry King Show there were two Jewish rabbis,  the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the head of "Jews for Jesus".  The discussion revolved around a book published by the Baptists on how to witness to Jews.  The rabbis concluded that this booklet was racist in its approach whereas the other two guests contended that it was merely a tool for learning how to initiate conversation with someone of another faith.  It was a heated discussion.  One of the rabbis stated that in his opinion all roads lead to heaven so there is no need to change anyone's religion.  In short, there are no new ideas under heaven presented by either of the gentlemen who did not know Christ as Messiah.
     If we key in on verses 12-18 of Chapter 1, we get a glimpse of what Solomon thought of wisdom and ideas.  In verse 12 and 13, he writes:  "I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man by which they may be exercised."  It is, in fact, a burdensome task to seek out wisdom when you don't have Jesus, but the Lord said that His burden is light and His yoke is easy.  What a difference He makes in our lives!
     Knowledge and wisdom are certainly all vanity without the relationship with Jesus Christ.  The sad part for Solomon was that he was given all this wisdom by which he became famous, but his heart turned away from the Giver.  Instead, he became captivated by many women and their false religions.  Therefore, his life was empty and meaningless even though he was the richest king in the history of Israel.  Verse 18 reads:  "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."
     Solomon could see that knowledge and wisdom only made him more aware of the awful effects of man's sin in this world.  All we have to do today is look around at how man has misused all the great knowledge he has attained:  abortion, euthanasia, nuclear weapons and the Holocaust are a few examples.
     Without Jesus Christ, wisdom and knowledge are empty and in vain.  Our Savior is our hope, our light, and our very life.  If our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit, we can apply correctly the learning we have received with glorious results.  However, those who do not know Christ can only see futility in life just as Solomon did.
     So as we read the Bible today, or work on a project or read a book, let us invite the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds so that we may have the wisdom of our heavenly Father to guide us.  Then, we will know what a marvelous world He has created and how glorious is His love for us!  Selah!

How has God given you insight at the time you needed it?   I welcome your thoughts.

Monday, March 18, 2013

God Uses Ordinary People

     Our Pastor's sermon yesterday which centered on I Samuel 9 and 10 concerning how Israel came to have a king   made me think about how God uses ordinary people.  Israel had been insisting that they be given a king to rule over them like all the nations around them.  Samuel, the prophet, resisted them at first but God told him to anoint a king for the people as they were rejecting him as Lord over the nation desiring instead to be ruled by a man.
     God's selection for this position was a young, handsome man from the tribe of Benjamin.  His father, by all accounts, was a wealthy man and had sent his son to find some missing donkeys.  Saul had not done anything unusual or outstanding that made God take notice of him.  He was inexperienced at leading people and not especially qualified, but the Lord would change all that.  It was God who called this young man to service just as He calls you and I to salvation.  We do not deserve God's mercy and grace, but He chooses to give it to some just as He chose Saul to be His servant out of all Israel.
     When it came time to anoint and present the king to the people, Saul was nowhere to be found.  He had hidden himself in the baggage and had to be brought out (I Samuel 10:22).  Doesn't that sound like some of us when we are asked to do something in the church?  We feel unqualified and unable to perform the job.  However, if God has called us, He will equip us.
Even common weeds produce pretty flowers
     Since November of this last year, I have been singing in the choir.  I had not wanted to be involved in this ministry due to what I thought were time constraints.  I work four days a week and often do not get out of the office until around 6 p.m.  Choir practice falls on a work day evening, and I was convinced I could not do it.  However, a persistent friend begged me to sing for the Christmas season only.  So, I very reluctantly agreed.  I was positive this would not work out well, but I could do it for two months.  What happened to me resulted in a real change of heart.  Not only was I able to get out of the office a little earlier on those days of rehearsal but I also found a deep and abiding joy as I joined this group of singers.  I had been in choirs in the past, but had stopped singing in one for a number of years.  Perhaps the biggest thing which God had done in my life was to give me a new change of heart.  I came home more joy filled, satisfied and blessed.  Putting on the choir robe for the first time in years was a humbling experience knowing that I was in God's ministry to others.  Our job is to lead worship with song and to preach to people through music readying their hearts for the sermon to follow.  It     is a call and when it came, I wanted to hide in the baggage with Saul.  After all, I am just an ordinary person.
     Saul could never have served as leader of his people if God had not changed his heart.  Samuel had told young Saul that he would have several signs as he journeyed and then he would come upon a group of prophets prophesying and he would join them.  Samuel said:  "Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man" (I Samuel 10:6).  Then in verse 9, we read:  "When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.  And all these signs came to pass that day."  Again, this was all the Lord's doing not Saul's.  Though I am not certain who said it, I love this saying:  "God doesn't call the equipped.  He equips those He calls."  This was true in the life of Saul and many other heroes of the Bible.  Think of Moses who felt so inadequate to confront Pharaoh.  Gideon certainly believed God must be mistaken in choosing him to defeat the enemy so much so that he sought several signs from the Lord to confirm it.  Witness, too, the disciples who were simple fishermen and even one who was a tax collector.  This motley crew was called by Jesus Himself to take the Gospel into all the world.  The list could go on and on.
     By ourselves, we cannot accomplish all that God has called us to do.  We must remain in Christ for He has the life giving resources we need on a daily basis.  This is where prayer and Bible study come in.  These two lynch pins of our faith provide what we need to undertake what God has asked us to do.
     From my own perspective, I can honestly say that God called this ordinary person to serve in the choir through a persistent friend.  I am so glad I heard the call and answered even though it was reluctantly.  Now, I would not trade the blessings of friendship, service and joy for anything in the world.
    In the same way,  God chose an ordinary man named Saul to lead His people.  He equipped him by His Spirit and He can do the same for each one of us.  We must ask ourselves each day if God is calling us to some ministry for His glory.  Read over I Samuel 9 and 10 and consider how the Lord worked a miracle in an ordinary man's life.   Then, remember that God uses ordinary people like you and me to accomplish His purposes every day.  Can you hear Him calling?   Selah!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jesus Our Friend

     As I was reading 2 Peter 1:2-11 this morning, the passage really struck home.  Look at these verses carefully: (start with verses 2-4) "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."
     What blessed me so was that I know that Jesus Christ isn't some far away deity or cosmic buddy.  He is real, living and with me day by day.  Nothing was more evident to me then at my mother's funeral  twelve years ago.  I never, in myself, would have had the internal strength and ability to speak at her service without the Lord giving to me "all things which pertain to life and godliness."  We are overcomers because we are now partakers in His divine nature.  How thankful for that we should all be!
     The verses which follow speak of the progression of growth to which Peter says we must apply ourselves diligently.  We are to add to our faith, our virtue, knowledge, to our knowledge, self-control, to self-control perseverance and to perseverance, godliness; to godliness brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness, love.  Verses 8-9 read:  "For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins."  Peter goes on to say that if we do these things we won't stumble.  This is a blessed promise from the Word that we can count on.
     Like any relationship, walking with Jesus takes effort.  Why do we think we can casually read the Word or go to church and then, expect an intimate relationship with our Savior especially at times of crisis?  We need to apply ourselves diligently to developing our friendship with Christ.  When we know Him as a friend, we can stand and speak at a funeral, pray by a sick bed in faith or witness to a friend.
     If we want a fruitful Christian life and one that doesn't trip over the temptations of life, then, we need to apply ourselves to building our relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord, our God and our Savior!  He called us "friend" therefore we need to live like we believe this.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights as always.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Lotta Give and a Little Take

     If I were to describe the worldly mindset, I would say that it focuses on what a person can take for themselves.  Whether rich or poor, there exists the idea that  life revolves around "me" and my wants.  This outlook produces the entitlement society and says, "I deserve to have my needs met.  It is my right.  I may not have worked for it, but it is my due.  This type of thinking has caused jealousy, class warfare,
thievery, hate, murder and all types of evil.
     By contrast, the Christian mindset reflects our concern for others rather than getting everything I can for myself.  People may think us fools for not demanding our rights or seeking after riches, but we have a higher calling in Jesus Christ to fulfill.
     In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul wrote these words of exhortation:  "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:1-4).  Paul, here is appealing for unity in the Body of believers that they would be of one mind, loving one another as Christ loved them.  When we live like this, it is a powerful witness to a world headed in the other direction.  Likewise, Paul said it would fulfill his joy to see this harmony.  The true enemy of harmony and unity is selfish ambition or pride.
     Paul was not saying that we should put ourselves down or belittle our talents.  However, he is encouraging Christians to think of others and show them love rather than selfish ambition.  Rivalry divides churches, families and even communities.    Pride (which is a sin) is very competitive in nature and tries to get the best of others creating conflict instead of harmony.  In contrast, as Christians, we are called to humility which accepts a place of service and is concerned for the needs and welfare of others.
Before we can have this Christ centered humility, though, we must have the love of the Lord in our hearts for one another.  Jesus made it clear that we are to go the extra mile even with those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:38-48 The Sermon on the Mount).  We are to love the unlovely...not just those who are in the world but also our brothers and sisters in Christ who are, at times, difficult to get along with.  However, we cannot do this in our own strength.
     Being filled with the Holy Spirit, praying for those we have difficulty with and reading God's Word each day provides for us the strength of heart to forgive others as we have been forgiven.  We are to bear with one another and seek ways to get along which brings glory to God.  Jesus said that if someone asks for your tunic, let him take your cloak as well.  Now, this brings us to some important questions.  Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills?  Who has allowed us to hold a job and make money?  It is God!  Therefore, since we are only using the things which God has given to us in this life, why do we become so possessive as though it belongs to us?  In my lifetime, I have witnessed the heartache that comes into families torn apart by fights over inheritance.  Isn't that silly?  We cannot take anything with us when we die.  Only what we sow into the treasure house of God by living in obedience to Him will stand the test of time.
     Division, fighting and lack of harmony come from wanting things our own way.  We are to be willing to share what we have and to consider others and their needs.  This is the way to harmonious living as Christians.  We are called to be different than the world.  If we want true joy, we will find it when we put on the heart of a servant as our Lord did.  As the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:  "Only let your manner of life be 'worthy' of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel...." (Phil. 1:27).  This, then, is how we are to live in harmony one with another for God's glory not our own.  Selah!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Walking on Egg Shells

     Eggs are very delicate items.  We used to play a game with our youth group many years ago called an egg toss.  We took uncooked eggs and stood fairly close to our partner who was facing us.  They would toss the egg to us and we both took one step back.  Then we tossed the egg again and both took another step back.  The object was to be the pair that was able to stand the farthest distance apart and toss the egg without breaking it.  Obviously, we tried to catch the egg very delicately and toss it carefully.  However, there were a lot of messy hands when an egg landed too hard.  We had fun playing this game and learned quickly that an egg shell breaks easily if not handled with care.  On another note, when people become too sensitive and easily offended, we talk about how we have to walk on egg shells around them and there is no fun in playing this game!
     God's Word is filled with admonitions on how Christian brothers and sisters are to relate to one another. To begin with, we must remember that our lives are hidden in Christ.  We belong to Him and must put aside our own selfish desires.   Paul, in speaking of sexual immorality, tells us that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and that we have been bought with a price by the blood of Christ.  Therefore, we are no longer our own (I Corinthians 6:19-20).  This changes the way we look at others and how we care for one another.  As a bond-slave to Christ, I have no right to demand my own way in relationships in church, work or in my family.
     Jesus spoke to His disciples telling them the way to relate to others.  Matthew 7:12 says:  "So whatever you wish others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."  Most of us know this as the "Golden Rule" by which we are to conduct our interactions.  If we would pause before making an unkind remark and ask ourselves, "How would I feel if the person I am speaking to said this to me?"  Often, we might not be so quick to spout our opinion.  Jesus also told His disciples:  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:22).  We are not asked to "tolerate" each other but to love one another especially as Christians.  Lets face it.  In most families and even in our churches and work places, we deal with a lot of different people and personalities.  We are not always going to see eye to eye with them.  Disagreements and differences are not bad as long as we do not break the bond of love in the process.  We are to be known for our love
despite our differences.  This is what characterizes a Christian life and makes people take notice.
     In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes:  "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you"  (Ephesians 4:32).  Then, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes:  "Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).  It isn't bad, according to Paul, to have your own interests, but if we defer to others we will demonstrate the love of Christ.  Peter adds this exhortation to Christian believers who were undergoing times of persecution:  "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing" (I Peter 3:8-9).  While we may not undergo direct persecution for our faith such as these believers experienced, we may be dealing with those who have a grudge against us or who seem impossible to please.  So why as Christians do we need these reminders in God's Word?   The answer is that we still carry in our bodies the old sin nature which can cause us to react in anger instead of responding in love.
     Perhaps the most straight forward biblical injunction is given by John:  "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him:  whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).  These are not easy words to read let alone perform.  Yet God has called us to a different way of living with each other.  Our success depends on a solid relationship with God first.  If we mistreat one another, it is an indication that we have, at best, an inadequate relationship with God.
     Most difficulties that cause friction between people come as a result of pride, selfishness and arrogance...all of which can be traced back to the sin nature.  Wanting our own way, demanding control or having a prideful attitude does not promote unity or love in the Body of Christ, at work or in our homes.  In addition, demonstrating these traits is contrary to the teaching of our Lord.
     No one enjoys walking on egg shells around others.  We never know when the egg will break leading to messy consequences.  Instead, we need to lay down our own interests at the foot of the cross and take up the mind of Christ.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:  "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:5-6).  Notice Paul told us this mind is OURS in Christ.  Therefore, let us behave as servants one to another and thus, fulfill the call of our Lord to love one another and rise above those nasty egg shells that can so easily break!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights.  May you be encouraged today.

Pictures used come from Wikipedia Commons.  The first photo is courtesy of Kangel and the second courtesy of Goldmund100.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Quarrels Among You

     One of the most destructive forces in relationships is quarreling.  Things can be said that can never be taken back and feelings can be crushed.  Often it is due to misunderstanding, but in many cases, quarreling comes from a heart of self-entitlement.  This attitude says:  "I deserve this", "My needs are more important than yours."  Essentially, for the Christian, it boils down to the sin nature -that old greedy, "me first" outlook that can raise its head if we allow it to.  Even though we no longer serve the slave master of sin, we still can get tripped up by the snares of our own lust and envy.
     In his letter to believers, James delivers a straight forward discussion of this problem.  Chapter 4: 1-4
"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."  James goes right to the heart of the matter.  When we think we have a right to something, whether material or immaterial, we begin to demand our own way.  This leads to quarreling.  James goes on to say that this leads to murder.  While this does not necessarily mean murder in the physical sense, it can be the murder of a reputation or the murder of a relationship.  When this happens within the church, it is devastating.  I remember all too well hearing a heated debate going on in a church meeting many years ago.  One of the ladies sitting in front of me leaned over and told her friend that she loved a good "church fight".  Really?  Is this the way the Body of Christ should conduct itself?
       James further tells us in this passage that the reason we do not have what we want is because we do not ask (that is, ask God).  We also do not receive because God sees our true motives.  When we pray wrongly for something as a result of fulfilling a lustful or worldly desire, God will not give us our desire.  To summarize his point, James says that if we are friends with the world then we are in opposition to God.  We cannot do things the way the world does them.  We are called to a higher level of conduct.
     Honestly considering what James has written in this passage can have a great impact on our faith and walk.  In Christ, we are called to tear ourselves away from self-justification ( I am right and you are wrong attitude) to one of self-examination.  This requires a violent uprooting of our selfishness.  So often, we try to justify our role in fights as being about high ideals, critical issues or injured rights we are trying to defend, but James will have none of that.   He drives right to the point that fights are about personal desires.  In James 1:14, the Apostle says:  "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."  We cannot blame our envy, lust, temptation or desire on God.  It comes from our own sin nature.  Bottom line is that we get into fights because of pleasures we desire for ourselves.  With this in mind, a good self examination question for Christians in conflict would be:  "What personal desire am I trying to protect or gain?"
     All we have to do is step back and look at what godly wisdom looks like in relationships.  James 3:17-18:  "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."  This should be our goal in church fellowships, in families and even in our work situations.
     Conflict tears apart and can destroy the unity which God desires among His people.  If we are called by the name of Christ, we must handle relationships differently than the world.  We are no longer our own for Christ purchased us with His blood.  He set out for us what our new nature is to be like in the "Sermon on the Mount".  When we are involved in a fight to fulfill our sinful desires, we are at enmity not only with our brother but also with God.  This calls for repentance before the Lord and reconciliation with the person we quarreled with.  We must remember that others are watching our behavior and interactions whether in church or our family.  Let us be quick to recognize and know where we must draw the line before we murder another as a result of our quarrels and fights.  Selah!

I welcome your comments and insights here.  I pray you were blessed by your visit today.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gleanings from the Field - A Look at Ligonier Part III

     As I bring this series to a conclusion today, I want to zero in on a very encouraging talk given during the Ligonier Conference.  Without a doubt, one of the foremost apologists of the Christian faith is none other than Ravi Zacharius.  I stand amazed at this man who has not only tremendous knowledge, but he also has the wisdom to know how and when to apply it.  He told us that he really would rather be in front of a hostile audience for that is what God has called him to do, but we were all grateful he came to share with us the greatest miracle of the Christian faith - the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
     Dr. Zacharius began by relating that God is our creator, and we bear His image.  Secondly, God is our Redeemer for our story is one of brokenness and sin.  More importantly, though, God is our only hope from death's dominance .  The disciples were witness to the breaking of death's dominance when Christ rose from the grave.  Ravi told us that if the resurrection of Christ was not true why did 11 of the 12 disciples die a martyr's death?  Each of them died alone not in partnership with the others so they had nothing to lose if they had chosen to recant.
     Furthermore, Dr. Zacharius listed for us some important points concerning the evidence of the resurrection:  1) There was an early proclamation of the resurrection both in writing and by the disciples
2) There was a transformation of the disciples from fear to martyrdom.  Who would die for a lie?  3) The empty tomb  4) In the city of Christ's crucifixion, the Gospel was proclaimed and news of the resurrection spread  5) No one ever produced contrary evidence that the resurrection was faked   6) The very existence of the church and its growth stands as witness  7) The believers changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday (the Lord's day of resurrection  8) The conversion of James the half brother of Jesus and chief apostle of Jerusalem  9)The conversion of Saul the man who murdered many Christians.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Zacharius also stated that the first to testify about the resurrection were women in a land where women couldn't even testify in court.  He said it is just like our Lord to use the least of these in the society of the day.
     As he concluded his talk, he mentioned that the Apostle Paul, who was one of the biggest skeptics of his day, wrote nearly 1/3 of the New Testament based upon his own experience with the Lord.  How remarkable that man is changed when he comes face to face with his Savior and Lord.
    When we finished hearing Dr. Zacharius on Friday evening, our faith was strengthened by his bold witness to the resurrection.  Throughout the entire conference, each Pastor/teacher took up a different area of encouragement for those of us caught in the front lines of the battle against the world system.  No one went away from this feast empty or disappointed.
     Next years Ligonier conference will be held March 13-15, 2014.  It is time, even now, to begin planning to attend if that is at all possible.  The wealth of knowledge, the wisdom, prayer and availability of sound biblical books at the book store made this experience like a mini-seminary.
In fact, Ligonier is making all the sessions available for you to hear on their website at no charge.  Simply click on the link: and look for the 2013 Orlando, FL conference.  It is worth your time and effort.
     I pray that I have imparted some of the glorious truths that struck me during this entire conference.  I came home with a huge volume concerning "The Puritans" written by Dr. Joel Beeke ( one of my favorite writers) , a history of the church DVD series by Dr. Robert Godfrey, some children's books and I signed up for Ligonier Connect that I might continue my biblical studies.    There are so many opportunities out there for us to learn more about our faith.  I close with the same Scripture I opened with:  "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today", that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13).  May we all become diligent students of the truth and encourage one another as we walk through this dark world.  In this manner we will not only grow in our faith but we will also glorify God.  Selah!