Thursday, July 23, 2015

Taking on Someone Else's Burdens

     Friendship with other believers is a wonderful thing.  It can provide us with encouragement, stimulation, accountability and challenge us to think.   When Christ is at the center of any relationship whether friend or family,  we find rich blessings.  However, because we still have the sin nature in our flesh, we have to continually guard ourselves against taking on someone else's burdens or hurts.  Satan knows our weaknesses and can do great damage in this area if we are not careful.
     I remember very well my mother warning me not to get caught in the middle of someone's dispute with another.  She said it would not turn out well for me if I did.  I must confess that this has happened to me on a few occasions, and she was right.  I ended up embroiled in a controversy that had nothing to do with me in the end, but it spoiled my outlook on everything.
     Even our Lord had people come to Him with a request to get involved  in their dispute.  We read in Luke 12:13-14 about a brother who asked Jesus to help him:  "“And someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’  But He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?'”  In other words,  Jesus refused to get entangled in another person's disagreement.  Did this mean He did not care?  Not at all.  Jesus was using wisdom.  There is a time to help a friend, and certainly, we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  However, we are not to become embroiled in conflict because we ultimately end up getting hurt ourselves.  So what should we do when a friend comes to us to unload their burden of wounds?
     First and foremost, we should listen to them, and if possible, encourage them.  Everyone needs a sounding board.  We all need acceptance and a chance to be real with others.  However, we also have to be careful not to pick up that friend's offense as though it were our own.  Recognize that God may be at work in that person and we do not want to hinder God's efforts to mature them.  In the flesh, we want to fix everything and everybody.  Sometimes, we cannot do either. Yet there is something we can and should do.
     We should take time to pray with that person and continue to lift them up in prayer each day. God is capable of healing the offense our friend feels.  He is able to do what we cannot.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:9:  "Blessed are the peacemakers:  for they shall be called the children of God."  This is what we need to be doing on a daily basis.  We are to be peacemakers.  The last thing we want to be is a troublemaker in the household of God.
     Jesus is the only burden bearer whose blood was shed to cover our sins.  Therefore we know He is trustworthy to bring about a resolution to the dispute or offense our friend is feeling.  If we choose to take their offense into our own hearts and make it our own, there are some sad consequences we will face.  We become embittered towards the party that hurt our friend.  This keeps us from being a peacemaker or reconciler that Christ has called us to be.  We begin to look with a critical eye at everything the offending party does.  I have seen this happen in the workplace where one employee poisons another co-worker's outlook towards the boss or a fellow employee.  Going to work is no longer enjoyable.  We find ourselves looking at the other party all the time and building a case against them.  All of this drama only contributes to a negative atmosphere to work in and does little to bring people together.  Christ has called us to live as lights in this world and not as agents of darkness.  Therefore, like Jesus, let us be wise and not become embroiled in a dispute.  Instead, pray for all involved that God would heal hearts remembering that Christ was wounded for us and our transgressions.  He alone is the burden bearer.  This will bring glory to the Father and peace to those involved.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Standing on Solid Ground

     Watching old movies is fun and brings back many memories.  One of the recurring scenes I remember the most from movies I watched while growing up was the danger of the quicksand pit.  The hero would be running away from the bad guys when he falls into a quicksand pool.  Slowly, as he struggles, he sinks deeper and deeper.  This heightened the suspense.  Would he make it out okay? Just when everything looked hopeless, the hero's horse or buddy would come along and save the day pulling him to safety.  They say that art imitates life, and with that in mind, I do believe that many of the philosophies that abound today are like quicksand pits.  Look, with me, at the interaction between Jesus and a Scribe.
     On one occasion, during the course of the Lord's ministry, He was asked by a Scribe what the most important commandment was.  "Jesus answered, 'The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your
soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these'" (Mark 12:29-31).
     Jesus began His answer with the Shema (statement of faith)  which affirmed His very solid standing on God's Word.  Always the Pharisees were out to trick Him in making a statement that would prove him to be unorthodox in His thinking and contrary to the Word of God.  The faithful Jew recited the Shema both morning and night.  However, Jesus added something to this rendition of the statement of faith.  Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to love God with all our heart, soul and strength, but Jesus added mind.  This is a crucial addition as we must love the Lord with every part of us...not just a portion.  Then Jesus goes on to follow up with loving our neighbor as ourself.  The love we have for God flows naturally into love of our fellow man.  In this reply, our Lord is summing up the intent of The Ten Commandments given by God.  The first four commands deal with our relationship with God and the remaining six deal with our relationship with man.
     At every turn, Jesus dodged the quicksand that the Pharisees hoped to sink Him in with His wise answers.  Also, our Savior was affirming the Bible as God's Word for us which offers life and hope.  It is the solid foundation on which to build a life.  When God is first in our heart, soul, mind and strength, we can develop the right sort of friendships and relationships in this world built on the genuine love of God.
     In addition with our focus on God, we can face the trials that inevitably come into every life.  He enables us to walk through the storms.  While doubts and struggles do not disappear for us, the effect they have upon us is diminished by our faith in God.  Love is a powerful weapon against the quicksand philosophies of this world like relativism, pragmatism, atheism and any other "ism's" a person will confront.
     Even more, Jesus affirmed the Word of God as the only rule for faith and authority.  As He later said, ""Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17).  He was the Word made flesh who dwelt among us to show us the truth.  Furthermore, Jesus went on to tell us:  "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt. 5:18).  This is the solid ground that will keep us from sinking.
     I cannot imagine anyone wanting to walk into a quicksand pit unless they have a death wish.  However, there are many hidden ones waiting for us to make a misstep.  This is why it is critical for us to be students of the Bible both Old and New Testaments.  God's Word is whole, living and filled with truth.  Reading it prepares us each day to face the world in which we live.  May God give us the mind, heart, soul and strength to love Him and our fellow man as much as we love ourselves.  If we do this, we will fulfill God's Law and bring Him the glory.  Selah!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Do You Want to Grow 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 10, 2015

Wise as Serpents and Gentle as Doves

     When I was a teenager, I did not much appreciate all the rules and restrictions my parents placed on my activities.  I felt like they were trying to keep me from having fun, but as I look back years later, I understand just how much they loved me.  Their boundary setting and discipline made me more fully aware of the consequences I would experience if I disobeyed.  Certainly this training is much needed in our current culture where many young people are never held accountable for their actions.  Needless to say, I am grateful for their faithful instruction which kept me out of harm's way.
     In the same way, our Heavenly Father provides for us, with His moral Laws, teaching and examples in the Bible, the guidelines to remain on the narrow path which leads to eternal life.  Every time I open the Word, I am reminded that I am reading God's thoughts after Him.  Likewise knowing that Jesus came to walk among us as both fully man and fully God, makes His instruction even more critical for our well-being as believers in this hostile world in which we walk.
     Lately, it has become even more clear with current events that this world is growing in its rebellion against God.  Beheadings, unrest throughout the world, and court rulings are bewildering signs of the times in which we live and make us aware that we are aliens here in this culture.  We are just passing through; however, Jesus does not want us to be unprepared.  
     In the Gospel according to Matthew (10:26), we read:  "Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  Jesus knew what His disciples would face as they shared the "Good News" of salvation with others.  It would not be easy, and since we know that man's sin nature has not changed since The Garden of Eden, we also know that we will face those who will decry our faith.  
     Within this simple instruction, the Lord tells us to be as wise as a serpent but as gentle as a dove.  We know, from nature, that snakes are able to evade capture by moving quickly.  On the other hand, doves are gentle, kind and non-confrontational.  What a dichotomy is presented in this word picture, but the Lord knows we need to be able to use both our ability to maneuver wisely as well as our gentle nature in order to bring others into the Kingdom and avoid the pitfalls of this world.  This is true even more so now that the tide has changed in our nation concerning many moral issues addressed in the Bible.  The bottom line for the Christian is that we must obey God rather than man.  We will not be popular and we may face persecution.  Now is the time for us to do some self
examination.  Are we ready to stand with the Lord upholding His moral law?  Are we willing to lose all that we have if it comes to that in order to serve the Lord?  If we are a church leader, what will we do in order to protect the sheep in our care?
     Jesus did not send out His disciples without presenting them with the cost they would have to pay for their faithfulness.  Neither does He send us out without instruction.  We must be prayed up, solid in the Word and ready in the love of Christ to defend the faith we profess.  Many are watching for our response to see if we will stand fast.  Let us pray for our pastors, leaders and the church body that the Lord will deliver us up from evil and temptation.  In all our ways, may we shine for Christ in this dark world that many will come to know Him!  Selah!

The picture of the snake is courtesy of Kathy Hardesty.  The dove picture is from Wiki Commons and courtesy of Steveleeignacio .

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fighting Against the Current

     Our family recently returned from a wonderful beach vacation where we had a chance to relax and enjoy God's beautiful creation.  While the weather was beautiful every day, we were mindful of the possible hazards that the ocean presents especially with small children.  One of those concerns are rip currents which can quickly develop even on calm days.  These streams of water can pull a person out from the beach quite a distance
 before the grip of the current weakens.  If you are not a good swimmer, it can be a very scary experience or even a deadly one.
     Experts tells us that if we are caught in one of these fast moving currents, we are to swim parallel to the beach until we are able to gradually swim back to shore.  Allowing the stream of fast moving water to take us far out can mean a long swim back to shore so the earlier we can begin a parallel move along the shore, the more quickly we will be able to break free from the current.  No matter what we do, we
should not panic either.  This is non-productive and leads to exhaustion.  Keeping our head in this situation can keep us alive.
     Fortunately, on this trip to the beach, there were no serious threats from rip currents, but we remained vigilant none the less.  As I reflected on our blessed time away, I could not help but see the similarities to our Christian life in these days.
     Our culture, like a rip current, can suddenly throw a curve at believers causing them to lose their balance and carrying them far from the safety of the shore.  Recent decisions by the Supreme Court along with the drift away from the Christian heritage that brought the Pilgrims to this shore can make anyone panic.  Yet, Christ calls us to embrace His peace which the world cannot receive.  Instead of fear, we need to stand firm for the faith that our forefathers fought for so bravely.  Our Lord told us in John 14:27:  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."    These words of comfort are for the ears of all who trust in the Lord in the face of a cultural rip tide which is quickly sweeping moral laws aside.  It can look bleak, but we must remember that God works all things together for good.  He is not surprised nor is He idle.  Behind the scenes where we cannot see, God is at work.  Our job is to obey and be the salt and light to this world that Christ has called us to be.
     A prime example comes from the Book of Acts.  Peter had been teaching and performing miracles in Jerusalem such that many were coming to faith.  The Pharisees and Jewish leaders wanted Peter and all the disciples to cease and desist from teaching about the Lord.  However, this did not happen.  Peter responded to their complaint in Acts 5:28-29:  "…28saying, "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 29But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men."  I am certain it would have been easier to go along with the cultural mandate, but Peter knew he had to be faithful to God first and foremost.
     Quite often, I believe, we forget that Peter lived in pretty turbulent and difficult times himself.  All of Israel was under the watchful eye of conquering Rome, a decadent pagan society.  Many believers would face crucifixion or be torn apart by lions in the Coliseum.  Still, they remained faithful to the call of Christ.  This is what God has asked us to do, as well.   Our call, like theirs, is to stand on the truth of God's Word proclaiming His love for sinners, and not yielding to the rip tide of culture.  If we swim parallel to the shore, we will break free of the grip of the tide that wants to stamp out our voice.
When the time is right, our Savior, Lord and King will return to establish His Kingdom.  Until that day, we are to occupy the land girded in the armor of the Holy Spirit and willing to tell others  about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  This is what we have been called to do for His glory and our enjoyment forever!  Lets not get caught up in the culture.  Lets get caught up in Christ!  Selah!