Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Put Words and Belief into Action

          When I was a little girl, I wanted to learn to play the piano.  I believed I could be very good at this so my mother arranged for a wonderful lady, Mrs. Hahn, to be my teacher.  She was very precise in her methods and in addition to learning a piece on the piano, we also had to memorize a paragraph about the composer.  Most of the music was classical, and I lost interest.  After just two years, I quit my lessons.  I had learned to read music and could play a tune or two, but I had little desire to practice on a daily basis.  I believed I could do it, but I failed to practice and this was my downfall.  Belief plus practice leads to success in both musical studies as well as our Christian walk.
     Recently, I attended an event where I talked with a number of people.  The conversation came around to whether a certain person had faith in Christ.  Someone spoke up and said, "Of course, they are a believer."  I pondered over that remark.  Just saying you believe is not enough.  Life evidence goes along with the belief.  We must practice what we believe or we are just uttering platitudes.  For example, my husband is a practicing optometric physician.  This means he is putting into effect all he was trained to do when diagnosing and treating vision problems.  He also continues to study on a yearly basis so he can grow in knowledge and improve his "practice".  I feel that this is also the way Christians need to think of their walk with Christ.  We need to be practicing followers of the Lord not just "believers".
     James writes these words in his letter to the Church in Jerusalem:  "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.'  Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe - and shudder!" (James 2:18-19).  James then goes on to point out that Abraham was justified by works when he obeyed God to offer up his son Isaac.  Verses 22-24 read:  "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness' - and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
     While these verses in James have created some controversy and misunderstanding, I find in them a balance.  James makes it clear that faith motivates us to good works.  Abraham put feet to his faith by obeying God and doing what the Lord instructed him to do with his son Isaac.  Today, "easy believe-ism" would have us think that putting our faith into practice by doing good works is not necessary.  However, that leads to an empty faith.  As James wrote, "even the demons believe - and shudder!"  It is one thing to say, "I am a believer".  It is another thing to live it out on a daily basis.
     My mother's favorite advice to me was "Actions speak louder than words."  She was right.  What
we believe in our heart should be put into practical application in our daily activities.  If we never attend church, do not read our Bible or pray, we ought to ask ourselves if we have given our lives in commitment to Christ.  If we see a friend or family member who says they believe but never demonstrates their faith, then, in love, we need to sit down and talk with them.  Belief in Christ plus good works done as a result of grateful obedience for what Christ has done for us equals a powerful witness that others can see.  We are, after all, to glorify God by our good deeds.
     Words are cheap.  it is easy to say we believe something, but so do the demons.  If we claim to be a part of Christ's household, let our actions also demonstrate our changed heart.  Let us practice what we preach!  Selah - Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Walking with Integrity

     One of the things I cherish most in my memories of my father is his abiding integrity.  He was a man who could be trusted with a handshake to seal a deal.  He felt it was the duty of a man to keep his word, and he never disappointed me.  Integrity is one of the hallmarks of the Christian character.
     As we face another election cycle, I always find it interesting to not only follow the candidates but also the fact checker sites to see if what they said was correct or a major departure from the truth.  We do not need people to tickle our ears with sweet sounding promises, but instead, we need men and women of integrity to lead out of a desire to serve others.  Of course, I have no illusions to the fact that we all have a sin nature.  Perfection is not yet attained for Christians on this side of heaven.  However, I believe the Lord wants our words and our walk to match, and He indicates this in His Word.
     When Solomon wrote Proverbs, he displayed God's great wisdom.  Look, with me, at four
verses which speak of integrity.  Proverbs 10:9 says:  "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."  If we are an honest person, we don't have to cover our tracks, make up stories and then try to remember what we said so we won't be found out.  There is wisdom and security in that path.  Yet,  the other part of this picture shows us a person whose ways are crooked, and God says he will be found out.  Our sins will ALWAYS come to light.  Maybe it will not be immediately, but nothing is hidden before God.  Eventually, people learn the truth as well.
     A second reference to integrity comes from Proverbs 11:3 which reads:  "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them."  Again, we see a great contrast between to philosophies of living.  The person who is honest receives guidance from God, but the individual who is treacherous in their dealings finds destruction.  Sin may look glamorous for a season, but in the end, it destroys the person who plays with it.
     In Proverbs 19:1, Solomon writes:  "Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool."  This is quite a statement from a King who reigned in wealth and riches.  He says clearly in this verse that integrity is far better than wealth.  The person who is crooked in speech is a fool.  He may gain the whole world, but as Scripture tells us, he might lose his soul in the process (Mark 8:36).
     A final verse in Proverbs comes from chapter 20:7 which says:  "The righteous who walks in his integrity - blessed are his children after him!"  Do you want your children to be blessed?  Then, walk in integrity.  What a great promise from God!  Certainly, my father influenced my life as I watched him walk in his integrity.  This character quality was something I also looked for in a husband when the time came for that momentous decision.  I am blessed to say that I married a man who values honesty as did my father, and both of us strive to follow the greatest example which is the Lord.
     We know from Scripture that Jesus came to bring the truth and open the eyes of those blinded by sin.  His honesty nailed Him to the cross for those in sin cannot stand the light of truth; yet He willingly gave His life that we might be free from sin and death.  As He clearly told us, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  It is our Savior who beckons us to live holy lives and walk in integrity before the Father.  May we take seriously this calling that as others see honesty in us they may glorify our Father in heaven and be drawn to Him.  Selah!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Living Corem Deo (Before the Face of God)

     We live in an age of communication.  Cell phones, text messaging, "tweets", Instagram, "Facebook", "Kindle" readers and other devices make reaching out an easy thing to do.  Public networking sites  make it simple to keep in touch with family and friends by exchanging pictures and sharing stories or videos.  Sometimes we enjoy reading what is happening in the life of a friend and sometimes it is "too much information".  While all of this seems like fun and a great way to keep up to date, there are several things that we need to keep in mind as believers.

     In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul penned solid instructions for the church in terms of keeping the unity of the body and in dealing one with another.  He instructs them to put away falsehood (Ephesians 4:25) and then in verses 29-32 he expands on the area of communication:  "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the
occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."  This is how we will show the world that we belong to Christ!  When we put off the old self, we are to wear these new garments of change that should affect every area of our lives...especially how we communicate with one another.

     I have seen on blogs, news groups and other Internet places some pretty nasty things being written by people at times.  Of course, the hard part about the written word is that you do not have the person there in front of you to see the expression on their face or hear the tone in their voice.  Many times, people take the written word the wrong way as well.  That is one area my mother frequently warned me about when I was growing up.  She always encouraged me to talk face to face with another person rather than write a note which could be taken the wrong way.  It has proven to be good advice.  Therefore, as believers, I think we have to look at all the public avenues of communication and make a decision to reflect God's grace in the things we say.  We need to ask ourselves if what we are about to share on "Facebook" or in a tweet will build others up or tear them down.  Is our language appropriate so that if Jesus were to read it, He would approve?    Remember the Scripture above.  We are to put away falsehood, slander, wrath and malice.  We are to give grace through our words whether spoken or written.  So, whether we like it or not, all the public ways we communicate are part of our total witness for Christ.

     Perhaps the greatest concern we should have as followers of Christ is the amount of time we spend in these public forms of communicating as versus the time we spend talking to God.  We do not need a wireless connection, cell phone or other assistance to reach out and touch God.  He is there all the time waiting to hear our cries and concerns.  He desires to have sweet communion with us, but I often think we neglect talking to Him and spend more time asking the opinions of our peers.  He should be the first One we talk to in the morning and the last One we say good-night to in the evening.  I personally believe that the time we spend on the "net" or on the cell phone far outweigh the time we spend in prayer before Him.  The sad part is that our friends, family or co-workers cannot solve our problems.  They can listen for certain, but they do not have the wisdom that God has.  He has planned our lives and knows the best course of action for us.  Therefore, it would seem to make sense to pray and tell Him our hurts, worries, concerns and pain.  David certainly did this in the Psalms.  He poured out his heart to God...both good and bad.  David revealed his heart to the only One who could change it.  Likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ took time out of his daily schedule to get away and pray.  His example is plain for us to see.

     I know I certainly enjoy keeping in touch with family and friends on Facebook myself.  It is great to be able to see pictures of those I do not get to see very often.  Yet, I must remember two crucial things as we all need to do:  Watch what we say that it may reflect Christ and His love and secondly, remember that God needs to be the person we talk to first.  He should not get our left over time.  If we keep our lives in balance, we will be a blessing to others and a glory to God.  Let us begin living out loud in a way that will lead others to Jesus Christ!  Selah!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Run As Fast As You Can

     Recently, the name of a pastor/teacher was linked to the Ashley Madison site where people go to find someone with whom they can have an adulterous relationship.  I was very surprised to read about his name.  He admitted signing up out of an unhealthy curiosity and fantasy but never carried out any further contact.  Still, he has been removed from active ministry for a year.  Isn't it sad how little it takes to derail us in moments of weakness.  However, this is the inevitable result of man's fall.
     Even before the first murder had occurred, God warned Cain with these words in Genesis 4:7:  "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  Yet, Cain did not heed the voice of God and killed his brother.  He made a bad choice based upon his jealousy and allowed sin to overtake him.
     As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the bondage to sin, but we are never fully free from the old sin nature that would lure us back into behavior that does not glorify God.  This is one reason why we are told repeatedly to flee sin.  Paul writes in Romans 6:12:  "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."  Before we knew Christ, we had no freedom of choice.  All we chose and desired was to sin.  After our conversion, however, we were given the freedom to choose right or wrong.  We would do well to follow the example of Joseph as told in Genesis Chapter 39.  There we read that Joseph was sold as a slave to an official in the Egyptian court named Potiphar.  Joseph, being blessed by God, prospered in all he did so Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household.  Then, trouble began to brew.  Because Joseph was a handsome young man, Potiphar's wife took notice of him and invited him to come to bed with her.  Joseph refused to violate his master's trust.  Yet, she was persistent day after day.  On one occasion, she grabbed Joseph's cloak begging him to come to bed with her, but he turned and fled leaving his cloak behind.  Potiphar's wife then lied to her husband and the other servants in the house saying that Joseph had tried to violate her.  Certainly, this story stands out as a beacon of encouragement to all those who love the Lord.  Joseph did the right thing.  He ran from sin.  It cost him dearly as he went to prison for an assault he never committed.  As a result of Joseph's obedience to God's laws, the Lord delivered him from prison and placed him in a position of authority.  He made a choice and ran from sin.
     If we contrast that with the life of King David who also had a heart after God's own heart, we see a different story.  In David's confrontation with sin, he gave in to his lust and took another man's wife and sinned with her.  This sin led to a pregnancy that David could not cover over.  As a result, this sin blossomed and took David down the path of murder to eliminate Bathsheba's husband.  He did not run from sin, but gave in to it.  The consequences of his momentary pleasure with another man's wife resulted in the death of his baby, internal strife in his family, and an attempted coup by his own son.
James 1:15 summarizes the process of sin for us:  "Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
      We must flee from sin and all unrighteousness because it is clear what destruction follows when we do not.  Joseph made the right choice even though for a time it seems he paid a price.  In the end, he reaped the blessings that come from faithfulness to God.   No one can wink at sin or flirt with it any more than we can play with fire.  The results are that we will get burned and hurt others in the process.  Therefore, we must be prayed up, alert, students of the Bible and accountable to other Christians.  It is not easy to walk in this temptation filled world, but as Christians, we are not our own.  We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and our purpose is to glorify His name and serve as a witness to a lost and dying world.  May God give us the wisdom to know when to run away and the strength to do so that we might not sin against Him.  Selah!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Put on the Virtue of Modesty

Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich, Germany
 One of the virtues most sorely lacking in society today is modesty.  From those who openly brag about their greatness to the person who is scantily clad on most occasions, we see an overwhelming concern with self.  Some folks might as well wear a sign that says "Look at me and see how wonderful I am."  If it were only those outside the body of believers who live this way, we might understand that their world view is vastly different than ours, but when it happens in the church, we need to pause and take a look at our own lives.
     According to the Bible, our actions, our comportment, our attitudes and our dress are to reflect modesty in order to attract others to Christ.  By contrast, the world tells us that it doesn't matter what we wear, how we behave or walk in society.  It is all relative to what makes you feel good.  Unfortunately, this mindset has crept into the church.  The Apostle Paul gave some sound encouragement to Timothy as a young pastor facing challenges as many Gentiles came into the church out of a pagan background.  He wrote in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:  "Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness -with good works."  Certainly, I do not believe that Paul had anything against women's hairdos or their clothing.  I believe his main point was that women should be mindful of what they wear so it does not distract or cause others to stumble.  Dressing in nice clothing is not a sin.  However, when we wear something which causes others to focus on us rather than the Lord, we are not demonstrating the virtue of modesty.
     Another area where immodesty can be seen is in our speech.  We have all heard a friend brag about an accomplishment at one time or another.  Sharing our good fortune is fine, but going beyond this crosses a line especially for a Christian.  In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote this admonition:  "For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."    If we boast at all, we are to boast in the Lord and of His goodness and mercy.  In ourselves, we do not possess goodness nor the ability to save ourselves.  Instead, it is in God's domain to do for us what we can never do for ourself.  The Word promises that as we lift up Christ, He will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).  We can only do this by honoring Christ with our speech as well as our dress.  However there is one other area, we need to be concerned about as believers.
     When we come together to worship, we need to check our hearts to make certain we have dressed them in modesty.  The Pharisees were concerned with show.  They wanted people to see them and honor them so they used both their dress as well as their speech to persuade others of their holiness.  This, too, is a caricature of righteous behavior.  Jesus said:  "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).    Our lives are to reflect the glory of the Lord not take glory for ourselves.  We are God's living, holy temples as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian believers:  "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body" ( I Cor. 6:19-20).
     Wearing the virtue of modesty is becoming a lost practice in many churches today.  We are becoming too much influenced by our society and doing little to influence them as we ought.  We can be trendy in our clothing without going overboard or causing others to stumble.  Likewise, we can be excited over our achievements without sounding as though we are the greatest thing since sliced cheese.  This is how we put on modesty by remembering that salvation comes from the Lord.  He calls us to Himself and any blessings we receive come as a result of His grace and goodness to us.  Therefore, we are called to put on Christ and wear Him modestly in our attitude, actions and dress so that attention is given to Him and not to us.  Our goal in this life should be like that of John the Baptist when he said:  "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  May this be our prayer and our purpose in Christ.  Selah!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Painful Lessons

     Through the years, I have repeatedly had run-ins with knives and other sharp objects.  It started in childhood when I was stitched up three times near my left eye for various falls - twice on steps and once on a roll away bed.  Then, there was the time when my mother was running the vacuum cleaner and could not hear me knocking on the door.  So I decided to pound with my open hand on the glass panel.  Guess what?  My hand went through the glass requiring more bandages.
       If my parents had thought I would outgrow this careless streak, they were  wrong.  Over the years of our marriage, I have managed to cut myself numerous times on knives as I was chopping up food for an evening meal.  Then, this past week, I was in a hurry to shave my legs with a new razor only to remove considerable skin on my right ankle.  Finally, yesterday while looking for an item in my refrigerator, I knocked a glass jar off a shelf  and onto the floor where it broke in a million pieces cutting my foot.  Need I say more?  I merely asked my dear husband for a bandaid as I always do.  Some might call me accident prone, but I think many of my mishaps happen because I am in a hurry and do not take the time to exercise caution.  Lack of care in the Christian life can also lead to some painful consequences.
       In Judges 13-16, we read the story of a Judge named Sampson.  From birth, he was dedicated to the Lord as a Nazarite.  He was not to drink wine and could not cut his hair for
the rest of his life.  Unfortunately, Sampson did not always listen to the voice of the Lord.  He went after a Philistine wife making his parents unhappy with such a choice.  This relationship was not God honoring but the Lord used it to stir up anger in Sampson whereby he would kill many Philistines.  His final downfall, though, came when he met the Philistine woman named Delilah.  She pleaded with Sampson to tell her the secret of his strength.  Little did he know that she was in league with the Philistines who wanted to destroy his strength.
       After much coaxing, Sampson told Delilah the secret of his strength.  While he was asleep, she cut his hair and allowed the Philistine soldiers to take him captive.  Without his long hair, he was as helpless as any other man.  The Philistines blinded him and put him to work grinding grain.  However, Sampson's strength was returning as his hair grew long again.  Isn't it amazing how God gives us a second chance?
        When the Philistines took Sampson to a celebration at their Temple to Dagon, he prayed that God would allow his strength to rise up again so that he might destroy this Temple and die with these people.  The Lord heard and answered that request.  Many Philistines died that day, but so did Sampson.  So what can we glean from this story of his life?
         First, we need to think about Sampson's willfulness.  If he had followed God's direction for holy living, he might have been able to avoid the heartache of a broken marriage as well as his many bloody encounters with the Philistines. Yes, God worked in spite of Sampson's willful attitude, but things could have been dealt with much differently and with less loss of life.
         Secondly, Sampson should have been more cautious in whom he confided.  He trusted a Philistine woman named Delilah with the secret of his strength.  Just like me rushing through my evening meal preparation while using a sharp knife, Sampson hurried into this relationship with Delilah.  He did not exercise restraint or wisdom.  This led to his downfall.  Sampson paid a heavy price for his lack of caution.
         Despite his less than stellar character,  God was able to use Sampson one final time.  In an act of grace, God restored his strength so that Sampson was able to kill many Philistines and save the people of Israel.  How much easier it could have been if he had been careful to obey God.
         I have to admit that I would not cut myself nearly as often if I would take time to exercise caution and watch what I am doing.  People like me keep Johnson and Johnson in business making bandaids, steri strips and ointments.  Trust me the lessons I learn in lack of care with a knife are painful.  Sampson learned the hard way too, but God has a way planned for all who trust in Him.  If we will follow Him in obedience, we will reap blessings without the pain that comes from doing things our way.  Selah!