Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Messy People

     Two weeks ago, we visited our son and daughter in law.  On Sunday, we attended church with their family as we usually do and their Pastor Roy Terry said something that stuck in my mind.  He talked about the fact that Christians are "messy people".  We have issues that often divide us or create
misunderstandings.  His challenge to the congregation was that they would have to address some difficult issues in the future, but it was good to discuss them and keep lines of communication open.
So what is it that makes us "messy"?
     As I thought about it, I recalled the passage that the Apostle Paul had written to describe his own struggles.  He, too, was a messy Christian.  Romans 7:19-20:  "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."  Then later in this chapter, he concludes in verses 24-25:  "Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."  What Paul is clearly pointing out to Christians is that we have a war going on inside of us.  When we become a believer, sin no longer holds us in bondage, but we are tempted nevertheless.  We know what God wants us to do and we love Him.  However, we struggle against the old flesh of sin that calls us to walk in ways that do not honor the Lord.  This is really what a messy Christian looks like.
     Living in community with other believers is difficult at times because we are all at different levels of growth and sanctification.  Sometimes we hurt one another or disappoint someone who was counting on us.  Then, add to the mix those who say they are Christians but really do not have a relationship with the Lord at all.  This is when we must remember that we are not perfect, but we are forgiven.  Therefore, we need to learn to communicate, love, forgive and go the extra mile.
     In some ways, I think our expectations about life and church fellowship can be too unrealistic.  We believe that once we become a believer everything will even out, and our days will be filled with smooth sailing.  Likewise, we think that church will provide unruffled fellowship, and we will all get along.  Here is a reality check for that type of thinking.  Jesus told His disciples (and this extends to all future believers) in John 15:19:  "If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world."  Being a believer, then, sets us apart from the world and its way of thinking.  We will not have "our best life now".  We know that when we die, however, we will enter into eternity with our Lord where there will be no more crying, pain or suffering.  For now, we live as strangers in this world.
     Secondly, all we have to do is look at the churches mentioned in Revelations chapters 2-3.  They had their problems.  One had lost its first love of the Lord.  Another had problems with false teaching.  Then, we can look at the first letter written by Paul to the church at Corinth.  There were some messy people in that congregation and as a result, there were many issues to deal with.  Still, Paul did not give up on these believers.  He brought correction and instruction to them.
     Understanding that we cannot live and walk in the Christian life without the help of the Holy Spirit is the first step in the right direction.  Then, we must accept the fact that we are not yet perfected and neither are our brothers and sisters in the faith.  We are on a journey together towards the final destination of God's Kingdom.  Therefore, we need to take the Apostle Paul's advice which he gives in his letter to the Colossians 3:12-15:  "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful."  This is how we can live together in harmony and bring glory to the Lord.  Selah!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Going Back to the Garden

      Anyone who is acquainted with my dear husband and has attended a Bible study led by him will have heard him say, "It all started in the Garden."  I smile when I hear that response because he is correct.  The woes of a fallen nature and world began in the middle of a perfect environment.  Adam could not blame his parents for abusing him nor could he complain that if his environment were better he would never have eaten the fruit.  No, it is clear that what he did was in direct disobedience to the word of God.  Then, Adam and Eve attempted a literal cover-up.
     Genesis 3:7-11 reads:  "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?'  And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'  He said, 'Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'"  How interesting that Adam and Eve really thought they could hide from God what they had done.  When God confronted them, they began a blame game.  Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  However, they could not deflect the truth of what they had done against the command of the Lord.  They were to face the consequences of their sins as outlined by God in Genesis 3:14 to the end of the chapter. 
     When we look at present day scandals in the news, has anything really changed?  Certainly, the answer is "no".  Man does things in secret and somehow believes that no one will find out.  While fellow men may be deceived, there is One who knows all and sees all.  A great example of this can be found in the book of Numbers chapter 32. 
     Moses spoke of dividing the land according to the tribes of Israel.  Two of the tribes wanted to remain on one side of the Jordan and not go into the Promised Land.  However Moses told them it was unfair that the rest of Israel would have to go to war to claim the land while these two tribes remained on the other side of the river.  With this being said, both tribes proclaimed that they would help to fight alongside their brethren until the land was conquered.  Then, they would return to the other side of the Jordan to their inheritance.  Moses acquiesced to this agreement but gave them a warning we would all do well to heed:  "But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out" (verse 23).  This is one verse that has stuck in my own mind through the years.  In fact, I have tested it out for myself and found it to be true.  Every time I tried to do something in secret so my parents would not discover what I had done, my misdeed was uncovered.  God is true to His Word.
     Why does a man, whether in government, church, home, or work, ever think he can hide his sin from God?  Eventually, the Lord uncovers the sin for all to see.  I love this simple truth from Proverbs 28:13:  "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."  Now some may say, "I see the wicked prosper."  However, I would reply that they may appear to prosper for a season, but in the end, their sins will find them out. 
     Ultimately, whenever we sin, it is not just against another person.  The sin is against God, and there are consequences.  Adam and Eve tried to cover up and hide.  The same is just as true for our society today as it was at that moment in the garden.  Excuses, excuses excuses and playing the blame game are the favorite pass time of sinners.  The bad news is that we are all sinners.  But the Good News is that God desires to show us mercy.  He sent His Son to be the payment for our sins.  In Christ, we become a new creation.  This does not mean we are perfect.  However, it does mean that when we sin we can quickly be restored through sincere repentance to a right standing with God.
     One outstanding lesson that we all need to take away from the Garden is this:  our sins will find us out.  There is nothing which can be hidden from God.  Jesus said in Luke 8:17:  "For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light."  Those are scary words for anyone trying to hide something.  The truth is that God already knows.  Therefore, each day, we need to take stock of our lives, confess our sins before God and live according to His precepts.  Then we will not live in the fear of being uncovered.  Revisiting the Garden daily will help us to keep our perspective.  Selah!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What DO the Neighbors Think?

     Growing up in a small town has many advantages.  There are close friendships and people in the community often know you by name.  However, one disadvantage comes if you ever do something inappropriate.  It seems like the entire town knows about it or that is what my mother always believed.
     We had very conservative rules in our home and one of them was that no boy was allowed to come for a visit when my parents were not there.  Mother used to say, "What would the neighbors think if they saw a boy at the house while we were away?"  I used to think that was a silly thing.  After all, who cares what someone thinks if nothing wrong is taking place.  Years later, I feel much differently about her words.  We should care what our neighbors think.
     Having a Christian witness in our home, our work and church is very important because people are watching the way we live.  Even our conduct on social media is subject to scrutiny.  Many a careless or unkind word has hurt others that we may not even be aware of.  In our current political climate with all the tragedy we hear about every day, it is easy to be carried away by our emotions and spout off without thinking how it may affect others.
     One of the foremost things we need to fix in our mind is that we are citizens not of this world but of heaven.  As a believer in Christ, we have an allegiance to a King whose kingdom is not of this world.  In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed this for believers:  "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14-15).  Our values, our ideas and our thoughts need to reflect the truth as found in the Bible which is God's Word to us.  We should not be reflecting the values and ideas of this world.  It is a challenge to live here and uphold biblical truth, but for the sake of God's glory and our witness to others, we simply must.  There will be people that hate us for this outlook.  Yet we need to remember that they hated Jesus Christ for the same reason.
     Secondly our Christian conduct is spelled out over and over again throughout both the Old and New Testament.  Beginning with the Ten Commandments, we are instructed on how to honor God and how to relate with our brother.  Throughout God's Word, we are warned about our conduct.   The Apostle Paul summarizes some important things for us to remember in Ephesians 4:25-30: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  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."  Of course, there is much more to see in Chapter 5 as well,  However, the point is that our conduct with and before others does matter.
     Our family relationships, our work interactions and even our church all have a witness to our community.  It begins with us, but grows to include others.  How do we look to our neighbors?  Are we walking in the path of the Holy Spirit and glorifying God in our speech and conduct?  People are watching us to see if we are different than the values reflected by this world.  It is hard to tell others about our Savior if they have seen us speak badly about another person or be dishonest at work.
     In addition, people are even watching our church congregation.  What is our collective witness to the community?  Do we love one another, serve each other and is the Word of God held up as the light of truth?  People are looking for answers not gimmicks.  Having the latest, the greatest, the best, the biggest does not speak as clearly as the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God's Word will not return void, but all other endeavors fall short.
     Yes our neighbors are watching and it DOES matter what they think if we are trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.  First and foremost, our personal holiness must be cultivated.  Then how our family interacts as they serve the Lord together is an important witness.  Finally, how our church as a whole reflects the glory of Christ in the programs it promotes as well as the Bible that it preaches makes a difference to those outside.  Jesus told us to be salt and light in this world.  When we do that God will be glorified and our neighbors will be blessed.  Selah!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reflecting on the Past

     Maybe it's because I am growing older that I often sit and reflect on life.  I see things now in a much different light than when I was in my twenties and thirties busy with our children trying to go in ten directions all at once.  Those days were filled with stress, tension, and at times, exhaustion.  However, much of it was my own doing.
     Solomon had a similar problem.  He was endowed by God with great wisdom, wealth and peace.  Yet, he chose to squander much of his blessing by marrying many wives who were not believers but
pagans.  They led him into foreign worship which greatly displeased the Lord.  At a later time in his life, Solomon reflected on the emptiness of "self" gratification in the Book of Ecclesiastes.  He says in Ecclesiastes 1:12-14: " I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.  It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind."  For Solomon, life has been empty when it comes to the pursuit of pleasure or even of wealth.  He had it all.  However, in it, he found no deep satisfaction.
     As this book winds down to a conclusion, King Solomon says these two important statements:  "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them;.....Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccles. 12:1; 13b-14).  Having reviewed his life and all that he has observed, Solomon now reminds the young to remember the fear of the Lord and to keep His commandments.  What wonderful wisdom he imparted, and he learned it the hard way through actions that separated him from God at times.
     While I have endeavored to walk in the light of the Gospel all my life, I have missed the boat at times like Solomon.  However, God grants us the grace in later years to pass on what we have learned to help our children, grandchildren, and fellow believers so they do not run into the same "walls" we have.  With this being said, here is some practical advice to help you on your walk.
     1)  Learn to say "NO".  At the time you are up to your ears in diapers, college, or work, someone will come along and tell you about a GREAT ministry opportunity that you would be perfect for.  You already are stressed beyond belief, but you don't want to let God down, now do you?  Somehow you will find a way to make it happen.  Sadly, all you do is cheat yourself and those around you.  Our most important ministry is in our home to our spouse and our children if we are married.  If you are a single person but still trying to find your niche in the job world or with college, do not overburden yourself with a million obligations.  Believe me, I know what I am saying.  I was the Queen of the overloaded Titanic schedule quickly sunk by exhaustion in college.  I carried this into our home, and now, I wish I had spent more time enjoying what God had given to me in our children instead of always looking out to do more beyond the home.  If you learn to say "NO", there will be other opportunities for you when life is not so hectic.
    2)  Remember that you are a human being - not a human doing.  Your worth as a person is in Christ not in all your accomplishments and activities.  I had a wise college professor that told me it was great to win lots of trophies, but one day, I would have to dust them all off and the thrill would be gone.  Reaching the pinnacle of achievement is wonderful at the moment, but it doesn't fulfill your heart the way a relationship with Christ does.  In addition, the blessing of a family and time invested in serving them reaps rewards that no amount of recognition in this world can ever equal.  I have a lot of dusty trophies today that cannot compare to the four wonderful children we raised and the five precious grandsons God has blessed us with.  There is no comparison.  My advice is to invest yourself in serving God by serving your family, your friends and in your work place.  Accolades are wonderful but the crowds move on in this world.  As Solomon said, "All is vanity".  The only thing that will last forever is your relationship with Jesus Christ.  Develop that and you will find true wholeness in your life.
    3)  Invest yourselves in others.  Instead of worrying about all the things you do not have or why
someone else has them rather than you, start thanking God for what you do have.  Then, go out and invest yourself in the lives of others.  Rejoice when they rejoice.  Weep when they weep.  As we do things to help others, we find such blessing.  It cures depression, envy, and self-pity quicker than any other remedy I know.  Lets face it. We are a selfish, self-centered, sinful people.  Our hearts always tend to look out for number one.  However, if we are in Christ, we are supposed to be a different person...a new man or woman.  The old man has passed away - remember?  Therefore, lets be serious about putting on the new man.  When others pass by some one who needs help, we need to be the ones to reach out our hand.  We can be a good Samaritan in another person's life or we can remain detached and miss the blessing.  I once had a psychologist tell me that the best way to defeat  depression was to go out and help others.  I took that advice and found such a joy through service.  This glorifies the Lord when it is done with a heart to please Him rather than for our own glory.
     4) Cherish each day as though it is your last.  Life is short.  This past week a young 18 year old went home to be with the Lord after losing his bout with cancer.  We do not know the hour when the Lord will call us home.  Therefore, make every effort to use your time as a good steward.  Devote yourself to prayer and Bible study each day so that you may grow in grace and knowledge.  Share your faith with family and friends that they may hear the Good News.  Kiss and hug family members whenever you have the opportunity and tell them you love them.  It does no good to say this after they are gone.  While we are here, we are to shine as lights on a hill in this world of darkness so that others will see Christ in us.  If we make the most of our time, we will not live with regrets later in life.  We will also bring glory to God by living each day as the gift that it is.
     These are just a few of the lessons I have learned over the years.  Certainly, as long as I am here, God is not finished with me.  He will continue to refine, remind, and realign my thinking so I reflect His dear Son our Lord.  Along with Solomon, though, I pray that we all will "fear God and keep His commandments."  May these insights encourage you and keep your feet from stumbling as we see the time drawing near for our Lord's return.  Selah!