A Gentle Friend

March 21, 2014

 

    I wish I had a gentle friend.  My friend would always be kind and forgiving.  I would feel a sense of peacefulness when in the presence of my friend, either in person, or in my thoughts.  I wish I would be a gentle friend.

Gentleness begins with humility, as so many good things do.  It progresses through trust and finds its home in kindness.  Am I kind?  When someone hurts me, do I respond with kindness?  Jesus was kind to those who were hurting Him.  He didn’t order their destruction; He forgave them and offered healing for their hatred.  He is my model.  Do I believe that?

When I am kind and gentle it has a ripple effect.  Others are more likely to respond in a similar fashion to my behavior.  It won’t always work, but it often does.  Before you dismiss kindness as impractical, have you tried it?

If I am serious about following Jesus, I will be a gentle person.  I will allow myself to be vulnerable.  I will do that because I trust Jesus, not myself.  People will laugh, they will say I am naive, they will get someone else to speak to them because he tells them what they want to hear, but, it doesn’t matter . . . Jesus has my back.

There is too much hatred and violence in the world.  The answer is not more violence, though that is not what people want to hear.  The answer is the love of Christ, flowing through my life, to everyone around me.  Gentleness starts with me.  I am to be the gentle friend.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. (Colossians 3:12-13 NKJV)

Thanks for reading . . . . . John

I Just Don’t Care

March 20, 2014

 

     “People will make fun of me if I don’t.”  “Everyone is doing it.”  “I want to fit in.”  “People will think I’m weird.”  Ever felt this way?  These are typical human feelings and they’re not spiritually helpful. 

Christians are called to be different from the world, not just a little different, but radically different.  Paul used the word “transformed” in Romans 12.  John warns us to not love the world.  We are to be God’s special, unique people, which means we are not to be like everyone else. 

Many times we are not different and special because we are afraid of what someone will say or think.  My response has come to be, “Who cares?”  If I am trying to do what I believe to be right from a study of the teaching of Jesus, and you don’t like it, I just don’t care.  With God’s help, my purpose will be to follow the teaching of Jesus whether others like it or not.  Others may be “friends,” family, co-workers, or even other “Christians.”  It doesn’t matter who they are. 

I guess if Jesus had cared what others thought of His mission, He wouldn’t have gone to the Cross.  He sure wasn’t the kind of messiah most were looking for.  They wanted a warrior king to drive the Romans out of town with a violent war.  He came as a spiritual leader teaching peace between God and man.  Then He showed the way to that peace through love, humility, and submission to a violent physical death. 

To choose the way of Jesus requires seeking Him and not the approval of others.  Most of the world is going to hell anyway, if you believe Jesus’ teaching on the broad and narrow ways.  Why would you want to please the majority? 

It’s not easy to be a minority.  It’s not easy to live a life that many ridicule.  This life of the few is called cross bearing.  If I am unwilling to bear the cross of Christ, I am not fit to be a Christian.  If I will shoulder His Cross, then He will help me and by His strength I will prevail no matter what others think. 

A Life Fully Lived

March 19, 2014

 

  This is a study of Colossians 2:9-10 with a particular emphasis on the phrase “you are complete in Him.”

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9-10 NKJV)

“Complete” is also translated “filled” or “made full.”  Only by living a life dedicated to God are we complete and have a full rich life as humans.  To dedicate your life in some manner to self through materialism, sensualism, or whatever is to miss the fullness/completeness of our existence.  What does it mean to have a full and rich life (which is found only in Jesus Christ)?

A full life is living the way you were designed to live.  God made you and as your Maker He knows what will bring you happiness and what will bring you disappointment.  When you cooperate with God your life “works better,” you are a hammer driving a nail, not a hammer trying to turn a screw.  You are functioning in harmony with your purpose.  It is a sad hammer who tries to turn a screw.  He was not designed for that.  It is a sad person who tries to live a life apart from God.  You were not designed for that. 

A full life is filled with forgiveness.  Christians have been forgiven and they forgive others.  The “anvil on the chest” pain of guilt has been lifted for the Christian.  The burning fire of revenge has also been extinguished for the Christian because the Christian forgives others instead of trying to get even with them.  A true Christian is filled with the love of God and the attitude of Christ. 

A full life is filled with joy.  Hey, with all that guilt and vengeance replaced by love and mercy, what becomes the overriding emotion?  Right, joy.  The Christian knows that ultimately everything will be ok.  It will all work out in the end.  This means we have a good and positive feeling about us.  Even trials can be tempered by understanding that they give us a chance to show how a Christian deals with adversity.  They bring into vivid contrast the Christian’s emphasis with that of the world. 

A full life is filled with hope.  The Christian is a pilgrim.  The life of a pilgrim is not where he is, but where he is going.  The Christian is going to be with God forever and ever.  All the bad in this life will be absent from heaven and all the good from this life will be present in heaven and will even be enhanced.  Christians know this so their life is a life of hope.  Someone said, “When a person loses hope, he’s lost everything.”  There’s a lot of truth in that.  The Christian never loses hope. 

A full life ends well.  You have heard it said, “All’s well that ends well.”  Actually, that is not exactly true of the Christian because that life never ends.  The Christian is filled with the eternal.  In a sense, we experience the eternal here and now.  The attributes the Christian cultivates are the very attributes of God – love, mercy, forgiveness, peace, kindness, etc.  The more you are Christ-like, the more you experience heaven on earth. 

Life lived to its fullest is found only in Jesus Christ.  This life is available to anyone.  Thanks be to God!

The Dogs under the Table

March 18, 2014

http://truthbook.com/images/site_images/Harold_Copping_The_Woman_of_Canaan_350.jpg This is a short sermon from the story of Jesus healing the daughter of a Gentile woman.  The text is found in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30.  Here are five thoughts about the Gentile woman. 

She is persistent in making her request of Jesus.  Jesus did not respond to her at first, but she continued to “cry out” and “kept asking.”  It looked initially like Jesus did not care, but as the story continues, it becomes very clear that Jesus does indeed care.  When I think God has forgotten me and does not care – I need to remember this Gentile woman. 

She humbles herself before Jesus.  Jesus introduces the analogy of the family children and the family pet dogs.  In the analogy, the woman and her daughter are paralleled with the family dogs, not the children.  I believe Jesus is testing her faith and pride here.  She passes the test by accepting Jesus’ analogy and asking for the crumbs that the dogs would receive. 

She is focused on her goal – help my daughter, forget about me.  The woman is at first ignored and then potentially insulted.  She pays no attention to this and continues to go after what she wants, the health of her daughter.  If her focus had been on self instead of other, the story would have ended here. 

She is called out by Jesus as a hero of faith.  Jesus told her her faith was “great.”  What would He tell you about yours?  Had her daughter never have been sick, she would not have had this opportunity to model great faith.  She may have never found that she was able to have great faith.  But, now she knows, and so do you and me today so that her example can encourage us. 

She got what she wanted.  She received the Lord’s blessing – her daughter was healed.  Don’t give up, just believe. 

 

Independence Day

June 28, 2013

I am immersed in the fount
The baptismal water drips from my clothing and body
I have been buried in the blood
It has washed me clean like a bleached garment
My soul is freed like a released bird
My heart is bonded to the Lord, my strength
Satan’s spell broken
His hold on my soul severed
The devil’s might crushed
I will rejoice in Christ, my Mighty Warrior
He wins freedom for the oppressed
Independence for the prisoner
Victory for the weak
The Lord will never fail me
He will always be there
The Lord is my Hero
I am His patriot
I am a citizen of His kingdom
He rules over me with power and grace
The universe submits to Him
All the nations tremble and bow down
In the Lord only I shall glory
He is my Rock, my redeemer, my God

I Agree, Therefore, I Am

June 11, 2013

That is of course a variation of the famous statement “I think, therefore,  I am,” by some philosopher whose name elludes me. 

Randy Medlin of Montgomery made a statement in a sermon one time that I found deeply perceptive. He said something to the effect that “Many Christians think that because they agree with some Biblical principle,  that means they are doing it.” For example, when Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are the merciful,” people think they actually are humble and merciful because they agree with what Jesus said. Then, when something doesn’t go to suit these same people,  they are anything but humble and merciful. They really can be quite rude and mean, but see no conflict between their personal behavior and the teaching of Jesus.

I agree (with the words of Christ), therefore I am (obedient to the words of Christ).

Anyone can see the problem on paper, but few can see it in their life.

I really don’t know what to do about it. If you point it out, people get mad and try to hurt you. If you tell them how good they are, well, that’s worthless. It’s kind of a delimema.  

I guess looking for the inconsistencies in my own life is the best I can do.

The Gentle Christian

February 24, 2013

“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”, (Ephesians 4:2 ESV)

Many so-called Christians are not gentle at all. They are when things are going their way.  But if something doesn’t suit them, they become mean, arrogant, and generally manifest anything but a Christ-like spirit. They are woefully immature, understand absolutely nothing of the person and teaching of Jesus, and cause serious temptations for the Christians who are trying to do right. I fear their souls are in grave danger if they do not repent. And the sad thing is, they do not see that they are acting this way. I pray for them. I really do.

The task for the rest of us, who are trying to do right, is to forgive them, pray for them, and treat them with kindness and patience. This is hard to do when it seems there is no desire on their part to change their behavior. They don’t think they need to change and they have acted this way for years and in some cases for decades. But, we must still be kind, gentle, forgiving,  and patient. I must love others whether they love me or not. That’s what Jesus did.

May God help us and them.

Lord Jesus Christ,  Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner.

Salvation is Only Through Jesus Christ

February 21, 2013

We must not back down on this. We must not try to be politically correct. We must make a clear and forceful stand for Jesus. We must mount an aggressive offensive attack on satan and his helpers. Victory is ours through Christ and no one else if we do not default the fight and abandon the field of battle leaving it to our enemies.

Jesus is the way. Jesus is the door. Jesus is the bread of life and the living water of life. We must eat His flesh and drink His blood by taking His teaching into our spiritual lives as we take physical food into our physical bodies.  We must live Christ. We must be proud to be a Christian and not cowed by a liberal, materialistic media-driven agenda.

Christian, take your stand and never retreat, never surrender. You want to make the world a better place?  The world’s only hope is Jesus Christ. Choose for Him to control your life. Preach Him. Live Him. Show Him to your neighbor.

All glory to Jesus Christ: Son of God, Savior of the world.

If you believe this, share it!

God, You, and Human Suffering

February 20, 2013

This is a difficult subject and I sure don’t pretend to have all the answers.  I want to share only one thought that occurred to me a few years ago and was very helpful to me personally. There are many other angles on this subject that I will not discuss in this brief post. Here’s what hit me one day that I found really encouraging.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul said God would not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to bear. Temptation and trial is not technically the same, but they are related, and I am treating them the same in this post.

When I am faced with a trial, I can know that God believes I can handle it because of what He said in the text above. So, the fact that He has allowed the trial to happen rather than providentially stopping it, means that God has confidence in me, perhaps like He had confidence in Job when satan wanted to cause suffering for him.

My thought is that if God allows me, as a Christian,  to suffer, it means God believes I will show others how a Christian deals with adversity. It means God believes in me, loves me, and is pleased with me. It doesn’t mean the opposite of those things.

Therefore, my feeling is not to try and blame God in some way, but to want to make Him proud of me. After all, He has already indicated He has confidence in me. It’s kind of like God has said to the devil today, “Have you considered my servant John.”  God has singled me out, not because He hates me, but because He loves me.

I find that pretty encouraging.

God and Fear

February 19, 2013

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Christianity produces strength, love, self control, and endurance – not fear. If your Christianity doesn’t,  then maybe you’re listening to someone other than Jesus. That someone may be you. At least that’s a struggle I face.

I should be trusting Jesus when what I’m doing is trusting John. It never works. To really trust Jesus,  I have to completely let go of self. Paul talked about crucifying self or putting self to death. I can never take hold of Christ or let Him take hold of me till self is out of the way. I told you it was a struggle.

You just have to let go in total surrender to Jesus. When you finally let go of self and begin uniting with Christ, you will find a peace you never knew existed. Fear will begin to disapate. Hope and strength will begin to grow.

Dear Father, mercifully grant me the strength to quit trusting in me and start trusting in You.

Austin’s Sermon

February 18, 2013

Austin did great job last night preaching at Vernon Church of Christ.

He told a story about two coal miners in the 1400′S. One went to work in the underground mines so his brother could go to college. The brother miner would supply the financial support for his brother since the family was very poor. Conditions in the coal mines in the 15th century were very poor, but the brother did it so the other brother could realize his dreams.

Austin then compared this story to the story of the firey furnace in Daniel. The three Hebrew young men went down in the furnace for God. God took care of them.

The application was – “Who would you go down in the coal mines for?”  Would you do it for your family?  Your friends?  Who?  Would you do it at all? 

It was a powerful lesson. Wish you could have been there. I am so proud of Austin.

Austin

February 17, 2013

I am looking forward to hearing Austin preach at Vernon Church of Christ tonight. He won’t tell me his subject, but I’ll be glad to hear him whatever it is.

We preach some kind of word constantly by the way we live our lives. I hope it is THE word. Paul said we are ambassadors for Christ. We are His representatives.  Austin has chosen a career where he will influence hundreds, if not thousands,  of young people as a teacher and coach.

We influence every person we see, every day.  I must remember that and make my influence a good one. It is a choice I make. May God help me.

Good Morning

February 16, 2013

Today will be a good day. My children are here from Montgomery and Lebanon (Tennessee).  My grandson, Benton, is playing in the floor with Grandee. My grandson, Brooks, is having his birthday party this afternoon. I don’t have a preaching place tomorrow, but I hope to eventually.

My goal today and each day must be to be a little more like Jesus. Christ must be formed in me, as Paul taught. This is always an ongoing process, a little more, a little more.

With my children here, I have a special opportunity to influence them. They will note my behavior and be influenced by it, no matter how old they are or how old I am.  Parental teaching never ends. I wish more people understood this. I wish I did a better job at it.

Constant watchfulness, constant prayer, and constant meditation on the word of God are my allies.  Pray for me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,  have mercy on me, a sinner.

Seeing God

February 14, 2013

To see God, you have to look for Him. He is everywhere present, but you have to look with your mind and heart to discern His presence. You have to yearn for God with your heart and think of how His presence manifests itself with your mind.

Looking out my window right now, I see a group of trees, bare of their summer leaves, with the clear blue sky in the background. Though the trees are leafless, they are very much alive. I know this because I have watched these same trees for the better part of 60 years. The life of the trees reminds me of their creator God. I see Him in the trees. He is present in them. Looking closer, I notice that the tree limbs are naturally bent in all kinds of angles as they have grown in the various directions in search of the sun, which is essential for their life. It is the sense that the limbs have gone to great effort to be united with the sun. This reminds me of the supreme effort God expended through His love in the giving of Jesus so He could have a relationship with you and me. The blue sky I see through the limbs makes me think of heaven that God has prepared as a place to dwell in perfection with all who die as faithful Christians. I see God in the trees, the tree limbs, the sky . . . and I could go on.

It helps me greatly in my struggling Christian walk to see God’s presence in so many places. It’s like He’s constantly watching me to catch me if I stumble, like a loving father would watch his children as their guide and protector. 

May He watch over me always. May He do the same for you. May God bless you and keep you.

How to Pray for your Enemies

February 13, 2013

Jesus says to pray for my enemies,  so how do I do that?  Here are a few of my thoughts which I intend to be informed by the teaching of the Master. I don’t personally have all the answers,  but I believe Jesus has all the answers we need to know.

I need to pray that God will forgive my enemies. On the cross, Jesus prayed that the Father would forgive those who were doing this to Him. If He could pray like that, why can’t I ask forgiveness for those who have said something emotionally hurtful about me or who express their disagreement with me?  I could if I wanted to. I could if being like Jesus is really important to me.

I need to pray that they will change their behavior, if their behavior is actually bad. It is in my best interest interest for me to act good. If I pray for them to act good, I am praying for what is best for them. I need to want what is best for everyone. I should not pray this in a selfish manner, but out of real love for my neighbor. “Help _______ to be a better person and help me to be a better person as I try to influence _______ for good.” 

I need to pray that God will bless my enemy. They have taught me humility. They have taught me that this life is not the main thing. They have reminded me of the importance of mercy, mercy like God has shown to me. They have reminded me of the sinfulness of this world, and its need for a Savior.  It is my mission, as a Christian, to show that Savior to the world. So they have helped me focus on my purpose in life.

Only a Christian can pray for their enemies and really mean it. We can do it because Jesus has shown us how. I need to shut out the world and listen to Jesus. I really need to pray for my enemies.

Pray for Me

February 12, 2013

Ever asked anyone to do that for you?  It works both ways, you know. How often do you pray for your friend?   How often do you pray for your enemy?   Yes, your enemy.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to pray for them. It is one of those commands that we find easy to explain away, but extremely difficult to actually obey. But, Jesus says we’re not His disciple unless we do what He says. So, looks like this command is a required course of action for me and not an elective.

Upon a few moments reflection, you can see the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching. If you have an enemy, do you find yourself cultivating feelings of hatred, resentment, and revenge toward them?  Are these pleasant feelings?  Do you enjoy living your life feeling that way?   There is a way to rid yourself of those life-sucking feelings. It has to do with love, prayer, and living more like Jesus. Let’s talk about prayer.

I personally find it hard to dwell on negative emotions toward a person for whom I am praying. That makes a lot of sense since Jesus said to pray for our enemies. Not only is there the potential in this prayer to help that person who is so annoying at work to behave better, there is the vast reality of the improvement in my own attitude which will likely affect my behavior for the better.

Prayer for my enemy, and everything that flows from it, could very well lead to my enemy becoming my friend. Had you rather have friends or enemies?  

You have heard the old saying, “Reward your friends and punish your enemies. ”  A better way to look at that is, “Reward your friends and convert your enemies. ”  Prayer can help you do that. 

Control What You Can Control

February 11, 2013

Have you ever been treated badly?  Maybe someone did something to you or said something about you that just wasn’t right. That ever happen?  It has to most of us.

What is your first response?   Often it is to try to get the other person back in some way. Some kind of verbal or social fight inevitably ensures where each person tries to one-up the other one. What is accomplished is hurt feelings on both sides, deep-seated anger, lingering resentment,  and a relationship broken beyond repair. None of the above are desirable consequences. There is a better way.

Think about what you can actually control. Though you might try, and maybe even falsely convince yourself that you can,  the reality is you cannot control the other person’s behavior. So of the two person’s behavior, whose is left?  Obviously yours. And you can sure control that.

When someone is unkind to you, instead of responding with vengeance,  respond with kindness. When someone says something hateful, respond with a kind word or with silence. You know, it takes two to fight. Try this with your spouse sometime. I guarantee you’ll have fewer arguments.

Someone who walked on this earth 2000 years ago met hatred with love and violence with peace and forgiveness. I think you know who I am talking about. If I took seriously making my life more like His, I would be a lot happier and the world would actually become a better place.

The Church of Me

February 10, 2013

Got back from church a little while ago. We’re attending a nearby congregation while I am between pulpits.

Lately I have been thinking about worship not being a consumer activity but a producer activity. I must come to give (worship to God), not to get (entertainment in some form).  I am trying to focus my concentration more deeply on what is going on and ignore any perceived idiosyncrasies on the part of the various presenters or worship leaders. I am paying special attention to the content conveyed by words.

This morning we sang the old song, “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  This church displays the words of the songs, using PowerPoint, on a large screen at the front of the auditorium. Scripture texts are usually done that way too.

One line in the song went, “Sweet hour of prayer,  sweet hour of prayer, that calls me from a world of care.”  Rather than think about what kind of job I thought the song leader was doing or how I thought the congregation as a whole sounded, I thought about the concept of prayer removing us from the cares, trials, and struggles of this world. I had to make a conscious effort to do that.  Satan wanted me to think about the song leader or how everyone else was singing. I had to defeat him, with God’s help, and more properly engage my thoughts.

When I got my mind under control, I began to think about Jesus on at least one occasion spending an entire night in prayer. I reflected on what a relief that must have been for Him as He faced mounting opposition to His ministry. I began to think how prayer would draw me closer to God and diminish my worldly cares. I saw an increased value to prayer which motivated me to want to improve my prayer life. All of this happened because I tried to get out of “me” and into God. And here’s the amazing part, singing that one line of that one song took maybe 10 seconds. What if I could do the same thing with an entire one hour service? 

The church of me is really the church of the devil. “Me” thinking is exactly the kind of thinking Satan is working for. If, with God’s help of course, I can defeat me, I can defeat Satan. With the path cleared of Satan, the road to God, the highway to heaven, is wide open. I don’t want to be a member of the church of me. I want to be a member of the church of Christ.

That’d be me . . .

February 9, 2013

Said Clint Eastwood’s character Outlaw Josey Wales.

It would be good if more people read the Bible like that. But most don’t. Most read the Bible, “That’d be him.”  They apply the texts to someone else and rarely to themselves. To deny that is to be either blind or naive.

When the text about being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving in Ephesians 4 is read, it either doesn’t mean me or it just means me when I feel like it or am going to get something out of it. It certainly doesn’t mean me when it requires some effort on my part or is different from what I want to do. I obey God’s word when I want too, and when I don’t – well, that’s different. I take what I want only when it’s convenient and leave the rest on the shelf (page).  Just like Wal-Mart.

God will not accept that kind of behavior. That’s what the Pharisees wanted to do during the ministry of Jesus. Jesus cut them no slack and He will not cut me or you any either when we act like them.

Jesus means what He says. He means it all the time. And, it applies to me. One of the hardest things in Christianity to do is to examine my own heart to see if I am really a disciple.

Doing Good

February 8, 2013

You do things every day. Sometimes it seems there is not enough time to get them all done. Your day is filled with activity. Know the feeling?

According to Acts 10, Jesus “went about doing good.”  His days were filled with activity too. If you really want to be like Jesus,  you will try to make your days like His days. You will go about doing good.

Think about how each of your activities can accomplish some good. This thought process will affect how you approach work, social interaction, family time, even leisure. Ask yourself, “What good thing can I cause to happen through what I am doing right now?”  Pay attention to what you are doing, think, control your actions, and go about doing good – following the steps of the Master.

A Personal Spiritual Life.

February 8, 2013

Christianity is personal. It is about my relationship with Christ. It is about being close to Christ in an effort to be like Christ. Paul used the phrase “Christ is formed in you.”  I must see every event in my life as an opportunity for Christ to be formed in me. If an event is bad, it is an opportunity to develop patience and grow my faith. If an event is good, it is an opportunity to develop gratitude and increase my awareness of God’s hand in my life. I should see Christ in everything,  either as the author of good or the source of mercy.

Christ is all. Christ is mine and I am His. My heart and hands must be a demonstration of this. There is fulness.

Prayer

August 31, 2012
My Father
I have no strength apart from You
You are wisdom, hope, and victory
I have fallen because I deny Your image
You are peace, meaning, and compassion
Help me to abandon the delusion of my own rights
May I see Your image in my neighbor
As You love me, cause me to love others
Create in me the boldness to be different
Vindicate Your name with Your grace

Guide me with the fire of Your word
Accept my wretched self into the bosom of Your forgiveness
Your love, goodness, and grace honors Your name
You are forever perfect
Let me forever dwell in Your presence

The Hardest Commandment

August 28, 2012

Now when the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, “They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance. . . .”(2 Chronicles 12:7)

I have been thinking a lot about humility lately.  Mostly thinking I’m afraid.  I continue to have the need to be a more humble person.  It’s hard to do because you have to fight yourself.  No one wants to have a fight with themselves.  Being hard is no excuse for not being humble though.  It was hard for Jesus to go the cross.  But He did it anyway. 

Thinking about my own imperfections helps with humility, if I can avoid the temptation to rationalize my behavior.  As I read about the life of Jesus, it becomes glaringly apparent how short of the life He lived I fall.  Why don’t I do better than I do?  Because I listen to self too much.  “This” is what I want to do when “that” is what I need to do.  Too often, “this” is what I do.  When Jesus talked about denying self, He sure knew what He was talking about.  If you can’t do that, you can’t do anything. 

Comparing my life with other good people helps with humility.  Why can’t I be humble like my dad?  Dad was not without flaws, but he was humble and everybody liked him.  Why couldn’t some of that have rubbed off on me?  Because I was too good in my own eyes to let it is why.  Humility was an unknown word for me.  Before long that started to bite me, then gnaw on me, and before long it right near killed me.  Whose fault was that?  It was mine, and no one else’s.  I was arrogant because I chose to be arrogant.  If not for the good Lord’s mercy, I would be completely dead inside right now.  The grace of God knows no bounds. 

Eventually understanding that humility is a foundation for just about everything else helps to be more humble.  I won’t trust God, much less obey Him, if I don’t think I need to.  When I think I know better than God, I’ll never listen to Him.  A lot of people think they know better than God when it comes to mercy, forgiveness, and love for those who hurt you.  I used to be one of them.  I thought since I didn’t cherry pick the plan of salvation, that I was justified in cherry picking the Sermon on the Mount.  I didn’t verbalize it just that way, but that’s how I thought and acted.  I was wrong.  I try not to do that now. 

A sense of how others view and respond to an arrogant person helps with humility.  People respond poorly to someone who thinks they are better than them.  People tend to respond well to a humble person who doesn’t have too high of an opinion of himself.  God is the same way.  I used to think people didn’t really like me and were out to get me.  I would wonder why they tended to like humble Dad and not feel exactly the same way toward me.  I know now.  He was humble and I wasn’t. 

Well, I’ll stop now.  I don’t think the importance of humility can be over emphasized.  Without it, I’ll never become a Christian because I don’t think I need to.  Without it, I’ll never take the Christian life seriously because I don’t think I need to.  It took me a long time to figure that out.  I hope you are smarter and quicker than I was. 

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10)

“The House”

August 9, 2012

Image Elijah’s men found the door partially open, so they entered the old house.  They walked carefully, thinking someone might be at home.  When they pushed on the door, its hinges made that familiar reluctant groaning sound customary for old doors and old men, neither of which likes being forced to move.  There were four chairs in the room.  None were sitting upright.  They had all been turned over and lay at various angles and in various positions scattered across the front room as if they had been tossed aside by someone in search of something that the chairs might somehow conceal.  A picture, formerly hanging next to a window, had been ripped from its perch on the wall and cast on the floor near the fireplace where even now a gathering of ashes emitted a small amount of feeble rising smoke. 

In the next room a table, which had apparently been the modest place where the family took their meals, was turned upside down on the floor.  Dishes and utensils were scattered about as if someone had thrown them hurriedly out of their way while searching for some unknown something.  Everything was a mess, a complete disorder. 

In the bedroom, the men found the man and his wife.  They were both in the bed, still partly covered by the quilts.  The man’s upper body was lying across that of the woman’s with his back to the men.  The feather pillows were covered with the couple’s blood.  They had both been shot in the head from what appeared to be fairly close range, perhaps from the door where the men were now standing.  Some blood had dripped from the bed and made a small pool on the plank floor.  It had coagulated and darkened.  A Bluetick hound was licking at it and he now growled under his breath at the men.  They ignored him and went to tell Elijah what they had found. 

Claudie spoke.  “You might want to look in here, Cap’n  Elijah.”  Claudie held Elijah’s horse as he dismounted. 

When Elijah walked into the house, what struck him was the utter disorder and the complete randomness of it.  Most everything had been upset, but here and there, a few things had been left alone, as if they had been holy, to sanctified to touch.  A photograph on a small table had not been moved.  Elijah picked it up.  It was a man and a woman, probably in their early twenties, looking straight at the photographer with expressionless faces.  Were they trying to see into the future?  Were they afraid of what it held?  Those thoughts occurred to Elijah. 

He replaced it on the table and entered the next room.  Two tin cups were hanging undisturbed on two pegs.  Elijah reached for one of them and cradled it in his hand.  He brought it to his nose.  It had a slight smell of strong coffee.  Two people once drank steaming coffee on frosty mornings from these cups.  Where were they now and what had happened to them? 

When Elijah stepped into the next room, he knew.  He stood silently in the door for a few moments. 

Elijah spoke, “So I guess this is what people do when they have ‘rights.’  If man is made in the image of God, why is he so stupid?  Why is he thirty years old and acts like he’s four?  Do you know, Claudie?  When you figure it out, then you tell me, ‘cause I haven’t a clue why man acts the way he does.” 

“I guess someone’s rubbed that image off, Cap’n,” Claudie said. 

“Yeah,” Elijah said.  “And I know who it is.  It’s me.” 

“It’s not you.  It’s them,” Claudie said, “them that did this.”

“It’s always ‘them.’  Who is ‘them?’  I’m ‘them.’  We’re all ‘them.’  We just don’t know it.  We can’t see that.”  Elijah’s voice trailed off.  

“Get some help and bury these poor people, Claudie.  We can’t stay here.  We’ve got to leave as soon as we can,” Elijah said. 

Elijah walked out the front door of the house and got back on his horse.  He rode about fifty yards to the edge of a corn patch and sat there looking across the field that had recently been picked and waited on his men.  He thought of the corn, probably now stored safely in a crib, which would never be eaten by those who had grown it. 

“God has done His part.  He hands us life from His earth, and what do we do with it?” he thought. “We throw it back in His face and tell Him it’s not good enough, that we deserve better.  We say that to God, by the way we act. We’re all lost.  There’s no hope for any of us.  God’s just leaving us alone and letting us kill each other off.” 

In a little bit, the men rode up and they were all ready to leave.   Elijah looked at Claudie. 

“You know this whole world, and especially this Satan-sired war, is like that house back there, Claudie.  It’s all messed up with random destruction.  Sometimes, some little something is saved.  But, there seems to be no reason to what is saved and what is destroyed.  It’s like no one has any sense.  We destroy what matters and keep what doesn’t.  But, mostly, we just don’t know the difference.  We’re just stupid, and selfish, and violent and what we are left with is that house back there,” Elijah said. 

“They teach you that when you were at Harvard”? said Claudie.

“No.”  Elijah paused for a moment.   “They act like they’re real smart up there.  But they’re just as clueless as everybody else.  I figured that out myself.” 

They spurred their horses and moved out into the dirt road.  Claudie rode next Elijah, as he always did.  Their destination was the mist-covered mountains, so much mist that it reminded you of smoke.  When they got to the smokey mountains they would turn north toward Virginia.  They would spend the winter moving up through the Appalachians, gathering a few men as they went, moving on toward Maryland and then Washington and Elijah’s meeting with Lincoln.    But, none of them knew all of that yet, not even Elijah. 

 

Beholding God in my Neighbor

August 8, 2012

Image  My task is to see God in you.  He is surely there.  He has made you.  He has not only created you, but made you  in His image.  You are His likeness.  You have similarities with God, the God of the universe, the God who created everything you see, breathe, and touch.  I must comprehend how you resemble God and help you become a more accurate likeness of Him.  By helping you, I help myself.  For it is my task to not only see God in you, but to show God in me. 

When I see God in you it affects my feelings toward you.  If I perceive you as Godless, I will be repelled by you and hate you.  If I can see something of God in you, even a tiny spark, I will be drawn to you and love you.  I must love everyone, even my enemies.  For this reason, I must search to find something of God in you.  Since you are made in His image, there is some good there, even if your words and behaviors hide it, it is still there.  I will find it and we will both be drawn together and upward by it. 

If you are my enemy, I will pray for you.  If you have wronged me, I will forgive you.  If you shun me, I will reach out to you.  If you ignore me, I will speak kindly of you.  If you hate me, I will love you. 

The night is dark where there is hatred.  Empathy should come easy for the sinner.  When I understand repentance, I will learn compassion.  When I experience forgiveness, I will know grace.  When I count my righteousness deeds, humility hides from me.  I make my world dark when I refuse the Light. 

O Light, shine on me.  Gently guide me away from my self righteousness.  Conduct me into Your presence where the Sun will rise in my heart.  Help me see You in them. 

 

The Day Jesus Became Me

August 6, 2012

Image  We are supposed to be like Christ.  But, is He ever like me?  Yes, He is.  I am referring, of course, to the Incarnation, when Jesus became man while remaining God.  One of the most amazing passages in the New Testament is this one:

    [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Notice how Jesus “emptied Himself” (v 7) and “humbled Himself” (v 8).  I think that is part of His example for us.  We are to empty and humble ourselves too.  We are to empty self of self and humble ourselves before God and others. 

Humility is the most difficult of virtues.  It is a struggle to possess it because the main obstacle to its acquisition is that most terrible of foes – our self.  We must look our fear and insecurity in the eye and say, “I don’t care.”  If someone else gets credit, we don’t care.  If we get used or run over, we don’t care.  If others don’t think we are as important as we want them to think we are, we don’t care.  And then, when we finally we think we are humble, we have to start all over because no one who is really humble thinks they are. 

Humility is hard.  But, it’s still required.  It is never attained.  It is always pursued.  The real Christian never stops chasing it. 

We pursue humility by looking to the example of Jesus.  We believe He is our model.  We must act like it.  Jesus did everything good and everything bad happened to Him.  He should have been accepted.  He was rejected.  He should have been praised.  He was blasphemed.  He should have been believed.  He was denied.  He should have been obeyed.  He was ridiculed.  Yet, in the midst of all that, He maintained His mission and completed it. 

We must not care what happens to us physically in our pursuit of the likeness of Christ.  If we care about ourselves, our ‘rights,’ or our worldly image – we will fail.  When we empty ourselves and humble ourselves, Jesus gives us the victory.  That is the only way.  And it will work every time. 

 

Loving Like Jesus

August 3, 2012

Image  Do we try to live like Jesus?  We say we are Christians, so, it should follow that we are making a serious effort to live like Jesus lived, as the apostle John said, to ‘walk like He walked.’  We can convince ourselves that we are doing that, not perfectly, but making a sincere effort.  But, are we really? 

Jesus’ teaching that we should love as He loved is clear.  No one will argue with this principle. 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 NKJV)

“…as I have loved you.”  That’s pretty straightforward.  Do we do that?  Here’s a test.

Jesus said we are to love our enemies, even pray for them. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV)

Loving includes forgiving.  Recall the familiar statement of Jesus from the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father.”

And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12 NKJV)

Then there is the amazing request of our Lord from the cross.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  (Luke 23:34 NKJV)

Now the test.  Could we have done that?  Could you have done that?  Could I do that?  Perhaps we could create a hypothetical similar to this and imagine it possible.  Maybe we could look back in time and say, “I think I could.”

Actually though, that’s not the real test.  The real test is, “Am I doing it now?”  Who has wronged you?  Have you forgiven them?  Not a difficult test to take.  But a real hard one to pass. 

Forgiving like Jesus may be the hardest part of the Christian life.  “I have done nothing to deserve this, yet they have done such-and-such to me,” we say.  “I have a right to fair treatment and this is grossly unfair.”  How can I forgive someone who has deeply injured me, or worse, hurt my family member?  I must figure it out, because if I’m not like Jesus in forgiveness, I’m not a Christian; I just say I am. 

Here are two thoughts that help me.

One, this a unique opportunity to be salt and light.  Hardly anyone forgives their enemies.  The norm is to get them back with vengeance, not forgive them.  If I can forgive them, because I am a Christian, then others get a taste of how powerful Christianity is.  They taste the salt and see the light of Christ in my life, which is a lot of the point of God saving me – so I could lead others to Him by my example. 

Two, if I can forgive, I can be free.  Anger, resentment, and bitterness are enslaving.  If I allow them to control me, I will never be free.  If I allow them to dwell in me, they will control me.  The way out, the way to freedom – is forgiveness.  It’s impossible, without Christ.  He showed the way by His own forgiveness of those in the very act of murdering Him.  And, He forgave me.  If I am serious about loving like Jesus, I will be a forgiver. 

 

 

Arrogance v Humility

August 1, 2012

Image  I have had occasion to read my Bible more since I became a full-time minister 9 years ago.  I have learned a great deal of humility during this process.  I have learned that had I been more humble earlier in my life, I could have saved myself a lot of problems.  I have learned that I still struggle with humility.  Here is an example.  Why do I care what other people think?  I care because I want to look good in their eyes.  I care because I want them to say good things about me that will increase my arrogance and make it harder still to be humble. 

Why do I care about things that are limited to this life?  I was thinking yesterday about getting Direct TV so I could watch baseball games.  I might get to see some of the players on my fantasy team play in real life.  Why would I spend $80 a month for that?  That is insanity.  No, it is arrogance.  I know what I am doing.  Yes, it is arrogance. 

Why don’t I spend more time in prayer?  Because there are other things I would rather do.  It is about me, the physical me, not the spiritual one.  Again, it is arrogance.  I must learn humility the easy way.  I must learn it myself.  The hard way is for God to teach me humility.  He can do that.  He has done that with me before because of my stubbornness and blindness.  God’s lessons on humility are very effective.  But they are no fun, believe me. 

I sometimes criticize others because of my perception that they do not see and comprehend the big picture.  They see no further than a few inches in front of their nose, I think.  I sometimes even say that to my wife (about someone or some group).  But the one who cannot see is me.  All I see is this world and this life.  Why do I want anything that is limited to this life?  My failure to see spiritual realities and properly value them is arrogance.  But, it is mainly blindness.  I say I see, but I am blind. 

I must force my thoughts on to Jesus.  Who did He not love?  When did He not show mercy?  Upon which of His enemies did He seek vengeance?  When did He fail to be humble and reward humility?  When did He not think of others, notice others, show mercy to others, empower others, take time for others, lead others, give for others, die for others?  When?  I fail.  He conquered.  He said He would help me be like Him.  Why do I not believe that?  Why do I not let go and trust Him?  Why?  The answer is arrogance and fear. 

I can only lead from a position of humility.  If the shepherd is fearful, the flock will tremble and fail.  If the shepherd is courageous, the flock will follow that lead and find strength and will they didn’t know they had.  The shepherd’s leader is Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Who is good but Christ?  Who has courage but Christ?  Who has humbled himself but Christ?  Who will truly lead but Christ? 

Here are my verses for today. 

Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains. (John 9:41 NKJV)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10 NKJV)

  Growing Closer to God

June 24, 2012

Image  What will I do today to increase the depth of my personal inner relationship with God?  A nearness to God will not just happen.  I have to will myself closer to Him.  He will help me.  I must believe that. Then I must act. 

I must control my thoughts.  My goal will be for every thought to center around Jesus.  Everything that I do, I will be aware that I am able to do this because of the grace of Jesus.  I will cultivate positive thoughts about Christ.  He has saved me.  He strengthens me.  He will never forsake me.  Every moment that I am self-aware, Christ is aware of me and loves me.  I will remind myself of this constantly. 

I must pay close attention to what I am doing.  I can lapse into sin if I am not watchful.  I will remember the words of Jesus to watch and pray lest I enter into temptation.  I will think of myself as a Christian and how others are watching my way of life and that I have an opportunity to influence them for Christ.  I will concentrate on what I think, say, and do each moment.  I must look like Jesus to the world because He dwells in me. 

I will constantly pray.  I can say numerous short prayers.  I can even repeat the same brief prayer over and over.  Remember Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying the same thing each time.  I will take time for longer prayer.  I will pray with mental effort.  I may be physically tired when I complete a longer prayer. 

I will mediate on God’s word.  I will repeat a Bible phrase I find particularly helpful over and over.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, for instance. Or, God is love.  I will improve my knowledge of God’s word, and thus its practical usefulness in my personal life, by regular Bible reading. 

I will depend on Jesus and the strength He promises to provide.  I will pray for help to that end and I will make my own concerted effort. 

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:13-17 NKJV)

 

Christ the Pattern

June 23, 2012

Image  I will never influence anyone for Christ if I do not have a personal relationship with Him.  I will never become what God created me to become if I do not have a deep personal relationship with Him.  I could keep going with thoughts like these.  I will never be anything apart from knowing God and a minute by minute striving to be like Him. 

My striving goes beyond being baptized, though it starts with that.  It goes beyond attending church services, though it includes that.  It seems often that we equate faithfulness with church attendance.  That just scratches the surface.  If I am content with showing up for an assembly three times a week, I will never know God.  I know God, I become like Him, when I become like the pattern He showed us for the perfect man.  That pattern is Christ. 

My constant thought, effort, prayer, energy, emotion, and being must be consumed by the desire to be just like Jesus Christ.  He is the pattern.  If I can fight and submit, believe and act, focus on and embrace, cling to and adore – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Perfect God and Perfect Man – then I shall be what God made me to be. 

I must kill the world in my life.  I must annihilate it.  This world is not my home.  I am truly just passing through.  I am a pilgrim.  The sooner I learn and accept that, the sooner I will begin to make progress in becoming more and more like Jesus. 

My mission is to be like Jesus.

My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, (Galatians 4:19)

 


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