Archive for September, 2010

Thinking About My Rights

September 22, 2010

These are a few thoughts that have come to mind as a result of a discussion some of us had on my Facebook page.

I possess no lien on God.  He is not indebted to me and by extension, neither is His creation.  You are not indebted to me.  No one on the planet is owed anything by God.  On the contrary, everyone on the planet is owed everything by me.  I am indebted to God and I am indebted to you.

We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19 NKJV)

…And what do you have that you did not receive? ….(1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV)

… it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2 NKJV)

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel…. (Romans 1:14-15 NKJV)

Paul felt a debt to his neighbor, whoever that neighbor was and whatever that neighbor looked like.  He felt a debt to show them Christ.  He felt that debt because he knew that everything he had was given to him by God and he wanted to act like he understood that and appreciated that.  Paul did not teach wanting more, but giving more.  Paul learned that from Jesus.  Paul felt this way because he had some small sliver of an idea of what it meant to be loved by God.  He knew he would never in this life grasp completely the fullness of the reality of God’s incomprehensible love for mankind, and especially for him personally, but, he knew God’s love was there.  He could feel its fire in his heart.  Paul loved God because God first loved Paul (as John would say).  Paul understood that the practical, day-to-day manner of showing that love for God was to love his neighbor as himself, as his Lord had taught and modeled.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40 NKJV, emphasis mine, John)

My mission is not to try and make my neighbor feel guilty because he is not loving me enough, but to show my love for him, whether he loves me back or not.  Remember this?

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 NKJV)

Jesus didn’t say to treat others right if they treated you right.  He didn’t say to treat others right to get them to treat you right.  He just said to be good to people: to treat others like you would want to be treated, to love them as yourself.  You know, that’s not real hard to understand.  But, it takes an outward focus.  If I am thinking about “me” all the time, I’ll never be able to focus on you.  The more I think about receiving, the less I can think about giving.  Jesus wants givers.  He wants us to be like Him, the One who GAVE.

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 NKJV)

[Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8 RSV)

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15 NKJV)

The desire to be served gets in the way of the desire to serve.  I cannot empty myself if I am constantly trying to fill myself.  If I want to give gifts, I will have to forget getting and concentrate on giving.  I will have to do what Paul did.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me….(Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

Which is what Jesus taught…

…If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24 NKJV)

…and what Jesus did.

…I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  (John 10:17-18 NKJV)

Do I have rights?  Not me.  When I sinned the first time I forfeited all of them, if I ever had any in the first place.  Does my neighbor?  Sure they do…they have all the rights…not with God…but with me.  I owe them, because of what God has done for me and because the way He said to say “thank you” is to go serve them.  If my emphasis is on them serving me, I will never get around to serving them.  I will never even begin to love my neighbor as myself, which is the very thrust of Christian ethics.

My emphasis on my rights, at the expense of yours, is spiritual suicide for me.

Thinking About Mercy

September 16, 2010

We humans sometimes act a lot like dogs.  We are often given to overestimating threats and overreacting to perceived injuries.  If Jesus had acted like we do – would there ever have been a Cross?

That’s a serious question.  As I continually evaluate my personal efforts to imitate the life of Jesus, I need to think about that.

We humans also are frequently selfish.  We don’t have time for the one in need of mercy because we are pursuing our own “needs” for consumption.  After all, I’m making it fine, why couldn’t the other guy do that too.  See, it’s all about me.  What if Jesus had felt that way?  Really.

If my neighbor is in need of mercy, they may indeed not deserve it.  That’s what mercy is.  It involves helping someone who doesn’t deserve it.  That’ what Jesus did for me on The Cross.  I must do the same.  I must take up my cross and follow Him.

It will be easier for me to show mercy if I will meditate on what Jesus has done for me.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3 NKJV, emphasis mine, John)

God is merciful to me.  I could not receive His salvation without His mercy because I am so undeserving.  If I have difficulty showing mercy to someone else, maybe it is because I don’t realize how much mercy God has shown me.  Maybe it is because I don’t appreciate the mercy God has shown me.  Maybe I don’t think I need God’s mercy because I am “entitled.”

I do not understand how one can comprehend the mercy of God and not be a merciful person.  I need to meditate on God’s amazing mercy.

Even an elementary grasp of the beauty of God’s mercy towards me should help me see the divine wisdom of pursuing a life of mercy myself.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, … (James 3:17 NKJV, emphasis mine, John)

A wise person is one who shows mercy.

I guess it all comes down to this: if I want to go to heaven when I die, I will need mercy to get there.  I will not recieve mercy if I do not show it. These words of Jesus below may be so familiar that we just read right through them.  Slow down and think about what Jesus’ saying means.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7 NKJV)

When I realize more fully God’s mercy to me, it becomes easier for me to show mercy to others.  When I show mercy to others, my understanding and appreciation of God’s mercy grows.  Knowing mercy produces mercy.  Showing mercy increases personal joy and shows Jesus to the world.

Thinking About Worship

September 15, 2010

Any attitude that focuses on what I wish to receive instead of what I wish to give will hinder me in my worship.  I want to worship God because I believe Him to be real and because I believe Him to be good.  Attitudes of humility, gratitude, and reverence will help me in my worship.

My worship should focus on who God is and what He has done for His creation.  I am so grateful that He loves me and shows mercy to me.  I want to tell Him that I am aware of His love and appreciate it.  Worship is one way I can do that.

Jesus teaches us that God wants us to worship Him in “spirit and truth.”

…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24 NKJV)

I worship in truth when I worship as the church did in the New Testament period.

I worship in spirit when my attitude is correct in worship.  My attitude would include such traits as humility, gratitude, and reverence.  One direction of my attitude should be inward, to purge my heart of any emphasis on the things of this earthly life.  However, the main direction of my attitude should be outward/upward, to concentrate my thoughts on God in His holiness.  I must be acutely aware that as I worship the Father, I am in the very presence of His throne.  Though I remain on earth, it is as if I have entered heaven itself and kneel before my Maker.  Awe and respect must characterize my being.

In proper worship I may keenly experience the blessing of 2 Peter 1.4:

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NKJV, emphasis mine, John)

Jesus has promised that where His people are gathered, He is present with them.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20 NKJV)

Surely God’s blessing that we may be “partakers of the divine nature” is fulfilled when the faithful church assembles together and worships in spirit and truth.  Surely one of the greatest blessings I can know in this physical body is reverent and devout worship.  What could be more serious than this time?  What could call for a more diligent concentrating of all my mental and emotional energies? Am I giving proper thought to my worship?

If I view my worship the way I view a trip to the store, or to a concert, or to a ball game, or visiting a restaurant – that I am a consumer and the purpose of the events of the worship time is to meet my needs – I will most certainly be disappointed.  I will be disappointed because I did not worship.  I was there, but I did no more than occupy a pew.  I might as well have been an inanimate song book that someone left on the seat from the last service.  I gave nothing – so I received nothing.

It is rather simple to get the outward forms of worship correct.  But remember God’s chastisement of His people in the Old Testament (who had the form right and thought that was good enough).

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NKJV)

Yes, I am aware that that is Old Testament.  Would it be better if Jesus quoted it?

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. (Matthew 9:13 NKJV)

He even does it again three chapters later.

But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7 NKJV)

The Jews thought God was obligated to bless them because they had the outward forms of worship correct.  But, their hearts were all messed up.  God would except neither them nor their worship.  It is the same with me in 2010.  If my attitude is not pure, holy, sincere, serious, grateful, humble, reverent, etc. – my correctness of outward form will be meaningless to God.  Partaking of the divine nature will be something I will never know.

Worship is not play time, visit time, daydream time, nap time or any kind of time except God time.  I shall take nothing in my life more seriously than my approach to God in worship.

Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalms 29:2)

Thinking About Gratitude

September 14, 2010

I have nothing that I did not receive.  I did not earn the Christian family that raised me.  I did not earn the privilege of receiving an education.  I did not earn having a more than adequate house in which to live or having more than enough food and clothing.  I surely did not earn the fine wife I have lived with for 37 years or the three good children she bore me.  Above all, I did not earn The Cross.

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV)

I must be grateful for all these good things, for what would my life be without them?  How rude I would be if I were not thankful.  I must constantly focus on the Source of the incomprehensible goodness that my Father continually rains upon me.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17 NKJV)

Every morning I will praise You, o merciful God.  Every noon I will rejoice in thankfulness for Your tender mercies.  Every evening I will thank You for the gift of my salvation and the protection of Your love.  Every night I will pray for wisdom and strength to be more and more like Your holy Son that my life may show Christ to my neighbors and gratefulness to You.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalms 103:2-5 NKJV)

Every one of my “possessions” is evidence of the goodness of the Lord.  If I were to count His blessings, I could never stop.  I would run out of numbers and my life would surely end before the full extent of His kindness was duly noted.  I cannot look in any direction that I do not see His love.  Even that which appears at first indifferent, or even unfortunate, will show His love if I look at it properly, recognizing His sovereignty, my insignificance, and yet His interest in me.

Why does the All-Mighty desire a loving relationship with me?  Who can fathom it?   This fact, revealed clearly in the Bible, is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Why?  Yet, He does.

I will meditate on the goodness of my God.  I will thank Him with my prayers.  I will do so without ceasing.  I will thank Him through the words of kindness I offer to my neighbor.  I will thank Him through acts of mercy to those who seem undeserving.  I will thank Him with the choice to form Christ in my life.  I will never stop thanking the Good Lord. I will remember to:

pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 NKJV)

Thinking About Humility

September 13, 2010

Admitting the enormity of my own personal sinfulness is the first step toward humility.  If I am unwilling to admit my own personal sinfulness, I will never know humility.  Contemplation of the perfect life of Jesus helps me understand just how sinful, how imperfect, I have chosen to live my life.  Even though I may have the desire to always do, say, and think the good thing, my will often fails me.  The fault for that failure lies with me and me alone.

Why do I fall so short of the life of my Lord?  Why do I allow the words and deeds of others to influence me to be more like the world and less like the Christ?  Who do I want to please or impress?  Why do I care what others may say or think?

I am far, far from perfect.  If I will admit that, I can begin to grow humility.  Humility begins with understanding my sinfulness and confessing my failure to be what I ought to be.  I must compare myself to Jesus, not to my friends.  Even though I may be closer, even much closer, to Jesus than I used to be – still, a great chasm separates my lived life from the life He lived as my Example.

When I truly contemplate Christ, humility overwhelms me.  I have so much yet to learn.   I have so much yet to believe.  I have so far yet to go.  Who will help me?  I thank God: Jesus Christ Himself.

If I will become a humble person, God will reach for me and lift me up.  If I will know humility beyond talking and thinking, if I will know it – the debilitating disease of fear will vanish from my body and I will find myself free to serve, love, and forgive.  When the recognition of God’s mercy toward me causes me to humble myself, I will find a peace and a joy that I never knew existed.

Humility causes the heart to glow.  Humility causes me to see my neighbor in a new and clearer light.  Humility crushes paranoia.  Humility helps me understand who I am and the purpose of my being.  Humility is forgiveness.  Humility is power.  Humility is love.

God is love.

Epistle to Diognetus – c200 A.D.

September 12, 2010
This is a letter thought to have been written in the late second century.  It is a description of typical Christians of that time.  

"CHAPTER 5
 5:1  For Christians are not distinguished from the
rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in
customs.
 5:2  For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their
own, neither do they use some different language, nor
practise an extraordinary kind of life.
 5:3  Nor again do they possess any invention
discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious
men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some
are.
 5:4  But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and
barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the
native customs in dress and food and the other
arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their
own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous,
and confessedly contradicts expectation.
 5:5  They dwell in their own countries, but only as
sojourners; they bear their share in all things as
citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers.
Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and
every fatherland is foreign.
 5:6  They marry like all other men and they beget
children; but they do not cast away their offspring.
 5:7  They have their meals in common, but not their
wives.
 5:8  They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they
live not after the flesh.
 5:9  Their existence is on earth, but their
citizenship is in heaven.
 5:10  They obey the established laws, and they
surpass the laws in their own lives.
 5:11  They love all men, and they are persecuted by
all.
 5:12  They are ignored, and yet they are condemned.
They are put to death, and yet they are endued with
life.
 5:13  They are in beggary, and yet they make many
rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they
abound in all things.
 5:14  They are dishonoured, and yet they are
glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of,
and yet they are vindicated.
 5:15  They are reviled, and they bless; they are
insulted, and they respect.
 5:16  Doing good they are punished as evil-doers;
being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby
quickened by life.
 5:17  War is waged against them as aliens by the
Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by
the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell
the reason of their hostility." 

 Source:  www.earlychristianwritings.com

Taking a Wife

September 11, 2010

Jessica, Eric, Debbie, me. Austin was somewhere else at the moment.

Outside of the fact that we both are sincere about our Christianity and love our family, my wife and I have virtually no common interests.  Yet, we get along marvelously.  How is that?  O yeah, we like to go out to eat together, but that’s pretty much it.

I can’t imagine being married to anyone else.  We have been married 37 years.  If I could go back in time, I would marry her again.  Really.  Absolutely!  To enhance your boredom (if you’ve got this far), here are a few examples.

I just tried to read her something (which I thought quite interesting) off the internet – she walked out the door to water her flowers – which I have no interest in.  She is all up into George Strait (I spelled his name right, didn’t I?), I wouldn’t walk across the street to hear George Strait for free.  She likes loves adores country music.  That genre does nothing for me.  I prefer rock and classical (no opera though).  I don’t see the country stuff bringing a tear to my eye (it’s too predictable).  But if “Battle Cry of Freedom” is played really, really slow on a piano or Pachelbel’s “Canon” is played properly with a violin – I’ll just about choke up every time.  Figure it out….

She doesn’t enjoy reading, I do.  She likes ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ I don’t.  We actually both like Alabama football.  But, truth be told, she probably likes it more than I do (she is an ex high school cheerleader and UA alum).  We both sat in bleachers countless hours watching our two sons play ball over the years.  She would scream and holler, I rarely opened my mouth.  She never missed our daughter’s “cherrie” leader games (she was the cheer coach, but she would have gone anyway).  To my shame, I only caught a couple of them over the three years she cheered on varsity.

Permit me a slight digression.  The cheerleader thing has reminded me.  When my daughter cheered, they had a number of  different outfits they wore.  One had an opening in the back of the top that was apparently surrounded by elastic to cause it to gather in, or squeeze in.  We were the Blue Devils and the girls called that outfit “Squeezy Devils.”  My sons and I thought that name was so funny.  We would always ask her on game days if they were going to wear “Squeezy Devils.”  That was a cue for her to roll her eyes and turn her head.

It takes my wife a good hour and a half to get ready, me: about 20 minutes.  I love to cook, she doesn’t.  She likes to stitch things, like afgans (if she ever has the time, which is rare).  Not me.  Doing something like that would drive me crazy in about 5 minutes max.  I’m a thinker, she’s a doer.  She’s slow, I’m  fast.  I like cows and stuff (though I no longer own any).  She’s not into that.

So, do opposites attract?  Works for me.

Reward Your Friends and Punish Your Enemies

September 10, 2010

Perhaps you have heard that saying before.  Or, maybe this variation of the Golden Rule:  Do unto others before they do unto you.  Both have the idea of doing something to the other person that the other person is not going to like.  The statements are both rooted in selfishness.  They lead to a desire for vengeance.

What is the relationship of the Christian to vengeance?  If someone wrongs you, do you want to “”get them back”?  Do you feel a need to “get even?  Who are you thinking about when you experience a desire for vengeance?  Yourself?  Think about these questions.  You don’t have to tell me.  But, tell yourself.  Tell God.

What does God say about vengeance?  That’s not hard to find:

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NKJV)

Like those Bible verses that talk about forgiving someone who has wronged me or showing mercy to someone who is undeserving, this one can be hard to obey.  The verse that follows it can be even harder:

Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” (Romans 12:20 NKJV)

I told you so.  Given the context, those are probably coals of purification, not coals of pain.  The rationale for these two verses is the third one, which follows:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 NKJV)

Perhaps we could rewrite our title statement like this:  “Reward your friends, and convert your enemies.”

I believe people will present as candidates for conversion to Christianity when Christians begin to act like…well…Christians.  When others see love, mercy, forgiveness, and humility in us – I believe they’ll want to be a part of a group that lives that way.  On the other hand, if we draw a line in the sand and start looking for a fight – I believe we’ll get one.  A lot of fights end with both sides coming away losers.

If we want to fight, here’s how we should do it:

  • Fight evil with good
  • Fight hate with love
  • Fight arrogance with humility
  • Fight injustice with mercy
  • Fight sin with forgiveness
  • Fight war with peace

We don’t usually fight this way because to fight like this is hard.  Pulling the trigger on arrogance, hate, and war is easy.  That’s the simple way.  That’s what people expect.   Humility, love, and mercy is hard.

You know, it takes two people to argue.  Can you say, “It’ll be hard to argue with me”? Can you look for solutions that don’t involve fighting?  Here is some good advice:

For he who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:10-11 NKJV)

Can you “seek peace and pursue it”?

When you think of 9-11, do you have thoughts of vengeance, or purifying good works?  Do you glory in war, or seek peace?

Forming Christ in Me

September 1, 2010

The checkout line in Wal Mart was moving slowly.  It was obviously the cashier’s first time on the register.  She had made a mistake and had called a supervisor to fix her error.  The supervisor must have been on break, because it had been at least a full minute and no help for the struggling cashier was in sight.  William, who was a member of the local church of Christ, was becoming more frustrated by the moment.  Why didn’t they hurry up?  He was here to give them money and he deserved a certain level of respect.  And, to add insult to injury, the person in front of him in line had only one item.  Did that poor soul not know there was a different line for people with only a small number of things to buy?  Everyone was out to get him, and he had done absolutely nothing to them.  Poor William.  He was going to give that cashier a piece of his mind as soon as he got the chance.  Why didn’t people do better?  What was their excuse?

Our friend William ( a fictitious name) reminds me of a few people I know, and, more painfully, all too much of myself.  I don’t know what was eating William inside, but he sure didn’t have Christ in his heart.  He felt he “deserved”?  He thought people were out to get “him”?  Since when is it all about you, William?

What we have here is a perfect opportunity for William to show grace and kindness.  He blew it.  I betcha he blew it because his understanding of what Christ had done for him when he became a Christian was pretty near zero.  Why should he show mercy when no one had shown him any mercy?  I’m thinking that was what was in his head.  How clueless can one get?  I will always believe that the way I show mercy is in direct proportion to the way I believe mercy has been shown to me.  If I believe God has been good to me, then I will be good to other people.  If I believe God has not been good to me, then…well…you know.

What William really needed was Christ in his heart.  Ol’ Will is not the first one to experience this problem.  Note Paul to the Galatian church:

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

That is the purpose before me every day: the formation of Christ in my life.  If He is there, I will show mercy, because that’s what He did.  If I fail to be merciful, or kind, or peaceable, or forgiving, or generous, or…you pick up from here…it must be because Christ has not been formed in me.

This is serious folks.  It doesn’t just happen.  I must work at it, pray about it, study over it, meditate upon it – Christ-likeness must be my very life – there is nothing else.

Here’s another verse:

He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6 NKJV)

If I walk like Jesus from 10 to 12 on Sunday morning, I’m not done yet.  There is (much) work left to do.  Showing Christ in me is sure important on Sunday.  But, it is equally important all the other days of the week, including, in the checkout line in Wal Mart.