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)

 

Keeper of Souls

April 29, 2012

 Image

It just sits there on the side of a sparsely traveled county road, a farm-to-market road, as they used to call them.  An unpainted, unkempt, dog-trot house, lonely and solitaire, resting in its desertedness, on an overgrown former yard waiting for its master to return, walk down the now bare broad and open-ended center hall,  put the key in the door and with that peculiar clicking sound, push it open and walk in – at home again, or perhaps, at last.  I know the house would sigh should that actually happen, and, should I happen to be there on that occasion, I believe I could actually hear it. 

People had driven by it for the last few decades as it fell into disuse and then the eventual decay.  It was a familiar landmark, half way between two small towns that had been high school football rivals for as long as anyone could remember.  It used to be more carefully maintained than it is now, though it is not yet neglected.  That day will surely come, as it does with most old things.  The young grow old and then their turn comes to die.  Future generations are born, mature, and remember not the things of a former time.  It wasn’t “their” house.  They didn’t grow up there, visit their grandparents there; what’s the point?

Why would you keep up an old house anyway?  It’s probably not worth a lot in today’s market.  It would be a lot of trouble, not to mention expense.  So, why mess with it? 

I think I know.  It isn’t about the house, it’s about the people.  When you look at the house, it’s not just an old house you see.  It’s “the” house, and you “see” the people who lived there and did things there. 

William Faulkner painted a scene like that in one of his stories.  A gentleman walked into a certain room in an old house.  The furniture was covered with bedsheets and there was dust everywhere.  But, he didn’t see that.  Faulkner used the phrase, “…and the curtain rose upon the stage.”  The gentleman saw a group of his friends, who had died in the Civil War, dancing with their girlfriends just before going off to perish in that lost and misguided cause.  They were in their twenties, a few even younger.  They were full of life, vigor, plans, and hope.  He was there in the middle of them.  That’s what he saw.  He saw the physical scene with his eyes.  But with his thoughts and emotions, he saw something different. 

I think we are all like that character in the Faulkner story.  What we see with our eyes is not always the same scene that presents to our hearts. 

When we look at the old house, we don’t see a vacant broken down porch.  We see the long -gone porch swing with our grandmother sitting in it.  We’re sitting there with her at age 5 and she’s reading “The Pokey Little Puppy” to us.  We know what’s on every page, but we wait for her to turn them because we are living the experience.  When we look at the porch, we live that experience again.  It’s always alive for us that way, as long as the old house is alive.  Maybe we remember the smell of our mother’s buttermilk biscuits, right when they came from the oven, as it mingled with the odor of bacon freshly fried in her black iron skillet.  We see the store-bought butter and the Golden Eagle syrup waiting on the kitchen table for the hot biscuits.  And then our sense of taste kicks in to go with our sense of smell.  None of that would be possible, in just that way, if the old house were not still there. 

So, our purpose is not to maintain an old house.  It’s to keep people alive.  That way we can visit them whenever we want.  We can resurrect them.  We can bring them up from the grave with flesh, and skin, and breath.  Then we can set them down wherever we want, just like it was real.  We can do that with our heads, and our hearts, and the old house.  It is our keeper of souls.   That’s why we want it to always be there. 

Note to the kind and gentle reader:  I made this story up, but that is the kind of thoughts I have whenever I see an old abandoned house.  Somebody lived a life there.  They had hopes and dreams just like me.  Did their hopes materialize?  Did their dreams come to pass?  I have no idea.  But, it makes me think…and wonder.  I got the picture of the old house from Google Images.  I haven’t a clue where it’s located.  I hope you enjoyed the story. 

 

 

 

The Scent of Innoncence

March 4, 2012

I drove my 68 Camaro down a gravel road with my girlfriend sitting on a cushion on the console next to me.  Her Chanel # 5 mixed with Tommy James and the Shondels from the 8-track and created the scent of endless youth. We stopped at a country store and bought RC’s for a quarter.  I put a dollar’s worth of gas in the red Camaro and we were off again.  The wind coming from the rolled down windows blew her long brown hair in my face. Her soft laughter was addictive and I was high on the love of my youth.  We had no plan, no destination – just the moment, and we embraced it.  There was war in Asia, riots in Montgomery, and drugs in New York, but we remained invincible, absolved of it all. 

I left for college the day Eden ended and we drifted.  Youth and distance are cruel and we were victims of both.  Paradise was gone for a while, but eventually it came back.  We are still in the middle of it after 40 years. 

I can still feel her hair blowing in my face.  I can still hear her laughter.  I still smell her Chanel  I feel her breath in my ear even now.  The ride started a long time ago . . . and it never ended.  I love you, Debbie.  Image

Yep, that’s us, and the car.  See her long brown hair? 

Why Not Me?

January 30, 2012

  The next paragraph is something I pulled from my Facebook newsfeed   a couple of days ago.  I read and hear of things like this frequently (it seems all the time lately) from multiple sources.

(names deleted)  grandson, (name deleted), is showing much improvement! He calls the dialysis machine his “washing machine that will let me drink water.” It is so hard for him to understand having to be on IV’s so please continue to pray that his kidneys will start functioning. Thanks! 

I get really upset when I see things like this.  There is a nephew of one of my friends from the insurance agency days who is at St. Jude in Memphis getting chemotherapy.  He is a senior at a nearby school and on their football and baseball teams.  I pray that he will do well, but not everyone does.  My son’s best friend from college died of cancer a year ago.  He was 34.    I wish our young people would apply themselves and go into research and probably cure most of this.  Some do that, but why don’t more?  Perhaps they don’t because they are too into themselves.  We should preach about this.  I should preach about this.  I wish I had done something like that myself, then there would have been some usefulness to my younger and middle-aged years.   Do you remember the line from ‘Catcher in the Rye’?

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.  That’s all I do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22, spoken by the character Holden Caulfield

Permit me to continue the thought:  Then there are too many of them running and you can’t catch them all and some go over the edge and you are powerless to do anything about it.  Then you start crying because they are getting by you and the tears obscure your vision and you can’t see good now and more run by and fall over the edge and you wish it would all go away but it won’t and the rest of the world is standing at the edge of the field watching it all happen and no one will do anything about it and you cry out “Help me.  Do something.”  But they’re all just standing there and have started talking to each other and trying to impress each other with how important they are and all the while all these kids are falling over the edge and I reckon nobody cares because they don’t try to do anything about it, they just put Chicken Soup stuff on their Facebook pages and think that changes something when what they really need to do is get out in the field and do something.

Yeah.  Why don’t I do something?  Why don’t you do something?

Here’s what God says, through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

(Isaiah 6:8 NKJV)

 

How about it?  Maybe the ‘me’ is me.  Or, maybe the ‘me’ is you.

*Photo is Eric’s dear friend, Will, and his mother.  Will died about a month later.

Happy Sharing

January 23, 2012

You are happier if you share and if you are happy you are more likely to share.

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2.44-47 NKJV)

The above text records the events of the daily lives of the first Christians shortly after the initial preaching of the gospel of Christ and the obedient response of three thousand souls to that message. Of all the things that are said about them, notice two in particular that characterized their lives. I hope our lives today, can be like theirs were then.

The early Christians were people who were happy. They “ate their food with gladness.” They had learned the truth about Jesus. They had learned that they had committed a terrible sin. But, they had also learned that God loved them and wanted to forgive them. Peter had told them how they could receive the forgiveness God was offering. He told them to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2. 38). They believed the message of God that Peter brought and they obeyed God’s commands. The forgiveness and hope that they found when they trusted and obeyed the Heavenly Father caused them to be excited and filled with gladness. We can experience those same emotions today, when we do what they did.

The early Christians were people who shared. They were “sharing . . . with all, as anyone might have need.” I’ve got a feeling, they were so eager to share because of their joy over their new-found forgiveness. They wanted to live the new life in Christ, and this was one way they did it. They were so excited about the cleansing of the guilt of sin from their hearts, that the same value they had formerly placed on material things, just wasn’t there anymore. These Christians valued helping those who were in need greater than their own monetary wealth. And, they acted that way. When they saw a need, they did something about it.

You know, the Christians in Acts were people just like us. And we can be people just like them. We can be filled with gladness, if we’re faithful Christians; and we can share with others from the blessings God has given to us.

Some Thoughts on the Love of God and His Continuing Offers of Salvation in the Bible

January 19, 2012

Well, it begins in the beginning: Genesis. God’s love is clearly seen in making man like Himself and setting man up in the Garden of Eden. So, what does man do? Man sins. What does God then do? God does expel man from the Garden along with some other consequences, but God doesn’t destroy man, which would have been a just response. He sends man out into the wide, wide world where man can have a very good life if he will only cooperate with God.

Over time man does not cooperate with God and The Flood happens. However, again God does not destroy everyone – He saves Noah and his family. God places a value on human life and sends Noah out into the wide, wide world to repopulate it and use it for his benefit. You cannot read the Bible story and escape being overwhelmed by the love of God and His continuing offers of forgiveness/salvation.

The story continues. Man would sin and God would be patient. Man would eventually repent and God was eager to forgive and accept man back into relationship. God was a thousand times more eager to forgive than to take vengeance. We have made that Biblical point in sermons here.

And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7 NKJV)

Notice how God’s mercy is associated with the number “thousands,” and God’s vengeance is associated with the number “four.”  God had 1000 to 4 rather be merciful than vengeful.  BTW, this text is sometimes called the “Golden Text” of the Old Testament.

The story continues today. The culmination of it all was Jesus. We can be His disciples today and God will eagerly accept us into a relationship of security and blessings with Him. We can be a part of God’s family right now!

The Lord is . . . longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV)

God loves you.  He always has.  He always will.

 

A Gentle Religion

January 17, 2012

Our culture is often not very gentle.  Our sons are taught to “deliver a blow” in football.  A “hard-nosed” businessman may be admired.  We are eager to seek personal and national vengeance.  “Don’t tread on me,” and on I could go.  If you have been awake even part of your life, you know what I am talking about and you won’t embarrass yourself by disagreeing.

The gospel of Christ paints a radically different picture.  Oh that Christians would believe the gospel and use Christ as their Pattern instead of acting like the nations (people) around them.  Perhaps if their preachers led them more fully in the direction of Christ they would follow.  Recall Yahweh’s statement at the time of the Assyrian captivity:

Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments  . . . Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers . . .  rejected His statutes and His covenant . . . and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them that they should not do like them. (2 Kings 17:13-15 NKJV)

My prayer is that we would stop imitating our neighbor, start imitating Jesus, and thus become salt and light to our neighbor.

I believe you could say that Christianity is a religion of gentleness and kindness.  Go with me on a little walk through the New Testament and let’s see if that’s so.

The Sermon on the Mount encapsulates Jesus’ teaching on the second great commandment, love your neighbor as yourself, Leviticus 19:18.  The Beatitudes are the Sermon on the Mount in condensed version.  I am sure you remember the third beatitude:

Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5 NKJV)

‘Meek’ is also translated ‘humble’ or ‘gentle.’  Do we believe we will be blessed if we are humble and gentle?  If we don’t, why do we believe anything else Jesus said?  De we believe God will take care of us if we are humble and gentile, or that we’ve got to “look out for ourselves’?  Who do we trust, God or us?

Jesus had the ultimate wrong perpetrated against Him.  He was murdered when He was not only innocent of any wrongdoing, but had spent His entire earthly life helping other people.  As He hung dying on the cross, did He lash out at His enemies?  Did He admonish His disciples to ‘get even’ with those who had done this to Him?  Did He damn His adversaries to hell?  You know, He had the power to do that.  Did He?  You know the answer.  Here’s what He did:

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:33-34 NKJV)

He asked for their forgiveness.  He loved His enemies . . .  like He told us to do . . .  He practiced what He preached.  Do we?  If Jesus could forgive those people, in that circumstance, what is my problem that I cannot forgive my neighbor, workfellow, schoolmate, or family member; whatever it is they’ve done or said?  I must forgive them and treat them kindly, if I want to be like Jesus, if I want to be His disciple.

Here is a disciple of Christ who acted like Jesus.  His name is Stephen.

And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60 NKJV)

Question.  What kind of disciples are we?  Could we do this?  What behavior in our life right now would lead others to believe that we might be able to do what Stephen did?  If we listen to the ‘nations’ around us, we probably won’t be able to forgive like Jesus and disciple Stephen.  See why we need to quit listening to what others are saying and aping how they are acting and start listening to Jesus and begin to become more and more like Him.  “More and More Like Jesus.”  We should sing that right now, because I’m not sure everybody believes that.

Let’s move on to the epistles.  Here’s what Paul says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV)
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)

I really don’t know how to make that any plainer.  If I can’t be humble, kind, and gentle . . . I can’t be a Christian.  I might be big and bad and command the respect and admiration of my fellow man, but Jesus remains unimpressed.  Whose approval do you  seek?  Who do you want to impress?

And then there’s John . . .

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 NKJV)

Notice how love of your neighbor and love of God are associated.  Love of neighbor is a prerequisite for love of God.  If you don’t love (think kindness and gentleness) your neighbor, you don’t love God.  If you don’t love your neighbor, you’re not like Jesus.  I want to be like Jesus.  May God help us all to that end.

Jesus, meek and gentle,
Son of God most high,
Gracious, loving Savior,
Hear Thy children’s cry.

Pardon our offenses,
Loose our captive chains,
Break down every idol
Which our soul detains.

Give us holy freedom,
Fill our hearts with love;
Draw us, holy Jesus,
To the realms above.

Lead us on our journey,
Be Thyself the way
Through our earthly darkness
To the heavenly day.

Jesus, meek and gentle,
Son of God most high,
Gracious, loving Savior,
Through earth’s passing darkness,
To heaven’s endless day.

Jesus Meek and Gentle, by George Prynne (1856) and William Monk (1861)

 

Stewardship of the Past: The Past and the Heart

January 17, 2012

It is hard to forget the past.  I guess you could say that is a good thing and a bad thing.  Successes of the past could give us confidence for the present.  Failures of the past could motivate us with the thought, “It won’t happen again.”  Maybe that’s what UA was thinking in LSU II.  Or maybe not.  On the flip side, recalling success could make us arrogant and remembering failure could make us defeatist.

The effect of the past on the present is determined by the heart. 

If my heart is on Jesus, I will learn from the past and those lessons will help me improve my efforts to be more like Him.  If my focus is on me, I may become depressed or (depression’s opposite) overconfident as my past continues to affect me.

Whatever effect the past has on me, one thing is clear:  I must not live there.  I must live where I am in what I can control – the present.  I must personally cause the effects of the past on my life to be positive by focusing on Jesus and not myself.

. . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV)

Paul had a lot of failure in his earlier life, and he didn’t realize it was failure at that time.  I guess he could have dwelled on the lost time and opportunity of what went before.  But, he didn’t.  He wanted to be a good steward of the past by not living there.  He lived now.  He lived to his fullest potential in the present.  This gave him a forward momentum, not a backward slide.

It can be the same with you and me.  We can get lost in the “could have’s” and “should have’s” and miss opportunities now (thus repeating past failures instead of learning from them).  Remembering the past is ok.  Living there isn’t.

Look forward.  Live now.  Win the prize.

 

Calmness

December 15, 2011

My dad's place in Sulligent, summer 2011.

A personality that is calm is a desirable trait that may be overlooked when listing the markers of a person with good character.  I bet you like to be around people who are of a calm demeanor rather than ones who are “wound up” most of the time.  They probably tend to calm you down and thus help you feel better.

Children who are calmer would seem to have an increased ability to focus on the task at hand and would therefore be able to learn better.  I think the ability to focus or concentrate is one of the main indicators of a smart or potentially smart child.  It is good to be smart, because it increases your opportunities to serve.

Adults also need to calm down.  Not only does a calm or quiet personality affect your kids/grandkids (and anyone with whom you interact), it helps you feel better and be more focused on what you need to do.  Calmness increases discipline.

You might think this topic is not addressed in the Bible, but here are three scriptures from the Epistles where it is:

… But we exhort you, …, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; (1 Thessalonians 4:10-11 RSV)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 RSV)

Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  (1 Peter 3:3-4 RSV)          

How calm, quiet, peaceable, and gentle are you?  Do you influence others to live this way by your own life example?

 

O God, increase our faith

That we may take You at Your word

That we may believe it and trust it

That we may submit and follow You

And that Your Holy Name may be exalted in the process. 

Man and God: You, Me, and Jesus

December 12, 2011

  Every person you will meet today started out like God.  They may have defiled His image, but, at birth, they were made like God by God.  This also applies to you and to me.  This knowledge should affect how I view others and how I view myself.  An understanding of my original connection to God, though I am flesh, should also enhance my appreciation of the Incarnation, when Christ (God) voluntarily took flesh upon Himself.

The word of God is clear that God made us like Himself.  This does not mean that God made us “little gods.”  But, that He made us with some of the same characteristics that He has.  God is perfect and infinite in His characteristics.  I am not. I choose how close to perfection I will come as I make daily choices about Christian living.

Look how many times God tells us that He made us like Himself.

…Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him…. (Genesis 1:26-27 NKJV)

… In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. (Genesis 5:1 NKJV)

… For in the image of God He made man. (Genesis 9:6 NKJV)

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth…so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring. Therefore, since we are the offspring of God… (Acts 17:26-29 NKJV)

For a man … is the image and glory of God…. (1 Corinthians 11:7 NKJV)

… men, who are made in the likeness of God. (James 3:9 RSV)

When I see someone, or think of someone, or interact with someone I need to remember this:  they are made in God’s image.  God made them originally exactly the way He wanted to make them and He made them like Himself.  When faced with improper behavior, instead of taking offense, being condescending, or seeking revenge, I should remember that this is another person created in the image of God, by God, exactly the way He wanted to make them.  Life may have gotten in the way and they may not look much like God now, but that is not the way they started out.  They came into the world like God.  It is possible that they can return there.  I need to help them do that, not hinder or discourage them.

I spend some time (I am sure too much) recalling my past failures.  I can get pretty depressed about them.  What I need to do, and what we all need to do, is to recall who we are because of Who made us and the way He made us.  We need to exult with the psalmist:

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. (Psalms 139:13-14 NKJV)

By virtue of our divine design, we have great potential.  God has placed it in the palm of our hand.  Open the fist clenched in fear and anger and behold what God hath wrought.  If we were like God once, we can be like Him again.  Let’s reclaim our destiny.  God will help us (He already has).  We can change the world for good, beginning with ourselves.

God identified with man His creation not only in creating us in His image, but in taking flesh upon Himself in the Incarnation.  This was accomplished in the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NKJV)

… Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God… (1 John 4:2-3 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)

The love of God for you and me is revealed in many ways.  The Cross is obviously one of these.  Another is the Incarnation.  God loved us so much that He became one of us to save us and, yes, to serve us.  How can we not love Him back?

 

O Lord God

Maker of heaven, Maker of earth, and Maker of me

Bless me to be more like Your Son

Bless me to live in harmony with Your purpose for me

Bless me to see in others the spark of You they possess.

 

[The image is “A Monk” by A. Kosnichyov, 2006.  Imagine he is contemplating how he can be more like God.)

“…unalienable rights…”

August 22, 2011

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”

The first premise, that all men are created equal, is certainly correct.  But, there is a caveat to that:  “equal” is not equal to “the same,” note the Parable of the Talents and the differences in male and female.

The second premise, about the “unalienable Rights,” is simply false.  You and I have no rights.  We forfeited any perceived “rights” when we committed that first sin.  Our neighbor, however, has all the rights.  We are debtor to them.  We are bondslaves.  When we understand this, we will each be happier and the world will be a better place.  You are not my slave, but I am yours.  Now go home and try that way of looking at things with your spouse.  See if your marriage doesn’t ignite.  Meanwhile, here are a few texts to chew on.

“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave– (Matthew 20:26-27 NKJV)

… Yet I am among you as the One who serves. (Luke 22:27 NKJV)

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. (Romans 1:14 NKJV)

… I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; (1 Corinthians 9:19 NKJV)

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

April 29, 2011

Well, I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it’s not because they are good people.  But, trouble still comes.  Here are some suggestions to help us deal with trying times.

There are trials in the world because there is sin in the world, but that doesn’t mean the trials are because of my personal sin.  My dad spent the last few years of his life pretty much bedridden with very severe pain in his feet.  I remember him asking me more than once, “What did I do to cause all of this?”  The answer was, “nothing,” unless you want to count getting old (he lived to be almost 90).  Things just happen.  Sometimes it’s someone else’s fault.  Sometimes it’s my fault.  And sometimes it’s nobody’s fault.  It’s just life in a world created perfect but corrupted by man not following the advice of his Creator.

Trials do not mean that God doesn’t care.  If you read the Old Testament, you will see repeatedly how God wanted a relationship with Israel.  They were often uninterested in having a relationship with God and pursued the pagan idols of the Canaanite nations or rebelled against God in other ways.  God would allow them to be defeated by their enemies (a trial), but He still loved them and wanted what was best for them, which was the relationship with Him.  In the New Testament, God allowed the ultimate of trials to come on His Son, Jesus.  That certainly did not mean that the Father did not love the Son or care about what happened to Him.

Trials do not mean that God can’t do anything about it.  Trials are here because of man’s bad choices, not God’s inability to stop them.  Now, those bad choices may not be yours, they may not even be from the present time.  We suffer the physical consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve, though not the spiritual guilt, even today.  We experience physical death, and the things that attend it, because of the sin of Adam.  God can certainly control everything if He wishes, but if He did, we would be something like a computer…we wouldn’t be human.  I had just as soon not be a machine.

Trials could mean that God has a lot of confidence in you.  He knows that, with His help, you can handle it.  Paul says God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to deal with the temptation appropriately.  If there is a temptation out there that we can’t handle, God won’t allow it to happen.  There is a technical difference between temptations and trials, but they are so closely related that I am considering them the same in this article.  If God allows a trial in my life, it must mean that he is confident that I can handle it with His help, which He will always provide.  To know that God believes in me is a great blessing.

Trials help us focus on a better life.  God tells us of a place where there are no trials, where no bad things happen, only good…but it’s not here, it’s in heaven.  When I face the tragedy and grief of the here and now it makes me want to go to the there and then.  God invites me there, and shows me the way through Jesus.  This hope gives us the strength to carry on.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, …(Hebrews 6:19 NKJV)

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:3 NKJV)

Snow Day

January 7, 2011

Well, some forecasts have up to eleven inches of snow possible for central Alabama.  It’s still two days out, so maybe, maybe not.  We’ll see.  My wife stopped by the store on her way home for a loaf of bread, because we were actually out of bread, and the shelves were approaching empty.  She had to buy a different brand from her normal favorite.  Only in Alabama . . . where we put football ahead of religion and the hint of a few snowflakes creates a frenzied rush on milk and bread, even two days in advance.  You should see us drive on frozen roads – from a distance, that is.

Should the eleven inches actually materialize, it would be the largest snowfall that I can remember since I was in (guessing) the fifth grade.  That was in the early sixties.

Back then my dad had some sows that were coming in (delivering their little piglets) right in the middle of the snow event.  He had recently built a new farrowing house (hog barn) and the eight sows would do their business there.  Did I mention it wasn’t heated?  Did I mention it was real cold?  I am not sure of the temp, but I think it was in the teens, maybe single digits.  I know I mentioned the snow.  Well, it stayed on the ground for a week (almost), all 12 inches of it.

Dad and Claude stayed up all night with the sows for 4 or 5 nights, till they all came in, I guess.  Then Dad went and ran his insurance agency all day.  He obviously slept sometime, but not very much that week.  He and Claude had about the bottom foot of a sawed-off 55 gallon drum that they filled with charcoal and ignited.  That was their heat source.  There were some heat lamps for the baby pigs.  Dad and Claude would take the pigs as they were born, dry them off, and place them on wood shavings under the heat lamps.

I stayed the first night till about midnight.  When I wanted to go home, Dad couldn’t leave the sows to take me so I walked by myself about a quarter mile through the pasture in the foot deep snow.  I was ten, I guess.  And I didn’t have a cell phone.  But, as evidenced by the fact that I’m now typing this, I made it.

Dad learned a valuable lesson.  He would never have sows come in in February again – and he didn’t.

I’m not sure of the details, but I think a significant amount of the expense of putting me through college was paid from Dad’s sideline hog operation.  The old farrowing house is still standing, though it hasn’t housed hogs in years and years.

If it actually snows, I hope you can enjoy the beauty of it from a warm place . . . and I hope your animals don’t decide to give birth in the middle of it.

Resolutions 2011

December 31, 2010

I think living a Christ-like life starts with humility.  You have to admit that you are a sinner, and thus in need of help.  You have to look in the mirror with humility to do that.  Then you have to humble yourself to actually seek the help that is constantly and readily available in Jesus.

And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12 NKJV)

Jesus talks about love, love God and love your neighbor, but I think His statement here assumes that a person wants to do the right thing, that is, wants to improve themselves.  That attitude begins with humility.  Love begins with humility.

As Jesus is an icon of the Father, I am to be an icon of Jesus.  When people see me, they are supposed to see Jesus – in me, in my life.  They are supposed to see Jesus in what my life reveals about my attitudes and values.  They are supposed to see Jesus in my interactions with them.

He is the image [icon] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15 NKJV)

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 NKJV)

How can I do a better job in 2011 showing everyone I interact with Christ in my life?  Here are some resolutions.

  • The ability to show restraint – I will show more restraint when I feel wronged
  • The ability to show aggression – I will aggressively engage the Christian life
  • The ability to examine myself – I will truthfully evaluate my own heart
  • The ability to radiate love – I will love those that are dear to me
  • The ability to look like Jesus – I will be an icon of Christ

 

Elijah’s Grave

December 24, 2010

I visited Dad yesterday.  I do that every Christmas and yesterday was the day.  I did all the talking, as usual.  He was the same.  Nothing to report.  There had been three new arrivals since my last visit for his birthday in late August.  That number is unheard of for a time that brief.  The neighborhood where he stays is not that large.  The main thing its got going for it is that it is quiet.  I like quiet.  I think Dad does too.

We sang “Wayfaring Stranger” at church Wednesday night.  That song, and my visit to Dad’s place, formed an image in my mind.  I know I can be a bit eccentric, but that kind of thing happens from time to time.  There’ll be some event.  That event – it could be something someone said, or something I read (that happens with Faulkner a lot), or something that happens that reminds me of something else – whatever – but the event will cause me to imagine a scene so vividly that it seems I am there.  Even the smells and feels seem to be present in my head – like the damp smell of a cold rain and the presence of the wind-blown raindrops stinging my bare face.

I promised (kind of) that I would write about the pictures in my head.  So here goes.  The time is now, the present, that is.  Elijah Campbell’s heirs worship each Sunday at a rural church not far from here.  It’s constructed of native limestone quarried a few miles from where the building sits on a ridgeline overlooking a valley of the Buttahatchie River where the old community of Campbell Springs was developed by Elijah and company in the 1800’s.  There are twenty-something of his descendants assembled this Sunday.  The Campbells are worth billions through the Shiloh companies.  At least people assume that, but, no one actually knows for sure because all of Shiloh is privately held.  Shiloh Financial – which supplies a big hunk of Wall Street’s investment money: privately held.  Shiloh Transportation – whose trains and trucks regularly visit most every town in America: privately held.  Shiloh Medical – whose pharmaceuticals are in most every medicine cabinet in the country: privately held.    No annoying shareholder meetings for them – at least none that aren’t all family.

Before returning to their homes, The Campbells always gather at the cemetery adjoining the church at the old patriarch Elijah’s grave and sing “I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” together.  No witness to this event would ever guess the Campbell heirs were any different from anyone else in the matter of earthly accouterments.  This Sunday it’s December.  It’s also cold, raining, and windy.  The Campbell group gathers resolutely near Elijah’s tomb rock.  The wind sweeping the ridgetop, ruffling their clothing, and struggling to invert some of their umbrellas – is unknown to them.  The cold rain droplets stinging their faces – unfelt.  The numbing coldness of the moisture saturated chilled air that seems to penetrate to the very core of their bodies – unnoticed.

Micah, one of Elijah’s great-grandsons, starts singing the old hymn in his tenor voice.  In a moment or two, his female sisters and cousins join him with their alto voices.  Then the other males join in and the Campbell Family Choir is complete.  The minor key melody is carried by the north wind southerly to the valley below and beyond.  Perhaps it penetrates Wordsworth’s “narrow houses” where the ghosts of Campbells past slumber.  Maybe it enters through  a parlor window that was mistakenly left open.  Maybe it imbues every molecule of the room’s air with an elusive, glowing, shimmering, pulsating link – present to past – and hovers there, for just a time, like the reluctant morning fog.  Maybe unseen hands reach out for each other and clasp firmly, linger for a few seconds, and then release as present realities rudely reassert themselves.

Maybe.  I guess you would have to be a Campbell to know.  Or, maybe not.  Maybe something akin to that happens with all of us.  Our ridgetop may not be in Lamar County, Alabama.  It may not even be a ridgetop.  But it’s ours.  And what goes on in our heads is ours too.

Maybe the Campbells are just our proxy.  Maybe we are all in this together. May the peace of God rest with  us all.

Gratitude, Humility, and Mercy

November 1, 2010

One problem the religious leaders during Jesus’ ministry had was majoring in minors.  The statement of Christ:

Matthew 23:23 NKJV 23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

Which echoes:

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

Micah 6:8 NKJV 8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

Gratitude is the foundation for what follows.  When It finally dawns on me: what God has done for me, how can I not feel thankful, profoundly so, and want to show Him that I appreciate His kindness?

1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV 7 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?

James 1:17-18 NKJV 17 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. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

Humility is the result of gratitude.  If I am created by God (in His image BTW) and blessed by God – then what is so special about me because of something I have done myself?  Perhaps it is time to revisit the parable of the Pharisee and publican.

Luke 18:9-14 NKJV 9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I have listed humility in the middle of this trilogy, and I think it is pivotal.  If I am humble, I will probably do the other two.  Here are some “Humility Helps”:

  • Begin listing your own shortcomings
  • Spend more time thinking about your blessings than about your perceived needs
  • Do not wear your feelings on your sleeve, determine that you cannot be offended
  • In a time of conflict, carefully evaluate your own thoughts.  Is this a true issue, or simply some drama I want to participate in?  Is it that big of a deal?  Does it really matter?  Is this my way of getting attention?  Be ready to ‘move on.’
  • Try real hard to remember the example of Jesus.  Meditate on Him.

Mercy is what I will naturally feel toward others if I have mastered gratitude and humility.  It should come automatically for the thankful, humble Christian.  By definition, the person needing mercy is undeserving of it.

Ephesians 4:32 NKJV 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Peter 2:21-23 NKJV 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth” [quoted from Isaiah 53.9] 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

Mercy and Sin

October 26, 2010

We must not confuse showing mercy and condoning sin.  It is easy to unintentionally do this when we show mercy/compassion to a sinner.  We must impact the sinner with compassion, while the sinner is guilty of wrong.  Keeping the two separate – mercy and sin – can sometimes be a challenge.

God clearly loves the sinner and wants us to do the same as we imitate Him.

Be like God:

Ephesians 4 ESV 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 5:1 NKJV 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.

1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

Who loves sinners and offers to save (forgive) them:

Matthew 9:13 NKJV 13 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.

Luke 19:10 NKJV 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

1 John 3:5 NKJV 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

In some cases we keep our distance from condoning sin, perhaps because we may feel little mercy toward the sinner.  Two examples:

(1)  The drunk driver who murders an innocent person

(2)  The shooter or suicide bomber who murders a group of innocent people

In other cases, we may be tempted to go beyond showing mercy and compassion (which God does) to implying that the sin is not wrong (which God never does).  This is more likely to happen when socially and culturally “acceptable” sins are committed.  Two examples:

(1)  Adultery, where two consenting adults have sex outside of marriage

(2)  Homosexuality, where two consenting adults of the same sex have a sexual relationship with or without “marriage”

Drunkenness, murder, adultery, and homosexuality are all condemned in the New Testament, but we may have different attitudes toward the individual sins because of current cultural sensitivities which may often be promoted through the media, especially television.

Now, in the two sets of cases I gave above: each set has a problem.  In the first set of two cases, probably no mercy/compassion is going to be shown to the sinner.  That is not being like God, who is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34.6).

In the second set of cases, sympathy for (and perhaps identification with) the sinner may cause an overflow of mercy, perhaps even becoming emotional – while the reality of the self-inflicted wound of sin becomes muted (IMHO due to cultural influences).

Here is an example from the life of Jesus.  In John 14 we have the story of Jesus healing a man who had been crippled for 38 years.  Jesus told him:

John 5:14 NKJV 14 …See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.

Jesus clearly showed compassion to the man by healing him, but Jesus warned him about the continued practice of his sin.

Why do we sometimes have a tendency to say that sin is not that bad?  Well, I don’t know, but here are a few ideas.  (1) We have allowed the influence of Babylon to get into the church.  “Babylon” is code for the sinful things of the world: worldliness in the church.  (2) We become emotional and allow our emotions to erode our reason and cloud our judgment.  Someone says, “poor me”, and we agree with them.  (3) We may be tempted with the same sin ourselves and so we make a preemptive attempt to save face in case we succumb to temptation and are discovered.  “This” sin is not really that bad.  An example would be a straight person saying adultery is not that bad because it is not unnatural.

The Christian life is in some ways easy:

Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

And in some ways hard:

Luke 14:26-27, 33 NKJV 26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. … 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

But it ALWAYS requires commitment to the way of Jesus:

Luke 9:23-26 NKJV 23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”

We have no choice but to live “in” our culture.  Yet, the Christian must in the ultimate sense live “above” it, because he or she is living the life of Christ.  Let’s hate sin – and love the sinner.  We were created in God’s image.  Let’s work to restore it by living in God’s image.

Humility = Weakness?

October 6, 2010

You will recall Moses, of Mt. Sinai and 10 commandments fame.  Yes, that Moses.  Do you remember the events that transpired back in camp while Moses was on Mt. Sinai with Yahweh receiving the Torah?  Ah yes, the sordid golden calf debacle.  Do you remember the details of that story?  Allow me to refresh you.

God told Moses that the people had corrupted themselves by making and worshiping the idol.  It is an easy inference from the Exodus text that they also committed fornication before the calf.  These two things, worship and fornication, were often associated in Canaanite idolatry.  Moses pleaded with God, who had determined to destroy the existing Israelite nation and start afresh with Moses.  Moses successfully convinced God to spare them.

When Moses returned to camp and beheld the spectacle, to employ some English understatement, he was disappointed.  Here’s what he did.

Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it. (Exodus 32:20 NKJV)

Moses directly  confronted his older brother, Aaron, who had been complicit in the calf episode.  Aaron wanted no part of the wrath of Moses and, attempting to shift the blame from himself to the  people,  responded thusly:

So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.” (Exodus 32:22 NKJV)

Though there is no extant video of Moses, Clint Eastwood’s icy stare may closely resemble the look Moses gave Aaron. 

Well, we could go on from here and recount how the Levites, at Moses’ behest, slew 3,000 of the unrepentant Israelites with the edge of the sword, but we’ll leave that for another time.

To say Moses was strong and assertive would be an understatement.  And yet, amazingly, we read this of Moses:

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 NKJV)

Moses was not weak – he was strong – and he was humble.

Moses was fearless in taking a stand for what was right, while at the same time keeping the best interest of the people he was leading before his own personal credit.  I believe that is a key.  Moses cared about God’s rights,  but he didn’t care about his own.  Therefore, he could be humble and this is what is meant by humility.

So, can I be like Moses?  Can I put others before myself in an attempt to help us all be more like Jesus?  Paul had something to say about this:

Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well -being. (1 Corinthians 10:24 NKJV)

Again:

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4 NKJV)

And then, the example of Timothy:

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:19-21 NKJV)

Let us all show true strength by humbly putting Christ first and others before ourselves.

Faulkner and I

October 4, 2010

…I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it… William Faulkner, 1956

As everyone at White’s Chapel is by now weary of hearing, William Faulkner, of Oxford, Mississippi and now deceased, is by far my favorite secular author.  This is in part because he is a master teller of tales and in part because I can identify with so much of what he wrote about from my childhood,  lived 90 miles from Faulkner’s Oxford and fictional Jefferson, county seat of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

Many think William Faulkner was the best American novelist of the 20th century.  Hemingway and Fitzgerald would complete the triumvirate – but Faulkner is Caesar.  Conrad, Tolkien and Rowling (if you consider Harry Potter serious work) are all British.

Encouraged by his friend, Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner decided to focus his writing on what he knew best – his “own little postage stamp of native soil.”  Most of his work is set in Yoknapatawpha County which is patterned after his home county of Lafayette.  The county seat of Lafayette is Oxford, which basically becomes Jefferson in Faulkner’s stories.  If you have ever read Faulkner, you know those two words: Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha.

Now to the lecture at hand.

I spend some time (probably too much) thinking about things I can’t change.  I can get upset, and even emotional about them.  A photo, with accompanying story, in a newspaper I read online sent me off again a couple of days ago.  As I pondered things, I decided I needed to do with my life what Faulkner decided to do with his writing.  I need to concentrate on what I know best, my own little postage stamp.  I need to work to change the things I can actually change.  So, I wrote this:

I Cannot

I cannot stop all the wars.  I cannot end all the dying and suffering.  I cannot stop the hurting of the injured and the suffering of the families of the injured and the dead.  I cannot look at the photograph in the newspaper of a young fallen soldier, who reminds me in his physical appearance of my own sons so much there even seems to be a physical resemblance – and wish him back to life.  I have no words for his parents to make his death somehow “worth it,” to explain to them how it is better that he is now dead rather than alive.  If I had those words, I would speak them.  If I knew where the button was that would end the suffering and death, I would push it.  But, I cannot do it.  I am powerless over events in the big picture.

I cannot make people live like they are supposed to live.  I cannot force people to give like they are supposed to, to keep themselves sexually pure, to show mercy and forgiveness, to stop getting their feelings hurt over trivia.  I cannot make people compare their suffering to what Jesus endured and understand how easy their life is.  I cannot put an end to greed, selfishness, and arrogance.  I cannot make people really put Jesus first in their lives.  I just can’t.

I Can

I can live in personal peace with my neighbor.  I can be easy to get along with.  I can turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and freely give to those who would forcibly take from me.  I can believe the Beatitudes – and actually try to live them.  I can seek and pursue peace in my own life, my own family, and my own congregation/church.

I can do my best to set a good Christian example before my fellow man.  I can teach others by my life that there is a better way to live than to follow the crowd.  I can try to make my personal world a better place for all in it – because I am in it.

I can do the best I can.  You do the best you can.

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?