He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3a

Monday, July 27, 2015

Faith In Spite of Trials

           I have a friend going through a really bad time.  There is an upheaval in her world she never dreamed possible and is facing challenges that leave her on the brink of despair.  Yet when I see her, she stands strong for her faith in Christ.  She is an incredible inspiration, quick to share her faith with everyone she meets, despite her own pain.  Her situation has her totally dependent on God to see to her needs.  There are times when she literally has no idea how God will provide, but He always does.  It’s here she finds rest and reassurance, she isn’t alone.  She finds strength in a God she loves and believes in and is able to share with others.

            I’ve heard it said everyone is either coming out of a trial, in a trial, or going into one. Our lives are inundated daily with situations at work, school, or in personal relationships that test the very core of what we believe, our values, our faith in people and sometimes even ourselves.  Further, we live in a culture driven by instant gratification.  Then we ask God, when things throw us off kilter, “Why me?” Biblically we should probably be asking, “God, why not me?”

            Most of us would not volunteer to be put through a trial or tested. It takes energy, stamina, faith and "stick it to-it-iveness" that can leave us physically and emotionally drained.   Yet when trials and testing come our way, if we can recognize them for what they are: as God given and an opportunity for growth, we will have a better ability to deal with them.  Our value system determines how we evaluate the situation.  Will we allow the trial to bend us or build us?  Will we choose to find someone for quick comfort or will we allow our character to grow into a solid man or woman of God?

  Pain allows, sometimes, even demands, taking time for asking direction, acknowledging  God’s inspection and correction, that leads to His protection; and finally a means to God’s perfection.   In this mindset we can face our situation with a joyful attitude.  This doesn’t mean we are necessarily happy, but we can still experience joy since joy is a fruit of the Spirit.

When we trust in faith on God, we can act on what we believe despite how we feel! This isn’t always an easy task.  As humans our emotions can cause us to veer down a wrong path.  Anger and bitterness can drown out forgiveness causing an even greater problem, even affecting physical health, and certainly relationships, since often words are spoken in anger that cannot be recaptured.

When trials are received with patience and endurance, which is not passive acceptance, they can be an aid to spiritual maturity.  By having a surrendered will, asking God what he wants to teach us, and what he wants us to do, we have the opportunity to grow in Him.  He told us in His Word to ask and reassures us He will give.  This is not the same as “name it, claim it,” but God does want to bless us and when we are in prayer, study His Word and follow through on His commands, we’ll be better prepared for whatever trial life hands us.

So it’s important to first identify the trial and decide how to respond. Will the reaction be based on what we believe or what we feel?   We can know with complete confidence, testing can work for us and not against us when we believe in faith …. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Funny Or Offensive?

         I was chatting with a friend recently about the different ways people display humor.  There are cute, corny jokes that take a moment to “get;” jokes that I never “get;” course jokes, which I loathe; and jokes that are just downright indecent and disrespectful. 

            My friend was sharing that a customer who comes in the store where she works, on April Fool’s Day gives out lollipops to all the staff that go well beyond decency!  She refuses to even accept the “gift” anymore, but on the first occasion while not keeping it, accepted it and then gave it to "Edna," another co-worker.  The co-worker accepted the “gift” and chided her friend for not having a sense of humor.   “I didn’t want it,” she said flatly.  “It’s totally disrespectful! 

Looking at me she added “And I don’t understand.  Edna is supposed to be a Christian!”

            Her comments made me stop and consider behaviors that, we as Christians, project that aren’t Christian like at all!  Our identity in Christ should set us apart and enable us to face temptation and the influence of sin.  I am in agreement with my friend that when something is offensive, indecent or disrespectful, then it can’t be Christ like!

            When we proclaim Christ as our Savior aren’t we telling the world we choose to be set apart?  Aren’t we choosing to be enslaved to Christ the Creator, rather than Satan the destroyer?  Isn’t what we do and say a reflection of that belief?

            There’s a church sign near me that displays the following, “Words are the mirror to the heart.”  That’s true since our words are our thoughts and our thoughts come from within our heart.  And then our thoughts and words are transferred into actions.

 I heard once who and how you are at home, out of public view, is really who you are.  That’s a little intimidating since I think of my home as my sanctuary where I can be who I am without any issue.  Yet, I wonder about that rationale.  Even when others can’t see my bad behavior, Christ still can!  Shouldn’t any bad behavior immediately convict me of sin? ……But then…..I suppose that would depend on your definition of bad behavior!  What one considers bad behavior isn’t bad at all to another; kind of like the obscene lollipop my friend described earlier.   Apparently, her chiding friend, although Christian, didn’t see it as sinful. 

A dear friend who would never think of swearing in public, especially in front of other Christians, doesn’t think twice about it when in her home.  Another friend admitted suffering from “road rage” and yelling, shouting and gesturing at other drivers his anger when he’s been cut off or sees bad driving.  Still another is quick to point out she cleverly removes as many “little sugars and creamers” she can when purchasing a cup of coffee at a store or restaurant and still another is quick to spit out a sharp retort when annoyed, “if it’s the right person!”

How do we decide what is sinful?  The Bible is the first place to look and there is plenty of scripture that makes it clear what is acceptable and what is not. Another way is prayer and asking honestly if Christ were here, would I share that “behavior” in front of Him or with Him?  Or, would I more likely tend to hide those things that I’m not sure about? 

A good rule of thumb is, if you have to hide it at all from anyone, there’s an excellent chance it’s unacceptable.  So I challenge you to consider your behavior.  Would you act the same way if Jesus were in the room?  The truth is……  He is……      

Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Time For Serious Reading

        Do you remember your very first love letter?  I can’t say for certain I do, but I have come across passages in books I have read where the expression of love was so detailed and intense you could feel the exchange of affection between the couple.  (I’m not talking porn stuff here--just a good love story!)  There have been times where I’ve actually gone back and re-read slowly and deliberately the passage, and sometimes the entire chapter!  It’s what makes the book and characters believable and special!  Wouldn’t everyone want to be able to describe their relationship with their spouse this way? 

            I admit there are posts that pop up on face book every now and again from couples celebrating an anniversary and the way they describe their relationship, it sounds like they have the ideal marriage.  I suspect, even they have days where they aren’t on the same page, but if their post is accurate, they have a solid marriage. 

            One couple I have the pleasure of knowing makes me smile whenever I am around them.  It’s wonderful to watch them interact.  You can see their love for each other when their eyes meet, or when one will spontaneously reach out and touch the other.  It makes my heart melt every time.  Yet, again I suspect in private, they too, have the occasional disagreement.

            God’s Word has been described as God’s love letters to us.  I love the analogy, but immediately feel guilt.  Often I read the Bible more as a story, superficially even, than as a letter to me.  Read as a personal letter requires time, effort and serious thought processing, to really understand and gain the insight sitting there as golden nuggets, if only I took the time to “mine” the scriptures.

            Unlike our human relationships, God looks at us through eyes of love without the chance of “being off the same page” because His is a perfect love.  Now that said, there is an excellent chance if we are really digging into the Word with the pure intent of wisdom and guidance, we will find ourselves in need of confession because we will be convicted of how our lives are not what they should be.  God’s Word is alive, active and sharper than any double-edged sword.  It’s funny; even as I write these words it makes me wonder if that might be part of the reason we are so reluctant to “dig in.”  Could we be afraid of what God is going to tell us? Or are we afraid of what we are going to see?

            So I challenge you to choose a book, a chapter or several verses every day, and seriously read the words.  Ask the Lord for a clear and understanding mind and heart.  Then look for those special words that will tell you contextually what the Lord is saying.  Ask yourself questions.  Is there a repetition of words? (If there is you can be assured it’s important!) Are there contrasts or comparisons within the text, or cause and effect explained?  What figures of speech are used?  Who is being spoken to; Gentiles, Jews, the Sadducees or Pharisees, or someone else?  Is it before or after the arrival of Jesus?  Is there a command given? Is there a promise; or a promise with a condition? Where is the scene taking place?  How can you make what the Word is saying applicable to your own life?  This is making God's love letter real and an active part of who you are. 

            It’s time for serious reading. Today!  Now!  Find and read the love letters left to you by God.  It will thrill your soul!

Monday, July 6, 2015

What Of God's Law?

         In our church service on Sunday, the Pastor began by sharing his thoughts, his creed if you will, on the recent law passed by the Supreme Court about Gay marriages.  The fact the Bible is clear on this matter seems to be lost on the Supreme Court Judges, and now every state in the nation must honor these unions.  It is yet another sign the end times are clearly upon us.

         Let me begin my thoughts by stating that while I am adamantly opposed to same sex marriage, because Biblically it is wrong, I am still able to love the person(s) who choose this lifestyle.  I can love the person without condoning behavior, just like I can love my child even though he does not obey me.  It is a matter of choice to love, but then again Biblically, we are instructed to love everyone, and that means everyone, our enemies, and those with whom we do not agree.

         The sermon following the Pastor’s creed and church wide prayer was about adversity.  As Christians our lives are forever changed, whether we like it or not.  As laws, which go against God’s laws, are continuing to be passed, we enter an era of unparalleled persecution for standing on God’s Word as truth. 

         The Bill of Rights, a section of the Constitution defining our basic freedoms and principles of human rights, includes, among others, the right to the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.  I suggest both of these freedoms are at risk, as courts across the land continue to remove God from all public venues, including the right to pray in school or even in some cases, to bring a Bible to read, without specific permission in personal quiet time! 

         And, depending on where we live, work, or shop we are likely, from time to time, to feel threatened when voicing an opinion that does not liken to our peers.  Is this not imposing fear of freedom of speech?  We are considered racist and intolerant if we don’t agree with the population at large, or our government, on given issues.  My question to those accusing me of intolerance then would be: “If you can accuse me of being intolerant of your views, are you not also being intolerant of mine?”  I base my views on what I believe to be the infallible Word of God, much like the original artisans of the Constitution did so many years ago.  I have a right to my opinion whether any one agrees or not.  It's mine; I own it, and I have the right to voice it!

         When the Constitution was formed back in 1787, the leaders and people of this brand new land wanted to create something that would frame the way people thought, along with a basic set of ground rules for everyone to live by.   So the leaders of the time joined forces, intellect and voices to create the document we now claim as the highest law in the United States: The US Constitution.  This document was written on the foundation of God as the Highest Power and Supreme Ruler of lives.  Our country has come to a time where this is no longer the case.

         So I challenge you, as a Christian, to serious prayer during this next week, and the upcoming months for our world, country, leaders and each other.  We are in for some challenging situations where we are going to have to stand up for what we believe, which may have some ramifications we’d rather not even consider.  It’s undoubtedly the end times, just as the infallible Word of God said would come! Are you ready?