Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Satan's Yard Sale

Satan was holding his annual garage sale. and the stuff he wanted to get rid of was displayed on asbestos tables and racks. One unique item was partially hidden under a fire blanket, when it caught the eye of a prospective buyer. The man tried, unsuccessfully, to bargain with the sly old serpent.  What was this mysterious, sought after  bauble?   Satan was willing to part with the 7 Deadly Sins, even anger, jealousy and deceit he could spare, but, this was Satan’s prize possession; discouragement.

 What is the value in discouragement? With an ancient, knowing smile he told the man that with such a  powerful tool, he could pry into a man’s heart, and once he had control, the man was his. Wise King Solomon knew this too when he wrote,  “Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud--frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:17. It seems so harmless, and yet discouragement can steal all joy, future plans and even our faith.

Paul encourages us when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” Philippians 4:8. Eventually we all come face to face with discouragement, how we react to it makes all the difference…for eternity. Think good thoughts!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Are We Led Into Temptation?

“Lead me not into temptation.”  I can’t imagine anyone not being familiar with this verse from the Lord’s Prayer. But what does it mean?  Does God direct us towards temptation, and if so, why?  I’ve pondered this phrase many times over the years, and never connected it with Christ’s temptation in the wilderness until recently.  “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1.  Jesus was still dripping wet, from his baptism in the Jordan, when scripture says that the Spirit, that is God’s Holy Spirit, led him into temptation!!  As you recall, Satan, with God’s consent, began “tempting” Jesus.  His offers were refused, because Jesus countered each one with the word of God.  Read the account again in Matthew 4:1-11.

 It’s interesting to note that the temptations were aimed at Jesus’ vulnerable spots: physical hunger; faith in God and need for fame.  He, of course, stood up against them, and Satan had to move on and make room for the attending angels.  But, back to the question, does God lead us into temptation?  From what I read in scripture, no.  Does he allow us to be tempted, yes.  Is there a difference you say?  Unlike Christ, who was actually led into the wilderness for 40 days, by God’s Holy Spirit, we seem to have no problem finding it on our own.  Think of the lifestyle changes you have made over the years, whether or not they were for spiritual reasons.  Quitting an unhealthy habit is tough, especially when you come up against it repeatedly.  Hopefully, each time you resist, it gets easier to turn away the next time.

 Nothing that happens to us, good or bad, occurs without God’s permission.  Does that sound harsh to you?  Think of the instances in your own children’s lives when you’ve allowed them to experience certain things, even though they may have been painful, so they could grow and learn from them.

Let’s face it, the world is full of tempting situations.  I used to have a sign in my college dorm room that said, “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening.“ It often feels like that is true, even now, or I should say, especially now!  As soon as we make the decision to accept Christ, our adversary appears on the scene ready to change our minds.  Scripture tells us what to do when this happens.  1) Pray!!  "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matthew 26:41.  Ah yes, the age old conflict of flesh vs. spirit….so keep praying!  2) Submit to God and resist evil. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7.  Just like in the wilderness, when we resist the devil’s tempts, countering them with the word of God, he MUST leave!!  Another reason to know what the Bible says, and use it!!!

The most encouraging verse, to me, is this one: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.  It’s not easy to face trials and temptations, or watch as loved ones do, so I can only imagine what God feels for us when we have to.  But, it says he is faithful, and will supply the way out…..it is our decision to take it.  Are you prepared to face temptation?  It will come, without God leading us into it. You can’t do it alone, but with His help you can not only resist, but become stronger for the next go-round!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beamed Up

 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” Psalm 116:15.

 I received news, this week, that a precious friend, and sister in Christ, died unexpectedly.  While the news was devastating, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Good for you, Vicki, you‘re home.”  Before you think that’s a callous comment, let me tell you about my friend. I first met Vicki and her husband, Dan, at a church supper, for new members, about 15 years ago.  She had a razor sharp wit, and I liked her right away. She was only a year older than I, so we shared numerous baby-boomer similarities. But, generational stuff aside, the one mutual passion we shared was our sold-out love for Christ. Vicki and I could talk for hours on end about Jesus, we could never get enough said in the time we had together.  Luckily there was always another day.

Vicki had such a heart for children.  Never having had any of her own, she mentored, tutored, and flat out loved on kids of all ages.  Only a year or so ago, she was accepted as a volunteer in the Operation Christmas Child program, part of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse ministry, and she threw herself into it wholeheartedly.  It was a joy to see her talk about the lives that were being changed, worldwide, through this project.  While we each had our own individual giftings, one thing we both  desired was to become fully-equipped, spiritually, and to help others achieve the same goal.  

 In the last 10 or so years of our friendship she had suffered the tragic loss of her beloved father in a truck crash, some serious health issues, and the death of her 2 precious dogs.  It was tough on her, and there were days she even questioned God, but through it all she held on tight, and emerged bruised, but victorious.  The one topic we came back to, in every get together, was the horrible state of the world.  We’d always pray for the Rapture, and Christ’s return for his church.  In fact, ironically, we both half-jokingly said we were ready for God to “beam us up” any time.  Well, Vicki’s prayer was answered.  I will miss her kindred spirit, our long talks and the road trip we planned to make this fall.  Part of me would like her back, but I’m filled with joy that she is home, and wrapped up in her Savior’s tender embrace. "Her master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'  Matthew 25:21. Goodbye for now, Vicki, save me a seat!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Discipline:Not a Dirty Word

When I mention the word discipline, do you bristle? I’d guess that the majority of us do.  Visions of a pinch-faced school marm, an angry parent or a hard-nosed judge come to my mind.  People associate the word in unfavorable ways, and we shouldn‘t.   Without discipline we have chaos.  One only has to look at a 2 year old child, whose parents are afraid to take control.  Tantrums, back-talking, crying, and screaming ensue, and the children are even worse!!

Discipline is not, and never should be, an excuse for child abuse. As a noun the word means: training to act in accordance with rules.  As a verb: to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control.
I think that we can all agree that discipline, while not always pleasant, is necessary in every aspect of life.  A parent who refuses, or is afraid to discipline, is just as guilty of abuse as one who beats his child.  Years ago I came across a small article entitled, What Shall we Give the Children?”  The first part talked about giving them happy memories, and lots of love, but the part that really struck me was this.  “ Discipline your children, for if you do not, the world will do it for you, and not in a loving way.”  If we truly love our children, we will bring them up in an environment that values obedience and order.

 The old and new testaments refer to this topic often.  For example:  “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.” Proverbs 19:18. Or, “Don't fail to discipline your children. They won't die if you spank them.” Proverbs 23:13. We, as adults need not fear, or grumble at the Lord’s correction in our lives, either.  He is our loving father, and His discipline is intended to keep us on the right track, not to break our spirit or bring injury. This section from the book of Hebrews sums it up so well.  “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11.  Get out your bushel baskets!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Will You Respond?

Suppose that someone approaches you today, and asks you why you believe in Christ.  It could happen, so what will your response be?  There are lots of things we say we “believe” in.  Democracy, healthy eating, and friendship to name a few. Heck, as a young child I believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, too.

But what does real belief entail? Usually, before I start writing, I like to look up the dictionary definition, to get the worldly take on a term.  Here‘s one: to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.  Hmmm, interesting.  This seems to imply that we have to test the thing’s reliability before believing in it.   So, back to the question. Why do you believe?  I’m sure, after a long thoughtful pause,  among the many answers will be, “Because that’s what my church/parents etc. tell me to do.” Or, “it’s a private thing.“ But, that’s not what they asked, or need to hear.

  Contrary to popular thought, we are not born believing in God, although I do think God has placed a desire in all humans to know him.  But, how can you put confidence in anything, if you don’t study it, talk to others about it, and like a car, take it for a test drive. Non-believers want to know  how you came about making a personal decision for Christ.  What did you do that enabled you to put your full confidence in Him.  Well, what did you do?  Merely taking somebody else’s word on it, without doing your own investigation, never  developed true confidence in anyone or anything.

 Jesus never asks us to blindly, mindlessly accept him just because someone told us we should.   He proved his authenticity and reliability repeatedly to his disciples, and longs to do the same for us, if we ask him too.  Are you studying his word, daily?  Do you seek out mature Christians,  those who can help you  find the answers for yourself.  Let me ask you this, are involved in any type of hobby, follow a sports team, exercise program, reading etc.? Don’t you look to increase your knowledge on the subject?  Of course you do, I’ve seen all your Facebook posts, but do we seek out Jesus as much as we do recipes, celebrity gossip or sport statistics? Let’s be honest, we can rattle off all kinds of random information on a wide variety of topics that interest us, but not when it comes to the subject of Jesus, not so much. Oh, there are lots of posts with Christian sounding messages, that come from other sources, but what comes from you?

Going back to the definition, it says that after compiling all the facts we make a decision based on them.  It doesn’t say we have to know everything, but that there is enough evidence to put our faith in it. The author of Hebrews backs that up when he wrote this, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1.  We’re never going to know everything, but we can make an informed decision on the person of Jesus Christ. So, are you giving some thought to your response…great!!  Remember, before we can answer, without hesitation, to the unbeliever, we must answer to Christ, when he asks us if we believe in Him.  "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Messiah." Mark 8:29.  There is an uninformed world of people waiting to hear your testimony, be prepared!  Remember, they don’t want to know how much theology you know,  but rather how Christ has made a difference in your life.  It is our privilege to respond joyfully!
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Junk Sins

"I have the right to do anything," you say--but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"--but not everything is constructive. 1 Corinthians 10:23.

As Christians we have lots of choices thrown at us every minute.  What to wear, eat, read, watch on TV, and so on. Paul was writing this to the newly formed church in Corinth. Before we go on,  you need to know that Corinth, a large city in Greece, was a wild and crazy place.  “If it feels good, do it“, could have been their motto.  In fact, they believed that the surest way to please the gods was to use their bodies to the fullest.  Eating, drinking, sexual pleasures, you name it, they were doing it. The gods must have loved them!  Even the rest of the country thought they were libertines, and referred to anyone, any where who lived this unbridled lifestyle, as a Corinthian.  When in Corinth…!  Any way, when these folks accepted Christ, through Paul’s teaching, they must have thought that because they were “saved”, they could continue doing what they had been doing.  Old habits don’t die without a struggle.  Consider this, they had been participating in this lascivious behavior for years, and it had not only been acceptable, but godly, now Paul was telling them just the opposite.  It didn’t compute.

When I was a kid, I was aware of  the activities that were permissible with my parents, and those that were not.  When I ventured into, or close to a taboo area, I knew it.  Not because they were watching me, but because deep down I knew they would be hurt, angry and I might get in big trouble.  To be honest, sometimes I forged ahead any way.  If they found out, would they disown me, no, but it put a strain on our relationship.  When I became a Christian, an amazing thing happened, the Holy Spirit took up residence in me.  He, unlike my Mom and Dad, saw, and knew, everything I did.  I still faced those decisions, but this time I knew I wouldn’t be just disappointing my parents, I’d be disappointing God.  I have to admit, there were times when I ignored His urgings and plowed ahead.  Those times didn’t turn out well, but I learned to be obedient in the future. I’m still a work in progress.

Knowing that what our body consumes, be it food,  books, movies etc. is also being shared with God’s Holy Spirit, should make us think twice before devouring it. If it doesn’t, and you aren’t experiencing his Spirit grieving within you, then I would seriously question if He’s in residence at all. As I said at the beginning, lots of choices will come our way, please be selective. Everyone knows the big sins, those listed in the 10 Commandments, they’re easy to resist, but it’s those in the gray area that cause us problems. Off color joking, racy books and TV programs, remember you’re subjecting the Holy Spirit to them too.  Sure you can justify that they aren’t really sins, and while that may be true, they aren’t doing anything to build you up as a Christian either.  Kind of like junk food, the cumulative effects of these “junk-sins”, are what is so damaging.

If you are truly filled with the Holy Spirit, believe me He will let you know which ones are offensive and non-constructive….Listen, and please don’t upset your room mate, He really does know what is beneficial. God’s word makes it very clear what is “off limits“ for us, his children.  “And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30.