Thursday, March 29, 2012

#28 Being remembered

15 The life of mortals is like grass, 
   they flourish like a flower of the field; 
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, 
   and its place remembers it no more. 
17 But from everlasting to everlasting 
   the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, 
   and his righteousness with their children’s children— 
18 with those who keep his covenant 
   and remember to obey his precepts. [Psalm 103:15-18]

Upon reading the Bible today I reflected upon something.  There are very few people remembered.  I was reading through the book of Acts - especially the later chapters - where Paul is standing before leaders of great cities making his defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And none of these historical people are known by me.  If they have made an important contribution to our history, I do not recognize it.  At their time they were exceptionally important - but now....we do not even remember their names.  

Very few people leave significant earthly impact after they die.  And even if they, in actuality, do leave significant earthly impact - most will not be recognized by the common man for leaving it.  We may look back at the Romans and say, "some of what they established we still use today!  My goodness, that is impressive!"  But even when we say that I do not believe that we have in our minds any particular historical Roman person.  

The fact is very simple - when we die, outside of perhaps those that knew us and loved us best - we are forgotten.  And within a generation of our death we are almost always forgotten entirely.  For example, I absolutely loved my father.  Actually, since he is in glory awaiting the glorious resurrection and is sentient, awake, and worshipping the Lord...perhaps it is better said that I love my father [present tense].  Yet, he is dead.  My oldest daughter, Olivia, knew my father even before he got Alzheimers.  Yet, though my father had tremendous impact upon me - she will not see that.  I can tell her.  She can experience what my father taught me through me - but my dad will most likely not be an important historical figure in my daughter's life.  She did not get enough time with him to really, "know" him.  So, when me, my brother, and my sister-in-Law die - he too will be mostly forgotten.  All that might remain are pictures in albums.  

Adding to this thought, I have been privileged to officiate over certain military retirements as the acting chaplain for their ceremony.  I have done this four times.  Each of these four retirement ceremonies were, I would say, some of the best that any human person can expect.  No, they were not presidential, yet they were high ranking military personnel.  One was on a Navy vessel.  There were speeches given.  There were gifts presented.  There was a reception immediately following.  And then we all went home.  In all four cases the next day someone else was doing their job.  Chances are, right now, the work they were doing continues under the guidance of someone else...and they have mostly been forgotten.  

Now, why do I bring this all up?  I will tell you :)  It is not to depress us - it is to  remind us of what is most important.  You see, according to Psalm 103 the life of mortals is like a flower - we bloom, the wind blows, and then we die.  And we are not remembered.  But the Lord remembers the righteous.  The Lord never forgets.  

One of the most touching moments in the Gospels is Jesus' encounter with one of the thieves on the cross.  The one thief rebuked and reviled Christ.  The other rebuked the 1st thief and looked at the Lord and simply said, "Jesus...remember me when you come into your kingdom..."  And it was at this point that Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise."  

God remembering me.  This brings me amazing comfort.  I can be forgotten by family, friends, and all my work can be lost.  But the Lord will remember me.  The Lord cares so intimately for you and me that He has done more than throw a passing party for us - He has died for us.  He has risen again for us to purchase for us an eternal future with Him.  He remembers.  

So be encouraged - your faith in the Lord is not in vain.  He remembers.   He always remembers.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

#27 Trayvon Martin

I am going to address a subject matter that many are terribly upset about - the killing of a young 17 year old teenager by a much older neighborhood watchman.  This killing took place in Florida.  If you have not heard about this event then let me briefly explain.  

A man carrying the last name Zimmerman was his community's neighborhood watch leader.  He spotted the 17 year old walking in his neighborhood and thought he was suspicious.  He followed him.  The rest of the events are murky - I only know this - Trayvon is dead.  He was killed at the hands of Zimmerman by a gunshot.  

This is not going to be a post about the events of that night.  I do not know the events of that night.  This post is going to be about the aftermath of the events of that night; how the public, the media, and certain interest groups have fomented rage concerning these events. 

The dead young man is black.  The shooter is half white/half hispanic; and this has made a difference.  The narrative being woven is one of a suspicious white man's racism causing the death of an innocent black man; and those entrusted with the calling of meting out justice - namely the police force and other authorities - have turned a blind eye to this killing and have allowed the shooter to go away free.  

This narrative has caused extreme rhetoric.  On the one side we have a  police officer say on television, "act like a thug and die like one!" [referring to Trayvon Martin].  On the other side we have the leader's of the, "new black panther" organization put out a 10,000 dollar bounty on the shooter - taking justice in their own hands.  An erroneous address of the shooter is, "Tweeted" and an innocent older couple is harassed in their home because of it. [An erroneous address was tweeted and it happened to be the address of a couple that has nothing to do with any involved party]  More has happened.  People are outraged.  Cable talk shows are filled with discussions and racial implications.  This event has been saturated all around us.  People are angry.  Very angry.  On all sides. 

And yet, I have heard nothing of how Jesus would like us to respond to this event.  And make no mistake, Jesus did give us information on how to respond to this.  

Now, before I go there, I want to make one thing clear.  God has established government to bear the sword.  [Romans 13] Those called to protect and serve in the jurisdiction of the event are called to dispose of their duties in honorable ways. Whatever governmental punitive measures must be taken must be taken.  Period.  

But what does Jesus tell the rest of us - those not commissioned to bring justice on this event?  He says these words in Luke 6:27-36, "27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

 Now, I want us all to take an honest look at these words.  Do they apply?  I am convinced they do.  Jesus gave these words to His disciples - those that know Him - and asked them to live them out.  Those of us not charged by God through this government to bring justice - we are called to simply bless, love, turn the other cheek, and give.  Period.  Especially to those who persecute and mistreat us.  This is how we show the love of God to the wicked - by dismissing their cruelties and in their place giving love. 

But that is not what I see us doing.  I see us as a public fomenting rage.  I see us as people distrusting those that are different from us.  I see us getting angrier and angrier inside.  I imagine many conversations based in generalities at many kitchen tables around our country - mostly complaining - about groups of people.   

I remember the Amish.  On October 6th, 2006 a shooter entered an Amish school house and murdered students there - and then murdered himself.  A horrific tragedy.  But do you know what I find most amazing?  The Amish response - and it was immediate.  Genuine forgiveness to the shooter and the Amish blessed the deceased man's widow.  Amazing.  It was a true act of grace.  

This is not what I see here.  We as a community and as Christian people should be praying and helping the family of Trayvon Martin.  To outlive a child is a terrible suffering - a suffering I cannot, nor do I want, to imagine.  But we also need to be praying - earnestly - for Mr. Zimmerman and his family.  No matter what the situation, He needs the grace of God as well. 

If he is guilty, we must leave room for God's wrath.  Even if those entrusted with imputing justice fail - even intentionally overlook - their duties.  God will take care of this.  Listen to God's Word in Romans 12:19, "Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'it is mine to avenge, I will repay, saith the Lord.'"  I do not know all that happened on the fateful night that Trayvon was killed.  But I do know one who does - and He is very fair and just in what He does.  I will leave the judgment to Him.  While we all wait for supreme justice, I have been commanded to love - to bless - to give - and to sacrifice for the wicked - whomever they are.  

I see the devil working in this tragedy.  I do not know Trayvon.  I do not know Mr. Zimmerman.  But I do know my neighbor.  I do know the people in my church and my neighborhood.  Am I allowing the emotions of something far away to effect my opinions of the people close to me?  The devil does not care how you feel about Mr. Zimmerman or Trayvon- so long as it negatively effects the way you treat those that look like Mr. Zimmerman and Trayvon in your own neighborhood.  That is what he wants.  

We need to stop fomenting.  We need to be still, know that He is God, and get busy loving our neighbor - no matter who my neighbor is.  Amen. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

#26 "If you are willing, you can make me clean...."  [Mark 1:40]

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Jesus' encounter with a leper in Mark 1.  In Mark 1 a leper comes to Jesus and asks the question above, "if you are willing, you can make me clean."  Now, why would the leper frame the question in this manner?

Because this man is used to people being unwilling to help him.  According to the book of Leviticus, a leper was ostracized from the Israelite camp.  It was so bad that if they were around people that were not infected with this terrible skin disease they would have to yell out, "unclean!  Unclean!"  They would have to warn people about their disease and alarm them about their possible infection.

I want us to imagine such a scenario for a moment.  Imagine being diseased.  That is bad enough.  But imagine that your disease makes you, literally, untouchable.  No one wants to be around you.  No one wants to touch you.  You cannot participate in the life of the church.  As a matter of fact, you cannot even attend the festivals of the church in the God you believe in.  You may believe that God Himself has forsaken you.

It is under this particular situation that this leper approaches Jesus.  He asks Jesus, "if you are willing, you can make me clean..."  And what does Jesus do?  Well, even if you do not know the story I bet you can answer this question.  Jesus will heal him, of course.  But it is not the healing that amazes me the most - it is the means by which Jesus heals the man.  It is recorded in v.41 of Mark 1, "moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, 'I am willing: be cleansed.'"  Jesus could have waved His hand by the man and healed Him.  Jesus could have simply spoken a word and healed him.  He could have simply thought to heal him and healed him.  Those are not the methods Jesus used.  He reached out His hand and touched the untouchable.  He put His hand right in the sore and said, "I am willing." 

This touches me so much.  How unwilling am I to touch the untouchable.  How much fear do I have?  Yet, God reached in to me and touched the untouchable.  My sin is far uglier than this man's leprosy.  And God reached out and touched me and saved me.  He did the same for you.  This is how much God loves you and me - He is willing.

What else impresses me is that the leper approached Jesus.  He knew of the goodness of Jesus - and in that knowing approached Jesus.  This leper did not give up on healing.  There are too many of us that, because of our sin, want to hide away.  We are too like Adam and Eve who hid in their sin.  Approach Jesus.  He is willing.  Bring to Him all that you need.  He loves you.  Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

#25 Suffering

I was reading C.S. Lewis today and his masterful work, "The problem of Pain."  Now, I am no C.S. Lewis, but reading it really touched me.  And what he was talking about was the love of God; and how this love presupposes our suffering. 

Let me explain.  There are images used in the Bible about God's love towards us.  We have Him as the potter and we as the clay [Isaiah 29:16].  We have Him as the Shepherd and we as the sheep [John 10:11].  We have Him as the Father and us as the child [Luke 15].  We also have Him as the groom and us as the bride [Revelation 21].  Now, I want to take these four images and talk about them in relation to our suffering. 

Most Christians, when they talk about the love of God, want not real, exacting love.  They want a disinterested grandpa who simply wants the children, "to be happy in what they are doing."  But that is not real love.  Real love desires the best for the object of their love.  For example, if a potter is approached by a boy that he has only a cursory relationship with, and that boy wants the potter to make a pot, the potter may oblige the boy.  Yet, it will most probably not be his best work.  The boy is easily pleased with a simple pot - and the potter will make it.  He will make the pot, give the boy the pot, and the boy will go away happy.  All is well.

Yet, if the potter wants to produce his best work, he will painstakingly make the pot.  Those things that are not right in the creation of the pot will be put right.  The pot will be intricate.  The pot will be special.  The potter will sweat in order to create it correct.  All those that see his prized pot will marvel at the beauty of it all. 

Yet, if the pot were sentient, I wonder what the pot would say during the molding process.  At what point would the pot say, "ok...that's enough!  That's good enough already!"  The pot, during the process, may even question the goodness of the potter and his exacting nature.

The same might go with a puppy.  [Many of our readers do not own sheep - so the puppy illustration is one that C.S. Lewis used and I like.]  If the puppy had an adult human mind, the puppy may be confused about the goodness of the master.  He does not let the puppy pee where it wants.  He does not let the puppy play and, "nip" at the children.  He may even cage the puppy from time to time.  He will give the puppy shots and vet visits.  But the master will also play with the puppy. [The fact that puppies do not have adult human minds is why they are so happy no matter what we do :)]  Yet, the old, wise dog, who lives with the master and has seen his contemporary wild dogs die off young knows that the hard work the master put in in the beginning was worth it.

So also a son.  We have all met adult children.  [Those who numerically have reached adulthood and yet still often act and behave as children.]  We have seen how unattractive they are in character.  What good Father would want such a thing?  No good father.  This is why the good father both loves, and corrects and disciplines, his child. 

The husband is often most critical with his wife.  This is not good.  Yet, I do believe I know the motivation from a Christian husband.  He loves his wife more than any other girl.  The petty selfishness or irritations that he may see in other women he overlooks because he cares less for them - but from his wife he wants her to be the most beautiful, most well-spoken woman there is. 

In a sinful world suffering is necessary.  I cannot imagine a sinful world and a loving God without it.  We must be refined. 

What gives me all the hope in the world is we have a suffering God - who went through it all with us - and for us.  He lived on this earth.  He died our sinners' death.  He rose again to bring us to Him.  Refine me Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#24 - The world does not know. Go and make disciples of all nations....[Matthew 28:19]

I went to church tonight.  As usual, Jesus was present in His Word.  We sang songs.  We heard the Word.  We had fellowship.  We also had a visiting young lady.  She is a teenager.  And tonight I had the opportunity to speak with her.  The experience was good - and also enlightening. 

You see, I still think that many Christians assume that the story of Jesus is being told to our younger generation.  In many cases it is not.  In many, many cases it is not. 

You see, this young lady enjoyed our service very much.  She commented how nice everyone was and how wonderful it was to be there.  She came to church for a different reason other than to worship the Lord.  The reason is not important.  What is important to this story is that she came - and she did not know about the Lord. 

I told her about how much God loves her.  I told her about our mutual sin problem.  I told her about how our sin separates us from God.  I told her that this separation has dire consequences - that if not set right we would be punished for our sin.  I told her about how God rectified this disastrous situation through the death of His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  And then I told her that Jesus rose again from the dead to defeat death.  It is at this point that she audibly laughed.  She did not laugh to be rude.  She did not laugh to demean this truth.  She did not laugh because she wanted to mock.  She laughed because she honestly thought that at this point I was joking.  Basically, "ok....I got the whole someone died for me...but someone rising from the dead???  he he....."  When I told her I was serious she stopped laughing and in an authentic way kind of apologized for the laugh. 

You see, she had never - ever - heard about the story of Jesus.  She did not know that Easter was the story of Jesus rising from the dead.  The eyes are the window to the soul - and she was as authentic as anyone I have seen.  She really had never heard this news.  With a church on every corner, in the midst of all the airwaves, she had never heard.

I told her the good news.  She said she believed what I had told her.  She said she would be back.  I want to follow up with her.  But she is not the only one.  What I have noticed is that too many of us in America assume that our neighbor knows this wonderful truth.  We must stop this.  The world does not know.  America, in many ways, does not know.  Many of the churches we assume are full of believers on Sunday are not.  Many, sadly, sit half-empty.  Many churches are shutting their doors.  Many of the, "successful" churches no longer share the story of God's wrath towards the sinner and His grace given in Christ.  The world, simply put, does not know the story of God's love in Christ. 

But if you do, let me tell you, go.  Go to your neighbor.  Go to the person next to you at work.  Go to your family member.  Tell them.  Tell them the story of God's wrath - and grace.  Tell them how good He is.  When you do, you will be surprised how many simply do not know. 

It is a privilege to tell people of the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Please, take that privilege seriously.  Amen.
#23 - fear
·         18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. [1st John 4:18]

      Is there anything that you are afraid of?  Some people are afraid of spiders, snakes, and other various things.  Some of our fears are relatively innocuous - like fear of spiders and like things.  However, other of our fears cause us to act in ways that are terribly dangerous.  

     Sometimes we fear losing our job.  This fear often makes us act in compromising ways.  I had a friend tell me that his particular job asked him to, "cook the books" because they were being audited.  The boss told him that the business would have to shut down unless my friend created some of these accounting scams and everyone would lose their job.  My friend did it.  [He told me all of this well after the point]  When he told me this it was amazingly sad.  But what drove him to do this?  Fear.  Fear that he would lose his job.  Fear that his refusal would cause others' to lose their job.  Fear often causes us to compromise.

      Another situation is relationships.  We sometimes are afraid of how others' will react to truth - and therefore we will fall to the temptation to lie.  Under the guise of, "not wanting to hurt another's feelings" we will tell people what we think they want to hear - instead of the truth.  We are afraid of confrontation so we do not confront.  We simply stew - like a pot - until we blow.  

      Fear is an ugly thing.  Fear can make us do very ugly things.  And I think if we are honest we are afraid of more things than we put on.  We are afraid of losing people in our lives.  We are afraid of things that may happen to our family, we are afraid of what may happen to us.  All along the devil laughs....

      The above Scripture says that there is no fear in love.  Primarily of course this is talking about God; for we no longer have to fear the wrath of God due our sin because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty.  He has taken the full cup of the wrath of God Almighty upon Himself so that we no longer have to taste this.  If we possess authentic faith in Jesus Christ then there is no stored punishment awaiting us - we have only the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit - both now and in eternity to revel in. 

      However, this truth ought to impact our every day lives as well.  For my friend that compromised his ethics in his job.  He needs to trust that God has his best interests in heart; and yes, he may have lost his job - but God would still provide.  For those afraid of confrontation - in a godly way we can confront - knowing that both you and the individual we confront will be better off in the long run instead of the lies.  We do not need to fear losing people - for we will always have God and His Son Jesus.  

      Let us not live in fear.  May God's love cast it out.  Amen. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

#22 Be still and know that I am God. [Psalm 46:10]

It was about a month ago.  My father-in-law arrived home from the hospital.  He is still ill but the insurance would no longer cover his rehabilitative hospital stay.  Therefore, one family member a week agreed to go over to the house and stay with dad and care for him.  Physical and Occupational Therapy would still come to the home and work with dad; however, we still needed to be there.

The past three Monday's have been days where I go over to my In-Law's house and spend time with dad.  We get him up, eat together, talk, pray, and do the things that dad needs done.

Now, I am going to be honest in this blog this afternoon.  When I first heard that I was going to go over once a week and care for dad I was...shall I say....less than enthused? But the Lord reminded me of something that we have been going through in our church throughout Lent - a little book entitled, "Why Give" written by John Devries.  The main thrust of the book is that God is a giver - He gave us all, especially and most notably His Son.  Therefore, in response and in collaboration with the Lord, we are called to be givers.

I was reminded of this principle...and hesitatingly agreed to go over once a week.  Now, I have to tell you something - Monday is absolutely a day that I look forward to now.  Dad is funny.  I enjoy spending time with him.  And do you want to know one of the greatest parts of my Monday?  My phone gets no service in his home or neighborhood.  What this means is that I cannot spend the time just calling people and getting, "work" done.  I just spend time with dad.

Today we took a walk through his neighborhood.  It is hard work getting dad out of the house.  His entire left side is, I would say, 90% immobilized.  His mind is all there - but he simply cannot use his left side.  Therefore, to get him out of the house we have to help him transfer from the chair to a wheelchair at the bottom of the steps.  Then transfer him from the wheelchair to the Ameriglide stair lift to get him up the stairs.  Then from the stair lift back to a wheelchair and then out of the house.  It is difficult to do.

Yet, today is a gorgeous day in Maryland.  My phone did not work, I was not distracted, and we just spend about one hour walking through his neighborhood.  We stopped and smelled flowers.  We listened to birds.  We talked with neighbors.  It was a God moment.  No distractions.  No interruptions.  Just me, dad, and the Lord taking a walk.  We spoke about God and faith.  We talked about his determination to get back to walking again.

Dad is happy to be home.  I am glad he is home too.  I am glad that the insurance company refused in-hospital rehabilitation care.  If it did not, I would not have been able to get to know my Father-In-Law better - and I would not be able to appreciate this, "Be Still" moment with God.

I live in Maryland.  My brother and mother took the brunt of care-giving for my father who passed away from Alzheimers.  This is my first real extended caregiving experience.  And I see God through it all.

My goal in this blog is simple - say yes.  Say yes when someone asks you to give.  You never know how the Lord will bless you in giving.  Amen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

#21 Time, "Before a word is on my lips you know it completely, O Lord." [Psalm 139:4]

I want to talk about something that I do not think many contemplate - time.  What is time?  Our language is built around the subject matter [we have past, present, and future tenses], we are absolutely governed by it [we talk of our past, present, and future] and we live within it all our lives.  Yet, I do not think that I have ever encountered a good description of what time is.  We cannot define it.  When you look the word, "time" up in the dictionary you usually only get a definition of what time does - not what time is.  You will read something along the lines of, "it is the succession of seconds, minutes, days, and years..."  Which of course only tells us how we measure time - it tells us nothing of what time is. 

But we do know that time is real.  We cannot visit yesterday.  We cannot jump to tomorrow.  Time is real.  And if it is a real thing, it is a created thing.  And if it is a created thing, then God created it.  And if God created it, He is above it. 

What I am getting at is something I do not think many Christians recognize.  We talk about God being present everywhere - and we are right.  He is present in all places at all times.  Yet, due to our dependence on this time/space universe we think about God, "seeing" into the future or, "looking back" into the past.  This is inadequate. 

When God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush He told Moses the name that He should be called, "I AM."  This is because with God there is no such thing as a future or past - God is eternally present. 

For example, if time is a line ----------------------------------------------------------------------------like this - and every dash is a moment in time, then if you are reading this you represent God.  He sees the line all at once.  He does not live, "in the line" like you and I do. 

The implication of such a thing is that when God said, "let there be light" He was simultaneously experiencing the return of Christ and the marriage supper of the Lamb in glory.  He is, right now, [so to speak] experiencing you in heaven [if you believe].  God does not need a fast-forward or rewind button.  It is not simply that God, "knows" the future - He is in the future, "right now."  So when we read a prophecy it is not simply because God sees what is going to happen - He is experiencing that future now. 

This brings comfort to me.  For when the Scripture says, "He who began a good work will complete it unto the day of Christ" I know that God is already experiencing me in glory.  Thank you Lord!  Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

#20 - Pride - C.S. Lewis

Pride is the root of all evil.  I have been thinking about it lately - and I could not say it better than C.S. Lewis says it in his book, "Mere Chrstianity."  So, instead of my ramblings - I want to share his insight.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis
I now come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, 'How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?' The point is that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive - is competitive by its very nature - while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

Take it with money. Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But only up to a point. What is it that makes a man with œ10,000 a year anxious to get œ20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. œ10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride - the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes a political leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.

The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that - and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison - you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, that we are better than someone else - I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity - that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride - just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

Before leaving this subject I must guard against some possible misunderstandings:

(1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says 'Well done,' are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, 'I have pleased him; all is well,' to thinking, 'What a fine person I must be to have done it.' The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity, though it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least bad and most pardonable sort. The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a child-like and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you. Of course, it is very right, and often our duty, not to care what people think of us, if we do so for the right reason; namely, because we care so incomparably more what God thinks. But the Proud man has a different reason for not caring. He says 'Why should I care for the applause of that rabble as if their opinion were worth anything? And even if their opinions were of value, am I the sort of man to blush with pleasure at a compliment like some chit of a girl at her first dance? No, I am an integrated, adult personality. All I have done has been done to satisfy my own ideals - or my artistic conscience - or the traditions of my family - or, in a word, because I'm That Kind of Chap. If the mob like it, let them. They're nothing to me.' In this way real thorough-going pride may act as a check on vanity; for, as I said a moment ago, the devil loves 'curing' a small fault by giving you a great one. We must try not to be vain, but we must never call in our Pride to cure our vanity.

(2) We say in English that a man is 'proud' of his son, or his father, or his school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether 'pride' in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by 'proud of'. Very often, in such sentences, the phrase 'is proud of' means 'has a warm-hearted admiration for'. Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin. But it might, perhaps, mean that the person in question gives himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he belongs to a famous regiment. This would, clearly, be a fault; but even then, it would be better than being proud simply of himself. To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.

(3) We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity - as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble - delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are. I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off - getting rid of the false self, with all its 'Look at me' and 'Aren't I a good boy?' and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

(4) Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#19 How do you taste?   “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. [Matthew 5:13]

I do not know about you - but I love salt.  I really do.  An egg is not an acceptable egg if it does not have salt.  Steak is not steak unless it has garlic and onion salt.  A hamburger is not even get to carry the name unless it has garlic salt on it!  Salt is good.  

Now I know about all the health experts who tell us that salt is bad for our health.  However, salt is necessary to the body.  It is not that salt is bad - it is simply that too much salt is bad for us. [And I even believe that the negativity of excess salt is greatly exaggerated]

In the above text Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth.  What possibly could he mean?  Well, I see three immediate benefits to salt.

* Tasty!  Salt tastes good - and it certainly enhances the taste of certain things.  Broccoli has many benefits - it is rich in many things.  yet, have you ever tried to eat broccoli without salt?  It is hideous.  Yet, add salt - and it has become something quite good. 

* Healing.  Salt is a healing nutrient.  We often claim that, "adding salt to a wound" hurts. does.  However, salt also cleanses and soaks up infection. It benefits in healing as well. 

* Preservative.  Salt, because it lowers the fluid mobility in food also preserves food longer.  Salt, to this day, is still added to foods so that the foods will remain healthy to eat.  

Now, why would Jesus tell us that we are, "the salt of the earth."  Because inside of the believer is Jesus Himself.  We are to be His disciples in this place.  We are commissioned to spread the Word of Christ to all that we know.  We are to, "flavor" our conversation with the salt of His Word.  God honors the Christian prayers and the only reason for the goodness of this earth is because God, "preserves" this place on behalf of those that pray.  And yes, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this place - bringing His healing to all that we meet.  

The simple fact of the matter is that we are the salt of the earth.  That is what God has made us.  The only question remaining is....are we actually living out our calling to flavor, heal, and preserve?  Something we can all think about.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

#18 Keeping first things first things. "They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer." [Acts 2:42]

I was recently on a Mission India conference.  I was truly blessed.  I was able to hear from so many people about the mission work going on in India.  Literally millions of people are hearing the Gospel - and receiving the Gospel - for the very first time.  The theme of the conference was, "the end places."  What the leader of Mission India remarked during the conference was simple, "if these are the end times than we need to be in the end places."  What he meant by this was something simple - God is doing something amazing in India.  I have seen it myself.  People are hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receiving it in droves.  Christianity is growing like wildfire there.  God is doing an amazing thing.  Therefore, they are asking the question, "if God is doing something amazing there - we need to be there!"  I totally agree.

Yet, I also believe God is - and wants to - do amazing things right here also.  And as I listened to testimony after testimony about what God is doing, something hit me.  These Indian Christians - and these Indian churches - are keeping first things first.  I was listening to what the church does there - and they were simply doing what the 1st century Apostles did. 

*  They dedicate themselves to the Word of God.  No question about it.  They want to make sure that the Word of God is primary in their lives.  They soak it in.  They read it.  They pray over it.  They make it a daily habit for long periods of time.  The Word of God is primary in their lives. 

Do you know that in Indian churches if the preacher preaches for less than 45 minutes they believe that he has not done his homework and they are disappointed.  I'm serious.  

*  They hang out together.  Indians love to be with one another.  They love to be around people and they have no qualms about just being together.  They take the time to be together.

* They eat together.  And they often make more, "just in case" other people arrive. 

* The church leaders pray unceasingly.  They go around villages and pray for their villages before they approach people.  They pray their way through every situation.  They truly pray over the sick and ill.  Mostly because they understand that prayer is the only weapon they have. 

And do you want to know what they see?  They see miracles - legitimate miracles - happen every day.  Now, this list above - what does it sound like?  It sounds like what the Apostles dedicated themselves to.  The word of God, the fellowship, the breaking of bread [in which I would include the Lord's Supper] and prayer.  And listen what happened to the Apostles when dedicated to this.  It's v.43 of the Acts 2:

"Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe and many wonders were happening through the Apostles." 

We as a church need to keep first things first.  We need to be dedicated to the things the Apostles were dedicated to - our Bibles.  Our being together.  The Supper.  Prayer.  This is what the church ought to be about.  If we are, our worship will excel, our discipleship will excel, and our outreach will too. 

Lord, help us to be Acts 2:42 people.  Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

#17 Yes, you can.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  [Philippians 4:13]

I am at a conference right now for Mission India.  And last night I was introduced to someone I had previously never known.  His name is Mike Rayburn.  He is an amazing musical genius.  He does things with the guitar that I have never seen.  In addition, he happens to be a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ! 

"Now, what I am about to do is share a paragraph from his book, "what if."  You are a genius.  I'm serious, you are a something, and perhaps many things.  You are a gold mine of unrealized potentioal.  I believe this weith every fiber of my being.  You are capable of far more htan you ever knew was possible.  If anyone - family, so-called friends, teachers, bosses, -anyone has told you differently they are wrong.  Don't believe them.  Believe me.  You are an amazing success story looking for place to happen. " [Mike Rayburn, "What if" pg.1]

Now, this one above concept is something that too many Christians miss.  They are amazing.  You see, I have said for many years that I am good at about one or two things in my life.  I mean, actually, really good at one or two things.  And I decided a long time ago to focus my attention on those one or two things and hopefully the Lord would use those things and help me be used to forward His Kingdom.

You too have one or two [or maybe more] things that you are amazing at.  You are the apple of God's eye.  You are created in His image.

The problem is that we lost part of that image due to sin.  We were sold as, "slaves to corruption" and we lost that image.  You and I rightly saw ourselves through that veil of sin - and what we saw was bad - really bad.

However, if you and I know Christ, we are not that any longer.  Though Adam has fallen, we have been renewed by the 2nd Adam - Jesus Christ.  And in 1st Corinthians 5:21 we are told, "God made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."  God loves you and I so much that He has given us the righteousness of His Son.  Furthermore, we are filled with His Spirit and we have the, "mind of Christ." [1st Corinthians 2:16]

My point in all of this is simple.  We as Christians need to stop defining ourselves by our sin and our failures.  Jesus has taken care of them at the cross and He has given us victory through the empty tomb.  We now need to see ourselves through the lens of God - and He has redeemed us and set us free through the blood of Jesus Christ.  He has made us righteous and He has called us by name.

Now, once we see ourselves thus, we can start seeing God's vision for us.  It is much bigger than you and I can imagine.  Look at who God uses.  God called Moses when he was 80 years old.  Abraham when he was close to 100.  They changed the world.  God has called you and me too.  Stop dreaming so small - start simply saying, "yes" to what God says and He will show you the way.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

#16 Conflict 

"15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." [Matthew 18:15-17]

There is little I dislike more than conflict.  I truly am a person who yearns for peace - peace with God and peace with other people.  However, knowing that we live in a sinful world means that we will have conflict with one another; and what I have seen as a pastor is that when two people get into conflict it usually gets very ugly very quickly.  

However, this is not what Jesus desires.  I would say that with conflict comes an opportunity to glorify God.  

Matthew 18 is an entire chapter on reconciliation.  We have the lost sheep.  We have the faith of a child.  We have the parable of the ten thousand talents.  We have forgiveness.  And right in the middle of the chapter we have Jesus inform us how to handle conflict.  

And let me begin by simply saying this: when someone has hurt us we must first begin with the motive of reconciling with that individual - not winning an argument.  God was, "reconciling the world to Himself" [2nd Corinthians 5] in Jesus.  His motivation was not simply to, "win an argument" when He saved us.  His motivation was to restore us to Himself. 

Likewise, in any conflict we may have, begin any discussion with the desire to reconcile.  That is a Jesus goal; and it should be ours.  

The process begins when you or I know someone has something against us or we have something against them.  We are to approach them privately - just the two of us.  Now, do you know what I think?  I think the great majority of conflicts would end if we simply followed this one rule.  But we do not.  We tell our friends what, "they" did to us.  And they do the same.  We form battle lines and create greater conflict.  The devil laughs.  

If someone approaches me and says, "Chris...this really hurt me...and I want to be at peace with you, but I am having a hard time..." I would certainly listen.  And I do not believe that there is anything special in me - I believe any Christian would listen.  This is how we are supposed to approach a brother that hurt or sinned against us.  

But even if that does not work and between the two of us we cannot resolve our problem - we are to go to a 3rd party.  We are to, "bring one or two others along..."  Now, this does not mean our mom, dad, brother, or sister, or wife.  They are not impartial.  Often we cannot see our own fault in any matter.  If we cannot overlook the offense or resolve, we bring an objective 3rd party involved.  [Perhaps at this time a pastor, elder, or other trusted Christian friend]  Someone you both trust.  Listen to their guidance.  See where you and the other may be at fault.  Then, reconcile. 

But even if this does not work, Jesus says, "tell it to the church."  Now, this does not mean, "gossip about this throughout the church."  He means, "bring it to the authorities in the church."  You see, this is where the church has failed her people.  The church is called to be an authority in the believer's life.  But sadly, too often, it is not.  The people of the church are called to trust in the wisdom of the church.  Listen to them - and heed their wisdom.  

And then even if all else fails, there is church discipline - if someone refuses to repent of their sin, "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector...."  But interestingly enough - how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?  While he would not treat them as believers [because at first they weren't] He would continue to call them to reconciliation. 

Now, I go through all these steps because Jesus did.  Yet, I am convinced that 99 % of our conflicts would end at step one if we simply followed our Lord's advice and, when someone wrongs us, we would simply privately go to them - humbly - and seek to restore the relationship. 

This is what God does for me every time I confess my sin.  He convicts me privately, I repent and ask for forgiveness, and He restores.  I pray we follow His lead.  Amen.