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Lamentation – An acceptable response to life’s difficulties?


grief-927099_640Dictionary.com defines lament as “an expression of grief or sorrow. A formal expression of sorrow or mourning, especially in verse or song; an elegy or dirge.”

Lament is a Biblical concept often ignored by Christians…and looked upon as a negative in our spiritual walk. I wonder why? 

Is it because some of us are just too comfortable that we run away from cries of anguish. Is it because we have forgotten the Biblical injunction to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep?

Mostly we avoid it, given a choice. At best we might sometimes pluck out of its context Lamentations 2: 22- 23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Are we shocked by the way Biblical laments point the finger of blame towards God? Is that why we find the topic of lamenting uncomfortable? 

Jesus: Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV) During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

He quoted from Psalm 22, showing His aloneness from God: Psalm 22:1-2(NIV)  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2  O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

David in Psalm 13:1-6 (NIV) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4  my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my does will rejoice when I fall. 5  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

Wess Daniels has a helpful reflection on Psalm 13: “The important thing about Lament is that our suffering, our darkness, and disorientation is “brought to speech” in relationship with God. There is nothing you experience, no pain too deep, no sense of loss so tragic that you ought not to just take it to God but to make it God’s business to transform the situation.”

Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NIV) Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong

So even if we think the problem is God’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think the problem is an enemy’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think it’s our corporate or personal fault we should take that too to God and cry for restoration.
Let’s go to the book of JOB and see what we can learn there: What are we told about Job?

Job’s Prosperity: Job 1:1-5 (NIV) 1  In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2  He had seven sons and three daughters, 3  and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. 4  His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5  When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

The heavenly ‘discussion:’ Job 1:6-12 (NIV) One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7  The LORD said thto Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 8  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12  The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Job’s first adversity: 1: Job 1:13-19 (NIV) One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14  a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15  and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 16  While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 17  While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 18  While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19  when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

Job’s response: Job 1:20-21 (NIV) 20  At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21  and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Notice what he did: first, he looked back to his birth. Then he looked ahead to his death.

Finally, Job looked up and uttered a magnificent statement of faith “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.“ (vs. 21).

“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (vs. 22).

We see a good explanation of God’s sovereignty: He gives and He takes away. God either causes or allows all events in our life. I believe much of it falls into the category of “allows.” He allows nature to reign. He allows natural law to reign..explaining hurricanes, floods, sickness and disease.

Job’s second adversity: The voice of the accuser: Job 2:1-8 (NIV) On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2  And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 3  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 4  “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5  But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6  The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” 7  So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8  Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

The voice of the quitter (2:9).  His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

This was exactly what Satan wanted Job to do, and Job’s wife put the temptation before her husband.

Job 2:10 (NIV) “He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. “

With God’s permission, Satan afflicted Job with a disease we cannot identify. Whatever it was, the symptoms were terrible: severe itching (Job 2:8), insomnia (v. 4), running sores and scabs (v. 5), nightmares (vv. 13-14), bad breath (19:17), weight loss (v. 20), chills and fever (21:6), diarrhea (30:27), and blackened skin (v. 30).

When his three friends first saw Job, they did not recognize him! Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to offer comfort and they spend most of their time telling Job that he is a terrible sinner due to this pain he is going through. Elihu, the younger of the four, grows impatient near the end of the book because they do not do a very good Job convicting Job.

In this marvelous book, we see Job in a variety of postures with very specific words being said:

Job 3:1-3 (NIV) After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2  He said: 3  “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’

 

Job 3:11 (NIV) “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?

Job 3:16 (NIV) Or why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day?

Job 23:1-5 (NIV)  Then Job replied: 2  “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. 3  If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! 4  I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5  I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.

Job 23:10 (NIV) But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

God speaks: Job 38:1-3 (NIV) Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2  “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

jobheadingJob 40:1-2 (NIV) The LORD said to Job: 2  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Job 40:8 (NIV) “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

Job 42:1-17 (NIV) Then Job replied to the LORD: 2  “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4  “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

 7  After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8  So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves.

My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

9  So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. 10  After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11  All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought [allowed] upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

12  The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.

Some closing thoughts: have we in our relative comfort concentrated our worship too much on the language of praise and thanksgiving? Is that because we are influenced by the language of success and the cultural pursuit of happiness?

Therefore, we equate unhappiness with failure or lack of faith? And in individual and corporate prayer, when we happen to feel OK, we avoid the language of sorrow, confusion and anger? 

Laments use pain, anguish, anger and confusion in a passionate search for some answering comfort or sense of hope. We have to learn to lament and to do it in community, whether that is on our own behalf or as a way of speaking for others in much worse situations.

It isn’t about how things ought to be. It’s about how things are. It’s about people shot by terrorists in Paris. It’s about people living in fear. It’s about situations so dreadful that only God can change things and people and bring hope.

Lament yells deep from an anguished heart – a raw wail that in itself is a prayer (story of family that had a stillborn child just weeks before its birth…it hurt…I told them to stop on an empty road as they drove home…yells at God…express whatever emotion they were feeling at the time…and then trust in God to be with them every second of their life from that moment forward as they would deal with the hurt, pain, sorrow the rest of their life.)

If we care at all about the depths of other people’s suffering around the world, what other language can we use except that of lament? Do we really think that it’s not OK to yell out at God with feelings like that? That God somehow isn’t strong enough to cope with our anger?

Let’s allow Lamentations 3: 31-33 to have the last word: “For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes [allows] grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in counsel, Encouragement, God

 

What is God like?


cropped-god-is-love.jpgWhat is God like? Answers don’t come easy, because of the immensity of the subject. God is huge, filling the universe. Also people might know the right words, but they seem to become hollow shells because they can’t comprehend them.

We say that God is holy, righteous, loving, gracious, Father-Son-Spirit, but we don’t know what all this means. How do we know the words are empty? We can tell by the way many Christians behave!

Our behavior exposes our failure to understand the words coming out of our mouths. We can talk about God, but we do not know Him! God is not like us — He’s one of a kind! God is different from men. Anyone trying to know God and learn to relate to Him must begin with this fundamental truth.

God is not optional! Unlike everything else, God is absolutely necessary, like water for fish. We can’t just “take God or leave Him” — He is inescapable, even more so than death and taxes. We must not be too “familiar” with God, or regard Him as optional…we must learn to let God be God.

W. Tozer wrote concerning the desperate need for the church to revise its concept of God due to a very distorted conception of Him: It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.[1]

Tozer goes on to say, The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him—and of her.[2]

W. Pink is of the same opinion: The god of this century no more resembles the Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The god who is talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday school, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible conferences, is a figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside the pale of Christendom form gods of wood and stone, while millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a god out of their carnal minds.[3]

One day it occurred to me that God is the most fascinating person alive and that getting to know Him could well be the most helpful thing that ever happened to me. The more I probed His nature the more convinced I became that knowing Him is the solution to most of my problems. I became convinced that knowing God better was the answer to many of their problems as well. I decided that I want to get to know God intimately, and that I want to help others get to know Him as well, if I possibly can.

God is knowable, and He does want to be known. As a matter of fact, He tells us that our eternal state depends upon knowing Him. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Knowing God and His Son Jesus is the heart of the whole matter of eternal life. The word know in this verse does not refer to a casual acquaintance either. It is the kind of knowledge that comes through living contact and personal relationship. If knowing God is that important, maybe we ought to talk about how we can get to know Him.

A mother was approached by her young son, who asked, “Mommy, did God make Himself?”  Realizing that such questions by children are very important and must be answered, she dropped what she was doing and sat down with her youngster for a little talk.  Pointing to her wedding band, she said, “This is a ‘love ring,’ which your daddy gave me when we were married.  Look at it closely and tell me where it begins and where it ends.”

The youngster examined it carefully and then said, “There’s no starting place and stopping place to a ring.”  The mother replied, “That’s the way it is with God.  He had no beginning and has no end, yet He encircles our lives with His presence. He is too wonderful, too great, for our minds to understand. Nobody ever made God — He always was!”  Somehow the boy realized that for God to be God, He could not have been created. He had to be without beginning and without end.

Martin Luther once was so depressed over a prolonged period that one day his wife came downstairs wearing all black.  Martin Luther said, “Who died?”  She said, “God has.”  He said, “God hasn’t died.” And she said, “Well, live like it and act like it.”

____________________________

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper and Row, Publish­ers, 1961), p. 10.

[2] Ibid., p. 12.

[3] Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead, pp. 28-29.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in God

 

Lordship


jesus-is-lord-of-my-lifeWhy do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

“Last year I falsified my income tax return, and I haven’t been able to sleep since. Enclosed is $125. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.”

Jesus has called us to be different. He has described Christians as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” He has pointed out that the Christian and non-Christian communities are fundamentally different.

John Stott put it this way, “The world is like rotting food, full of bacteria, which cause its disintegration. The followers of Jesus are to be the salt of the world, arresting its decay. The world is a dark and dismal place, lacking sunshine and living in shadows. The followers of Jesus are to be its light, dispelling its darkness and its gloom.”

Jesus then went on to show how different Christians are: Our righteousness is to be deeper, reaching even our hearts.

John Stott summarizes it this way, “Our love is to be broader, embracing even our enemies. Our giving and praying and fasting are to be genuine, not for show. For our treasure, we choose that which lasts for eternity, not that which disintegrates on earth.”

” I think the church needs to lift its head up to heaven, repent of its small mindedness and ask God for a fresh vision of who the Lord Jesus Christ is. Without a God-given vision, we will not have the hope, the strength, the rationale, the wherewithal to move forward in personal holiness and witness for the Lord; effort without vision is like making bricks without straw—it’s just drudgery, like living in an old town where all it does is rain day in and day out.”

Can we dream for a moment about what God could do in our homes, communities, countries, world with one man fully committed to him?” What could the Lord do with our lives? With the lives of our friends? He is “the Lord” you know!

But any vision from God begins with a vision of God. So we begin by repenting from all known to sin and turning wholeheartedly to God; we turn from our worthless idols to the true and living God. And Lord we say to you, our King: “Please show us yourself in ways we could never have imagined (Jeremiah 33:3).

Fray Luis (Luis de Léon) was an Augustinian monk who lived from 1527-1591. He was imprisoned for many years during the Spanish inquisition, but his work lives on. He is well known for his commentaries on Song of Songs and Job, for his mystical poems, and for his great work, The Names of Christ.

In this latter work, he discusses why Christ is given so many names in Scripture: “Christ is given so many names because of his limitless greatness and the treasury of his very rich perfections and with them the host of functions and other benefits which are born in him and spread over us. Just as they cannot be embraced by the soul’s vision, so much less can a single word name them. Just as he who pours water in a bottle with a narrow and long neck does so drop by drop so the Holy Spirit who knows the narrowness and poverty of our understanding does not give us that greatness all at once but offers it to us in drops, telling us, at times something under one name, and some other thing at other times, under another name. Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah, the Bright and Morning Star. He is the Branch, the Messiah, the Son of God, Son of David, and the Lamb. He is also the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” [1]

He Is Sovereign Creator — John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

I am reminded of a cute story that brings home the fact that the Lord Jesus created the entire cosmos from nothing: there was once a brilliant scientist who prided himself on his brilliant discoveries. He had won several awards for his creative abilities and was world renown for all his skill. But it was not long before it went to his head, as it would with any of us. On one occasion he was taken with the idea that he was just as powerful as God. He turned his eyes to heaven and proclaimed in the hearing of the Lord that he too could create a man just like the Lord had done. In his infinite playfulness, the Lord descended to take the scientist up on his claim. The Lord said to him, “So, you think you can make a man just like I did.” “Yes,” was the confident assertion. “OK,” said the lord, “Go ahead and give it a try.” The brilliant scientist, delighted with the challenge and confident in himself, reached down and picked up some dirt…. Immediately, however, a voice came from heaven: “No, no. Get your own dirt!”

He Is the Sovereign Sustainer

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

At this moment, there is a reason why all things hold together and the entire universe doesn’t collapse in a heap. It’s because of Christ and the power of his word.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Eph 1:10).

He Is the Sovereign Redeemer

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

God is the divine lover. He just can’t stop thinking about us. Was the Lord married during his earthly ministry? No. But did you know that he has always wanted to get married? He left home, went to the worst part of town, won a bride for himself and now is in the process of wooing her into his arms. In Revelation 19 the apostle John proclaims that Christ will come and take her (the church) to be with him forever…ah yes, the love story is complete…bride and groom together forever!

He Is the Sovereign Judge

What did Abraham say about God in light of the incident with Sodom and Gomorrah? “Will not the judge of the entire earth do what is right” (Gen 18:25)?

A remarkable television programs vintage aired on PBS entitled “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace” is an introduction to the life of a remarkable martyrs of recent times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German minister who joined the German resistence when the evils of Naziism became apparent. He was arrested in 1943 for plotting against Adolf Hitler and hanged at Flossenberg prison on April 9, 1945. [2]

The film is framed by Hitler’s demand that German citizens swear a type of allegiance that Christians could only render to Christ himself. Bonhoeffer is pictured in Berlin in 1939 as the film opens:

”. . . let’s not delude ourselves that if we take the loyalty oath to Hitler it means they’ll let us worship in peace. The Nuremberg laws are an attack on Christianity itself. Adolf Hitler demands nothing less than total commitment. He’s the elected chancellor, yes. But more than that, he considers himself der Fuhrer and as “the leader” he craves to be the conscience of every living German. But his claim upon us is a claim that a Christian can only accept from Christ himself.”

Thus Bonhoeffer and a small group of friends, ministers, and students refused to take a loyalty oath. He helped write a document called the Barmen Declaration that called on Christians to remember that their first allegiance is to Christ alone. He and other German churchmen who refused to accommodate their faith to the evils of Naziism left the state-supported churches and created what came to be called the Confessing Church.

One who watches the film comes to understand what Bonhoeffer meant by writing that “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient, believes.”

The Earliest Confession

The martyrdom of such persons as Stephen, the apostles and Polycarp is predictable in one sense. If one truly believes that Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, that one’s own identity is defined by him, and that one’s welfare is better served by dying for Christ than by betraying him to save one’s own neck, it is to be expected that there will be occasional martyrs for Jesus’ sake.

When a man or woman gives heart, soul, mind, and body to him, Jesus Christ becomes not only that person’s Savior but also his or her Sovereign. That is, a saved person acknowledges the right of Jesus Christ to own, command, and reign over him. Thus such texts as these in the New Testament:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Rom. 14:7-8).

The term “lord” (Gk, kyrios) basically affirms a position of authority for someone. To the Greeks, a kyrios is one who has the right to rule over another. But there is a related-but-quite-different Greek term that is also translated into English by the same term “lord,” despotes.

The difference in the terms is critical. Despotes sometimes carried with it the notions of harshness and unpredictability. A pretender and usurper might be despotes to those he ruled.

Kyrios, on the other hand, points to one who has legitimate authority and who uses it appropriately. Only the person with the lawful right to rule could be kyrios.

How did Jesus get his “right” to rule over us? How do we know he is not a usurper? “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom. 14:9).

Tom Boyd tells the story of a woman who was a member of his church. She was a bit flamboyant and eccentric in some ways, but Boyd was impressed with the depth of her commitment to Christ. He was having dinner at her home one evening, and his hostess had him engaged in animated conversation about some biblical theme. In the midst of the conversation, the woman’s teenaged daughter — perhaps a bit frustrated with the tone of the conversation — asked, “Mother, why do you talk about religion all the time?”

The girl’s question brought an ominous silence to everyone’s conversation at the dining table. Her mother paused dramatically, pushed her chair back, stood up, and said, “Every morning before you are awake, I rise and walk into the living room. I lift my arms and ask, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ The answer always comes back: ‘Not you!’ That’s why I’m religious. Because I am not in charge!”

That lady understood something critical to faith. A truly spiritual life begins with the understanding of Sovereignty, Lordship, and the Right to Rule. We are not in charge, and from that understanding we can proceed to align ourselves to the One who is.

Case Studies

The defiant unbeliever Robert Ingersoll was belligerently assailing Christianity in a conversation with Lew Wallace. Wallace, himself an unbeliever, said, “I am going to read the New Testament and find out for myself.” For six years, he pored over the pages of Scripture. When he had finished, he said, “I have come to the conviction that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior of the world, and my own personal Redeemer.” Wallace proceeded to write the book Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

C.S. Lewis underwent a similar conversion through diligent study. An agnostic who became a prolific apologist for Christian faith, he once wrote: “Jesus was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — hatred, terror, adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.”

He is right. And the posture of adoration is the one adopted by those who, like the apostle Thomas, fall at Jesus’ feet to exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28; cf. Rev. 1:5; 19:15-16). This exclamation is more than a posture or verbal formula. It is a life commitment that shows itself in changed values, new priorities, transformed behavior.

Take the case of Jack Eckerd, founder of the Eckerd drugstore chain, as a case in point. He was walking through one of his stores and notices the magazine racks with their glossy copies of Playboy and Penthouse. Though he was retired from active management at that point in his career, he called the president of the company and urged them to get rid of those publications that degraded women by exploiting them as sexual objects.

The president protested that substantial amounts of money were at stake. Eckerd, himself the largest single stockholder in the company, stood to lose money by such a decision. But he remained firm in his newfound conviction. He prevailed, and the magazines were removed from all the stores that were then operated under the Eckerd name — 1700 stores at the time! When he was asked what motivated him to press for such an action, Eckerd replied, “God wouldn’t let me off the hook!”

Conclusion

Bonhoeffer published a book titled The Cost of Discipleship in 1937. In it he attacked what he called the “cheap grace” of the German churches. It was a view of grace, he said, designed merely to make people comfortable with their weakness and sinfulness.

By contrast, “costly grace” carried with it the presumed obligation of discipleship, obedience. He insisted that “it is only through actual obedience that a person can become liberated to believe.” Faith and obedience, he argued, are ultimately all but indistinguishable, “for faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” [3]

That is ultimately the point of claiming Jesus as one’s Lord. It is a pledge of obedience. It is the surrender of one’s total life to God. It is not the mistaken belief that following the rules exactly will bring one to heaven but the abandon of a lover’s commitment that says I will do anything that would honor or please him.

Bonhoeffer’s commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ sent him to the gallows. Yours will more likely send you home, to the workplace, or back to school with a renewed sense that your obligation is not to yourself, the bottom line, or being cool.

It is to prove that you have understood the words of your Savior that it would be foolish to try to call him “Lord, Lord!” and not do what he has commanded.

[1] As quoted in Peter Toon, Spiritual Companions: An Introduction to the Spiritual Classics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 124.

[2] An excellent summary of the life and writings of Bonhoeffer may be found in Susan Bergman, ed., Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), pp. 155-168. One who has never read the works of Bonhoeffer owes it to himself to read such classics as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1990), p. 93.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2017 in Doctrine

 

Steps You Can Take to ‘Affair Proof’ Your Marriage


There’s no way to absolutely guarantee that your marriage won’t be blindsided by an affair on your part or your spouse’s, but there are definite steps you can take to greatly reduce the probability of that happening.

It’s important to know what you can do to strengthen your marital connection and keep your marriage vibrant and healthy. A rewarding, satisfying marriage that meets the needs of both partners is your best protection against the destructive intrusion of an affair.

So what can you do to “affair proof” your marriage as much as possible?

Tips for Avoiding the Affair

The following twelve steps will guide you in building a stronger marriage partnership and help you and your spouse to withstand the lusty lure of temptation:

  1. Make your relationship with your spouse your top priority in the hierarchy involving family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others.
    Make a real commitment of time, energy, and effort to your marriage. You can end up pulled in so many different directions and over-extended that your most valuable and precious relationship can end up at the bottom of the list unless you make it a top priority.
  2. Nurture the emotional intimacy in your marriage.
    Make time to talk each day, not just about the events that have happened, but also about your feelings. Share on an emotional level—your fears, your frustrations, your joys, your disappointments, and your challenges. Let your partner know how much you value being able to talk to him or her about anything and to connect on a deep level.
  3. Show appreciation on a regular basis.
    Be generous with compliments and thank you’s. Tell your spouse at least once a week how much you appreciate him or her and list the qualities that you love, admire, and respect. Don’t worry that you’ve said these things before—no one gets tired of hearing their good traits praised!
  4. Spend time together doing fun things and just “hanging out.”
    Bonding can deepen when you and your spouse have unstructured time to just relax and hang out together. If every minute of your time together is tightly scheduled and rushed, you’ll miss out on opportunities to be spontaneous. Look for fun things to do—a picnic in the park, a hike, trying a new restaurant, going out dancing, or going swimming.
  5. Keep your sex life active.
    Sometimes being sick or fatigued gets in the way of sexual desire, as does family stress like caring for an ill or aging parent. Certainly the energy and time required to raise children can leave parents drained and “on empty.” In spite of these challenges, it’s essential to make time for sex. The sobering reality is that most spouses are more vulnerable to flirtations and sexual advances from others when their sex life is unhappy at home.
  6. Discuss and resolve issues as they come up.
    Don’t just bury them or neglect trying to resolve them. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable and causing long-term damage to your relationship. Above all—communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep the communication door wide open at all times.
  7. Talk about the problem of infidelity and know that it can strike any marriage.
    Bring the subject out into the open and express your feelings and deepest fears. Brainstorm with your spouse about how you can keep your marriage strong and what the two of you think would be helpful in preventing an affair from happening. Commit to telling your spouse if you feel vulnerable or if things start getting out of control in any situation.
  8. Share goals for the present and future that inspire you.
    When you and your spouse share common goals that you’re passionate about, you will feel closer to each other and more connected. It helps you to feel like a real team. The feeling of partnership is important in deepening commitment to each other. Whatever your mutual dream is, the passion you bring to pursuing it can draw you closer together.
  9. Make wise decisions about contact with the opposite sex at work and other settings.
    You may encounter special situations and temptations on business trips or at business parties or in your work setting. Talk frankly with your spouse and agree on what you both feel comfortable with. If your spouse is on a business trip and the group goes out dancing, will you be upset if your spouse participates? Plan ahead and head off potential problems.
  10. Know the danger signals.
    Many affairs have started with individuals sharing intimate personal information with each other on a regular basis while not confiding in their respective spouses. Intimacy can mushroom quickly when secrecy is involved and a feeling of connection develops. Other danger signals are having increased sexual excitement about seeing someone in particular, being in settings with lots of alcohol and drinking when your spouse isn’t present, and being more vulnerable than usual due to feelings of loneliness, rejection, or anger at your spouse.
  11. Celebrate your love, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions. Value your marriage and take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate, such as your wedding anniversary, the date that you met, your spouse’s birthday, and any other special days that the two of you share. This helps to keep the romance alive and also to keep your connection strong. Celebrate your love, your time together, your plans for the future, and the priceless present moment.
  12. Support each other’s goals.
    Make a commitment to help your spouse be all that he or she is capable of being. Your marriage is only strengthened when each of you is happy and fulfilled with your life. It’s to your advantage to help your spouse reach goals that are important to him or her, even if they aren’t your particular goals. Be positive and encouraging of your spouse’s desires to live up to his or her potential. —By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.
 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Marriage

 

Defeating the Goliath in your life  – 1 Samuel 17


Have you met your Goliath? Goliath is that great big giant of an obstacle that seems unbeatable, and impossible to defeat.  It is that one huge problem that you think just might be your undoing — a difficulty so great that it has you entertaining the thought that you are close to throwing in the towel.

Perhaps you have met him in the past.  Or maybe Goliath is troubling you even now.  Most of us have a Goliath or two in our lives. I want to encourage you to confront Goliath today — to deal with this enemy that robs your life of hope and joy.

King Saul of Israel had been fighting tooth and nail for most of his life for every inch of the Promised Land. Even though the land was “Promised,” it did not come easy. (Most promised lands are that way – we have to work and struggle for them.)  Ever since the day Joshua took over the leadership of Israel from Moses, there had been a struggle.  On that very first day when they crossed the Jordan River to head westward to their promised homeland, there was no welcome sign saying, Welcome to the Promised Land!”

Lately, the Philistines had been gaining the upper hand. King Saul was getting older and very weary. Now things had really taken a turn for the worse. The Philistines unveiled their “secret weapon” – a nine foot nine giant named Goliath. This powerful, fearsome creature was out daily taunting the Israelites, issuing a challenge that had King Saul’s army cringing behind their shields. There wasn’t a soldier in the camp who wanted to take on Goliath. Fear and despair took hold in the camp and ate away the courage of every last man. Each day Goliath looked bigger and the soldiers of Saul felt smaller.

You and I probably have times when our Goliaths seem to grow as we seem to shrink. On one particular day, Goliath began shouting insults to the soldiers of Israel and he challenged them to a fight. 

Let’s read 1 Samuel 17:8-11 (NIV) Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10  Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11  On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

After hearing these threats, an adolescent shepherd boy named David looked around and asked “Who is this person who is insulting the armies of God?” You see, David wasn’t afraid of the Philistine giant. King Saul sent for David and this is the conversation they had: 1 Samuel 17:32-37 (NIV) David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33  Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” 34  But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35  I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37  The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” .

So David, instead of putting on armor and a sword, chose to dress casually…carrying only a sling in his hand…with five smooth stones that he collected from the stream.  He was ready for war.  Listen to what David said when he confronted Goliath: (vs. 45-47). David took out a stone, and slung it and it struck Goliath on the forehead and killed him.  The young, weak boy defeated his Goliath.

WE NEED TO TRUST GOD. When David went to fight Goliath, it was not the standard resources that David was trusting in. It was not the armor of Saul or the strength of the whole Israelite army, but it was GOD…David believed that God would defeat Goliath.  If David had bought into the standard thinking, he would have been killed.  He thought outside the box!  God was his strength and the battle was the Lord’s — not his.

When we come to those times of confrontation with Goliath, our first line of defense is our relationship with God.  We must trust in His strength…no matter what others may consider the best way out of our difficulties. No matter what problem or Goliath we may be facing…God can deliver us. Our problems can be solved by trusting and relying upon God!

Most of us, like the Israelites hear the threats of Goliath and loose heart.  We would really like to have the courage of David and his trust in God, but we don’t quite get around to entering the field of battle.

So I would like to ask you for a verdict today. I would like to encourage you to decide to conquer Goliath.  If you will make that decision, surrender your resources – however small or meager – into the hands of God and trust the Lord to walk with you into the battle…You will make a wonderful discovery — a life changing discovery.

You will discover that Goliath is just a wee little man after all!

———————————-

They say there are not atheists in foxholes. It’s amazing how religious and how spiritual we get under pressure in a moment of bargaining.

It was that great American wit, Mark Twain, who once said, “Man is the only animal that blushes, and the only animal that needs to. We are ashamed, are we not, of things we’ve done in the past. Nobody is free who is unforgiven. Instead of being able to look God in the face or to look one another in the face, we want to run away and hide when our conscience troubles us.”

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2017 in counsel, Encouragement

 

From Doubt to Faith John 20:24-29


Why is it that some people believe the gospel and others do not? Perhaps the experience of Thomas can supply at least some of the answers to this question. From this text we can observe three barriers to faith that Thomas had to overcome in order to believe in the resurrected Lord.

Ignorance

One of the reasons Thomas was slow to believe in the resurrection of Christ is that he did not have all the evidence. The resurrected Christ had appeared to the disciples and gladdened their hearts with his presence (John 20:19-23). But, as our text reminds us (v. 24), Thomas had not been among them. He had spent a whole week in doubt and despair because he was absent from the place where he was most likely to meet Christ. He did not expose himself to all of the evidence.

Thomas is an example of a whole generation of doubters who have systematically detached themselves from the believing community. There are many people who seek to be good without God, a Christian without the church. Such people are ripe for doubt.

The honest searcher will seek faith where other people have found it. He will expose himself to the evidence of God’s reality—to the contagion of other people’s faith, to the preaching and teaching of the word of God. Why is it that people who doubt God the most are often the very ones who know the least about Him?

Cynicism

Thomas was from Missouri. “Show me,” was the motto of his life. Doubt was woven deep into the fabric of his life. He seems to have been cynical by nature. In the two other glimpses John gives us of Thomas he is consistently in the role of the skeptic, fearing the worst and slow to believe (John 11:16; 14:5). The cynicism and skepticism he displays in this third and final episode thus seem typical of his very disposition.

Like Thomas, it is harder for some people to believe today because they are cynical and skeptical in their basic approach to all of life. Sometimes the cruel and “unfair” blows of life make it difficult for people to profess any kind of faith in God. This is true of some of the more notable skeptics of recent history. There are many people reeling from life’s blows who have hardened their hearts to God and everybody else.

Empiricism

“Unless I see… touch… I will not believe.” (v. 25) Thomas was an empiricist. He was one of those people for whom “seeing is believing.” As such he is a fitting model for our times. Since God cannot be “seen” or “heard” or “touched,” some people are slow to acknowledge his existence. They have a tendency to trust only what their senses can confirm.

But so much of life is beyond that which can be perceived by our senses. We have never “smelled” an idea, “felt” a truth, put our “finger” on a thought. These realities are perceived in other ways. Such is the nature of “spiritual” realities. Our senses can take us to the edges of life, but they cannot take us beyond this life. Faith and faith alone can take us beyond this life.

It’s my greatest blessing in life to have known men and women who “lived their whole life for their death.” People who loved the Lord daily and longed for eternity moment by moment.

They understood that the most important things in life are things we cannot see.  They knew a faith that hasn’t been tested can’t be trusted. Their motto: without Christ, not one step; with him, anywhere!

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!” Faith has never yet out-stripped the bounty of the Lord. Faith is a gift that we can ask for.

Conclusion

For us, like Thomas, the key to overcoming doubt is a personal encounter with the risen Lord. For Thomas this happened when he “saw” the Savior. For us it happens as we chose to accept the testimony of the Scriptures concerning him and trust in him to save us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in Encouragement

 

How you answer this question can change your marriage  


Imagine the following scenario. Your spouse has given you an important letter to mail and is counting on you to mail it on your way to work. But you slip up… You forget all about it until you’re on the way home. “Oh #$@!!” is your first reaction. You know the spouse will be upset.

You frantically search the car and your briefcase for the letter, but it’s gone. You can’t find it anywhere. Now what do you do? What will you tell your spouse when you get home and he (or she) asks you if you mailed the letter?

Will you say, “It got lost” or will you say, “I lost it”? Your answer to this question gives insight into your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions. According to Sidney J. Harris, “We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until…we have stopped saying ‘It got lost,’ and say ‘I lost it.'”

As long as you avoid taking responsibility for your actions or you look for reasons to avoid admitting you goofed, you’re not being honest with yourself. When you accept responsibility and stop rationalizing and blaming, then you can start to focus on what you can do differently that will produce different results next time.

This is not easy to do. Especially if we’re in the habit of placing blame elsewhere. Accepting responsibility in a marriage takes courage, above all when a spouse is at fault.

Mark, a long­time procrastinator, always had a list of reasons why he hadn’t been able to get around to doing the house maintenance chores. It was too cold or too hot, he was too tired, or he didn’t have the right tools or enough time. He would always promise to do the chores another day. Mark’s behavior greatly irritated his wife Anne, and she began to resent his constant excuses.

It wasn’t until Anne expressed her dissatisfaction with their marriage, giving Mark’s habitual procrastination as one of the reasons, that Mark really looked closely at how his behavior was hurting his marriage relationship. In marriage counseling sessions, he learned to take responsibility for his part in what happened each day. He also learned to pay attention to the words he selected to describe what happened.

Mark learned that when he said, “There wasn’t enough time to fix the faucet,” he often really meant, “I didn’t schedule enough time to complete the job today.” And if he went a step further and was even more honest, he also meant, “I don’t really want to do this, so I’m putting it off.”

Once Mark was more aware of his behavior patterns, he was able to have an honest talk with Anne. He told her that while he didn’t mind doing some of the repair jobs, he really didn’t want to have to spend the time the others would require. They talked it over and decided to hire someone to do the repairs Mark knew he would in all probability never get around to doing. He made a resolution not to make promises unless he really planned to keep them. He also resolved to be honest with Anne upfront instead of dragging things out for months.

These changes made a major difference in Mark and Anne’s relationship. Anne didn’t feel like “the nagging wife” any longer, and Mark didn’t mislead her by making false promises. Less friction in the marriage allowed them to focus on each other’s good points and to enjoy more harmony in their relationship.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Marriage

 
 
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