A Good Day to Die

30 09 2014

Several days ago, I was watching an old episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine with my husband. The characters were preparing to go into battle, when one Klingon warrior, as was their custom, exclaimed, “It is a good day to die!” No, he wasn’t planning to die, but as a warrior, coming from a warrior race, he believed that to die in battle was an honorable death.
And so the theme for this article: dying in battle. The article isn’t about being martyred for one’s faith, even though hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being tortured and martyred because of their beliefs every day in the Middle East and Africa. And even more are dying in West Africa because they are volunteering to care for those who are infected with the Ebola virus. Although we need to pray for them, the article isn’t really about dying. Well, maybe it kind of is about dying, in a way. You see, living the Christian life is about dying—to our selves, to our desires, to our wants—so we can live for Christ.
In Acts, chapter 20, we read a speech of Paul to the believers from Ephesus. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. He knew that by going to Jerusalem he could be captured, arrested, perhaps even killed, but he also knew it was God’s will that he go there. He sent for the believers so he could speak to them one more time. He said to them,
And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace (Philippians 1:22-24).
Did Paul want to die? I don’t believe so. In other passages he expresses his problem. While he is longing to get to heaven and be with the Lord, he also feels the need and desire to be with his “children” in the faith, to help them find their way in the Christian life (Philippians 1). But yet, he treks toward Jerusalem anyway.
How does this relate to us today? I don’t think many of us are planning to go to West Africa as medical missionaries to treat Ebola patients. And I don’t think any of us is boarding a plane to the Middle East to be in the path of ISIS extremists. What does dying mean to us?
Paul uses the term “dying” figuratively and literally. While he knew that he might physically die, he also referred to dying as putting aside his own wants and desires to serve the Lord (Romans 8:13). He had found the place in faith where he could place God’s will first, and “die” to his own flesh. Paul decided that each day he would walk the path set before him by God, whatever the result.
What in your life have you not “died” to? Is it a person, a possession, a dream? What is the one thing (or maybe more) that is keeping you from living the Christian life as Paul did, being ready each day to put aside those things that keep you from hearing God’s call and serving Him wholeheartedly? We have so much more than Paul or any of the early believers had. Our brothers in the Middle East today have only their faith. Everything else has been taken away, and yet they still stand and profess Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives.
Are you ready to die, perhaps not literally but spiritually, to set aside all the things that keep you from doing God’s will in your life? Have you taken inventory of your life and found that the priorities you cherish are not those that God would have for you, but rather are holding you back from God’s will, from serving Christ effectively? Take some time this week to do a self-evaluation. Pray and ask the Lord to look through your heart and show you what can be left behind, if necessary, so that you can be fully committed to serving God.
My prayer this week is that, like the Klingon warriors, you will come to the place where you can proclaim, “Today is a good day to die, and a very good day to live for Christ!”
Blessings!





More than Conquerors (originally published 8/7/14)

18 09 2014

With all the changes in the world today, it seems that on every hand we are confronted with another challenge. Whether in the area of finances, culture, politics, or another area, we are continually faced with encounters that test our values and commitment to God and to one another. With each new day, each news report, or each edition of the newspaper, we find new situations that require us to go back and revisit our principles of life.
With each of these challenges our faith is also tested. How far will we bend before we push back or break? I’m sure the believers in Rome felt this same way. The degradation of society in first-century Rome was rampant. I’ll not detail many of the practices that were found in upper society in those days except to say that today’s culture is not any lower than Rome. Believers who did not worship at the altars of the Roman gods were discriminated against, and it was not unusual for a believer to be forced into the coliseum for the amusement of the crowds.
With that being the case, why did Paul tell the believers that they were more than conquerors? They weren’t overcoming their circumstances physically or even politically. Yet, in Romans 8 Paul tells them:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul himself experienced the tragedies and struggles of life. He was persecuted, arrested, beaten, stoned and left for dead. And yet he considered himself more than a conqueror. What did he conquer? What do we conquer when we are faced with all these challenges in our lives?
The truth is that the victories Paul referred to were much deeper than those that trouble us on a day-to-day basis. While we are frustrated daily with the experiences around us, there is a foundational level where our focus needs to be if we are to find fulfillment and comfort in our lives. Paul is referring to a level of life that we rarely consider, the spiritual realm. Unfortunately, in our lives we often live out the conflicts and personal struggles, the shortages and interpersonal arguments, never taking the time to step back and reflect on what is behind all of those things.
Those who are called “Christian,” who are followers of Jesus Christ, who have had their sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ, have come to know a deeper part of life. God has shown us that there is more to life than what we see or hear or experience physically. In fact, all of these things are surface items that depend on what is below, what is our foundation. In the spiritual realm, we can be overcomers in spite of what is happening in the physical realm.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we are to just be “spiritual” about everything and not participate in government or social change. I am definitely not suggesting that we totally separate ourselves from those with whom we disagree, living in a detached, unconcerned manner. I am also not suggesting that we withdraw from the political arena, allowing our culture and society to further degrade with no alternative provided.
When you look again at Paul’s words, you find that he is basing our victory on one thing: the love of Christ. He is admitting that trials will come, that we will find ourselves without, that we may even be persecuted, but even when they do, the ONE thing that matters, a relationship with Jesus Christ, will carry us through even when we cannot see victory anywhere around us.
Nothing, my friends, can separate you from the love of Christ. It is in that love, that relationship, that we overcome because we know that, as Paul stated in v. 28, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In ALL things, not just the good things, not just the seeming victories, but ALL things are worked for our good by our gracious and powerful Lord. That is where the victory lies. Even when we cannot see the resolution, we know that God is taking that situation and will use it to bless us as we follow him.
Take heart today because, if you are in Christ, you are more than a conqueror, and nothing can separate you from the God who loves you.





Living in the Past (originally published 08/07/2014)

18 09 2014

When I talk with people, one of the most commonly expressed emotions is regret. Whether because of something they did as a child, a teen, or a young adult, or maybe even something recent, people have regrets. In fact, if you have no regrets, you are extremely blessed or just disconnected with reality.

Regret can be a positive emotion. We all look back and wonder how things might have been different if we had made a different choice at one time or another. That is normal. Regret can cause us to change our direction in life, making better choices and choosing new directions.

What isn’t normal, or healthy, however, is letting those wonderings, or regrets, dog our current lives, causing depression and anxiety, and even chronic health problems. We find ourselves living in the past, trying to somehow make up for something we did, real or imagined, so that we can bring some sort of resolution to the situation. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we find ourselves continually living in regret, unable to change the past.

Research has shown that continually living in regret, repetitive negative rumination and self-blame, can negatively affect not only mental health, but also hormonal and immune system functioning (“The Psychology of Regret” Psychology Today). Continual regret also causes the individual to withdraw from current situations, as they are so wrapped up in the past.
How do we deal with regret in a healthy manner? While some thoughts of the past can be good in order to help us change and grow, we must move past regret in order to live a healthy, fulfilled life. So how do we manage regret and use it for our personal growth and health?

1. Use the emotion to help you make the changes that are necessary in your life. Consider if the situation can be changed, for example, ongoing behaviors that are hurting yourself or others. Recognize what you have done and resolve it, changing your behaviors and moving on with the help of God. Many people stall at this point because they feel they cannot change on their own. This is where faith comes in.
Paul knew this confrontation with himself. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
Recognize that you cannot change the past but must instead accept it, make peace with it, and move on, making changes for a healthier life.

2. Realize that if there is nothing you can do, you need to just let it go. This reminds me of David’s grieving for his son in 2 Samuel 12. David had slept with Uriah’s wife and got her pregnant. He then arranged Uriah’s death on the battlefield and took the widow as his own wife. The child born from their illicit relationship became ill, and David laid of his face before God, interceding for the child, taking nothing to eat. The child eventually died, causing those around David to fear for him. However, David got up, washed himself, and got something to eat. When asked why the change, “He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” David returned to his life and rebuilt it with his new wife Bathsheba, eventually fathering his son, Solomon, who would reign after him as king in Israel.

3. Look at the situation clearly. Seek out forgiveness and move on, whether it comes or not. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that we are to go to those who have something against us and to attempt reconciliation. It is important that we do everything we can to resolve the situation, but this will not always work. The other person may be unwilling or unable to offer forgiveness; however, at this point we are to move on and to find healing in Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Pray for those who don’t forgive you, but don’t let their lack of forgiveness drag you down into the depths of despair and loss. Find forgiveness in God’s grace and mercy and move forward with your life.

Regret can be helpful, but it can also be unhealthy and damaging to the individual. It is important to use the emotion of regret to make changes in our lives, but it is also necessary to move past the emotion, resolving it by confession and receiving forgiveness, not only from others, but from God. Only then can we live healthy, fulfilled lives.

Blessings!





The Secret of Contentment (originally published 9/11/2014)

18 09 2014

As I was in the checkout line the other day, a few magazines caught my attention. They touted successes and accomplishments in the lives of various stars, which got me to thinking about my own life. I began to think about Paul’s words about contentment and wondered, If I were talking to my grandchildren today, how would I demonstrate contentment to them? Am I really content?

In my day-to-day life, I have the opportunity to talk with many employees, and they often let down their guard. I find myself struggling with the conversation as they express their dissatisfaction with their work arrangements, supervisors, etc., and I hurry to excuse myself, lest I be tagged as a malcontent, as well. While some are merely venting, some are chronically discontented, not only with their employment, but their lives, as well, so much so that not one positive thought is expressed. Again, I ask myself, Am I contented?
There are many areas where we can find contentment, or a lack of it—work, home, relationships, church. Some might say that being content is having no ambition, no desire for improvement or advancement. One dictionary definition of being contented is being “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” Are we called to be without ambition, or is there more to being contented in the Christian life?

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to the believers there to thank them for their support of his ministry. He is grateful for their concern for him, but he is quick to express that he isn’t in need:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Paul’s words give us the answer to the contentment issue. It isn’t a matter of not having goals or aspirations, but rather a sense of inner peace that carries us through every situation in which we find ourselves. Contentment is the acceptance of this day, this time in our lives where God has placed us, accepting that for this moment we are in God’s hands and will and can serve Him, whatever the situation.
I am not always satisfied with where I am. I want to grow and change, to be more than I am, and that is a commendable goal. So how can I be contented while having aspirations beyond where I currently stand? Am I being unfaithful to God if I want something more?

The key is in Paul’s words: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Wherever he found himself, Paul was reminded that nothing could overcome him if he was relying and leaning on God’s strength to withstand it. Whether in lack or in much, Paul learned to be satisfied with the moment, to accept that God was working in his life and would carry him through. Contentment, biblically, “arises from the inward disposition, and is the offspring of humility” (dictionary.com)

God instructs us to pray for provision and for God’s movement in our lives. Solomon prayed for wisdom. Paul prayed for God to direct him as to where he should travel and preach. Finding satisfaction or contentment requires submitting ourselves to God and to God’s working in our lives each new day, asking him for grace to grow, but finding joy and fulfillment in the times where we find ourselves.

Being content requires God’s grace. Paul prayed for God to remove a “thorn in the flesh.” He wanted relief. However, God answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is in the down times, the times of loss or need, the times when we are not where we want to be, that we can find God’s grace and power in our lives, and thereby find contentment.
Some years ago now my husband bought me a CD with a song about a couple who never found the dreams of their youth. They sing in the chorus, “This cup filled up so quickly / There’s too much on our plate /Between the living and the dying / Some things must wait / So we never got to Paris and found the cafe of our dreams / But our table holds a whole wide world of memories No, we never went to Venice / And strolled the streets alone / But we built our worlds together and we got the best of both” (Out of the Grey, So We Never Got to Paris).

The secret of contentment is not that we eliminate dreams or goals, but that we make peace with the days in which we live, find happiness in the now, knowing that God is working in our lives and will bring us joy wherever we find ourselves. The secret is submitting our dreams to God and allowing Him to bring them to pass in His way and will. May God give you joy and contentment today.

Blessings!





Is He Safe?

18 09 2014

In the book, Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, a part of the Chronicles of Narnia, a great lion leads the creatures in defeating the wicked queen. A question is asked about the lion: “Is he safe?” The answer is quite interesting. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

We want our God to be safe, to be someone we can control, but if you asked me if God is “safe,” I’m afraid I’d have to answer just as Mr. Beaver did. God isn’t safe, but He’s good, and that makes all the difference.

Throughout the Bible, but especially in the Psalms and in the book of Job we find descriptions of God’s power and might. God created the worlds and all the beings in it. God controls the winds and the clouds and moves the mountains. These describe God’s awesome power and strength. We serve a mighty God who is able to do all things, no matter how large, and that power is awesome, and sometimes frightening.

Thinking about the power of God, it is kind of like standing next to a Clydesdale horse and realizing the power that is in the animal, how it could destroy you in a moment if it were not reigned in and trained. Have you ever been in the zoo next to the elephants? All that power and strength and all that size can be frightening, and it should be as that animal could kill you very quickly and with little effort. We respect the power of the animal, knowing that it isn’t safe.

But when we are talking about God, there is another factor at play. God is not only righteous and holy, unable to allow sin in His presence and responding to sin and rebellion with power and might, God is also loving and merciful, wanting to show His mercy on His creation. A little dual-minded? Not at all. You see, it was always God’s will that we, His creation, be in fellowship with Him. He created us, thinking and reasoning beings, to have relationship with him. But sin crept in, and we were separated from God for our own safety.

We were separated from God, sent from the safety and bliss of the Garden into a world where we work and struggle and rejoice, as well. But we were still separated from God. Reading through the Old Testament, we are reminded again and again of the foolishness of the people of God, how they continually turned to idols and false gods of the regions, turning from God. It was in these times that God allowed danger to come on His people, trying to bring them back to Him. He did what was best to save the people from their idolatry.

It was with the coming of Christ, the prototype for the allegorical Aslan, that we found restoration to God. With the sacrifice of Christ, His precious blood was offered for our sins so that we could be forgiven and enter into God’s presence. Jesus paid the price for our sins, served the sentence, and now those who have received that free gift walk with God without fear of His power and strength, knowing that “He is good” and can be trusted.

God is still holy. God’s power is still awesome and frightening, but we know, as well, that God is love. In that love God seeks what is best for us and seeks to shape us and change us into the image of His dear Son, Jesus Christ.

In our current world political situation we are reminded just how powerless we are. When we consider the Ebola epidemic in Africa, the Islamic State crisis in the Middle East, the military struggles in Eastern Europe, and even the problems with drugs and evil in our own communities, our hope can be tested and tried. Yet, in the light of these situations and so many more in our own lives, we are to be reminded once again that God is good and will work all situations to the good for those who call upon His name, to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Is God strong? Yes! Is God’s power awesome and frightening? Yes! Is God good? Definitely! I challenge you today, if you don’t know this powerful and good God, to take a moment to talk to Him. There are plenty of pastors in town who would be willing to help you meet God. If you do know God but aren’t sure about God’s plan for you, take some time and pray, seeking the good God who wants to bless you and strengthen you as you serve Him.

Blessings!





The Value of a Mother

11 05 2014

This Sunday most of us will be celebrating our mothers.  Churches will give flowers to moms and gifts to the oldest and youngest mothers.  Families will gather together for dinner, and some Moms will actually get a day off, or at least one meal!

What will you be doing for Mother’s Day?  If you still have your mom, I hope you will be spending time with her or at least, if she doesn’t live close by, that you will speak to her by telephone.  By the way, you probably still have time to get a card in the mail!  Very few weeks go by when I don’t think about telephoning my mother to update her on our lives, my kids, etc.  Then I remember that she is in heaven and that my cell phone doesn’t reach that far. 

Mom wasn’t perfect.  She fell short in some areas but excelled in others.  She worked hard for our family and struggled to please everyone, especially those who were relentlessly hard to please.  Whatever you needed, Mom would do her best to help you, in spite of her pain or fatigue.  Unfortunately, she was unable to please everyone, and that gave her much sadness. 

Historically, many Mother’s Day sermons have used Proverbs 31 as their text, extolling the virtues of that industrious woman.  Unfortunately, there are only a few of us who actually measure up to the description found in that passage.  (Hint:  I’m not one of them.)  In fact, I would venture that many women dislike that passage because it makes them feel inadequate.  We tend to read this bit of scripture and think that in order to be an effective wife and mother we have to do everything listed there, and if we don’t, we are failures. 

Who wouldn’t want their value to be more than rubies?  Who wouldn’t want her family to cherish her and to “call her blessed”?  We work hard to provide for our family members, but in this fast-paced society, we find ourselves over-scheduled, over-committed, and overworked, with little time for them.  And we still feel like we haven’t achieved all that our ancestor did to earn her a place in the Bible.  

The Apostle Paul told the Colossians:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).  I used to look at this verse and feel ashamed because I wasn’t able to do everything that was laid out in front of me, thinking that God, like others, was disappointed in me.  But then one day, as I read the Bible and prayed, I realized that this verse didn’t bring condemnation but rather freedom from it.  You see, “human masters” might be hard to please, but God knows who we are and what we are able to do in the situation where he has placed us. 

Likewise, when reading Proverbs 31, we read through all of the great things that this woman of faith accomplished but often fail to read all the way through to the end of the passage.  It is there we find the most important way to be a godly woman.  “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30).

This is where we must find our value, my friends, in the fear of the Lord, in our relationship with God.  It is good to be a hard worker and to accomplish many things, but our value isn’t found in what we accomplish or what we obtain, but in the One whom we worship and serve. 

For those of you who are mothers, have a happy Mother’s Day.  My prayer is that your children will call you blessed for all you do for them, but most of all, my prayer is that you will find comfort and peace in the presence of God in your life.

 





Fresh Start (published in print 12/29/13)

1 03 2014

There’s something about a new year.  It’s a time to start over.  Every year, scores of people wake up on January 1st with high hopes for change in their lives.  Resolutions, from one to many, are posted in various places to remind them of the changes they want to make.  Unfortunately, for most of us, our resolute nature rarely lasts very far into the month of January, let alone the year.

As we face this new year, with its opportunities and challenges, how can we hold fast to our hopes and wishes?  The main question is how you did you make your resolutions.  What things do you want to do?  Have you prayed about your choices, asking God what His plan for your year might be?  We all have hopes, but we need to take time to seek God’s will for our lives. 

Second, it is important to realize that every journey is a compilation of many small steps.  Once you have decided on a resolution, it is best to break down your goal into smaller steps.  Wanting to lose weight?  Setting goals at increments of 5 or 10 pounds at a time will make your goals seem more achievable. 

Third, while you shouldn’t plan for setbacks or failure, you should understand that problems do occur from time to time.  You might have a bad diet day or have to spend some of that money you were trying to save, but don’t let momentary problems cause you to give up on your goals. 

Another suggestion is to find someone to help you on your resolution project.   We are reminded of this in Ecclesiastes.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (3:9-10).  Find an accountability partner, someone who can help you when you are falling down or who can encourage you when you are ready to give up. 

Most importantly, remember that you are not perfect.  Whatever your goals or resolutions, you will most likely find yourself missing the mark.  The apostle Paul knew about that.  “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  No matter how hard we try, we do fall short of God’s plan for our lives.  In those moments it is imperative to remember that our value isn’t found in what we do, but in what Christ did for us.  “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (v. 24).

Paul also knew about frustration.  He struggled with his tendency to do the things that he didn’t want to do but reminded himself that it isn’t in his own strength that he would overcome, but I the grace that comes from God.

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25).

By the time you read this article you may have already broken a few of your resolutions, or you might still be holding strong and making changes.  Whatever the case, remember that every minute you breathe and every morning you wake the mercies of the Lord are new once again.  The old adage from the 60s and 70s—Today is the first day of the rest of your life—is true, you know!  No matter how many times you fall short, or how long you succeed, each moment is a new opportunity to overcome with the help of Christ.  Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Do you have a home church?  Have you found a place to worship with like-minded believers? Visit us at Ebenezer Presbyterian.  We have a place for you every Sunday at 11 a.m.

Blessings!








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