GIVE TILL IT HURTS?

In the days of my childhood, i recall the minister preaching about giving our money, time and talents to the Lord and His Church.  One of the phrases that he repeated was that we were to give to the Lord “until it hurts”. 

I suspect that the scripture he was using for this thought was Jesus’ comparison of the rich men giving to the temple treasury with that of the widow.   Read Luke 21:1-4. In short, the rich were giving out of their abundance while the widow, in her poverty, gave all that she had.  Giving to the Lord did not “hurt” the rich men but it cost the poor widow everything.  

But, does scripture require us to hurt when we give to the Lord?  I don’t think so.

In 1 Chronicles 29 we read of the freewill offerings that the Israelites provided to the house of God.  The figures of their gifts that we find recorded for us to consider are truly staggering.  In verse 7 we read that they gave 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron.

I am not an accountant nor am I a math whiz, but research tells me that these figures equate to approximately 188 tons of gold, 10,000 gold coins, 375 tons of silver, 675 tons of bronze and 3,750 tons of iron.  (See the New Living Translation for these figures)  And this does not even consider the precious stones that were given to the treasury of the house of the Lord.  

When God created our world, He did not skimp.  He did not say “they are going to sin and cause heartache for me so I’ll give them a dump to live in, that’s all they deserve!  They are going to mess up my creation anyway, so they don’t deserve to have my beauty around them.” 

That’s not the way of our God. He created a beautiful world full of abundance and reflective of His glory even though it is now marred by man’s sin.  

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Snow-capped Grand Tetons 
Ocean verticle sun going down
Sunset over the ocean.
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Frozen Head State Park, Morgan County, Tennessee.
Yosemite 2011 WRM 095 Overlook of Kings Canyon National Park (C)
King’s Canyon National Park Overlook, California
Waimea Canyon Kauai mountains
Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii

David said it this way:

“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.  He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33:6-8 

God displayed His incredible beauty, power, majesty and glory through His creation which He provided to us.  We should stand in awe of our God, because He is the Almighty, the one true God.  Of course, God’s display of His beauty in our world does not even begin to encompass what God has provided us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s steadfast love, mercy and grace is abundantly evident in Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  

God gave us His Son to satisfy the judgment of death that sin brought to us.  Praise God that Jesus rose from the dead and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  There is nothing that we can do to earn salvation.  We are sinful creatures and have no good within us.  Even our best is equivalent to filthy rags in God’s eyes.  So we have no ability to bridge the gap between sinful man and a holy God.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection, He provides us with His righteousness. 

This righteousness is a gift from God. We can do nothing to earn it.  But, what is it worth?  What would you pay for it if you could do so?  In thankfulness, give God your life, your plans, your dreams, your abundance.  Love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and then love your neighbor as yourself.  Obedience to God is the sacrifice that He desires.   

Of all people, we as Christians should be honoring the Lord daily, giving thanks to Him for this great gift of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and glorifying God by obeying His word.  Give until it hurts?  No.  Give to Him in praise and thanksgiving, with joy and gladness.   

Going back to 1 Chronicles and the gifts that the people gave to the house of the Lord, what I find beautiful is not the amount or weight of their gifts, but the fact that they rejoiced in their giving.   Here is the record in 1 Chronicles 29:9-13:

Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.  Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.  Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.  Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.””

Be like the Israelites of old. They they didn’t grouse about how poor they were!  They rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD.  

When was the last time you rejoiced in your giving?  When was the last time you gave with a whole heart offering your resources, time and energies freely to the Lord?   When was the last time you rejoiced in being of service to the King of King, the Lord of Lords, and the Redeemer of your soul? 

Give until you hurt?  No.  Give until your giving reflects your thanks to the Lord for all that He has done for you through Christ as well as on a day-to-day basis. 

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Eruption of White Cone Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

Give willingly and freely.  Give obediently and rejoice in the Lord.  Let your thanks erupt into giving from a full heart devoted to our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I praise Your name for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ my Lord and my Redeemer.  Forgive me when my giving has been skimpy and unfeeling, when I cared more for what I wanted to do with my money than what I could give to You in thanksgiving for all that You have given me.  May I rejoice in Your steadfast love and may that find expression through joyful giving with a thankful heart.  

HOW GREAT THOU ART!

We had the privilege to go on an extended vacation last summer.  We traveled throughout the western United States  and visited many of our national parks. 

The sights and sounds were incredible.  Often, the primary sound we heard was silence, as the beauty of the national park was mesmerizing in itself … words were impossible to describe the beauty and we just drank in the view.

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The Grand Tetons were magnificent in their snow-topped heights, and sprawling majesty.

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The colors and pillars (called “Hoodoos”) of Bryce Canyon became etched in our minds as we considered the beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork.

Monarch Pass in Colorado, at an elevation of 11,312 feet, was windy, cold and dizzying when viewing the mountaintops that surrounded the parking lot at the summit.

11 colorado 2 monarch pass 1 continental divide

Descending form the parking area, the mountains were up close and personal.  Visages of raw power, strength and rugged beauty. 

descending from monarch pass

We were praising God throughout our trip as we saw glorious, sculpted rock pillars in numerous variations of colors and shapes, and prevalent even along the highways.  We praised our God for the beauty of the mountains and for the wondrous provision of water, lakes, rivers, ponds and fountains throughout the hills and byways. 

The hymn “How Great Thou Art” does a good job of summarizing our reaction and wonder as we got a view of God’s creation that was different than we usually experience in East Tennessee. 

HOW GREAT THOU ART

[Verse 1]

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

[Refrain]
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

[Verse 2]
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze

[Refrain]

[Verse 3]
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.

[Refrain]

[Verse 4]
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

[Refrain]

Of course, the hymn does not describe merely the creation that God has provided to us, it goes on to describe the glories of salvation that God has given when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Creation tells us that God exists.  Salvation tells us the magnitude of God’s love for His people in that He sent Christ to pay for our sin.  Praise is the our rightful response for both His creation and His gift of salvation.

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is the hymnbook of the Israelites, and it is full of exhortation to praise the Lord.  Here are just some of the verses that admonish us to praise Him:

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:” 

Psalm 102:18

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Psalm 106:1

Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!”

Psalm 113:1

Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!  For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 117:1-2

The book of Psalms ends with this same exhortation that applies to everyone:

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”

Psalm 150:6

Oh, that I would remember how great our God is even during the humdrum activities of life that so often seem to be frustrating and irritating.  When we consider all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ, His Son, we should be shouting our praise and love for Him from the housetops, in everything that we do and in all the ways we serve others. 

Praising the Lord is a matter of the heart.  We can have a settled heart and mind because we can praise the Lord through whatever comes our way.  Praise Him when good things happen, certainly.  That’s not hard!  But, praising Him when adversity may arise is difficult.  We know that pain will be present in our lives; difficulties will present themselves at unexpected and usually inconvenient times; heartache will interrupt our lives when malevolent activities cause grief and loss. 

Beloved, no matter what we may have to endure, nothing will take us out of the Hand of our God, the Almighty God who uses even these hard times to transform us into the image of His Son.  This is why we can praise the Lord even as we are in tears.

Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!”

Psalm 112:1

Praise the Lord.  I am challenging myself to make praise my “default position” before God.  Care to join me in this challenge? 

 

Father, I praise Your Name for the wonder and glory of salvation through Christ our Lord.  I praise You Name when I see the creation that You have placed before me, and when I think of Your steadfast love and mercy.  Enable me to praise You even more each day, and may I make praise my “default position” before You!

OUT OF PLACE?

Have you ever noticed something that seemed to be “out of place” in the context surrounding the thing or event?

We saw this sign was alongside a road that had a nursing home on the right and a cemetery on the left. 

  dead end sign and cemetery

Although the sign was factually correct in that it told the driver that the road did not lead to any other road, it seems to be somewhat “out of place”, or perhaps a better description might be “somewhat macabre”, given the context in which it was placed.

We saw an even better example of something “out of place” when we were watching one of Agatha Christi’s Poirot mysteries on television recently.  The many episodes in the Poirot series are elaborately filmed, with mid-1930s furnishings, clothing, automobiles, etc.   The characters are incredible and the story lines are detailed.  All this to say, the programs are a delight to watch and we really enjoy them. 

However, on this particular occasion, one of the characters was assigned the job of tailing a suspect whenever she left her apartment.  The suspect came out of the building and got into her car, so our character dutifully started his vehicle.  As the suspect sped away, so did our character when the rear of his vehicle was seen bouncing over …

wait for it …

a SPEED BUMP! 

A speed bump on a street in the 1930s?  I don’t think so.  In fact, a quick Google search said that speed bumps were not used in the UK until the 1980s.   It quite simply was “out of place” in the episode we were watching.

As Christians, we are called to live a life of holiness, of love and of sweet communion with our Lord. 

The church in Ephesus seemed to have many problems and Paul addressed them in his letter, and he points to the importance of living a life that is in keeping with their witness as Christians.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

Ephesians 5:3-4

In short, while certain activities and certain speech may be acceptable among society, such things are “out of place” when said or done by Christians. 

Paul says this about the traits that the Christian should exhibit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

This way of living will never be “out-of-place” as far as the Lord is concerned, however it will certainly be countercultural to those around you and it may appear “out of place” to them!

Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan theologian in the early days of our country, said this about the Christian virtue of love:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to GodIf love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

So, beloved, when I look in the mirror of my life, do I see consistency in the development of my Christian life?  I know that I am not where I need to be, but am I closer than I was last year at this time?  Are you?

When I look in the mirror of my life, do I see speed bumps where I faltered, do I see times that I harmed my witness by taking actions or saying things that are out-of-place, that are inconsistent with my Christian witness?  Do you see such things?

Let us bring our life into conformance with what our Lord desires for us.  Let us be attuned to the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our sin, as He leads us into paths where we are to walk, and as He brings to mind the Scripture that will enable us to do the work that has been planned for us to do, and let us eliminate our “out of place” activities/words/thoughts.  In short, let us be transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ through the power of His Spirit.

Father, I pray that I would be attuned to your Spirit so that I would be able to discern when my thoughts, actions, or words would be out-of-place, when they would harm my witness for my Lord, when they would grieve you, Father.  I cannot do this on my own, and I seek your strength and power to do these things.

THE SNEAKY WAY OF SIN

We all like to do things that we enjoy.  Just watch children playing together with their Playdoh.

Grandchildren at table playing (C)

 Or watch children playing in the sprinkler during the hot summer sun!

playing in sprinkler

When the children get a bit older, what could be more fun than a multi-generational game of backyard football.  No refs and no goalposts, but fun nonetheless!

USED family playing football (C)

None of these things are sinful, in and of themselves.  But sin has an insidious way of breaking into our daily routine even when what we are doing is innocuous.  Indeed, even good things can become sinful if it results in disobedience to that which we know God wants us to do.

The other evening, we had finished supper, cleaned up the dishes, and descended the stairs to the family room where we watched television.  We had been discussing, that very day, about how we needed to rethink our meals and eating habits because we need to lose weight for any number of health-related reasons. 

Following our normal course, at 9:00 we had ice cream bars, low calorie bars so in our minds they are ok to have, especially since we had no dessert for dinner. So far, so good.

But then the program we were watching focused on a family in various humorous, although troubling, life situations.  At the end of their day, the teenaged children came into the kitchen and found the Dad sitting at the table, looking haggard.  He had something in front of him that was not really identifiable for the audience.

The television Dad looked up at the children and said: “want some cheese toast?”

At that the program ended, and at the same moment, my husband and I looked at each other and simultaneously said “Cheese Toast!” 

Within moments we had retrieved the toaster oven from over the freezer and were siding bread onto the rack while the cheese was being unwrapped and made ready for melting.

Cheese toast is certainly not sinful.  But, what struck me most was how quickly our dedication to the proposition that we should lose weight fell by the boards when we heard the words “cheese toast” even though it was 11:15 p.m. 

Not a word was uttered in support of dietary restraint.  We bounded up the stairs as quickly as we could, toting the toaster oven to the kitchen and grabbing the bread and cheese almost in one smooth, coordinated, motion. 

When sin beckons me, do I really run toward it like we ran to cheese toast?  What if Satan puts something else in front of me so as to tempt me to leave the Lord that I love … will I run to it as fast as I did to cheese toast?

Our culture has done a great job of inoculating us from the actions of Satan.  We think of him as a guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork, certainly nothing that we would be inclined to follow!  But that is not how Scripture talks of him.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8

I have not been in the wilds of Africa to see a lion up close and personal however I  did see a lion in the zoo!  But, when the lion prowls around, I believe that it sneaks up on its prey, saving the roaring for after the kill.

In speaking of the false teachers who were misleading the Corinthian church, Paul says this about Satan:

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

Of course, Satan’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the Church and all that Christ accomplished through His death on the cross.

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you–I, Paul, again and again–but Satan hindered us.”

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

The good news is that Satan is not the victor – He has been defeated by our Lord and Savior Who is more than capable of holding on to us as His people.  Indeed, James put it this way:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

James 4:7

If we resist Satan, he will flee because he understands that the only way we have the power to resist him is through Christ, and our Savior’s power far exceeds that of Satan any day of the week.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen.

Jude 1:24-25

With that benediction I end this post.  Blessings to you, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.  Take heart – cheese toast does not win the day.  We can meet the adversary and sin has no controlling hold on us anymore.  We are still sinners, yes.  But now, through the blood of Jesus Christ, we don’t have to yield to sin – we can resist it through the poser of our Lord and Savior.

Father, I praise Your Name for the gift of salvation through belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I praise Your Name that I am no longer a slave to sin and that through Christ’s power I can resist Satan and claim life with Christ for eternity.  Thank You Lord.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

On our trip to Yellowstone National Park, we visited the Norris Geyser Basin.   According to the information on the park’s signs, the basin is far below the towering peaks of the Gallatin Mountains.  Water accumulates underground.  The basin sits near the Yellowstone Caldera and is at the edge of one of the largest volcanos on our planet – the Yellowstone Volcano.  Heated by the volcano, the water travels upward to erupt from acidic geysers, or to rise from steaming fumaroles (an opening in or near a volcano through which hot, sulfurous gasses emerge), or to simmer in shimmering pools, steaming throughout all kinds of weather.  Names such as Fearless Geyser, Monarch Geyser, Yellow Funnel Spring, Steamboat Geyser, Whirligig Geyser, and Pinwheel Geyser give evidence of the variety of sights available in the Norris Geyser Basin, appropriately described as beautiful and bizzare.

While watching the geysers, I considered that they were rather like an allegory for what anger looks like.    

For example, the White Dome Geyser stands tall and is silent. 

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Until, at some unpredictable time, it erupts.

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Now, I’m certainly not saying that the geyser is angry … but the unpredictability of its eruption is similar to those whose anger can flare up for seemingly no reason.

Of course, we know that the geyser named Old Faithful erupts almost to the minute on its schedule.  No National Park Ranger has to tell it when to erupt – it just does it, day in and day out, on time, on schedule.

Old Faithful could represent the one whose anger erupts over the same trigger, time and time again.  Those around him/her know not to say anything about that trigger in fear that the tantrum could erupt again.

We even saw one vent in a fenced off area of a parking lot.

Yellowstone 083

Steam rising up from underground without an on or off button!  This geyser could represent the one whose anger is just under the surface, whose anger tinges his/her attitudes and reactions even if a full-fledged eruption does not occur.  It is just a matter of time.

Not all geysers shoot high into the heavens.  Some geysers bubble up from under the ground, and they continue bubbling nonstop.

DSC_0114

This could represent the one whose anger is always churning within, whether or not anything is said to others … the anger is seething and boiling up inside in a never-ending tumult of pain.

Anger – it is something that all of us, if we are honest, have experienced and most would likely say they have experienced it often. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”

Long before Emerson said this the Psalmist said:

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Psalm 37:7-8

In the Book of Proverbs, we read Solomon’s words on anger:

“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”

Proverbs 14:29

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” –

Proverbs 15:18

Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,”

Proverbs 22:24

“Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”

Proverbs 27:4

The Apostle Paul said:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Ephesians 4:31

But too often our anger is misplaced, and many times our anger is motived from self-interest, greed or a desire  to control.  I know that I have been angry over the actions of another person and the Holy Spirit immediately brings to mind a time when I had done the same thing to someone else.  In other words, sin in our life is also a cause for anger.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying something along these lines:  “When angry count to ten before you speak.  If very angry, count to one hundred.”

The advice to be reluctant before exercising anger is stated in scripture frequently, with the Apostle Paul saying:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,”

Ephesians 4:26

I suspect that most everyone has heard “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger”.  This is a good statement to newly weds and is a good policy for a positive marital relationship.  But it extends much more broadly to all our relationships. 

However, the first part of Ephesians 4:26 is not quoted as often.  In certain situations, it is appropriate to be angry. Remember Jesus at the temple when he was angry that it had been turned into a “den of thieves”?  Read Mark 11:15-17.  That is appropriate anger, my friend!

Aristotle said:

Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

I suggest to you that anger is frequently sinful and, when harbored continuously, is physically harmful to you.  Eruptions of anger increase blood pressure and all sorts of physical reactions when, in the long run, can cause damager to your body, even disregarding the damage it can cause to relationships, family members, etc.

Take time to consider the geysers and their eruptions, consider which one parallels your emotional make-up, and then consider the scripture that speaks to anger and its management. 

The Holy Spirit will help you because it is the Spirit’s job to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Father, I pray that we would read Your Word and consider whether the anger that we so often experience is a holy anger or if it is motivated by selfish desires, pride, arrogance or any other sin that we have harbored in our hearts.  Let us confess and repent of that sin and live a life that is based on Your Word and empowered by Your Spirit.  In Jesus Name, I pray.

UNITY AND THE BODY

Recently I saw a cartoon based on Deuteronomy 27:6 which reads:

“you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, …”

I then found it on a website of funny Christian jokes:

burnt offering - funny-christian-jokes-christian-humor

The drawing presented this scenario:   A family sitting down to dinner, with heads bowed and hands folded.  Mom and Dad at the ends of the table with Junior on the side between them.  This evening, Junior had been asked to pray.  The expression on the faces of his parents reflects horror when he prays:

“We want to thank you Lord for all that you have given us. In return, I hope you like this burnt offering my Mom prepared for all of us …”

The desire to thank the Lord is wonderful.  The burnt offering analogy is a bit harsh and not at all in the context of what Scripture was directing.

We often see this frequently humorous but still misguided effort from children.  But sometimes we see it duplicated in adults as well. Then, it is not quite so humorous.  

You know, the joke that has too much salt in it not to hurt; the backhanded comment that was not intended for the subject to hear, but they did; the criticism that came from a lack of understanding all the circumstances; and the list could go on and on. 

What do we do then?  Frequently we laugh and shrug it off, as if it did not matter.  But it often does.

Many times, the response is for feelings to get hurt, anger to burst into flames, frustrations fester and relationships can be broken, sometimes irrevocably. While this is indeed unfortunate in our social or work environment, it is heartbreaking when something like this divides the Church.  Not only is it heartbreaking, it is unnecessary.

Hardware Baptist Church established in 1802
Hardware Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia established in 1802

As Christians, we have been touched by the Holy Spirit and He lives within us.  It is His work that convicts us of our sin, teaches us of God’s will, enlightens us as to the Word of God, etc.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.  He is just as much God as is the Father and as is Jesus Christ, the Son. 

How the Holy Spirit indwells each and every Christian is beyond my understanding, but it is a doctrine that I believe and I have experienced His work in my life.  So, while I don’t understand the “how”, I understand the “fact”.

Church with cross in front
Illinois church with cross on their building

Since there is only one Holy Spirit, and since He is within each believer, how come Christians often can’t stand each other?   I submit that it is the natural man coming out … the sin nature that all of us have.  After all, Satan does not want the Church to be successful, to be unified, to be fruitful.  It is his desire that no one hears of Christ, that no one remains resolute in their faith, that no one looks to the Lord on a daily basis. 

Church in snow
 Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in Roanoke, Virginia

Instead, we need to be mindful of Paul’s exhortation that we be unified as Christians. 

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Ephesians 4:1-7

We as Christians are to be one … one in the spirit, one in the Lord.  But, this does not mean that all are identical.  We are, indeed, all sinners saved by grace.  That is to be sure.  But, we are not clones of each other, although we are all in the process of being transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior.  (See Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18) 

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

Rather, the Lord has given each of us varying gifts and talents that are for His use in accomplishing His purpose in the world through us.  Just as our body is not composed of one part, like the lung, neither is the Body of Christ composed of one part, all Christians being the same.  So, there will be differences in worship style, in church buildings, in mission efforts … but the fundamentals are identical – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. 

Just as all the churches pictured above look different and have varying worship styles and languages, if they honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, if they teach from His Word, if they praise His Name, if they baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if they praise and glorify God the Father, then we can call them brothers and sisters in the Lord.  The variety of church styles, worship styles, song styles is immaterial as long as the fundamentals are in place.

Don’t let division among Christians cause any to leave the fellowship, cause the church to split, cause brothers and sisters to go against each other in anger.  Through the power of the Spirit, resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Keep the church, the Body of Christ, unified and healthy.

Blessings to each of you as you walk in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that these words will bear fruit for Your Kingdom.  I pray that the Body of Christ will remain strong and vibrant, that it will grow and bear much fruit for the Lord Jesus Christ.  I pray that Satan will be kept away from our churches so that the doctrine will remain pure, so that the parishioners will remain strong, and so that the church’s witness will proceed to go throughout the land untarnished by division or backbiting among its members.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

The Arlington International Racecourse is located in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  The track officially opened in 1927 with 20,000 people as Jockey Joe Boliero won riding a horse named Luxembourg to victory. 

In 1981 Arlington was the home of the world’s first million-dollar thoroughbred race: The Arlington Million.

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The result of that race is immortalized in bronze at the top of the paddock at Arlington, where a statue shows jockey Bill Shoemaker riding John Henry as the horse charged down the stretch, coming from way back, to catch The Bart at the wire. 

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It was a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the 40 to 1 long shot, and the statue celebrates Thoroughbred racing’s inaugural million dollar race.  The sculpture’s name is “Against  All Odds.”

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The sculpture is captivating; it is mesmerizing.  You can feel the tension, hear the crowd, see the strain and effort of both horse and jockey.  The horse ran the race and, against all odds, became the champion, receiving the victor’s crown at the end.

Running the race is, of course, a paramount objective at Arlington.  It is also a paramount objective of the Christian.  I don’t mean that each of us must go to a race track and run a marathon, sprint, or even a trip around the track’s oval. 

Rather, I am referring to running the race in our witness and daily walk with the Lord.

The Apostle Paul uses the race analogy often in his letters to the churches of his day as an illustration of the dedication and focus the Christian should have in spreading the gospel of Christ.   Consider the following passages:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

2 Timothy 2:5

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Ultimately, Paul says:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7

The horses competing in the race rely on the jockey and their training to carry them through at the race.  They only have their own resources to rely upon, and on that day in 1981, John Henry pulled out the stops and won the race, receiving his crown.  It was a perishable crown, but that is not what the Christian race is all about.  The Christian’s crown will be presented by the Lord Jesus Christ and it will be an imperishable crown. In the words of our Lord:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21

Train yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually for the race that is set before you.  Keep running the race even when it is hard and you are tired.  Remember that you have the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, to guide you and to give you the words to speak as you witness to others of Jesus and His love. 

The race we are in as Christians is not one on which to wager.  Our running is secure in Jesus and through His grace, power and might we will, like Paul, fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to finish the race You have set before me.  I pray, too, that I would keep the faith You have given me and that I would persevere to the end as Your child, through Jesus Christ my Lord and my Redeemer.

IF THOSE WALLS COULD TALK!

Often, when we are driving down the road, I will see an old barn or house, dilapidated and long unused, and I think “what if those walls could talk!”  I wonder what we would learn about the lives lived there, the hopes and dreams that were discussed, the hopes and dreams that were dashed, the laughter of children that rang through the halls, the cries of delight at holidays … what if those walls could talk!

While visiting Vicksburg, Mississippi, we stopped at the Court Square in downtown.  There we saw this plaque which gave the history of the town and its courthouse.  It was as if the walls did talk, at least in very brief terms.

Warren County Courthouse, Court Square plaque Vicksburg MS
Plaque in Court Square, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The plaque reads:

Court Square

When Rev. Newet Vick founded Vicksburg in 1819, he designated this city block as a public square, and after the city was incorporated and became the county seat in 1825, a court house was built on the site: it burned in 1856 and the present structure was erected.  It was here that federal soldiers lowered the confederate flag and raised the union banner on July 4, 1863, and Gen. U. S. Grant reviewed his victorious army.  Many famous Americans have spoken on Court Square, including Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, Booker T. Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt.  The building was abandoned as a court house in 1939 and became a museum on June 3, 1948, under the leadership of Mrs. Eva Whitaker Davis and the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society.

Court Square, clearly, was pivotal to the community and many significant events occurred there throughout the 100 years of its history.  Now the courthouse is a museum where people, like us, can come and see detailed information about what occurred in the area throughout the years.  

What if the walls could talk!  The monument gives us some insight into what the walls of the courthouse might say, but not everything is provided there.  It is just a sample of the highlights.

The writer of Ecclesiastes talks about the variety of events in one’s life and then warns that we should enjoy those things that God gives us, but we should be aware that there will be a judgment. 

“So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

Ecclesiastes 11:8-9

Jesus said:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,”

Matthew 12:36

Some translations of this verse change the word “careless” to “idle” or “empty”.  The meaning is the same, and it is sobering.  We will not hear the highlights of our lives.  Oh no, instead we will hear every careless word that we say … they all will be brought before us when we are being judged before our holy God.  Words that we say in anger, words that we say in jest but which cut like knives, words that we say flippantly without seeing the pain inflicted by the harsh tone, words that we say just to sound important, words spoken about others in the stillness of our home … all the words we speak will be splayed out before God on that day. 

Then, the walls will talk!  Nothing will be hidden … and we will be ashamed.

Praise our Lord and Savior that for those who believe in Jesus through faith in His Word will be covered by His righteousness.  Jesus will, in effect, stand in front of us before God and will blot out those hurtful, wasted words so that we will be unblemished through His righteousness.

Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Rest in His atoning work on the cross of Calvary and in His resurrection from the dead.  Read His Word and confess and repent of your sin, accepting His forgiveness. 

Then, when facing God with our Savior at His side, you will hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Father, I bow in humble thankfulness, gratitude and love, I am in awe of your grace and mercy that was extended to me through Jesus Christ my Savior and Redeemer.  Use these simple words to spread your kingdom in our world, My Lord and my God.

ARE YOU A SOLDIER?

We love to take pictures of courthouses as we travel.  It is understandable since I spent 30 years in the practice of law and was in many courthouses throughout the Southeast United States.

On a visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi, we saw the old Warren County Courthouse and decided to look around.  As we were leaving the courthouse, we saw a plaque in honor of the soldiers from Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi, who fought in World War II.  The poem at the top of the granite block is entitled SOLDIERS and it reads:

We were that which others did not want to be, we went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do.  We were … AMERICAN SOLDIERS.

Monument to american soldiers outside vicksburg old courthouse
Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi 

The word “soldier” brings up many different emotions, memories, experiences to people, but I suspect that for the vast majority of people, the word “soldier” encompasses the concept of one who is willing to deny themselves for the benefit of others.  That is certainly what is within the words on the Warren County monument to  Company B of the 106th Engineer (Combat) Battalion, 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division of the Mississippi National Guard in the 1940s.  

The Apostle Paul was certainly well acquainted with the role that soldiers had in the Roman world.  He, after all, was imprisoned on more than one occasion, and each time there were soldiers who guarded him who undoubtedly heard Paul’s witness for Christ. 

“And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.”

Acts 28:16

Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul used the analogy of being a soldier when referring to serving Christ Jesus in our walk through this life.  Specifically, in 2 Timothy, Paul told the young preacher:

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Being a soldier for Jesus reminds me of a song that I sang as a young child.  It was sung to the tune of The Old Gray Mare and the words went like this: 

I may never march in the infantry;  Ride in the cavalry; .Shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy; But I’m in the Lord’s army! 

Yes Sir!  [with a child’s salute]

The concept of being a soldier is especially strong in my heart today as, this past weekend, one of our congregation’s covenant children and a recent high school graduate left our town and flew to the other side of the world so she could work with a mission organization in Asia. 

She will be in a culture totally foreign to her, away from her family, for a year.  She is, in the truest sense of the term, a soldier for Jesus Christ in a foreign land. 

I pray that the Lord will bless her work and will bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of her witness.  I pray that the Lord will give her peace and comfort as she is away from home for such a long time, and I pray that she will be supported through the prayers of the congregation that she left in our town.  [As a parent, I pray too that the Lord will give grace, comfort and peace to her family who will miss her presence daily.]

But, the fact that she left to do her work in the Lord’s army does not mean that there is no such work for me, or for you, to do.  We are all called to be soldiers for Jesus, no matter if it is in a foreign land or across the street.  To paraphrase the Vicksburg granite monument,

We are called to love those who others would not, we will go where others fear to go, and we will give witness even when others fail to do so.   We are … SOLDIERS OF THE KING. 

Listen to my husband’s favorite hymn as presented by 101 Strings on the album Amazing Grace Songs of Faith and Inspiration, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Father, I praise You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ as our Savior, Redeemer and King.  I pray that I would be a soldier in your army who operates in accordance with your orders, and that I would be fruitful in my witness as I do your work in my world.