Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category

Follow me!

*All Bible quotes are ESV

The motto of the US Infantry is “Follow Me.”  From day one, infantry soldiers are taught to lead. The most effective leaders “lead from the front,” which means leading by personal example. Audie Leon Murphy was a popular Hollywood actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but he was a skinny, baby-faced, five-foot five-inch teenager from Texas when he joined the US Army in 1942. No one could have imagined that this lad would become his country’s most decorated service member of World War II. Time and again, Murphy proved himself fearless under fire. By October 1944, he was a highly decorated combat infantryman fighting in the European campaign. Murphy was given a battle commission to second lieutenant in the same month.

On January 26, 1945 Murphy’s conspicuous bravery would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH). Murphy knew about leading from the front. An excerpt from his MOH citation reads as follows:

2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

Audie Murphy was a selfless, sacrificial leader who always led from the front.  Time and again he put his life on line for his friends and the men he led. Although wounded multiple times, Murphy miraculously survived the war. 

Jesus was the ultimate example of selfless sacrifice and leading from the front. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls his disciples for the first time with the words “follow me.” Immediately they dropped what they were doing and followed him. The call to follow Jesus means now, not later. If you hear him calling, don’t resist.

In Luke 18, a rich young man who had always tried to live a righteous life asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds in verse 22, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man went away very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus restored the sight of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.  Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, once his vision is restored, “followed him (Jesus) on the way.

Mark 9:35 tells us that when Jesus observed his disciples arguing about their personal status in the group of disciples, Jesus told them ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

In John 13, on the night of the Passover feast just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion, he displays a remarkable act of servitude by washing his disciples’ feet. When he is finished, he says to them in verses 14-15, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus calls us to a sacrificial life, placing others before ourselves.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:23

Most important of all, Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary and lived as a man among us, understanding our weaknesses and struggles, so that he could give his life to save us all from our sins and death.

“Since Adam’s sin, mankind had been separated from God, but through Christ’s sacrifice we have been reconciled to the Lord. Jesus is ’the Lamb of God,’—the final and permanent sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under God’s New Covenant he is now the one mediator through whom we can come to God, for God will accept and forgive everyone who professes by word and life their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and depends upon his death as the sacrifice for their personal salvation.” (Source: Bibleforce.net)

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” John Stott

Helping those in need

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. —Proverbs 28:27*

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on US and global economies. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for varying pandemic-related reasons. The food service industry here at home has been hit particularly hard.  Thousands of restaurants have closed, with most having no hope of reopening. The middle class is shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots. History has demonstrated that as the middle class shrinks and the lower class grows, civil unrest often increases.

To survive, many American families have had to dip into retirement savings, placing the future in question.  When savings are exhausted, losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  The ability to pay a big mortgage, something common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of both spouses.  If even one of them loses their job, foreclosure becomes a distinct possibility! To stay afloat they must negotiate with lenders, which in the long run usually means increasing the size of their mortgages and/or tapping into short term savings and retirement accounts. Early retirement withdrawals are usually accompanied by additional fees.

On top of pandemic problems, even before COVID-19 economic globalization had given rise to thousands of large companies that are loyal to neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers, especially blue collar ones, are increasingly being treated like disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table. Highly educated and skilled working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I heard many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This can and must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when those affected are members of the church. Many churches have lost touch with early traditions. The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tell us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Even clearer instruction comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential to serving those in need outside the church.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop outreach ministries. One way for small groups to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in their church’s local area.  Charities are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.  The closest ministry filed for any church is the one inside its doors. The largest ministry field for every church is the one just outside the church doors.   

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. —Proverbs 19:17

*All Bible quotes are ESV.

Do not fear!

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Note: I periodically turn to previous blog entries for content that is relevant today. This entry is based upon an article I wrote in 2015.

Many people today are scared. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America. The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence. Why wouldn’t people be afraid? Many media outlets and politicians survive by instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In the natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Many fear that global warming will cause killer storms, droughts, melting polar ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, we have just just witnessed the rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and death. Many fear the threat of terrorism in the homeland as a result of Afghanistan’s demise. Others fear home grown terrorists. Yet others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, the CORONA-virus Delta variant, and a growing list of drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about wearing masks, riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.  Others fear hackers will disrupt our critical national infrastructure, as we recently saw with the hack on the Colonial pipeline.  There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe. It can all be paralyzing.

Do not fear.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from them culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important: ” But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may paralyzed by a fearful nature, facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 10-12 (ESV)

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Messy Christianity

Soup Kitchen

Many Christians love their big, opulent church buildings. They can be quite impressive, especially older ones that are massive relics of past centuries. Standing inside a pristine, beautifully ornamented Gothic cathedral can certainly give one a sense of awe. They’re a wonderful place in which to worship God.

The entire world was recently shaken by images of the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral on fire in Paris. Notre Dame is now closed for who knows how long, as the French government and people begin the long process of rebuilding. The church building is a mess.

Christianity is a messy business—in many ways messier than the scorched interior of Notre Dame.  In John 14:12, Jesus tells us, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”  Acts 10:38 tells us Jesus “went around going good.” As Christ’s disciples, we are to follow his example of doing good. Good works are not a condition for salvation. Salvation is a free gift for those who put their faith in Christ. But as the Book of James tells us, works are a manifestation of Christ’s love that is in those who put their faith in Him. 

We are to follow Christ’s example.  Matthew 9:35-38 says:

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus is the Lord of the harvest. The harvest he is speaking about has many faces including the sick and suffering, people in trouble, those who don’t know Christ and many others. They all need caring, compassionate Christ-believers who care about the wandering sheep.

Unfortunately, many Christians are too comfortable in the places where they currently are in their faith journey; perhaps they attend church regularly, give money to the church; and participate in church social events. They enjoy this and aren’t eager for change. People in this condition can find it difficult to reach out to the sheep of Jesus’ flock. In his video series on the Good Samaritan, Christian author Rev. John Ortberg likens this to someone sitting on a comfortable bench in a beautiful park—a place one doesn’t want to move from.

Christians who find themselves in such a comfortable condition today but recognize the need for change can rise from their bench in small steps.  It might mean spending a weekend working on a church project with a group of volunteers, inviting a new family on the block over for dinner, visiting a church member in a hospital or nursing home, or leading a Bible study. Taking such baby steps isn’t very messy, but it helps prepare one for Christ’s messy work.

Messy Christianity requires getting one’s hands dirty in both the figurative and literal sense. It’s found in places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, getting involved in helping someone  who is being physically or mentally abused, inviting someone on the down and out into your home for awhile, giving someone in need a loan with no expectation of being repaid, or traveling to distant places to perform mission work such as flood or hurricane relief. It often requires taking personal risks and/or experiencing considerable discomfort.

Early Christians in Rome were noted for fearlessly caring for the sick and diseased. Many non-Christian Romans admired the Christians’ selfless acts. The Western Emperor Constantine the Great decriminalized Christianity in 313 AD by issuing the Edict of Milan.  Ten years later Christianity became the official religion of Rome. This occurred through a different kind of revolution marked not by violence and warfare, but by countless acts of Christian love, charity and sacrifice.

The Rev. Ken R. Klaus, Pastor Emeritus of the Lutheran Hour said, “All too often the job of reaching others is left to others. That can be unfortunate. After all, there are times when you may be the best person to reach someone who is lost or wandering.” You don’t have to be an evangelist or great orator to succeed either.  All you need do is open the door for the Holy Spirit to begin His work in another person’s life. Share your joy!”

If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters just inside the harbor, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbor into the great depths of God, and begin to know things for yourself. –Oswald Chambers

*Note: all Bible references are NIV.

Lent: a Season of Penitence and Prayer

Lenten Journey 3

As an Anglican, I follow a Church liturgical calendar, celebrating each of its many seasons.  Very soon the season of Lent will be upon us.  Lent this year is the period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday (March 6th) to Easter Sunday, commemorating Christ’s 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His final journey to Jerusalem, where He was crucified, and His last hours with His disciples before His crucifixion. For believers, it is a period of penitence and alms giving. On Ash Wednesday, many Christians have their foreheads marked with ashes in the sign of the cross.  The ashes are often collected from burning the palm fronds used in the celebration of Psalm Sunday.

The Catholic and Anglican traditions regarding Lent are very similar.  In the Anglican tradition, which I practice, Lent is sometimes called the Paschal season (relating to Passover or Easter). It is a preparation time intimately connected to the most important Festival of the Church year, Easter, which marks Christ’s resurrection from the dead and His victor over sin and death. In celebration of the so-called Easter Triduum, Christians commemorates the passion (suffering), death, and resurrection of Jesus and thus the origin of the all Christian belief and the source of our faith and salvation. So, as Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, Anglicans prepare for 40 days for the encounter with Him in the Easter celebration. Traditionally, the Easter season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, a day we recall Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and having his last meal with them before his crucifixion.  Maundy Thursday reminds believers of their hunger for God by refraining from food and intensifying one’s prayer life and charitable giving. 

In the Orthodox tradition, Lent is an invitation to learn the salvation story  by studying the death and the resurrection of Christ. It is an exercise in which believers partake of suffering and resurrection of the Lord. The cross and resurrection are daily realities: we die every day in all trials of life with Christ, but we experience our resurrection every day when we unite with him in faith and prayer. It is important in the Orthodox tradition to recognize that the cross is symbolic of the resurrection, not death. Fasting during Lent is an exercise of self-restraint, by which believers overcome their physical passions and win true freedom. It helps us to the internalization, especially when we pray. The believers should fast and avoid meat. They should intensify their prayer life and dig deeper into the scriptures than usual.  On Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, many Orthodox churches celebrate an evening service called “liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts”. During these services, no elements are sanctified for the Holy Eucharist.  Instead, the bread and wine sanctified on the precious Sunday are used.  On these days, many Orthodox believers fast until evening.

Protestant denominations observe Lent in a wide variety of ways. Sadly, many traditional Protestant denominations barely observe Lent or the Church Calendar at all.  However, for some, fasting during Lent is a time for reflecting on the essentials of Christianity. The original purpose is to prepare one’s self internally for the coming of Easter. Many Protestants avoid certain things during Lent in a quest to learn the true necessities in life. They may deprive themselves of dependency-related risks such as alcohol, chocolate and other sweets, and even the consumption of social media. The Lenten season is a good time to reorder one’s life—restacking priorities.  

For those readers who have no set way of observing Lent, I urge you to consider adopting a Lenten tradition.  One simple way to begin is to read a daily Lenten devotion.  There are many available on the web, but my favorite is published by Lutheran Hour Ministries.  Beginning March 6 you will be able to find the devotions at this link:  https://www.lhm.org/lent/.

“…special (church) holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.” 
         ― Brian D. McLaren,  Finding our Way Again: The Return of Ancient Practices

 

 

A Balanced Life

Wheel of Life

The wheel of life graphic above is a tool I used a lot in my past life as a Management Consultant. The purpose of the wheel is to illustrate that people need to balance their activities/involvement in the six life areas depicted in the outer ring of the wheel. If any of these areas is neglected or over-indulged, the wheel (and ergo one’s life) becomes out of balance, which can result in a multitude of personal problems.

Looking at the wheel, some might be inclined to argue that it’s impossible to put too much emphasis on one’s spiritual life. However, renowned Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers would disagree.  Chambers said:

 Days set apart for quiet can be a trap, detracting from the need to have daily quiet time with God. That is why we must “pitch our tents” where we will always have quiet times with Him, however noisy our times with the world may be. There are not three levels of spiritual life— worship, waiting, and work. Yet some of us seem to jump like spiritual frogs from worship to waiting, and from waiting to work. God’s idea is that the three should go together as one. They were always together in the life of our Lord and in perfect harmony. It is a discipline that must be developed; it will not happen overnight. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Chambers would agree that days set apart for quiet time, such as for church retreats, spiritual renewal weekends, and even weekly worship services are all good. However, he would caution against letting these become one’s focus for spiritual rejuvenation. These days that are set apart are special times on the “mountain top” when we can see the transfigured Christ in all of his glory. They’re highly spiritual experiences that one hates to see end. 

On the other hand,   Chambers strongly advocates for daily quiet time when one enters God’s “throne room” and learns to commune with God not on the mountain top, but while walking through the demon infested valley below.  Daily quiet time with God is obedience to John 15:4-5 (NIV), which says:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

The website Vibrant Christian Living recommends three secrets to a daily quite time habit:

#1: Do your quiet time first thing in the morning.  With all the distractions in our lives, this can be difficult, but it will pay big dividends.

#2: Start small and let your quiet times with God Grow.  Quite time is a spiritual discipline that can grow in depth as we become more mature in Christ.

#3: Make your quiet time with God about a life rhythm, not a religious schedule. Focus on how to make quiet time a regular part of your ever changing life. Sometimes you’ll fail, but God is quick to forgive when we ask him.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.

Psalm 100:2-4 (NIV)

Taming the Tongue

Politician yelling cartoon

Note:  all Bible quotes are taken from the NIV.

The single most important rule for Christians who are public figures is “behave like Christians.” This is especially true for elected officials, of whom former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was talking about the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity is damaged when politicians claiming to be Christians don’t act like it. Probably the worst examples are ad hominem attacks on political opponents.  Christian politicians would do well to stick to criticizing their opponents’ policies and dispense with character assassination.

Christian politicians needn’t look far for advice; they can simply open their Bibles. Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is great wisdom reminding all Christians that we (including politicians) answer to a higher authority.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the king of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christian politicians would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  They should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many politicians seem to blurt out whatever comes to mind at the moment, without thinking things through. Then they often have to “walk back” their comments, leaving themselves open to criticism of being flip-floppers, liars racists and worse.  One of my former U.S. Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says it even better: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Many politicians are too quick to become angry at comments from their opponents.  Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  Don’t be thin skinned!  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

I offer all politicians a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Politicians may do as they please for now, but there will ultimately be a day of reckoning.