Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

The Joy of the Holy Spirit

christmas-2017

This is the month, and this the happy morn, Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King, Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring; For so the holy sages once did sing, That he our deadly forfeit should release, And with his Father work us a perpetual peace. —John Milton, from his poem ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’

The word Joy is a much-overused in secular communications around Christmas time.  One sees the word frequently on secular Christmas tree ornaments, gift wrapping paper, greeting cards and the like. Joy is an extremely important word for Christians; it appears frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NIV).

According to one Jesuit explanation of this, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is “an observable behavior in people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to be effective in them.”  With this interpretation, two things become clear.  First, the fruits of the Holy Spirit do not appear automatically once a person accepts Christ as his or her Savior.  To reap the fruits, we must surrender our right to ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.  Secondly, Christian joy is not the same as happiness.  Christian joy can be experienced in the midst of pain and sadness. In fact, James 1:2-3 (NIV) tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He penned this epistle from prison.   Some people confuse joy with happiness.  They are not the same.  Christian joy comes from within, while happiness stems from external sources.  I’m happy when my wife bakes her famous apple pie.  I’m joyful in the knowledge that Christ is my Savior. I can savor Christian joy even in difficult times, just like Paul writing words of encouragement from prison.

I recently visited a friend who is quickly approaching death. He’s the godfather of my children and a friend of over 35 years. While it was sad knowing I probably won’t see him again in this life, it was also joyful to know that he is secure in his salvation through Jesus Christ and we will see each other again in God’s eternal kingdom.  

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. —Luke 2: 10-11

My prayer for you is that you will allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to work in your life. May your heart be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus Christ during this Christmas Season and in the coming New Year!

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. —Christina Rossetti from her poem ‘In the bleak midwinter’

 

 

Who can you trust?

Trust.jpg

In his popular play All’s Well that Ends Well, William Shakespeare said, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  This quote could introduce a number of discussions, but today I want to focus on trust.  The Miriam Webster Dictionary has several definitions of trust.  For this discussion, I’ll focus on the first, which is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Think about this question for a minute and then try to answer. Who can you trust?  I’ll bet you didn’t come up with a long list of people. The fact is that most of the people reading this blog aren’t very trusting. According to polls of American voters, trust in the U.S. Congress is running at near all-time lows, as is trust in many state and local governments. 

Much of this distrust is fueled by the pending insolvency of many so-called “trust funds,” like the Social Security “lock box,” which apparently isn’t locked tight enough to keep the Congress from raiding it and depleting the funds. Then there are numerous similar lock boxes at the state and local levels established to fund the retirements of teachers, firefighters and police. It seems that politicians have raided many of these as well, causing some states and municipalities to renege on their retirement promises to employees. 

Trust in amorous relationships is on the rocks. Social media is awash in “cheater” stories and videos.  Videos about catching cheaters in the act have become a popular form of entertainment. Websites with advice on how to cheat on your significant other without getting caught abound.    

You certainly can’t trust a lot information on the Internet. Internet sexual predators take on false identities to try to lure children into sexual encounters.  Internet news sites (and news outlets in general) are awash in so-called “fake news.”  Comparing the story lines of Fox News (right-leaning) and CNN (left-leaning), for instance, gives two very different views of reality.

You can’t trust advertising, especially when it comes to products like weight loss supplements, miracle cures, and get rich quick schemes.  Environmental news is questionable—global warming advocates and so-called global warming deniers are locked in seemingly mortal combat.  Do you have a financial adviser or auto mechanic you fully trust?  Do you have complete faith in your physician or dentist?  Do you trust the attendants in the nursing home that’s caring for your parent? Do you trust the weather forecaster on your TV? Do you even trust the clergyman in the pulpit?

So amidst all this distrust in the world, who can you trust?  The great entertainer Lawrence Welk, who was better known for Polkas than proverbs, might have said it best when he advised, “Never trust anyone completely but God. Love people, but put your full trust only in God.”  Scripture is full of similar advice (references are taken from the NIV):

Proverbs 3:5-6, 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.

Micah 7:5-6,  Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend.  Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.

1 Peter 2:6, For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

There are many other examples of scripture that speak to trust. The best advice I can provide is to trust in God alone.  Your friends and loved ones will inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you. You can trust me on this! 

Check out this short video – How to trust God.   https://youtu.be/OVDaq-drUh0

Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom

                                  cornucopia-by-edvard-munch

Cornucopia, oil on canvas by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

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And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  –Colossians 3: 15-17 (ESV)

Besides getting senior discounts in restaurants and AARP rates on hotel rooms, one of the benefits I’ve reaped by growing older is developing a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inward, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

As a new Army lieutenant, fresh out of college, I loved the excitement of living a soldier’s life.  I liked going out and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life.

As I got a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I had married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known.  She is also one of the humblest and most generous people I know!

Having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was steered towards God.  Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I can’t help but feel blessed every day. Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows for nearly 40 years.  Our daughters are both grown and successful, we have a wonderful son-in-law, and we’ve been blessed with three adorable grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

This is the day that many Americans pause to give thanks to God for the blessings in their lives.  I urge everyone to take a few moments to consider your blessings and give thanks for your Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom—the  things that truly matter in life.

Count Your Blessings

faucet-with-drinking-water                                            Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

                                                                                                  —Johnson Oatman Jr.

 

Our Daily Bread is one of the daily devotionals I read regularly. A recent piece by David Roper titled Stage by Stage, focuses on the Old Testament book of Numbers 33.  The chapter tells us God commanded Moses to write down the story of the Jews’ 40-year pilgrimage that began with escaping from slavery in Egypt and ultimately took them to the plains of Moab, a strip of land that today is part of Jordan.

Roper speculates that God’s reason for commanding Moses to document this pilgrimage was to allow the Jews to “…retrace that journey in their thoughts and record God’s faithfulness at each location.”  The Seder meal the Jews celebrate to mark the beginning of Passover is closely tied to Numbers 33, which seems to support’s Roper’s argument.  Each course of the Seder meal recalls an event in God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, as told in the book of Exodus.

God is truly faithful and His faithfulness alone is blessing enough—but there are so many additional blessings in our lives if we will simply look for them. Focus determines attitude.  I’m no spring chicken, so I’ve developed a few medical problems over the years, like having four root canals.  What a blessing to have a root canal!  What did people do a hundred years ago?

I could focus on other, more lingering medical problems and quickly become depressed as I grow older.  Instead, I’ve tried to heed the lesson of St. Paul who says in Philippians 4:11 (NIV), “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Focus on the positives in life and you’ll find your blessings. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States and other developed countries in the West, it shouldn’t be difficult to compile a long list of blessings. Think about it!

                                              ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…                                                                             (From “Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848)

During my military career I spent some time in Saudi Arabia. Unless you’ve been there, I could never begin to explain how lacking in personal freedom the average Saudi people are.  Saudi Arabia reminds me how blessed we in the Western World are to simply be free.    

Westerners can turn on a faucet and draw a drink of clear, clean water. This truly is a blessing that most people take for granted.  Serving in Somalia when I was in the Army drove the point home, as I watched Somali workers building a bridge drawing water directly from the muddy Juba River and drinking without disinfecting it. I’m frequently reminded of this blessing when I take a drink of cold water.  

Westerners can walk into a grocery store and find food in abundance that, 200 years ago, would have made the great kings of Europe envious.  Here in my hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D., we even have a Christian ministry called The Banquet that serves free meals to anyone who walks in the door—no questions asked (https://thebanquetsf.org/).  

My family and friends are all blessings to me. Proverbs 5:18 tells men to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (NIV). I’ve been blessed with nearly 40 years of marriage to my wonderful wife who I met when I was 17 years old. We have both been blessed by children and grandchildren.

I have a good number of dear friends, some of whom I’ve known since high school. When I say dear friends, I’m talking about the ones I could easily trust with my money, my house keys, and caring for my children.

One such friend was recently involved in a head on collision.  He was banged up pretty badly, but I’m blessed to still have him around. I have a couple of friends who have died.  I was blessed to have had them in my life. I have another friend who has been blind for life; he taught me what a blessing it is to simply be able to see.

Comedian and actor Bill Murray recently received the Mark Twain Award for humor from the Kennedy Center.  He grew quite emotional during his acceptance speech and closed by saying to the ceremony attendees:  “Look at each other. Look at who we are. Look at how we are all together here right now. Alive! That’s pretty good, right?”

Bill Murray gets it! Do you?

“Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

                                                                                                                          –Psalm 40:5 (NIV)