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Archive for January, 2010

“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful (II Timothy 2:24).”

Lateley I have been arguing a lot.  Specifically, I have been arguing a lot with my wife and kids.  A lot of these arugments have beeb over nothing.

I could write off my quarrelsome nature to my fatigue and stress, which are great at the moment.  But that would sound like an excuse, which in reality it is.  Indeed, being tired and under pressure  have contributed to my surliness and lack of patience.  However, these are not the key factors contributing to my argumentative stance these days.

I think the key factor that is causing me to fight with my family is my failure to embrace the grace available in Jesus Christ.  His grace should be what I feast on in times like this.  If I did, I would be less quarrelsome and ornery. Life wouldn’t be so draining.  I could trust Jesus instead of trying to figure out how to  gain the resources I need.

Grace would give me strength and dispel my fears. That’s what the apostle Paul told Timothy.  Apparently Timothy had a lot of hardship and encountered a lot of people who wanted to dispute his teaching.  These folks wanted to get on Timothy’s case about minor issues (II Timothy 2:1-3, 14-16). 

Paul told Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead…”.  If  Timothy did this, he would keep perspective and focus on his purpose in life instead of the hardship encountered while fulfilling it.  The lives of  both Jesus and Paul were examples of enduring suffering graciously.  Jesus died on a cross and Paul was put in chains.  Paul didn’t always have the things necessary to live.  However, he considered otherwise profitable things as garbage when compared to knowing Jesus Christ (Phillipians 3:7,8).  This attitude gave Paul the perspective he needed to persevere in his hardship. 

If God has called us to be where we are, then He will give us grace to handle the difficult times. We can strengthen ourselves in Jesus Christ , knowing He will meet our needs while we meet those of others.  We can take the grace Jesus gives us and exhibit it to other people, being kind and gentle instead of argumentative.   We can spread the grace around.

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“I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever;  with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations (Psalm 89:1).”

I recently received advice from an old friend about getting my kids (including a couple who are not kids anymore) to participate in our economic situation at home.  We are all living under the same roof for the first time in years, but as it is with a lot of people in this recession, times are tough for us.

I was laying awake in the wee hours the other night thinking, as I sometimes do.  It occurred to me that perhaps we should start some kind of family business. After all, we have a lot of gifted people amongst us.  Surely we could think of something that would help us make some money. 

But there would be other benefits besides money to our involvement in this enterprise. Something of this kind could really serve to unite us.  Working together on a common project bonds people together.

It’s part of my job as a father to train my family.  Even the adult children under my roof should be able to come to me for counsel.   So this weekend I intend to hold a family meeting and broach this idea of a family business and the need for our family to all pitch in as an economic unit.

There are a lot of benefits for a father who participates in the lives of his children.  If we do our job right, our children  will bring us peace, joy, and even delight (Proverbs 29:3,17).  If we ignore our responsibilities as fathers to train our children, especially in the things of God, we do them a disservice. They will be less likely to curb their human capacity to engage in sin, either ones of commission or those of omission. They will make us and themselves miserable.

The apostle Paul had a relationship with a young man he called his “dear son” (II Timothy 1:2).  They weren’r related, but they had a father-son connection. Paul loved this man Timothy. Because of this, he exhorted the young man to “fan into flame the gift of God”.  (This gift was even imparted to Timothy by Paul!)    Paul charged him to be bold  in his use of this gift (I Timothy 1:4-7).

It’s our job as dads to love and teach our children. Their Christian lives  depend on our willingess to do this. So do the lives of their children, and their children’s children.

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 “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully (Proverbs 28:5).”

A good leader is hard to find.  A leader needs certain qualities to succeed.  For example, they should be competent in their field. 

But competence and skill are not enough.  Good leaders need to be people of character.  If they aren’t, other people will not want to follow them.  The lack of character among leaders is why it is difficult to find good ones.

Who is  the final judge of good character?  Where do we find the standard for it?  For the believer in Jesus Christ, these questions are easy to answer.  God is the final arbiter of good character. And his Word, the Bible, is the manual for deciding what defines it.

Last night our nation’s president gave his State of the Union address to the people of the United States.  It was full of the usual promises and plans for the country’s future.  The one statement I recall, however, is one he made which made me think he is a man of character.

The president was discussing that more and more people are losing their health insurance and facing financial ruin as a result.  The people of America are confused, he said, because the issue of health insurance is complicated and involves a lot of politics.   As he was telling the Congress and his fellow Americans about the causes of the problem, the president’s face changed. He became emotional and said, “I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.”

Whether or not I agreed with his proposals was not the point at that time. It only occurred to me that this man sincerely cares for these peope facing disaster. He truly cares for the poor.

Concern for the poor is a biblical trait of leadership. Proverbs tells us that a leader who abuses the poor is like a storm that wipes away a farmer’s crop.  It expresses a concern that poor people be treated with kindness. The book also says that a person who closes theirs eyes to the plight of the poor will themselves be harmed (Proverbs 28:3,8,27).

Greed is a problem in America. The apostle Paul told Timothy that greed was a source of evil and injured the person possessed by it. He exhorted Timothy, a leader of the church, a “man of God”,  to flee from evil of this nature and pursue righteousness (I Timothy 6:10,11).  Timothy was to be a role model in the area of finances.

One day Jesus Christ will return to rule and reign (I Timothy 6:14,15). In the meantime, we could use some people like Timothy who will make Jesus their leader and follow Him when they lead others.

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True love

” Better is open rebuke than hidden love (Proverbs 27:5).”

As a teacher, it is important to me that the atmosphere in my class is positive. If I am unhappy or my students are sourpusses, then teaching and learning becomes difficult.

It was with this in mind that I went about confronting an issue regarding the atmosphere in a particular class today. I had heard it through the grapevine that a couple of my students weren’t happy.  The reasons were vague, and they had not approached me about their issues.  But with the intelligence I had received, I knew it was only a matter of time before the atmosphere in my class became stale, or worse.

So I walked into class today and wrote the word “complaints” on the board.  The complaints table was open for business. I told them I wanted to hear any complaints they had, that I had got wind that there were some, and I wanted to know what they were.

We had a good discussion that cleared the air.  None of the complaints were earth shattering or horrific, as I expected them to be.  When I left class today, I felt much better about my relationship with those students.

There are some interesting spiritual correlations to my situation in class today.  For example, God wants me to pay attention to the condition of those for whom I am responsible.  At work, my students are my charges, the people God has given to me to minister to on the job, and from a practical perspective, the source of my livelihood. So it was important for me to know and deal with the condition of my little flock (Proverbs 3:22-27).

In my case, I saw a time bomb at work in my class. So it was prudent for me to not ignore the problem. A spiritual man does something when danger is approaching (Proverbs 3:12).

In addition, God wants me to not be afraid to ask for and accept a little advice once in a while.  This is not easy for me. My pride gets in the way.  But if I seek the opinions of others, even negative ones, then I benefit.  The wise man of Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 3:17).” 

My students are in my care. They (or their sponsors) pay good money to get the training they receive.   If I take care of them, then my employer will take care of me and my family (Proverbs 3:18).

I do not easily confront others. Nor do  I care much for criticism.  But it’s interesting that the Bible says that open communication of a corrective nature is better than love that is under wraps.  Maybe it’s because the transparent, mature reproof, characterized by caring and gentleness, is really true love.

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 “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me (Psalm 86:7).”

It  is after 8 pm and I am still at work. It has been an exhausting day.

The day has been filled with technology problems, personal conflicts and stress.  It shouldn’t be over either, because I still have plenty of work to do.  But I will leave it for another day. After all, the Bible does say that it is vain that we rise up early and go late to rest because of our work because He gives us sleep. I could really use some.

After a day like this, how am  I supposed to face tomorrow?  Well, the Bible seems to give some answers. 

Take the issue of personal conflicts for example.  If someone is out to do me dirt, then ultimately their intentions will come to nothing. At least that is what Proverbs tells me (Proverbs 26:2).

I intend to face tomorrow with prayer.  The fellow who wrote Psalm 86 said he was poor and needy (v 1).  I feel the same. The Psalmist provides me with an example because he pleaded with God for assistance. He asked for God to listen to him and to guard him.  He asked God to bring him some joy. He asked for God’s mercy and strength. The Psalmist also asked for a sign of God’s goodness and put his enemies to shame.  ( I could surely use this!) He also asked for help to walk in His truth and unite his heart  to fear Him.

While praying, the Psalmist acknowledged who God is.  He  is forgiving and good. So if I didn’t do my part in my stress today, I can look foward to God’s forgiveness.

There is no one like God. So I can expect Him to come through with mighty deeds.

God loves me and is my deliverer. So I can expect Him to show these attributes on my behalf.

God is also slow to anger, faithful, compassionate  and gracious.  So I can expect Him to take note of my predicament, exercise patience with my failures in these circumstances and take me through them. 

God is surely worthy of praise. I can depend on Him. 

I can keep praying. I guess I am ready to go home now.

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“I will listen to what God the LORD will say; He promises peace to His people, His saints— but let them not return to folly (Psalm 85:8).”

I teach English in an intensive program.  Intensive means the work is highly concentrated in a short amount of time.  This requires a lot of work from both teachers and students.  There is a lot of homework and a lot of tests.

Sometimes I know my students are tired of being tested.  As a teacher I get tired of giving them, and grading them!  But there is something about the intensity of the program they are in that produces language learning quickly, if the students are willing to go along.  They can’t coast and succeed in this school.

At my age I am getting tired of getting tested by the Lord.  But His program for me is analogous to the intensive English curriculum my school implements every day.  As my school has a brief eight weeks to move a student along to a higher level, so God has only our short lifetimes to prepare us for eternity.

There is something about righteousness that does this. The Psalmist says, “Righteousness goes before Him, and prepares the way for His steps (Psalm 85:13)”.  If God is going to be involved in our life pathway, then we have to clean up the road before He takes a walk down it.  We can’t coast and take easy street.  God is aiming for moral excellence in our lives and wants us free from guilt and sin before we take the final step into eternity.

Like a language student, we all begin our intensive program at different levels. Some of us have a long way to go before we gain proficiency.  For others, previous life training puts us further down the road to graduation.  It may not seem fair, but that’s the way it is.

Maybe this is why for some of us, me included, it seems as if God is forever stern with us and life seems hard.  We feel like that when it comes to our relationship with the Lord that we will never “get it”. We just have too  much to learn and we don’t understand the textbook or the teacher.  It is all just too hard. 

We feel this way in our relationships with the Lord because we want to please Him, but we don’t know how.  This is because godliness is a mystery.  At least that’s what the apostle Paul told Timothy. In fact, he said that  the incomprehensible nature of godliness was “beyond all question” (I Timothy 3:16). The story of the ultimate godly person, Jesus Christ illustrated this.  His life is a puzzle that can only be understood through God’s revelation.

If living the Christian life is such a riddle,  then the only way to solve it is to go to the Author for the right answers. We have to quit struggling and allow for (even ask for) God’s power to work in our lives, the same power that worked in the life of Jesus:

“He appeared in a body, 
was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, 
was preached among the nation, was believed on in the world, 
was taken up in glory.”

 It’s a cliche, but for many of us for whom the Christian life has become one big effort-filled battle, we have to “let go and let God”.  This doesn’t mean we give up our own part in the process. We still have to apply what we know about pleasing the Lord, even if it is limited.  

But once we do that, the same power that brought Jesus to Earth, raised Him from the dead, took Him back to heaven and spread His name among the nations is available to us.  Knowing this and living according to this truth should be extremely freeing when it comes to living for the Lord.

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“You will keep in perfect peace  him whose mind is steadfast,  because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal (Isaisah 26:3,4).”

The world is a chaotic place.  I guess I feel that way because I read the news a lot; I’m a news junkie.  One particular place chaos abounds is in politics. When I was overseas I followed American politics religiously.  I pretty much stopped after the last presidential election from fatigue, and once I moved back to America in October, I quit altogether.

My personal life is crazy enough at the moment, what with all the changes, without adding the nuttiness of the political arena to it.  Politics is tailor made for fighting.  The current president rode into power on a wave of popularity, but after one year in office the piranhas are already circling.  It is as if Americans cannot stand it if they are not battling over something.

I suppose I am going through some culture shock in the area of “noise”.  In Finland, the country I just moved from, it is quiet.  The culture values peace.  Loudness in public is not a virtue.  Yet, in the USA we are constantly bombarded with sound. Even now, in the cafe I am in, the speakers are blaring out a jazz tune. The media knows its American audience, and daily screams out the latest conflict.

The apostle Paul valued quietness and peace.  He wrote his disciple Timothy urging that prayer be made for those in authority because he saw that stability at the top made for quiet and peaceful living (I Timothy 2:1,2).  Our culture, especially the media, seems to value infighting and winning at any cost.  Our people pursue money, spirits, overeating, sex, and power.  Perhaps we do all this to avoid facing ourselves as we really are; if we make enough noise in our lives it will drown out the nagging empty feeling in our souls, or the pain.

The Bible warns against pursuing these things.  Money is fleeting. Involvement with booze and abuse of food leads to ruin. Going after illicit sex results in a spiral downward to bad character (Proverbs 23:4-5,20-21,27-29).

What gives permanency,success, good character and fulfillment?  The Bible outlines this, also. It says to passionately pursue God.  It says to trust Him to fill our emptiness. If we want to  go after anything, it should be His wisdom and truth.   (Proverbs 23:15-19). The end result will be a peaceful soul.

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