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Archive for March, 2010

 “Great are the works of the LORD;  they are pondered by all who delight in them (Psalm 111:2).”

I recently moved to a beautiful part of the United States.  Southwest Virginia is where I spent my childhood, and the mountains, meadows and valley make a deep impression on my soul. 

I tell people that there are not too many other places in the U.S. where I would have moved to from Europe. But when I had the chance to move here, I jumped at it.

Mary Ingles was a settler in the town I live in during the mid 18th century.  She was captured by hostile Indians and taken to Ohio.  She escaped with an elderly Dutch woman and hiked down rivers and over mountains for hundreds of miles to get back home.

Her true story is fictionalized in the novel “Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom. Towards the end of the book, as she is starving and half dead from exposure, Mary has almost reached her goal.  But she can’t move down the river toward her home because the water is too deep and there is nothing but a steep cliff at the riverbank.  

As she awakes early in the morning, she resolves that she will do the only thing she can.  She will climb the cliff.   

Mary can barely move.  It is difficult for her to rise up from the ground where she has been sleeping and start the climb. Her body is worn and stiff. Mary begins to think of telling this story of her creaky bones to her fellow settlers.  Then she realizes that in her isolation she has forgotten that there are real flesh and blood people who she knows, are like her and speak her language. Her only thought: “Get home!”

Mary begins her climb up the cliff. Forty feet up she looks around and sees the sun rising over the mountains and shining on the cliff above her.  Despite her misery, Mary is entranced by the beauty of the scene, so much so that she begins to experience great emotion and wants to cry.  The scene is so “God-given beautiful” that she becomes even weaker than she is and can barely continue.

I am priveleged to live in the same area where Mary Ingles saw the sun rise over the hills.  Despite my busy-ness and trials this spring, I intend to take time to smell the roses around here.

The exhilirating effect that nature has on a believer is a sign that we know Christ (I John 5:10a).  His creation is a reflection of Him. 

One day I know I’ll get home — to heaven -and see Him in all His beauty.  In the meantime, His creation is the next best thing.

Like Mary Ingles, despite life’s troubles, I can continue my journey here knowing it will be worth it to get home to Jesus. The refrain of an old hymn expresses these sentiments.

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus;
 Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.
 One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
 So bravely run the race till we see Christ.

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“Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice…He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor (Psalm 112:5,9).”

A person who is generous is liberal in giving.  I have known several generous people in my time.

These people have come through for me when I was in a pinch.  They gave in abundance and they did it with an open hand, and without criticism.  Most of the people who come to mind gave money.  There are others, however, who gave of their time to help me out.

I have known other people who have given to me in need, but I wouldn’t call  them generous.  They weren’t warmhearted about it.  There seemed to be a spirit of constraint about them. I appreciated their help, but I didn’t care for  the attitude that was conveyed.

The Scriptures  not only indicates that we Christians should not ignore our needy bretheren, but also note that we ought to have sympathy for them in their suffering (I John3:17).  It’s not enough just to pass out the money.

The recipient of a gift shouldn’t have to wonder about the attitude of the giver.  A coldhearted giver sends mixed signals to their beneficiary. The needy person may need more than just the gift.  They also may need to know there is somone who loves and cares for them.

Those who are the object of gifts given without concern feel humiliated.   In some respects, they feel as if they are in the power of those who are giving to them.  This feeling can lead to apprehension in their relationship with the giver. This ought not to be. 

A relationship between Christians should be characterized by love.  There should be no fear in the mix.  If there is, it is not the love of God which is at work.   Jesus already took our judgment upon Himself.  As a result, we can be confident in God’s presence.   

A person who is not openhanded in spirit and/or judging their brother, even though they may support them financially or in another way, is not reflecting  God’s attitude.  Instead, they are displaying one of obligation and perhaps even arrogance.   It might have been better for the Christian walk of the recipient of their unfriendly giving if they had just kept their help to themselves.

When we give, we ought to reflect God to each other in the process. I hope if I ever have the chance to give in abundance to someone, I will truly display God’s generosity.

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“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Collossians 3:1-4).”

Spring is arriving here in Virginia.  I hear it’s beautiful this time of year.  Spring is a time of life, but somehow for me I feel this year it will  be a time of death.

I don’t mean that I think I will be dying physically this spring.  My meaning is that this spring will be more of a time in which I die to myself.

Alan Seeger was a poet who died in World War I on the battlefield.  He apparently looked forward to a glorious physical death, and did not fear it.  He wrote a poem along those lines. 

I Have A Rendezvous With Death by Alan Seeger

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

This spring I am engrossed in all kinds of battles, it seems.  For example, I am working overtime until the middle of May.There are a lot of other pressures bearing down on me as well.  Life feels like one big battlefield.  I probably will miss the beauty that is spring here in Virginia because of my busy-ness. 
I am disappointed with my current life, but in the long run I think it is necessary.  I need to bring into reality the truth that in fact I am already dead. 
A preacher at church spoke of this last night.  He said that we have died with Christ (Galatians 2:20).  As an English teacher, I know the meaning of the grammar here.  It is present perfect tense.  The action of dying with Christ took place in the past, but its effect continues up until now.
The reality according to this preacher is that I am dead, and Jesus is alive in me instead.  He said this brings a lot of freedom because we need not care what people think of us.  Since we are dead, who cares?  They can’t do anything to us because we are in the grave.
My rendevous with death this spring is necessary because I keep trying to hang on to my life.  I am like one of the guys in the old movie “Weekend with Bernie”.  In this movie, some fellows carry around a corpse of a guy named Bernie, pretending he is alive, so they can enjoy the pleasures of his beach home. I am pretending I am still alive, trying to hang onto my life, when it reality I am already dead.
I think God is trying to prove my death status to me on the battlefield this spring.   The pressures of life are forcing me to realize that if I’m already dead, I need not fear the battle, but can trust Jesus to carry me through the minefields as He lives His life through me. 
His goal it appears  is to get my mind off my self and on to Him and His purposes. 

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“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness (Matthew 25:23)’!”

I would never get my theology from a TV drama, but sometimes their writers get it right. The rest of the show may be filled with language, violence or sexual situations, but occasionally there is a grain of truth in a storyline or dialogue.

Such is the case with the medical drama “House”.  In a recent episode, two members of Dr. House’s team are talking about marriage while diagnosing a patient.  Dr. Foreman and Dr. Taub are discussing the insecurity of the latter’s wife.  Taub is asking his fellow what he should do.
 
Dr Foreman : “So your wife is a little insecure. Is that so bad? At least you know she still cares.”
 
Taub: “I know she cares. What I want is for her to be happy.”
 
Dr gives him a smug look.

Dr. Taub sees the glance and says,”What?  You don’t think I want my wife to be happy?”
 
Dr. Foreman: “Sure. As long as it makes you happy.”

Ouch!  There is an old proverb that says, “If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy”.  I suppose a lot of us are trying to make our wives happy for the sake of our own peace.  We may truthfully want to make our wives to be happy, but our main priority in the effort is our own  contentment. That’s pretty selfish. 

Marriage does involve sacrifice.  We indeed may have to give up our own desires in an effort to make them happy.  Seeking another’s happiness is one of those things that makes a great desire, but a lousy goal. Any goal that involves the response of someone else is a poor one because we have no control over them.  However, we can still try to fulfill our desire to make our spouses happy.  

Is happiness even an appropriate desire for a Christian?  It may not be the highest priority to God that we be happy in this life, but He doesn’t seem to have anything against it.  In fact, He wants us to he happy.  Indeed,  His Word seems to indicate that any true happiness in this life  is a result of our relationship with Him (Psalm 68:3; Psalm 113:9; Ecclesiastes 5:19).

While it is important to do our best to make our spouses happy, what is more crucial is that we make God happy.  The only way we will be truly happy is if we share in His.  Therefore, the best thing we can do to make our loved ones happy is to be an encouragement in their own relationships with God.

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But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (I John 1:7).”

It’s a terrible thing to be alone in your struggles.  Life is full of them, and for some of us, we seem to get more  than our fair share of strife, trouble and woe. 

Members of my family and I have known isolation.  One reason for this is because  we have moved numerous times in the last several years.  I’m not in the military service, but our lives are somewhat similar in terms of being transients.

Another reason for our isolation, and more painful, is that a good many people are cold.  People just don’t care for each other.  This might be due to everyone being too absorbed in their own problems to reach out, or it could be due to plain old selfishness.  I don’t know. 

In our last stop in Finland we were pretty much isolated.  I didn’t do much to get out of our hole, but my wife did.  She befriended lonely international students and invited them into our home.  I admire her for that.

I have never understood the Psalmist words when he said, “I believed; therefore I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’ (Psalm 116:10).  My lack of comprehension stems from my failure to understand until l recently that there is a cause and effect relationship between believing in God and suffering.  The result of putting our faith in Christ will be suffering.

Isolation has been one of the crosses we bear in our family.  There have been moments of relief, however: E-mails andd phone calls from best friends; the Finnish-American woman in Finland who befriended my wife and kids; the Christian couple we have known for a lifetime inviting us to their beautiful home and helping us move; one of the pastors and his wife in our new church going out of their way to give us assistance. 

While E-mails and phone calls are nice, having relationships with  flesh and blood people is the best way to break out of a lonely life.  Having physically present friends we can depend on is essential to our emotional well being.  These can only be found locally (Proverbs 27:19,10).

You don’t have to lack friends to be lonely.  We can be alone in our own homes because of bad relationships there.  It is better to fix them than to run from the problems , which I have admittedly done (Proverbs 27:8).

The apostle John could tell other people about the real Jesus because he knew Him as a friend.  He had seen, heard and touched Him.  While other people he talked to may not have had the privelege to know Jesus personally, having fellowship with John was the next best thing in this life. (I John 1:1-3).

As a kid I read “Superman” comic books. When he wanted to be alone, he went to some place up in the Arctic to his “Fortress of Solitude”.  By nature I like to be alone. I prefer it.  However, too much solitude is not healthy. I have made my own Fortress of Solitude my permanent home.  It’s a dark place.

For the sake of myself, my marriage and my kids I want to turn the Fortress of Solitude  into a vacation spot and build a lasting home full of light.  The lonely darkness only breeds sin and lack of perspective.  As a foundation to this news home, I have to include other people.  I intend to be selective, however, as to who I let into my inner circle.   They have to have been with Jesus.

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No more nods at God

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (II Corinthians 4:8-12) .”

I’ve been reminded recently of the TV shows that I watched as a kid.  There was “Cactus Joe”, “Huckleberry Hound” and “Leave It to Beaver”.

This morning I walked into Starbucks and the older guy behind the counter reminded me of a seedy show all the young boys would tune in to in order to catch a glimpse of the starlet on the program.  I never really watched that show (really!), but I do recall that it was somewhat juvenile.  It was the forerunner I believe of today’s reality shows.

It was 6 am when I walked into the coffee shop, and it was manned by two guys.  That’s unusual because the staff is mostly women.  So I joked with them that the “manly” crew was running things.

I was trying to be humorous, but our lives are  truly a reality program.  We are out there early trying to support ourselves and our families. So are a lot of women, but in my old-fashioned view, I suppose, it is mainly the male’s responsibility to put food on the table.

I could whine about the hard work (and I do), but I am finally gaining some perspective in my middle age.  What I am learning is that God wants me to grow up and be a man. 

As one of my old college buddies told me right after he graduated, work is “work”.  It is “dog eat dog” out there.  However, I am beginning to think that God keeps putting me in these hard jobs so He can show Himself mighty on my behalf. 

My usual modus operandi over the course of my life is to give a nod at God and then go about saving myself on the job.  In doing this I short circuit God’s salvation. 

The Psalmist described a situation where he was oppressed on every side.  When I read his poem I don’t see references to “I did this” and “I did that”.  The Psalm is filled with statements of God’s love, presence and enablement.  The final result was victory over his difficult circumstances, and praise to God for His might.  Oh, the Psalmist also took the time to thank  God for His goodness.  No more quick nods (Psalm 118:1-29).

I am a slow learner, but that’s ok.  The apostle Peter had to write two letters to his brethren to get them to think right .  God is patient with me and not in a hurry to get His message across (II Peter 3:1,9).

It’s not too late for a man to have courage.  I’m not talking about the kind of bravery demonstrated by Hollywood actors in action flicks.  The type of courage I am referring to is characterized by a trust in God which brings strength and victory in the midst of overwhelming odds.

In my reality show, there should be no juvenile behavior.  My actions ought to be ones that sacrifice for the sake of others and bring glory to God.

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“…the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials…(II Peter 2:9).”

There’s an article in the news today about keeping happy and healthy on the job. It gives practical advice such as drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration, spicing up your desk with photos of  loved ones and emergency equipment such as nail clippers, and doing stretching exercises.

The article  offered some good advice on maintaining physical and emotional well being at work.  But what about keeping spiritually healthy and happy at work?

Any time we deal with people, we are facing the possibility of spiritual warfare.  We are all a fallen race and many are looking out for number one.  Just yesterday I encountered some situations where people were either denigrating me behind my back or patronizing me.

We should be under no illusions concerning what we Christians will meet with when we encounter unrighteous people on the job.  The apostle Peter reminded his readers of the abuse Noah and Lot took living and working with the ungodly (II Peter 2:5-8). 

Peter describes such people as arrogant and ignorant.  They despise authority. They act like animals.  They’re not even afraid to attack the characters of heavenly beings, so what makes us think they will keep their mouths shut when it comes to us (II Peter 2:10-12).   

Heaven forbid such a person is the boss!  But wicked people are bosses, too.  Peter suggests that they can inflict unjust suffering (I Peter 2:18-20) and the Psalmist says  that they can persecute us (Psalm 119:161).

It’s good to be aware of what we face every day at work. But awareness is only part of maintaining one’s sanity in the office.  Just as a physically and emotionally well worker maintains his work space and body in the office, there are some practical things we can do to keep our spirits fit.

The primary thing we can do to keep sane in the office among ungodly people is to follow God’s Word ourselves.  Bosses may harangue us, but we’re to shake in our boots over the Scriptures, not their rebukes (Psalm 119:61). By following God’s Word, we can become godly ourselves and learn to be kind and loving to those who abuse us at work (II Peter 1:5-8).

We ought to respect others we work with (I Peter 1:17,18).  We shouldn’t retaliate when we aren’t respected in kind.  Instead, we need to submit ourselves to God and trust Him in the midst of suffering on the job (I Peter 1:19-23).

A little humility goes a long way.  In my own annoyance yesterday, I realized there was some truth to the content of the attacks leveled against me.  I can always improve in my weak areas, and that’s what I aim to do; in fact, that’s all I can do.  The rest I have to leave in God’s hand.

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