Friday, October 4, 2019

How to Be Like Jesus

Scripture sometimes seems like double-talk. For instance, in Romans, Paul goes on and on about how he does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he wants to do (Romans 7:15-25). What is he saying? It’s the story of life. He has regrets. He has failed to live the perfect Christian life. And so have we.

However, in the same book, Paul gives the antidote to sin: Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” (Romans 8:37-39). Jesus died so that our sins are forgiven, and He gives us the Holy Spirit to stand guard over our hearts so that we do not sin.

Now before we excuse ourselves from applying this because we are good people who are doing just fine, consider God’s definition of sin: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

·       Haughty eyes. That’s pride. Do we “pride” ourselves on having all the answers? Do we think we know more than everyone else? Do we think we have a corner on truth? Do we even hear what others are saying?

·       A lying tongue. Are we scrupulously honest on our income tax? With our spouses? With purchases? With relationships?

·       Hands that shed innocent blood. We may not “kill” literally, but how about killing someone’s reputation through gossip? Do we ever share something, even in a prayer request, that makes someone else look bad?

·       A heart that devises wicked schemes. Remember Ananias and Sapphira who said they were donating all they received from selling a piece of land, yet they held some back for themselves? The Lord took their lives. Seems like harsh consequences for a little white lie. Actions have consequences.

·       Feet that are quick to rush into evil. We certainly hope we are not guilty of this; through scripture we have a firm grasp on what evil is. But our society is fraught with concepts that call evil good. One example: Abortion for convenience.

·       A false witness. Here again, this may refer to gossip, to saying something about someone else that is not 100 per cent true.

·       A person who causes conflict in the community. Do we cause conflict in the church community? Just asking. Do we squelch honest discussion? Are we more concerned with getting “our” way of doing things than with the good of the congregation?

These are serious sins that get us into serious trouble. Yet we so easily slip up. What is the answer? Let the light of Christ shine through your life. The Holy Spirit is not shy about convicting us of our shortcomings, but He also turns away from hardened hearts. So keep short accounts with Him. Listen to His whispers.

Our biggest problem may be that we sometimes spill words all over ourselves. We prattle on about things of which we have no knowledge or have no business discussing. It’s someone else’s story to tell. Remember, like the California wildfires, the tongue can do great damage.

Invite Christ into your life, then live the way Jesus lived. He said, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29)

Pray about everything, think before you speak and let the light of God’s Word—both the written and the Living Word--guide your behavior. Like Jesus, always do what pleases God.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: Everyday Brave

To write Everyday Brave: Living Courageously as a Woman of Faith Janet Thompson invited her Facebook audience to tell about the bravest thing they’ve ever done. She then added those stories to stories of 50 Bible women to give us a book that echoes our own stories. Who hasn’t had to wrestle up the courage to obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting, to forgive an abuser, to love unconditionally, to hike the Grand Canyon? Maybe we didn’t think of our actions as being brave, but they required courage.

Chapter titles include “Brave Waiting,” “Brave Discernment,” “Brave Trust” and “Brave in Rejection.” On these pages, you’ll meet both famous and ordinary, even unnamed, Bible women with lessons drawn from their lives. For instance, did you know scholars believe Phoebe carried Paul’s letter to Rome, the letter that included “the Roman road to salvation”? Did you ever consider what Abishag may have given up to become David’s concubine in his old age? I liked the insight the author’s study brought to the biblical stories.

And along with Bible women, you’ll meet fellow travelers on this road of life who offer hope and courage to face your own fears—Nancy, Terri, Yuri, to name just a few. Thompson’s writing is clear and challenging. In “Brave in Business” she writes “It takes great courage to do right in a world legalizing wrong, but there is no right way to do the wrong thing. You’ll never regret choosing God’s way.”

I liked the book’s short chapters ending with “Getting Your Brave On” discussion questions that can be used personally or with a group.   Each chapter opens with an appropriate quote and a scripture verse. Back matter includes a short guide for leading small groups or book clubs, a prayer and praise journal, notes and information about the author’s “About His Work” ministry.

This is a great book for personal reflection, gift giving or group study. Everyday Brave will certainly help you “get your brave on” and step out in faith to face life’s challenging situations.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Who Are You?

As I walked into a fitting room, a woman exited a booth on the left and moved to an end booth. She turned around, facing the door, and started picking through a cart of clothes. I went into the booth she exited and found four walls with two hooks. Period. No bench. No chair. Nowhere to put the clothes I would be taking off or the shirts I had draped over my arm that were not on hangers. Where would I set my purse?

I looked out and said to the woman sorting through the cart, “Is there no booth with benches?”

“Oh,” she said, “this one has a bench; I’m finished here. Use this one.”

So I did. When I came out, she was coming out of the first booth I had entered, so I asked if I could just leave my extra clothes there on a rack. She said, “Just put them on the end.” Then I asked if I could leave the folded items on her cart, assuming she was sorting clothes to return to the racks. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t work here.”

I was dumbfounded. I assumed she was an employee. I profusely apologized, of course. I said, “You gave up that booth for me. You are so nice!” “Sure,” she said, “I am nice to people who are nice to me.” She told me to just leave the folded clothes on a little bench, and after thanking her again, I went on my way.

I had mistaken her identity.

I just saw the movie “Overcomer,” and it’s all about who we are in Christ. Sometimes we don’t just mistake another’s identity, we forget our own. In the movie, Priscilla Shirer, playing the role of a high school principal, led the lead character to Christ. Then she told her to go home and read Ephesians 1 and 2 and list all the things she learns she is. It shows the teenage girl making a list.

Don’t mistake your own identity. You are:

·       Chosen by God. I was always picked last for recess teams in elementary school because I wasn’t very physically adept. That hurt. But God has chosen me to be part of His family. What a privilege! I belong. You belong. We need never again feel rejected by any person or group. “For he chose us in him . . . to be holy and blameless.” Ephesians 1:4

·       Forgiven. I have regrets. We’ve all made mistakes, done wrong things. We have offended others and possibly abused our power somewhere along the way. We’ve certainly offended God in one way or another. But with Christ’s death on the cross, we are forgiven. No sin is too ugly. No wrong is too great. God forgives us—if we ask His forgiveness through Christ. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Ephesians 1:7

·       Given grace. God offers grace through every situation of life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Look at the survivors around you. Ask them how God has been faithful in the most trying situations. “In accordance with the riches of God’s grace . . . .” Ephesians 1:7

·       Given God’s Spirit of wisdom and revelation. With the Holy Spirit in our lives, He serves as our Counselor and Friend. He comforts, guides and informs our lives. After my devotional time, I sometimes write a note to myself from God. I start “Dear Shirley,” then I write what I feel I’ve drawn from my time of Bible reading and prayer. Yes, I realize what I write may be my own earthy thoughts. But I do believe if we are serious about our relationship with God, He is serious about touching our lives, guiding us, in the here and now. Try it. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Ephesians 1:17

·       Created to do good works. We are not just pretty faces. God has a purpose for our lives. Whether it’s to our family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances or just people we meet along life’s way, there’s a way for us to brighten their corner. Shine that light. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 1:10

Ephesians was written at a time when commerce flourished as silversmiths sold images of the Roman goddess Diana while Christians faced harsh persecution. Paul wrote to remind the Ephesians that they may not be rich in the eyes of the world but they have spiritual riches in Christ.

I just got my Real ID. It has a gold star on the corner that allows me to enter federal buildings and go through airport security. But more important is our Real Heavenly Identity, which means God walks with us on this earth and assures us of a place in eternity.

Read Ephesians 1 and 2, and then praise God for His goodness to us!

Friday, August 23, 2019

I AM For You

I do not have answers for all the problems of those who read or hear my words. While I’ve experienced sorrow and suffering, I’ve not experienced the heartache or heartbreak that some in my audience have lived through. So why even try to relieve their distress?
            I read a verse in Isaiah with a footnote that put things into perspective. In discussing how God described Himself to Moses as “I AM,” David Wilkerson was quoted as saying: “God asked, ‘What do you need? Deliverance? Then I AM deliverance? I am whatever you need. . . . .’”                  Now that may seem glib, a pat answer. But I believe it’s true. What do you need? Patience to care for a handicapped child? I AM growing that patience within you. Strength to approach a coworker about a problem? I AM filling you with courage. Perseverance to live with a disability? I AM making a way for you day by day. New ideas about what to make for supper? I AM a Creative God Who gives you ideas to jazz up recipes.
            Look at living examples: Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic when she dove into the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck at the age of 16. Can you even imagine? She was an active teenager who loved horseback riding and painting! Now she could not balance on a horse or hold a paintbrush. So she learned to paint by holding a brush between her teeth. And she has become one of God’s most faithful servants, ministering around the world as Joni and Friends. Joni found the great I AM to be her strength.
            Look around your church for local examples of how God is faithful to a grieving widow, someone suffering from a terminal illness, someone surviving an accident. You need not look far to find someone whose life has been blessed by the worst of circumstances. They have found I AM to be their strength.
            So if God were to ask you: How can I help you? What would you say? “My husband has been unfaithful, and I can’t forgive Him.” God would say, “I AM forgiveness. On the cross, I asked forgiveness for those who put me there.” Would you say, “I need wisdom to solve this problem”? God would say, “I AM wisdom.”
We think life’s issues are the problem, but actually every issue can draw us closer to the Great I AM. As I search scripture I discover Jesus’ pattern of living. He went out early to be alone and pray. He prayed over food. He prayed over illness. He prayed and prayed and prayed. AM I as prayerful?
            Jesus walked in daily obedience to His Father. Do I? Or do I let the “emotion of the hour” lead me down destructive pathways? Do I cry out to God for help when I feel impatient or angry or helpless? Do I return good for evil? Do I memorize scripture to fight unhealthy emotions?
            I heard on a game show that we touch our cell phones on an average of 2,617 times a day. How often do we touch our Bibles? Do we touch them even once a day?
            “So do not fear, for I AM with you; do not be dismayed, for I AM your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
            We may need to change our way of thinking to achieve victory over a problem. But remember, God says, “I AM there for you.” “I care about you.” “I AM with you—now. In your distress.” Then consider AM I willing to surrender my life to Him and let Him, rather than circumstances, satisfy me?
            Listen to a Christian song and face the hour in the knowledge that your I AM is always in the present tense.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Book Review: Remember Death--The Surprising Path to Living Hope

According to author Matthew McCullough, we’re a culture in denial of death. We’ve removed death from our doorstep. People now die in hospitals rather than at home. We see ourselves as indispensable. And we avoid talking about the subject of death.

McCullough traces the origin of death from the Garden of Eden where the serpent taunts Eve: “You will not surely die (if you eat the fruit of the forbidden tree).” He lied. She ate, and so we all die. But that story leads to the New Testament story of Christ, who died so that we may have life eternal. “Death is a punishment perfectly fitted to the offense,” McCullough writes. But the gospel redeems and destroys death by offering life eternal.

We need to recognize foreshadows of death in the world around us. Like Ecclesiastes reads, everything has a season—work, pleasure, wealth. Ecclesiastes sets the scene for Jesus: “It sets the context in which the resurrection of Jesus makes sense. It prepares us to see why everything is vain if Jesus is not alive.

If we recognize the shadow of death around us, we appreciate the promise of a deathless world. We live in a stage of impermanence. In time everything changes, nothing lasts—meals, books, shows. All temporary. Time devours. But that need not spoil our appreciation of the good things of life. The best is yet to come.

McCullough writes: “Embracing death-awareness is how we strip away a heart-breaking attachment to the things of this world.” It’s just like love. Some might say that it’s better not to love because your heart may be broken. We miss out so much with such an attitude.

Consider everything in this world as an appetizer and see problems as momentary in light of eternity. That puts death in perspective.

The book ends with an index and a scripture index. I appreciated the author’s perspective. I keep putting off things I could do to better prepare for death because I really don’t want to think about it. But McCullough is right. The death rate is 100 percent, so we better be ready. A thoughtful read.