Thursday, September 8, 2016

Rejected but loving anyway

I don't know about you, but sometimes I'm not very smart regarding relationships. There are times when I need to focus on what I am doing just a little more, perhaps be a little more aware than I am. Most likely all of us at sometime uses our time poorly and perhaps relate to others in less than appreciated ways.

A friend, Tom, told me that recently they had one of their young grand daughters visiting. She got a Barbie Doll and was playing with it on the floor. He being a good grandfather, got down on the floor with her and tried to show some interest in what she was doing. After a few minutes she looked at him and said, “Grandpa, don't you have somewhere else you can play?” Wow! That's pretty blunt, but she made it clear that she knew what she intended to do and didn't want him interfering.

How do you help someone who doesn't want to be helped? How do you share with someone who doesn't want your input? How do you love someone who doesn't want to be loved? Jesus had that problem though he understood exactly what people needed. Yet even he couldn't force them to want or except his company, his teaching or his love.

Jesus understood this completely and warned his followers in Luke 9:22, “The Son of Man must suffer a great deal and be rejected by the elders, the high priests and the scribes. Then he must be killed, but on the third day he will be raised.”

In Matthew 23:37 Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones to death those who have been sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.”

Rejected! How do you deal with being rejected? That's one of our greatest fears isn't it? Why don't we get more involved in people's lives? Why aren’t we more open in telling others about the Gospel message? It's not that we fear folks will harm or kill us (for the most part), it's that we fear they may reject us and our message isn't it? Should that stop us from sharing, from trying to be involved in the lives of other folks? Of course not… It didn't stop Tom from loving that grand daughter and it didn't stop Jesus from loving this world. What about you?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Egg

In a land beyond the ocean in a country far, far away lived a man. He lived a life normal for his small village, working, farming, raising a family, just living life. He was surrounded by beliefs that many of us would find strange. Although he worshiped a higher power, a creator, he was surrounded by those who practiced witchcraft, casting evil spells and controlling people’s lives.

As time passed some missionaries came to this land and taught people about a man named Jesus. Many believed, yet at the same time, many did not. The Witch doctors were of course very unhappy as they made their living selling spells, potions and talismans to the people. Those who turned to follow Jesus rejected witchcraft, so there was a constant conflict among them.

The man in our story came to follow Jesus, he began to practice Christianity. The man’s wife was a believer in witchcraft and opposed her husbands continually and it was a serious problem between them. It was so much of a problem that she couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to take drastic action. She went to the Witchdoctor and asked for a way to change or kill her husband.

The Witchdoctor had the perfect plan; he went to the man’s house while he was working in the fields and placed an egg before the door of the house. He made a special incantation over the egg and sprinkled it with a supposed “magic” powder. When the Christian man looked at the egg it was supposed to make him sick and cause him to die.

When the Christian man arrived home he saw the egg and knew just what it was. He noticed all of his neighbors watching from their doorways and wondering what he would do. To the man it was a test of his new faith; he no longer believed that Witchcraft had any power over him, so he decided to prove that point. He walked up to the egg and proclaimed loudly, “Look at this, God has blessed me with an egg for my supper”. He went into his home, gathered a pan and things to make a fire. He came out and made a fire in front of his house and cooked the egg and ate it to the amazement of all of his neighbors. It was his testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Now you may think that this is an interesting story, but just a story. But it is not! It is a true story that really happened in a small village in Kenya, East Africa. I have been to the house of the man, I have worshiped at the church he began in his village, I have met his wife who was then a believer also.

What is your testimony? What does the world think of when they see you? Does your faith show though in the way you live, the things you say, the way you dress, the faith you exhibit in your actions? Jesus put it in simple terms for us in Matthew 5:15-16 where he said, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. How are you doing?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Donuts and life

Wow, I just got some good news! Well, may be not “good,” for me physically, perhaps interesting would be a better word. I was reading one of my favorite medical reports (which I have found to be very informative and trustworthy) and found a way to justify my oft denied craving for Crispy Cream donuts. The report said that they have found that there is more sugar in a Starbucks Frapachino than in a Crispy Cream donut… So, now I can justify myself in skipping Starbucks and instead picking up a Crispy Cream donut with chocolate icing!
OK, I’ll continue to skip the donuts, but I still like them and really could feel more justified in eating one (or two) now. Isn’t it strange how our minds work? I have often said in considering life, that I can find a way to justify just about anything I want. Think about it, the “New Car” commercials on television plant the idea that it would just be great to have a new car. Suddenly you start hearing noises when you drive. You notice that the paint is a little more faded and scratched than you had thought. The tires are going to have to be replaced soon and there are some other repairs that you have been putting off, so why not start dreaming about the new car. Then before long the dream becomes a passion and soon you are the owner of a new car (and new car payments).

Now the same is true of furniture, appliances or even your house. For some folks it is even their spouse or families that they begin finding reasons to replace. Some even decide that their lives need some changing (and not necessarily for the better). They decide to find out about all the world is trying for fun, excitement and simulation. They become involved in drinking, gambling and perhaps even sexual relationships outside of the marriage covenant.

Now the world says this is great, they say: “try new things,” “live your life anyway you want,” “don’t let old moral views hold you back,” perhaps even “Crispy Cream donuts are good for you”. Yet, the apostle Peter warned 2000 years ago, “Be serious and keep watch; the Evil One, who is against you, goes about like a lion with open mouth in search of food; Do not give way to him but be strong in your faith, in the knowledge that your brothers who are in the world undergo the same troubles. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

So where does this leave us? How do we deal with this issue? King Solomon gave us an answer a couple of centuries ago when he said: “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”. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Well having said all that, I think I’ll head over for a Crispy Cream donut… well maybe not!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Scratching it out

A minister was sitting at the kitchen table working at writing a sermon. His young daughter came in and asked what he was doing. He said, “I'm writing a sermon for this coming Sunday morning.” The daughter asked, “How do you know what to write?” He replied, “The Spirit leads me as I write the words.” She thought for a moment and said, “If the Spirit is leading you, why are you scratching out so much of it?”

Now the scripture does indicate that the Spirit will help guide us if we open ourselves up to God. Paul writes in Romans 8:14, “for all who are led by God's Spirit are God's Children”. He also mentions in Galatians 5:18 that, “...if you are being led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

I'm afraid we forget it far too often, but we really should understand that when we become Christians we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “Peter answered them,Every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift.” (Acts 2:38).

The obvious question then is, “How does the Spirit lead us today?” We are led by the word of God in conjunction with the Spirit who dwells in us. The apostle Paul shared these thoughts with us in Ephesians 3:2-6, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus words fills and and leads us as we read the things written by His apostles. It can have an amazing and wonderful effect on our lives and direct our steps if we allow it.

The problem is that many times we “scratch out” the parts we don't like or agree with. In doing some reading “online” I was amazed at the number of people who said we should not believe everything Paul wrote, basically because it went against today's accepted social and moral standards. You tell me, who is right, God or man? What (or who) is going to lead you today. For me, I choose God and His Word!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sharing the story

The our young adults group in our church have asked each of the elders and their wives to come and share the story of their Journey to faith. So we have been taking turns and doing that every few weeks.

Last night was my wife and my night to do this….I didn’t feel that I had much to share, but they asked a lot of questions and drew out more information that I had thought about sharing.

It was a good time to be together and they said they felt that they got to know us on a more personal level now. Hopefully it will help them in their walk of faith.

Often when we talk about “sharing our faith” we seem to classify it as mainly “Witnessing to someone about what God has done to make you follow him”. It doesn’t seem like very often we just share what changed our lives does it?

If I asked you, “Tell me how you met your wife or husband.” Most wouldn’t have a problem doing that. “If I asked you to share what drew you to them to become their spouse you could probably do that too.

What if we approached sharing the Gospel like that? What if, rather than trying to memorize a lot of scripture to try and teach someone we just told them why Jesus was so important to us and how he changed our lives?

Could you do that? Remember the woman at the well in John 4:29- 30, She simply said: “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could He possibly be the Messiah?’  So the people came streaming from the village to see Him.”

This woman didn’t quote scripture, she hadn’t been to a class on evangelism… she just told folk what Jesus had done for her. Could you do the same?

What is your message? What is proclaimed through your life? Do people see that in some way you have been changed and are curious enough to want to find out about that change? You see, before trying to change anyone else, we need to change ourselves and if it is a true change for the good, people will notice and follow.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

I Believe...

In our bible class last night we reviewed my second most favorite (or meaningful to me) verse. It is contained in a narrative in Mark 9:14-30 where Jesus casts a demon out of a young boy. The father is challenged concerning his faith and his response in verse 24 was, “I believe, help thou my unbelief”, or “I do believe, but help me to have a stronger faith.”

One of the reasons this is one of my most favorite passages is that I can identify with those words more than you might suspect. You see, we tend to look at people and form an opinion about them and their faith from a very limited knowledge of them. You consider what you know of me, my ministries, our mission efforts and think, “Russ has it all together, I bet he never worries about anything.” Well, if that's way you think, you would be wrong. It may be true that my wife and I have faced some challenges which you have not. It may be true that we have undertaken works that you would rather not, but that doesn't mean that my faith is unshakable. That may or may not surprise you, but I believe that God places us where he wants us to be and perhaps those places are to challenge, test or strengthen our faith.

You will never know how many times I have prayed, “Lord, I believe, but help me have a stronger faith. Help me have a faith that trusts you more and that let's me give more control of my life to you”. “I believe, help thou my unbelief!

What this passage lets me know is that I'm no different from anyone else. That each of us face Faith Challenges from time to time. You may be struggling with health issues, job issues, personal relationship issues or with faith issues. You maybe looking at this things and thinking, “There is no way I can deal with this by myself.” If you are, then you also identify with that father of 2,000 years ago about who we read, “Straight away the father of the child gave a cry, saying, I have faith; make my feeble faith stronger.” (BBE) Is it time for you to consider your faith and perhaps give up some control, or as they say, “Let go and let God.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Change is inevitable, but not always good.

We live in a world where change is a constant. No matter what area of life to which you look, you will see change, change is inevitable, you can't stop it, but I would suggest that you can control how it affects your life to some degree.

The thing with change is that if it is going on around you, you often don't notice it happening. Having lived in Africa for a number of years we were perhaps more aware of changes in America. These changes were more evident to us when we visited, than those who are living in the midst of them. For example: On one of our furlough trips we stopped at a restaurant while traveling. I went to pay our bill and in front of me were a family with teenage children. The daughter had thong underwear pulled up on her hips and shorts that were worn far too low. Somewhat embarrassed for them I thought, “This must be a poor family, they can't afford clothes that fit their children.” Of course later I found that this was a “fashion statement”.

I realize that I am somewhat “older” than some of you, and maybe I am “behind the times” and an “old fogie,” but I don't see this as a good change.

Not long after returning to live in America we attended a funeral (the first after returning). We dressed in a way we felt was appropriate, you know what they used to call “church clothes.” I wore dress slacks, a tie and jacket and my wife wore a dress. We walked in and were shocked because there were young women there wearing halter tops, short shorts and flip flops. Apparently the “dress with respect” aspect of our society had shifted even more. And again, I don't see this change as a good thing.

Another change I noted is how folks dress in our bible studies and worship assemblies. Now I realize that there are no “clothing guidelines” in the bible, other than to behave decently and modestly and I certainly am not suggesting that we try and mandate any. But I am suggesting that modesty be considered regarding proper attire for those who claim to be in the presence of God. I thought to myself the other day, I wonder how folks would dress if they really thought that Jesus was going to be there when they arrived? Of course we know he is, isn't he?

Now I realize that this is a very subjective and personal observation, because what I feel is modest or decent may not be the same thing you think it is. When we were in Africa I saw a man leading the song service wearing a woman's, short, sheer negligee instead of a shirt. He didn't know what it was, it came in a good will box from America and he thought it was better than the one tee shirt he had with holes in it. I saw a man wearing a pair of ladies maternity pants with the large elastic panel on the front, because again he didn't know what they were and they were nice pants with no holes. I however know better and wouldn't wear those things.

All of this is to suggest that perhaps the changes as to what is acceptable in our world may not always be good things. And, I would ask that you consider how your attire is perceived by those around you. Paul puts it this way, “We are free to do all things, but there are things which it is not wise to do. We are free to do all things, but not all things are for the common good. Let a man give attention not only to what is good for himself, but equally to his neighbor’s good.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 - BBE)