Saturday, October 21, 2017

Allegiance

Today I want to share some thoughts that I have been mulling over for the past two years. This has nothing to do with the recent controversy about people protesting during the pledge. I will admit right now that I'm not sure how I feel about that. Let me also say right now, that I don't expect everyone will agree with me on my thoughts.This is a highly emotionally charged topic for some people. I also recognize that I might be wrong with some of my thoughts. I am a flawed human being like everyone else, just sharing on a topic I've been thinking about for a long while. I welcome your comments, even if you disagree with me, but please be kind and respectful.

Two years ago, in 2015, a friend posted on Facebook about the sense of unity and patriotism that seemed to define the American people after 9/11 had seemed to disappear. He said, "Why can't we remember that we are all Americans? While race and religion are beautiful things, we seem to perverse it in a way that creates conflict and division. Let's not wait for another abhorrent act like what occurred on 9/11 to help us see past our differences."

This friend is a military veteran and I agree with him on many points, even in the post he wrote, but at the time he wrote it, it stuck a chord with me that I really needed to investigate. Yes, I am an American and have been proud of that for a long time. My husband and I even decorated a bathroom with patriotic colors and items. We considered doing our living room that way, too. We have a flagpole in our front yard (although it doesn't get used as often as it should). We each have at least four patriotic shirts. But...

My immediate reaction was that it is more about God than about country. If for some reason I believed that God was calling me to leave this country and move elsewhere, I would do it. Abraham did. I have loved America, but things are changing, not for the good. Just like a person who chooses wrong, there are consequences, which may include broken relationships. I can love and care for those around me, and work together with them in ways, but I will not choose to agree with sin no longer being sin. I will help feed, clothe, and care for anyone regardless of their race, religion, or beliefs. Yes, we are all Americans, but our ultimate, primary allegiance should be to God. There are some differences that should not be overlooked or “seen past." We need to say 'no' to these things, just as God did and does. What if someone said to Lot, “Why can’t we all just remember that we are citizens of Sodom?” Should that have been of higher allegiance to him than God?

I am a Christian before I’m an American. My true citizenship is in heaven. We pledge allegiance to so many things. Our family routinely pledges to the American flag, Christian flag, Bible, and AWANAs. Those in public schools pledge to the Texas flag and many pledge to other organizations such as Boy/Girl Scouts. To how many groups/things are we going to give our allegiance, and is this right?

What if our "one nation under God" is no longer under God? What if we are going the way of Sodom, Gomorrah, Ninevah, and Babylon? Is that a nation and government to which I want to pledge allegiance? Is it Biblical to pledge allegiance to one's country? These were my big questions.

Here are some things I've found in the last couple years to help guide me on this topic:
  • Romans 1:25-32 - They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. This sounds very much like our country in this current age. I wanted this whole passage here, but the part that speaks most about allegiance is verse 25, where Paul talks about created things being worshiped and served instead of the Creator. This could apply to governments and organizations.
  • From Haventoday.org: These kind of ungodly decisions serve to remind us that the world in which we live is hostile to things of God. It reminds us that we live here as “aliens and strangers,” that we’re temporary residents of a foreign land. But it still remains a world that God so loved that he sent his only Son (from John Freeman, president of Harvest USA, italics mine)
  • Jesus wept over Jerusalem and her refusal to turn to him as its shepherd (Luke 19:41-42). He didn’t stop loving her.
  • A father (or mother) loves his child and stays devoted to them even if they sin. God loves us and is devoted to us even if we sin. Maybe we should love and be devoted to our country/government even though she sins. – Hebrews 13:17 says Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.  ----- but what about when those leaders are wrong? In Acts 5:29, Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"
  • Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's right and just because it's right doesn't make it popular.
  • Jeremiah 29:7 - Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
  • Romans 13:7 - Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
  • Romans 13:1-2 - Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
  • Matthew 6:24 - No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
    • I found this passage interesting for this point:
      • We can’t give our loyalty to two masters and be pleasing to both. Whether the choice is between God and money, God and man, God and a government or nation, the choice is always the same, one or the other. It seems that Jesus is saying ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. In light of this it just doesn’t seem possible to me to give my loyalty to God, and then try and give it to a government at the same time. Jesus also said ” My kingdom is not of this world”. Jesus has a kingdom, and just like an earthly kingdom , I can’t be loyal to two kingdoms at once. It would be impossible to be loyal to the USA and Iran at the same time! It’s the same with being part of the kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to be loyal to his kingdom, and if we have given our loyalty to God’s kingdom, how then can we try and give it to America or any other worldly kingdom? – Matt Young, Red Letter Christians, May 23, 2013. https://www.redletterchristians.org/the-pledge-of-allegiance-2-reasons-why-christians-should-not-say-it/

  • I think one of the biggest points I've gotten over the last two years is that we need to be careful that we are only speaking intentionally, saying only what we really mean to say and not speaking without thinking about every word. If you are pledging allegiance to something, then I think you need to really believe that you will uphold what you say.

  • Matthew 5:33-34 - "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all..."

  • Jeremiah 4:2 - "and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, 'As surely as the LORD lives,' then the nations will be blessed in him and in him they will glory."

  • Deuteronomy 23:21-23 - If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth. Now, this is about making a vow/pledge to God, not to men, but I think it still makes the point that we should be intentional and think before we speak, being sure that we will do what we say we will do.
  • I recently read one of my daughter's school books (Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder). One of the characters loved his country (America) but refused to fight in the Civil War. He was not disloyal to the people or the country. It was an intentional, personal decision based on his beliefs, and his nephew, who took great offense to this, came to respect his uncle very much for his strength of character. We can love our country without agreeing with the masses and joining in their activities.
  • I found this article that I thought presented many good points about whether it is biblical or Christian to pledge allegiance to anyone or anything other than God. It was very helpful to me and I suggest checking it out: https://www.gotquestions.org/pledge-of-allegiance.html.

So, if you are around me and there is a call to pledge to the American flag, will you see me covering my heart and reciting it with the masses? I do agree to abide by its laws and do my best to be a good citizen. I support "liberty and justice for all," although I think people misconstrue what that should look like, but that's another topic. In some ways, I'm extremely proud of our country. In other ways, I'm extremely disappointed. But, I still love this beautiful land and its people. I still want the United States of America to be successful. I want her to be pleasing to God and pray for that. At this current time, yes, I will continue to pledge allegiance to my country, but as an individual and not a member of a mass, and with intentional thought about every word that comes from my mouth, not mindless recitation that has been memorized over the years.

What are your thoughts? Did I strike a chord with you? Will you change the way you approach pledges of allegiance to your country and/or other organizations? I hope you will consider your words and actions and be intentional about whatever you decide.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Monday, October 2, 2017

Growing Weary

Recently, there was a day when I was sitting at the table eating lunch with my son. I reminded him to put his knees down, quit rocking his chair back and forth, use his utensils instead of his fingers,...

I started thinking about how tired I get of correcting the children sometimes, and telling them the same things over and over. I get tired of the eye rolls or glares, or the jerking away from me when I gently prompt or remind them not to do something, such as bite their nails. (They are really good kids and not typically disrespectful like this, but it does happen.)

I grow weary. Maybe I should just stop telling them these things and let what would happen just happen - falling on the floor, having sore fingers, missing or losing a future job opportunity due to their habitual actions or behaviors. I even said something like this to them recently, about maybe I wouldn't remind them not to bite their nails anymore, but both kids said that they still wanted me to help them.

God prompted me to consider this weariness and how it applies in witnessing. Sometimes I feel weary about people who haven't accepted Jesus, or who say they have, but they sure aren't living it, or have distorted what the Bible says about some things. Most of the people I talk to respond with indifference, but I know for others, the response can be very unkind and hurtful. Relationships that you thought were pretty strong can suddenly be lost. That really hurts if the reason you said anything at all is because you really care for them. It can make a person feel weary and want to stop trying.

Current events including the hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and (so far only a) word battle with North Korea, have hurt my heart for so many people whom I don't even know. A couple friends have posted how this could possibly be the beginning of the end (Matthew 24:6-8, Mark 13:7-8). (I'd recommend that you read all of Matthew 24 and Mark 13.) One friend shared this as part of their post: "Christians, we should not panic, but be urgent in sharing the gospel. We know the end of this story....." My thoughts toward those who are going through these times and events without a relationship with God have been heightened. These people don't the power and love of God the Father, Jesus the Son and our savior, and the Holy Spirit in their lives. They don't realize what their eternity is going to look like. We all have eternal life, but will it be heavenly or horrible?

Even when it gets hard, I will choose not to give up - not with my children, and not with other people. I heard once that we should not give up on anyone whom God hasn't given up. I know people who have prayed for YEARS for someone before they accepted Jesus. They didn't give up even when it looked hopeless. I choose to persevere, too. Even when I'm weary, I will find strength in the Lord and I will persevere.

Galatians 6:9 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Deuteronomy 31:6 - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 - May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
James 1:12 - Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Where Was Jesus?

Where was Jesus? When the Magi (Wise Men) came from the East, where did they find Him? I know many people assume it was in Bethlehem, as I always have, but some think otherwise, as I began to think recently after one of our morning Bible readings. Read below and see what you think.


Joseph and Mary, whose home was in Nazareth, in the region of Galilee, were in Bethlehem, in Judea, because Caesar Augustus had ordered a census to be taken, with each family returning to its ancestral hometown. Jesus was born while they were in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).

According to Leviticus 12, the time for Mary's purification following the childbirth would have been forty days. After that time, they traveled to Jerusalem. To fulfill the Law of the Lord, they presented Jesus to the Lord at the temple and offered a sacrifice (Luke 2:22-24). In Luke 2:39, we read "When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth."

In Matthew 2, we read about the Magi (Wise Men) coming to visit. In the chapter, it says the chief priests and teachers told King Herod(in Jerusalem [Matt. 2:1]) about the prophecy of a ruler coming out of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:5-6). When the Magi left the palace, they saw the star again and followed it to where Jesus and his family was staying. The king sent them to Bethlehem, but according to Matt. 2:9, as soon as they started on their way, they saw the star again and followed it to where it stopped over the place where Jesus was.

One more verse, and then I'll share my thoughts. Luke 2:41 says Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.


Of the discussions I've read on this topic, there are two sides: Jesus was either in Bethlehem or Nazareth. I'd like to propose a third possibility - Jerusalem.

Why Jerusalem?
1. Jesus was most likely not an infant when the Magi arrived, but was actually 1-2 years old (Matt. 2:16). I doubt Mary and Joseph would have stayed in Bethlehem that long. They would have their family life and Joseph's job to return to in Nazareth. A census wouldn't have taken that long, displacing all those people. It would have ruined their economy.
2. In Luke 2:22 and 29, we learn that they did leave Bethlehem. After a visit to the temple in Jerusalem, they headed home to Nazareth.
3. I don't believe they could have been in Nazareth at the time of the Magi's visit because, when Herod's soldiers were ordered to kill all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matt. 2:16), Nazareth would have been too far away to be considered "in it's vicinity." If they had been in Nazareth at the time, I don't think Joseph would have had such an urgent dream of an angel telling him to leave immediately due to Herod's orders.
4. Jerusalem, however, could have been considered close enough. It is only six miles away from Bethlehem.
5. Luke 2:41 says that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem every year for Passover. We don't know what time of year that the Magi came. Is it possible that they came during a time that Jesus and his family had traveled to the temple in Jerusalem?
6. When the Magi left King Herod, they were sent to Bethlehem - but the Bible never says they got there. The Bible says they saw the star again and followed it instead. It doesn't say how far they followed it (Matt. 2:8-11). Couldn't it be possible that it stopped at a home right there in the same big city in which they had visited King Herod?
7. Matthew 2:12 says that the Magi were "warned in a dream not to go back to Herod" so "they returned to their country by another route." Again, that doesn't say that they were in Bethlehem, or another town - just that they didn't pass back by the palace and go see the king.

So, there are my thoughts, and why I think that Jesus could have possibly been in Jerusalem when the Magi visited. Now - what does it matter? Good question! Honestly, I don't think it does! It was fun to consider, but does it change anything about the gospel message? Does it change how we live our lives for Christ? Does it affect anyone's ability to have salvation or get to eternal life with God in heaven? No, it doesn't!

Because this blog is about "striving for God's glory," I feel led to bring this around to something that can do just that. I happen to live in Texas. I'm in central Texas now, but I grew up closer to the coast. Last week, Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas and devastated many towns down there. The one most people around the nation (and beyond) are hearing about is Houston. I'm sure there are many people who were (and are) asking, "Where was Jesus?" Where is He right now, as the flood waters are still high in some areas and people are faced with cleaning up all the mess left behind? Some people are probably saying that there is no Jesus because the hurricane came and destroyed so much. That happens, too.

So, where was Jesus? He was there the whole time! He is there now, and He will be there in the future. He is "the Alpha and the Omega...who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8). God says through the prophet Jeremiah "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you..." (Jer. 29:14). Matthew 7:7-8 remind us to "seek and you will find...he who seeks finds..."

Deuteronomy 4:29-31 says "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath."

Deuteronomy 31:6 says "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Joshua 1:9 repeats this: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Jesus is also present in His people, in those who love Him and have chosen to live their lives in obedience to Him. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" There are many Jesus-lovers and Jesus-followers helping the hurricane victims. Yes, there are others who do not follow Jesus who are volunteering and helping others. What about them? "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached" (Phil. 1:18). We are all created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) and so we all have some of God in us. He breathed His very breath in us (Gen. 2:7)! "We are all the work of [His] hand" (Isaiah 64:8). Even those who deny God can still be used by Him to show who He is and His character (Romans 9:20-23).

For those struggling to believe:

In John 14:17, Jesus says, "The world cannot accept him [the Holy Spirit], because it neither sees him nor knows him." 1 Corinthians 1:18 says "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

There is the saying that "seeing is believing" and many times people say, "I'll believe it when I see it." In the Christian faith, this works in the opposite direction. Believing is seeing. You have to believe it to see it. That's what faith is - believing that it is or will be without being able to see it. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1). "We live by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

If you haven't accepted Jesus as your Savior and given your life to serving Him and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you, then you have yet to see the true miracles He has in store for you. He can give you peace in the midst of your storms and even a sense of joy or praise. That doesn't make sense from an earthly perspective, but I can tell you from experience that it is real. No, it doesn't mean you're going to throw a party because you are having tough times. If you believe, you will understand. If you believe and accept that Jesus is God's son, that He suffered and died on the cross for all the wrong things you have ever done and ever will do (because being a Christian does not make you perfect), and that He arose from the grave and is now seated with God in heaven awaiting the time when you can be with Him - if you believe all this and want to live your life in gratitude of this, then confess that you sin and that you believe, and ask Him into your life. Then, will you see!


So, what do we do in tough situations, such as Hurricane Harvey? Jesus tells us, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). James (Jesus' brother) tells us to "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 

Where was Jesus? He was, and is, and always will be right with us. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). God says, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). Is He in your heart and life? Have you asked Him to be? He is ready and waiting. "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Two C-Words

I love words. I like the sound of them and the feel of them in my mouth. My mother taught speed-reading classes, but I didn't enjoy speed-reading - I wanted to savor each word as it came, not rush through them. I think it is also an aspect of why I chose speech-language pathology as my profession, and why articulation (speech sounds) is my favorite area. One of my favorite classes was Phonetics. I even got to be a teaching assistant for this class during graduate school. It was such fun for me to sound out each and every sound in the words. (Okay, I know there aren't many of you who would agree with me on this.)

Another thing I love is learning the meaning of words and word origins. (Medical terminology was fun, too!) Sometimes there are words we use every day and don't know the correct meaning or context of them. Take gesundheit for example (as we sometimes say when someone sneezes). I used to think it just meant "God bless you" but that's not quite accurate. It is German in origin and means literally "health-hood" or to have good health. It used to be a more common belief that the soul left the body when one sneezed, opening up the possibility of ill health to enter, hence the wishing of one's good health or the blessing of God to be bestowed upon the person.

I have gained some new perspective on a couple words and wanted to share them with you.

Compassion
What is compassion to you? I would generally say it is being kind-hearted, or that you have a desire to do something nice for someone else. A Bible verse that I've used often (especially in training our children) has been Ephesians 4:32 - Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Many uses of compassion and compassionate in the Bible refer to God's character towards us. Oh, may we be more like Him! During a recent Bible study as well as a more recent sermon, I have come to have some new thoughts about this word.

Did you know that the Greek word for compassion translates "being moved in the bowels?" "Turning of the bowels" was another way I heard it defined. For those who may not know, your bowels are your intestines - or your gut. There is a belief by some that I think is less common now (maybe just because people don't talk or think about it) that the soul of a person, their spirit, resides in the gut region. When the Holy Spirit lives in someone, it is in this area, too. Think about the saying that we "have a gut feeling" about something.

Compassion refers to the inward feeling of concern, for when we have sympathy or empathy for someone else. I have had this kind of gut feeling for so many people - even people I don't know personally, including Facebook acquaintances of some of my friends/acquaintances, celebrities (one past one being Mary J. Blige - I don't know why; I just know God laid her on my heart for a few days), and people in other countries and cultures, such as those affected by severe droughts and floods that lead to starvation in Africa. If we are followers of Christ, then our hearts should hurt for what and whom God's heart hurts. We should feel this inward, visceral emotion for others. It should not be just a verbal response of "I'm sorry your dealing with that" and we move on with our own selfish thoughts, desires, and ambitions. We should feel it in our gut.

Now, compassion is not meant to just remain an inward feeling. Just as the contents of the bowels are not meant to remain in the bowels, neither is compassion meant to remain inside us. It is something that should be acted upon. Some say kindness is the outpouring of compassion, or "compassion in action." One way to think about it that my pastor, Jared Allen, shared was "love with its work clothes on." So, what do you do with the compassion you feel? Do you stuff it down because it is uncomfortable? It would take time, energy, and possibly money to help this other person or persons, wouldn't it? So, sometimes it gets stuffed. But what could be done instead?

We all have different skills and resources available to us, but we should pray about it and find a way to use them. (Please pray first - don't step out on your own without prayer!) Sometimes prayer is the gift that you can offer - but make sure it is sincere. If you say you are going to pray for someone, find ways to ensure that you will. Pray for them immediately, set an alarm, put a note where you'll see it, or find some other way to make sure you follow through. Let your words be true. Maybe you can show support in another manner. If led by the Lord to supply another need, then I hope your love will put its work clothes on!

One side note would be that not everyone who has a sad story and on whom you feel compassion needs or wants help. There are times when we need to stand back and let God do His own work within them. There are times when we decide that they need to deal with the consequences of their own actions without help from others, but this needs to not be our own human decision. We need to allow God to decide that, not us. But prayer can always be offered. Again, your prayer before jumping into action is very important! You need to ask God how He wants you to be involved before you decide to act (or not act) on your own decision, because it could be more detrimental than beneficial.


Circumcision

Circumcision can sometimes be an uncomfortable word to talk about. It is a word that invokes thoughts of pain and discomfort, as well as encroaching into the private life of another. It is not one that many people talk about openly. As such, if you are unfamiliar with this word or would like to know more about its meaning and history, I'd rather let you do your own research, if you are so inclined.

A good starting place for us now would be to point you to the first circumcision mentioned in the Bible, which is in Genesis 17. Abram was told that every male should be circumcised as a sign of the everlasting covenant between God and them. I have to admit that I always wondered how it would be a sign to others of their covenant relationship, because it would have been covered or hidden, right?

As is pointed out elsewhere in the Bible (Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:12-15) what is most important is a circumcision of the heart, not of the body. (It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway - this applies to women as well as to men.) It refers to living a new life in Christ Jesus and getting rid of the old ways (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Let's draw some lines of similarity between a physical circumcision and a spiritual circumcision. First, something is cut off. Spiritually, we must cut ourselves off from a life lived without Jesus as our savior, guide, and, well, in lack of a better word at the moment - boss. We must cut off all the sins that encumber our lives and are displeasing to God. Second, circumcision requires time to heal. You can't expect changes to be pain-free, easy, and quick. Yes, some might be that way, but more likely than not, they will be hard and they will hurt at some level. Third, there is symbolism of the change. Spiritually, baptism is a symbol of someone's decision to live the rest of their life with and for Jesus. As my pastor said, "Baptism is not necessary for salvation but it is necessary for obedience." It is an act of obedience that every believer is called to do as a symbol to others. As my pastor also pointed out, it's like wearing a wedding ring does not make you married. Baptism should also be a symbolic reminder to ourselves, just as a physical circumcision would have been a personal symbolic reminder of God's covenant with the Jews. Each Jewish male carried around his own personal reminder of God's covenant. (2 Peter 1:12-15).


Conclusion
I hope that this word study has provided some new thoughts for your own life and walk with Jesus as it did for me. I pray that you'll be compassionate and put your compassion in action. Let it wear its work clothes. I pray that you'll have a moment of introspection and consider the circumcision of your heart. Have you had a full circumcision and have you followed through with baptism? How can you remind yourself daily of your life with and in Christ instead of living for yourself or the world? May you be aware of God's blessings upon your life today.



References: (just a brief listing - please forgive that this is not a complete bibliography)
The Holy Bible (NIV); The Gospel Project, Vol. 8 (Summer 2017), Session 8; merriam-webster.com; sermons by Jared Allen (7/23/17 and 8/13/17).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Some Church Ponderings

For a number of years now, I've had a sadness for society, for the way social trends and politics have been going here in the U.S. Honestly, I'm sad about it in other countries as well - Sweden, U.K., and I saw a headline that saddened me about Germany just this week. It's a sadness that makes my heart sick for people who don't have right relationships with God.

In the last month, I have read things - published online articles as well as social network posts from acquaintances - that has turned my heart sickness toward those inside the Church. This big "C" church refers to the whole Christian community and not to one specific congregation or denomination, and my sadness crosses all those lines as well.

So, what prompted this post? I read an article about LGBT people becoming pastors of churches in a denomination that I wouldn't have expected, and about a deacon who was a "they" instead of a "he" or "she." I was reminded by an acquaintance of a very public pastor in another denomination who proudly displays her crudeness and sins in front of her congregation - with no apparent remorse over sin or effort to turn from sin. Also, I read a comment someone posted that the Church makes a big deal about homosexuality but not other sins, for example porn, when all sins are equally bad. I know not everyone in the Church (or outside it) who reads this post will agree with my stances. I'd rather not name names or put the articles on here, but if you are interested, I can share those with you.

So, as this post is about some of my church ponderings, I'm just going to put them here with no necessary flow of order - just as they have come.

- Porn is more of a hidden sin. People aren't flaunting it and trying to push it on other people. I haven't heard of people trying to convince others that it is okay and that everyone should accept it. Well, not directly anyhow. It has become more and more accepted through all forms of media - magazines, billboards, t.v., movies, books, etc. At the current time, though, people aren't going around openly telling others that they are into porn and demanding acceptance of it. There aren't parades, protests, and political action committees for porn. It doesn't make it right, but it can explain some of the reason you hear less about the Church fighting it.

- If we (at the church my family attends, and I believe many others) knew a person struggled with porn, or another sin (homosexuality, adultery, anger issues, etc.), it would not keep them from coming to our church. It wouldn't even keep them from becoming a member. If known, though, it would mean they couldn't be a leader. They couldn't be a Sunday school teacher, ministry team lead, or pastor/minister. Why? Because we believe that teachers and leaders are held to a higher standard of expectations - by the Bible! The section that immediately comes to mind is 1 Timothy 3. James 3:1 says "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." Matthew 18:3 says "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." This is stated also in Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2. Luke 17:1 says, "Jesus said to his disciples: 'Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.'" If a person has a known sin in their lives that could cause others to sin or give a wrong view about God (His character, His expectations, etc.), then they should not be in charge of leading others.

- The Church is a place of sinners, seeking to be pleasing children serving our heavenly Father (and more importantly seeking to bring others into the family of God, but that's not the current topic here). We all have some sins. The difference is in whether we flaunt them and say "So what?" or repent and say "I'm sorry. I'll try to do better." Then, we put the words into action - and really try to do better! At least that's the way it should be... I'm afraid a large body in the Church is starting to say "So what?" and thumbing their noses at God.

- For those who say that the Church is ignoring sins such as porn, there are some programs that exist. Some educate people about it and its effects, as well as some who help people overcome it. There are also programs that exist for overcoming other sins, such as anger issues. Yes, every sin is egregious. If we have a known sin and cannot beat it on our own, then we should seek help from trusted others. Again, I don't believe you hear as much about these sins since they aren't being forced for acceptance as social norms.

- I have been led to a different way of thinking about modern-day "Pharisees." I usually think of "Pharisees" as just being overly legalistic about things. A new way I started thinking about them is that they make up their own rules and try to force others to follow them. During His earthly life, Jesus addressed the Pharisees acting in this way. In today's time, I'd say this would include those seeking to redefine "church," being a Christian, and right from wrong. 

- There is not a unity in the Church on beliefs. It has always been Satan's goal to divide and conquer, and he is making progress. This should not be, Church family! Deuteronomy 7:25 says, " Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction." We need to be careful what we are allowing into our Church "house."

- I saw someone wrote about the duality of Christianity - that it's black and white, not accepting of all the gray areas. I agree, but I don't see it as a bad thing, as this author did. There's right and wrong, absolute truth and untruth. There is light and dark, heaven and hell, saved and unsaved. I think it's helpful to have some things like this clearly spelled out so I don't have to guess or doubt about such things! This author said it is "not this way on earth." It's not the way we humans see and do things. He's right! We messed it up! God's not wrong just because we have consequences for our own sins!

- The author in the above point also said, "...love that is the very essence and nature of God..." So many people forget about His justice! Yes, he is a loving God, but He metes out discipline just as a loving father would, to help his children grow as they should. Proverbs 3:11-12 says, "My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in."

- Not all who call themselves Christians are. Not all churches have the favor of God upon them. There are false teachers in the Church and the Christian community. If someone claims to be a Christian, then they should be making efforts to turn from sin and live a Christian life. 1 Corinthians 11:13-15 says "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."

Here are some other verses I've found while praying and thinking about all these church ponderings. I hope you'll consider taking the time to seek God and read them on your own.

Unity in the Church
1 Cor. 1:10, Romans 16:17-18, Gal. 5:15

Turning from Sin When You're a Christian
Romans 12:1-2, 12:9, Gal. 5:13, Col. 2:20-23, Col. 3:5-6, Eph. 5:1-7, 2 Tim 2:19, 2:22, Titus 1:16, 1 Peter 1:13-16, 1 Peter 2:16, 1 Peter 4:2, 1 John 1:6, James 1:26, 1 Thess. 5:21-22

False Teachers/Not All Who Claim to be Christians Are
Gal. 1:6-8, Col. 2:8, 1 Tim. 4:1-4, 2 Peter 2 (whole chapter), 2 Peter 3:15-16, Matt. 25:31-46, 2 Peter 3:15-16


1 Timothy 4:16 - Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

2 Corinthians 13:5 - Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Glad for the Hard

Almost daily right now, I'm reminding myself that I'm "glad for the hard." Does that sound strange - to be glad that things are difficult?

I would describe myself as being very intentional with teaching my kids to live morally and godly. I frequently pray for them to grow to "know, love, and follow hard after Jesus." I have high hopes about how they will act. I want them to show kindness, generosity, honesty, and forgiveness, among other characteristics. I don't want them to be jealous, selfish, rude, mean, dishonest, or unforgiving (also among other characteristics).

So, when "Glad for the Hard" came to me a couple months ago, I was feeling disappointed with some of my kids' mindsets and actions. But then I realized that, although I'm training them, they are still growing and have not yet accepted Jesus as their Savior. The Holy Spirit hasn't grabbed hold of them quite yet. We all have our sins, but my children have not yet developed a godly sorrow for their sins.

Before my maternal grandfather passed away, I would ask him interview-type questions when I visited him in the hospital or rehab. settings. I wanted to get more information about him and his life so that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren would remember him and his generation better. One time, I asked him about when he was baptized. It wasn't until he was a young man, soon after his first child was born. He told me that he didn't approve of young children being baptized because they didn't comprehend from what they were being saved. That thought has stuck with me. I do believe some young children do really live for God from an early age, but I definitely see his point.

In Luke 7:36-50, Luke recalls a time when a sinful woman washed Jesus' feet with her tears and anointed them with costly perfume. When Simon the Pharisee grumbled, Jesus told him a parable about two men being forgiven their debts. He asked which man would love more and "Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled,'" (Luke 7:43). Later, in verse 47, Jesus said, "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

I have seen this to be true in people I have known as well. Two men in particular come to mind - Trey and Ryan. They made some very unwise choices especially in their teenage years and 20s, but after they found Jesus, they followed Him with a passion that goes beyond many who have been in church and became followers/believers as young children. My chidlren and I read about men like George Muller and Adoniram Judson. After very rough starts in their lives and bad choices that they made, what they did for God in their later years is truly amazing! These "later" Christians are truly inspirational to me!

The thought came to me and I don't believe the mountains would be nearly as beautiful, magnificent, or awe-inspiring without the valleys. In fact, I'm not sure there'd even be mountains without the valleys. But later someday..."Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 40:4-5). Other verses I found for this idea include Isaiah 41:15-16, 42:15-16, 45:2-3, 49:11, and 54:10.

Those who go through hard times, who have to learn the hard lessons and sometimes in the hard ways, often have deeper faith. That deeper faith is one that prompts greater action, too, and is not kept in secret in their living rooms at home. I love the idea that, because my kids struggle now, they will hopefully have a more strongly rooted faith in Jesus and will live more confidently for Him. They'll probably need it in the coming ages!

We all go through hard times. Whether it be issues within ourselves (or thoughts, character, etc.), or in the greater realm of our families, friends, jobs, or society, we all have some "hard." No matter if it is health, job, relationships, loss of relationships, addictions, etc., we can all look for the good in which we can be glad.

While my children still struggle with mindsets and characteristics that are ungodly, I remind myself to be "glad for the hard." I pray that they will love Jesus all the more someday, when they realize from what He can set them free. I pray that He will create such a notable life change in them that they will never doubt His reality and love. I pray that I never forget this in my own life when I recognize my own sins, either.

May we continue to train up our children to know, love, and follow hard after Jesus. 
Proverbs 22:6; 3 John 4

May none of us lose heart and give up when life gets difficult.
James 1:2-4, 12; Galatians 6:9

May we know that God uses every struggle.
2 Cor. 1:3-4, 9-10; Romans 8:28

May we all recognize our need for a Savior.
1 John 1:8-10, John 3:16-17

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stubborn Child!

So, when you first read the title of this post, to which child did you think I was referring? Well, no matter which child you picked, you'd be wrong. The stubborn child is none other than me. Yes, me.

Two nights ago, something got said and, although it held some truth - a truth I've known and wanted to work on for a while, too - it still hurt. I felt misunderstood and unappreciated. That night, I tried to get control of my thoughts and turn to God with them. I prayed and asked Him to help me find a solution, but at the time, my mind seemed to be working overtime on the hurt side, feeling more and more hurt and unappreciated.

I decided to take an "I'll show them" kind of approach - which never works! It always ends up making it harder on myself than anyone else, and often they don't even notice! I was determined to do whatever I could to show my significance, to be appreciated, to not fit the mold into which I felt pressed. So, you know what happened?

It was an extremely rough day yesterday. My mind was all mixed up with sour thoughts and feelings. It affected the way I spoke to people. It affected the way I cared for myself (avoiding meals, work too hard without a break, take unnecessary and unsafe risks, etc.). My children noticed and responded differently to me, even though I think I managed to keep things nice enough and they still had a really good day. (They had baby praying mantises hatch that they got to watch, got school done quickly, and played in water outside).

So, back to me being the stubborn child. I've been in that place before, when my mind is attacked with lies, and the longer I allow them to be there, the larger and more destructive they become. I know how to combat them, but I rebelled. I refused. I stewed in my anger, hurt, and frustration. My prayers were affected. My praise was affected. My hearing my Father was affected. I actively refused to go when He called. Stubborn child!

Last night, when my mind had finally calmed and settled, I was able to look back and think about it more. Again, I could pinpoint and tell you times when God had actively sought me throughout the day, to instill His truth in my mind and redeem my thoughts, and I had turned away. It reminded me of a time two weeks ago when I saw a boy get angry. When a mother figure/teacher moved toward him to talk to him about it and draw him back into a right relationship with others, he said, "Leave me alone!" and did his best to move away. At times, he stomped his foot and balled his fist. His voice was tight and forceful. He actively refused the help. Last night it hit me that I was the stubborn child, resisting the help of my heavenly Father.

I've been in a Bible study about the armor of God, described in Ephesians 6. This week, we were studying the helmet of salvation, and how it is there to protect our minds. Not only can our salvation thwart attacks on our mind, but it can also work to redeem the negative thoughts and habits, making them new and in alignment with God. I knew that helmet was there for me to pick up and put on (which, by the way, is important about the helmet - you have to actively pick it up and put it on!), but I wouldn't.

I am in a better place now. I began to soften and accept God's help. I confessed my wrongdoings to the Lord last night. I apologized for turning away from Him and refusing Him. I asked for forgiveness. I know who I am in Christ. I am hopeful that I will be quicker to grab onto truth next time and refuse to allow the lies to take ahold like they did this time. Satan got a temporary foothold yesterday, but he has been kicked out and, with the Spirit's help, I will win the next battle!

I started writing down some verses to post to help me with the battle. Here are the ones I've found so far. As I wrote them for myself, I added my name or "I" as appropriate, to make it more personal for me.

[I] demolish arguments and every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and [I] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.     2 Corinthians 10:5

[I will] not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but [will] be transformed by the renewing of [my] mind. Then [I] will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.     Romans 12:2

Finally, [Christa], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - thing about such things.     Philippians 4:8

[Christa], be made new in the attitude of your mind; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore [I] must put off falsehood and speak truthfully..."In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.     Ephesians 4:23-27

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."     Lamentations 3:19-24

The LORD is good to [me when my] hope is in him, to [me when I seek] him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.     Lamentations 3:25-26     (Oh, how I need to quiet my mind so I can hear him and receive my sanctifying salvation and blessing!)


If you know other helpful verses, please share! I'd love to have those as part of my battle plan.

 When Satan attacks your mind with lies, fight back immediately! Don't allow him to get a foothold in your life. Hold to truth and reject the lies. Don't be a stubborn child; run to the Father.