A Little Bit of Alzheimer’s

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:31-32)

Watching someone you love dearly being taken by Alzheimer’s is a very hard thing. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on that, but those of you who understand…you understand.

The other day I was talking to someone about how my mother at times will be really upset about something or get agitated at one of us, but then just a short time later she is fine, happy, pleasant and doesn’t even remember what she was upset about. That’s when I said, maybe we all need a little Alzheimer’s.

Grudges can last for decades. We hold on to things that should have been let go a long time ago. Maybe we need a little bit of Alzheimer’s. Instead of fuming about something and refusing to let it go, let’s ask God to help us to be more forgiving. Release it. Stop holding on to it.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
(Matthew 18:32-35)

One Word To Improve Your Marriage

It is one of the great blessings one can enjoy: marriage.  Yes, marriage is a good thing.  Marriage is from God, Genesis 2:23-24.  Marriage is a great blessing, Proverbs 5:15-19;  Ecclesiastes 9:9.   Marriage is to be a life long commitment, Matthew 19:4-6.

Sadly, there are those who are married who would not describe their marriage as a blessing, but instead as a curse.  Unfortunately, many marriages (even in the church) will end up in divorce.  That shouldn’t be.  How can our marriages be the way God wants them to be?  If you had one word to tell a new couple to remember as they begin their marriage, what word would you want them to remember?  Maybe words like “love” or “selfless” or even “forgiveness” come to mind.  Those are all great words and should be a part of every marriage.  But there’s another one I want us to consider: ETERNITY.  Have you thought about how thinking more about eternity will have an impact on our marriages?  As we think about our marriages, we need to be thinking about eternity.  Specifically, we need to remember the following:

Your spouse is made in the image of God.  They too were made in the image of God, Genesis 1:26.  Therefore, they are unique and important in the eyes of God.  This may feel like a “Duh” kind of point, but I think in the process of time we can fail to view our spouses correctly.  We can begin to see our spouses more superficially and fail to focus on the fact that they have a soul.  Remember they are made in God’s image.  Treat them right, Matthew 7:12.

God wants us to help our spouse go to heaven.  A husband and wife should be so concerned about the other because they are made in the image of God, that they will do hard things because they want their spouse to go to heaven, 1 Peter 3:1-7.  The sad reality, however, is that I’ve seen couples not help but rather hinder each other.  How often do you think a husband or wife is thinking about eternity as they contemplate committing adultery, forsaking the assembly, or are filled with bitterness?  Let’s do all we can to help our spouse to go to heaven.

God wants us to be in heaven too.  How we treat our spouses will have spiritual consequences for us, 1 Peter 3:7.  Let’s be wise and remember what’s at stake.  I realize we can’t control our spouses.  We can’t force them to do anything.  A person’s spouse may not do right.  But we can control ourselves.  Even if they aren’t thinking about eternity, we can!  What does God see when He looks at our marriages?  Let’s be sure He sees love, mercy, forgiveness, and us thinking about eternity.

Are We Like Shem and Japheth?

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” After the flood Noah lived 350 years.
(Genesis 9:20-28)

I listened to a sermon recently where the preacher was talking about covering one another in grace and love. The speaker referred to the above passage from Genesis when Shem and Japheth “covered” their father. Look at the lengths to which those two sons went to cover their father. They took a blanket, walked backward into the tent, and covered their father so that they would not see his nakedness. The other son, Ham, exposed his father’s shame, but the other sons tried to cover it.

How eager are we to “cover” one another in grace, love, mercy and forgiveness? Or on the flip side, are we like Ham in the tent mocking and spreading the word about another’s shame?

Here are some other passages for our meditation today. May we have the spirit of Shem and Japheth.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
(1 Peter 4:8)

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
(Proverbs 10:12)

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
(Proverbs 17:9)

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
(James 5:19-20)

Grow in the Grace

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).

I heard a lesson last week that referred to this passage about growing in grace. The preacher talked about how we do not grow in condemnation and guilt, but we grow in grace. Grace is the fertile soil in which our souls will flourish and grow.

This is just as true for our kids, our spouses, our friends, etc. If we seek the growth of others, we have to remember that people grow in an environment of grace. Many of us, if not all of us, have experienced a relationship based upon guilt, shame and condemnation. Whether that came from a parent, from the pulpit or from people in authority at work or school, that kind of condemnation crippled us and stunted our growth.

If you are walking around afraid to mess up because of how those around you treat you when you fail, then you understand what condemnation and guilt will do for you. The apostle Paul understood the agony of seeking perfection in law-keeping and the guilt and condemnation it brought with it. He cried out, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). That’s how a lot of us walk around, and sadly that’s how a lot of us treat others. Shame. Guilt. Condemnation. Follow the rules…perfectly. Don’t mess up.

Read the next verse, where Paul again cries out, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Also read what Paul wrote just a few verses later, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Does God expect you to grow in fear that if you mess up, He is going to zap you? No, He holds you in His embrace as you grow, as you stumble, as you fall and as you get back up. His assurances and promises are there with you that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-39). He has begun a good work in you, and He will see it to completion (Philippians 1:6). That is not a shame and guilt-based relationship, that is love, mercy and grace-based relationship.

It would be helpful if we took out a “legal” pad, and write down as many verses as we can find in the Bible about Gods’ love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and longsuffering. Remind yourself that you are in a relationship of grace, security and mercy. You are safe in the arms of Jesus because of His blood. If we are safe in Jesus, then others around us will be treated the same way (Romans 15:7).

I am going to Heaven!

Another lesson from Benjamin Lee’s meeting with us was titled “I’m going to Heaven”.  In teaching the lesson, he referenced a sister in Christ and how she lived with this attitude.  If you asked her…she would tell you and because she believed it she lived it and that made a difference on others.  The same is true for us as fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers…as men influencing children in our home, community, church…in our lives.  If we live with this faith, that we are going to heaven, then our children will see it and it will give them encouragement, confidence, and belief in their own lives.

In order to live this way, there are some questions we must keep working through our minds and help our children work through their minds.  These questions are good checks for us as we work toward our goal of Heaven.

1.  What will we need to get to Heaven?

We will get to Heaven through salvation and that salvation comes from God’s grace.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26; NKJV)

And though there are many things that demand our attention, we need to be in God’s word (Psalm 119:105) which is a lamp to our feet and we need to be obedient to it and God’s commandments (John 8:31-32—Truth makes us free; Galatians 5:4—But we can fall so we need to stay obedient).

2.  What help might we need to make our goal of Heaven?

In addition to God’s grace, His word and our obedience; we will need the edification, fellowship and help of our brethren.  The local church is a source of help as we make our way from earth to Heaven.  We see many examples of being joined to and strengthened by local brethren in the first century church.  (Acts 2:42-47; 9:19, 26; Philippians 1:1)

3.  How long will it take us to reach Heaven?

The rest of our lives!  Our journey is a marathon, not a sprint and it won’t always be on even ground.  Which is why we need God, we need our brethren and we need constant reminders.  We need to take time daily and think about Heaven and how awesome it will to be home.  How often do we truly do that?  We need it just like we need God’s grace, Word, and His people.  There are going to be challenges (Galatians 2:1-14) and we have to remember that our journey is about progress and not perfection.  We are perfected in Jesus Christ and that takes time and will take the rest of our lives.  But we can confidence in our end goal just as Paul did (2 Tim 4:6-8) no matter what phase of our life we are in.

4.  Finally, why do we want to this goal? Why do we want to go to Heaven?

I will leave you with that question but let me encourage you by the words of my nine year old daughter.  She answered this question before Ben did…and she leaned over to her mom and her answer was “Because that is where God is!”  Amen.

Stand Still–Stand Firm

David writes in Psalm 18 about the words he sang on the day God delivered him from all his enemies and the hand of Saul.  David writes:

1 I will love You, O Lord, my strength.  2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold3 I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.  (Psalm 18:1-3; NKJV)

Peter, after being arrested for preaching the gospel and speaking to the Sanhedrin says of Jesus… 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12; NKJV)

I thought of these verses in thinking about what kind of husband and father to my daughter I want to be.  There are a lot of different challenges to being a good Godly husband and father.  One of the most challenging for me is to know what the right thing is to do for my wife or my daughter at any given time.  What I want to do is rescue them from whatever is troubling them.  I want to be the knight in shining armor, the fixer, the “man”.  But I will tell you, this approach often has unforeseen consequences and the disappointment I feel when I get it wrong is crushing at times…and if nothing else confusing and can lower my confidence in myself and what God wants me to do.  In the worst case, I get angry and blame my wife or my daughter for not getting me or appreciating me…me, me, me.

What I think about in this context about these verses is this.  If I believe that God is my rock, my fortress, my stronghold and His Son Jesus is the chief cornerstone of my salvation, then I need to stand upon that Rock and be strong for my wife and my daughter.  If I holdfast to God and receive from Him the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, longsuffering, strength, peace…if I get all these spiritual blessings and more from Him and know that He is with me and will not forsake me…then I am free to just stand there or said another way I am free to just “be there”.  As I stand solidly on my faith and demonstrate the firm ground under my feet in Jesus, my wife and my daughter will take notice.

Standing on solid ground, I can be there for them to lean on when they need me.

Standing on the Rock of Jesus, I can stand firm if they need to climb up, lay down, and rest or just get a hug or a warm touch.

Standing firm in God, I can be an example they can look to or point to in difficult times and be encouraged.

If I am standing with Jesus, I will be what God wants me to be for my wife and my daughter.  It isn’t about what I am getting from my wife or my daughter, but what I get from my Abba Father and Elder Brother that matters.  When I get that spiritual strength through faith and abiding in Jesus, I then can give of myself in a way that is most beneficial to my wife, my daughter and my family.

Sounds crazy, but give it a try.  The next time things are going crazy, the house is hectic, there is more to be done than hands to do it…just stand still with Jesus and holdfast to Him as you hold onto her and that will make an eternal difference.

Live Like You Are Dying

Tim McGraw is a famous country singer and a few years back he had a hit song titled “Live Like You Are Dying”. The song is about a man who receives a life-changing health diagnosis and how it changes his perspective, priorities, and lifestyle. His point is simple…live today like you are dying…don’t take life for granted. To be honest, I often changed the station when this song came on because it was hard to hear…it pricked my heart…frankly it convicted me as I looked at my life and wondered just how much I was squandering, especially with what God has taught me from His word on the frailty of life, the importance of my spirituality and the fact I am a sojourner here and my real home and hope is in Heaven. The bottom-line…to my shame, I wasn’t living like I was dying and more than that…I wasn’t living like Jesus died for my sins.

I bring this up because we started our meeting with Benjamin Lee yesterday and the series is titled just like the song…“Live Like You Are Dying”. Just like with the song, my heart was pricked as Ben brought the first lesson, “Facts of Life” with Ecclesiastes 9 as its foundational scripture.

His points were simple but the implications are soul shaking, life changing, and echo in eternity. The points are this…we are all going to die, time and circumstance happen to all, and we may die today.

I know as Ben was teaching that everyone in the room who was really listening was going through their own significant emotional response. I mean come on…he is hitting home right? We are doing to die, we aren’t in control and we might just die today. How does that not give you pause and what do we do about it?

The answer is Jesus. He had to die too…and He did…just as God purposed for Him to do and in doing so provided us hope through the saving power of His blood. We all have to die and it might happen today but as a disciple of Jesus we do not have to fear that. We can stand confident in God’ mercy, grace, and love. We can know for certain that our bodies will return to the ground (dust) but our spirit will return to God who created it and if we live a life where we revere Him and keep His commandments…He will welcome us home and we will enter into an eternal rest. That is not scary. That is awesomely hopeful!

So if you don’t feel hopeful…what is the problem? Well, if you are anything like me, dread instead of hope is a result of or symptom of a life not lived the way God has prescribed. Living in such a way that we are without God makes a death of like manner terrifying. But that is the point. God wants us to feel that so we will turn back to Him and run and get back to Him as fast as we can…while we are alive…because there will not be time or opportunity for that after we are dead.

God might let bad things happen to us if that means it will either bring us back to Him or keep us close to Him. He wants us to live like we are dying because we are all going to die and we don’t know when…but He does. So if you are struggling, don’t blame God but ask Him to give you an understanding heart and allow Him to turn your discomfort into a restful peace as you return to Him. Do it now…because we are all dying…and there is a point when it is too late.

Don’t change the station when you hear this song…turn up the volume to what God is telling you, take the action He is calling you to and live forever in His love and life.

Note: The Live Like You are Dying sermons will be provided on the South Macomb Church of Christ website (https://www.southmacombchurchofchrist.org/). Take a listen and follow along in your Bibles…a lot of great material and discussion on what God’s word says about this important topic.

Only Steps Away

28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:  28-34; NKJV)

Today the sermon at South Macomb was a continuation of our working through the four gospels and focused on lessons in Mark 11 and 12.  There were many points to be made but I wanted to focus on a section found in chapter 12.  I encourage you to read the chapter as I am not going to lay down much background but want to focus on this encounter between Jesus and the scribe.  I want to attempt to paint a picture in your mind that was given today and then keep that image in our mind as we work through this week.

The image I want to paint is of a safe place, a dangerous place, and someone caught in the middle.  You might have your own version of this, but I am going to offer one of my own.  Imagine you are in a building and a battle rages outside with gunfire and explosions all around.  There is a group who is safe in their reinforced concrete bunker, with no windows and made to survive the kind of chaos and destruction going on.  They are safe, but someone cracks the door to see what is going on and notices a young man running down the street…unarmed, confused, scared, looking for shelter…to be safe and live.  The one looking out also notices he is wearing the wrong uniform…the uniform of the enemy.  Even more, the one looking is wearing the wrong uniform in the eyes of the man outside…the clothes of his enemy.  But the one inside calls out to him anyways…beckons him to come and be safe.  He hears the call and he sees the caller and even starts making his way to the door.  He is hesitant and unsure what to do as he gets closer.  What if it is a trap?  Even though the bunker gets him out of the gun battle going on outside and everything he has been taught about fighting tells him this is a secure place…how does he know what is inside is safer than outside?  Still the call goes out to him, encourages him, tells him it will be safe.  Others from inside gather with the one and join and shout this same message of safety…of friendship…of hope.  He comes closer and it is clear he really wants to live and wants to be safe and wants to believe that he can be inside the bunker.  He is right there…just a couple more steps and he will be in and safe and can live.  Everyone calls to him but he stops…he looks at them…they want to grab him but the bullets are flying and they can’t quite reach him…if only he would take one more step…but he stops.  Now he is out in the open and all the danger of the situation is upon him though he is only a step or two from safety…he is unsure, and he hesitates.  Surely he was about to come those two steps…they sure want him to…but a bullet hits its mark and he is gone.  It is too late…he was so close to safety…the caller was there to save him…they had a place for him to be safe…they called out to him…they wanted him with them…but his hesitation…his lack of faith in the caller’s intentions, their actions, and the offer left him just a couple steps too far from being saved.

I know you get the point.  So let me just end today with this.  I want us to look at these kinds of situations from three perspectives this week.  Jesus is the one calling out.  We are the ones who join with hHim to encourage.  Those in the world or those of our brethren who are astray are the man in harms way.  You saw that coming right?  But don’t stop there.  Take another look.  Jesus is still calling out, our brethren are still joining in the call, but are we the man in harms way?  That could be a likely scenario…right?  Could it be that it depends in any given situation or stage of our lives or the lives of others?  Read chapter 12.  Paint this image in your head.  Meditate and pray about what we can do about those 2 last steps…whether we are in harms way or with Jesus calling others to safety.  Take some time and work that over in your head and heart and let’s see what we can learn and apply this week.  I love you all…and thankfully Jesus loves us more.

Leaning In

Eudokia: Properly, what seems good or beneficial to someone, “good-pleasure”

This word is used twice in Ephesians chapter one and is translated “kind intention”. In this chapter, while Paul is discussing “every spiritual blessing” that we have in Christ, he says that it seemed good to God to bless us. There are nine places in the New Testament where this word is used (Mt. 11:26, Luke 2:14, 10:21, Rom. 10:1, Eph. 1:5, 9, Phil. 1:15, 2:13, and II Thess. 1:11). Most of the time it is translated “well-pleasing” or “good pleasure”. In Romans 10:1, Paul is discussing his Jewish brethren and he says, “my heart’s desire” is for their salvation. So we could say that it was God’s heart’s desire to bless us in Christ.

This desire that God has must be kept in the context of Ephesians. Immediately after exploring all the things that God has done for us in Christ, he reminds us of what we were. Chapter two starts, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

This idea is a foreign concept to me. When people reject me, treat me harsh, or are downright hostile my instinct is to strike back. On a good day I will just shut down our step back but God didn’t strike back or shut down, He leaned in and showed kindness.

This attribute of God has been particularly powerful for me lately in light of challenges we are having with one of our daughters. She is speeding towards her teenage years and has been struggling with our recent move, leaving her friends behind and being introduced to a new church family and school. She has been grumpy, irritable, distant, and at times rude and disrespectful. She doesn’t want to participate in anything and when we force her to comply with our expectations she manages to do it while clearly showing her disgust. She is happy in her own misery and seems to be trying to infect the rest of the family with it.

To my shame, I have failed her. Her attitude is so repulsive to me that most of my responses have been driven by my own anger and irritation. I have tried to control her through my “fatherly” authority and punishment. And I hate to admit it but it has become easier to just avoid her and attempt to isolate her impact on the rest of the family. In short, I’ve responded exactly the opposite of how God has responded to me.

My guess is that some of you dads have experienced, or are experiencing, similar situations with your children. I am not nearly arrogant enough to believe I’m qualified to provide advice on this subject. What I know is this: God’s love and kindness is what draws me to Him. I reject Him and I rebel and He is still there, leaning in. I fight and I kick and I scream against His will and He is still there, leaning in. I fail and I fail and I fail and He is still there, leaning in.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to ask my Father for His forgiveness, which He has promised in abundance. I’m going to ask my daughter for her forgiveness which all my children have shown me in abundance. I’m going to lean in. I’m going to bless her.

Perspective. Present. Participate.

1 Let brotherly love continue… 5…For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1, 5-6).

 

1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved….13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:1, 13).

Our children need us. God has provide us His instruction so that we can lead them and be for them what they need. Still, we need our Heavenly Father and Savior. In them, we are going to be the best influence in our kids’ lives. In them, we are free to love, forgive, and risk having our hearts broken time and again. They will not forsake us and are for us even when it seems like nothing is going right in our relationships with our kids or we are frustrated with the choices they are making or are questioning what we might have done wrong to get to this point. There is going to be a lot of joy with our kids…but there is a lot of sorrow and frustration. How do we deal with those hardships?

Perspective. Living today in the context of eternity and understanding God is with us and with our kids and He is able to carry our weight, show us the way, and strengthen our spirit. Further, we can consider our own relationship with Him and in it we will see much of the same in the relationship with our children. There is unconditional love. There is clear expectation for behavior. There are times we fall short and God is disappointed. And in these times, when we go to Him, we find grace, mercy, forgiveness, love and encouragement. This process happens over and over…just like with our kids. He is available and able…we just have to go to Him.

Present. God is ever-present in our lives and we need to be present in the lives of our children. Present doesn’t only mean in the same room as them or we make it to every school, athletic, or other activity they are participating in. I have learned the hard way that is not enough. Present means that we have put the other distractions away and give your full attention to what they are doing or what we are doing together. Of course we will not be completely and fully engaged in everything they are doing when we are in the same place…that is especially difficult when we are talking multiple children. What it means is we be there for our kids, make ourselves available and when they come to us or invite us to participate we are all in and give our full attention to them. That is what God does for us…we need to do this for our kids.

Participate. We participate in their lives by example…by providing a consistent example of our love for Jesus and the way He dictates how we live, the choices we make, the things we say, etc. That our love for Him is at the forefront of our lives…that we demonstrate Jesus to them. We then are going to be part of their lives and so we will enjoy their highs and endure along with them their lows. We will teach them in that. We will treat them the way God expects them to treat others. We fulfill the responsibilities God has given us with joy. It matters…more than we might know day to day but as a brother told me yesterday… “they will love you more for it”. He is right and it is that unexpected moment when my son gives me a hug, or says thanks, or my daughter blows me away with her grace or mercy, or love for another. What a beautiful moment.

In Christ Jesus and with our Heavenly Father, be free to love your kids and when you are hurt or frustrated…go to the One who can truly help you and strengthen you. Then get back to work…it’s a work worth doing and in many cases a work only you can do.