H-O-P-E

How much of a difference would I make if I demonstrated “hopeful living” in my home?  There are a lot of things I can do as a dad to help my kids but there are a lot of things I can do to hurt them too.

I wonder sometimes…am I hurting them more than helping them?  I say that because sometimes I am led by selfishness…and in that the mistakes or bad choices and emotions associated with them can feel like a burden…and unfortunately my kids might be getting that message.

Or sometimes I am afraid…and that fear comes out in anger…and so my kids think that I am mad at them when really I am just scared of something bad happening to them.

Neither of these are positive and they certainly don’t represent the kind of person I want them to become…selfish or afraid.  So what do I do?

What I should do is live with hope…which is the favorable and confident expectation…having to do with the unseen and the future.  Vine’s defines it as a verb meaning “to trust”.

Hope describes a happy anticipation of good.

God tells us we can live “in hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2)  But what is that hope based on?

Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Jesus is the object upon which our “hope” is fixed…“the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).

Isn’t this kind of hope the best of things?  And if this kind of hope is the best of things, perhaps hopelessness is the worst of things…“having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)

With God..in Jesus…there is hope and we are not alone.  In that, we have to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God.  We have to trust that He will not forsake us and will be there for those who search after Him…that means He is there fore our kids too so we don’t have to be afraid but have a hopeful outlook for them in Christ Jesus.

Live with hope and it will make a difference in your life and the lives of your kids.

Take this little memory aid with you…live with hope…and make a difference for Jesus in your home.

HOPE:  Helping – Others – Prepare for – Eternity

Loneliness

Recently I came across a sermon about Loneliness and in reading through it I thought about a lot of different times I had felt alone in my life and thought how in the end the way I came back from that wasn’t more people or more attention from the right people.  The way I came from loneliness was coming to understanding that God is with me and won’t forsake me…so I don’t have to feel alone and am free to be present and to love even when others are not.  Here is what the preacher said…see what conclusion you come to.

Loneliness is not the absence of faces but the absence of intimacy.  Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.

David knew the feeling of loneliness.  “Turn to me and be gracious to me, For I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:16; NASBU).  David was no stranger to loneliness.

You aren’t either.  You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely.

Loneliness is a gift from GOD.  Perhaps loneliness is GOD’S way of getting our attention…

GOD wants you to hear His music.  One by one He removes the options until all you have left is HIM.  He wants you to discover what David discovered and to be able to say what David said…

“You are with me.”  (Psalm 23:4)

The discovery of David is the message of Scripture:  The LORD is with us!  And, since the LORD is near, everything is different – EVERYTHING!  Death, unemployment, debt, family problems – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

From Lonely to Lovely.  When you know God loves you, you won’t be desperate for the love of others.  When you discover GOD’S perfect love, everything changes!

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18; NKJV)

Loneliness – a gift from GOD…could it be one of GOD’S finest gifts?

If a season of solitude is His way to teach you to hear His song, don’t you think it’s worth it?

God says “I am with you always…”

…so how can we be lonely?

If we first understand that “God is always with us”…won’t that make a difference in the lives of those we love?  If we bring God with us everywhere we go…maybe others will grab hold of Him and not feel quite as alone themselves.

Pressing On Through the Pain

In II Corinthians eleven Paul is dealing with false prophets and to make his point he starts listing all the evidence that supports him being a servant of Christ (verse 23). It reads like a summary of suffering and hardship and when he gets to the end of the list he punctuates everything in verse 28.
“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:28)

Daily pressure? You cannot read through any of Paul’s letters without seeing his deep love and concern for all those Christians he has worked with. He completely invested himself in the spiritual well-being of others.

There is no better example of this than I Thessalonians.

“For this reason, when I could endure no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 3:5-8)

Knowing what the Christians were facing, his concern is palpable. I can almost picture Paul waiting by the window, watching for Timothy, praying for a favorable report. His response to the good news says everything, “now we LIVE, if you stand firm in the Lord.”

The thought of carrying that kind of sincere concern for other Christians frightens me. It exhausts me. To my shame I don’t know if I have ever truly felt that away about someone else’s faith.

This week I was able to visit with a couple that I dearly love. They are humble and godly and are constantly thinking of ways to serve others. Their most recent act of service was taking in and taking care of a six year old little girl who had to be removed from her mother. They embraced her like she was their own, showing her love and affection and providing her safety and stability. They introduced her to the gospel and involved her in bible studies and worshiping with the saints. They established routines for her and starting laying a foundation to provide this little girl an eternal future. The little girl bounces around, smiling, full of energy. She is thriving in the environment they have created.

Earlier this week they were informed that she will be returning to live with her mother. Friday will be her last day in their home. My heart breaks for many reasons. It breaks because this little girl is being taken from warmth and love and stability and being put back into an uncertain situation at best. It breaks because she is being removed from a home filled with the love and knowledge of God and returning to a home saturated with the world. It breaks because I know my dear friends have received just as much from this little girl as they have given. My heart breaks because their hearts are broken. I have no doubt that their concern for her is exactly the same as Paul’s concern for those Christians in Thessalonica.

So I’m left here wondering what to do? How would I handle such a situation? I’m a little angry and I’m a lot sad. There are so many instances in life when we open ourselves up and expose our hearts just to have them broken. It is easy to shut down and say, “Why bother?” and close ourselves off to others. I believe this is what many of us do in order to protect ourselves from such heartbreak. So how did Paul handle it?

“Brethren, I do not regard myself of having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

In Philippians chapter three Paul is expressing the overwhelming value of knowing Christ Jesus. He is expressing how utterly useless all of his accomplishments are in comparison to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection. He has completely sold out so that he might gain Christ. Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind…I press on toward the goal.”

So how does this apply to my dear friends? They will hurt and there will be pain. The pain might lessen over time but it probably won’t go away completely. But they will press on. They will continue to serve. They will embrace the opportunity to open themselves up again and will, most likely, be hurt again. Why would they do this? Because it is what Jesus did and their goal is to know Christ.

Did Jesus know that He would be rejected? Did he know that the very people He came to save would stand in front of Pilot and shout, “Crucify! Crucify!”? Did Jesus know that His dearest friends on this earth, friends He had poured Himself into, would abandon Him and even deny Him at His darkest hour? Yet He opened Himself up, He embraced those around Him and He pressed on.

The reality is that we never reflect the character of our Lord more fully than when we have been hurt and we have been rejected and we decide to open up our hearts and continue to love and serve those around us.

Be Careful How You Walk

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

My lower back has caused me problems for well over ten years.  When I was younger it would just flare up every now and then and remind me of my mortality.  I know this is cliché, but ever since I turned forty I’ve had a constant ache that won’t go away.  Somedays are better than others but every morning I’m immediately reminded of my weakness.

Saturday I worked all day in the yard clearing part of our property and cleaning out the flower beds in the front of the house.  I spent about eight or nine hours bending over swinging a machete, shoveling old mulch and pulling out plants and weeds.  I also loaded 47 bags of mulch (30 pounds each) in and out of the car and into the flower beds.  Not surprisingly, I’ve been in pretty severe pain since Sunday.  Just about any movement hurts and I almost pass out when I try to bend over and put on my socks.

Now my movements are very deliberate.  If I drop something I don’t just bend over and pick it up, I position myself properly, making sure there is something sturdy around in case I need to pull myself back up.  Then I bend at the knees, focusing on keeping my back straight the entire way down and back up.  If I’m sitting at my desk and I need something just out of arms reach, I don’t just stretch and reach.  I make sure to roll the chair closer so I can keep my back straight and avoid leaning forward.  When walking up or down stairs my focus is on each step, being sure to keep my foot in the center to avoid slipping or jarring.  Anytime I get in a hurry and fail to pay attention I have an instant reminder in the form of sharp pain in my lower back that will take my breath away.

The letter to the Ephesians focuses a great deal on our “walk”.  Chapter two verse two refers to our former walk, focused on sin according to the course of this world.  In verse ten, Paul tells us that we are His workmanship, created for good works so that we can walk in them.  In chapter four verse one, Paul implores us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling and goes on to describe the characteristics of that walk.  In verse seventeen, we are told to no longer walk like the Gentiles, darkened, ignorant, callous and focused on sensuality, greed, and impurity.  Chapter five verse two encourages us to walk in love just like Jesus and verse eight tells us to walk as children of Light.  And sort of like a summary, verse fifteen tells us to be careful how we walk, making the most of our time, understanding the will of the Lord.

God has gone to great lengths to teach us how to walk.  He has described what a life dedicated to Christ looks like and He has provided encouragement as we leave behind our life of sin and rebellion and start walking with Him.  He has also, in His great wisdom, provided painful reminders when we take a wrong step, head down the wrong path, or try to revert back to walking with the world.  The consequences of sin should provide those sharp and pointed reminders that we are not in line with the will of God.

Our job is to be careful, to be watchful, to be observant in our walk.  Who do we surround ourselves with in this life and what kind of influence do they have on us?  What do we fill our minds with and is it leading us closer to God or farther away?  What are we pursuing?  How do we spend our time?  What are our priorities?

When we get up every morning and start our day, what deliberate steps do we take to ensure we are walking with God?  Do we direct our paths or do we allow the world around us to push us along in whatever direction it happens to be heading at the moment?  Are we living life at such a rapid pace that we fail to consider the consequences of the decisions we make and the path we are taking?

Slow down.

Walk with a purpose.

Bitter Trap

Consider this description, this portrait of bitterness provide by Carol McGalliard in the Discipleship Journal, Issue 141, May/June, 2004.

“Long ago someone hurt you.  Your shoulders hunch up when you think about it.  You set your jaw and get a bad taste in your mouth.  When you talk about the hurt, your voice sounds crabby no matter how carefully you choose your words.  You hope God will get even with the one who hurt you, but you dream about your own revenge – just in case He doesn’t.”

Strong’s defines bitterness, or the Greek word “pikria” as acridity (especially poison), literally or figuratively.  If you are like me, you might not know exactly what “acridity” is so I looked that up too…and it means sharp or biting to the taste or smell; bitterly pungent…exceedingly caustic.  That…when I think about bitterness…makes sense and hits home.

So with that in mind, think about some qualities of a bitter person?  Someone who endlessly replays a wrong in their mind in detail (and perhaps exaggerated).  Someone with selective memory who might focus only on the bad times.  Someone full of self-pity or who is self-righteous…thinking they “have a right to be bitter”.  Someone who is only has cynical (and sometimes irrational) comments or who is only harsh with others.

The Psalmist gives us a pretty clear picture of bitterness.  “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22; NIV).  A brute beast.  That is a powerful image and one I am ashamed has described me at times…before my God, my wife, my children and pretty much everyone that has meant something to me.

Bitterness is a dangerous thing and it can destroy a family.  As a husband, I am told “do not be bitter toward my wife” (Colossians 3:19) and in general we are to avoid “any root of bitterness springing up” in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15).  Bitterness leads to wrath, wrath leads to anger, anger leads to clamor, clamor leads to evil speaking, evil speaking leads to malice.  (Ephesians 4:31).

The key to overcoming bitterness…or wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, malice?  The key is a deep conviction with reference to the existence and nature of God, a deep confidence in God and faith in God who can be trusted in all circumstance!

God has forgiven you and me in Jesus.  It is right that He expect us to grow and to show the same grace and mercy to others.  In Him we are safe and free to love.  In that safety and freedom, we can cast the burden of bitterness on Him and know that He cares for us and will not forsake us…even when it feels like the people most important and special to us have.

So why bring this to you today?  I bring it to you today because I know that bitterness can be a very real trap in our lives laid out by Satan to separate us from those we most care about.  I have heard it said “it hurts the most when it’s someone you know” and the hurt can be a number of different things.  I have been bitter and I have let that bitterness drive a wedge in my marriage, my relationships with sisters in Christ, with my own sister…with my friends.  It has disarmed me of any grace, mercy, love or other spiritual tool and blessing and has in some circumstances created a long road to come back from in terms of reconciling a relationship and truly looking to God for my strength and my peace.

Bitterness is a trap.  It can be avoided if we keep focused on our Abba Father.  It’s still a very real trap…so be careful where you step.

Experience Jesus and Pass It On

1“Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Therefore hear, O Israel, and [a]be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you—‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’  4 “Hear, O Israel: [b]The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; NKJV)

What do we teach our children with how we live, or what we say, or what we choose not to say or do?  It matters!  In the above verses, God is calling us to love Him with our whole being.  Jesus had similar words when he answered about which commandment was the greatest.  Jesus said…“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Jesus also said, if we were going to love Him, we needed to follow His commandments (John 14:15) which is not different than what is being taught in Deuteronomy.

So what do we teach our children and do we understand those lessons first come to us to learn and share?  We learn about and teach our children the Nature of God…that is He is True and Living.  We learn about and teach our children the Character of God…that He is Love.  We learn about and teach our children the Will of God…that He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us…that our God is concerned about our good.

We learn about our God by “knowing” Him.  That isn’t a word that describes being able to pick Him out of a line up, knowing some facts, or remembering some stories.  That word, “knowing”, means “to experience”.  That definition implies that it is an on-going, everyday activity with Jesus and our Heavenly Father.

To “know” Him is to love Him.

To love Him is to obey Him.

That is a lifelong endeavor and in our knowing God we share our experience of Him with our children and they can then also know Him.  What a great connection and what a great Person to ensure our children know.

Take some time today and really consider if you are “experiencing Jesus” today.  With that in mind, think of ways you might better teach your children about Him…to introduce Him into their experience.  I encourage you to find ways to help the children in your life to Know God, Love God, and Obey God.

Now that is an experience of a lifetime!

The Calling and The Walk

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,”  Ephesians 4:1

I’ve been listening to a series of lessons by Andy Cantrell on the letter to the Ephesians.  I’ve provided the link below if you’d like to take a listen.  Among other things, Andy did a tremendous job in identifying and simplifying the structure of the letter.  I believe that if you can get an overall picture of a book it allows you to understand, and apply, the more specific instruction in a powerful way.

Andy looked at chapter four verse one as the pivot point in the letter.  Paul implores the Christians to “walk…worthy of the calling.”  Chapters one through three describes the “calling” and chapters four through six describe the walk.

When you think about the “calling” of the Christian, what do you think of?  Do you think of our behavior, our language, our attitude?  Do you think of being kind and generous and loving?  Maybe you think of the things we are not to do, avoiding sinful behavior.  That is how I used to think but in reality I was thinking of the walk.  Paul implores us to walk worthy of the calling, meaning the walk and the calling are two different things.  The calling is the “why” behind our walk.  In other words, our behavior, our language, our attitudes, avoiding sin is because we have been called.

So how does Paul describe our calling?  Well, we’d have to discuss all the amazing things in Ephesians chapters one through three and we don’t have time for that in this short article.  I’d like us to consider one of the recurring themes or phrases from the first three chapters.

“to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”  1:6

“to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”  1:12

“who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” 1:14

In addition, notice how often God’s glory is referenced.

“the Father of glory” 1:17

“according to the riches of His glory” 3:16

“to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.” 3:21

One of the essential attributes of our calling is God’s glory.  The Greek word for glory (doksa) literally means “what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth.”  The mercy and grace and kindness and love that God has lavished upon us should result in praising God’s glory.  The planning and execution of our redemption should result in praising God’s glory.  Our entire purpose is to generate praise of His glory.

So why do I walk a certain way?  Why is my behavior and language and attitude different than the world around me?  Why are my relationships with my wife and kids and co-workers and neighbors different?  Why should I try to live up to a certain standard, trying to understand what pleases God?  Because I’ve been called to bring praise to the glory of God.

This understanding of my purpose, of my calling changes things.  All that I do in my walk is not about me.  It is not about being better than those around me.  It is not about avoiding eternal punishment or securing my place in heaven.  My walk is about God’s glory and when I conduct myself in a worthy manner I will help generate praise to God.

As we get up and get ready to go out and face the world this morning, let us consider what our walk says about our Father in heaven.  Do our lives praise the glory of God?

http://www.casonlanechurch.org/sermons?title=&y=0&se=0&sv=0&sp=80

Read Your Own Mail

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”  Ephesians 5:22-24

I just finished listening to an excellent series of lessons on the letter to the Ephesians that Andy Cantrell delivered to the Cason Lane Church of Christ.  The link for the series is provided below.  Andy made a brilliantly simple observation when he got to chapter six verse 22.  How many generations of men have come to this passage and focused on the subjection of the wives and the headship of the husband?  How many of us anchor on this spot and then direct the focus of our relationship with our wife around our position of authority?

Who was this instruction given to?  The New Testament does not instruct the husband that he is the head of his wife.  The New Testament does not tell the husband to subject his wife to his authority.

Read your own mail!

The husband is instructed to “…love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.  So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.”  Ephesians 5:25-28

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.”  Colossians 3:19

I have a feeling that if I focus on my part, showing Christ-like love to Kristine, then the headship thing will probably work itself out.

Let’s stop getting wrapped up in what everyone else “should” be doing and read our own mail.

http://www.casonlanechurch.org/sermons?title=&y=0&se=0&sv=0&sp=80

One Work

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
(Ephesians 4:11-12)

As I was growing up, I was taught about the 3 works of the church: evangelism, edification, and benevolence. I’m not intending to talk against this, because those are the works the New Testament congregations were involved in doing. As you read about the local churches in the book of Acts and in the letters, you see the churches carrying out those works.

However, today’s thought is to help us remember not to compartmentalize things in our mind, always trying to keep these works in separate boxes. These works are all connected. When you help/visit a widow and minster to her needs, you are doing benevolence, of course. But are you edifying at the same time? Yes, she is edified, you are encouraged and built up by her faith and trust in Jesus, and maybe the person you took with you to visit that person is encouraged as well. Are you doing evangelism in this work, too? What about the widow’s neighbor who notices what you are doing? Is it possible that you are preaching Jesus by your labor of love for the widow? It’s not only possible, it is exactly what you are doing, according to Jesus.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:35)

As a congregation takes care of its own (benevolence), it displays the love of Christ to the world (evangelism), and builds up the brethren (edification).

As you look at the verse at the beginning of this post (Ephesians 4:11-12), you see that elders/shepherds, evangelists and teachers are given by God to “equip” the brethren to serve, so that the body of Christ can be built up.

It’s one work.

Digging a New Channel

We dig channels or trenches to get water going where we want it to go. At home we have a pasture that has a big pond in it in the spring, and I need to have a trench dug this summer so we can better direct that water to the ditch.

I’ve been thinking about channels in our brains. No, I’m not a psychologist, but I know that through a long time of thinking a certain way you can create a channel in your brain where you will lead all future thoughts. That can be bad or good. Paul had learned to rejoice and be content and to see God’s working in all things (Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:11). Where at one time he struggled with covetousness (Romans 7), he learned from God how to direct his thoughts through a new channel, contentment.

It could be that because of a long time lusting, you direct all thoughts through that dirty channel and corrupt any good thing. Paul talked about that as well (Titus 1:15). He also taught that through God’s grace we can be trained “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” so that we can “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). We can dig a new channel with God’s help that will direct thoughts through a pure and holy channel.

But we also can dig a channel of malice. In our relationships, we can over a period of time look at all the faults and hurts that someone has directed our way, and we can dig a channel that leads any thoughts about that person into a channel that puts the worst construction on him or her. No matter what he or she says or does is run through that channel. Even his or her good deeds and genuine kindness is discolored by going down this trench we’ve created in our minds about them.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers created a channel for Joseph. I don’t believe that Joseph did anything to deserve it, but they just could not see a positive thing in him. That channel was so well dug that any good Joseph said or did was taken negatively. It went so far that they could not even speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:4,11), in fact, they either wanted him dead or gone.

Listen to what Paul taught concerning this:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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 4:29-32)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Can you relate to this? Have you seen this happen in relationships? Do you need to dig some new channels in your mind? Please consider it prayerfully. Take some time to talk these things over with a godly brother in prayer. God can teach us to direct our thoughts in a holy, loving and godly way. He can help us dig new channels.