Friday, October 12, 2012

In Times Of Change...

As the fall winds and rain move in, sending the changing leaves falling to the ground, I’m reminded of how much the seasons of this world are like the seasons of this life.  Like the leaves in the fall, we too go through times of change, and sometimes during those times, all it takes is the smallest of winds or tiniest bit of rain in our life to send us falling to our knees…
                Have you ever looked around in the fall and noticed the different reactions and approaches people take when it comes to all the falling leaves in the yard?  In some yards, the leaves just pile up and up and up, and there they remain as the winter’s cold slowly creeps in, and the snow begins to drift down, burying them all in its deep, dark depths all winter long.  In other yards, a leaf barely starts to drift down, and right on cue, a person pops out the door fully dressed and equipped with hat, scarf, coat and boots on, leaf blower in hand, ready to blast that nuisance from their yard!  Then there’s the yards where the leaves are given their time to fall, but upon the completion of each stage of the different types of leaves falling, the people can be witnessed raking them all up into a big pile, followed by joy filled children jumping and playing in them, before they are finally bagged up and discarded… 
                A month ago today, my Mom died, bringing about a change that, though eventually inevitable, came unexpectedly.  Change like this is never easy, but like all other change, it came with a choice – do I take the, “I’ll deal with it later,” approach and end up buried in the snow feeling lost and alone and hopeless?...Do I turn to my weakness of striving for perfection and run around like the frantic leaf blower trying to keep my “yard” clean of life’s mess?  Or do I stay on my knees for this appointed season in life, waiting for the change to sink into my soul and seek to find peace and joy in the process?  The truth is, no matter the approach chosen, I know that God is faithful and spring will eventually come, bringing with it the warming suns and cleansing rains that bring forth new growth.  However, my hope is that, during this fall season of my life, you will find me on my knees praying to our precious Lord until the time is right to begin the work.   And when that day comes, though the work will be hard, it will come to a close with leaps of joy and celebration for my Mom’s life and all that she’s given me.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans12:12
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God…” –Psalm 40: 1-3

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hypocrisy: Where the Word & World Unite

            Have you noticed how when you start to put yourself out there openly in the world as a Christian, a lot of anti-religion comments and viewpoints start getting thrown your way; how the word hypocrite suddenly finds its way into the list of labels the world gives you?  All you have to do is start declaring God’s truth/word, whether it is verbally or on a social networking site such as facebook etc., and the bombardment begins.  What I find most ironic about this though, is not the fact that it happens, because we are warned in God’s word that it will (Jn 15:20 & 2 Ti 3:12), but rather that the majority of the content/their argument is directed toward attacking “religion” itself and/or so called “religious leaders.” 
The humor I find in this is two-fold.  First of all, I think they’d be surprised to learn that I, as a Christian, tend to agree with a lot of what they are criticizing religion for.  Secondly, and more importantly, I think they’d be completely shocked to learn that even Jesus himself preached and warned against the very same subjects.  All one has to do is turn to Mathew chapter 23 – a whole chapter that is devoted to this subject where Jesus, seven times says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”  Of course, reading that would mean that they’d lose a large part of their argument against Christianity because what they’re often criticizing is also found in God’s word in this particular case.  Keeping that in mind, let’s take this a step further.
One of the other subjects routinely ridiculed by the world is the Bible/God’s word itself.  It is often stated that our claim of the Bible as being truth is a lie.  Hmmm… let’s put two and two together here.  Non-believers argue against “religion” and call the so called “religious leaders” hypocrites...God’s word warns against “religion” and calls the so called “religious leaders” hypocrites…but, according to the world, the Bible is a lie…read that sentence again.  Are you beginning to see the hypocrisy here?  Wouldn’t their very own argument then make them liars themselves?  Setting that thought aside for a minute, what about when the world calls you a hypocrite directly?  Ooooh, things just got a bit more serious here…or did it?
Often times the labels we are given by the world because we are Christians are unjust and, while I know that it’s hard sometimes not to react and take it personally, Jesus himself said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.” – Mathew 5:11-12.  He also went on to say in verse 44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  But what if there really is truth to their accusations?  Are we Christians in fact hypocrites?  Again, I think the answer to that question might stun the world.
God’s word says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” – 1 pet 2:1.  While it doesn’t call us hypocrites directly here, it does call for us to rid ourselves of it, and why would we be told to rid ourselves of something we didn’t in fact have in us?  You see, the thing is, God already knew that hypocrisy would be a stumbling block for Christians long before the world started pointing its accusing finger.  He knew and knows the thing that the world, for some reason, can’t seem to grasp – that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23.  There should be an emphasis on all here, meaning Christians included.  Yes, world, not only does God include us in the category of sinner, but we do too!
Somehow the world has gotten this misconstrued idea that we only use the word sinner when we are referring to non-Christians, when in fact, we have no problem claiming ourselves sinners and have actually already done just that. Again, what the world fails to see and understand here is that we didn’t come to the Lord by declaring we are perfect.  Every single true Christian came to Jesus by declaring ourselves sinners and admitting we needed a savior.  I’m not exactly sure how the word “sinner” translates into the word “perfect” in this world, but it’s obvious that there’s a serious lack of understanding in the world of the sacrifice Jesus made that day on the cross.  If we were perfect, he and the cross would not have been needed at all.  So, while the world may think they’re hurting us or arguing against our beliefs in Christianity by calling us hypocrites, they’re actually just stating the obvious and, in fact, confirming our need for Christianity; our need for a savior.    
I think that it has always been clear to Christians that the world has an issue with our hypocrisy, but why is it not clear to the world that we too take issue with it and, more importantly, that God’s word itself makes the same claims?  I believe that it’s in part due to the fact that the world doesn’t truly want to hear this message, but I also believe it’s because there are multiple ways we can and do respond because we tend to look to the world to get our cues, rather than seeking God’s word on the subject.  Let’s take a look at a few of the common responses.
“Practice what you preach.”  We’ve all heard it a million times from the world, have we not?  Oddly enough, not only is this good advice, but this is the response that we find in God’s word as well if you recall again 1 Pet 2:1.  God wanting us to rid ourselves of hypocrisy I can understand, but the world calling us to do so, isn’t that again hypocrisy itself?  Doesn’t the world claim that Christianity and what we stand for is wrong?  Well, if it’s wrong, like they say, then why would they want us to do better at it; especially when doing better at being a Christian is how God’s word instructs us to respond and God’s word, according to them, is supposed to be a lie?
Another response I commonly hear is an addition to the first: “Practice what you preach or stop preaching it at all.”  In other words, stop being Christian all together.  This initially sounds like the most logical approach for the world to want us to take in response to being called hypocrites.  Rather than ridding ourselves of hypocrisy, it would rid the world of the Christianity they are against all together.  Not only does this response go against God’s word, making it the wrong approach, but this “solution” too has its hypocrisy.  Did the world not call us hypocrites because we have done or said things that go against our beliefs/God’s word (we’ve sinned)?  So how would our going against our beliefs/God’s word even more, by not following them at all, solve our hypocrisy?  Wouldn’t that make us even bigger hypocrites?  Perhaps that is how some of the world wants us to respond so that they can say, “See, I told you so, you hypocrites!”
A third option, though one I’ve never actually heard said, I think is often hoped for by the world and, sadly, often chosen by all too many Christians: to ignore the claim of hypocrisy completely.  This is a dangerous response for two reasons.  First, it goes against God’s word.  Again, I remind you we are called to rid ourselves of hypocrisy.  Ignoring it means we do nothing.  Secondly, by not working on ridding ourselves of hypocrisy, we are continuing to give the world fuel for their fire; giving them an excuse as to why Christianity is wrong.  Ultimately, that is why I’m addressing this topic here and now – not only to open our eyes as Christians to the similiarities of the word and worlds stance on hypocrisy, but also so that we, like the Israelites that wondered in the wilderness for 40 yrs, will decide to continue to learn and change to be more like Christ until the day we’ve reached our promised land.
We are claimed as children of God.  We have never claimed to be perfect, but rather the opposite.  We have been claimed as children of God because we have claimed to be sinners and we have claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.  Now, because of that, He is at work in us, but change doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a life-long process.  So don’t ignore the call to rid yourself of hypocrisy and let the world have victory over your life.  Instead, immerse yourself in scripture and allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to mold you and grow you into the person God has predestined you to be.
“Do not conform any longer 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.” –Romans 12:2 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Selfishness and Fear

I did not intend to start this blog by going over a whole month without writing any entries; however, I also never intended to spend nearly a whole month away from my home and internet service either.  I wanted this all to go so perfectly…start things off right, but that was MY plan.  God had other plans in store of what was right and perfect. 
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD” (Isa 55:8).
 “As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.  He is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (2 Sam 22:31).
 Just as I was finishing in setting up the basics and preparing to write my first entry, a call came in that we all hope to never receive – my Mom had been admitted into the hospital and preliminary tests were pointing towards congestive heart failure.  In that moment, my heart sank and tears filled my eyes as a million questions began to bombard my brain.  Questions that all led me to one humiliatingly selfish thought: “Oh God, please don’t use my Mom’s death as the way to reach my sister.”
Even as I write this, I can’t help but pause at the shock of that thought…and I know what you must be thinking: how can someone who calls themselves Christian put higher importance on someone living in this world longer, even if it is their Mom, over the salvation of someone else; especially another family member and especially since my Mom already has her salvation?  Believe me, with feelings of shame and disgust, I immediately asked myself that very same question.  Thankfully, God responded with the grace and love that only He could in this given situation and I was able to walk into our family crisis filled with a renewed understanding and peace from the Lord.
What God so patiently and faithfully reminded me of on that dark day was that, though human emotion is natural and not wrong in and of itself, it can lead us down the wrong paths and to the wrong conclusions if we allow them to take control over our thoughts rather than CHOOSING to rest in the truth of the Lord.  The emphasis on CHOOSING is intentional as we are always graciously given the choice when it comes to following the Lord.  However, if we don’t intentionally choose the path of the Lord, we will likely unintentionally choose the path of the world, which is what I did in those first few moments after receiving the phone call with the news of my Mom’s condition.  I allowed my emotions to carry me to a place where selfishness and fear lay waiting to devour me and it wasn’t until I felt the conviction of the Spirit for my wrong thought, that I realized I had gone astray.
It is from the world that we learn to cling to our selfish desires/put ourselves first and Satan is always waiting in the wings for his opportunity to deceive and ensnare us in this trap. 
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (Jas 3:14-16).
When we examine the effects that selfishness can carry out, it is easy to see why it is listed among the acts of obvious sinful nature in the Bible (Gal 5:20).
 In my particular instance, the thought of not wanting to lose my Mom yet was not in and of itself sinful.  When it became sin, is when I let the fear of losing my Mom turn into the selfish thought of not wanting my Mom to die even if her death would lead to the salvation of my sister.  Thankfully, the Lord used my error in thought to instill in me His truth.  In James, God’s word goes on to say, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (Jas 3:17).  The word of God also says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:1-5).    
I can only imagine how different the month of May would have been if I had clung to my initial worldly reaction of selfishness and fear…I imagine it would’ve been filled with anxiety, doubt, guilt and shame as well.   I witnessed enough evidence of that in others all over the hospital to know and be thankful that that was not my reality, that I serve a loving and forgiving and correcting God, and that I can instead declare God’s truths and victory over my life.  My Mom may be going through a health battle in this world, and though the world teaches us to fear death, we are able to rest in the peace of knowing that it’s all in God’s hands.  She’s in God’s hands. God’s word is powerful, encouraging and uplifting.  It is truth.   
 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the day of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  - Psalm 23
...tomorrow will be one month since my Mom had replacement valve surgery on her heart and I'm happy to report she is doing well!  Praise God!!