Friday, December 8, 2017

What Does Holy Look Like?

In a post at wineskins.org entitled “What Do We Know Of Holy?”, Paula Harrington addresses how hurting people as well as those with whom we disagree are often mistreated in the body of Christ. In her opinion, much of the problem can be traced to a lack of active holiness in the lives of God’s people.  After offering some scenarios in which an inappropriate response was given, she has this to say:
“What does holy look like when you’re faced with someone who doesn’t interpret Scripture the way you do? It looks like laying down your stones and choosing grace instead. That may mean withdrawal but it never means cruelty. What does holy look like when someone has been offended? Regardless of your opinion on the subject, holy looks like listening and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint and story...In every relationship holiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s thinking Jesus and inviting him into every situation” (http://wineskins.org/2017/09/18/what-do-we-know-of-holy/).
  “Holy” is one of those religious words that are easier to talk about than to practice. We are more comfortable with discussing it than doing it.  Active holiness is far more difficult because, at that point, our living must begin to mesh with our knowing.  I find it instructive that the Bible doesn’t tell us to “know holy” but often encourages us to “be holy” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
  Those of us who set apart for God’s purposes are called to exhibit holiness in all that we say or do.  That can be a tall order.  If you are like me, you find it easier to respond in kind to someone who mistreats you. It’s easier to be vengeful instead of forgiving.  But that isn’t how a holy person should react.  Harrington’s last statement in the post goes like this: “Church, it’s time we step up. We are God’s people. We know holy. Let’s start living it. The world is watching.” I agree.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Practicing Thankfulness

“A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet.  He held up a sign which said: "I am blind, please help." There were only a few coins in the hat. A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat.  He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words. Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.  That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning?  What did you write?" The man said, "I only wrote the truth.  I said what you said but in a different way." I wrote: "Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it." Both signs told people that the boy was blind. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind. The second sign reminded people that they were so blessed not to be blind. Should we be surprised that the second sign was more effective?” (Borrowed and adapted).
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget just how much we have for which to be thankful.  It can be especially problematic for those of us who live in this nation because we are so richly blessed in so many ways.  If we are not careful, we can begin to take even the simplest of God’s gifts for granted.  In such a setting, we have to be intentional about reminding ourselves of the extent to which God has been benevolent toward us.  With that in mind, especially as we enter the holiday season, allow me to encourage us all to remember to practice being thankful.  “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name”  (Psalm 100:4).
 
God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reaping The Whirlwind

“For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

         If you have followed the news recently, you know that the entertainment industry has been rocked by numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.  Several actors and actresses are speaking out against the predatory practices of others in positions of power and influence in the business.  In many cases, the abuse took place years ago but wasn’t reported until now for fear of losing jobs or opportunities for jobs or because they were paid money to keep quiet.  But, emboldened by others who have stepped forward, these silent ones are also being heard.  The jury is still out, as they say, but due to the sheer numbers involved, it's naive to think these are all fabricated claims.  Time will tell.
         The contributing factors to this problem in the industry are likely numerous.  I have to wonder if at least some of problem has been fueled by the attitude that most of Hollywood has taken toward the “sexual revolution” in our country over the last few decades.  The entertainment industry has been at the forefront of stretching the boundaries of what is considered to be appropriate sexual behavior.  The “boys will be boys” mentality has been coddled if not glorified.  Sexual deviance and violence are more and more prevalent in movies and television.  Is it any wonder that the dividing line between acting and reality is increasingly blurred?
         Please make no mistake.  I’m not saying that these victims deserved what happened to them — that they somehow “had it coming.”  That would not be showing the attitude of Christ.  Sexual abuse should never be condoned regardless of the contributing factors.  I applaud the courage of those who have finally said “enough is enough!”  I am hoping that this example from one segment of society will help us all to realize that sometimes our choices can have devastating consequences.  Rather than pointing my finger at the entertainment industry, I need to first consider how my own “sowing” could be contributing to my own “whirlwind.”

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Worked To Death

“Miwa Sado, a young journalist for Japan’s state-run broadcaster, spent the summer of 2013 frantically covering two local elections in Tokyo.  Over the course of a month, she clocked 159 hours of overtime. She rarely took weekends off. She worked until midnight nearly every night. On her birthday, June 26, she emailed her parents, who thought she sounded weak.  Not quite a month later, just days after the second election, she died of congestive heart failure. She was 31” (https://www.nytimes.com/
2017/10/05/world/asia/japan-death-overwork.html).
The Japanese even have a word for it.  They call it “karoshi” or death from overwork.  The problem starting attracting attention in the 1980’s as an increasing number of overworked Japanese employees, in varying industries and occupations, were dying from the stress associated with an unreasonable workload.  The competition in the Japanese workforce is tremendous.  The article referenced above went on to say that Ms. Sado “...was a young woman making her way in a blue-chip organization. Her employer is considered one of the most prestigious companies in Japan, a country where exhaustion is often seen as a sign of diligence.  A 2014 government investigation found that Ms. Sado’s death was a direct result of her work life.”
Work, in whatever form it takes in our lives, has an important role to play in our lives.  We are encouraged in the Scriptures to “...do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23).  One way to promote healthy interaction with unbelievers and to provide for our needs is “...to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
But the Bible never promotes working ourselves to death.  The Sabbath provisions were given, at least in part, to emphasize the need for regular periods of rest and reflection.  Jesus Himself needed and sought times of rest and invited his followers to do the same (Mark 6:31).  Working yourself to death is never a badge of honor.

God loves you!

Mike

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Freedom And Obligation

The ideological rifts in our country appear to be getting wider and deeper.  It seems that freedom of expression, in word and deed, is becoming a privilege which we are finding increasingly difficult to handle.  Matt Dabbs offers a reason why this is happening:
“We have emphasized freedom without pairing it with obligation. When you have been set free it comes with a response of obligation to others…the desire for them to also experience the same kind of freedom you have been given. Freedom without obligation is the slave master mentality. I get my way and I have no obligation to you.
Obligation without freedom is slavery. I must do what you say regardless of how I feel about it. One without the other is abusive.
“We are seeing people today expressing extremist positions – neo-nazisim, KKK, you name it. They are exercising their freedom without pairing that freedom with an obligation to their fellow man. You have the freedom to say many things but what you say has repercussions. Freedom does not mean freedom from the consequences of your actions. If what I see on social media is any indication, some seem to be unaware of this.
“We need to uphold our freedom AND understand the obligation to others that comes with it. This has been lost today and it must be reclaimed if we are to have any chance of engaging in a healthy dialog toward a brighter future. The church must lead the way on this” (Matt Dabbs, “Racial Tension and the Need for Freedom and Obligation,” wineskins.org, 8-14-17).
This isn’t a new problem, by the way.  Humans have always had a hard time balancing freedom and obligation.  Both Peter and Paul had to counsel disciples of Christ to exercise their freedom responsibly.  True freedom should never be used to indulge our fleshly desires or as a front for evil practices (1 Peter 2:16; Galatians 5:13).  To do so is an abuse of freedom and puts us in danger of forfeiting it.  And reform starts with us.

God loves you!
Mike

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Assumptions

           “Sam and Jacqueline Pritchard started receiving mysterious phone calls to their home in England in the middle of the night. The person on the other end never made a comment. After a long pause, he would hang up. They changed their phone number to stop the harassing night calls. The stalker changed his tactic. He started sending them obscene and threatening anonymous letters in the mail. The couple discovered their house had been daubed with paint, and their tires were slashed. The Pritchards became prisoners of their own home and spent a small fortune on a security system. They had no idea what they had done to deserve such cruel treatment. After four months of unexplained terrorism, they finally met the perpetrator. Mr. Pritchard caught James McGhee, a 53-year-old man, while he was damaging their car. As they looked at each other, Pritchard asked him, “Why are you doing this to us?” The vandal responded, “Oh, no—I’ve got the wrong man!” McGhee thought he was terrorizing a different man, who had been spreading rumors about him. He had looked up Pritchard’s name and address in the telephone directory and assumed he was the person responsible for slandering him. He got the wrong Pritchard. Assumptions make us jump to the wrong conclusions, and others suffer as a result” (Kent Crockett, I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint, p. 71).
          “But I thought…”  How often has that got you in trouble?  Imagine the regret the apostle Paul felt as he considered an assumption he made earlier in his life.  "So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9).  As a younger man, Paul assumed Jesus was an imposter and that his followers were a threat.  And acting upon those assumptions caused incredible suffering for disciples of Christ, including imprisonment and death.
          Jumping to conclusions is a poor exercise program.  No good ever comes from it. Instead, endeavor to take the time to get the facts and hear from all sides.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Self-control

“As the hard-fought Little League game was underway, the coach paused to say to one of his players, “Do you understand what cooperation is? What a team is?” The little boy nodded yes. “Do you understand that what matters is whether we win together as a team?” The little boy nodded yes. “So,” the coach continued, “when a strike is called, or you are out at first, you don’t argue or curse or attack the umpire. Do you understand all that?” Again, the boy nodded yes. “Good,” said the coach. “Now go over there and explain it to your mother” (Michael Duduit, preaching.com).
Each of us, to one degree or another, has discovered that self-control is a difficult virtue to practice.  The heart of the problem lies in that little word that comes before the hyphen -- “self.”  Frankly, we normally do not like to limit or deny ourselves.  Left to our own devices, it’s difficult to say “no” or act and speak with restraint.  It’s like giving a convict the keys to the prison.  No one is surprised when they find the cell block empty.  Our default mode is do what we like, what pleases us, what is in our best interests.  And while doing things like this is not always wrong, far too often it leads to mistreatment of others.
Perhaps that is why Jesus linked following Him with self-denial (Luke 9:23).  Self-indulgence is an identifying mark of religious hypocrites (Matthew 23:25).  But it’s so hard to control ourselves, isn’t it?  Do you remember what frightened the Roman governor Felix when Paul spoke of faith in Christ?  Sandwiched right between the theological heavyweights of righteousness and the judgment to come was self-control (Acts 24:25).  Like Felix, maybe it scares us to contemplate what we need to control in our lives.
What part of my “self” needs controlling?  My thoughts?  My body?  My emotions?  My words?  My attitudes?  My reactions?  How about you?

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

“LET ME SELL YOU A BRIDGE…”

“In the long history of con artists, George C. Parker holds a special place of dishonor. He is remembered as one of the most successful and daring swindlers in American history. He set up an office in New York City and “sold” some of the city’s most famous attractions to tourists. His favorite was the Brooklyn Bridge, but he also sold the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, and Grant’s Tomb. He produced elaborately forged documents and deeds to convince his targets that he was the rightful owner of the landmarks he was selling.
“Parker was so persuasive that on more than one occasion, police had to come and explain why the new “owners” of the Brooklyn Bridge couldn’t put up tollbooths to collect money from those who tried to cross. After his third conviction for fraud, Parker was sentenced to life at Sing Sing Prison in New York, where he spent the last eight years of his life. He dishonestly made a fortune preying on people who foolishly believed his empty words. He not only was an expert salesman, but he realized that many people were gullible and he could use that to his advantage” (ministry127.com).
Unscrupulous people have always been quick to take advantage of undiscerning victims.  It’s not surprising, then, to learn that it happens even in religion.  Right near the end of his Roman letter, Paul has this warning about certain individuals: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18).
Choose your spiritual advisors carefully.  Compare what you are being told with what the Scriptures say.   Sadly, not everyone can be trusted in spiritual matters.  Not everyone is who they claim to be (Matthew 7:15).  Not every bridge is for sale.

God loves you!
Mike

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

There's A Shark In My Boat

“The shark jumped right into his boat. Terry Selwood was fishing off the coast of Australia, just like he had hundreds of times before. Something almost knocked him down and when he turned to see what it was that hit the boat, he realized that a seven-foot, 440-pound Great White shark had jumped into his boat. I wonder who was more surprised – the shark or Mr. Selwood. After radioing for help, he hung on the side of the boat until he was rescued.  He evidently did not think it wise to share his boat with a shark. And seeing this story got me to thinking about life, Jesus, and ministry. You never know when life will take an unexpected turn for the worse. It could be a natural disaster that destroys property, an unforeseen layoff at work, or bad news from the Doctor.  It can be something evil done to someone you know and care about.  Or to you.  It might be consequences from a bad choice or decision.  It is a hard world and bad things happen” (Steve Ridgell, “Sharks, Life, and Jesus,” http://char.is/).
Perhaps there is a shark in your boat right now.  It could be any of the things mentioned above or some other equally devastating problem.  Regardless, there it is -- lying in the bottom of your boat, snapping its powerful jaws, seeking to take a bite out of you.  You didn’t invite it in, yet, there it is, threatening to overwhelm you.  What are you going to do???
I like the lines from the story above.  “After radioing for help, he hung on the side of the boat until he was rescued.  He evidently did not think it wise to share his boat with a shark.”  None of us can handle the sharks of life one on one.  The wisest course of action is to get out of harm’s way, send out a distress call to God, and hang on.  It may not sound heroic, but it has an amazing success rate.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cooperation

Roberta Ursrey and her family were looking forward to a fun day at the beach on the Florida coast recently.  Little did they know that the day would nearly end in tragedy. Roberta’s sons had ventured too far from the shore and their screams signaled that they were in trouble.  Ursrey and other family members waded out to try and help them but also got caught in the rip current.  Now nine people were stuck in about 15 feet of water.  But thanks to some other quick-thinking individuals, another rescue plan was initiated.  Dozens of onlookers formed a human chain, stretching out hand-to-hand for the length of a football field, to get close to the distressed family.  When the water got too deep for the human chain, a few strong swimmers covered the remaining distance to tow those in danger back to the people in the chain, who then passed them back to safety.    Later, Roberta Ursrey was quoted as saying, “I am so grateful...These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time. I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (http://www.newsherald.com/news/20170710/human-chain-saves-family- from-drowning).
          In a time when the news cycle is dominated by so much negativity, it’s refreshing to encounter a story like this.  Beyond the obvious blessing of the rescue of this family, I see a couple of lessons to be learned.  First, there were people on the beach that day who were willing to get involved rather than stand back and wait for someone else to do something. Second, it took cooperation to make it work.  No one person or handful of people were going to be successful.  Everyone had to join hands and work together to get the job done.
          Hopefully, the application to work in the kingdom of God is readily apparent.  When each one of us makes it a priority to get involved and when all of us join hands to work together, great things can happen.

God loves you!
Mike


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bad Days

“We do not go through tough times simply because life is rough.  No, because these have powerful significance.  We must not waste a bad day.  What we do is turn that which attempts to shut us down on its head.  We win it into productive submission.  We use it--the hurt, the pain--to help others; just as did Jesus as he perpetually helps us.  And why?  Because all around us are awesome people who've just about had it with injury and obstacle. Even those who behave with intent of hurting us will only serve to strengthen us because we will learn how the others in our circles feel.  It is here that we will be of useful purpose.  Jesus teaches us how to make a difference....just like he did.  This is called ministry. We must not waste a bad day.  Jesus didn't.  He used the agony of the Cross and the numbing death of the Grave to wow the world!” (terryrush.blogspot.com).
I’m guessing that most of us view bad days as a waste of time.  But the Bible teaches that even bad days shouldn’t be wasted.  Bad days can strengthen our faith. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Bad days equip us to minister to others. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Bad days remind us that this world is not our home. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Be thankful for bad days!

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

PERSONAL FAVORITISM

           "In a stately church a noticeably untidy man visited the church for the first time. He was met by one of the smartly-dressed ushers who immediately ushered him to a back pew so that his unkempt appearance and foul odor would not upset the decorum of the church.
“Another first time visitor stood in the foyer. He was neatly groomed and made a striking appearance in his dark pinstripe suit. One of the ushers strode proudly down the aisle with him and seated him in the front of the church. Following the service, the president or the congregation invited the man to dinner at his home.
“As they were seated around the table, the food was passed. The visitor helped himself to the delicious looking potatoes placing them on his plate. But then he did a strange thing, he scooped the potatoes into his suit coat pocket. The family watched as he proceeded to do the same with the carrots and the meat. Unable to keep silent any longer the father asked, "Why are you pouring the food into your coat pocket?" The visitor smiled and answered politely, "Judging from where you seated the visitor who came in before me I gather that you invited my suit to lunch so I’m feeding it" (sermoncentral.com).
This story illustrates what James was trying to say in his letter to believers in the New Testament. “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:1-4).
Remember -- it is a sin to show this kind of partiality (James 2:9).

God loves you!
Mike