Friday, August 31, 2012

A New Creation

Chuckle:  The worst analogy ever written in a high school essay was . . . "Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze!"
Good Quote:   "All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson
NEW CREATION                  
    "So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons (new creations). They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NLT).
This passage contains one of the most miraculous truths in Scripture.  When a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a new creation -- a brand-new person on the inside.  By the working of the Holy Spirit, he or she is not the same anymore.  Rather, we think differently, speak differently, and act differently.  We have a new nature.  In the first creation, God brought people into physical existence from nothingness; but in this new creation, he brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
Christians are not reformed, rehabilitated, or reeducated, but are transformed human beings living in an eternal union with Christ.  This new relationship with Christ becomes the controlling factor in one's life.  When we are converted/saved, it is not the equivalent of turning over a new leave and promising to do better.  It is the beginning of a new life under the control of a new Master.  As a new creation in Christ, we receive a new nature with a new attitude toward God and life itself.  We are no longer driven by the standards of the world, but by the standards of God's Word.
    "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10 NIV). The Message Bible puts it this way: "He (God) creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."
Notice that our salvation is not the result of doing good deeds.  No, our salvation is by grace through faith -- resulting in our recreation.  Then, as a natural progression from our rebirth, God expects us to do the work which he has arranged in advance for us to do.  As a new creation, we do the work (ministry) of God while empowered by, and under the direction of, his Spirit. "When God's work is done in God's way for God's glory, it will never lack God's supply.  God is not obligated to pay for our selfish schemes.  He is obligated to support his ministry."  --Hudson Taylor 
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Our Christian Heritage

Chuckle:  "It's a good thing I found you Gideon. It seems someone has been hiding all your Bibles in motel rooms."
Ponder This:  “The human soul is like a bird that is born in a cage. Nothing can deprive it of its natural longings, or obliterate the mysterious remembrance of its heritage.”  --Epes Sargent
OUR CHRISTIAN HERITAGE                  
    "Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance -- all who seek the Lord! Consider the quarry from which you were mined, the rock from which you were cut" (Isaiah 51:1 NLT).
It seems the older I get the more interested I become in my family history. I'm thankful for Christian family members who have gone on the be with the Lord, and my living elderly relatives have become even more precious to me.  I often think about the Christian heritage they have given me and I reflect on their faithfulness in years past. 
Living in the past can be dangerous to your emotional health if overdone; however, a healthy respect for those who made your life possible and more meaningful is good and proper.  As believers, we do well to stop and think of all the faithful Christians who have gone before us and the great heritage they have left us.  We should never overlook our history because it helps us to understand who we are and gives us a sense of purpose -- where God is leading us.
At the time of Isaiah's writings, God's people had forgotten what God had done for them, and they also had forgotten about their faithful spiritual ancestors such as Abraham, Moses, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were living as spiritual paupers rather than heirs to a wonderful heritage as members of God's royal priesthood -- as God's people.  The call in our passage suggests the vital need for all Christians to focus their hearts and minds on the underlying principles which characterize our faith.
Today, as a Christian, you enjoy an even richer heritage than did the people in Isaiah's day.  We have the broad shoulders of great New Testament Christians, like Peter, John, and Paul, to stand on and to draw strength from.  You also may have come from a Christian family whose faithfulness to Christ goes back many generations.  If so, you are most fortunate.  We should view our heritage as a special gift of God and be forever thankful.
The key questions for you and me are, "what kind of heritage am I leaving for my children and generations to come?"  Will they look back with thanksgiving for the life you lived and the Christian instruction you provided them?  These are sobering questions that we would be wise to deal with right now.  Right now is a great time for life assessment by each of us as a parent or grandparent.  If we Christians, even a faithful few, remain steadfast, just think what God can do through us to inspire and influence current and future generations.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Live One Day At A Time

Chuckle:  "A man will laugh at a woman putting on makeup, and then take ten minutes trying to make three hairs on top of his head look like six."
Quote:  “Today is a most unusual day, because we have never lived it before; we will never live it again; it is the only day we have.  --William Arthur Ward
A few years back Christie Lane had a hit recording and a portion of the lyrics went something like this: "One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that's all I'm asking from you. Help me today. Show me the way, one day at a time."

The only time any of us have is today -- time can't be saved and it can't be retrieved -- it can only be savored.  I've heard it said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans for tomorrow."  James 4:15 tells us that when we make plans, we should say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." Several Scriptures attest to the value of living for today.

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).  "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" (Matthew 6:34).  "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring" (Proverbs 27:1).  "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow" (James 4:14).

Some live in the past and dwell on mistakes and failures which are now history and cannot be changed.  Others live in the future in a constant state of expectancy and dissatisfaction with their lives today.  Either of these mind-sets can cause us to miss the blessings God has for us today.

Living one day at a time means keeping yourself responsive to simple things.  For most of us, there are few big moments in life -- only a plethora of small ones.  Most of us never win the Pulitzer prize, nor the Nobel, nor an Oscar.  But we're all eligible for life's small pleasures -- a pat on the back; a hug; a 12-point buck in your sights; a big bass on your line; a full moon; a crackling fire; a good meal; a glorious sunset.

If our happiness is dependent upon major accomplishments and events, we won't be happy much of the time.  If, however, our happiness depends on a good breakfast; flowers in the yard, a brisk walk, or a nap, we will have a lot of happiness.  A good motto would be: "Learn from yesterday, hope for tomorrow, but live for today."  Living one day at a time will help make your life be all it can be.  When you kill time, it has no resurrection!  Today is the only certain time we have to share the love of Christ with someone.

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Monday, August 27, 2012

An Angry Jesus

Chuckle:  Clerk: "This jug is genuine Indian pottery." Customer: "But it says, 'Made in Cleveland.'" Clerk: "Haven't you ever heard of the Cleveland Indians?"   
Quote:  "Anger would inflict punishment on another; meanwhile, it tortures itself."  --Publilius Syrus
He (Jesus) looked around at them in anger and, (was) deeply distressed (grieved) at their stubborn (hardened) hearts, . . ." (Mark 3:5 NIV). 
Anger, in human terms, usually refers to selfish, destructive feelings -- a  strong annoyance and a desire to fight back when someone hurts us or opposes us.  Such feelings can lead to harmful and objectionable behavior.  However, the anger of God is the response of His holiness to the sinful actions of people.  When God takes action against sin, it is called "wrath."  In the Old Testament, the word translated as "Divine anger" is used 177 times, but the word "anger" is rarely used in the New Testament.  Our focal passage is one of those instances.  Let's focus on what angers Jesus and how He reacts when angry. 
We are told in Scripture that Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15), even though He did become angry on occasion.  In our passage we see Jesus' angry reaction after being criticized for healing a man on the Sabbath.  The Matthew and Luke accounts of this event leave out the word anger, apparently because they were unwilling to ascribe to Jesus this "human" emotion.  But the kind of anger Jesus felt is revealed by His being "deeply distressed (grieved) at their stubborn (hardened) hearts."   
Another instance where Jesus showed strong emotions and even anger was when He witnessed the actions of the Temple merchants and money changers.  ". . he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons (sacrificial animals). He said to them, It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers'" (Matthew 21:12-13 NIV).  Here, Jesus is reacting to the desecration of the holy temple as a place of worship and the injustices against worshipers.  He showed God's righteousness indignation.  
Anger is a normal human emotion.  However, it can lead to sin when we become angry for the wrong reasons and we act in sinful ways.  Anger becomes a sin when we allow it to fester until it causes us to become bitter and act in ways harmful to others and/or reflects unfavorably on Jesus Christ and Christianity.  "In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold"  (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV).
Jesus became angry for the right reasons -- sinful behavior and injustice.  Likewise, we should be indignant and even angry when we see people being mistreated, abused, or neglected.  Such anger or indignation should motivate us to do everything we can to correct injustice.  However, becoming angry to the point of offensive behavior is never justified.     
Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A New Command

Chuckle:  "Did you hear about the dyslexic Satanist?  He sold his soul to Santa!" 
Quote:  "It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us (Christians) in the eyes of our opponents.  'Look!' they say, 'how they love one another!  Look how they are prepared to die for one another!'" --Tertullian (160-225 AD)
    Jesus to His disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35 NIV).
From the time that Moses received the Old Testament Law from God, the standard for loving others was, "love your neighbor as yourself."  For the sake of discussion, let's call this "neighborly love."  But Jesus went far beyond neighborly love when He described the kind of love we should have for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ -- the kind of sacrificial love He had shown for his disciples and has shown for you and me.
I believe Jesus gave this "new command" to His disciples because: (1) They had experienced Jesus' love first hand and could now understand the dimensions of that love.  (2) They were experiencing a major crisis because their Lord, teacher, mentor, and companion was about to leave them, and they needed a new kind of love for each other to see them through.  (3) Soon after His resurrection, Jesus would give them the most awesome task every given, the Great Commission, to evangelize the whole world.  To be successful in this mission, they would need a Christ-like love for each other and for a lost world.
No longer was "love your neighbor as yourself" a sufficient love for Christ's followers.  Now we are commanded to love one another in the same way Jesus has loves us -- a love that:
    (1) Is based on Jesus' example"As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  The apostle Paul put it this way: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us . . ." (Ephesians 5:1-2).  This kind of love is unconditional and demands nothing in return.
    (2) Gives credibility to our witness"By this all men will know that you are my disciples."   When those we are trying to reach for Christ see us loving one another the way Jesus loves us, our words will ring true and we have credibility.  Others will be drawn to Christ by His love. 
    (3) Is demonstrated by our actions"Dear children, let us love not with words or tongue, but with actions and truth" (1 John 3:18).  This means going out of our way to encourage, strengthen and otherwise help one another.  It means placing the welfare of others ahead of our own.  It means giving even when it hurts.  It means doing whatever is necessary to meet  spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
    (4) Is a love not of our own strength.  Loving one another as Jesus loves us is impossible in our own strength, but is entirely possible when we allow Jesus, in the form of His indwelling Holy Spirit, to love through us.  "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me"  (Galatians 2:20).  Allowing Jesus to love through us is dependent upon our love for Him.  Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my words"  (John 14:23).  If we truly love our Lord, we will obey this "new command."
Love, Jerry & Dotse   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ashamed of the Gospel?

Chuckle:  "The emergency brake on my car is really not an "emergency brake." I never use it in an emergency. It should be called a 'makes your car smell really funny' lever."   
Good Quote:  "It's not our choice as to whether or not we believers wish to be epistles of Christ. We just are! What is the message others read in you?" --Unknown Author
    "For I am not ashamed of this Good News (gospel) about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes -- Jews first and also Gentiles" (Romans 1:16 NLT).
Paul described three elements of his life that resulted in power for his evangelistic efforts: a deep sense of obligation to his Lord; an eagerness to spread the gospel message; and pride in the gospel for what it could do.  When he reflected on the sacrifice Christ made for him on the cross, he saw himself as being deeply in debt, with an accompanying obligation to repay that debt by being a faithful witness.  This sense of obligation made him eager to share the message with all people.  Thus he received great satisfaction from what he was doing and saw no reason, whatsoever, to be ashamed of the gospel message.
When you stop and think about it, God did nothing for the apostle Paul that he hasn't done for each of us.  His sacrificial and atoning death on the cross was for all people, equally.  Why is it that most of us are so timid and unsure of ourselves when it comes to sharing the Good News with others?  People give various reasons for not witnessing for their Lord.  But I suppose it boils down to depending on our own strength rather than the limitless strength and power of the One who commanded us to "go and make disciples of all nations."   When we depend upon our inadequate human strength, fear, anxiety, timidity, and ineffectiveness as a witness becomes the norm.  Depending upon God's strength will make us bold and eager to share what Christ has done for us.
In reality, each of us is a witness of one sort or another.  If you profess to be a Christian, you are a living testimony of your faith -- either positive or negative. Someone has put it this way:
You are writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By deeds you do,
By words you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithless or true,
Say! What is the gospel
According to you?
God has entrusted to us the priceless message of Jesus Christ, the gospel.  It is the power of God which will save anyone, and everyone who, places their faith and trust (believes) in Christ.  What an awesome responsibility God has given us; but what a joy it can be when we are faithful in sharing the Good News, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and seeing lives changed.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Monday, August 20, 2012

Finishing the Race

Chuckle:  "Never test the depth of the water with both feet." 
Ponder This:  "Anybody can do their best, but we are helped by the Spirit of God to do better than our best."  --Catherine Bramwell-Booth
    The apostle Paul said of his life, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7 NLT).
Have you experienced frustration and disappointment from starting a project and not finishing it?  I have.  There is a pleasant sense of peace and satisfaction when we complete a task, a journey, or an assignment, especially when we know we have given it our best effort.  I have often asked myself this question: "When I come to the end of my life, will I be able to say with the apostle Paul that I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful to my Lord?"
Paul often used athletic metaphors in describing the Christian life.  He pictured Christians competing, not against one another, but for the prize from God awaiting those who faithfully run the race.  Paul knew he would be rewarded not by applause of men, but by Christ whom he loved and served.   To win a race, an athlete must begin strong, remain strong, and finish strong if he is to be a winner.  Some jump out to a quick lead, but begin to fade as they grow fatigued and do not have the reserve strength to finish strong.
Living the Christian life is hard work -- it requires continued effort and commitment, not unlike running a race.  You may think that once you receive Jesus Christ as Savior your struggles have ended, but this is not the way Christ works in us.  The term "babes in Christ" is used in Scripture to describe new and immature Christians.  When we are born again, we are weak baby Christians in the same way a newborn baby is weak and requires a lot of nourishment, exercise, and parental care.  
It is God's plan that we grow in strength and knowledge of him and that we become increasingly more productive for his kingdom.  He wants you to grow in your faith and your understanding of his nature and plan for your life.  Making a public commitment to Christ is a first step in running the race, but It is only the beginning of a life-long journey of devotion to the cause of Christ.
In ancient Roman athletic games, a laurel wreath was awarded to the winners.  As a symbol of triumph and honor, it was the most coveted prize.  This is likely what Paul was referring to when he goes on to say, "And now the prize awaits me -- the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return"  (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT).
Although Paul would not receive an earthly reward, he would be rewarded in heaven.  Whatever you may face -- discouragement, hardships, persecution -- you can be assured of your reward Christ will give you in eternity.  Our faithfulness is proven each day by our faithful endurance in the race of life. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Faith and Works

Chuckle:  Can it be a mistake that "stressed" is "desserts" spelled backwards?
Good Quote:  "If we have faith without works, or works without faith, we have washed the window on one side only."   --William Arthur Ward 
    "The gentiles have been made right with God by faith, even though they were not seeking him. But the Jews, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law and being good instead of depending on faith" (Romans 9:30-32 NLT).
What a difference it would make in our world if everyone understood the letter, the spirit, and the implications of this passage.  There is a deep-seated conviction in the minds of many that goodness (righteousness) is measured by what we do -- the good things we accomplish in this life. 
We continue to think we must impress God by our good deeds/ works to earn his acceptance and approval so we can be assured a place in his heavenly presence.  This salvation by works idea blinds people to the blessed truth that it is the righteousness of Jesus, not ours, that reconciles us to God.  Believing that we must earn God's approval serves as a stumbling block to attaining true righteousness through faith.
The only righteousness that makes us acceptable in God's sight is the righteousness imputed to us by Jesus Christ, and this righteousness only becomes our own through faith in Him.  We may think that attending church, doing church work, giving offerings, and being nice to people will be enough to earn God's favor.  Paul tells us the approach will never succeed. 
We can only be saved by putting our faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross at Calvary. "God saved you by his special favor (grace) when you believed. And you can't take credit for this: it is a gift of God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
If salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ, what place does good deeds have in our lives?  It's really quite simple.  Good deeds that please God are those done for his glory as a result of our relationship to Him through Christ, not to earn that relationship.  "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things (works) he planned for us long ago" (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).
Our salvation is something only God can do through his creative power at work in us.  We become Christians through God's grace (unmerited favor), not as the result of our own efforts, abilities, or acts of service.  God's intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.  We work for him out of love and gratitude because we have been saved, not to be saved.
Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Darkness of Depression

Chuckle:  "If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments!!"
Beautiful Prayer:  "I believe in Your everlasting love, dear Father, and I accept it. I trust in Your sovereign control over the circumstances of my life, and I will rest in the knowledge that Your character is trustworthy and unchanging. Amen."  --Kay Arthur. 
     "Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don't turn away from me, or I will die" (Psalm 143:7 NLT). "Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again. . ."  (Psalm 5:5 NLT).
Are you suffering from depression, or do you know someone who is?  If so, you realize full well the sense of worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness depression can bring.  If you watch television, you are aware of the many commercials advertising drugs to help people overcome the devastating effects of depression.  Depression seems to be an epidemic in our society and there are many  approaches to treating this disorder. 
I recognize that some suffer depression brought on by physical problems -- chemical imbalances, etc.  Those may require professional help.  Obviously, I can't offer you help in this area, except to encourage you to seek the help you need.  However, I am convinced that many suffer feelings of depression brought on by a spiritual vacuum in their lives.  Claiming to be a Christian will not necessarily fill that vacuum.  Often we see depressed Christians. Why?
A while back, I read a short sermon in the Religion section of our local newspaper.  It was entitled, "When Your Roots Don't Hit the Water."  The message dealt with depression and the title was derived from John 7:38 NLT: "If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within."  Here, Jesus uses the term "living water" to refer to the Holy Spirit who is always available to believers because he lives within us.  It is the Holy Spirit who stands ready to fill every spiritual need we have if we are willing for Him to do so -- not trying to solve our problems on our own.
We can become discouraged, depressed, and worried about what the future may hold. Maybe you are not well and are fearful that death may not be far away.  Maybe you are feeling guilty because you are not living the way you know God would desire.  Maybe you are feeling deep disappointment and hurt because of a rebellious child or a wayward spouse.  Maybe one of your children is suffering from a physical or mental disorder and you feel helpless to change the situation.  Maybe you have recently lost a loved one.  Any of these circumstances can bring on feelings of depression and despair.  But your Heavenly Father is faithful and will sustain you.  All too often we find ourselves doubting that God is really in control in our lives and are reluctant to trust him completely to take care of us.
When God is given first place at the center-court of your life, you can be content and sleep in peace.  This is because the roots of your being are being nourished in the never-ending living water of life -- the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, when we realize that not every situation will turn out the way we wish, the best we can hope for is a sense of God's peace. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5-7 NIV). When you feel depressed, read the Bible's accounts of God's goodness, and meditate on them. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse   

Monday, August 13, 2012

Family: Our Treasure

Chuckle:  "Mom, there's a man at the door collecting for the Old Folks Home.  Shall I give him Grandma?"
Quote:  "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy one is unhappy in its own way."  --Leo Tolstoy
    "How happy are those who fear the LORD -- all who follow his ways! You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How happy you will be! How rich your life! Your wife will be like a fruitful vine, flourishing in your home. And look at all those children! There they sit around your table as vigorous and healthy as young olive trees. That is the LORD's reward for those who fear him. . . May you live to enjoy your grandchildren" (Psalm 128:1-4, 6 NLT).
As I grow older, my family members become more and more precious to me -- both my extended family as well as my immediate family.  A few weekends back, some members of our family (Dotse's lineage), came together to enjoy a time of fun, food, and fellowship.  Some had not seen each other in many years, and it was a wonderful time of getting reacquainted, sharing life's experiences, recalling precious memories, and strengthening the bonds of love between us.  From this experience, came a desire to make the get-together an annual event; and to make every effort to include even more family members next time. 
In our society, family members are often scattered over great distances and  it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to bring all of them together, except perhaps for funerals.  As I conduct funeral services, I often remind family members that life is brief and they should never pass up an opportunity to come together and express their love for one another.  Failure to do so can bring lingering feelings of guilt and regret after a loved one passes away. 
We know it is God's plan that the family be the building block for society.  He instituted the family in creation and even saved Noah's family unit when He destroyed life on the earth with the great flood.  Strong godly families make strong churches, communities, and nations.  I think we all agree that the rapid disintegration of the family in our society contributes to all sorts of social ills.  As Christians, we should be faithful to heal and protect our family relationships in ways that bless one another and honor God.
Family fulfills the human need for love, companionship, and procreation.  It is also the setting within which our religious faith is nurtured through the examples and teachings of parents and other relatives.  Family relationships do not remain warm and close automatically.  They must be nurtured through love, communication, family worship, conflict resolution, and even healthy friendships outside the family.  I hope you see your family members as your greatest treasure, and I encourage you to never pass up an opportunity to let each one of them know how much you love and appreciate them.  We never know when we will do so for the very last time.

Love, Jerry & Dotse 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thinking Like Jesus

Chuckle:  "My sister has a life-saving tool in her car designed to cut through a seat belt if she gets trapped. She keeps it in the trunk!!!"

Good Quote:  "The love we give away is the only love we keep."  --Elbert Hubbard


    "Let this mind (attitude ) be in you which was also in Christ Jesus"  (Philippians 2:5 KJV) 

If we could only learn to think like Jesus and have His attitude, all our problems in living like Jesus would be solved.  However, before we can begin to think like Jesus, we must have the desire to do so.  Before the "how to" must come the "want to."  How is your "want to" coming along?

Prior to Jesus ascension back into heaven, He made some amazing  promises.  Among them was the promise that He would always be with us in the form of his Holy Spirit.  It is His indwelling Spirit that gives us the ability to think like Christ by helping us understand the mind of Christ as revealed in God's Word -- to understand how Jesus thought and acted.

Having said this, what was the mind of Christ really like while he was here on earth?  Well, he humbled himself even unto death and was willing to give up all his own rights as God by coming to earth to save people from their sins as the Father had planned.  He accepted the role of, and had the heart of, a servant.  He made himself nothing so that He could be everything to you and me.  He is the supreme example of humility.  Likewise, we should be humble servants living our lives for the good of others.     

If we allow it, the Spirit of God will teach us to have the mind of Christ.  He will teach us to get outside our selfishness and into the lives of others.  One of God's primary purposes for the church is to build bridges of love to the people who need Christ.  In John 20:21, Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I'm sending you."  We must give up the idea that the church is some sort of fortress to protect us from the world and to make us comfortable and cozy with friends who look like us, think like us, talk like us, and act like us.  It's true that the church can be a place of comfort and security, but Jesus commissioned the church (Christians) to go where it is uncomfortable -- our there where the people are -- where the action is.

When we begin to think like Jesus, we will have a love like His for people who are hurting, regardless of ethnic, economic, or social status.  Jesus loved and touched people where they were. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36 NIV).  Jesus was referring to the sick, hungry, and naked -- those with desperate physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Finally, when we begin to think like Jesus, we will adopt his methods in dealing with people. In Luke 6:36, Jesus tells us to "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."  When we think like Jesus, we will not say, "come to our church," but rather, "we're coming to you."  Rodney Stark  was puzzled about how the early Christians, a marginalized and persecuted people, were able to touch so many.  In his study he concluded: "Their sacrifices released an explosion of light the world had never known."

When we think like Jesus, we will love our enemies. We will not explode in anger at those who are evil, but reach out in love to touch them.  Jesus taught the early Christians to love and give more than they would ever receive in return.  They refused to hide in safety.  Their radical love was followed by selfless good deeds.  Any act of kindness, no matter how large or small, says there's a God who loves you -- and I love you too.

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Monday, August 6, 2012

Harboring Hatred

Chuckle:  "I finally got my head together, and then my body fell apart!"     
Ponder This:  "Hate at its best will distort you; at its worst it will destroy you, but it will always immobilize you." --Alex Haley, author of "Roots."
    "Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart" (1 John 3:15 NLT). "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs" (Proverbs 10:12 NIV).
"Hatred" is defined as a strong dislike for someone.  Is there anyone you just can't stand?  Is there a burning rage against someone smoldering deep within your heart?  If you find yourself answering "yes" to these questions, I don't need to remind you of the misery that such feelings can bring into your life.  It takes a lot of energy and effort to harbor hatred because hatred is a terribly destructive force and will eventually consume you.  There is no doubt that Christians are to love all people but despise sin.  In our 1 John passage, John echoes Jesus' teaching that whoever hates another person is a murderer at heart (Matthew 5:21, 22).
Christianity is a religion of the heart; and outward compliance with a set of standards alone is not enough.  It is the condition of the heart that matters to God.  "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7 NIV).  Bitterness against someone who has wronged you is an evil cancer within you that can render you useless as a Christian. 
I think the best test to determine if you are harboring hatred toward someone is to answer this question: Do you find yourself hoping that a person will get what's coming to him or her -- that something bad will happen to him or her?  If you consciously wish hardship on anyone, you are exercising your hatred.  If someone has committed a sinful offense against you, it is alright to hate their sin, but not the person.  Your reaction should be to ask God to help you love the offender by enabling you to pray for that person.  Remember how Jesus looked down from the cross at his tormentors and said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 NIV). Jesus never stopped loving no matter the offense.
Hatred for someone comes from indulging your own selfish desires -- being concerned for yourself at the expense of others.  Instead, allow the Holy Spirit to fill and control your life, leaving no room for hatred and bitterness. Anger leads to bitterness and bitterness leads to hatred.  Love, mercy, forgiveness, and humility are powerful weapons against hatred. "Get rid of all bitterness. . . . Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another"  (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT). 
Here comes the clincher. "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates a Christian  brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? And God himself has commanded that we must love not only him but our Christian brothers and sisters too" (1 John 4:19b-21 NLT).  God's love is the source of human love, and this love is contagious.  As you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (the Great Commandment, Mark 12:30), God will kindle a fire of love in your heart and you cannot help but love as God (Jesus) has loved you. There will be no room in your heart for hatred. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Things First

Chuckle:  We all admire different qualities in people. My grandfather used to say, "If we all liked the same thing, everybody would be after your grandmother!" 
Good Quote:  "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."  --Mark Twain
"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all -- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32 NIV)

Have you thought lately about what is most important in your life?  Do your priorities center around pleasing God or impressing others?  Are you more concerned with self-indulgence than self-sacrifice?  If these questions stirred a sense of conviction in your heart, perhaps it's time to reassess your priorities and get first things first in your life.  Did these questions create a desire within you to let God change you from the inside out?
If you truly wish to change things in your life, a transformation of the heart is required.  Only God is able to permanently make a change take root in your life.  When we rely on our own power to make changes in our lives, these adjustments generally stem from wrong motives and are temporary in nature.  They may resemble new years' resolutions made in our own strength.  We have good intentions when we make them, but the flesh is just too weak -- the will just isn't there.  We go for the quick and easy way, which usually is self-focused and not God's way.  However, His Holy Spirit within empowers us to make adjustments and transformations with eternal value.   Ask Him to "create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you"  (Psalm 51:10 NIV).

If your heart is consistent with God's will, you never have to doubt His willingness to move in your life.  Make a choice to build on a firm, permanent foundation.  Rely fully on God alone for He loves you and will help you on your journey!  Read in His Word all that He has planned for you - it's all good!  He will help you keep first things first. "I can do all every thing through Him (Christ) who gives me strength"  (Philippians 4:13 NIV).  Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion states, "Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it."  When you stop letting God change you, you stop growing and maturing spiritually.  A change in behavior begins with a change in the heart.

Jesus asked the man by the pool of Bethesda, "Do you want to be made well?"  Some people don't want change in their lives.  They feel comfortable right where they are.  Jesus was asking this man, Are you content with the way you are right now?  Do you really want your life to change?"
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Does Jesus Care

Chuckle:  Church Sign: "God does not believe in atheists; therefore atheists do not exist!" 
Ponder This:  "The more a person loves, the closer he approaches the image of God."  --Unknown  
    "In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through the years"  (Isaiah 63:9 NLT).
Does our Lord really care what happens to me?  Does he feel the pain that I feel?  Can he understand what I'm going through?  Yes, he does!  Because of his great love, God made provision to rescue us from the pain, sorrow, and eternal consequences of our sin.  To do this, Jesus, the God man, came to earth as human and as a result He can empathize with us in every way. 
Jesus fully understands our weaknesses and our fears.  As our High Priest, He made himself human, "And because he is human, he is able to deal gently with the people, though they are ignorant and wayward. For he is subject to the same weaknesses we have"  (Hebrews 5:2 NLT).  Since Jesus understands your pain, he pleads with you that you would be free from the suffering that sin causes and he desires you to experience the peace, joy, and freedom that comes from a personal love relationship with Him.
Jesus is like us because he experienced a full range of temptations as a human being while here on earth. He faced temptations as we do, only more so.  He is both sympathetic and empathetic toward us.  We should be encouraged from knowing that Jesus faced temptation without giving in to sin.  Through his example, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can have the strength to resist sin and deal with hardships and suffering.
Jesus assures us of forgiveness and salvation.  As humanity's representative, he is now at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. "He lives forever to plead (intercede) with God on our behalf"  (Hebrews 7:25 NLT).  He is always available to hear us when we pray. "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words"  (Romans 8:26 NLT).
As we pray, the Holy Spirit penetrates to the deepest recesses of our being to help us root out those sinful thoughts and urges that we so carefully keep hidden from those around us.  Aren't we foolish to think that there are some sins that we can hide from God?  In the final analysis, our Lord really does understand what you are going through and is ready to help you through it.
It is not always easy to live the Christian life.  It is a mixture of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and pain and comfort.  Through it all, our Lord remains our faithful companion and encourager because he identifies with us and understands what we are feeling.  This old hymn puts it this way: "Just when I need Him, Jesus is near, Just when I falter, just when I fear; Ready to help me, ready to cheer. . . . Just when I need Him most."
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dishonesty Destroys

Chuckle:  A children's Sunday School teacher asked her class, "Who defeated the Philistines?" One little boy said, "I don't know. I don't keep up with the minor leagues."
Quote:  "A lie can travel half way around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots"   --Mark Twain   
    "No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence" (Psalm 101:7 NIV).
"A little lie is like a little pregnancy -- it doesn't take long before everyone knows" (C.S. Lewis).  Dishonesty is a serious problem in our society.  Lying and other forms of dishonesty seem to be the acceptable standard to many today.  Some have adopted the philosophy that a certain amount of lying and cheating is necessary to get ahead.  The time when business deals were sealed with a good-faith handshake is a distant memory.  They have been replaced by mounds of written notarized legal contracts and other documents signed by multiple witnesses as the means of keeping us honest.  Many can't be trusted to follow up on a promise or keep their word -- that is unless it's beneficial to them in some way.
One of the most tragic stories in Scripture deals with the seriousness of dishonesty.  You may remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to God, and were struck dead (Acts 5:1-11).  It just may be that God still does this.  It seems likely that the price of dishonesty and deceit is still death -- perhaps not the death of the body, but the death of what is valuable and meaningful in life: trust, integrity, and faithfulness.
    Marriage -- Falsehoods and deceitfulness are like termites that devour the "trunk of the family tree."  Lies and deceit undermine the mutual trust and respect which must be present for a marriage to remain healthy and thrive.  Once lost, trust and respect are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild.  "I just can't trust him/her anymore" is a common expression in troubled marriages.
    Conscience -- Consciences can become callused and useless as lies and deceit are repeated.  It is tragic that the second lie is always easier than the first, and the third easier than the second, etc.  Dishonesty will, over time, render our consciences unreliable in determining right from wrong.  At this point the old saying, "let your conscience be your guide" has no validity.  The conscience becomes worthless as the moral compass for your life.  We often see people lying with seemingly no remorse or regret -- with no pangs of conscience.
    Career -- I'm sure the student who was kicked out of school for cheating or the employee who was fired for embezzlement would say, without hesitation, that dishonesty was fatal to his/her reputation.  And a reputation for dishonesty is not easily restored.  In recent years, we have seen lives destroyed as careers came crashing down because of dishonesty.  Many corporate executives are now serving long jail sentences for such conduct.
We could include the deaths of trust, peace, credibility, and self-respect in our list.  But for us who are Christians, the most tragic death as the result of dishonesty is our Christian credibility and witness.  Like a jury in a courtroom, the people of the world we are trying to reach for Christ will not listen to the testimony of a perjured witness. "A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies" (Proverbs 12:17 NIV).  We must never succumb to the temptation to be dishonest, regardless of how small and insignificant the untruth may appear on the surface.  Dishonesty can easily become a slippery slope toward moral and spiritual disaster.       
Love, Jerry & Dotse