Monday, December 22, 2014

The Status of Christmas

Chuckle:  “The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.” –John Haynes Holmes   
Quote:  "To perceive Christmas through the wrapping becomes more difficult every year." --E. B. White  
    Jesus, the Prince of Peace, said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you . . .” (John 14:27 NIV).  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”  (John 15:11 NIV).Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12 NIV).  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest . . . for your souls”  (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV).     
During the Christmas holidays, we all want to experience love, peace, joy, and find time for adequate rest.  No other time of year is associated with these desires like the Christmas season as we search for a sense of happiness and contentment.  Most of us enjoy the excitement and festivities of Christmas; but many find the holidays stressful and exhausting.  Planning Christmas parties, nonstop shopping, decorating, making travel plans, and obligations to work and family can create severe stress, especially if we leave no quiet time for worship.  “The Christmas season is marked by greater emotional stress and more acts of violence than any other time of year.”  --California Dept. of Mental Hygiene
It’s the secularization and commercialization of Christmas that wears us out the most and leaves us empty of true serenity and fulfillment.  Christmas can be a time of joy and peace when we make it a worship experience and keep Christ at the center of our celebrations.  Christmas can be a spiritual, emotional, and physical healing experience if we approach it with an attitude of praise, thanksgiving, and awe.
In John 14-15 and Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus provide us a formula for lasting love, rest, peace, and joy.  They all come as we remain in Christ, follow Him, and obey Him.  He said,  “I will give you my peace;”  “Love each other as I have loved you.”  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you that your joy will be complete.”  “come to me . . . and I will give you rest.”  Nowhere does Jesus tie love, peace, joy, and rest to non-stop scurrying about to find that perfect gift or planning that perfect Christmas party. 
Of course, participating in Christmas festivities and gift shopping can be fun and fulfilling as we show our love and appreciation for family members and friends.  However, this fulfillment cannot compare to that of knowing we are honoring the One whose birthday is the reason for the season.  Following is a sad commentary on the status of Christmas. 
To many, Christmas is an excuse to get drunk, have a party, get something, give a little, leave work, get out of school, spend money, overeat, and all kinds of other excesses. But for Christians it is a time and reason for us to exalt Jesus Christ in the face of a world that is at least tuned in to His name.” –Illustrations for Biblical Preaching; Edited by Michael P. Green

Love, Jerry & Dotse       

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Prideful Words

Chuckle:  “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone else sick except the one who has it.”
Quote:  “Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go, it is not easy to call them back. They wear long boots, hard boots . . . Look out how you use proud words.” –Carl Sandburg
    “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:18-19 NIV).
    Ingrid Bergman, the stage and screen star, said this about proud words: “There is in the words of Carl Sandburg a primary lesson for individuals and classes and nations alike. All too often, we say the cruel and destructive things—because it is so much easier to be clever than to be kind. But in the long run, proud and angry words are the ones which cause trouble in our homes, our communities and among nations.
    Proud words are arrogant, intolerant and savagely ignorant of the great fundamental truths—simplicity, humility and ordinary human decency. They are indeed rough-shod, and it is not easy to call them back.”   
Our proverbs passage makes it clear that pride can be ruinous in our lives and leads to a disastrous outcome.  When we add the words of James to the equation, the danger of a prideful spirit and arrogant and uncontrolled words becomes abundantly clear.  “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself himself and his religion is worthless”  (James 1:26 NIV). 
Pride is a deceitful thing.  It deceives the proud person into thinking he is not prideful.  We can go through life never recognizing that we have it, and wonder why people react to us the way they do.  As a Christian, a regular pride check-up, based on God’s Word, is essential if our words are to be encouraging, uplifting and edifying to those around us.  Proud people pay little attention to their weaknesses and are often not aware of stumbling blocks that beset others, because the proud person thinks he or she is above the frailties of other people. 
Although those around them may be keenly aware of their pride problem, the prideful person may not even be aware of it.  The proud suffer from a distorted self image.  They exaggerate their own importance and see others in a lessor light.  Such pride feeds  condescension, rudeness, and even prejudice,  Our proud words are only a symptom of what’s going on in our prideful heart, and the solution is a heart makeover which will be reflected in our words and actions. 
Jesus said, “The good man (person) brings good things out of the good stored in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NIV). 

Love, Jerry & Dotse       

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gracious Gratitude

Chuckle: When I was little, I often wondered who Richard Stands was. You know: "I pledge allegiance to the flag . . . And to the republic for Richard Stands."
Quote: "If it were our lot to suffer deprivation, as it is the lot of many in the world, then gratitude for the little things of life and the big things of God would come more readily to our lips." --Cardinal Basil Hume
    "One of them (the healed lepers), when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, 'Praise God, I'm healed!' He fell face down on the ground at Jesus' feet, thanking him for what he had done. The man was a Samaritan" (Luke 17:16 NLT).
I think there are basically three ways we can react when being offered a free gift from God or another person.  (1) We can refuse the gift for fear of obligating ourselves to the giver.  (2) We can accept the gift while see ourselves as worthy, entitled, and deserving because of our circumstances or who we are.  Or, (3) we can accept the gift while seeing ourselves as unworthy and undeserving as our hearts are filled with humility, praise, and gratitude.
I'm sure you are familiar with the story leading up to our passage where Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one, a Samaritan, showed gratitude to Jesus for what had been done for him.  This account reminds us that it is very possible to receive God's wondrous gifts while harboring an ungrateful attitude in our hearts.  Nine of the ten lepers never received the blessing of hearing Jesus say, "Stand up and go. Your faith has made you well" (vs. 19).
When we are grateful for what God does for us, we grow spiritually and become more like Jesus, our ultimate role model for Christian living.  We grow in our understanding of God's wonderful grace and mercy as we express our gratitude.  God uses our response as an opportunity to teach us more about himself.
Lastly, this passage teaches us that God's love, grace, and mercy are for everyone, regardless of race, or social status.  The Samaritans were despised by the Jews who saw themselves as the only pure descendants of Abraham.  The hated Samaritans were a mixed race from the intermarriage between Jews and other people after Israel's exile.
The Jews looked down their noses at the Samaritan's and would not associate with them in any way.  It must have been most difficult for the Jews to accept, but the Samaritan's gratitude for Jesus healing him taught them and us a valuable lesson -- that God does not discriminate when bestowing His love, grace, and mercy. He loves every human being equally and Christ died for the sins of all and He is deserving of our deepest gratitude.

Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christian Citizenship

Chuckle:  "Birthdays are good for you -- the more you have, the longer you live!"
Quote:  “I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world.” –Socrates
   The Great Commission from Jesus:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age”  (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV).
Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who is thought by many to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Of course, God gave Solomon “a wise and discerning heart so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1 Kings 3:12 NIV).  As a wise man, Socrates accepted personal responsibility as a global citizen.  Citizenship is a term that implies obedience to the laws and authorities that govern us; social interaction and cooperation with other people; responsibility for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings; and a desire to make our society and the world a better place for all people. 
According to Scripture, Christians have dual citizenship.  We are citizens of this earthly world, but more important, we are citizens of God’s kingdom of heaven.  As citizens of this world, we are responsible to those who govern us (Romans 13) and also to our fellow citizens.  As citizens in God’s kingdom, we are governed by God’s Word, which includes the Great Commission.  “. . . our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, . .” (Philippians 3:20 NIV).  “. . . you are no longer foreigners or aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19 NIV). 
As Christian citizens, we sometimes have a very narrow view of our responsibilities as citizens – limiting our concern to our immediate family and local community.  The great commission, from the lips of Jesus Himself, fixes our responsibility as global spiritual citizens.  If we are obedient, we cannot only share Christ with a specific segment of the population.  Jesus further illuminated our global citizenship responsibility in Acts 1:8: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In my home church, this week is designated as a Week of Prayer for International (global) Missions.  We emphasize our responsibilities to pray for missionaries around the world and to give to our annual international missions offering.  Your church may have a similar emphasis; but, if not, you can certainly pray and give on an individual basis.  We must be responsible citizens, in both the spiritual and physical realms, and your faithfulness is critical if God’s plan for our world and His kingdom is to become reality.

Love, Jerry & Dotse 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Managing Holiday Stress

Chuckle:  A motorist and his wife had been arguing and hadn't spoken for miles. Suddenly the man pointed to a mule in a pasture they were passing. "A relative of yours?" he asked. "Yes," the wife replied, "by marriage!"
Quote:  “Keep your sense of humor. There's enough stress in the rest of your life to let bad shots ruin a game you're supposed to enjoy.”Unknown source
     "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).
The Christmas holidays can be a stressful time when we become too busy rushing to do too many things in too little time.  We can find ourselves in such a frenzy that not only do we become stressed out, but we risk completely missing the peace and joy that Christmas should bring to us.  In this stressed-out condition, even small irritations can become huge at times.  Even though little stresses only last a short time, if they aren't managed they can accumulate and leave us unable to handle the larger stresses of life. We can't afford to spend emotional energy on things that don't really matter.  Let them go!
To help relieve some stress, you might consider making some small, but important, choices in your life.  Give yourself an extra few minutes of travel time to appointments. Eliminate some unnecessary activities outside the home.  Do you really need to be there?  Let the answering machine pick up your messages for a while.  Identify the little stresses and determine to keep them in perspective.
Another way to get some reprieve from stress is to shorten your "To Do List." However, the only way to find real peace and contentment is to enter the restful and peace-giving presence of God.  He provides His people rest -- rest in Him!  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 NIV).  The most important thing you can change is to acknowledge God as you go through your day.  Pray for strength and patience.  Ask for His wisdom as you plan your schedule.  Look for His blessings in your life and don't forget to thank Him.
Our Proverbs passage, gives us God's promise if we acknowledge and trust him in all we do.  He will guide and direct us along our path (Proverbs 3:6 NIV).  As we acknowledge God and invite Him into the details of our lives we will find ourselves living with more peace and balance.  Isn't it time for a change?  It serves us well to dwell on the words of Jesus: "My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you."  (John 14:27 NIV).
Each of us is wise if we make time for rest and renewal during the holidays.  We should get away with our Lord in a quiet place and rest in Him as we consider His miraculous birth two thousand years ago.  You'll see how He multiplies your time, eliminates the stress, and provides peace that the world can never understand!  It's my prayer that you will experience God's peace and joy this Christmas season.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Friday, December 5, 2014

From Darkness to Light

Chuckle: A boy served morning coffee to his grandmother.  When finished, she asked, “why are there three little toy Army guys in the bottom of my cup.”  The grandson replied, “You know, Grammy, it’s like on TV.  The best part of waking up is soldiers in your cup.”
Quote:  Light that makes some things seen, makes some things invisible. Were it not for darkness and the shadow of the earth, the noblest part of the Creation would remain unseen, and the stars in heaven invisible.”  --Sir Thomas Brown (adapted)
    “In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe . . . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:4-9 NIV).
In the Scriptures, God has much to say about darkness and light.  They are metaphors used to describe the ruler of darkness and evil (Satan) versus the Light of the World (Jesus) and the righteousness of God.  You will remember the account in Genesis 1;3 when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  The first time God said, “Let there be light,” He illuminated our physical world with the sun and reflective moon.  The second time God said, “Let their be light,” He sent His Son, the Light of the World, to illuminate the hearts and minds of people where the darkness of sin had taken root.  
As I pondered the above quote, the underlined phrases reminded me that the Light of the World illuminates the darkness of our sins and makes them visible to us by the convicting power of His Holy Spirit.  That same Light renders our confessed and forgiven sins invisible -- even to God Himself.  Our sins are blotted out by the blood of Jesus, and it is as if those sins had never occurred.  We are told that God remembers our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12) when we repent of our sins and prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  We are “a people belonging to God . . . who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV).
Like the stars which shine their brightest in the darkest of night, the Light of the World shines His brightest in the darkness of a sinful world.  The darkness we once experienced allows us to see more clearly and experience the brightness, beauty, and benevolence of God’s redeeming love and light.  If you allow Christ to guide your life, you will never need to stumble into the darkness of sin again.  “In him (God) there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 NIV).
An old hymn:  “The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin, The Light of the world is Jesus; Like sunshine at noon-day His glory shone in, The Light of the world is Jesus.”

Love, Jerry & Dotse      

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Friends Build Us Up

Chuckle: "Do you believe in life after death?" The boss asked one of his employees. "Yes, of course sir," the new employee replied. "Well then, that makes everything just fine," the boss went on. "After you left early yesterday to go to your grandmother's funeral, she stopped by to see you!"
Quote: "Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort, of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a hand of a faithful friend will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness blow the rest away" --George Elliott (Marian Evans Cross).
    "As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend"  (Proverbs 27:17 TAB). Here are some qualities, with related Scriptures, that describe Christian friendships based on respect, brotherly love, and friendship love:
Friends trust each other completely. If a person is your friend, you know he or she can be trusted to keep your best interest uppermost in his or her values. You can trust them to keep to themselves what you have shared in confidence. "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man (person) keeps a secret" (Proverbs 11:13 NIV).    
Friends feel safe and comfortable with each other. You can be yourself.  There is no need for pretenses.  "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).
Friends are honest with each other even if it hurts -- even if it wounds your pride. The friend who sees the other going down a dangerous path will not hesitate to sound a loving but firm warning. "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses" (Proverbs 27:6 NIV).
Friends freely share with each other their innermost fears, anxieties, burdens, insecurities, and questions. "Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2 NIV).
Friends enjoy mutual acceptance, even with all their faults. "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God" (Romans 15:7 NIV).
Friends take personal responsibility for the relationship and will not allow it to deteriorate even in the aftermath of heated disagreements. They will not rest until the air is cleared and the relationship completely restored. "First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:24b NIV).
Friends are encouragers, not fault-finders. They build each other up and never attempt to make themselves look good by putting the other person down. "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13 NIV).
True friends are faithful prayer partners. They are strong and effective intercessors on behalf of their friends. ". . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective"  (James 5:16 NIV).
A true friend is one of the greatest gifts a person can receive. We are wise to nurture the precious friendships we have and never do anything to threaten them.

Love, Jerry & Dotse 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Friends Always Love

Chuckle: The prospective father-in-law asked, "Young man, can you support a family?" The surprised groom-to-be replied, "Well, mmm, No. I was just planning to support your daughter. The rest of you will have to fend for yourselves!"
Quote:  “When a friend laughs, it is for him to disclose the subject of his joy; when he weeps, it is for me to discover the cause of his sorrow.”  --Joseph Francois Desmahis
    "A friend loves at all times, and is born, as a brother (or sister), for adversity"  (Proverbs 17:17 TAB). "The man of many friends (a friend of all the world) will prove himself a bad friend, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24 TAB).  In these verses, we see that true friends love us like brothers or sisters and are essential to our well-being, especially during times of adversity.  There is also a warning about making friends with the world.
According to the Dictionary, a friend is "A person whom one knows well and likes; a person on the same side in a struggle -- an ally."  Another definition: "A friend is the first person who comes in when the whole world has gone out."  People need the strength of a few solid relationships rather than a large number of superficial ones. Trying to make friends with "bad company" can bring pain and disappointment.  To better understand friendship from a Biblical perspective, let's think of some other human interactions that are valuable and necessary, but are not genuine friendships.
Jesus loved all people but related to them on various levels.  He preached to some, He ministered to the individual spiritual needs of some, and He even performed Miracles of physical healing for others.  But he related in a different way to His twelve disciples.  The closeness He enjoyed with them was unique, and even among the twelve, there were three whom Jesus seemed to relate to more closely as friends. " . . . Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were alone. There he was transfigured before them" (Mark 9:2).
You can put yourself through a lot of anguish and heartache if you try to be friends with everyone, because not every relationship will reach the level of friendship love; however, this is not to say that other human interactions are not healthy, nor should they be avoided -- just the opposite.  When you see a person in need and you reach out to him or her in ministry, you have shown obedience to our Lord by showing love, compassion, and caring.  But the needy person may never be your close friend.
On the other hand, when you have a true friend, the two of you will give to each other in an equal and unselfish way.  Both will be strengthened, blessed, and comforted by the relationship. In our Christian lives, we can identify three types of relationships.
(1) First, there are those to whom we need to minister in their time of need, but they may give little or nothing to us in return.  Our joy comes from helping people, not receiving.  (2) Also, we need people to minister to us in our times of need, but we may return little or nothing to them.  (3) A third kind of relationship is true friendship.  This special relationship reflects mutual love, respect, kindness, sharing, and never-ending loyalty.  We should choose our friends carefully, but a good friend brings great joy.

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Armor of God

Chuckle:  Two boys were walking home from church after hearing a sermon on the devil. One asked the other, "What do you think about all this Satan stuff?" The other replied, "Well, you know how Santa Claus turned out. It's probably just your Dad."
Quote:  “The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error.” --William Jennings Bryan
   "A final word: Be strong with the Lord's mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10 NLT).  Why do we find it so difficult to live the Christian life?  Why are we beset by temptations that threaten to destroy us?  Why do we have difficulty finding the words to be a witness for Christ?  Why do our plans for Christian service often come to naught? What is wrong with us?  The answer is rather simple -- we have a powerful enemy whose goal it is to render us ineffective as representatives of Jesus Christ.
But the good news is that God has provided us the protective spiritual armor to withstand Satan's attacks.  Paul tells us to "Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against the strategies and tricks of the Devil" (6:11 NLT).  As Christians we battle daily with the powerful evil forces of fallen angels headed by Satan.  I'm sure you know from experience that he is vicious and relentless in his attacks.  If we are to resist him, we need to avail ourselves of God's strength and utilize every piece of His armor.
Satan uses every enticement to lure us away from our Lord and to make us feel defeated and useless.  He wants to neutralize us and make us of no value to Christ.  He often uses evil people as his allies; however the battle is best described as moral and spiritual warfare.  Listen to a description of some of Satan's methods.
"These people are false apostles. They have fooled you by disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder his servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers" (I Corinthians 11:13-15a NLT).  We must depend upon the Holy Spirit for the ability to discern the truth and identify those who are genuine Christians and those who are not.
So, how do we go about defending ourselves from being defeated by Satan's wiles?  Paul lists several pieces of armor we need to put on.  Briefly, these are first of all salvation, then truth, righteousness, peace, faith, God's Word, and prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In this space, I cannot adequately address each of these, but I encourage you to study Ephesians 6 more fully.
The point Paul is making is that we need not be defeated, but victory does not come without adequate preparation and effort.  His message is to the entire church as well as to individual believers.  Being active in the church (body of Christ) will provide you with the loving support of other Spirit-led Christians who will help you find the strength to resist the crafty and deceitful lures of the Evil One.

Love, Jerry & Dotse