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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Put On The Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14)

Put On the Lord Jesus Christ

(Romans 13:14)

Another version of Romans 13:14 reads; “Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ…” It sounds like we are to put on Christ as we would a nice warm coat, doesn’t it? And the rest of the verse reads: “and make no room for sinful desires.” Many Bible passages tell believers that because Christ’s Spirit lives in us we are to “put on” Christ and “put off” sins. Let’s read just a few of them.

“Your body is the house of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God: and you are not your own.” (1 Cor. 6:19) “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these virtues, put on love,…” (Colossians 3:12-14) “With your former way of life you were taught to put off your old self,…and to put on your new self in Christ, created to be like God …” (Ephesians 4:22-24) “If you remain in Me (Jesus) and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7) “The Lord is with you when you are with Him… (2 Chronicles 15:2)

The Bible has much to say about the Gods’ gift of the incarnation - how the Spirit of Christ is given to believers and how He lives in us. But what about the “human side” of this mystery (God with us)? How do our actions help or hinder us being able to live a “Spirit filled life”? How do we “put on” Christ? What is our part?

Scripture says we can choose to “put off” sin. And we can choose to “put on” Jesus Christ. What we want – our will- is all important. If we don’t want to let the Lord Jesus into our lives, He won’t force Himself on us. Revelations 3:20 reads: “Behold I (Jesus) stand at the door and knock, if anyone opens the door I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Jesus is knocking – wanting to come into our lives. And our will – our choices – are like a door that we can open or close to the Savior.

So how do we “close” or “open” the door for Jesus? How do we clothe ourselves with Him? I think it is by our choices. Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. (John 14:15) Virtues and vices (sins) are real things – real capacities for good or evil. When we obey Christ and “put on” virtues - with Gods’ help of course, we allow the Lord to change us. To choose to put on the Christian virtues is to practice the presence of Christ. And He will always help us when we choose good.

When we refuse to “put off” a sin, the sin can gain ground in our lives, become addictive and even take us over. Psalms 109:18 is a scary verse. It reads: “He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.” We can substitute “cursing” with any other sin. Whatever sin - dark coat- we “put on” – anger, lying, ambition, pride, hatred, bitterness or whatever, can enter into us, seep into our very beings and change us!

I have a problem-a sin- of getting angry with people. Christ commands us (me) to love others but instead often I get angry with certain people. It is easy for me to keep the door closed to loving these irritating folk as I know Jesus wants me to do.

Even though I wanted to obey the Lord and love a person close to me, I couldn’t seem to love her in my own strength. Finally I asked the Lord for help - to give me His love for this person. And then instead of seeing her faults I began seeing this person as new – beautiful - the way she was supposed to be. And I began praying for her to have whatever the Lord wanted for her. Sometimes I fall back and my old anger returns, and I have to pray again to see this person the way my Savior sees her. But if I want to love her, (if I want to “put off” my anger and “put on” His love) Christ comes along beside and makes it possible.

C.S. Lewis points out this same thought – how important our choices are – and how the Lord is there to strengthen our good choices. He says: “Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor: act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. …” (Mere Christianity, p. 115) And Scripture follows this idea up with: “Having done all to stand, stand..” (Ephesians 6:13)

We are not meant to live out our lives in our own strength alone in the cold. We are commanded to “clothe ourselves with Christ..” (Rom. 13:14) And what warmth and riches we are being offered! 2 Cor. 8:9 reads: “…though He (Jesus) was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” When we “put on” Christ we become rich. Along with eternal life, Christ brings us many other gifts!

For one, Jesus brings us peace. He tells us: “My peace I give you, My peace I leave unto you, not as the world gives…” (John 14:27) He helps us through our troubles and rescues us. “Casting all your care upon Him (Jesus), for He cares for you.” ( 1 Peter 5:7). When we open the door (our will) to Christ’s Spirit we receive the “fruit of the Spirit” which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) And we also can receive some of the gifts of the Spirit too, spoken of in 1 Cor. 12.

Life gets rough sometimes and we can forget the Lord is with us. Forget His promises and become discouraged. Since forgetting comes easily, could we make a special effort to remember? Remember that Christ is with us. Remember everyday to talk to Him, listen for His voice. Ask Him to help us “put off” the sins that come our way. Wrap ourselves in the peace He promises. We are tempted every day to forget that He is with us. To fight the temptation to forget, could we start each day by remembering? Could we remember every day to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ? – as we would a warm luxurious coat.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thank You God That I Am Better Than Others

Thank You God That I Am Better Than Other People

Jesus was telling another one of his stories. This story was about two men who came to the temple to pray. The first man was a religious leader, a Pharisee. And the second man was a hated tax collector.

The Pharisee prays first: “God, I thank You that I am not like the other people around here– some of whom are extortionists, unjust, and adulterers. And I am so much better than this tax collector praying here next to me.” (Luke 18:11) Jesus goes on telling that this Pharisee is standing tall, so proud of himself. He goes on bragging to God about all the good things he has done. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I have.” (Luke 28:12)

And then Jesus described the second man who has come to pray- the tax collector. The tax collector slumps into the temple with his head down and beating his breast. Bowing down to the ground he begs: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

Two prayers of two men! A proud man showing off before God and a humble man pleading to God for mercy. Jesus ends his story by saying that God heard the humble mans’ prayer and took away his sins. But the proud prayer of the Pharisee was not pleasing to God. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the person who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus added. (Luke 18:14b)

When it came to the proud religious leaders – the “holier than thou crowd” - Jesus often had little patience. He sometimes lashed out in anger at the ones who bragged openly about their “values”. Once He even compared these religious “goodie goodies” to “white washed tombs”. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. You are like white washed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

But Jesus always had compassion for the marginalized people in His society. One time during His ministry Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery and another time He asked Zacheias, the cheating tax collector if He could spend some time visiting with him in his home. Jesus was always seen eating and praying with the bad folks – the undesirables! (Matthew 9:10-13)

People have always been impressed by outward appearances. And today these shallow values are exploited by the media where we are urged to look sexy and drive expensive cars, wear cool clothes and be seen with the “important” people. But God has never been impressed by our fancy clothes or showy appearance. Scripture says that what is in our hearts is what matters to Him.

Jesus called the religious folks hypocrites- the ones who prayed loudly or did good deeds on street corners or out where everyone could see them. (Matthew 6:5-8) and (Matthew 6:1-4) He said that we shouldn’t try to impress others with our long prayers or good deeds.

Instead Jesus told His followers to pray in secret. “When you pray, go into your room, and shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6) And Jesus also told us not to advertise how much we help others. “When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet …that you may have glory from others…But when you do charitable deeds; do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:2-4)

Years ago our family joined a church where most of the church members put bumper stickers with Christian messages on the bumpers of their cars. Some of these bumper stickers read: “Honk if you love Jesus,” “Praise the Lord” or “As for me and my house, we serve the Lord”. And most of the women in this church wore large fancy crosses around their necks and constantly talked about “the Lord” in pious voices. We joined this church group because we thought we could become closer to God by being around these wonderful Christians.

Another family joined the church shortly after we did and this family had a teen-aged daughter who was pregnant. The social norms were different back then (1970’s) and girls who became pregnant out of wedlock at that time were looked down upon and shunned. The family with the pregnant teen-ager seemed to be looking for a closer relationship to God and they tried to fit in at church. But soon the church ladies wearing the big crosses were whispering back and forth about this pregnant teen-ager and her “bad” parents.

Rumors and judgments flew around and soon none of the good church members would speak to the family with the pregnant daughter. The pregnant teen was nearly run over in the church parking lot by a church member in his car with “Jesus” bumper stickers displayed front and back. The family finally gave up and quit coming to church. They had been frozen out by the “holier than thou” crowd. And we quit going to that church too. I have often wondered if that family ever tried to go to another church. How many people have been turned away from God by judgmental Christians? No wonder Jesus got angry with these proud folk!

The Bible tells us that “Pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 18:12) The Bible has a great deal to say about the dangers of pride. It’s no wonder, since it was pride that caused the downfall of our first parents. Adam and Eve disobeyed Gods’ command to not eat the fruit of a certain tree, since they thought they knew better than God. That was pride, wasn’t it?

But Jesus came to take away sin and restore what was lost. He did it all. The only part we need to play is to be humble enough to accept what He has done. If we are proud we may still want to be in control and not see our need for the Savior! Our hearts may be too hard to open to His salvation. Pride can mess up our relationships with one another so I believe that pride can also stand in the way of our relationship with God. Our foolish pride can blind us from trusting His way. So we need to do the opposite and humble ourselves before God. So important! Remember Jesus said: “The person who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

You Shall Not Bear False Witness (Exodus 20:16)

You shall Not Bear False Witness Against your Neighbor (Exodus 20:16)

One of the several U.S. presidential hopefuls was recently lecturing inside a church. He was telling the good church folk that President Obama and the U.S. Government will soon be allocating health care resources out to older people (or have death panels to decide who should live or die.) A prominent Christian radio preacher had spread the word that “for patients over 70 years of age, advanced neurosurgical care will not generally be indicated.” And this presidential hopeful was picking up on this scary message. “Well, who should we be allocating these resources to? We shouldn’t be allocating it to 70-year-old people who have strokes, according to Kathleen Sebelius,” he said. The frightened church folk angrily nodded in agreement and rose to lay hands on this man and pray that he becomes the next president of the United States.

The problem is that professional medical groups have called these statements bogus. Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has rejected such statements regarding 70 year old stroke patients being refused health care. Her good name has been falsely tarnished with this lie, but it is still being passed around.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons issued a joint statement insisting that no such federal government document exists. The groups stated that such suggestions run counter to their responsibility as health care professionals, and they asked radio host Mark Levin to remove the radio clip from his website. But these two leaders who claim to be “Godly” men with “values” have continued spreading these frightening lies to the good church folk, even though they know that they are false. While emphasizing that their group has all the “values”, have they forgotten the value of telling the truth?

Have we Christians become sloppy about bending the truth? In our culture we generally tend to think of bending the truth (lying) as benign and funny, something that people can tell about media stars and politicians. But God feels very differently about lying. In fact one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16) forbids us to make false statements about our neighbor.

God gave the Ten Commandments to a tribal people. The Jews, who first received the Ten Commandments believed that they should not tell lies about another fellow Jew. But they didn’t think of foreigners as “neighbors”.

So when we read in Luke 10:25-37 where a lawyer asks Jesus what the definition of a “neighbor” is, we are amazed. Jesus answers him by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan”. The Jews hated the Samaritans and had probably never thought of them as their “neighbors”. But Jesus is telling the lawyer (and us) that everyone is our neighbor. And followers of Jesus were to help everyone in need and be honest with every human being. Jesus was expanding the definition of “neighbor” to mean every person in the world. Ephesians 4:25 reads: “Therefore, having put away all falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

A close cousin to lying about our neighbor is gossiping about him, and that is also condemned in the Bible. The gossiper reveals embarrassing or shameful things about other people, usually with the intent of aggrandizing themselves. One of many scriptures concerning gossip is Proverbs 11:12-13. It reads: “A person who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a person of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.”

Words are very powerful. There is no way to draw a firm distinction between words and deeds. One of the Ten Commandments tells us that we are not to murder another person. But Jesus tells his followers that if we call our brother a “fool” we are also guilty of murder. (Matt. 5:22) How can this be? We know that hateful gossip and false statements often lead people to violence and murder. Could that be why Jesus compared a person who spews out hateful words to a murderer?

This year in Dallas, Texas, twenty-five older black men have been released from lifelong prison sentences. Even though proof was lacking, each of these men had been accused and imprisoned many decades ago of the crimes of rape or murder. Even though each man had insisted that they were innocent, these poor men had been behind bars for most of their adult lives, unable to raise money for an attorney or a decent trial. With the T.V. cameras rolling it was a joyous thing to see the expression on each of their faces as they were finally given their freedom and reunited with their families.

The Innocence Project had raised funds to take DNA samples from these prisoners. And when the DNA samples came back, these men were finally able to prove that their DNA did not match the DNA of the real perpetrators of their alleged crimes. Several of these innocent men had already been executed for their “crime” and several more had died while in prison, before the truth came out.

Of course our Justice System and our courts can make mistakes. But when a community is anxious for the District Attorney to find a criminal and solve a crime, couldn’t the truth be stretched to find a likely suspect and pin the crime onto him or her? How many more innocent people are still languishing in prisons around the world today because gossip and false witness have been used against them? Words are powerful.

Jimmy Carter in his book “Sources of Strength” p. 101-102 says: “So when Jesus tells us that hatred spewed out in verbal form is akin to murder, he isn’t exaggerating: he is expressing a fundamental truth, though one we’d prefer to overlook. Jesus’ words are still revolutionary today because they challenge our human tendency to built our lives in an egocentric, self-satisfied way. The things I do, the decisions I make, are usually chosen to meet my own needs and to promote my own self-image.” But then he continues: “But Christ challenges this complacent self-image. He demands more of us. We can’t just fulfill the letter of the God’s commandments, but we must fulfill its’ spirit, in our words …” Our words!

Jesus’ message is revolutionary. We are to enlarge our understanding of words such as justice, honesty, love, and compassion. We are to “never cause anyone to stumble” (1 Cor. 10:31) and “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:14)

The Bible says that we are Christ’s ambassadors –His witnesses. God is making His appeal to the world through us. (cf, 2Cor. 5:20) How is the world drawn to Christ through us when we and our Christian leaders gossip and spread scary untruths about those we don’t agree with? How will people find Christ in churches that spew out political hatred along with the gospel? Scripture says that “They will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love.” (John 13:35) We can do our job better as Christ’s ambassador – be a better witness for Him to the world- if we put away our judgments and gossip and just practice loving folk into the kingdom.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Morning Prayer (Psalm 5)

Morning Prayer (Psalm 5)

“O Lord, in the morning thou dost hear my voice: In the morning, I prepare a sacrifice for Thee, and watch,” (Psalm 5:3) We have an image of a person bringing a sacrifice to God each morning in this Psalm. Eugene Peterson writes in his book, Answering Prayer, p.66 “Sacrifice isn’t something we do for God, but simply setting out the stuff of life for Him to do something with. On the altar the sacrificial offering is changed into what is pleasing and acceptable to God. In the act of offering we give up ownership and control, and watch to see what God will do with it.”

The act of offering our lives to God as a sacrifice is mentioned many times throughout Scripture. In Romans 12:1 Paul begs his fellow Christians to present their lives and their bodies as living sacrifices to God. “I beseech you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your lives and your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

We offer our life each morning to God and then we “watch” to see how He directs our day. We watch to see what God will do with our hopes and fears. How He will direct our actions for the day! Morning prayer places us before the watchful God and reminds us to also watch for His guidance. The word “watch” seems to be the main word in the morning prayer of Psalm 5.

And we need to watch. The daylight world of action is often dangerous, full of enticements for us to go astray. We need to “watch” and be careful, because there are possibilities for evil actions in each new day. Psalm 5:5-6 lists some of the dangers. “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight. You hate all workers of iniquity. You shall destroy those who speak falsehood: The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful person.”

And then the writer in Psalm 5:8 asks God for guidance into obedient action. “Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies: Make Your way straight before my face.” We cannot be obedient in our own strength, especially when our enemies are tempting us to anger. We need Gods’ help, especially when it comes to our enemies, and He is always ready to give it. He will speak to us but we need to be listening.

The writer of Psalm 5 asks God to judge his enemies. He reminds God of how bad his enemies are and then asks God to do them in. This part of the prayer doesn’t sound “nice” to our ears. Let’s listen. “For there is no faithfulness in their mouth: Their inward part is destruction: their throat is an open tomb; they flatter with their tongue. Pronounce them guilty, O God! Let them fall by their own counsels: Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.” (Psalm 5:9-10)

Enemies, especially for those who live by faith, are a fact of life. And it is so easy (and sometimes fun) to spend our energies judging and hating our enemies. But hatred and judgments can destroy us. God tells us that we are not created to judge and hate. Our job is to give the problems we have with our enemies to God and let Him judge them. He is big enough for the job. Romans 12:19 tells us “Never take revenge beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Perhaps the writer of Psalm 5 is giving his enemies up to God and asking Him to judge them, since revenge isn’t his job. In fact his job (and ours) is to forgive our enemies.

Psalm 4 is an evening prayer and it is introduced first - evening and morning made up the ancient Jewish day. There seems to be a rhythm to the prayers of the ancient Jewish worshipers. Their new day began at sundown with an evening prayer. Sleep (passivity) was the first order of their day where they let God work His will in them while they were dreaming. But then in the morning they would wake up to activity. And they needed to pray again (watch) for Gods’ leading in that activity. There was a rhythm here of evening and morning prayers.

As Christians we need to consistently spend time with God in prayer. If our prayers and Scripture meditation are hit and miss, our devotion to God may also be half-hearted. But if there is a rhythm to our prayers, -if we make time with God a high priority, it will affect a permanent change in our lives.

This month a popular magazine published an article by the famous Dr. Oz. The good doctor gives eight prescriptions for a healthy heart in this piece. First off Dr. Oz says to rise early each morning and start the day with six minutes of yoga. This practice will calm and strengthen the heart he insists. Many people make a habit of rising early to exercise, practice yoga, or run with the hopes of maintaining physical health. And this is good.

But what about our spiritual health? Can we develop disciplines for the spiritual too? The writer of the Psalms had the habit of beginning each new day with a morning prayer. He offered himself and the new day to God as a sacrifice. And then he watched to see what God would do, how God would lead.

My prayer life has been hit or miss. I like to pray when I feel like it in my own way. Public written prayers have always been difficult for me to pray. But of course there is a time for individual prayer and there is a time for praying as a body with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am inspired by the example in Psalms where prayer becomes a rhythm in the lives of Gods’ people and I need that rhythm in my life as well. I am going to follow the example and spend a few minutes before God each morning. Offer God my day, my life and then watch to see where He will lead. Would you like to join me?