Walking Together

My husband recently retired after 17 years as the pastor of St. Paul’s Free Lutheran Church in Leitersburg, Maryland. At his retirement dinner, his younger sister, one of our members, spoke about what his ministry had meant to her. She said that since Terry is 16 years older than she is, they really didn’t grow up together. It was only as a church member that she really got to know him. In fact, she said, after those years of being in church together, Terry is now the sibling she feels closest to.

That got me to thinking about this verse in Proverbs:

“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

When we are walking with Christ, we are also walking with a whole new group of people who become our brothers and sisters in the faith. We have a common goal; we come together weekly (and often more); we share, through prayer requests, our hopes and concerns; we grieve and celebrate together. We do indeed, often become closer to these “adopted” siblings than our biological family.

What a blessing to know that:

“… you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

You’re never walking alone!

For more about the household of God see:

Submit to One Another?

Being a Family Blessing

Living as a Family with One Another

Thy Will Be Done

‘”Thy will be done.’ For instance, when you wish, and by every means endeavor, to be well, and yet remaln ill–then say, ‘Thy will be done.’ When you undertake something, and your undertaking does not succeed, say, ‘Thy will be done.’ When you do good to others, and they repay you with evil, say, ‘Thy will be done.’ Or when you would like to sleep, and are overtaken by sleeplessness, say, ‘Thy will be done.’ In general, do not become irritated when anything is not done in accordance with your will, but learn to submit in everything to the Will of the Heavenly Father.”

FATHER JOHN

This was part of my daily devotional reading for today, and it makes me see how attached I am to my own will, and the way I want things to be or to turn out. It’s hard to accept sickness or failure or discomfort. Often I feel like Job, questioning God about why these things are happening to me. As the quote says, I need to learn trust and acceptance. Maybe you do, too.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Do Unto Others, part 2

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)

Sometimes it seems as if everyone these days is looking for a way to feel offended. A friend recently told me she attended a work conference, where they spoke about “microaggressions.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term (I was), an microaggression is a slight, maybe even unconscious comment or action that indicates predjudice against a marginalized group.

Some examples I have heard are::

*f a woman decides to avoid getting into an elevator alone with a man of another race, she is a racist”

*If you count calories and exercise to maintain a healthy weight, you are guilty of “fat-shaming”

*Using the word “white” in hymns(to denote purity) is racist”

While there is nothing wrong with watching our speech and actions to avoid giving offense –this is certainly Biblical–the Bible also tells us to avoid being overly sensitive. We are to give others the benefit of the doubt. A woman may avoid being alone with any strange man because she is concerned for her safety; a person may count calories out of concern for her health, without any condemnation of others; the church members singing a traditional hymn are not imagining that “white” refers to the white race, but simply a color.

Being impatient and easily offended, leads to anger and division. We are to love our enemies, not make more of them. Instead we should:

” Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:13-14

For more about this topic see:

Unoffendable

A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls– Book Review

Little Children, Love One Another

Truthful Words

The Bible tells us in many places to avoid lying. It’s one of the Ten Commandments–

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” Exodus 20:16

It’s also mentioned in the book of Proverbs…

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Proverbs 12:22

and in the New Testament as well.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:25

Here’s a quote from my devotional reading that explains how to avoid this particular sin:

“It seems to me, that the shortest way to check the darker forms of deceit is to set watch more scrupulous against those which have mingled, unregarded and unchastised with the current of our life. Do not let us lie at all. Do not think of one falsity as harmless, and another as slight, and another as unintended. Cast them all aside; they may be light and accidental; but they are an ugly soot from the smoke of the pit, for all that; and it is better that our hearts should be swept clean of them, without over care as to which is largest or blackest. Speaking truth is like writing fair, and comes only by practice; it is less a matter of will than of habit, and I doubt if any occasion can be trivial which permits the practice and formation of such a habit.

John Ruskin

Of course, keep in mind that speaking the truth is not to be used as an excuse for hurting others with comments that are overly blunt or even cruel. Paul also tells us to speak the truth “in love”(Ephesians 4:15) and Peter exhorts us to use “gentleness and respect.”(1 Peter:3:15).

Use words that are both truthful and loving. Make this your habit.


Words — What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible actually has quite a bit to say about our words. For example:

“Gracious words are a honeycomb,
    sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

“From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled;
    with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied. Proverbs” 18:20

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word skillfully spoken” Proverbs 25:11

Imagine that! Words are powerful — they can heal; they can satisfy; they have beauty. We don’t have to be rich, we can help and bless others with nothing more than our words. To do this, however, we must use words correctly. They should be kind, gracious and appropriate.

Think back over the past week or day. Isn’t it true that sometimes a simple phrase like “thank you”, “I love you” or “have a nice day” has lifted your spirit? Don’t we all like to hear the words, “good job” or “nice work”? What about “I’m so sorry”, “how can I help?” or ” I’ll pray for you”?

It doesn’t take much time or effort to use words that are caring and courteous. Why not view this as a spiritual discipline? If you make the effort, it will soon become a habit, and that habit will encourage others. As Frederick W. Faber((28 June 1814 — 26 September 1863), a hymn writer and theologian said:

With the help of grace, the habit of saying kind words is very quickly formed, and when once formed, it is not speedily lost.”

So, make time to think about your words. Use them well. You will be blessed and become a blessing to others.

For more about being kind see these posts:

The Kindness Crown

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story–Movie Review

Lovingkindness by William R. Miller–Book Review

Personality or Character?

I’ve been musing about this idea for a while now.  With the election coming up, a friend directed me to a YouTube video of an “election sermon” (the term sermon is used loosely in this context, at least in my opinion).  The pastor said that once a year, he does this, in order to give his congregants advice on deciding how to vote.  He pointed out that our choices should be made of the basis of the policies supported and represented, not the personality of the candidate.  I certainly agree with this …. However…. what about a person’s character?  What is the difference and are those differences important?

So, I’ve been doing some research, and here’s what I found.  Personality refers to our outer self.  People notice and react to our personality all the time.  We may be impulsive or blunt, outgoing or shy, gloomy or cheerful.  Our character is our inner self.  It is less apparent, and is revealed by the way our deeply held beliefs and moral codes influence our behavior.  It may be harder to determine someone’s character because we must observe their actions over time. Character is more stable.  It rarely changes, unless the individual’s core beliefs change.  Personality is easier to manipulate, and has even been called a “mask.”

Having said all this, what does it mean, especially in a political context?  To me, it means examining a candidate according to both their views and behavior over time.  Are they consistent?  Are they loyal?  Do they lead a life that is worthy or respect?  Do they respect others, regardless of their political views? Do they demonstrate true compassion? Do they seek to promote unity and understanding or stir up discord?

Can a person espouse Christian values and positions and lack Christian character?  If that is what I see, I would doubt their trustworthiness and be uninclined to support them.  Over time, that person will advance those things that represent their true inner beliefs (whatever those are).  Unfortunately many of our politicians, in both parties, seem primarily concerned with self aggrandizement and personal power.

What kind of character are we looking for?  In my Sunday School class, we’ve been studying Colossians which says:

“… rid yourselves of all such things as these:  anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language …. Do not lie to each other … clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience …”  Colossians 3:8-9, 12

Election day is over.  We’ve made our choices.  Only time will tell if we’ve been wise.

“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established”  Proverbs 24:3

 

 

 

Are You Angry?

Almost everyone seems to be angry theses days.  Many are angry about how the pandemic has been handled — some think we should have more restrictions, others think we need less. Rioters are angry with the police and the government.  There are racial and political tensions.  Family members unfriend one another on Facebook because they don’t agree on certain issues.  Even church denominations are splitting and suing one another.  What’s the world coming to?

Maybe you are angry as well, and you may even have good reasons for the way you feel.  However, the Bible has quite a bit to say about anger, and here are a few examples:

“…. let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”  James 1:19-20

 

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”  Proverbs 29:11

 

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!  Fret not yourself;  it tends only to evil.”  Psalm 37:8

In plain words, anger makes us foolish, and leads us into other sins.  When we allow free rein to our anger, we damage ourselves and others.  It tempts us to become unkind, disrespectful and even violent.  It stirs up trouble and disrupts peace.

So, if you’re angry, take a breath.  Stay calm. Practice patience.  Think things over.  Don’t respond quickly.  Don’t dwell on the disagreement.  Pray for insight.  Respect the views of others, even if you believe they are wrong.  Anger does not promote righteous behavior, and it separates us from God and our fellow men.

“Be angry and do not sin;  do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  Ephesians 4:26-27

For more on the topic of anger see these posts:

A Fruit We All Need — Self Control

Unoffendable

When There is No Clarity Exercise Charity

 

The Twists and Turns of Life

My husband and I were looking back recently, thinking about how decisions we made affected the whole trajectory of our lives.  We could have married other people, and ended up living in  different places. We could have married sooner, while he was in the army.  In that case, he might have remained in the military.  He could have continued in graduate school and become a college professor instead of stopping after his Master’s degree to take a business position.  I could have gotten my Master’s in Library Science and become a librarian instead of a buyers.  We could have had children sooner, or not at all.  And so it goes.  Do we regret those roads not taken?  Would they have turned out better in some way for us?  Who knows?  For the most part we are satisfied that we have enjoyed a long marriage, raised children, had careers and served God.

Planning is certainly good, but we have to realize that life takes us to unexpected places.  We can map out where we want to go, but there is no guarantee that we will get there or that the timing will work out the way we imagine. There is simply too much uncertainty.  The Bible tells us:

Proverbs 19:21 21Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

God has a plan for us.  Yes, we can mess up and get lost for a while.  We can take wrong turns and have to head back.  However, if we’re paying attention to God’s leading and seeking His Will, we will eventually end up in the right spot.  The spot He wanted for us all along.

How Do You Know You’re a Christian?

This idea came from part of a sermon my husband gave earlier this month.  I thought it was worth repeating since all of us want to have the assurance that our faith is genuine.

How do we know we’re real Christians?  Well, the Bible identifies a number of ways.

First, we can know we are Christians if we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that He was raised from the dead.  The apostle, Paul tells us this quite plainly in the book of Romans:

“…. because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved”  Romans 8:9-10

We can also know we are Christians if we love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  John says:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

We know we are Christians if we trust solely in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our salvation, not imagining we can be saved by being “good people” or doing “good works.”  Again, we read in Romans:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  Romans 3:22-25

If we are truly Christian, our lives will be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Ad those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Galatians 6:22-24

Finally the book of Proverbs tells us this that if we are God’s children, He will discipline us for our benefit. Christians are not guaranteed a life of ease.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”  Proverbs 3:11

These are some Biblical marks of a faith that is real.  Does yours measure up?

 

 

 

A Fruit We All Need — Self Control

We’ve been using a study in our Sunday School class on the fruit of the Spirit, which St. Paul lists in the book of Galatians. This has been a long study and we’re nearing the end — self-control.  At the beginning of this section, one of the questions was about anger — what circumstances tend to make you angry? Anger is an emotion that often causes us to lose our self-control.  We all have our hot buttons, and one of mine is customer service people, or even people in general, who don’t care about doing their jobs conscientiously.  Maybe it’s because before I retired, I was a buyer, and our supervisor always stressed the need to help our customers — and our customer was anyone who called with a question or needing help.  (Hmmm … sounds a bit like the who is my neighbor question, doesn’t it?)  It was simply not acceptable to say “I don’t know” or “That’s not my job” or just route the caller to some other department.  If we didn’t know the answer, we were to find the answer and call the customer back ourselves with the exact information or person needed.  (Oh my, I fear this is becoming a rant).

At any rate, my devotional reading today was speaking right to me and the way in which I sometimes lose control.  Here is the Bible verse:

Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.”  Proverbs 25:28

 

In other words, when we lack self-control our emotions can easily overwhelm us.  We say things we regret, and act in ways that are unbecoming to any Christian.  We may think our anger is righteous, but if we look carefully, that’s rarely the case.  Anger is generally all about us and not getting what we want.

The quote from my devotion was written by H. L. Sydney Lear:

“One valuable way of practising self-control is in checking grumbling, and an unnecessary display of vexation at petty inconveniences.  A workman has fulfilled his task imperfectly, some order is wrongly executed, some one keeps you waiting unreasonably;  people are careless or forgetful, or do what they have in hand badly.  Try not to be disturbed;  be just, and show the persons to blame where they are wrong, even (if it be needful) make them do the thing over again properly;  but refrain from diffuse or vehement expressions of displeasure.  A naturally quick, impetuous person will find that to cultivate a calm external habit is a great help towards gaining the inward even spirit he needs.”

Point taken.  I’m going to try cultivating that habit of calm the next time my buttons are pushed.  What about you? Where do you need to exercise self-control?

For more on the fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Mmm . . . Fruit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Fruit of the Spirit

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow