The Good Old Days?

After reading chapters 6 & 7 of Ecclesiastes, this is what stood out for me:

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”  Ecclesiastes 7:10”

It seems that I hear many people my age bemoaning the present, and longing for the past.  Things were better then;  people were more courteous;  more people went to church;  children were not so spoiled, and so on. Some of these things may be true, but bad things are always going on (I talked about this in a previous post– Hoping for Something New?. It also depends upon your particular situation and perspective.  For example, somebody recently who is a bit older than I am said she grew up in the best of times — however, if you were a person of color during that era, you probably wouldn’t look back on those days so fondly.  Jim Crow laws, segregation, and discrimination were widespread.

God calls us to look forward, not back.  When He punished His Old Testament people by exiling them to Babylon, they were told by the prophet Jeremiah:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5-7

 

In other words, make the best of things in the place and time where God has placed you.  He has work for you to do. Stop complaining and concentrate on being a blessing to others.

In the New Testament Paul echoes the same sentiment:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14

Yearning for the good old days is not helpful or God-pleasing.  It is not wise.  It is not even realistic!  Instead  look forward to the future God has prepared for you.

 

 

 

For more posts about the book of Ecclesiastes see:

God Moments in Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 3:3

Two Are Better Than One

Being a Biblical Christian

This is from the 2nd sermon my husband gave on having a biblical worldview.

Two things are important if we are to be biblical Christians.  First, we must understand and admit to the total sovereignty of God over His whole creation –including us.  Far to many people don’t do that.  I contend that one of the main reasons for our failure to admit God’s rule over our lives is our sinful desire to deny the truth of election  (see         –in other words, we want to believe we have some part to play in our salvation and having convinced ourselves of that, we then begin to think that if I’m in control of my salvation because I’ve made a decision for Christ, then I also have the right to determine which parts of Scripture I’m going to follow and what I can ignore or deny.

While few people express themselves that clearly, study after study has shown that is precisely how many who call themselves Christians think and act.  I want to turn our attention to the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:1-2

Paul doesn’t begin with an order to people, because he expects Christians to want to live their lives in a holy and acceptable way.  Luther says of this verse:

“For he who does it (presents his life this way) not willingly, solely as a result of admonition, he is no Christian.”

In other words, Paul is speaking here to believers and he is saying that he knows this is how you want to live — as a living sacrifice.  You do not do it out of some desire to appear good to the world, or to earn credit with God, you offer yourself as a sacrifice because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall be saved.

The Apostle then shows us what it means in our day to day lives — we won’t conform to the world, but we will be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

To be continued …..

For more on sacrificial living see:

Living Sacrifice

What is a God Pleasing Sacrifice?

Be Transformed

 

Look Three Ways

Back in November, while visiting family in Myrtle Beach, my husband and I attended a small Presbyterian church.  The week we were there, one of their Elders gave a short temple talk about communion.  He made the very valid point that we most often understand the Lord’s Supper as a time to reflect upon our relationship with God.  After all, Jesus told his disciples:

“Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24

It’s appropriate to look up as we drink the bread and wine, giving thanks to the one who made us and saved us.

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He went on to explain that before partaking, it is also essential to look within ourselves.  The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church:

 “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.”  1 Corinthians 11:28-29

Lutherans also consider this a necessary part of the communion service.  At our church, the Pastor reads a pretty detailed explanation of “what we should believe and do.”  (see Examine Yourself). So, this Elder concluded we should “look both ways” during communion — up and in.

That’s right as far as it goes.  However, I believe we actually need to look three ways– up, in and around.  The Lord’s Supper is a community event, which binds us not only to God, but to one another.  In the same chapter of Corinthians already referenced, Paul reprimands the congregation because they are communing without regard for the needs of their fellow members.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, one goes ahead with his own meal.  One goes hungry, another gets drunk.”  1 Corinthians 11:20-21

Paul makes it clear that this meal involves the entire body, an experience which promotes unity with God and with each other.  We are not to simply satisfy ourselves.

“So then my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another … so that when you come together it will not be for judgement.” 1 Corinthians 11:33-34

When you come together at the table, examine yourself.  Look all three ways — up, down and around. It’s the sign of the cross.

For more about communion see:

Clarity about Communion

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 1

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 2

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 3

 

 

 

 

 

A Thorn in the Flesh

Do you have a thorn in the flesh?  I alluded to mine in a previous post — I have trouble sleeping.  When I don’t sleep well, I’m irritable, cranky, and find it hard to focus.  I often don’t accomplish all the tasks I had planned for the day.  My daily practices of exercise, devotional reading and journaling become chores.

The apostle, Paul, had a problem like this, too.  He describes it in 2 Corinthians 12:7:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

We’re not sure what Paul’s illness or disability was, although some have suggested he had poor eyesight (he was described as squinting).  Whatever, it was, it bothered him, and he reports that he prayed a number of times for God to remove it, without avail.

I, too have prayed and tried every suggested remedy I can. I’ve read the books and followed the dos and don’ts.  I’ve tried herbal remedies and OTC sleep aids;  deep breathing and relaxation techniques.  Nothing works consistently.  My doctor’s conclusion is —  it’s simply age-related and something I’ll have to learn to live with.

According to Paul there are a couple of reasons God may allow us to suffer from such small annoyances.  The first was already mentioned in the verse above:

  • To keep us from becoming conceited

We are all too prone to take credit for our good works, becoming puffed up and vain.  The second reason is related and expressed in the verse that follows:

  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

In other words, we need to learn to depend upon God.  Whatever we accomplish is only possible through abiding in Christ.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  Any strength that we have comes from Him.  When we find ourselves in a position of weakness, we realize that.

So, give thanks for everything during this month of Thanksgiving, even your aches and pains and weaknesses.  God is at work, and you can lean on Him.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9b-10

 

 

 

Inspired by the Spirit

This was written by Becky, a member of our congregation who is one of our adult Sunday School teachers.  She used it to open our class, and said she felt the Holy Spirit inspired her to write it.

Paul wrote to the Philippians,

“things which happened to me have turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that my chains are in Christ.”

Prison became holy ground, a sacred place set apart for God’s purposes.  In his confinement he made room for God.  So consider our confinement in isolation during this epidemic an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God and to encourage others.  Paul also said,

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

His heart was so filled with the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  He had peace with God no matter the circumstances and wanted to serve and bless others.  God’s presence with us in confinement makes this one of the most significant times in our lives and a key to fellowship with Him.  He is still in control, declaring,

“Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

Our strength must be in God.  Times of crisis demand that we turn to each other, not on each other.  As Christians, we are called to be faithful to God and to one another.

All of us want things–expressing them differently.  We want heroes; we want assurance someone knows what is going on in this mad world;  we want someone to lean on.  Paul says Christ is the one to worship and serve–King of Kings–Lord of Lords–the Mighty One–to occupy first place in our hearts and home.  It’s so easy to allow things and even people to be central in our lives.  When we replace Christ with these, we have sinned.  We’re to live in this world as a representative of Christ –serve Him by giving Him our best and sharing His love with others.

For more about the pandemic see these posts:

Small Things

All Times Are Uncertain

Clarity — First Step

 

 

Make it Personal

Last week when my husband I were driving to the church picnic, I saw this sign in the neighborhood we were passing through:

Drive as if your children lived here.

When I worked as a buyer for the hospital, our boss posted a sign in the warehouse that read:

Fill every order as if your mother was the patient.

The point, I think, is that we’re more attentive and more engaged when we have some personal interest or stake in the outcome of the task at hand.  If the health of our mother, or the welfare of our children is concerned, we’ll make sure we’re carefully doing that task to the best of our ability.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, has some similar advice. He was speaking to them about their freedom in Christ.  They did not need to follow all the old rules and rituals.  What they ate or drank was not sinful or forbidden.  However, as God’s children, they were to be considerate of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Some of them had grown up with these taboos (such as eating food that had been sacrificed to idols) and it pained their consciences to see others doing this.  He tells them:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

What if we made an effort to do every chore and every daily activity for the glory of God?  Wouldn’t we be much more conscious of how our actions affected others?  And aren’t those others beloved of God, just as we are?  Wouldn’t we be kinder, more patient and more helpful?  Wouldn’t we work harder to do the right thing?

Try it for a day and see what happens.  Live as if everything you do is to serving God’s purpose, because it is.  If you love God, it’s all personal.

 

Content in All Circumstances

In Chapter 4 of Philippians, the Paul tells his readers that he has learned to be calm and peaceful, no matter what was going on in his life.

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:11-13

Paul had certainly been through a lot — he had been shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, whipped, thrown into prison and rejected.  Yet he realized that those difficulties had taught him to depend upon God.  They had molded him into the person God wanted him to be.

This quote by H. L. Sidney Lear also explains why we should be content in the place we find ourselves:

“Do not let your growth in holiness depend upon surrounding circumstances, but rather constrain those circumstances to minister to your growth.  Beware of looking onward, or out of the present in any way, for the sanctification of your life.  The only thing you can really control is the present–the actual moment that is passing by.  Sanctify that from hour to hour, and you will sanctify your whole life.  The little act of obedience, love, self-restraint, meekness, patience, devotion, offered to you actually, is all you can do now, and if you neglect that to fret about something else at a distance, you lose your real opportunity of serving God.  A moment’s silence, when some irritating words are said by another, may seem a very small thing;  yet at that moment it is your one duty, your one way of serving and pleasing God, and if you break it you have lost your opportunity.”

So — live for God in the moment, accepting your circumstances.  Every situation, handled rightly will become part of your growth in grace and understanding.  Trust God.  He is the Potter — you are the clay.

For more on contentment see this post:

Good Stewards are Content

For another quote by H.L. Sidney Lear see this post:

Hold Your Tongue!

 

 

 

 

A Different Country

In a novel I read recently one of the main characters was living for a time as the wife of a very wealthy man.  She described her life as being “in the country of the rich.”  She said it really was a different country because you associated with different people, did different activities, dressed and behaved differently than other people.  When she lost her position, she also lost her “country.”

I was interested in this idea.  There are other times when we live in another country.  For example, those who are seriously ill find themselves in a place where they see a different set of people (doctors, nurses, technicians), spend their time on different activities (lab tests, operations, rehab), eat differently and so on.  Students in college spend time with teachers, studying and writing and often eating very strange diets!  In fact, during our lives we live in any number of different countries.

As Christians, we also inhabit a different country.  Read these words of St. Paul to the Philippians:

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”  Philippians 3:12-21

As citizens of God’s kingdom, we have different goals (to obey Christ), a different focus (heavenly things) and we participate in different activities (things that glorify God).  Take a hard look at your life and then decide — what country am I living in?

 

I’m Nobody, too

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

Sorry, I’m an English major and I can’t help myself.  When I read Beth Ann’s post I’m A Nobody, I immediately thought of this poem by Emily Dickenson.  She was very reclusive and introverted and actually seemed happy to be a nobody, at least in the eyes of the world.

If you feel like a nobody, don’t worry.  God seems to have a knack for picking nobodies to do His work in the world.  He picked prophets who didn’t speak well (Moses) and were too young (Jeremiah).  He picked David, the youngest son of Jesse, just a shepherd boy,  to be a great king.  He picked Rahab (a prostitute) and Ruth (a foreigner) to be part of His son’s human family tree.  He picked Mary, an unmarried teenager, to be the mother of the Messiah!  Jesus picked a bunch of fishermen(James, Andrew & Peter), a tax collector (Matthew), and a rebel(Simon the Zealot), to be some of His first disciples!  Then he chose Paul, who called himself “the greatest of sinners” to carry his message to the gentiles.  Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth says:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Do you get that?  God chooses the nobodies of the world on purpose, because our weakness shows off His strength!  And once He’s chosen us, we’re no longer nobodies — we’re His ambassadors, His body on earth, His beloved children–and that’s somebody pretty special.

He loves you and so do I!

What is Sin?

I’ve heard sin described in different ways.  Obviously, whenever we disobey one of God’s laws, we sin. Sin has been called “missing the mark.”  The literal meaning of the Latin word for sin is “curved in on itself.” So sin is being self-centered, considering only our own wants and needs.  In a recent sermon, my husband described sin as our “condition.”  That’s a bit different, but I liked it.  Because of the original sin that we’re born with, sin is simply our condition, no different from any other physical disease or abnormality we deal with.

For example, I have slightly high blood sugar.  That is my “condition.”  Last year I took a Prevent Diabetes class, hoping to control it.  For an entire year I learned about what I could do.  I lost weight, added exercise to my daily routine and began to eat healthier foods.  I was convinced that my hard work would have the results I wanted — lower blood sugar!  Unfortunately my recent tests revealed that my blood sugar levels remained the same.  My efforts did have some effects — it is certainly better for me to weigh less, exercise and eat a healthier diet–but they couldn’t change my underlying condition.  It is evidently hereditary and I can only hope to hold it in check.  I’ll never get rid of it.

The same is true of sin.  It’s part of our DNA.  Sinners are simply what we are.  We can study the Bible, pray and attend worship services.  We can do good deeds and serve others.  All of these things will make us healthier spiritually, and maybe even physically…. but, will they change our condition?  No.  We’ll still be sinners, no matter how hard we try.  We just can’t be saved on our own, and we can’t look down on other sinners, because we’re all in the same fix.

So, what is the solution?  Well, admit our sin and our helplessness to change it.  Give thanks that we have a Savior and so we don’t have to take care of the “sin condition” on our own.  Then in thanks and gratitude, do those healthy, spiritual things that will lessen the effects of our sinful natures;  things that will help us and help others.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:21-15

For further discussion on sin, you can go to these posts:

Freedom from Tyranny + Freedom from Sin

Saints and Sinners

Saint and Sinner? Really?