Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week #8 James 1:21 "Love God, Love Others"

"Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you."

Nobody ever said that living the Christian life (or the life of faith, regardless of the religion) was politically correct or popular. It never has been. It never will be.

Take this verse from the book of James, for instance. even suggest that our prevailing culture contains elements of "moral filth" and "evil" is to, at best, have others roll their eyes at us. At worst, it is to be sneered at, insulted, beaten, and generally ex-communicated from "regular" society.

Isn't this verse, and its moral charge to us, the fodder for late night comedians and their Christian stereotypes? Never mind the TV comics, how about our neighbors, co-workers, family members and (in my case) fellow theatre artists who dismiss the Christian faith as silly, close-minded, bigoted and out-moded?

This is nothing new. This attitude towards the people of God has been around....well, since there has been a people of God. Remember, Noah was a preacher of righteousness, but never won any popularity contests. Other prophets of the LORD were beaten, cast out and some were killed for their message. Joseph was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his own brothers for speaking forth God's prophecy.

So for me, a 21st century American believer, to live out this charge from James, is to live IN this world, but not be subject TO this world. What does this mean for me? It's not easy to explain, but here goes:

I live IN this world, with all its moral and intellectual content that either dishonors God or refuses to acknowledge He even exists.

I also live in a world that contains people who desperately need to know Him. These people will never have a shred of hope of meeting God if I don't invite them into my life.

So, I must meet people where they are, not expect them to come to where I am. That means meeting them in their world, the same world that denies God and might even ridicule His followers.

So, I the individual and we the Body of Christ, must join them, non-judgementally and on terms they can understand and even enjoy (remember Jesus enjoying meals with the tax collectors and sinners?). BUT (here's the punchline...) we don't have to adopt the values and thoughts of the world they live in, in order to invite them into our lives.

This also means that I choose not to recoil from the sin in the world, because, after all, I'm a sinner, too. I can call out sin for what it is: missing the mark of God's righteousness, but I don't have to lay judgmental attitudes on others. I just have to lift up Jesus (and His word planted in me) and love others.

So...I do want to get rid of moral filth and evil within my heart. That's God's work in me. And what about the evil within others who deny Him? Well, that's God's work as well. I just need to love others in their world, and let that love lead them to search for God. I'll let Him do the rest.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Week #7 Psalm 71:8 "A Definition of Praise"

"My mouth is filled with Your praise, declaring Your splendor all day long."

PRAISE: (definition)
1. "psalm," "confession," "thanksgiving," "glorify," "to stretch out the hand." The word comes from the Latin pretium, "price," or "value," and may be defined generally as an ascription of value or worth.
(International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

2. (v.) To extol in words or song; to magnify; to glorify on account of perfections or excellent works; to do honor to; to display the excellence of; -- applied especially to the Divine Being. (Webster's Dictionary)

These definitions of "praise" are important to me. If I attempt to apply this truth from Psalm 71:8, I need a good grasp of the term "praise." It got me thinking, about what praise really is, and whether or not I am actually doing it.

You see, I have a slight problem when it comes to praise. Praising God is oftentimes associated in the Psalms with gladness, dancing and singing. But, as a Christian who struggles with depression, I can't always bring myself to sing, dance or feel glad. Does this mean I'm not capable of praise?

That's when I looked at the aforementioned definitions of the word "praise." I have to say, they made me feel a whole lot better. Praise, at least by these definitions, doesn't necessarily require any particular emotion, such as happiness or even a good mood, or motoric behavior, such as dance.

To praise is to acknowledge who God is, and to give honor to who He is. Period.

If you doubt my interpretation, consider this. David, in many of his psalms, such as in Ps. 143, spoke honestly to the LORD about his pain, his trials and his suffering. He wasn't dancing and singing at that moment. But notice what he says in verse 6: "I stretch out my hands to You, my soul thirsts for You like a parched land." "Stretch out his hand" other words, praise.

And take Job, as another example. Though he wailed about his enormous suffering, even pronouncing that God was "slaying him" (Job. 13:15), look what Job said just before that (Job 12:13): "With Him are wisdom and might. To Him belong counsel and understanding." In other words, he was acknowledging God's attributes. Sounds like praise to me.

What an enormous relief that is. Even in my darkest moments of sadness, I can still praise God honestly and truthfully. No, I don't have to put on a happy face, or force myself to dance, sing and shout "hallelujah." I can sit at the feet of my LORD and acknowledge who He is.

Of course, if all that meditation about God's attributes and blessing starts to bring a smile - an honest, sincere smile - to my face, all the better.

But even if it doesn't, God can still inhabit the praise of his people regardless of their mood. Why not? He's a big God, and can do anything.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Week #6 Proverbs 15:16 "I'd Rather Be Rich"

"Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil."

The 1964 movie "I'd Rather Be Rich" starring Sandra Dee, Robert Goulet and Andy Williams had a bouncy, catchy theme song that declared,
"Well, I've been poor, and I've been rich,
And now that I know which is which,
I'd rather be rich, rather be rich,
Rather be rich!!"

Who wouldn't agree to a statement like that? After a long, hard work week, probably most of us would.

And I can honestly say that, in my own lifetime, I have been poor (praise God that He took good care of me during those days...another story in itself) and have been rich...and I know which is which.

Lest you think I am now going to say the self-denying, religious thing and tell you that I would rather be poor... think again. I would really rather not go back to the days when I lived paycheck to paycheck and had to cut back, or completely cut out, things that other Americans consider to be "essentials."

But now that life is economically much easier for me, I do have to take this proverb to heart. The bible is full of admonishments to us about the effects money can have on our lives and our character. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and has caused many to wander from the faith. Ecclesiastes says that those who love money will ultimately never be satisfied by it.

For these reasons, I consider my "wealth" to be a gracious trust given to me by God. Many have proven that they can't handle any great amount of wealth in their lives. I thank God that He has entrusted me with the finances He has given to me.

But, what I have also learned, is that being entrusted with "wealth" is more than just money management and exercising financial savvy. It also is about life management. Faith management. Heart management.

In 1 Timothy, Paul talks about how money can make some wander from the faith. He is not just talking about whom we trust, but whom we love. I knew that when "wealth" came into my life, I needed to run to God, more than ever.

Yes, when I was poorer in the pocketbook, I ran to God so He would provide for me. Now that some would call me "rich," I run to God, so that I might not forget Him or start to rely on myself and my bank account.

Wealth can be taken away from us in an instant. In this rough economy, we have seen too many examples of this. But there is something that can never be taken away from us. You guessed it. It's written in Romans 8. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God."

That, dear Readers, is our true wealth. God loves us. The God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills loves us. All that He has is ours. We...His prodigal children... will share in His riches in heaven. One day, we will all be "rich." Rich with blessings, rich with joy, all while living in the mansion in heaven He has prepared for us.

So, how can we define "rich"? Those who wait on the LORD and His kingdom. And "poor"? Those who rely and deny. Rely on their own wealth, and deny the One who provided it.

If that is the definition of "rich," then yeah.....I'll sing along with Robert Goulet and Andy Williams. "I'd rather be rich, rather be rich, rather be RICH!" because I never want to go back to the days when I didn't know the LORD.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week #5 Jeremiah 17:7 "Trusting God"

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him."

Trust....that is such a difficult concept for me to practice. Jeremiah reminds us that, without trust in God, we have no lasting basis for our confidence.

Good advice, that. However, hard to put into action.

On an earthly level, it seems logical and natural to put our trust in competent and talented people, such as our doctors and our financial advisors, especially if they prove their good track record in taking care of our physical and fiscal health.

And for those of us who are naturally talented (not me!), it is easy to put our trust in our own good education and hard work.

Now, it's not a bad thing to trust others, such as our medical practitioners and financial gurus to help us make wise decisions about our lives. It is also good to use the wisdom, education and skill that God has given us to make even more good choices in life. These decisions are usually things we can see, understand and analyze.

But, what about the things I can't see? When my car has broken down on the freeway, and I can't see where the money will come from to pay the mechanic, or when a loved one falls into dangerously poor health, or wanders far from the God he or she once knew, how do I trust the LORD in those circumstances when I can't see any reasonable solution or way out?

Okay...maybe those examples are a bit dramatic. Truth be told, the trust issues I wrestle with in my everyday life are more simple. Like trusting God to help me put one foot in front of the other and make it through my day when I feel depressed or sick.

Sometimes it means trusting God to give me those little things I need and maybe some that I just "want" in order to get through the week, such as a second chance, energy, a good attitude, an opportunity to meet new friends, peace of mind, an idea for what to cook for dinner, a solution to a nagging problem.....fill in the blank here with whatever "everyday" thing I need to trust God for.

Isn't it funny? I seem to be able to call up enough faith and trust for "big" things, such as, years ago, when I needed a new car and had no money. (Yes, the LORD provided for that, miraculously!)

But, to trust God to help me find those missing car keys or the whereabouts of my cat because it's time to give her her medicine....that's another story. I guess I tend to think that God is only interested in the biggies of life, not the mundane.

But wait. There is no mundane for God. He is supremely interested in all areas of our lives. Not because He's bored and has nothing better to do than to watch our banal lives. He loves us. All details of our lives, of US, are of importance to Him.

When the children of Israel complained to God about their troubles, how did He respond? He simply reminded them of His faithfulness and providence in the past. In other words, He reminded them of His track record in their lives.

Jeremiah 17 is a wonderful reminder of trusting God. I need to remember to trust in Him, period. I used to tell a good Christian friend of mine named Rhonda that I liked to sit back and watch "The God and Rhonda Show." God had proven His faithfulness in Rhonda's life so often that I have come to expect miracles in her life, and have been a witness to many of them.

It's time for me to watch "The God and Aya Show" now. That show will be just as miraculous. Same screenwriter, same producer, same director, same God.

Thanks, Jeremiah, for the reminder. Let the show begin.