Finding a Love That Lasts a Lifetime

I visited Mrs. Faudi in her hospital room. Because she was in the first bed of two I stood with my back to the door. Our brief conversation was low-key and pleasant, but suddenly she looked past me and her eyes lit up. I turned to see that her husband had just entered the room. It was obvious that love still glowed in their hearts.

The Faudis were retired farmers who had recently moved to town. Mrs. Faudi looked frail and ashen in her hospital bed. Each of them had weather-beaten skin reflecting long years of toil on the land. But in that exchange of looks, I saw a bright and loving bond not really dimmed after more than fifty years of marriage.

In our fallen world there is no guarantee that a Christian marriage such as the Faudis had will be everything God intended it to be. But recalling that moment in the hospital room makes me want to point out to young people some ways to greatly increase the likelihood of success.

I’m all for romance, so long as when pondering the suitability of a mate, young people understand that powerful physical attraction is not enough. There is a “rational” aspect to choosing a life partner that should not be neglected. For example, as starters, it should be asked: Do we share a common faith in Jesus Christ and is it genuine for both?

Sometimes it is discovered after it is too late that one of the two “got religion” just so the nuptial event would happen. On this specific matter, counsel may be necessary to help one or the other to see a peril hidden beneath the romantic spell. The Bible clearly warns against an “unequal yoke” (2 Cor. 6:14).

Here are questions you can explore: Do mature mutual friends approve? Is the love we profess unconditional? That is, do we intend from the depths of our beings to make this an until-death-us-do-part marriage? Do we have reservations we are holding out of sight? God has endowed his creatures with a capacity for profound commitment which, when held by both partners, gives a basis for working through all sorts of struggles and reverses that arise along the path.

And do we share basic values regarding money, child-rearing, commitment to family connections, and would we work well together? Have we talked those important issues through before an initial commitment is made? Do we share a common Christian lifestyle? Potentially troubling issues are sometimes in full view but are pencilled out in the run-up to a wedding.

Issues may be left unaddressed because of pre-wedding dreaminess or excitement, or busyness. For such reasons, a potential bride or groom might see unaddressed issues but say: “I’ll fix that when we’re married.” Or, “I’m going ahead with this wedding because this may be my last chance.” Or even, “I see some developing storm clouds but they will go away once we’re married.” Or, “Right now I have to think about a great wedding; I’ll think about a great marriage later.”

I’ve heard them all but sometimes too long after the marriage has been sealed and, in some cases, too late. Pastoral counselors or professional Christian counselors are available to help in such situations. Couples like the Faudis — and I’ve known a few of them across a lifetime — stand as a constant testimony that in the realm of matrimony God provides a love that can last a lifetime.

But the success of the search requires the exercise of both head and heart. The bond is rooted not only in the feelings but also in the will. This kind of marriage doesn’t just happen. In my experience, the most successful marriages in Christian circles are characterized by a deep and mutual faith in God, a romantic flair that makes the very countenance glow, unwavering commitment to each other, and a grounding in judgment that launches the enterprise thoughtfully and with integrity.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Milishor (via flickr.com)

How Should We Pray During Threatening Times?

In these days of moral and societal turmoil, many Christians are asking ultimate questions: When will the Kingdom of God come on earth? On one occasion, the Pharisees pressed this question on Jesus.

Jesus answered from Israel’s history. The Coming will be abrupt and unexpected, as the great flood was in the days of Noah, or Sodom’s sudden destruction due to her moral decay.

And so, Jesus said, in essence, get ready, and when the time comes, make no efforts to save personal valuables from your house. (Luke 17: 20-37)

Then, turning toward his disciples, Jesus used the following parable to show them what he expected them to do while awaiting his return. Luke says (18:1): “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should pray and not give up.” (I take liberties in retelling the story.)

One person in Jesus’s parable is a godless, unfeeling judge. He was likely living in a fine home, giving access to his services only to those who could produce a fistful of coins.

The other person in Jesus’ story is a destitute widow. We may assume she is in crisis, such as at the hands of an unscrupulous wealthy person who is about to seize her cottage, putting her out on the street.

She has no husband to confront the ruthless fellow, and no sons to protect her. She is penniless. Her last and only resort is to win the judge’s favor by means of relentless pleading for a fair judgment.

And so she walks all the way across town. Upon ringing the bell at the judge’s gate a servant comes out and inspects her through a knothole in the gate.

One look and the servant announces, “The judge is not in.”  He turns and walks back into the house.

Since this judge is the widow’s only hope, the next day she knocks again. “The judge is sick today,” the servant at the gate announces.

Even so, the following day the widow appears yet again. “The judge will be busy all day with a merchant,” the servant says impatiently.

This drama is repeated for several more days. Her crisis is approaching. The unjust seizure of her humble dwelling is soon to happen. But she will not give up; she is determined.

Finally, the judge relents. It’s not that he repents of his indifference or feels any empathy. His heart remains cold. But, in exasperation, with both hands in the air, he says to his assistant: “She’s pestering me to death; here, prepare the written judgment I dictate.” The widow’s persistence had won her appeal when nothing else could.

The point of the parable is not that God is like that judge — cold and uncaring and only responsive to those who bruise their knuckles from knocking at his entrance. In fact, Jesus speaks often of a loving Father who hears those who call on him in humility.

But the parable does suggest that in very urgent times the prayers of his disciples should be like the appeals of the persistent widow.

In this time of family, national, and worldwide turmoil and even with some needing to flee from homes under attack, should we not be hearing with clarity Jesus’ cautionary call to persistence in prayer? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith upon the earth?

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Neil (via flickr.com)

Repost: Should Christians Make Sunday a Holy Day?

Our culture as a whole has clearly embraced secularism and the absolute autonomy of the individual as the credo for living. In keeping with this change, over the past several decades former societal practices that put God collectively above the individual, such as Sunday store closings for family, worship, and rest, have vanished.

Many Christians appear to have followed this change. Rather than making Sunday a true Lord’s Day for worship and rest, Sunday might include any-day tasks such as laundry, shopping for groceries, washing the car, mowing the lawn, cleaning house, or spending hours in hard study.

The question to a believer such as I is whether we give up something precious when Sunday becomes like any other day of the week.

The Sabbath originally referred to Saturday, but for the largest part of Christendom it has become Sunday. That’s because Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection and is therefore “the Lord’s Day.”

Consider as well that on the Sunday of his resurrection, Jesus also appeared to his followers that morning (John 20:1-19), afternoon (Luke 24:13-32), and evening (36-49). These meetings set the stage for the weekly celebration on Sunday of our Lord’s resurrection and the promise of our salvation and eternal life with Him!

For further support of Sunday observance, note Luke’s documentation that a generation after Christ’s resurrection, when he and Paul were in Troas (now Western Turkey), “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). And as well, Paul instructs the Corinthians to set aside their special offerings “on the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16: 1-2).

The Sabbath principle really begins with the account of creation. The Book of Genesis tells us that after six days of creation, “on the seventh day God rested [ceased] from all the work of creation that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3). This “rest” is sometimes referred to as a Sabbath rite, a standard to be observed by God’s creatures.

Then, in Exodus, the second book of the Bible, we learn that during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God gave the miraculous gift of manna as daily food (16:12). Each morning the Israelites were to go out and collect enough for the family for only that day. But, on the morning of the sixth day, they were to gather enough for two days so they would not need to gather on the Sabbath (16:29).

Again, this arrangement reflected God’s merciful call for them to desist one day out of seven from their weekly labors in order to rest in his mercy and celebrate his care.

Then, later came the giving of the Ten Commandments. The fourth (20:8) said, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” (setting it apart, sanctifying it).

The first three commandments all start with the phrase “You shall not…” Commandment four begins with “You shall” — it is a positive command to remember and observe the special day.

Many centuries later, the Israelites were well settled in the Holy Land and had become prosperous. As so often happens when people feel wealthy and secure, their sense of self-sufficiency had led them to neglect God’s laws. Prophets like Isaiah prophesied against their disobedience, pinpointing as one major piece of evidence their disregard of the Sabbath. To speak to their offense Isaiah prophesies:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

Do New Testament teachings agree with these examples from the Old Testament? In the four Gospels there are at least 58 references to the Sabbath. However, the problem with Sabbath observance then was that several generations of rabbis had embellished the basic Sabbath laws with all sorts of picky regulations, making the special day burdensome rather than renewing. In response, the Gospels do not cancel the Sabbath principle. Instead, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man.” He humanized it as the Father intended for creaturely renewal — a day to throw off the labors of the week, worship God among his people, and launch the new work week refreshed in body and soul.

Wise and devout Christians to the present see the wisdom of making Sunday a special day of worship and a day of rest from the ordinary labors of the week. They find joy in meeting with a company of Christians for the worship of the resurrected Christ, to renew faith and clear their perspective on life through the living Christ. In this way, we acknowledge God’s merciful provision. As well, we bless ourselves and our families by turning our thoughts heavenward and consciously resting in God’s faithfulness.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: sean mason (via flickr.com)

What to Do to Seek God’s Blessing

Blessings from God are noted frequently throughout the scriptures. This word, blessed, occurs as many as 51 times in the Psalms alone. And as the first word of the whole Psalter it appears to stand as a sentinel over all 150 of them.

Human life is saturated with daily blessings — adequate sunshine to sustain life, shelter from stormy weather, nourishment for the body, and so much more. But in Psalm 1 special favor is promised to those who meet certain conditions.

This psalm begins in verse 1 with a blunt exhortation to avoid ungodly companions. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”

This does not mean we must strictly isolate ourselves. But it holds that if we intend to live out the blessing promised we should avoid walking in the paths of wicked companions — persons lacking reverence for God and the morally casual.

Nor are we to stand around those doing evil, or make common cause (sitting with) persons who mock known standards of godliness. Sinners know what is good or righteous, but they act contrary to this knowledge, offending God’s righteousness.

The psalmist says don’t walk, stand, or sit with them — not so much in the physical sense as in the participatory sense — or you may find yourself sharing their ways.

This is a good psalm for young people to ponder as they choose companions from school, work, and leisure.

There is a progression in the commands: Dont walk! Dont stand! Dont sit!

Each instruction seems to emphasize and become more urgent in warning the reader to avoid the wayward life. 

The psalmist recommends not only what to avoid, but also what to pursue; verse 2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

He who would be blessed must at the same time make heart commitments that are carefully centered on God’s Law. At the time of writing the Psalmist may have been referring to the first five books of the Bible, a rich resource for the understanding of the mind of God and his way of dealing with his chosen people.

The pondering of God’s Word “day and night” is an exercise of the soul that God promises to bless. The pondering of the complete Bible we have today would be even better.

What will be the results of all this? The psalmist reaches for a simile and offers that the faithful seeker after God’s blessing will be “like a tree planted by the water” (verse 3). Even during parched times this blessing seeker might expect abundance of fruit. As well, as the tree’s leaves will not wither so whatever projects he attempts will succeed.

But what about the person who ignores God in his life plan, who chooses the paths marked by wickedness? Blessedness is of no concern to him. In fact, while appearing to have the world in his wallet, he may be hard or indifferent to righteousness. To all appearances, he has it made. One could almost be envious.

But the way of the wicked is not to be envied when long-term consequences are taken into account. Verse 4 says, “They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” When the winds of adversity blow he will respond like the worthless, inedible paper-like husk of grain that flies into the air in all directions at the harvest.

Psalm 1 ends with a summary of the two destinies: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (verse 6).

Some may argue that there are many paths in life. Ultimately there are only two, the psalmist contends. And only one of the two promises rich blessings and escape from destruction.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Stephanie Young Merzel (via flickr.com)

Paul’s Call to a More Wholesome Thought Life

Late in his life the Apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome. While there he was allowed to engage his own dwelling but was chained to a guard by a short chain (Philippians 1:7, 13,14).

Remarkably, he did not let this break his connection with churches he had planted. One of them was the church at Philippi in Macedonia. His ancient letter to the Philippians still blesses the church universal to this day when it is read and studied.

Consider a short portion of the letter in which the apostle exhorts Christians to “Christianize” their minds further (Philippians 4:8-9).

He writes, in verse 8: “… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about those things.” We can call this an exercise for enriching the Christian mind.

Whatever is true. Christians believe that God is the essence of truth. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He is the source of all that exists, the Creator and Sustainer of all things: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). To this conviction the Psalmist writes: “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). On these truths about God and his word, Christians are to lodge their thought lives.

Think of the witness Christians can have in a world saturated with untruths: scams, frauds, hoaxes, shady schemes, and intentional deceptions. When we become Christians we are still in that world, but, with the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit, we are challenged to stand against these things and to cultivate new thought patterns to exalt and glorify God.

Whatever Is noble. We can speculate that the apostle, upon noticing the vulgar language and behavior all around him, called Christians to raise even their hidden thoughts to an elevated and righteous level. I think here in particular of the crucial importance of avoiding the scourge of pornography that defiles, cheapens, even twists the mind. Without question, the Christian faith raises our thoughts to a much more elevated standard.

Whatever is right. William Barclay writes: “It is a law of life that, if a person thinks of something often enough and long enough, they will come to a stage when they cannot stop thinking about it. Their thoughts will become quite literally in a groove out of which they cannot jerk themselves.” (Since “right” is related to “righteousness,” we can see what Paul’s assignment here is.)

Whatever is pure. The Scriptures repeatedly set purity of heart as a primary goal for all believers: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  Purity is the cry of the penitent. As King David prayed after sinning grievously: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). And as Paul says: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). God plants in his children’s minds our heart’s longing to be pure and we must respond in agreement.

Whatever is lovely. Elsewhere in his Galatian letter the apostle gathers a list that demonstrates what he considers lovely — he calls this list the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). They are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When these qualities rule in the heart they beautify the outer life.

Whatever is admirable. Could this mean “that which calls forth love,” as one scholar suggests? Have we not all had contact with believers whose smiles and greetings are under nearly all circumstances warm and attractive, rooted in the heart, such that we cannot help but admire them?

At this point the apostle changes the structure of his sentence to add “excellence” and “praiseworthiness” to his list — two final descriptive words that make his catalogue complete. He does not suggest that the eight traits will blossom fully and automatically or overnight.

But they will advance when we meet two conditions. First, when we open our hearts to a fuller ownership of the Holy Spirit in all things. And second, when we organize our lives around the Scriptures daily and in company with other believers.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: José (via flickr.com)

Giving Prayer Its Proper Place

A loaded ferry was crossing a large body of water when a storm blew up. Rain pelted the upper deck; angry waves swept across the lower deck. Frightened passengers hunkered down in the cabin, fearing for their lives.

One woman asked the captain, “Whatever can we do?”

The captain answered, “We must pray.”

“Good heavens,” the woman replied, “has it come to that?”

There may be a touch of humor in the woman’s response, but to hint that prayer is only for life’s most perilous moments is to cheapen and gravely narrow it.

The Apostle Paul showed by implication how precious prayer should be at all times when he said, “In (God) we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

For Christians, where does prayer fit into the whole scheme of things? When the storms of life break upon us, is prayer our first thought or our last resort?

We look to the life of our Lord Jesus for an answer.

Jesus, recall, was God in human form. We know he limited himself in this way in order to fully experience our humanness. He was as much man as he was God, and as much God as he was man, one ancient creed declares.

At various times, the crowds favored him (John 12:12-19), and at other times they hated him with a vengeance (Luke 23:23). In all this, where did Jesus place the practice of communing with the Father in prayer?

First, we learn from the Gospel accounts that Jesus prayed in a multitude of circumstances, showing us that the Father is approachable at all times.

For example, Jesus prayed in moments of great joy: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children …’ “ (Luke 10:21). We follow his example when we have learned to turn our joys into prayers.

Jesus also turned to prayer during vexing days of ministry. One example is his private prayer on a mountainside long into the evening to renew his strength after he had performed a night-time miracle on the Lake of Galilee.

In the gospel of Matthew, 14:23-24, we are told: “After he had dismissed (the crowd) he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” We are also told that shortly before dawn, Jesus came down, and  walked across the surface of the lake to his disciples’ boat. For some time between the two events he was in prayer (Matthew 14:23-33).

Earlier, Jesus prayed before selecting from among his large group of followers the twelve he would assign as apostles. The process began on the mountainside (really, a large hill). As we learn in Luke 6:13, “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” These were to be his inner circle of leaders, selected and set apart only after hours of prayer.

And of course he prayed on the brutal cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And later, “Into my hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

For Jesus, prayer was not the last element of facing the joys and stresses of life; it was the first. The range of his prayers was sweeping and for all circumstances. And throughout all our days, whether we are joyful, distressed, or suffering, we must never let ourselves forget that.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Ben Salter (via flickr.com)

How to Deal with Our Afflictions

Suppose a social worker interviews fifty people from a fine apartment building. He asks each person if he or she is dealing with any sort of affliction. We would expect a “yes” from most if not all of them.

The word affliction is defined broadly, for example as “a state of pain, suffering, distress or agony.”

Some might mention a physical affliction: complications of diabetes; macular degeneration; or perhaps arthritis, hearing loss, an autoimmune disorder, gluten intolerance, seizures, cancer.

Others might add a material affliction: a lost job combined with an empty emergency fund, hail damage to a car, or a flooded basement.

Yet another group might contribute examples of psychological affliction: a failed marriage; phone calls ignored by an alienated child who has in effect disappeared; the stress of an abusive or narcissistic boss.

Affliction comes to us all in one way or another over time. Nobody escapes, including those who appear to have it made.

The classic sufferer, Job of the ancient Biblical account, knew about mankind’s pervasive afflictions. Chapter 5, verse 7, asserts: Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. And consider a New Testament sufferer, the Apostle Paul, who shared with the Corinthian church, in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, a catalogue of his many sufferings for the gospel: shipwreck, undeserved whippings, three times beaten by robbers, in peril of being murdered, and on several occasions confinement in jail or under house arrest for months for no good reason.

What enabled Paul to successfully fend off gloom, self-pity, and despair when so many afflictions settled on him? He shares his secret in the same epistle.

Earlier, in chapter 4, verses 16 and 17, he shared the big picture about suffering. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [afflictions] are achieving for us an eternal glory which outweighs them all.

Note three ways in which Paul reduces fear and supports the certainty of victory whether in life or in death.

First, he sets, side-by-side, two processes that Christians experience at the same time. One is that time is taking its toll on all of us and we are “wasting away.” This sobering reality is visible to each of us as birthdays mount into multiple decades. But Paul adds that, at the same time, inwardly we are being renewed day by day (16). The anniversaries that tick off our years also can deepen our character and our lives in Christ and awaken our awareness of a radiant future.

I heard a former bishop of the Free Methodist Church, Rev. William Pierce, then in his eighties, tell a large congregation at the 1947 General Conference, “Every day I live I am one day nearer to eternal youthfulness.”

In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul gives us a second secret to a life that can triumph in the face of mortality: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. There is so much to be seen (and desired) in our world of material abundance. Fixing our eyes on the unseen — regularly looking “beyond” to the next world — fuels our confidence when serious adversities come calling.

Third, in verse 18 Paul introduces two words to underscore the assurance that we can triumph over our afflictions: current troubles, he says, are “light” when compared to our eternal future, and they are “momentary” by the same comparison.

The Apostle Paul faced his afflictions bravely and with strength — with a transcendent view not only of the current world but also of the world to come. His words and example encourage us to do the same — enabled by the abundant grace of God!

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Alon (via flickr.com)

The Changes New Life in Christ Will Bring

When we come to Christ in faith, confessing our sins and declaring ourselves his followers, we begin a new life. As the Apostle Paul exhorts: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Let us consider several ways in which this newness in Christ expresses itself for every Christian — though not always in the same way, and not always at the same rate of development. I hope this will help you or that you will pass it on to new Christians.

1. We have a new Lord. Before the change we were largely our own lord, seeking our own pleasures, captive to our own sometimes empty interests. Now, we bow before the lordship of the one who gave up his life for our salvation. His lordship brings us to a surprisingly enlightened state of mind! Understanding deepens! We are able to say with Paul: … no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God … can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

2. The Holy Spirit becomes our new spiritual guide: He guides us, leading us in a righteous life. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Spirit here refers to the third person of the Trinity. He is a personal, spiritual presence. How personal? The Apostle Paul exhorted reverently: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

3. We have a new Guide Book. When we were dead in our sins and alienated from God we had little thought of the Bible, unless it was to speak of it casually or with disdain. But the new life in Christ awakens in us commitment to the Bible as the primary source of saving truth and also the guide for righteous living.

The Christian Scriptures are inspired by God as the source of his truth. It’s the book describing God’s redemptive purpose for our lives. The Apostle Paul had this practical goal in mind when he wrote:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

New Christians not yet well instructed in Bible truth may begin acquainting themselves with the Bible by first reading through one or more of the four gospels, preferably beginning with Mark, the shortest of the four.

4. As we live the new life some old relationships may fade and new ones take their place. When we experience Christ in a saving way friends will either show keen interest in our story, asking sincere questions, or they will appear skeptical, disinterested, or even hostile. Friendship may become difficult. The prophet Amos asks: How can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3) In such situations, the Holy Spirit will lead and comfort.

5. With the blooming of the new life, we find ourselves drawn toward a new community. Call it the local church. Most often, when we read the word church in the New Testament it is a translation of the Greek word for called out. That is, it is an assembly of believers who are called to gather regularly to understand and deepen their faith in Christ. We may also find new friends in such an assembly of Christians.

In looking for a good church in which to worship and to serve the Lord, look for one where pastors and other leaders carry on ministries rooted in Scripture and who themselves are alive to Jesus Christ; where church life is well ordered, love among members is evident, and Bible teaching makes clear what we are to believe and how we are to live. It should also be a gathering where fellowship looks inward to nurture the Christ-centered life, and outward to find opportunities to serve others.

As you ponder these suggestions keep in mind that the life God calls us to follow is a life that includes warfare, not against people but against the evil one who is the archenemy of God. Consider the Apostle Paul’s word about conflict and temptation to the church in Corinth:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

6. The end result of these life changes will be the natural development of Christian character. It’s what Paul had in mind when he set before the Galatian Christians the wonder of Christian growth, comparing it to a beautiful collection of developing fruit thus: … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It was in our Lord’s thoughts when he prayed for his disciples when he was soon to leave them: Sanctify them [make them holy] by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).

If you are challenged and encouraged in your faith by these six points of change prompted by the new life in Christ, I wish you God’s rich blessings as you ponder and receive ongoing Christian guidance from them.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: wsilver (via flickr.com)

Re-post: Thoughts About Serving Holy Communion

Young pastors sometimes struggle to see the value of liturgy, especially the service of Holy Communion. It may seem “unspiritual” to them because the words spoken are prescribed in advance. Consequently, they may feel the need to “reformat” this ancient rite of the Church.

I once heard of a young pastor’s novel come-and-go Communion service. The elements were laid out on the Communion table and people were invited to come anytime Sunday afternoon and serve themselves, without benefit of explanation, pastor, or possibly even fellow believers.

Or there was the pastor so opposed to rituals of any kind that he simply “announced” Communion and passed the elements around without invitation, consecration, explanation, or prayer. Any unchurched person would be sure to go away asking, “What was that about?”

Whatever the cause for disinterest or aversion, here are some simple suggestions to help pastors conducting a Communion service. They may also be useful for laypersons who feel the need for fuller engagement with this sacrament.

1. During the week prior to the service, live in the four brief New Testament passages that report the first Lord’s Supper, attended and hosted by Jesus Himself:

Matthew 26:17-30
Mark 14:22-26
Luke 22:19-23
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Let the scene set itself in your imagination and let the words sink in. If the truths expressed in “this is my body … this is my blood (broken/shed for you)” seem wrapped in mystery, remember that in the early days of the Christian era the Greek branch of the church often referred to the Lord’s Supper as just that — “the Mystery.”

2. The day before the Lord’s Supper is served, spend time with the ritual itself. Read it aloud. Personalize its opening invitation for yourself. Think afresh what the sacrificial death of Jesus meant and turn that understanding into prayer. It is sometimes the savoring of words — “putting them under your tongue and sucking them like a sweetie,” as one Scottish divine advised — that releases their power.

3. Practice reading the service out loud slowly and thoughtfully. In doing so you may hear fresh truth for your own need. One teacher of pastors offered this advice to those called upon to read the Bible in public services: “Read it as if you are listening to it yourself, not as though you wrote it.” The same advice fits reading the ritual of Holy Communion.

4. If you have any impulse in your mind to diminish or neglect the serving of the Lord’s Supper, remember that, throughout history, it has often been called the central act of Christian worship. Let that understanding refashion your thinking.

5. Finally, whether you are a pastor or layperson, resist the tendency to seek innovation. Sometimes in our youth we are inclined to diminish the value of repetition in favor of new ways of saying or doing things. Innovation certainly has its place, but not with a fundamental practice of our faith such as the Lord’s Supper. Repetition is intended to fix its truths in believers’ minds.

After one communion service at which I had served believers of all ages, an elderly woman, the widow of a minister, spoke to me. She had heard the ritual all her life. She said to me with feeling, “The longer I live, the more meaningful the Lord’s Supper becomes to me.”

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Kathy (via flickr.com)

Dealing with Our Doubts

It’s one thing to be racked by our doubts, wondering if God exists, if He cares, if He can do anything for us in our times of uncertainty. But to feel that our doubts are sinful and that we must keep them hidden compounds our distress.

The truth is that doubt is the not infrequent experience of aspiring saints. Smug, narcissistic, or spiritually complacent Bible characters like Samson, Absalom and the wicked Herodias give little evidence of wrestling with doubts. They were all supremely self-confident.

But the godly prophet Elijah is a different case. So are Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and John the Baptist. Even Jesus had his times of doubt. No one ever trusted the Father more implicitly than he, yet from his cross he cried, “My God, My God, Why…?”

In the psalms there are many doubter’s laments. At least 40 of the 150 are called psalms of lament, and some are from people wrestling with doubt.

Psalm 77 is one of them.

The psalmist is in such distress that he cannot sleep at night. He holds God responsible for even this, since for the Hebrew mind God is ultimately involved in every human situation.

The psalmist cries out in his anguish, Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in his anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:9 RSV)

This psalm must have been written as the solitary cry of one believer. But when the psalms were collected, eventually to become the Old Testament hymn book, this one was seen as a cry common to many devout hearts. Thus it was made a part of the Old Testament worship literature. Today all readers, New Testament doubters too, may use it.

Doubters want to believe that God is there for them. But they struggle to see how things could be as they are, if God really cared. Doubters have faith but it is under assault, conflicted, strained.

Frederick Robertson, great preacher of an earlier generation, was sometimes subject to profound, sometimes overwhelming, doubts. His advice?

“Obedience! Leave those thoughts [of doubt] for the present … Force yourselves to abound in little services; try to do good to others; be true to the duty that you know …”

Good advice, but there is an even deeper word in this psalm. The psalmist says: I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember thy wonders of old (Psalm 77:11 RSV).

This psalmist avoided the peril of self-absorption by meditating, principally on the mighty acts of God at the Red Sea.

We can go one better. We also call the mighty acts of Jesus to mind — his perfect life, his love for the oppressed, his healings — and particularly his deliverance from death at Joseph’s tomb. The Holy Spirit, by such meditations, can renew our faith.

When trying to overcome oppressive doubts, in addition to personal meditation, it is also good to go where a company of believers is worshiping the living God. Attempt to share in their faith as they sing and pray. Join with them and listen to the word of God preached.

You will be among friends. And, of course, on any given Sunday, there will surely be others there who also need to activate Psalm 77.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Ashley Campbell (via flickr.com)