Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blessed Easter 2013

Blessed Easter

And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the
Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here;
behold, here is the place where they laid Him.

~ Mark 16:6 (NAS) ~

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday 2013

Remembering ...

Remembering Good Friday

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;
for by His wounds you were healed.

~ 1 Peter 2:24 (NAS) ~

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Days of Our Lives

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15 NAS)

Days of Our Lives
Among the many lessons my wife and I learned in our marriage life is that a lasting and bonding relationship begins with accepting one another for who we are in spite of. This means the need for mutual understanding and the willingness to give and take in loving care for one another. We hide nothing from each other, share joys and sorrows together, and hold each other up during difficult times. We enthrone Christ as Lord of our lives and stay thankful always for what we have and what we do not have.

Our career lives have gone through many ups and downs like a rollercoaster ride. We have experienced what it means to get along with humble means and to live in prosperity (Philippians 4:12). No doubt, it is only right that we do our very best for the ones who pay our bills, but we have learned that our very best is seldom enough when it comes to the expectation of employers. Too frequently we have put our hearts and souls in our jobs only to receive more distress than necessary. Yes, in whatever we do we are to do our work heartily, and yes, we ought to be submissive to our bosses, even to those who are unreasonable (Colossians 3:23-24; 1 Peter 2:18-19). Yet when we fall ill, few are the bosses who care about our health or our wellbeing, while our loved ones are worried sick. They are the ones who care for us and deserve better from us.

One thing we are assured of as we draw nearer to our old age is that even in our graying years God will sustain us and hold us up (Isaiah 46:4). Though we may begin to wear out physically, we need not lose heart, because inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). All the things that have happened in our lives, our pain and our joy, our experiences, are for our benefit that the people who God has placed in our lives may have reason for thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Thank You, dear Lord, for bringing us together and for seeing us through the years of marriage. We know Lord that without You in our lives, things would have been very different. Renew us Lord and grant us the strength as we continue to walk in Your footsteps for the coming years. Help us do our best in our jobs Lord, and leave the impossible to You. Do not allow us to be over stressed, but keep us sane to focus on You.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sharpening a Knife

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 NAS)

Sharpening a Knife
Knives must always be kept sharp because a blunt knife is dangerous, as it requires more pressure and is more likely to slip and cause a cut, according to an article on knife care at HospitalityInfoCentre.co.uk. A professional chef sharpens his or her knives every time they are used.

A sharp knife means a better, faster, and easier job for the chef to work neatly and more accurately. Once a knife is sharpened, the knife must first be cleaned to remove any filings that might be on the blade. A good way to test the knife’s sharpness is to cut a soft tomato to see if it slices through easily with little pressure.

Understanding knife sharpening provides many lessons we can take home. The Bible teaches that iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Now think for a moment and ask ourselves, are we notable for sharpening others? Do we help others do better? How often do we reach out to encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? Do we know that leaving our brothers and sisters in the Lord to struggle on their own is dangerous because without guidance they require more effort and are more likely to slip and fall?

If we hope to do better, faster, and easier in accurately handling the word of truth, we must first keep ourselves constantly sharpened in God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15). The word of God is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). We need therefore to be careful when seeking to encourage or correct another to first examine ourselves and remove our own bad habits, wrong attitudes, and presumptions (Luke 6:42).

A good way to test whether an encouragement or correction is helpful is to watch the receptivity of the person and how he or she responds. Remember, however, that just as not all tomatoes taste the same, so the people we seek to help differ largely in personality, sensitivity, experiences, degree of faith, among other things. Always understand them first before reaching out to them. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Do not force a correction, speak without thinking, or let eagerness take center stage.

Dear Lord, help us be sensitive to the leading of Your Holy Spirit, especially when encouraging or correcting a person. Do not let our hearts be hardened to leave our fellow believers to struggle for themselves, but guide us Lord as we help them keep from slipping or falling. Remove from us all that is not pleasing in Your sight O Lord and sharpen us by Your word that we may accurately handle the word of truth.

Friday, March 15, 2013

String Around the Finger

Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (Deuteronomy 6:8 NIV)

Tie a String around the FingerAmong the many strategies to help a person remember better is one we are all familiar with that is closely associated to the concept of tying a string around the finger. In essence, this approach is about putting something in our environment to create a visual reminder for ourselves, explained Molly Edmonds in her article on the top ten ways to improve memory at Discovery.com.

Directions on how to employ this strategy is found in another article on the same topic at Muskingum.edu. Steps to be taken include identifying the task or information to remember, picking an action or mental picture to remind oneself of the task or information, and rehearsing the action or mental picture several times. An example is turning the sleeve of a coat inside out to remember to bring something the next day or placing an object on the floor in front of the door leaving the house as an obvious reminder.

Like the visual reminder used in memory strategies, the Bible in the Old Testament mentioned a similar strategy to help the sons of Israel remember the instructions of God. The tefillin are two small leather boxes worn on the head and on one arm as a symbol and reminder of God’s word  to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). These boxes are held in place by leather straps and contain verses from the Torah or the five books of Moses.

What about us? How do we remind ourselves to love the Lord our God? Do we use something similar to tying a string around our finger to remind ourselves to walk rightly in God? What visual reminder can we employ to help us remember to put God first in our lives in every situation?

The first step of identifying is obvious and can only be achieved by studying the word of God daily and remembering what we have learned. The next is for us to pick an action or mental picture to remind us to seek God in every situation or to do something good each day. We can then rehearse mentally and purpose in our heart to dwell our minds on and do whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

Dear Lord, thank You for giving us Your word to guide us in our walk. Your word O Lord we have kept in our heart that we may not sin against You. Help us Lord to be mindful of You and Your teachings in every situation. Place in our minds visual reminders of whatever is good, pure, and worthy of praise Lord that we may put into action such things in love. We love You O Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Follow Me

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24 NIV)

I see it all over the Internet ... "Follow me on Twitter"—"Follow my Blog."

And I wonder—if people really did follow us, what would they see?

When Jesus invited people to follow Him it was more than just viewing a few 144 character tweets or a few paragraphs of His thoughts on a blog. He invited them to walk along side Him 24/7. They saw Him when things were good (palm leaves and praises) and they saw Him when things were bad (death threats and rock throwing). They saw Him do miracles and they saw Him weep. They watched Him pray in agony and feast in victory. They watched how He reacted to each situation and they measured His reaction against what He preached to see if His walk lined up with His talk.

Guess what ... people are still doing that today. They are watching us (Christ-followers) to see if our walk lines up with our talk. Do we react to hard times in a way that shows we fully trust God?  Do we react to people who are rude, slow, or mean in a way that says, I love you? (We are supposed to love others, right?)

Easy to do? No, but, then that's what Jesus meant when he said "take up your cross and follow me". Our first reaction is the human one. We want to strike back, express our impatience, stand up for ourselves, but laying aside those initial reactions to respond in a Christ-like manner is what taking up your cross is all about.

Father, teach us to follow Christ in such a way that those who are watching us will be drawn to Him. Teach us to lay aside our desires and to take up our cross and follow Him. Amen.Jan Christiansen

Friday, March 1, 2013

Risky Business

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:15 NIV)

Truth or Grace
One thing I've said time and time again is that I don't say things I don't mean. If encouragement is to be of any benefit at all, then it has to be sincere and truthful. Otherwise it's just flattery and has very little value. So if I've ever had an encouraging word for you, then take hold of it and believe that it's true! I meant every bit of it!

But the flipside of that is that I may actually hesitate to say anything at all if the truth isn't quite so encouraging or pleasant. Part of this is out of a desire to not hurt anyone; but I have to admit that it also has a lot to do with self-preservation. The old saying about not "shooting the messenger" is an old saying because it can, and often does, happen. Unless you have very tough skin, being a truth giver can, more than occasionally, rebound back onto you.

There was a time, some years ago, where I found myself being prompted time and time again to be honest about some things that, for right or wrong, were on my heart. Unfortunately, speaking the truth in love can be a risky business when it isn't received in the same way, and is instead interpreted as being simply "trouble making".

I must be very honest here and say that no-one came out and ever said anything like that, however their actions seemed to support it. Little by little, as Steve and I shared our concerns, we were "cut off".

So much for the old "truth telling" ideal!

Not having the hide of a rhino, it's little wonder that I went back to doing what I felt most comfortable with—just truthfully encouraging, rather than truthfully exhorting. Before long we made our "home" in a new church and I had no desire to take any risks again. After all, no pain, no loss.

Ah, but unfortunately there's also no gain when the truth is avoided.

Still, I happily avoided for quite a long time—until I realized recently that I had gradually become less inclined to skirt around the truth, particularly when I knew that to do so would be unbeneficial or even detrimental.

I can see now that I had been loosening up for a while before I actually recognized it, but it wasn't until a recent meeting with our pastor, Grant, that I was struck by just how far I'd moved from being purely a giver of grace, to once again also being a teller of truth.

Taking my courage in both hands, I brought up a concern that I'd had regarding a certain aspect of the music ministry of our church. As the meeting was about the Music Team, and because I was the Music Team Leader, I knew that I had the right to voice this particular concern. Even so, it was a potentially sensitive area and I was aware, even as I broached the subject, that I was taking a risk.

Grant's response? Total agreement.

The relief was enormous. I'd done it! I'd shared something that wasn't just a "feel good" thing, and survived to talk about it. Truth had been told with love, and received the same way. Phew!

So with that out of the way, I prepared to leave—my mission was complete. As I stood to go, Grant casually asked for my opinion regarding a recent meeting we'd had. Even now, I don't know whether I was simply buoyed up with the euphoria of my recent moment of truth, or whether I was too tired to try and avoid the issue. Either way, once again I was honest—and it wasn't necessarily what this dear man expected to hear.

A few minutes later I was driving home with a "you should have quit while you were ahead" mantra running through my mind. Although I didn't regret sharing what I honestly felt, I did feel some concern that I may have taken a few steps down that old path to alienation.

As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. Later that same day Grant sent me an e-mail asking for a little clarification as to what exactly I’d meant. I took a day or so to really think things through before writing back, but when I did, Grant thanked me for my input and honesty. Not only that, but he actually took hold of some of my comments and the next meeting reflected his willingness to listen and act.

Although the Apostle Paul was referring to the uncompromised proclamation of the Gospel when he wrote about speaking the truth in love, the same thing is just as true for us in our every day dealings with those around us. There's no denying that telling the truth, even in love, can be a risky business—but to avoid it at all costs ... that's disastrous.

Something to Think About ...

Do you always avoid telling the truth if you think that it may hurt someone's feelings or possibly rebound back onto your relationship with them?

Or ... do you tell the truth, no matter what – after all, it's for their own good?

At a guess, I'd say that you probably fall somewhere in between those two extremesbut it's most likely that you lean more toward one than the other, veering toward either the "encouragement only" or "truth at all costs" points of view.

As with most things, we need to be balanced and we need to do some checks before sharing our "wisdom" with the world. First of all, we need to be sure that we are actually speaking truth, or at least a well-founded opinion—and not just spouting off about something we don't like. We also need to make sure that the recipient of our truth-giving is able to cope with what we say and will most likely benefit and grow from it. We need to check our motives for needing to say what we want to say, and make sure that we are doing it for the greater good and not just to satisfy our own ego. Last of all, we need to make sure that we focus on the positive things first, and then fill every other word with love and grace.

Even when we do all that, there are no guarantees that it will always turn out the way we hope—but done with love, it will usually be a blessing in the end ... for all concerned. Deborah Porter

Father God ...

Give me wisdom every day;
On my mouth, please place a guard,
So when I speak a word of truth
It won't be cruel or hard.

Instead I pray that I will know
When it’s the time and place
For speaking out the truth in love,
With gentle waves of grace.”

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