Category: How We Grow

Senator Blumenthal and Me

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)

Watching the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, I disagreed with what some of the Senators said, but one Senator in particular took me beyond disagreement into angry resentment : Senator Blumenthal.

Senator Blumenthal said that if Kavanaugh told even one lie about his personal history, then he should be totally disqualified for consideration for the Supreme Court.  But there was a huge problem : this Senator was known for misleading  statements about his own personal history.

Since many of the other Senators had their own annoying traits,  I wondered why it was only Blumenthal who got me so riled up ?

Well, after watching the hearing, I went to a physical therapy session for my tender left shoulder.  I heard a fellow patient ranting bitterly  against Blumenthal, but I kept quiet. Later, though, I considered the  gap between  my polite outer exterior and my own secret agreement with that gentleman’s angry rant! Yes,  I like to project a certain  image…an even-keeled man who doesn’t express nasty, ranting  thoughts. But wait a minute —isn’t that a gap between how I present myself and what I am really like …. just like Blumenthal ?!

The Lord used my reactions to Blumenthal to switch me to dealing with my own deceit instead of ranting at his !

I am glad we have a Lord who is so patient with our inconsistencies! And he loves us so much that he engineers circumstances to expose them, so they can be corrected.

I can’t yet say I am just like Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel in whom there is no deceit. But by God’s grace I can say I’m willing to admit it when I’m being deceitful. Then I can pray for help in putting off two-faced deceit and putting on single-minded transparency and honesty.

I could never live up to that!

bingo 3

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

As Christians we’re called to do good, loving deeds.

I often hear of people who are constantly doing tons of loving things for Jesus. Then, an accusing voice tells me, “You could be visiting more sick people than you do…. And how can you even call yourself a Christian if you are not involved in a prison ministry?” It’s easy to start feeling insecure.

Where does that insecurity come from ?

Here’s the problem : If  my focus is on comparing myself to others I will always either  feel bad because I come up short compared to them or feel superior because  I think I am doing better than they are. If my measure basically revolves around me, I am trapped…….I need a remedy !

Thankfully, Paul points the way towards a solution :

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

I think Paul’s advice helps us both to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and also not to think more lowly of ourselves than we ought.  For at the heart of this verse is getting rid of  comparing ourselves to others.

So, in faith, our small group looked for ways to serve in our town. A couple of activities we tried weren’t quite a right fit. But some people in our group had gone each  Christmas to sing carols and give out cookies at a local adult residential care home. So we began to wonder — how could we reach out to the residents during the rest of the year?

We started a monthly Bingo Night for them.  Now, for years, they always look forward to our visits and enjoy the games and prizes. And I love joining them, not grudgingly or under compulsion, but  propelled by faith and love.

Secret Decoder Ring?

secret decoder ring

There are loads of passages in the Bible about the future. Lots of them are obscure or hard to understand, perhaps the most difficult being those in the book of Revelation. Since people have argued about the timing and meaning of Revelation’s details  for centuries, I am skeptical when someone says they have discovered exactly what these mysterious passages all mean. It sounds  like they have discovered  a secret decoder ring that decrypts the prophetic passages in the  Bible.

Today I will argue that Revelation gives us great encouragement in living our Christian lives, even if we can’t decode lots of the prophetic details.

Today let’s look at one passage with lots of mystery, the tale of  the two witnesses. These guys appear in Revelation 11:3-12. I’ll give more Scripture than I usually do in my posts:

 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:3-12)

You can find many attempts to decode just who the two witnesses are. Are they  Moses and Elijah? Are they someone else ? And what in the world is the significance of 1,260 ?

So many theories ! But let’s look at what’s more important. We know that all scripture has something of use for us to live more fully for God today. So — How do the two witnesses affect how I live now?

Let me suggest three ways.

  • The two witnesses speak the truth in spite of opposition—- and God wants us to boldly, confidently speak the truth even when we face opposition.
  • The scorn of wicked people for the two witnesses ends. God sets it right. And here’s a promise : Later, God will set all wrongs right. We don’t know the timing, but God promises that evil will end.
  • The two murdered witnesses come alive. And, Jesus brings us back to life. First, we were dead in our sin and Jesus brought us back to spiritual life. And Jesus promises that sometime after we die, he will return and give us new, live resurrection bodies.

See, we don’t need a secret decoder ring for Revelation to be helpful.  Even though the details of the timing and sequencing of future events remain hidden, Revelation encourages us to live more fully for Christ today, and strengthens our hope that our Lord is fully in control of our future.

Help ! I’m Stuck

truck stuck rt 202

On Route 202, down the road from our house, there’s  an underpass under the New Jersey Transit tracks. (It’s a few miles south from the underpass you see in the picture.) Recently a truck got stuck right in the middle of rush hour. The unfortunate driver did not first compare the height of his vehicle versus the number on the overpass sign. The mortified driver caused a traffic tie-up until the police let some air out of his tires to free him.

This leads us to today’s quote from Jesus.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30)

Now, sometimes you hear people say that Jesus guarantees a life of health and prosperity.  But coming to Christ  is not costless. It’s false to say that believing in Jesus guarantees us our best life now.

The writer of Amazing Grace has it perfectly :

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Contemplating the stanza, we see how Jesus’ cost is well worth paying. Yes, on life’s way we face dangers, toils, and snares. But Jesus safely sustains and guides us, giving us a final home with him.

Even though we have determined to do our best for Christ, we are not immune to bad choices and misjudgments. Too often we get stuck in our own life underpasses.

But each time that happens, our patient Lord loves us too much to leave us there. As we repent,  he lets the air out of our overinflated opinion of ourselves. Once more forgiven, we are able to roll on forward with Jesus again !

Bountiful Harvest

blueberries_peaches photo credit emily wiley

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:8)

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”(Matthew 13:23)

We live in New Jersey.  Out-of-staters think of our state as being filled with factories, smokestacks, and refineries.  But we rank near the top of all  US states in growing peaches and blueberries. Yes, there can be much fruit even where it is not expected !

During this series we have been challenged to be good hearers. We’ve been encouraged to have a soft heart instead of a hard heart, to grow deeper roots, and to stay on course for godly contentment.

Today we get to celebrate what it means to be set free to be fruitful for Christ!  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a)

We may think this wonderful fruit depends only on how hard we try. But let’s look at how it does not all depend on us. In the hymn “The Sower” William Cowper wrote:

“Let the same hand that gives the seed
Provide a fruitful place.”

Yes, it is God who prepares the ground — God sets it all up ahead of time —- then we move in it, all the while strengthened by his power.

Paul explains more about how this works  :

“So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:10-11)

If you’ve seen some of my other blog posts, you know there are ways I flail when trying  to do the Lord’s will– so today God  reminds us that the burden is not on our shoulders—-we will harvest our fruit  by his power !

I Need a Course Correction

thornz

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants”( Matthew 13:7)

 “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”(Matthew 13:22)

You are driving out of state. You are sure you know the right route ; you don’t really even need the GPS.  However, after a while: You have now reached a dead end in the middle of nowhere! And you have a grim realization : Now the clouds are so thick and the valley you are lost in is so steep that that you can’t even get a GPS signal. Now what ?

Today’s verses in the Parable of the Sower show how we can gradually wander off course in our Christian lives even when we think that everything is going OK .  First, the worries of life can sneak in: Will we be able to buy the things we need?  Will I lose my job? What if I get sick ? Will we lose our house?  Legitimate stewardship of our health and work can gradually morph into becoming a worrisome preoccupation or obsession.

Second, the deceitfulness of wealth can slink in too. Take Bob, who was earning well, providing and caring for his family and doing good ministry. But as he receives some very lucrative promotions, his job gobbles up increasing amounts of his family time and leaves almost no time for Jesus and ministry.

Overcome by worry, seduced by wealth. What do these have in common? Both of them block the guidance  from the Holy Spirit  just as the GPS signal was blocked.

Let’s hear what Paul says :

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

As the thorns in life grow, they start to choke our godly contentment.  We might think that we can use our own power to hack away at the thorns until they are all cut down. But that’s about as effective as depending on a GPS that does not get a signal. Here’s what we need to depend on :

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13)

Our Lord gives us directions for a thorn-removing course correction. I need one. Do you?

Fruit Even During Drought

dried in sun

“Some [seed] fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root” (Matthew 13:5-6)

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”  (Matthew 13:20-21)

We love to enjoy the wonderful privileges that come from being a Christian.  Our sins are forgiven!  We have eternal life! We have wonderful Christian friends! God is answering so many prayers!  We have such peace and joy!

But wait a minute. We still have struggles. Unanswered prayers.  Unhealed relationships. Bad stuff happens. Job loss. Sickness. Mockery and ridicule from family members who do not believe.

Our temptation is us to withdraw — from the Lord, from fellowship, from wanting to participate in what he is doing in his Kingdom. We fall away from craving more of him in our lives. In the face of the crappy stuff that is still going on, that threaten to dry out our love for the Lord, we need deepening roots……

The apostle Paul says:  “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  (Romans 5:3b)

This deepening process is not easy and quick. I have known the Lord for decades and I still need deeper roots.  I thank God for his love which is so patient with us !

Jeremiah tells us the wonderful way that being rooted allows us to survive heat and drought in our lives:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Where are you feeling the heat ? May your confidence be in the Lord who promises to give you fruit even  during a time of drought.