Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reflection for February 24, 2010

"The Folly of Pigheadedness"

My father-in-law once had a hog that was known to travel down the road on occasion to the nearest neighbor and wreak havoc on the neighbor’s yard. If you have ever seen what a hog can do to a yard, you can understand why the neighbor had threatened to kill the hog, if he got into his yard again. My father-in-law attempted to keep the hog within the confines of an electric fence for his own safety, but the hog did not understand the safety issue. All he understood was the fence represented a boundary he did not want to honor. When the boundaries became more than he could tolerate, he would stand back from the fence, start pawing the ground, lower his head, start squealing, and finally start running as fast as he could toward the fence. He started squealing early, because he knew the fence would be painful, but he was willing to endure the pain to reach the space beyond it. This old hog reminds me of some Christians I know. In fact, it reminds me of myself in my younger days.

Our Heavenly Father has given us His word to establish boundaries for us to remain within. He has done it for our own protection. He is well aware of the dangers that can be found outside the safety of His word. He has warned His children throughout His word that He would not turn his head away when they choose to disregard His word. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly reminded His children of the consequences of not remaining within the confines of His law. His children refused to heed his warnings and time and time again they were left at the mercy of their enemies. Only when they repented and once again sought safety behind the boundaries God had created did they find deliverance.

Likewise, God warns his children in the New Testament of the dangers found outside of the boundaries He has established. He directed Paul to write, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7, 8).

Looking to excuse their behavior, some would argue that this Scripture is nullified by our confession and repentance of whatever sin we have committed. While it is true that no sin is so great that God will not forgive a truly repentant sinner. Forgiveness does not negate the reaping of the consequences of living outside God’s boundaries. For example, if someone chooses to live their life abusing their bodies with drugs and alcohol, they can come to their senses and receive the forgiveness of a loving and caring God. His forgiveness does not remove the fact that the individual will have to live with the consequences their wrong choices had on their bodies.

The truth is when we choose to live outside the boundaries of God’s word we are left without excuse. If we behave like my father-in-law’s old hog, we may well pay a high price for forging ahead and ignoring God’s clear boundaries. Whatever momentary pleasure we may receive outside of God’s boundaries is not worth the cost. When we remain within God’s boundaries and ignore the temptations the enemy places before us, we will discover the greatest pleasure in life comes from remaining within the confines God has established for us. It is there we find the joy, peace and abundant life Jesus promised those who remain faithful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reflections for February 17, 2010

The Apostle Paul sometimes used illustrations from the arena of athletics to make his point. One of his best known athletic illustrations is found in I Corinthians 9:24-27. There he wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”(NASB)

In this illustration there are at three traits found in great athletes that can be transposed to the Christian life. First, a great athlete must have dedication. There has always been the argument over whether an athlete is born or made. There is some truth to both thoughts. Certainly, there needs to be some natural God-given talents for an athlete to excel. However, if the work ethic is not there, the athlete will never reach his/her full potential. Over the years there have been many athletes who were so naturally blessed that they could stand head and shoulders above most of their competition. However, their full potential may have never been realized because they were unwilling to give the dedication needed to fully develop all of their God-given talents. If you do the research, you will discover that the truly great ones spent long hours developing their tools.

Second, a great athlete must have determination. There is an old saying in football that says, “It is not how hard you get knocked down that counts; it is how fast you get up.” Every athlete knows that there are going to be days when things do not go well. There are going to be times when you are knocked down. The good ones absorb the blow and get up with a new determination to not let it happen again. Their focus is on the prize at the end. It is nice when the prize is a championship trophy. However, it is also gratifying to be able to look back and know that you have stayed the course and have been the best you can be.

Third, the great athlete understands discipline. The discipline of the body may be included in the dedication and determination of the athlete. However, there is another form of discipline. It is the discipline to play within the rules when they take the field, court or track. If they choose to ignore the rules and play by their own standards, they forfeit the opportunity to win the prize and receive the joys that come from victory.

It is not hard to see the need for these three qualities in the life of a Christian. This need is evidence by the numbers of Christians who are living defeated, unfulfilled lives. They have expected all the benefits without any of the toil. Christians of our day need to look at the saints of old and learn from how they weathered adversity. It has never been easy to be a Christian. The world has always been hostile to the message of Christ. The secret to overcoming is not found in some simple formula but it is found in personal dedication, determination and discipline. Just as these three qualities are the defining factor between the average athletes and the great ones, they are the defining factors in the life of the Christian living the victorious life and the Christian who is simply getting by.

One final comment, Paul stresses that the athlete does it to receive a perishable wreath or in our day, a trophy or some other kind of recognition, but the Christian does it to receive an imperishable reward. For the Christian a “well done My good and faithful servant” will suffice when we stand before our eternal coach.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reflection for February 11, 2010

Good News

A few years back, my wife and I celebrated her birthday at a well known restraint. When we entered the restaurant I noticed a small plague on the checkout counter that notified us that this was a 100 percent smoke free restaurant. No sooner than I read the informative plague the hostess asked us whether we wanted smoking or non-smoking. We told her that we preferred non-smoking.

As we were being seated, I could not help but wonder why that question was necessary in a 100 per cent smoke free restaurant. When our server came, my curiosity was getting the best of me. I asked the server why we needed to be asked whether we preferred smoking or non-smoking if it was a 100 per cent smoke free facility. The server’s explained, “If you are 80 per cent smoke free, you met the requirements.”

I am not sure if this explanation was accurate, but my first inclination is to believe that it was...It is typical of the manner in which we interpret rules and laws today. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we are often sticklers about the laws that do not interfere with our lives but we are constantly looking for ways to circumvent the ones that are not suitable to our purposes.

Just in case you are thinking that this does not apply to you. Think about this. When was the last time you thought it was all right to exceed the speed limit as long as you did not exceed it more that five miles per hour? I sense that there are still some toes that have not been stepped upon. Let me try one more time. When is the last time that you went to a buffet and while you were there, you attempted to split a dinner or even a salad with someone with you? In your eyes, it may be a frugal decision. In God’s eyes, it is taking something that you have not paid for. Some would call that stealing. The point is that most of us operate on the assumption that laws and rules are good until they interfere with something we want.

While we often seem to get away with such tactics in the world, we need to be reminded that in God’s law there is not room for maneuvering. What God says; God means! To make matters worse, God says that if we have broken one of His laws we have broken all of them. This is why Paul refers to God’s Law as a tutor. It is there to show us how incapable we are of keeping the Law perfectly.

The theological term for the breaking of one of God’s laws is sin. In his Letter to the Romans Paul wrote: “we all have sinned and fallen short of His glory.” The bad news does not end there. He goes on to notify us that “the wages of sin is death.” The death to which he refers is much more that the ending of these physical lives that we cling to so doggedly. It means a spiritual death that eternally separates us from the God that we were originally created to have fellowship with.

Since I believed the appraisal of man found above, it was not difficult for me to see that I had a great need that I could not meet on my own. My breaking of God’s law had separated me from Him and all my efforts were not enough to restore the fellowship that has been broken. If I had not believed the rest of the story, I would have been extremely depressed over my hopeless condition.

I am grateful that Paul followed his bad news with good news. He wrote, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ our Lord.”(Romans 6:23) The rest of the story is that God loved me enough to provide a means by which I could be restored to the fellowship that had been lost. He gave His Son, Jesus, to die on a Cross for my sins. When I received Him into my life and decided to follow Him, the forgiveness that He died to provide became mine

The “Good News” in all of this is that the miracle of redemption is for anyone who is willing to open his/her heart to receive it. My prayer is that you will take that step, if you have not done so. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reflection for February 3, 2010

"Bring Back Blushing"

When I was in the eighth grade, a friend and I decided to go to a movie. This was not just any movie. This was a movie that everyone was talking about. It was a movie supposedly made for adults. If my memory serves me correctly, it was titled, “Baby Doll”, and the star was an actress named Carol Baker. Wouldn’t you know? I do not have clue who the male lead actor was. As we purchased our tickets we held our heads down in fear that someone that knew us might see us. It got worse when we entered the theater. It was full. As we sheepishly searched for a seat we could tell that we were the youngest ones in the theater. We finally sat down or maybe slid down into our seats.

Once the movie started I am sure that no one cared about us, but at the time we felt as if every set of eyes in the place was focused on us. After about twenty minutes, we could stand it no longer and we got up and left. We did not walk out because of some noble religious conviction but we walked out because we were embarrassed.

The point of this tale from the past is that the material in the movie, “Baby Doll”, would seem tame compared to the normal flow of material that pours into our living rooms every night by way of television. Young adolescents sit and watch far more graphic situations everyday on “MTV”. Every imaginable topic is discussed in detail on the many talk shows. These are not late night talk shows. They air every afternoon. Nothing seems to be taboo anymore. Behavior that would have been classified as deviant a few years ago is now often presented as being acceptable. The illustrations are too many to print but hopefully the point has been made that it takes a lot more to embarrass us today than it did in the past.

Many today would argue that the changes reflected in the two paragraphs above are good. We are now a more open society. We no longer must live under the horrible moral codes of the past. We now have a freedom to express ourselves. Those who are considered most admirable are those who continue to “push the envelope”. After all, these are the ones who help us to expand our consciousness and our ability to experience all types of new things.

The proponents of this philosophy refuse to admit the correlation between these changes in moral expectations with the epidemic of social problems that our nation faces. A general breakdown in respect for authority, the breakdown of the family, out of wedlock pregnancies, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases are a few of the consequences of our new and expanding moral freedom.

The prophet Jeremiah addressed a similar situation in the ancient nation of Judah. He wrote, “Were they ashamed of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, and they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time of their punishment they shall be brought down, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:12 NASB) My prayer for our nation is that it will learn how to blush once again. If it does not our direction will not change and at some point, contrary to what many teach today, God’s judgment will be unavoidable.