Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Joy! Joy! Joy!

Reasons to have joy:

1. God has given us joy! “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Psalms 4:7

2. Thanks for our salvation! “May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!” Psalms 20:5

3. God is righteous! “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore,"Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!" Psalms 35:27

4. He is our help! “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Psalms 63:7

5. He is just! “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” Psalms 67:4

Ways to show our joy:

1. Shout! “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.” Psalms 33:1

2. Sing! “And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.” Psalms 27:6

3. Play Instruments! “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalms 43:4

4. Clap! “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” Psalms 47:1

5. Dance! "Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow." Jeremiah 31:13

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-26

Joy is defined in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary in this way: “To rejoice; to be glad; to exult.” As an example the dictionary quotes Habakkuk 3:18 which exults “…yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

In the Bible wonderful and great events are always greeted with joy. The angels were joyful when they exclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest,” declaring the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:14. The disciples in Luke 24:41 also showed great joy upon seeing their risen Lord.

Good things are almost always a cause for joy, but what about when things don’t go as we planned or something seriously tragic happens? Are we to have joy then? James 1:2-5 tells us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

We are to glory in the Lord and rejoice in our trials. God is great, and whatever else is going on, He is faithful and just. As my mother says, it is in our difficulty that we need joy the most. In Nehemiah 8:10 we are told, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

A perfect example of this relates to my mother in September of 1998. Our family had driven four days to make the move from Massachusetts to Oklahoma. It was the worst week of my entire life. We had driven into the wee hours of the morning every day driving an oversized moving truck with a car trailer attached to the back. The contraption would not back up, and it got stuck over and over again. We almost went over a cliff once in the mountains of Kentucky, and multiple problems had arisen. We were relieved when we reached our new home and unloaded our belongings. Only one thing needed to be done to rid ourselves of the gigantic monster. It needed to be driven back to the truck location.

That was easier said than done. My parents were unfamiliar with the neighborhood and so fell into perhaps the worst trap of the entire town. A street around the corner was straight and level before suddenly dropping steeply down to the intersection below. It did not gradually level out again but just as suddenly became level again. It was here that our truck became stuck once more. My mom was very tempted to become depressed and irritated.

A bird was tweeting musically in a tree nearby without a care in the world. Mom was reminded to rejoice in the little pleasures and to enjoy the beauty of the day. She gave thanks to God that we had arrived safely and without any greater mishap than a constantly stuck truck. There is great encouragement in finding the silver lining in our troubles. God is great and worthy to be praised.

The Psalmist gives repeated exclamations of joy and praise to God. Psalm 32:11 is a shining illustration of this. “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Monday, February 20, 2006

President's Day

Who among our 43 Presidents is your favorite? Today being President’s Day, I think it is a great time to consider who our previous leaders have been and what they have done for the United States of America. You may also list your second and third choices and explain your reasons.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Emotion vs. Charity

The following in an excerpt from C. S. Lewis' wonderful book Mere Christianity. It is a fantastic addition to my study on the fruit of the Spirit.

“Charity means 'Love, in the Christian sense'. But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.”

I pointed out in the chapter on Forgiveness that our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good. In the same way Christian Love (or Charity) for our neighbors is quite a different thing from liking or affection. We 'like' or are 'fond of some peo­ple, and not of others. It is important to understand that this natural 'liking' is neither a sin nor a virtue, any more than your likes and dislikes in food are a sin or a virtue. It is just a fact. But, of course, what we do about it is either sinful or virtuous.

Natural liking or affection for people makes it easier to be 'charitable' towards them. It is, therefore, normally a duty to encourage our affections—to 'like' people as much as we can (just as it is often our duty to encourage our liking for exer­cise or wholesome food)—not because this liking is itself the virtue of charity, but because it is a help to it. On the other hand, it is also necessary to keep a very sharp look-out for fear our liking for some one person makes us uncharitable, or even unfair, to someone else. There are even cases where our liking conflicts with our charity towards the person we like. For example, a doting mother may be tempted by natural affection to 'spoil' her child; that is, to gratify her own affec­tionate impulses at the expense of the child's real happiness later on.

But though natural likings should normally be encour­aged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are 'cold' by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity.

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dis­like, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his 'gratitude', you will probably be disappointed. (People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for anything like showing off, or patronage.)

But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.

Consequently, though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affec­tion. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or 'likings' and the Christian has only 'charity'. The worldly man treats cer­tain people kindly because he 'likes' them: the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become—and so on in a vicious circle for ever.

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An appar­ently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love between human beings, but also God's love for man and man's love for God. About the second of these two, people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, 'If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?' When you have found the answer, go and do it.

On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.' He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wea­ried by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Fruit of the Spirit: Love

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:22-26

The greatest example of love is found in the life of Christ. He had perfect love that was not selfish or self seeking. He gave of Himself to save us from our unrighteousness. John 15:13 shows us that "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." As believers in Christ it is our honor and duty to demonstrate God's love. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 5:2, saying, "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

But what does true Christian love look like? "The Love Chapter" found in 1 Corinthians 13 is my mother's favorite chapter in the entire Bible.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

This may be considered a tall order. It certainly does not come easily, and it is completely impossible without God's help. We must trust in the Holy Spirit to help us bear fruit, for "with God all things are possible."

The Fruit of the Spirit

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Dedication In Action

Lately, I have been considering the need to memorize scripture. It has been on my mind for some time, but recently I have been given several reminders. One was The Rebelution’s Do Hard Things: Scripture Memorization. Another was my recent discovery of the life of Frances Ridley Havergal.

Until the last few days I was unfamiliar with the life of Miss Havergal. Some of her much loved hymns, however, are imbedded deep in my memory. Her hymn Take My Life, and Let It Be is one of my favorites. Frances Ridley Havergal is an amazing example of Christian faithfulness and dedication. This shines through in her numerous poems and hymns.

One of the most amazing aspects of her life was her intense love of languages. She knew German and French as well as her native English fluently, and she studied Greek and Hebrew in order to study the Bible in its original languages.

Frances Ridley Havergal loved Her Savior Jesus Christ and His Word with a passion rarely paralleled. She memorized enormous amounts of scripture. During her lifetime she learned all of the Gospels, Epistles, Revelation, Psalms, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets by heart! This amazes and inspires me. If one woman can memorize so much, is it too much to ask that we devote a few minutes a day to such a worthy endeavor as impressing God’s Word upon our hearts?

This is a task that requires diligence and perseverence. Memorization of scripture is not a skill that is acquired by weekend warriors. I know this by experience. A lot of time has been spent memorizing verses that I can no longer remember simply because I failed to practice them and keep them up over a long period of time.

Havergal exercised great dedication in her study of the Bible. She read from it in the morning and evening and spent time considering how to apply it in her life. Her extensive knowledge of the Bible enabled her to effectively evangelize for Christ wherever she went. The Holy Spirit used her beautiful singing of words prayerfully written for God's glory to bring many people to their Savior.

Frances Ridley Havergal lived only 42 years (December 14, 1836 – June 3, 1879), but she accomplished more for the Kingdom of God than many who live twice that length of time.

Here is an example of one of her beautiful poems.

Be Not Weary.

Yes ! He knows the way is dreary,
Knows the weakness of our frame,
Knows that hand and heart are weary;
He, ‘in all points,’ felt the same.
He is near to help and bless;
Be not weary, onward press.

Look to Him who once was willing
All His glory to resign,
That, for thee the law fulfilling,
All His merit might be thine.
Strive to follow day by day
Where His footsteps mark the way,

Look to Him, the Lord of Glory,
Tasting death to win thy life;
Gazing on ‘that wondrous story,’
Canst thou falter in the strife?
Is it not new life to know
That the Lord hath loved thee so?

Look to Him who ever liveth,
Interceding for His own:
Seek, yea, claim the grace He giveth
Freely from His priestly throne.
Will He not thy strength renew
With His Spirit’s quickening dew?

Look to Him, and faith shall brighten,
Hope shall soar, and love shall burn;
Peace once more thy heart shall lighten
Rise! He calleth thee, return!
Be not weary on thy way,
Jesus is thy strength and stay.

Frances Ridley Havergal

For more information on the life of Frances Ridley Havergal click here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Unknown God

On January 30th I posted an entry entitled In The Beginning. My father submitted a comment in response. It reads in part:

“Here's a challenge for you: Can you find an example of the Apostle Paul using the creation account as a starting point for his evangelistic message to pagan Greeks?”

In answer to this challenge I went to the book of Acts and searched for the creation message among the many missionary journeys of Paul. In Acts 17 we find Paul waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy after being driven out of Thessalonica and Berea by a mob of jealous Jews and wicked men.

Acts 17:16 tells us that while waiting Paul’s spirit was “…provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” As a Jew and Christian Paul had been taught that, "You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Paul’s mission became clear. He reasoned with the Jews and devout people in the synagogue and marketplaces. Among those he spoke with were the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who had many questions for Paul. Apparently Paul was a source of entertainment for them. Verse 21 shows us that, “…all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”

When invited to come to Areopagus (Mars Hill in the KJV) to tell them of the “new thing” he spoke of, Paul answered by starting with something they were familiar with and building on it. He had observed an alter “To the unknown god.” Paul seized upon this amazing opportunity to preach the identity of their "unknown god". He preached the foundation of our faith by explaining that God created the world and everything in it. He does not live in temples, nor does he need to be served by human hands. He made us and gave us our breath! He is the one who took one man, Adam, and populated nations from his descendants. Our God has set the boundaries and time periods of our dwelling. Paul encouraged the pagan Athenians to seek after the true God and taught that He was not far from each one of them. “In him we live and move and Have our being.”

Paul quoted the Athenian's own poets who had said, "For we are indeed his offspring.” He logically stated that since we are the offspring of God He cannot be formed by men's imagination. He cannot be fashioned from gold, silver, or stone.

Paul followed this with a strong call to repentance. God has “fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed [Jesus]; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

When the people heard of the resurrection, Paul received several reactions. Some mocked, others were passively interested, but there were also some who joined him and believed. Creation is a great place to launch our telling of the gospel. In these last days less people believe that God created the world and everything in it. Creation is essential for the understanding of our original relationship with God, the sinful fall of man, and our need for a Savior.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

In Every Situation

"Let all give thanks to God
With heart and hand and voices!
What wonders He hath wrought!
In Him His world rejoices.
He from our childhood still
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And ceaseth not today."

These are the words that the grandfather in The Stauffer Mill by Johanna Spyri sings out after falling into a crevice of the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland. He is unable to pull himself out and can do nothing but pray for help and sing with all his might. Miraculously his singing is heard by traveling guides, and the grandfather is pulled to safety.

Years later while telling the story to his young charge, Jorli, he explains that, "A song of praise brings back confidence and joy into our hearts. It is good to praise and thank God in every situation..."

Thinking back to the rescue from the glacier crevice, he recalls that the guides asked him if he had lost his senses in fright. "How could you sing a hymn of grati­tude and praise when you were so near your last hour?"
He answers in this way, "I had full command of my senses, but I'll sing you another right away, and I'll always do so for the rest of my life in all situations. That song made me trust in God and gave me the strength to sing loudly enough for you to hear me. That alone has saved me. I at once began to sing it over, and both men joined in. You can imagine how joyously I could praise the Lord now, for to stand once more on the firm ground under His deep-blue sky made me blissfully happy."

It is extremely challenging to give thanks when difficulty arrives. Thankfulness to God might be the last thing on our minds. However, this is the mandate given to us in scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” All things are under God’s guiding hand. When the going gets rough, and I feel like I can’t climb out, it is a great comfort to put my trust in the Lord God of heaven and earth who works all things together for good. (Romans 8:28)