Harmony in the family

Thanksgiving is traditionally the day when far-flung family members unite to get re-acquainted, catch up, reminisce, eat, and give thanks. Since few extended family members share the same viewpoint on every subject, this can lead to some tension as conflicting opinions are aired over the turkey and pie.

I’ve seen a couple of political web postings recently suggesting ways to persuade family members to your own point of view, as if everyone must agree in order to be accepted into the circle. However, in our family, we prefer to skirt around known areas of contention at such times and concentrate on our common bonds of love and history in order to preserve family harmony.

family of god

The family of God has these same issues to deal with, and not just at Thanksgiving. Whether between denominations or within them, you will find any number of theological disagreements, often leading to an attitude of competition or animosity between churches or even members of the same congregation.

We can choose to try to persuade those Christians who interpret the Bible differently than we do, or we can keep our relationships harmonious by remembering we are in the same family. Our political or social attitudes fade into insignificance when we remember Who is the head of our family and what He has done for each one of us. We have more than enough family stories to share and reminisce about and more than enough points of agreement to provide loving conversations with one another.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ephesians 4:2

Our shared history and the love of Jesus must be at the center of all our dealings within the family. Everything else is just a distraction.

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Be ye thankful

16-18 Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)

As we approach Thanksgiving, the above verses will probably appear in many sermons and daily devotional guides. Most Christians are familiar with this Scripture and many have memorized it in one translation or another. Memorizing Bible verses is a worthy practice, but even more valuable is living them out. How then, are we to be cheerful and thankful when things seem to be going from bad to worse?

I’ve heard some pastors explain that, although we are to give thanks IN everything, we aren’t expected to give thanks FOR everything that happens in our lives, and that joy and cheerfulness are not the same thing. Dictionary definitions would seem to support that as they equate joy with delight, gaiety, or bliss.

Surely we can’t be expected to experience delight in difficult circumstances.

And yet, Scripture clearly instructs us:

Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (NIV)

Just as God’s love is not the same as human love, the joy we have in Christ is not dependent upon our human emotions. We can and should feel continuous delight in the knowledge of our salvation.

But, we can’t be expected to be thankful for everything God allows in our lives, can we? The bad as well as the good?

I think the secret to being thankful FOR everything is a matter of perspective. First of all, we must trust that God has our best interests at heart. Whatever he allows us to experience is for our spiritual benefit. Beyond that, no matter how painful or difficult our situation may be, we can always be thankful that it isn’t worse. A brief look at the daily headlines will show just how many people are having a much harder time of it. When we are having trouble counting our blessings, we can thank God for all the bad things he has kept away.

This Thanksgiving we can pray all the time that God will fill our hearts with joy as we thank him for his unfailing love, no matter what.

This is the way God wants those who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

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The recent election results were a mixed bag, as elections so often are, resulting in high levels of frustration and disappointment on all sides of the issues.

Disappointments are unavoidable, but how we deal with them can make a huge difference in our lives.

In order to be disappointed, one needs to have had an expectation which was not fulfilled. We feel we have been deprived of an arrangement we were hoping for, like an appointment for an important meeting or event. Our reaction may range from mild annoyance, say when a dental appointment is rescheduled, to sadness or rage if we feel we’ve been denied unfairly, to feelings of depression, hopelessness, betrayal, and defeat.

While we usually have no power to go back and reverse the disappointing circumstance, we can absolutely take control of our response.

The first step in recovering from disappointment is to accept the situation and let go of rehashing the scenario and laying blame. This frees us up to move forward and also makes us more pleasant to be with.

The second, and most important, step is to recognize our own limitations and narrow perspective. Consider that our expectations may actually have been unreasonable. Remember that every disappointment in this life is transitory and, whether we like it or not, may actually be for our own eternal benefit.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

If our hope is in our eternal appointment, we won’t be disappointed.

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

Matthew 24:35
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Nothing but the truth

In this election season we’ve all been bombarded by campaign claims, each one telling a different version of the “truth” about why we should vote, one way or another.

In past years we have heard it claimed that truth is not an absolute, that it depends upon each individual’s viewpoint. While it is true that eye witnesses often tell wildly different versions of an event, their perceptions do not, and cannot, change the facts of what actually happened.

Perhaps each witness is sincere about what they think they saw, or perhaps they are telling us what will make them or their cause look good. We may be forgiven for faulty memories, but choosing to lie leads us down a dangerous path, no matter the motivation.

The Lord detests lying lips,
    but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

Proverbs 12:22

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

When we hear people proclaiming that what has always been considered to be true is suddenly now subject to individual interpretation, we should be on alert for other lies to follow. It is important to consider the source of unproven statements and the possible motivations behind them. It is even more vitally important to compare the claims to God’s Word.

All your words are true;
    all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160

As author and social critic Os Guinness is quoted in Dr. David Jeremiah’s book The World of the End, “All truth is God’s truth and is true everywhere, for everyone, under all conditions. Truth is true in the sense that it is objective and independent of the mind of any human…”

 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

Galatians 6:7

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Stretched by God’s hands

The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold,
But the Lord tests the hearts.

Proverbs 17:3

Halloween is near, and while today’s holiday is radically different from what we experienced in the good old days, it still stirs memories of popcorn balls, caramel apples, and old-fashioned homemade candies of all kinds. 

Did you ever pull taffy as a child? The homemade pulled taffy was quite a production. Not only did we have to get the ingredients to exactly the right temperature, but to get the desired results we had to pull the sticky mass while it was still hot. With well-buttered hands we bravely grabbed a chunk of the taffy, knowing that it may burn a bit, but eager to see the golden ropes twist and lighten and reach absolute perfection before cooling. The challenging process was absolutely necessary in order to change the sugar mixture into the candy of our dreams.

Have you been feeling a bit pulled and twisted by life lately? Perhaps you are being stretched, refined, and transformed by our current stressful circumstances. As a child, I was able to endure the temporary discomfort of holding the hot taffy by anticipating the deliciousness to come.

We learn in Scripture that God allows his people to go through trials and testing in order to refine us, so we try to hold on to His promises throughout the difficulties and challenges we face.

I cling to the hope that the twisting and pulling of today may change me into a sweeter creation of the Father. 

I just hope I don’t cool down too soon to realize the transformation.

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

James 1:2-4
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Where are you, God?

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?

Psalm 22:1

Sometimes, no matter how hard we pray, it seems as though God isn’t listening, or just doesn’t care. The Psalms are filled with instances like the one above of the psalmists’ expressing anxiety and impatience with God, but inevitably, before the end of each lament comes praise and thanksgiving for God’s past faithfulness to his people and his promises. There is an acknowledgement that God’s timing and wisdom are beyond our understanding.

Most of us have seen children beg, wheedle, and demand to receive something and been denied because their mother or father recognized that what the child was asking for was not good for them or possibly was even harmful to the child. Well-meaning parents who give in to these pleas sometimes live to regret it.

As a wise and loving father, God knows what is best for our eternal well-being and must sometimes delay or deny that which we so dearly desire.

When the Lord brought his people out of Egypt, he led them through many trials and tests, and God’s reason for what he did was so that they would know that he was God. It is good for us today to recognize that sometimes temporary evil is allowed in order to display God’s greatness in his time.

It is especially hard to wait upon the Lord when injustices abound and when evil seems to be triumphant. Those are the times to remember his blessings, both those in the Scriptures and those in your own life, give thanks and trust in his love and faithfulness.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.

Psalm 37 NKJV (Full Psalm)
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One step at a time

The Christian walk can be a challenge, especially in times like these and like when physically preparing for a difficult hike, it is important to seek wise guidance if we want to be successful.

Years ago when I began a walking regimen, I was surprised to find that streets and roads that had seemed flat and level when driving over them became a mini-mountain range when scaling them on foot. And some of them were uphill in both directions! I almost gave up on my new get-fit scheme.

A tip I read about walking or running uphill made all the difference. Exercisers were advised to shorten their stride as an incline increased. My instinct had been to try to take slower, longer strides to slog up the hills, but now I learned that quicker, shorter steps could have me over the top and sailing down the other side faster and with less effort. 

As with much good advice, this bit of wisdom can apply to other areas of life as well.

Whenever faced with an uphill battle, something that appears to be monumental or difficult to overcome, try to remember to shorten your stride and take many small steps rather than trying to get over the problem in a single bound.

Sometimes when you accept making less forward progress with each step you find that the hill isn’t as steep as you thought. And if it is still a challenge you have more energy to keep working away at it, a little at a time, until you can see your way over the top and down the other side.

The Bible says that a tiny bit of faith can move a mountain. It does not say, “at once”.

 … Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG
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Inflation hits the cost of Christianity

The morning news seems to always contain plenty of worrisome incidents, but his morning I was saddened to see half a dozen reports of Christians being legally persecuted for living their faith.

Although the Bible tells us following Christ comes with a cost, for many generations believers in the United States have been getting a real bargain. While we were frequently stereotyped or mocked, we were free to express our beliefs without fear of reprisal. Recent events show that is no longer the case.

Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said:

If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 35  If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it. 36 What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? 37 What could you give to get back your soul?

38 Don’t be ashamed of me and my message among these unfaithful and sinful people! If you are, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Mark 8:34-38 CEV

Christians around the world, particularly in predominantly Muslim regions have know the price of their faith for many years. I fear that in the West we have become complacent and weak. The cross we carried was too light to build up our spiritual muscles for the present testing.

Never doubt that current events are testing us. While these times are temporary and we can look ahead to our eternal life, here on this earth it is up to us to live worthy of our calling.

24-25 You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

26-27 I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No lazy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 MSG
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Constructive (?) criticism

In college I somehow managed to pick up a smattering of knowledge of how God’s physical laws work, but I am here to tell you, in spite of anything you may learn about the laws of gravity, velocity, and mass: an ounce of criticism has more impact than a pound of encouragement.

I once heard a Christian speaker assert that we are all creatures who take to heart anything negative, while discounting the positive feedback we get.

I had to admit, at least in my own experience, he is absolutely right. I can easily have my day switched from sunshine to gloom by an offhand unflattering remark.

We might express this tendency to feel the downward pull of criticism more powerfully than the buoyancy of encouragement in scientific terms with an equation: criticism is equal to or greater than encouragement squared.

Or we could compare the lingering effects of a critical comment with an aroma: The essence of Eau de Skunk remains long after the fragrance of the most expensive perfumes.

Perhaps a visual image is better: one drop of ink from a leaky pen can resist many of the strongest stain removers.

What foolish creatures we are to allow the smallest unflattering comment, no matter where it comes from, to outweigh the encouragement we receive.

In our “post first and think later” world of social media, there is no limit to the criticism and outright abuse heaped upon strangers, inflicting emotional pain without a qualm in hopes gaining a virtual following.

Critical remarks are powerful and heavy, we have a responsibility to be careful where we use them, not tossing them casually, or even humorously, in any direction that may cause damage.

Since we seldom really see what burdens another person is struggling under, we can’t always know who might be brought to their knees by the weight of even a small criticism added thoughtlessly to their load.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ

Philippians 1:9-10

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.

James 1:19
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Meek Christian soldiers?

Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

For Christians in times of conflict, it is sometimes difficult to balance standing up for our faith in God’s Word with Christ’s admonition to turn the other cheek.

Can we be both bold in defending the faith and meek? Jesus was meek, but he was anything but weak or cowardly. His meekness came from his sure knowledge of who he was and is. He was strong enough, fearless enough to be gentle.

As the Apostle Paul instructed, our boldness must be tempered with patience:

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Some folks seem to confuse meekness with shyness. But shyness is usually the result of being self-conscious; being focused on one’s self and the impression one is making upon others. True meekness is other-consciousness; being focused on making others feel comfortable.

One of the first attributes of meekness is humility. Genuine humility is a recognition of the self-hood of others, an awareness that each person is as real and as worthy of love and respect as I am. Humility accepts the validity of another person’s thoughts and feelings.

Humility sees our own unworthiness of God’s grace and sacrificial love balanced with the knowledge of our preciousness in God’s eyes. And then we must try to see each person we encounter through God’s perspective.

That is when meekness enters one’s heart. The awe and gratitude you feel when you try to wrap your brain around the magnitude of the love of God for you, becomes meekness and humility when extended to others.

I’ve sometimes joked about being “God’s favorite child”… because I am … but we all are. That’s one of his mysteries. He loves each of us as if there were only one of us. God sees me through the filter of Christ when I accept him as my savior. That’s huge. It makes me humble and proud at the same time. But when I expand that reality to include the people I deal with it makes me meek, as well. I no longer feel that I must insist on my “rights” or take offense at slights.

True meekness is the absence of fear and competition in our relationships. It is trusting God to take care of justice and fairness. Resting on faith in his Word and his unchanging love we are free to live as inheritors of this Earth and citizens of the next.

But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Psalm 37:11
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