Monday, October 31, 2016

Importance of Creating Encouraging Memories

Life is interesting in a number of ways. There are twists and turns that we never expect and yet we continue day by day as God provides each new day for us. I used to tell my kids, “today is one of the days of your life.” Sometimes we think that our real life, the one biographers will write about, will start sometime in the future. But today is one of those days. If there ever is to be a biography it may include the events of today.

               This brings us to reflect on another interesting thing about life. The vast majority of our life is in the past and the future. There is only a small miniscule portion of life that represents the present moment. If you are reading this in the afternoon, your breakfast and all your morning activities are only memories. Nothing about them can be changed. Your evening activities are still only an anticipation. They don’t exist yet. They are not a reality yet.

               This brings me to the theme of this article. We are writing especially to parents and grandparents. Since only the present moment exists and quickly turns into a memory, our opinion is that we should plan the present moment and future moments so that we personally, but especially so that our children and grandchildren will have the kind of memories we want them to have. We’re not speaking here of special memories such as a trip to a museum or amusement park. We’re referring to day-to-day memories of events and conversations in the normal course of life. Do you want them to remember a high priority on spiritual growth or remember that all you cared about was getting ahead and having fun? What they remember from their childhood is probably where they will put the priorities for living their lives and the training of their own children.

You only have one opportunity each moment to provide the memories. Once your children are out of your home, those memories are fixed and there is no way to go back and change them. So it seems to us that it’s important to think ahead. Now it’s impossible to plan perfectly and you can drive yourself crazy wondering if today’s memories will be the kind you want your kids to remember. However, it seems to us that very few people give this any thought at all.  Deuteronomy 6 speaks of this concept: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9, NKJV).

Notice that the writer speaks of “teaching diligently”, talking about spiritual truth while you sit in the house, while you are out walking, at bedtime and first thing in the morning. He says we should have signs and symbols around the house that speak of the kind of life God wants us to be living. All of these things will provide memories of a pattern and atmosphere that permeated your home. Grandparents, you can do the same thing. When your grandchildren are with you, you can speak of things related to God, His creation, His wisdom, His faithfulness to you in the past, etc.

Many times our focus as parents and maybe especially grandparents is what stuff we can give to our children. Stuff wears out and breaks, but the memories our children and grandchildren take with them cannot be destroyed. That’s both a good and bad thing depending on what those memories are like.

As we go through life, it is impossible to do everything. There is not enough time to provide every opportunity and experience for our family. Therefore, we must pick and choose what we will do and what we will provide. The Bible says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent…” (Philippians 1:9–10, NKJV).

We are called upon to be discerning, to evaluate and then to approve the excellent. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NKJV).

God would have us evaluate everything and then approve and hold fast to what is good and excellent. We are to redeem the time (Colossians 4:5). The reason for these admonitions is because everything we do, we are to do for the glory of God. And since we cannot do everything there is to do, even among the things that aren’t sinful, we are to choose the best and wisest course every single day. In so doing, we will be providing our children and grandchildren with those experiences that will be worth remembering and will build them up in their faith.

So what kind of memories do you want your children or grandchildren to remember? Order or chaos? A quiet and calming environment or a loud and boisterous atmosphere. A soft answer that turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), or loud and angry correction (James 1:20)? Will you help your family seek first the kingdom of God so that all of the other things will be provided for them (Matthew 6:33)?

What kind of memories are you creating for yourself and your family? If you’ve been on the wrong course, you may not be able to repair the memories already there, but with God’s help you can change direction and begin providing new memories that will redound to the glory of God.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Paul's Prayer for the Ephesians - Part 2

The second thing Paul prays in Ephesians 1:18, is that the eyes of the understanding would be enlightened. In this passage it is hard to know if this is a thought to connect to what he was just asking about or whether it is explained in the next clauses. It could be either or both. So right now, let’s connect it to the previous section. He had just prayed that they would have a spirit of wisdom in the knowledge of God. We mentioned last time that this requires time in prayer and in the word, but it obviously requires that eyes will be opened to understand and gain the wisdom God has provided through His Word. So when we pray this for someone or for ourselves, we are praying that not only will they be spending the time needed to gain that wisdom, but that their eyes will be open to the truth that is there. By nature our eyes are blinded, but even after being born again, there is a haziness that settles over our spiritual lives if we are not actively engaged in healthy spiritual disciplines. So let me encourage you to pray not only for others, but for yourself as well that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened that we might gain the wisdom that comes from knowing God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Paul's Prayer for the Ephesians - Part 1

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (Ephesians 1:17).

I’m impressed by Paul’s prayers in his letters to the churches. Right now I’m thinking about his prayer in Ephesians 1. Let’s take a few minutes to look at how he prays for others and perhaps that can help us in our own prayer life. We’re beginning in verse 15. The first thing he asks God the father of grant is “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” How many times have you ever asked this for someone you love or are praying for? I will be the first to admit that I don’t know what “revelation” means in this context and so rather than speculate, I’m going to skip over it for now. But certainly a spirit of wisdom is something we can understand. And Paul relates this spirit of wisdom to the knowledge of God. So what I’m going to conclude from this is that it is a good thing to pray for ourselves and others that our knowledge of God would increase resulting in increased wisdom. One of the things Paul explicitly asks for in Colossians 1:10 is that the Colossians would be increasing in their knowledge of God.

               Whether ourselves or others, the only way to increase in the knowledge of God is to spend time with Him in prayer and meditating on His Word. This is what we are asking for when we pray that someone would have a spirit of wisdom in the knowledge of God.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Attempting to Stay Organized - My Strategy

We live in a complicated, busy world. Our lives have appointments, deadlines, tasks to be accomplished, and so on. As Christian men, we have not only the normal routines of a busy life, we have the privilege and responsibility of living lives that are disciplined in the spiritual realm of things. We have to make good use of the opportunities for daily prayer, Bible reading, meditation and study. It's not always easy to keep track of everything and to fit everything in.

We are all different and so the techniques one person uses to organize his life may be quite a bit different from what another person finds helpful. I thought I would take a few minutes and share some tools I use to keep my life as organized as possible. These tools involve the use of technology so if you're doing just fine with paper lists and a paper calendar, that's great. You may not find what I'm about to share helpful. But on the other hand, if you are a technology user with a computer, smartphone or tablet, maybe some of this will give you ideas you can work with.

I have an iPad mini, an android phone and a computer that need to stay in sync in whatever I do, so here's my approach.

To-Do List  For my to-do list, I use the website Toodledo. There is a free version, but I've chosen the paid version that allows me to have sub-tasks. There is a Toodledo app for the iPad and/or the iPhone and it works very well along with the Toodledo website. I found an app for my android called DGT GTD. It has a sync function with Toodledo and to tell you the truth, I like this app better than the Toodledo app and it works very well for me on the phone.

These tools allow me to enter a task, create a due date and time, assign a priority and create a context as well as some additional features. For the context I can assign categories such as "church", "home", "outside projects", "home repairs", etc. There's also a repeat function that allows for a task to show up each week or each month. With the paid version I can create a project with a due date and then create all of the subtasks that need to be accomplished to complete the project.

All of this synchronizes among all three devices so that I have my upcoming tasks available no matter which device I am working with at the time. In addition, on my computer, the task list is synchronized with Outlook so that when I have my Outlook page open, the tasks show up in a window at the side of my screen. On any of the devices I can mark the task as completed and everything synchronizes accordingly. I've finally done away with my paper lists! In order to keep Outlook in sync with everything else I found an app called gSyncit. This pulls my data in from Google and Toodledo and synchronizes in both directions.

Calendar For my calendar I use Outlook on my computer, the Apple calendar on the iPad and Google calendar on the phone.  All three of these synchronize with each other and so I have all of my calendars available on any of my devices.

Notes: I don't know if any of you have ever worked with Evernote, but I have come to really appreciate this app. It too is available on all my devices. Evernote is a way of keeping track of pieces of information that tend to get lost in the shuffle of the electronic life. In Evernote you can create notebooks for yourself. Items in the notebooks can be tagged with categories to help you find things easily.

If I'm on a website that has some information that I want to keep track of, I simply click the Evernote icon on the web page or if I'm on mobile, I can choose to share the page with Evernote. I can clip either the URL or the entire article and save it to a particular notebook in my Evernote account. If I receive an email I want to keep track of, I can forward it to Evernote and provide the notebook name and tag(s) on the subject line. The next time I open Evernote, that email is right where it is supposed to be and I can find it later by searching the topic or tag. When someone sends me a link they think I'd be interested in, I simply copy that link as a note with the appropriate tag and it's there when I need it.

I've used this for making small lists such as part numbers for some appliance, clipping web articles I wanted to keep track of, storing emails with important links in them, etc. If I think of something while I'm working, I can open an email and send a quick note to myself with the appropriate subject line and the message becomes a note in the appropriate notebook. This is a very big help for those of us who are inundated with electronic communications.

Hopefully there have been some topics here that have been helpful in some way. As Christian men, we need to use our time wisely and these tools have helped me do that in a more faithful way.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is There not a Lie in My Right Hand?

Much has been said and written about modern logic from the Enlightenment forward and how ancient peoples, including those in the Bible, were superstitious and illogical. However, the God of the Bible is revealed as a logical being and those who spoke for this true God spoke with incredible logic.
I was reading from Isaiah 44 this morning. Isaiah lived and wrote about 700 BC which is nearly 3000 years ago. In this passage he is discussing the foolishness of idolatry and he write about the insanity of a person cutting a log from the forest and using half of it to have a fire for cooking and warming himself and using the other half to make an idol to worship. In verse 10 he asks this question, “Who would form a god or mold an image That profits him nothing?” (Isaiah 44:10, NKJV).

Here is the way Isaiah explains the situation beginning in verse 14:
He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak; He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. Then it shall be for a man to burn, For he will take some of it and warm himself; Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; Indeed he makes a god and worships it; He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat; He roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” They do not know nor understand; For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, And their hearts, so that they cannot understand. And no one considers in his heart, Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire, Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; A deceived heart has turned him aside; And he cannot deliver his soul, Nor say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”” (Isaiah 44:14–20, NKJV)

As a modern twenty-first century man, I am astounded by the logic of this ancient writing! The author is incredulous that someone would take a piece of wood and see plainly that it is consumable in a fire and with the other half make himself a “god” that he prays to and from whom he asks deliverance. He rightly asks the question, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

In our modern world we are not likely to carve and image and expect it to help us with our problems. But don’t we do the same thing when we trust in our stuff, our material possessions, to provide us with fulfillment, the esteem of others, and general well-being in life? Aren’t we doing the same thing when we do not give God praise and thanks for the air we breathe and the water we drink or when we do not acknowledge that every good thing we have is due to God’s grace and generosity?
Many are in the position of spending millions of dollars and countless hours of research to produce better cameras for our phones and at the same time argue that our eyes are the result of time and chance. Shouldn’t we as modern people be asking ourselves, “Am I believing and living a lie?  Am I as deceived as this ancient man?”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Christian Worldview - 9 Who Am I? Part 3

So far we’ve seen that God, through the Gospel, has promised to remedy what the fall did to our being. Our spirits are brought to life (Ephesians 2:1), our bodies are promised a resurrection, and the damage to our souls begins to be restored through the work of His Spirit and Word.
Last time we looked at some passages of scripture that show us what has happened to our mind. We are described as foolish, blinded, and darkened. Our ability to understand truth has been compromised to such a degree that the natural man does not receive the things related to the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Our will has been damaged in the sense that we don’t will the right things. People are always arguing over free will. In one sense the fallen will is perfectly free in the sense that it can choose whatever it wants. The problem is it doesn’t want the right things. Until the will is repaired by a sovereign act of God and provided with the right motivation to choose rightly, the will is in bondage to its own fallen motivations.

Emotions have also been damaged by the fall. Godly emotions are listed for us as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Because of the fall these have been lost to the natural or soulish man. The natural man is pulled downward by his own natural fleshly tendencies which are described for us in Galatians 5:19-21 as the deeds of the flesh. Even after we have trusted Christ, the old habits and patterns imprinted in our emotions keep surfacing and this sets in motion the battle between the flesh and spirit.

For example, as we have grown up in our homes, we did not always respond in healthy ways to what is going on around us. The people around us are also fallen and so their decisions and their emotional state affects our own. So as we grow we develop habits and ways of thinking and reacting that may not be helpful to us. We won’t realize it, but events in life create unhealthy dependencies, bad habits, poor judgment and emotional scars. Because our thinking is also damaged, we may not be able to see what is happening and take corrective measures.

However, when we trust Jesus Christ for salvation, He begins a renewing work in our lives. This is called Sanctification. It is the process of making us more and more like Jesus who, since He is God, has perfect thinking, perfect emotions and perfect motivation for the decisions of His will.
This process is not an instantaneous one. It takes time. We first need to learn to be skeptical of our thinking. I read the other day someone wrote that we should not believe everything we think. Our minds need to be renewed (Romans 12:2). This occurs when we take the time to meditate on the Word of God, the Bible. The Bible says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1–3, NKJV)

So this is an important process. As you do this, you begin to recognize your habits, ways of thinking and reacting and attitudes that are not right and healthy. As God continues to work in your life, He will help you see that you need to put off what the Bible calls the “old man.” These are all of the old ways that are sinful and damaging and therefore not healthy for you emotionally, spiritually and relationally. Along with putting off the deeds of the “old man” should be the process of putting on the new ways of thinking and behaving, the deeds of the “new man” or the deeds of the Spirit. That means agreeing in your mind that what God says is true no matter what you may feel, and then behaving accordingly. Acknowledging the truth should come first, then faith in that truth which involves acting on it and then allow the feelings follow after. Most of us make the mistake of allowing our feelings to be the engine that drives the train. Let truth be the engine and let feelings be the caboose.

Let’s try a practical example. Let’s suppose that the children are having a bad morning and there is a lot of screaming and arguing going on. You feel like you are not going to be able to handle another minute of this. You are tempted to scream back at them, maybe even throw things yourself. But you have been meditating on scripture and most recently the passage that reads: “No temptation (or trial or test) has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV).

Accepting this verse as the truth, you recognize that this is not a test greater than you can handle. So you take that truth and you believe it, you trust it and you act on it. “I guess I can handle this after all!” you say to yourself. Now you consciously set aside your anger, impatience, and whatever other sinful attitudes and actions you feel coming on. You do this because you recognize that these attitudes are not from the born-again you. They are part of the system of responses that the natural you has developed over time.  You consciously set them aside. Then with God’s help you replace them with God’s peace, love, patience, longsuffering, etc. Depending on what the children have done there might be the need for specific discipline, but it should be motivated by the holy character of God and not by frustration and anger.

Now I realize it is not as simple as one short paragraph. But this is the idea of what needs to take place in our lives. It needs to be practiced moment by moment throughout the day. If I’m late for work and a traffic light turns red, I feel impatience coming on. So I reject the impatience based on the truth that God is at work on the day’s schedule for me. Then I consciously take patience in its place.  I think one of the best summary passages for this process is the following:
As the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:21b–24, NKJV).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Christian Worldview - 9 Who Am I? part 2

We’ve looked at the fact that the Bible describes us as having a body, soul and spirit. The body communicates the external world to our soul and the spirit communicates things of God to our soul. Distinguishing them can sometimes be difficult.

Our problem is that when Adam and Eve sinned, the human race fell from a state of perfection to a fallen state of death and dying. Our bodies are subject to injury, disease and death. The spirit which was the channel of communication with God died. And our soul, made up of mind, will, and emotions is badly damaged. We are not as bad off as we could be, but every facet of our being has been affected by the fall. Theologians call this “Total Depravity.” Look at the following quotes from the Bible to see the description which God gives concerning our situation.

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;” (Ephesians 4:17–18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4, NKJV)
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, NKJV)

When he says “natural man” in the previous verse he uses the word “soul.” The soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit. This is a man whose spirit is dead and so all he has to operate on is his soul. These things are said to be spiritually discerned and with a dead spirit, the natural man is incapable of understanding them.

One more passage from Paul:
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”” (Romans 3:10–18, NKJV)

So our problem is that our entire being has been affected by the fall. What’s the solution? The solution is to believe the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross as the payment of the sin penalty and He promises life to every person who believes on Him.
Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, NKJV).
He also said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24, NKJV).

The life He is promising is eternal life, but it is also a resurrection of the spirit within us. He promises to give us a new heart, a new spirit, and new motivation and he promises to give us the Holy Spirit to live in us to guide us and to pray for us. God calls this the New Covenant:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, NKJV)

So when we believe on Jesus for salvation the issue of the dead spirit has been solved. God begins the work of transforming our soul (mind, will and emotions) and even though our bodies continue to deteriorate, He has promised a resurrection body some day: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11, NKJV)