Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Why We Remember

remember photofunia

Memory is a tricky thing.  We all have a tendency to remember events in such a way that makes us look the best.  Sometimes, or in some areas, we remember events so that we can see ourselves in our worst possible light, feeding our own insecurities or personal issues.  The inability of we humans to remember accurately is part of what makes eye witnesses so unreliable.

Having created us, God knows our faults.  He knows that we will have to consciously make the effort to remember our own fallacies in order to maintain our healthy fear of Him, the fear that is the knowledge of His awesomeness and makes us want to worship Him and do what is right.  On their trek through the desert once they escaped Egypt, even though God perpetually saved the Israelites from their own follies, they seem to fail to remember.  They complain, they want to return to Egypt, they doubt God will keep His promises, they worship other gods.

Because God’s memory never fails, He remembers His promises.  As He has Moses prepare the Israelites to finally enter the promised land, He has Moses implore them:

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children.  Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deut. 6:4-9 NLT)

God intends to keep His promises to make Israel a great nation, but He expects them to remember His instructions.  (At one point late in the 40-year journey through the desert, God is ready to wipe out the entire bunch and begin again until Moses talks Him out of that plan because God is so disgusted by the Israelites perpetual forgetfulness and thanklessness.)  And why was the remembering of God and His promises so vital for the Israelites?  They were about to embark on the final length of their journey, into a promised land that was filled with pagan peoples who might easily tempt the Israelites into forgetting that God was the one and only, thus allowing them to slip into actions detestable to God, like making idols or touching unclean things.

But the most important reason for remembering is this:  For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the LORD our God has given us (Deut. 5:25 NLT)  In the New Testament, Grace makes a difference about our source of righteousness:  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; Paul writes, rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9 NLT)

Faith versus works does not lower the bar of our commitment to remembering God.  In fact, it raises it.  Paul explains:

But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. . . .I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3: 12-14  NLT)

Remembering God means forgetting the wrongs or perceived wrongs done to us by others, putting God’s wants before our own, and even forgetting what good we may have done so as not to rest on our laurels and fail to achieve all that we might through the Holy Spirit working in us.  When we remember how much God has done for us, it makes us love God even more, and it should make us love others, no matter what perceived hurts they cause us.

Remembering God also means pouring out our thankfulness to Him.  God wants to hear our gratitude and our acknowledgement that all we have and all we are, we owe to Him.  Paul implores us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).

Christ instructs us to pray with this attitude of gratefulness:  Our Father, who art in heaven, Christ tells us to begin, hallowed be thy name.  In acknowledging our relationship to God as Father, we are reminded that He who made everything wants to have a relationship with us.  In acknowledging His holiness, we realize how grateful we should be to have a relationship with God, to know His love for us because of grace.

When you are faced with the challenges of life, whether you are having physical problems, mental problems, work problems, family problems, or financial problems, it can be so easy to just whine to God or be mad at Him and ignore Him (as if that somehow hurts God instead of us!).  But when we are in times of peril it is even more important to remember first to be thankful, to acknowledge what God has done for us through the grace of Christ.

Finally, when we remember to be thankful, I think it makes it easier for us to be the love of Christ to those who do not yet believe, to shine His light as Christians are supposed to do.  In his book,  Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, Abbot Christopher Jamison describes Christian patience this way:

“Patience is more subtle: it is the attempt to live out in a positive frame of mind the difficulties that come from trying to obey and love other people”

It is so easy to forget.  But a successfully run race with Christ can only be accomplished when first we remember.

 

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Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Stuck in the Mire?

Murky Water Have you ever had just a blah kind of day, where your mind and body both felt just out of whack or irritated, and you just couldn’t put your finger on the exact cause?

Have you ever considered that the exact cause might just be your own unconfessed sin before God?  Sometimes, we get in such an easy habit of beginning or ending our prayers with a blanket “forgive us our sins,” that we forget the awesome power that can be gained from picking apart our sins before God.  He knows what they are already, of course.  But do we?

I started thinking about how not getting specific with God gets me stuck in the mire as I have been reading the Psalms.  In these wonderful poetic prayers, the various authors pour out their sentiments to God in imagery, metaphor, and splendid detail.  The more I read these prayers, the more I am struck by how helpful it is to be specific when you are talking to God.

In a world where there is often 26 hours of things to do in each 24 hour day, we often let getting specific fall between the cracks of all the materialistic things we have convinced ourselves need to be done for our existence not to fall apart.  But God has all the time in the world to listen to us, no matter how long we speak.  So should we.

In Psalm 32, David gives an apt description of what it feels like to be trapped in our sins: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your [God’s] hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’–and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (3-5).

David, who lived in a time without the guarantee of Jesus as intecessor, had many reasons to hide his sin from God, even though God already knew the sin.  Essentially, by not confessing to God, David was only denying the truth to himself, and this denial effectively shut him off from God!  How much simpler it should be for those of us who have the Great Intecessor to go freely to God to admit to ourselves the sins we have committed against Him.  After all, we have all assurance through the grace of Christ that God will forgive us, whereas David did not.

Are your bones wasting away?  It shouldn’t be that way for those who believe.  “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered,” David begins the psalm (32:1).  “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (32:2).  The person David is describing is every Christian.  We all have the right through grace to claim this state of being.

But we have to be honest with ourselves.  There is no lying to God, of course, though we say those lies anyway, the things we want to believe about ourselves even though the tiny voice at the back of our mind is telling us we are wrong.  Oh, to be the spirit with no deceit before the Father!

What we lose when we don’t confess our specific sins is the chance to grab what David prized most in his relationship with God, and that is the ability to feel the full joy of God, to grasp God’s righteousness, and to praise Him in full understanding of the depth and breadth of God’s goodness.  David finishes Psalms 32 with just such a declaration: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (11).

There is no way to get there without first stripping ourselves bare before the One who already knows.  By acknowledging to Him where we have fallen, we effectively admit it to ourselves, casting off the heavy hand upon us and freeing ourselves to truly rejoice!

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith, Living

Is Your Truth THE Truth?

   Like a winding set of stairs (especially like the stairs in the “Harry Potter” films that change on a whim), when you define truth according to your own rules, by what you think is right or, even more deadly, what feels right,  you start upon the journey of a very slippery slope that can only land you in the world of self-delusion.

Self-delusion is a favored land for popular culture.  “I’m OK, you’re OK” is the slogan here.  In popular culture, there are segments of society against which nothing bad should be said and other segments against which any barb is OK.  This reality is nothing new.  The Romans did an awesome job of persecuting Christians while allowing a variety of cultures to continue in religions which were in opposition to popular Roman thought.

But reality doesn’t equal truth.  Think about this.  Just because something IS does not make that something TRUE.  When truth is actually TRUTH, it is also RIGHT.  And who claims sovereignty over right?  For us Christians, the answer to that question is easy–God.  And the reference for TRUTH is not what we think or feel, but what is written in the Bible.  But not just the parts of the Bible you’d like to pay attention to.  The TRUTH comes from understanding the Bible in its totality.

I had a Sunday school teacher when I was young who explained that the Bible is so wonderful in part because it is at the same time simple enough for the most challenged of minds to understand and yet so complex that even a genius has difficulty deciphering all of it.  Without a strong knowledge of the Bible, think how easy it would be for someone to pick and choose the parts they needed to convince you of something that is actually the opposite of what God really says.  That is exactly how we have wound up in a world where more than half of marriages end in divorce and a shocking percentage of teenagers have already lost their virginity outside of wedlock.

Francine Rivers wrote a wonderful novel on just this premise: The Last Sin Eater.  In this novel, a prominent individual convinces an entire community that a sacrifice for the dead other than the sacrifice Christ made for us all is needed for each departed soul.  In the novel, the people have lost connection to the Bible and its TRUTH.  It takes hearing the Word and the bravery of just a few characters to believe that Word to begin to heal that community and teach them who the last sin eater truly is.

Is your truth the TRUTH?  Can you hold it up to the guidelines of unconditional love of God and your fellow humans that is laid out in the Holy Word?  And how many things do you hold as true that aren’t actually in line with what the Bible says?  Do you think you are too far gone to be redeemed, for example?  God never says that in the Bible.  In fact, Christ even accepted the confession of the robber who died on the cross with Him!  Talk about getting in by the skin of one’s teeth.

Because TRUTH is more often than not more ugly than truth, it becomes so easy to fall into the popular culture sense of what is right.  I’m ashamed to admit that, despite the time I spend studying the Bible and theology books and Christian fiction, I still spend more time watching television.  How many lies have I let slip into my definition of truth from this bad habit?  How many more so for those who only interact with popular culture without understanding the TRUTH that is God?

I’ve constructed a visual STOP sign in my mind for this week, and I plan to use it whenever I think, feel, or say anything that is truth as opposed to TRUTH.  I challenge you to do the same.

God bless.

Posted in Christianity, Writing

Pursuing Gentleness

Paul admonishes Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. I am no Timothy, but if I am trying to use my writing to share Christianity, then surely I should also take these pursuits to heart. It goes without saying that righteousness and godliness are challenges every day. However, I think one of my biggest challenges from this list is actually gentleness.
Why would I say that gentleness is the hardest pursuit? I believe it is because gentleness is the one admonition that truly requires us to remove all judgment, see things from others’ perspectives, and gain our best hope of leading someone out of the darkness and into the light.
In other of his writings, Paul admonishes to lead other’s gently, especially those who have turned away from God in the things that they do. He also warns to be careful not to fall into the same trap of evil as the one you are trying to turn back to God. Sin is so tempting because it is the easy way. Trying to make the right choices is much more challenging, which is why we must have Jesus in our lives in order to have a chance of doing what is right. The easiness of sin is also why being gentle when we are trying to instruct in ways that are opposed to sin is so important.
Of course, Paul makes it clear in other texts that there are times, once gentleness has been tried unsuccessfully, when a person must be handed over to the devil in the hopes of shocking that person into coming back to the light.
But this kind of heavy hand is not the purview of a writer of fiction. No, I should reflect a gentleness that expresses the faith, love, endurance, righteousness, and godliness of a strong walk with Christ.
Thankfully, my writing is something I can edit, ponder, and “perfect,” not like my conversation, which is often quick to judgment and often not gentle. So, like all readers of Timothy, I must strive every day to be gentle, not just when I am trying to write something. And that may just take the most endurance of all.