Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Put on Your Running Shoes

Our neighbor had warned us. It was an unusually good year for copperheads. Several had been spotted in our neighborhood, and our neighbor’s dog had run into one of the slithering reptiles, that landed the poor animal at the vet with a snake bite.

When we walk our dogs now, we take extra precautions to keep them out of ivy and other areas that the snakes might frequent. Last week, as we walked the last few blocks to our house, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Joe, bounded over to explore something in one of the neighbor’s yards. The lawn had been freshly mown and he was in a mood to explore.

His sudden leap backwards, caught us by surprise. As we walked over to take a closer look, there it was. A copperhead coiled up in the grass, ready to strike. You better believe we hightailed it out of that yard in seconds flat! We sure hadn’t expected to see a snake out in the open like that. Fortunately for Joe, he was able to move quickly enough to avoid danger.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, the Bible warns me of the dangers I will face in life. Some of the temptations lurk in the shadows, beckoning me to come take a closer look. Others, are out in the open, but attempt to blend in with the surroundings. No matter how the temptation appears to me, God’s word gives me a clear directive, ‘Flee.’

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians spells out some things I’m to flee, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18; KJV). A few chapters later, he warns, “…flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). Paul was very familiar with human nature. He wrote a letter to a young preacher, Timothy, and his congregation, and included a strong admonition to avoid worthless arguments and the longing to be rich.

Get the picture? Temptations come in all shapes and sizes. As I walk through this life, am I alert to these pitfalls? Do I have my running shoes on so I can be quick to flee? Fortunately, Paul doesn’t only warn me of these dangers, he points me to help and hope. How encouraging to find that when temptations come calling, I don’t have to answer. God’s word assures me, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). An escape route DOES exist, I just have to look for it and make my exit!

When I’m aware of the pitfalls, and realize that Jesus provides a way to escape every temptation, I can stay on a path that gives me hope, allowing me to “…follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Timothy 6:11b).

In life, there are definitely some things from which to flee. But I love the fact, that when I’m careful to submit to my Heavenly Father, and I refuse to give in to the enemy, the word of God tells me that Satan has to flee! “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Picture the devil having to beat a hasty retreat as you deal him blow after blow with the word of God! Now that’s a picture worth remembering!

The next time temptation knocks on the door of your heart, keep those running shoes on, and find that way of escape - rejoicing in the One who is faithful to deliver you!

Friday, July 23, 2010

An Important Mission

The gift was unexpected. It wasn't a special occasion. My daughter handed me the bag, with the knowledge that I'd be delighted. As I lifted the adorable sock monkey out of the bag, I was immediately transported to my childhood.

We took our playing seriously. Stuffed animals came alive with a little imagination. Our favorite animals happened to be monkeys, and my brother and I built an entire imaginary world around these lovable, stuffed friends.

We spent hours coming up with elaborate schemes and plots that involved our furry monkeys. In our minds, they were witty sleuths able to catch the most sinister of villains. They jetted around the countryside on missions to wipe out evil. They were a force for good, and justice always prevailed.

Although I may not be a witty sleuth, it's exciting to think that I've been commissioned as an ambassador with an important mission. An official representative of Christ Himself, sent to share His message with others. The Apostle Paul spells out this special mission, "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:18-21; KJV).

The ministry of reconciliation. According to my dictionary, to reconcile, means to re-establish friendship between, to settle or resolve, as a dispute. My special mission, then, is to share with others the fact that God sent Jesus Christ to the earth to pay every man's sin debt, and because of His sacrifice, we can have a relationship with a holy God if we personally accept the payment Christ made.

What an important mission! A mission that wipes out evil and establishes a relationship between a holy God and sinful man, because of Christ's righteousness. As I share this message, there will be those who eagerly accept it, and there will be those who reject it. Regardless of the response, I'm to be committed to sharing this word of reconciliation with others.

Do you desire to be a force for good, vanquishing evil in this world, and making an eternal impact? What an opportunity to carry out an all-important, life-changing mission. Choose to be a productive ambassador for Christ, sharing the ministry of reconciliation with others!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marriage Mondays

Thank you so much for stopping by! I'm guest posting today on the topic of marriage, over at Julie Sanders site, Come, Have a Peace. Be sure to check out her informative and inspirational blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Worth the Effort

It wasn't advice I wanted to hear. In order to rise above my current level of fitness and reach my goal, I'd have to increase the intensity of my workout. Ugh! Push myself harder, sweat more, endure pain, and be willing to vary my routine. I'm a creature of habit, so I didn't exactly embrace the change that was required. But after just one week, I can say with a smile, that I'm glad I did!

The advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages. More energy, better focus, and just an overall sense of taking better care of the body God has given me, trumps the extra effort, sweat, pain, and change I was dreading. Honestly, I can even say that changing up my cardiovascular activity has been surprisingly pleasant.

It didn't take me long to see the application. It's easy to get comfortable in my spiritual life. But God desires for me to be sanctified - the process of becoming more like Christ in my attitudes, ambitions and actions. Simply put, He wants me to grow. But I know that becoming more Christ-like will involve hard work. It will involve introspection and evaluation, and that can be painful. I'm tempted to stay right where I am - but the voice of my Savior from the pages of scripture, woos me to get up and continue to follow Him.

I can learn a lot from the Psalmist David's approach to this matter, "Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:6-7; KJV). I can learn volumes from this king described by God as, "a man after his own heart," (1 Samuel 13:14).

Am I careful to identify wrong behavior in my life and agree with God that it is, indeed, sin? Or do I try to justify my behavior? If I truly desire to grow in my relationship with God, I must put off those things that displease Him. The idea of purging isn't exactly pleasant, but just like strenuous exercise, the benefits are worth it. The definition of the word purge, is to free from impurities. To be clean. Nothing beats the feeling of being clean after a hard day of manual labor. My heart longs for that same cleansing.

The question becomes, will I listen to and heed my Savior's words? Will I choose to leave my spiritual comfort-zone in favor of following Christ more closely? Not doing more things to win His approval, but truly giving Him access to my heart, that I can be cleansed of my selfish ways and have sweet fellowship with my Heavenly Father. Today, I desire a thorough cleansing so I can reap the eternal benefits of a life lived for Him!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Matters of the Heart

I was late. My first critique group meeting, and I had grossly underestimated the Saturday morning traffic. I pressed down harder on the accelerator and watched the speedometer hit 75. Only a couple more miles until my exit. That's when I saw them. Two police officers strategically located just beyond an overpass. I immediately eased my foot off the accelerator and tried to flow with the traffic, expecting to see blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror at any moment. But I must have escaped their detection. I didn't get pulled over.

I justified my speed because I was late for my meeting. I realized I wasn't really sorry I was driving ten miles over the speed limit. I would only have been sorry if I had gotten caught. Ouch! When I'm not on the lookout, sin has a way of creeping into my life ever so subtly.

My enemy is a crafty one. I'm given the heads up, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8; KJV). He's the master of deception, and would love nothing more than to get me to question and doubt God's word. Just like his question to Eve, Satan often seeks to derail me with the words, "Yea, hath God said...?" (Genesis 3:1).

Does God really mean everything He says? Absolutely. As I thought about speeding, I had to admit that the Bible is clear that I'm to submit to those in authority over me - including the government that enforces the speed limit I had disregarded. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). Unless the law of the land asks me to do something that goes against God's word, I'm to obey it.

But it goes far beyond speed limits and traffic laws. It has to do with my heart attitude. Do I routinely push the envelope in a selfish attempt to get my own way? Or am I willing to say with the Psalmist, David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

What would happen if I let go of my excuses, stopped justifying my behavior, and laid down the rights I think I deserve? If I truly let God search me and point out areas where I'm not pleasing Him, I could agree with Him, purge those stumbling blocks from my life, and live for Him. Instead of living a life enslaved to sin and self, I have the opportunity to make freedom in Christ a reality. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).

Are there areas in your life where you're being tripped up by the enemy? Allow the Lord to open the door of your heart and expose any areas that don't measure up with His word. Agree with Him about your sin, decide to do things His way, and then stand in the liberty that He gives you!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Just the Right Size

I completed the dreaded task a couple of weeks ago. You know, making the BIG switch. Swapping the winter clothes out of my closet, for those that make the summer heat more bearable. It's quite a job and I put it off as long as possible.

Reality set in the next day when I realized a few things from my summer wardrobe were a little on the tight side. Something had happened since the last time I'd worn these clothes...you guessed it, I'd added a couple of pounds. Nothing too serious, but serious enough to cause some discomfort. Time to get a bit more disciplined about my eating and exercise.

As I increased the time and intensity of my workout this morning, I thought about clothing. Although I may not be able to wear some of the clothes in my closet, the wardrobe that God provides for me, will always fit. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel shoes, and the helmet of salvation - each article of spiritual clothing, designed by the master Tailor in just the right size.

How relieving to know that I can never outgrow God's truth. The 'belt' He provides is up to any challenge I might encounter. Battling the lie that you just can't handle life's stress anymore? The belt of truth overcomes this falsehood: "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9; KJV). Feeling challenged to forgive someone? Look to the truth: "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:13). Whatever stage in life; youth, teen, adult, the belt of truth that God provides for me will always fit. I need only to put it on! The truth of His Word is guaranteed to make me free (John 8:32).

The breastplate of righteousness is neither too tight nor too loose. When I live in a way that's consistent with my Father's instruction manual, the Bible, this breastplate is extremely comfortable. Putting God first, treating others with kindness and respect, helping those in need, and following His will for my life keep me living right, and put me in the position to be blessed by my loving, Heavenly Father. The book of Matthew reminds us, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (6:33).

I've got some shoes that pinch my toes, causing blisters. Another pair that painfully squeeze the back of my heel . Then there are those shoes that are so comfortable, I barely notice I've got them on. God's gospel shoes fit like a dream, and give me the motivation to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those He brings across my path. Satan wants me to think that others aren't interested in hearing the plan of salvation, so he seeks to rough up my terrain and cause my 'feet' discomfort. But the truth is, everyone needs to hear about the Savior. And He is more powerful than our enemy: "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

I'm not much of a hat person, but I understand that a hat can provide protection. Have you ever allowed a thought to drift through your mind, causing you to doubt God? Without the helmet of salvation firmly in place, those thoughts will go unchecked, playing directly into the hand of the enemy. Beware! As much as the enemy wants us to doubt our salvation, the Lord wants us to be assured of our salvation. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (1 John 5:13; emphasis added mine).

So what are you wearing? If you're in need of a wardrobe makeover, may I recommend the master Tailor? Jesus Christ. The belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, gospel shoes, and helmet of salvation will look good on you! And they're perfect all year round!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Great Expectations

I'm not sure what I expected. My family and I were able to enjoy three different firework displays over Independence Day weekend. Two of the shows were truly spectacular. The third? Let's just leave it at 'disappointing.'

There was a large crowd, food, and entertainment galore. I guess that set the stage for us to believe that the accompanying fireworks would be amazing. As the time drew near for the display to begin, we hurriedly set up our chairs in a parking lot close to the fairground. People were everywhere.

As darkness settled over the city, the sky lit up with the explosion of the first firework. After ten minutes, the sky became dark once again. Only brief flashes of light were visible on the horizon. People began packing up chairs and walking to their cars. Surely it couldn't be over?! A few minutes later, the sky overhead lit up once again. A grand finale several minutes later indicated the end of this year's display. We began the long trek back to our car, folding chairs in tow. After all of the build-up and hoopla, we were disappointed.

Ever been there? An event or a relationship is totally different than what you expected? Fortunately, it's not always a negative thing, it can also be a positive thing. Maybe you're not anticipating much, and then the experience or relationship far surpasses your expectations. It's like that with God. As believers, whatever our finite minds think He is, He is so much more!

The entire Bible gives us an accurate picture of our Creator. He is holy. A righteous judge. A loving Heavenly Father. We get a glimpse of His holiness in the book of Psalms, "Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy" (Psalm 99:9; KJV). He challenges us, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16).

His judgment is absolutely fair. "Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day"(Psalm 7:9-11). When we repent, He is quick to forgive, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

The prophet Nehemiah shows us the love of our Savior, "...thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness..." (Nehemiah 9:17). David adds to the portrait, "For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations" (Psalm 100:5). "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8).

Feeling disappointed today? Look into God's Word for an accurate picture of the One who loves you. He is so much more than we can imagine and He alone is "...able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think..." (Ephesians 3:20). Praise Him today, for He is worthy!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life: A Gift Worth Celebrating

July. A time for families, celebrations, and picnics. As we prepare to celebrate our nation's 234th birthday, it's good to keep things in perspective. What are we celebrating on the 4th of July? With the permission of D'Ann Mateer at Inkwell Inspirations, I'd like to share the following thought-provoking article, written by her husband, Jeff Mateer, the General Counsel for Liberty Institute. May we praise our Creator for the gift of physical life He's given us. And even more importantly, for the ultimate gift of eternal life that He offers to one and all. Be sure you receive His gift so you can truly celebrate freedom this 4th of July!

A Short Lesson in History

My lovely wife, D’Ann Mateer, asked me to share my thoughts on the right to life. She rejected my first submission, claiming that it was too much of a history lesson and that it lacked personal experience.

My first response to her is, of course, anything that I would write would contain a history lesson. I’m a constitutional lawyer, who believes a large part of our problems today result from the failure of judges, law professors, and lawyers to strictly interpret the actual text of the Constitution given the original intent of the Framers.

My second response is I’m a lawyer and a man. I don’t share personal experiences, at least not for free.

Nevertheless, taking appropriate note of her suggestions, here goes my revised submission.

When I hear the words “right to life” what do I think of? Immediately, my thoughts turn to the current debate over abortion. I also mull over the controversy concerning euthanasia and other end of life issues.

The phrase “right to life”, however, is not a creation of the 20th or 21st century. It has its origin in the Declaration of Independence. Two hundred and thirty four (234) years ago, our nation’s founding fathers declared the self-evident truth that “all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The founders unequivocally recognized that God granted all mankind basic moral rights that include, at the forefront, the right to life.

Our Founding Fathers’ recognition of these unalienable rights was not new, even in 1776. Instead, their recognition was grounded upon established English common law and ultimately God’s law. As recognized by founding father John Dickinson, “[o]ur liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals, but come from the king of kings and the Lord of all the earth.”

For centuries, our law consistently protected the rights of the unborn, the infirm and the elderly. As founding father James Wilson (who would sign both the Declaration and the Constitution and would become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 1789) observed, “[w]ith consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law.”

Regrettably, things are different today. We have forgotten our history, centuries of common law, and in the end, our God.

In 1973, seven unelected judges determined that, despite hundreds of years of contrary precedent, the unborn had no right to life. Since that time, 52 million innocent lives have been taken. This past year over 1 million lives were terminated. Today alone, in abortion mills through out the country, 2,739 babies will be killed.

For over the past 30 years, we seem to be living in a society that does not honor life, but instead promotes a culture of death. The unborn, the old, the imperfect are often seen as expendable instead of having a right to life—including a right to impact our lives in ways that might make us uncomfortable. Or might even require some sacrifice on our part.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we can also rejoice knowing that He came to save us from death and to grant us true life. God’s word expressly tells us that while the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (sounds a lot like today’s culture of death), Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Simply put, we have freedom and a right to life today only through the death and resurrection of our Savior and Lord.

So as we celebrate freedom this weekend, let’s remember that our freedom includes a right to life—physically and spiritually— as we stop to thank the One who created life in His image. Let’s also pause to remember that the battle for the right to life and the protection of the unborn, the infirm and elderly continues.

How can we celebrate life this 4th of July?

P.S. For my lovely wife: “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” And my personal experience in writing this post tells me blogging is hard work.