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Nov 25, 2015

Humility Produces Authentic Thanksgiving

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3


Martin Luther said, “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud of the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” It is hard to imagine that a man of humility would not know he is humble, but so it is. A man of genuine humility is always a grateful soul, full of gratitude for absolutely everything in his life. He acknowledges that everything, literally everything, is only his because God gave it. He takes nothing for granted but expresses by his thoughts or words thanksgiving for every breath, bite, or consolation in his life. It is never too overdone to live in a constant spirit of thankfulness to the God of your life, who graciously meets every genuine need. Many things are often taken for granted in this life as an expected rightful possession of every person by virtue of just being a living, breathing body and soul. Such is not taken for granted by one who possesses the character of humility. Nothing to him is an innate right by the simple fact that he is. Even your body’s natural reaction of requisite breathing is a gift from the Creator of life. Giving thanks ought to be a corollary of breathing.
The man or woman who recognizes and accepts the poverty of their soul throws their very being upon the mercy of God. Their soul is so poor that it does not have the capability of mustering any means of deserving entrance into the kingdom of God. They live their life in poverty of soul, resting all their sustenance on the grace and mercy of God. As such, they give all gratitude to him for his mercies, which they consider more than abundant for all their needs. They need nothing more; what he provides is their perfect portion, and they recognize and accept it with thanksgiving.
Consequently, humility of spirit always shows itself in the gratitude of thoughts and words, first to the God who gives it, and second to the neighbor who may assist him in the distribution of his gifts. Every primary thought proceeds with thanksgiving before it enters into other considerations while maintaining the spirit of gratitude throughout, even when it extends to the praise, admonishment, encouragement, instruction, or love of a neighbor. Your conversation in thoughts and words should acknowledge your neighbor as better than yourself and therefore have no desire of praise for yourself (Philippians 2). Your sole praise is the personal knowledge that you have pleased God with your words, thoughts, and deeds. The praise of others towards you makes no impact on your assessment of your words and deeds; only the true approbation of God because you have pleased him with your obedience.
Humility is truly the hardest of all Christian virtues to attain, for it is the most Christ-like. Its pursuit begins with the recognition that you are proud, more proud than anyone else. It develops in your effort by the Spirit of God to slay your pride. It is always much more the constant effort to put your pride to death than it is the endeavor to be humble. There is no thought of becoming humble or even considering you are; you must continually realize that there is more pride in you to put to death. And so it will ever be.
Consequently, in nurturing a thankful spirit this Thanksgiving, recognize that it begins with crucifying your pride. Do not think of becoming a humble soul; rather think, “I have a haughty spirit to put to death. The humility in character will take care of itself when there is an active pursuit of putting your pride to the sword.


“In supplication meek to thee I bend the knee; O Christ, when thou shalt come, in love remember me, and in thy kingdom, by thy grace, grant me a humble servant’s place.”
(4th verse of Gregory of Nazianzus’ hymn, “O Light That Knew No Dawn”, 325-390)


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Nov 19, 2015

The Secret of God's Kingdom of Heaven

“Jesus replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.'” Matthew 13:11


Not everyone connects with the Gospel when they first hear it, not even after they have heard it repeatedly. Nor do they always connect for the long haul after first being excited about what they heard at the beginning. For some others, after seeming to connect, different things become far more important and take precedence over what should be all in all. Yet, a genuine connection with the Gospel eventually is one in which the Gospel completes the goal of capturing its object unconditionally.

That is the secret to hearing and understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly, according to the Lord’s own words. Only one group out of four who hear the Gospel truly understands it and continues in it. Three other groups to varying degrees hear the Gospel but do not persevere in it. These three other groups of “hearers” eventually end up in the same place with the same result; in time, they all reject the claims of the Gospel on their lives. The Gospel does not save them from unbelief. The secret of the kingdom of God is not revealed to their understanding, and consequently, they deny any efficacious claim of the Gospel on themselves.

The secret is revealed to the one group of hearers, but to the other three, it remains opaque to their minds for a variety of reasons. Satan snatches the word of the Gospel away immediately, before any understanding can even gain a foothold; another group actually receives the Gospel with joy, hears it with happiness, but it takes no root in their lives and so shrivels away in the heat of the sun and lack of depth of the soil necessary for plants to grow and produce fruit; the third is beset with the weeds and thorns of life that choke off the life-producing nutrients of the Gospel, and because of the cares and worries of life, the Gospel does not take hold in transforming the life of its object. Why do these three groups fail in the achievement of the goal of the Gospel of grace? And why does the Gospel find success in this fourth group? It has to do with the secret of God’s kingdom being revealed to the one and not the other three groups, according to Jesus.

The Lord quotes a passage from Isaiah to describe the three groups who do not believe the Gospel: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing they do not understand.” Of the one group who believes, Jesus says, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”  One has to ask, then, is it possible to move from one of the non-seeing, non-hearing groups to the one group who discovers the secret and believes the Gospel? Jesus’ response to all is, “He who has ears, let him hear.” If an individual’s heart is not permanently calloused to see, hear, or understand, and if he perseveres to be one who believes the Gospel presented and turns from his previous ways, Jesus promises, “I would heal them.” Otherwise, he remains among those without the secret of the kingdom of heaven. Their stopped up ears, unseeing eyes, and misunderstanding minds tell the story. The parables of Jesus are an adequate warning. Apparently, there are those who will not hear, nor see, nor understand, no matter what warning they receive or how often it is given.

This parable ought to give us a picture of the world’s population – those who have the secret of the Gospel and consequently believe it, and those who do not. It also gives us a picture of those who have some dalliance with the Gospel but in the end reject it.  In other words, been there, tried that, and it did not work for me. Can we say they were oh so close but failed in the end? This reaffirms the requirement to persevere in the faith. To him who overcomes, Jesus says, “I will give a right to eat from the tree of life; I will give them the crown of life; they will not be hurt by the second death; they will be dressed in white; I will write on them my new name; I will give the right to sit with me on my throne (Revelation 2-3). It is a sure promise to those who persevere in the faith and overcome every obstacle to believe. But it also shows an open door to perseverance in presenting the Gospel to those who appear for a time to lack seeing eyes and hearing ears.

To the one who perseveres in the speaking and persuading of the Gospel into seemingly unhearing ears, the promise of the Lord is always held out, “He who has ears to hear, let him [eventually] hear.” If he or she at some time does hear and turns, then Jesus says, “I will heal them.” Keep on keeping on until time truly runs out. It is never not worth it. 


“Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

(4th verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”, 1738)


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Nov 17, 2015

Colder Weather Brings Outside Play Inside

A few tips on limiting the time children spend on tech devices


As the weather gets cooler, children and teens tend to spend more time inside, and that often results in time glued to a computer, iPad, and other tech devices.
A 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that youth ages 8 to 18 devote 7.5 hours a day to entertainment media. Less than half of the kids surveyed said their parents have rules about the shows and games they can watch or play.
Drew Read, director of the Paul Anderson Youth Home, offers the following advice on how parents can help their children understand and respect a healthy appreciation of electronics:

 

  1. Turn off the computer at night for at least one hour, and make sure all technology (including iPads and iPhones) is put away for at least one hour every night.
  2. Recognize that people often use technology to fill a relational void. The virtual world is appealing due to its unlimited capacity for friendship, attention, and a feeling of personal significance. It is a parent’s job to provide children with enough love and support that they do not go seeking those things elsewhere. Parents should try to schedule time each day to interact with their children–over a family dinner, a family game night, an evening walk, or any activity that provides an opportunity for interaction and two-way communication.
  3. As new sites are created, anticipate that they will gravitate towards the risqué and lewd.
  4. Be aware that early-formed computer habits often become behaviors that challenge parents as children grow older. Parents need to be aware and notice if children begin developing new behaviors, like becoming irrationally upset when they are not allowed on the computer.  A good way to assess such behaviors is to limit computer and tablet usage to a central location where children feel a sense of supervision.  If your child has a problem with this rule, it might be a sign that he or she is engaging in online activities that you might not allow.
  5. Install web filtering/tracking services on each computer.
  6. Learn how to interact online and use technology as another way to communicate with your child.  A lot of parents do not realize that technology is actually one of the easiest ways to communicate with their children, and it will make them seem more relevant in the eyes of their kids. Fighting technology is a losing battle. We will never again live in a technology-free world, so it is important to adapt and learn the technology that your children are using.  After all, how can you expect to monitor something you do not understand?
  7. Set boundaries and enforce those standards by monitoring what your children are doing.  Set time limits on technology use and stick to them.  You do not have to hover over your children’s shoulders every time they use technology, but make sure to instill a sense of supervision.
  8. Make sure you know all of your children’s passwords, and do not allow them to share these passwords with friends.
  9. Check up on their online history and communication. If history and/or cookies are deleted, then discover why.  This is a great way to establish a transparent relationship with your children, which is more important now than ever due to the innumerable risks of today’s world.
  10. Inform your children about real examples of predators on the web.

Be wise about what your children may think constitutes “their privacy and your responsibility as a parent to protect, nurture, admonish, and guide them.  You are not protecting them by not checking up on them. Every parent believes that their child would not do these things, yet the vast percentage of teenagers is interacting socially and virtually in ways that their parents are unaware of.


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Nov 11, 2015

Life-Giving Friends

“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13


As daylight broke upon the Normandy coast, thousands upon thousands of soldiers stuffed in landing craft made their way out of the lowered doors into several feet of surf, in some cases seven to eight feet of water, and toward the beaches with a hail of bullets and artillery projectiles raining down on them. Few of the initial soldiers even made it to dry sand; far too many died in the surf. A unit of 235 Army Rangers made it to a small strip of beach at the foot of a hundred foot vertical cliff, the top of which was Point du Hoc, the location of very lethal enemy guns aimed in defilade down the landing beaches both east and west. Taking the big guns out was critical to the success of the landings on Omaha Beach as well as Utah to the west. 235 Rangers began the assault, and only 90 survived; but the big guns did not, destroyed by the intrepid soldiers who scaled the cliff under fire from machine gun nests above, firing straight down upon them.
These valiant men were unknown friends to hundreds of millions of the citizens of free countries, including America and Britain, but also the oppressed people of France and the nations of Europe; the battle for freedom was being fought this day on French soil. These valiant soldiers died as a vital cog in the biggest invasion of history, intent on freeing an entire continent from a scourge of enemy forces aimed at the forced oppression of the world. They laid down their lives for their friends. Veterans Day commemorates those who cast their lot even for a brief time with fellow military men and women, many of whom gave the last full measure of devotion for the cause of precious freedom.
The further the free are removed from the blessings of freedom by years, succeeding generations, or keeping a comfortable distance from the ravages of the battlefield, the less they appreciate what they have been given in trust for future generations to enjoy. Veterans Day will pass with little to no recognition by those who see it as just another day like any other, with nary a thought of thanksgiving to God for those who gave their lives for their liberty. It is a sad thing to forgo the joy and significance of being thankful for the things that matter most. On the other hand, it is a mark of lasting character to render thanksgiving for the sacrifices made by even unknown friends for your life’s blessing and magnanimous good, without which you would be most miserable.
A thankful spirit begins with a sense of gratitude to the One who makes all things possible, the One through whom we move, and live, and have our being; but it also always manifests itself in thanksgiving to other fellow friends and companions who work, serve, and contribute within the military to making your life a life of peace and not war or oppression. Thanksgiving to God always overflows into thanksgiving to others. Veterans Day is a thanksgiving day for the gift of liberty.
Though Veterans Day is now history by one day, there is still time to give thanks for the veterans who served, who made up a part of the whole, who together give our nation a bulwark against evil forces seeking to destroy the peace of America. A spirit of genuine thanksgiving leavens the whole and sets a tone desperately needed within our society – a society fractured by ostracizing and divisive personal grievances. Surviving veterans still suffer from battlefield wounds, both physical and psychological. They need the assistance of citizens who enjoy the freedoms their service makes possible. Unfortunately, because of other political choices, veterans’ assistance is not what it ought or needs to be.
Let a veteran with whom you are acquainted, or even a stranger, know you appreciate their service. Taking the time to express your thanks impacts for good both them and you. It is a simple gesture, but it accomplishes far more than you realize. The expression of thanksgiving rises as a sweet savor into the presence of God, and He takes note of the peace and liberty for which you continually express your gratitude. It shows this is not something you take for granted.


“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife. Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine till all success be nobleness and every gain divine.”
(3rd verse of Katherine Lee Bates’ song, “America the Beautiful”, 1895)


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Nov 05, 2015

Earthquake Apocalypse

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, “Tell us, they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Matthew 24:3-8


Apocalypse has two primary definitions: one, the complete final destruction of the world as described in the biblical book of Revelation, and two, an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale. Certainly, we have not seen the complete final destruction of the world. However, the destruction caused by a category 7 or above earthquake in populated areas has cost thousands upon thousands of lives, especially when you consider that the earthquake caused tsunamis that wreaked such cataclysm on Japan and Indonesia in recent years. Clearly, the use of the word “apocalypse to describe the devastation is not far off. In Matthew 24, the Lord lists the early warning signs that will be the precursors of His second coming, including the increase of earthquakes.
The two earthquakes that struck in Nepal left over nine thousand dead and nearly two million suffering and homeless. The suffering and loss of life in Nepal, Japan, and Indonesia is astounding even for us not directly affected by the “apocalypse of these events. The reported increase of earthquakes has been scoffed at by many people who claim that the only reason there appear to be more is because of increased reporting due to the number of seismographs located all around the world. Yet, despite the fact that accurate record keeping did not begin until 1900, approximately 31 earthquakes of 7.0 or higher occurred between 1801 and 1900. This equated to one major earthquake every 3.2 years. From 1901 to 2000, with accurate record keeping, there were 222 earthquakes of 7.0 or higher. This equated to one major earthquake every 6 months. From just 2004 to 2008, there were 127 major earthquakes, one every 23 days. Then in 2009, there were 17 major quakes, one every 21 days. And in 2010, there were 22 major earthquakes, one every 16 days. Do these statistics indicate a rise in major earthquakes of 7.0 or higher? You decide.
The advice from the Lord is that we are not to become alarmed, but rather to be alert to the signs he gives his church that these are indications that the last days are beginning, including the persecution of Christians and martyrdom, which we are now seeing. Jesus says that all nations will hate believers, and even many will turn from the faith and betray and hate each other. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:12). How long these last days are is not for us to know. Jesus tells us this knowledge is only the Father’s, not the angels’ or the Son’s.
But the warning is for us who live in these days and who claim to be the Lord’s. The intent of the Lord is that you may be strengthened for what lies ahead, no matter how long or short it takes to unfold. The graciousness of Jesus in giving us indicators is not to alarm or bring fear, but to increase trust in himself to preserve his elect through the storm (vs. 22 and 24). Consequently, we know and believe in his warning that we should keep watch, though we do not know on what day he will come. The parables which follow his warning (Matthew 25) are about watching and investing his gifts to you in others’ lives right up to the day he returns.
Watching, with your hand on the pulse of the Scriptures, and investing your gifts in others’ lives appear to be the stance which the Lord desires of you in perilous times. Invest in your children’s and grandchildren’s lives, invest in your neighbors’ lives, invest in the lives to whom God has called you. There is no way to know what time there is left, but one thing is certain: You have a grasp on your own time. Make it count for eternity.


“Rejoice, all ye believers, and let your lights appear; the evening is advancing, and darker night is near. The Bridegroom is arising, and soon he draweth nigh; up, pray, and watch, and wrestle. At midnight comes the cry.
(1st verse of Laurentine Laurenti’s hymn, “Rejoice, All Ye Believers, 1700)


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