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groom

To Whom It May Concern:

In May of 1997, I got married.  Most of you know I was married to my husband in June of 2000, but, well, this was my first marriage.  I didn’t tell a lot of people at first because I felt a little shy about it and I wasn’t sure how people would take the news.  I was only 17, after all, and it wasn’t exactly a “normal” marriage.

Nevertheless, I was completely smitten.  He was a man I’d known all my life.  From the time I was a little girl, I’d stare at his picture and marvel at him in wonder.  I wondered how all the good things I’d heard of him could really be true.

Somehow, I believed that they were.

As I grew older we shared many conversations.  I studied him intensely and often looked to him for help and advice.  When I told others about him, sometimes they laughed at me.  They told me his advice was wrong.  They warned me not to get too close to him if I wanted to be happy.  It seemed that no one quite understood how I really felt about this man.

Many people I knew did respect him, though.  They told me he was good and that I should keep talking to him.  They said I should listen to him.  I felt very attracted to him, but I was often scared to do the things he asked of me.

Finally, the day came for us to marry.  I didn’t even know he was going to ask!  I was so surprised when he knelt down and asked me to be his own.  I stood alone as a room full of my teenage peers watched while  tears streamed down my astonished face.

I was whisked away by a friend’s mother and we sat and talked of him for a long while.  I told her how I’d accepted his proposal.  I told her all about why I’d said, “Yes.” I told her how much I loved him and how happy I was to be his bride.

My first love was Jesus Christ.  I have been part of his bride for more than 18 years.  I still love him most.

It seems, however, that our marriage is not recognized in many places anymore.  No one seems to respect our relationship.  I mean, I just want to be allowed to keep loving this one who chose me and whom I chose – for life, for death, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health.  But when I go out in public and speak of him, people get angry.  When I talk about what he forbids me to approve of and celebrate and how I, as his adoring bride must submit out of love, they curse me and call me names.  They say I’m hateful and intolerant.  They even threaten our house and all my brothers and sisters.  They say they will force us to approve of their sin in our own home – that is, the church.  Of course we will not, but it all is just so confusing to me.  I mean, aren’t these the same people who speak all out all the time about “tolerance,” “discrimination,” and being free to choose whomever it is you’d like to love?  But they hate me for the one I choose to love and obey.  Why?

Because my Lord does not agree with them.  His commands conflict with their choices.  Even though we do not agree with them either, we still love them.  We don’t call them names.  We pray for them.  It is because we love them that we tell them the truth.

These ones do not have to agree with me or my Lord, (although I wish they would!) but how can they justify their bigotry towards me in efforts to claim their own?  Who goes on a crusade against hate, intolerance, and discrimination by bringing hate, intolerance, and discrimination?  The double standards of this group are altogether overwhelming.

If they do not recognize my union, that is fine.  If they do not approve, that is fine, too.  But I will not approve of or recognize them at the expense of my own holy matrimony.  To do so would cause my divorce.  How can I divorce my love in exchange for mandated bondage by those who hate him?  I cannot.  I will not.  He never forces me into submission like this group intends for me.  He merely offers his sacrificial life and his true freedom to me.  I’d be a fool to exchange his truth to fit in with them and the lies the Enemy has deceived them with.

The world may not recognize our marriage now, but when its time for our immaculate reception, they will all bow in deference to my King.  My only prayer is that they would come to him before the day of salvation is over and that hour is passed.

I just thought you all should know about my forbidden love story so you could be praying for me and the rest of His bride.  I fear the days to come will prove difficult and many will seek to destroy our marriage.  Let us pray.

Yours Truly,

A little girl who loves Jesus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQv4EAwMFoQ

work

Paul continues the Lord’s instructions for human relationships in teaching on how to be a good servant.  The application is for anyone who is a subordinate of another in the context of labor or service.  Any employment given to men by men stands to benefit in regards to these commands.

The Biblical prescription for employees, servants, and subordinates in the work place?

“…obey in everything those who are your earthly masters…”

“…work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”

Paul teaches that all requests of earthly bosses and masters are to be taken seriously.  We are to serve men in a genuine and whole-hearted way, not in a for show, pretend, lazy behind their backs way.  The reason Christians are to work in this way is because of our fear and respect for the Lord.  That way, the attitude and advocacy of the boss makes no difference regarding our job performance.  We are not working to appease unruly bosses, we are working to please the Lord.  Even when we are treated unjustly and harshly, we remember that the Lord will give us our due.

Paul reminds us that God is impartial to men and that he favors no one based on status, position, race, or ethnicity.  God is completely just and will repay each of us for the work we have done as well as the way we have done it.

Paul also tells masters, aka, leaders, bosses, CEOs, etc., that God is watching.  He warns those in authority over others that they must treat their subordinates well lest they be judged by the true Master in heaven.

If you are a servant, employee, or subordinate of someone else, work hard and obey them as if they Lord were the one commanding you.  If you are a boss, leader, master, or person with any authority over others, be fair and just dealing with your subordinates as you would have the Lord deal with you.

If the instructions on work ethics found here in Colossians were taken seriously, the vast majority of the problems seen in the work place would be eliminated.

persecuted

Regarding persecution: If another Christian from our own congregation were being mistreated by the powers that be and we (a.) knew it (b.) did not want to know it and pretended it wasn’t happening (c.) assumed they brought it upon themselves and ignored it, would we also be guilty of persecuting them?

I’m thinking of when a bully picks on someone smaller than they are and all the strong boys stand around blind. Are fear, comfort, and complacency acceptable excuses when brothers and sisters are abused by the ungodly? Is it wisdom to “stay out of it?” if they aren’t from our group but we have insight into the abuse?

How does that affect our responsibility regarding the persecuted church abroad? How does it affect what we do or do not do for those within our sphere of direct influence? Does it matter? Will we be accountable if we do nothing or is it ok to let others fight their own battles for the faith and not really get involved? How would you feel if you were made a criminal by the ungodly and those from your own church followed suit out of cowardice and suspicion? How would you feel if you knew others from another country had the means to help you but chose not to?

My questions are: What is our responsibility when and if those we know personally are unjustly treated? What about those we do not know personally who belong to the faith? Is there judgement for those who fail to assist or is it simply a matter of personal conviction in each situation where God calls those whom he will to support those suffering for their faith?

I consulted Matthew Henry.  Because this issue is so closely related to giving – be it of our concern, our time, our money, our allegiance, or our consolation, I thought of the rich man and Lazarus.

“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here,  and you are in anguish.  ~Luke 16:25

God loves a cheerful giver, though, right?  Give not reluctantly or under compulsion, rather, each one must give as he has decided in his heart.  So then, what is the damnable fault of this rich man?  Surely he “gave.”  But he did not give in such a way that it pleased God.  Surely he gave to his friends and family.  Surely he threw exquisite banquets and spared no expense for those he preferred.  But what was at the center of his giving?  It was not God.  It was all for pomp, pride, and selfishness.

“And he said, ‘No,’ father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” ~Luke 16:30

After death, the rich man knew that overlooking the needs, affliction, and poverty placed in front of us is a sin requiring repentance.  Overlooking the needs, affliction, and poverty placed in front of us is a sin requiring repentance.

Here is Henry’s insight.

“That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world.  This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments.  That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it.  It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is as true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us.  That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul.  The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.”

“We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him.  Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate.  The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him.  A little thing would be great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there.  Note, it is not enough to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them.  The reason given for the fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat.  I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ and say that they believe it can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted…Note, those will  have a great deal to answer for hereafter that feed their dogs, but neglect the poor.  And it is a great aggravation of the uncharitableness of many rich people that they bestow that upon their fancies and follies which would supply the necessity, and rejoice the heart of many a good Christian in distress.  Those offend God, nay, and they put a contempt upon human nature, that pamper their dogs and horses, and let eh families of their poor neighbors starve.”

“This rich man had entirely devoted himself to the pleasure of the world of sense, was wholly taken up with them, and took up with them for his portion, and therefore was wholly unfit for the pleasures of the world of spirits…he was hard-hearted to God’s poor, and therefore he is not only cut off from mercy, but he has judgment without mercy, and falls under a punishment of sense as well as a punishment of loss.”

“The tendency of the gospel is both to reconcile us to poverty and affliction and to arm us against temptations to worldliness and sensuality…Our Savior came to bring us acquainted with another world, and to show us the reference which this world has to that.  Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand.” ~Matthew Henry

lj

This is me!  :)

Faithfully, they stretch wide before me.  It is the second week of June.  It is time to gather the harvest.  Black raspberries, and after, blackberries, sprawl over the outermost portion of my backyard.

I carefully begin to cut away the weeds and reposition the unwelcoming briar bushes – also known as “jaggars.”

“Daddy would be proud,” I think.  He who took me every year in somber search would want me not to waste these.  Of course he set them here for me to find.  Soon after he was gone, they found their way into my backyard and beckoned of blessing.  Little wonder why they grow so close to Father’s Day.

Daddy gave the gifts.  How can I not go out and harvest them?  Still, I feel like Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Poison, snakes, thorns, heat, and my personal favorite, ticks likely await as I begin my journey into the blessed brush.

Cut the thorns away.  Cut too many and the shade-less berries will dry up.  Leave some thorns.  Be gentle.  I must, must, must remember gentleness when picking my treasures lest I squish them, drop them, or get impaled by an intrusive thorn.  Move the vine, just a little, and a whole new load of berries are unveiled.  Shake the vine too hard and they will fall to the ground lost.    Dropping even just one into the place of no return is tragic to me.  The utmost care must be taken with each new find.

Now begin again.  Think of Christian.  Think of Christ.  Is this not how we are to make disciples?  I reckon it surely seems familiar.  I liken these blessed berries to those to whom we must preach the gospel; those to whom Our Father has given us; those whom he has placed in our own yard, ripe for the picking, no, choosing, perhaps.  Only he is the one who has done the choosing beforehand.  We have simply come to reap the harvest.

I feel like the lumberjack the little girl Lori always wanted so very much to be.  To my surprise, just the other day I discovered that my very name – my married name, that is – literally means, “to clear away, area of forest designed for clearing, to chop or cut down.”  I can hardly contain my excitement knowing that I have veritably been a lumberjack of sorts for the past fifteen years.

The Lord gives the desires of the heart.  He gives the gifts.  He makes them ripe and ready.  He asks us to harvest – carefully, gently, painstakingly.  And when we do, he shows up every time.  He changes our name,  fifteen years go by, and we fail to even realize who we have become.

His.  We are his.  That is, Our Father’s.  We love what he loved.  We do what he did.  We are the remnant of who he is.  We are not of him because we are like him, we are like him precisely because we are of him.

And he is always with us in the garden that he made especially for us – even after the thorns have come.

 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” ~Genesis 3:17-19

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aIhta9exts

A Good Dad

father

Daddy plays tic-tac-toe with X’s and heart’s with our youngest daughter as we wait for the server to bring lunch after church.  What a good father, I think to myself.  He provides, protects, plays with, and pampers our three little girls.

With Father’s Day drawing close, I consider my heavenly father and his goodness in light of the badness of the world.

Pain, suffering, injustice, oppression, and betrayal are just a few problems we encounter here.  We all have experiences with these hard parts of life.  We all have stories we can tell about when we have been both the victim and the abuser in unkind circumstances, unlovely people, and uncalled for events.  Life isn’t fair and we know it all too well.

How can that fact be reconciled to the reality of a good father – a father that calls both the offended and the offenders, the pain-inflicting and the pain-stricken, the victims and the oppressors, the betrayed and the betrayers to “strive for peace with everyone.”

Peace with everyone.

I believe one key to the mystery lies in Judas.  The name itself is a dead giveaway.  No one likes a traitor.  How can we be at peace with someone like that?  Yet, at one time or another, we have all sold out for the sake of self.  Selfish ambition, selfish pleasure, selfish gain – it’s all the same disease.  Much suffering, oppression, and injustice in the world is because we and others around us act like Judas instead of acting like Jesus.

Consider him.

Judas was chosen – out of all the trillions of people in the world who have ever lived or will ever live – to be one of Jesus’s twelve disciples.  He got to be one of a dozen men who knew God himself, in the flesh.  Judas had the most opportunity to know and understand the truth of the gospel.  Judas was greatly loved by the Lord.

When I consider the obsession with self that led to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, I grieve over the irony.  Just as Jesus taught that he who seeks to save his life will lose it and he who loses he life will save it, Judas, in his gross, habitual self-seeking, lost everything good he had ever been given.

It was Judas’s loss when he betrayed Christ.  Judas lost not only the best friend he could ever have, but he also lost his connection to the Lord, his privileged position in the kingdom, his soundness of mind, and ultimately his own life.

Perhaps the most devastating part of Judas’s story is his unwillingness to repent.  Judas preferred to die than to humble himself and ask forgiveness.  Judas was full of pride and power-seeking.  Bad as it was, it wasn’t his betrayal that condemned him.  It was his stubborn unwillingness to admit, confess, and repent afterwards.

Consider Peter.  Peter denied Jesus three times and left him to die.  Why didn’t he end up like Judas?

Peter repented.  He submitted to the Father’s authority and he changed.

The realization that Jesus Christ was more than willing to forgive even Judas out of his great love and mercy is a tragedy for those who refuse to repent.

The other day I was out for a walk and Whitney Houston’s version of “Jesus Loves Me” began to play on my itunes.

“Jesus loves me, this I know,

for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong,

they are weak but he is strong.”

Childhood memories of Sunday school and early faith came along with the melody.  Later, my six year old placed a previously misplaced stuffed lamb on my pregnant belly.  Her once favorite toy, “Lamby” came from a lady at church when her older sister was born.  Lamby plays “Jesus Loves Me.”  She was sharing the song with her new sibling the best way she knew how.  Still later my husband and I were listening to a sermon on the radio and the preacher repeated the same line at least four or five times: “God loves you.  God loves you.  God loves you.  God loves you.  God loves you.”

Our good Father’s solution to injustice and evil is repentance and forgiveness.  It is we who choose his wrath and condemnation instead – just like Judas.

No amount of revenge or justice serving fixes the pain left by betrayal because the love one has for the betrayer long remains.  Forgiveness is the only way to peace for those who hold out hope for either repentance or ultimate justice in the here after for those whom we have loved that injure us.

God holds out his hands all day long to we who continually betray him.  He offers forgiveness and hope before we ever repent.  He waits with outstretched arms for us to come, to confess, to repent, to ask for and accept his already appropriated forgiveness.

Our Father is waiting.  Come.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peA-9PYjuvM

mercy

Like a single song lyric stuck on loop in my mind, I wake with a verse.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

It’s Sunday.  Upon arrival at church we’re met with a request to fill in and teach the children’s Sunday school class.  With no lesson and nothing prepared, I muse at God’s provision.  Well, I’ve got a verse.  Curiously, we open to Matthew 9:13.

“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.”

“What does it mean?” I think to myself.

I listen as the mechanic reads the context to the kids.  It is the calling of Matthew – a man who was hated for his profession.  Matthew – a tax collector who doubtless made a habit of lying, cheating, and stealing from the have-nots and the hard-working.  Jesus – the God of all creation called him away from a life of deceitful money-loving idolatry and into his very own small group of close disciples.

Matthew listened.  He followed.  He quit his unpopular job.  He threw a great feast for all his unpopular, crooked, money-loving friends and had Jesus be the keynote speaker.  Pretty impressive for a new convert, I’d say.

Still, there were some who were less than impressed.  There were some who were angry that a man who claimed to be of God would entertain such a motley crew.  They were none other than the most religious men of the day – the Pharisees.

It was to these men that Jesus spoke the words, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The one requirement for following Christ is being a sinner.  Of course we all are, but Jesus’ point here is that only some of us know it.  It is the those who find their identity and most closely associate themselves with the church that have the highest risk of self-righteous fellow sinner snubbing.  It is those who should be known as “Churchians” rather than Christians.  It is they who seem to have a secret club, clique, and code which wholly excludes anyone who is not so shiny on the outside.  The problem is that these ones are not shiny on the inside.  They are jealous and full of animosity towards others unlike themselves.  They have no regard for what – or who – Jesus wants.  They offer “sacrifice” to God for show and the praise of men but they treat others with ignorance, exclusion, contempt, and biased injustice.

Matthew Henry says, “They are very strict in avoiding sinners, but not in avoiding sin; none greater zealots for the form of godliness, nor greater enemies to the power of it.”

If we are honest, we have to admit that there are times in all of our lives that we encounter people with whom we would rather not engage.  As Christians, though, we really aren’t at liberty to pick and choose.  When Christ puts a soul in front of us, we have a great responsibility to serve them in whatever way he calls us to.  Don’t have that burden?  Repent.

Jesus has news for the “No sinners allowed people hater club.”  He exposes them by pointing to the fact that not associating with sinners – whatever brand you most dislike – is hardly a sacrifice.  Of all the grandiose, pompous, showy sacrifices they made, this was yet another piece of detestable garbage to God.

Jesus proves that he is in the business of mercy.  Mercy responds when called to a feast full of lost sinners – even if there’s a feast full of self-righteous teachers going on at the same time.  Mercy spends its time saving those who do not deserve to be associated with.  Mercy includes the worst of sinners because it understands that excluding people from its sacred circle is no sacrifice.  No.  That is utter selfishness, self-protection, and pride.  Mercy, by definition, is an offering one gives that is undeserved – the opposite of what is deserved, even.  That is why it is called mercy.

The name “Matthew” means “the gift of God.”  We are the gift of God to others – not our shiny, showy, so-called sacrifices.  When God calls us, his call is all enveloping.  It is all of life.  If you find yourself immersed in a sea of Churchians content to mingle among themselves, excuse yourself.  Find some sick.  Leave the pretend healthy people and begin offering the Great Physician to those who know their need.  Invite them into the parts of your life that are outside of the proper protocol of a weekly handshake, hello, and see you next week (but hopefully not until.) If God has been merciful to you, be merciful to others who don’t deserve it any more than you did.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be the one unwelcome than the one unwell.  Christ expects us to be merciful to sinners because he is merciful to we who are sinners.  When we are not, it proves than we, neither, have received mercy.

“Christ came not with an expectation of succeeding among the righteous, those who conceit themselves so, and therefore will sooner be sick of their Savior, than sick of their sins, but among the convinced humble sinners; to them Christ will come, for to them he will be welcome.” ~Matthew Henry

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE17huAYb6U

father

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” ~Colossians 3:21

Moving on further in Paul’s practical instructions for human relationships, we find a different sort of command.  Up until this point, Paul has given positive commands. (Wives, submit; Husbands, love; Children, obey.)  Now, we find that he has shifted gears and given a negative command, “Fathers, do not…”

His emphasis on what fathers ought not do should give us heed to stop, consider, and caution ourselves when in authority over children – be they physical or spiritual children.

Perhaps he speaks this way because what we must avoid is of greatest importance in the grand scheme.

So, what does Paul highlight as #1 for the parent to whom he has given ultimate leadership and responsibility over children?

“Do not provoke your children…”

Do not provoke them.  Do not frustrate them.  Do not make them aggravated, angry, irritated, exasperated, or upset if at all possible.  If there is any other way to teach your children, do so.  If there is any method you can utilize that does not produce these kind of feelings and attitudes in them, use that.  Do not use these feelings and attitudes toward them either.

It seems that Paul is not so much concerned with what methods are used, save that they do not injure and discourage young souls entrusted to men.  Apparently there are many right ways to raise up children in the Lord but this wrong way proves most tempting and dangerous for fathers.

Children are often difficult to be patient, kind, gentle, and loving toward.  If they are particularly disobedient and obstinate, our greatest temptation is to become disobedient and obstinate towards God’s instructions right back at them.  It is a vicious cycle which teaches them nothing less than hypocrisy.  Little wonder why Paul gives the reason as to why we must avoid provocation: “…lest they become discouraged.”

Who would not become discouraged if every time they fail, someone treats them harshly and, being an authority, fails themselves to obey their own authority?  Such discouragement gives way to apathy, indifference, and a general distaste and distrust regarding respect for authorities in general.  Dare I say the church has lost much of its credibility as a result of dealing with God’s children this way.

When fathers – spiritual or physical – accuse, berate, belittle, and deal harshly with tender children who are seeking to learn and grow, those children doubtless become discouraged.  The reason is not only the former faults, but also because they are not being encouraged.  Authorities who only comment on bad behavior, who fail to recognize and encourage small steps, good work, and personal improvement – even when it is not perfect or spectacular – who overcorrect wrongdoing by harsh and repetitive accusation; who fail to praise and pray alongside calm correction, discourage.

Dads, do what you will by way of discipline, but do not discourage.  Do not provoke.  Deal kindly and gently.  Encourage.  This is one of the most important details in fatherhood.

“The bad temper and example of imprudent parents often prove a great hindrance to their children and a stumbling block in their way.”  ~Matthew Henry

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR-1ggqyEIE

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