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Posts Tagged ‘Obedience’

No doubt we would all agree:  Christmas is much more than carols, cookies, and cards.  The heart of this holiday goes even deeper than the love we express with presents.  It is a celebration of God’s inexpressible gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).

And those of us who accept God’s gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus, ought to live our lives with overflowing gratitude.  The motivation behind our words and deeds should be the same sacrificial love which motivated Jesus.

Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)

Henry van Dyke (1852-1933, photo credit: Wikipedia)

What might that look like in everyday life?  Henry van Dyke* made several suggestions through these thought-provoking questions:

“Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;

To ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;

To put your rights in the background, and your duties in the foreground;

To own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;

To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness—

Are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.”

Ouch.  If God made these stipulations into law, and only law-abiders were allowed to celebrate Christmas, I’d be left out.  My thoughts and motivations are not always pure.  I do not consistently put others’ needs before my own.  My focus is not always on what I can give.

But Rev. van Dyke’s essay does not end on that hopeless note.  He adds one more glorious line.

“But you can never keep it alone.”

Of course not!  “We are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us” (Romans 3:23, The Message).

However.  God does not expect instantaneous perfection, the minute we invite Jesus into our lives.  “God who began the good work within [us] will keep right on helping [us] grow in his grace until his task within [us] is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns” (Philippians 1:6, The Living Bible).

Hallelujah!

(Photo credit:  www.worshipkids.com)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,

Opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,

Drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day.

(also by Henry van Dyke)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

*Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) was an author, educator, and clergyman.  His lengthy list of accomplishments included professor of English literature at Princeton, minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg (by appointment of President Wilson), and author of many poems, stories, and essays. “The Other Wise Man” and “The First Christmas Tree.” are among his most popular works.  He also wrote the lyrics for a number of hymns, including “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The first verse is quoted above.

 

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“You are not going to believe what Jill did,” Gabby-Gossip starts.  And with much detail she begins to describe the foolish, spiteful actions of a mutual acquaintance.

And even though she’s only spoken two sentences, I know Gabby’s tirade is going to be gossip.  Not only don’t I need this information, but participation with her will be downright harmful.  The problem is, how do I tactfully stop Gabby-Gossip?

These strategies may be just what I need; perhaps you’ll find them helpful, too:

1.  Say nothing at all.  Refuse to participate. 

Just like Thumper said in the Disney movie, Bambi, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Even scripture backs up the value of silence:  “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:13).

2.  Ask, “Why are you telling me this?”

Be aware of the tone of your voice as you ask.  Speak with innocence, as if you assume Gabby is sharing for a legitimate reason.  Chances are, such a question will catch her off guard.  She often has no agenda beyond passing on a juicy bit of unflattering news.

Sometimes Gabby-Gossip prefaces her sharing with the directive, “I’m telling you this so you’ll be able to pray for Jill.”

Perhaps I can stop the flow of details by suggesting, “I’m so glad God knows all the ins and outs of this situation.  He also knows Jill’s heart, and I don’t.  I will most definitely be praying.”  Then change the subject.

3.  Insert positive talk.

Perhaps we can share something  Jill did recently that was commendable, or highlight one of her character traits we admire.

We could begin by saying, “You know what I appreciate about Jill?”  Follow up with an example.  Perhaps Gabby will realize her talk has gone off-track and will follow our lead.

Solomon noted, “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Proverbs 10:21).  What a fulfilling purpose to keep in mind for our conversations:  to feed nourishing words of wisdom and encouragement into the lives of others.

When we choose to speak positively, it demonstrates respect for others, respect for the One who created them, and respect for ourselves.  Kind words also bring positive energy and uplift to a conversation.  By contrast, negative talk drains our energy and we feel depressed, discouraged, or even angered as we part company.

4.  Seek to help Gabby-Gossip.

If the negative talk centers on a problem between Gabby and Jill, discuss some possibilities to solve the conflict.  Turn the conversation from fault-finding to solution-brainstorming.

5.  Pray, even as you speak.

Without the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, we will fail to solve the problem or win over Gabby-Gossip to positivity.  Send up a sky-telegram as the conversation begins.  Ask God to direct your thoughts and give you the words to say that will minister to Gabby.

6.  Resist the urge to gossip to someone else. 

With David we need to pray, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Few of us run the risk of saying too little; it is the opposite that causes trouble!  Three little words can guide us, as we think before we speak:  Is our next comment true, kind, and necessary?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, I do not want to participate in gossip.  Instead I want to be a positive influence, even a force of change.  With David, I ask you to set a guard over my mouth.  Be my attentive Watchman, God.  Even now, in preparation for the next encounter with Gabby-Gossip, I pray for your wisdom and courage to react rightly.  Because the bottom line is:  I want the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

(photo credit:  www.dreamstime.com )

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“Oh, my goodness! It’s gorgeous!”

My husband, Steve, had just come through the door carrying a glorious display of orchids. He had been to the silent auction at church, a fund-raiser for the scholarship fund. I had stayed home, grounded by a cold.

“Karen donated this to the auction,” he explained. “I thought you’d like it. ‘Might make you feel better.”

Karen and her husband owned a nursery business. Each Sunday she created stunning floral arrangements for the altar of our church.

I took the shallow dish, and turned it slowly to enjoy the full circumference. Dark green leaves created a frame from which the slender stems rose. Fresh, pink and white blooms draped gracefully from those stems. And small, round buds promised more beauty to come.

But even as I was admiring Steve’s gift, I was already getting nervous. Plants do not do well in my care, unless they’re the hardy-type. I had never owned an orchid before. Too fragile for me.

So, a few days later when the cold cleared out of my head, I checked online for information on orchid care. Here’s what I learned: indirect sunlight, normal to warmer-than-normal household temperature, normal to higher-than-normal household humidity, water thoroughly only when surface of medium becomes dry.

I walked through the house, looking for the perfect spot of indirect sunlight. There wasn’t one. I ended up parking the plant on the floor of the foyer, the only place where it would receive consistent, indirect light. Actually, I need to clarify further: The perfect place was in the middle of the floor. The corners were too dark.

Can you picture it? A plant. Smack-dab in the middle of the entryway floor.

Watering was another issue. How much is thoroughly? I certainly didn’t know.

I could have called Karen; ‘just never got around to it.

But perhaps I decided it wasn’t necessary. The orchid seemed to flourish. Each day I would check it, to see if the fir bark medium was dry. When watering seemed called for, I’d add flowering plant food, just the way the instructions suggested. Oh, and I’d turn the plant, too, so it would grow evenly.

For six weeks I lovingly cared for that orchid. I was so proud of how healthy it remained.

Then it was time for me to visit my parents, brother, and his family out in Texas. I left careful instructions for Steve–written out–about watering, feeding, and turning the orchid.

Several days into my visit, during one of our phone conversations, Steve asked me about the orchid.

“So, what am I supposed to do?” he asked.

I wanted to say, “WHAT?! THE INSTRUCTIONS ARE ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER!  WE WENT OVER THEM BEFORE I LEFT!” (You can read that with a bit of a huff. I was feeling huffy.)

Instead, I breathed in some extra patience and started to explain.

He interrupted.

“Even if it’s silk?” he innocently inquired.  Then he went on to explain,  “I ran into Karen after church and told her the orchid was still looking great.  She said that was because it wasn’t real. They’ve expanded their business to include silk florals now.”

So much for my blooming horticultural skills.

I had been operating under a delusion, and  wasting time, effort, and concern on something that WASN’T. EVEN. REAL.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Time has a way of slipping by. Days blur into years. Life comes to an end.

On that last day, will I be able to say I spent my time on real things of value?

Will I be able to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!…Come and share your master’s happiness (Matthew 25:21)?

 

      Oh, Lord, guide me to recognize those things that are important to you.  Turn me away from pursuits that have no real, eternal value.  I want my time and effort to be spent on worthwhile endeavors.  Life is too short to do otherwise. 

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English: William Tyndale, Protestant reformer ...

English: William Tyndale, Protestant reformer and Bible translator. Portrait from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Česky: William Tyndale (portrét ve Foxeově Knize mučedníků) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“If God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us?”
–William Tyndale (1494-1536)

 

Perhaps you’ve heard of Tyndale Publishing, best known for The Living Bible?

Then perhaps you’ve heard of William Tyndale, after whom the company is named. He’s been called by some “the Father of the English Bible.” His passion was to get the Bible into the hands of the common man.

You see, several centuries before his time, the Church Council of Toulouse (in France, 1229) forbade the use of the Bible by ordinary people. The Pope and priests felt that the common man could not understand the Bible, that clergy were the only ones who could properly interpret scripture.

Actually, Tyndale was not the first person to translate the Bible into English. That honor belongs to John Wycliffe, who lived in the 1300s. He translated from Latin into pre-renaissance English.

But Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printing press yet. All copies of Wycliffe’s translation had to be written out by hand.

Tyndale was perfectly suited for the task God gave him. He was skilled in seven languages: ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, and English. By the time Tyndale was ready to pursue his dream, the printing press had been in use for almost seventy-five years. So Tyndale sought permission and financial backing from the bishop of London to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into post-renaissance English. Permission was denied.

That didn’t stop Tyndale. He traveled Europe, looking for a place to settle. Worms, Germany, a Lutheran city, became his home.

 

English: John Wycliffe in his study

English: John Wycliffe in his study (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I can’t help but notice: German was not on his list of known languages. The right location may not have been a comfortable choice for Tyndale, but it was God’s choice.

By 1525, the New Testament in English was complete. Because of the printing press, several thousand pages could be produced in one day. In Wycliffe’s day, only a few pages could be hand-copied each day.

The newly-printed Bibles were smuggled into England in barrels, covered with cloth and articles for sale. Sometimes they were packed in bales that looked like cloth, or even hidden in sacks of flour.

It wasn’t long before the bishops and priests in England discovered that English Bibles were being sold. Officers of seaports were instructed to find and burn all copies.

Yet Bibles were still smuggled in.

A clever Catholic bishop of London decided he would buy all copies of the Bible that were being printed. He contacted a merchant in Germany to make arrangements. The bishop’s plan was to burn every Bible, once they arrived in England.

What that bishop didn’t know was: that merchant in Germany was a friend of Tyndale’s.

Yet the friend made a deal with the bishop anyway. Why? So he could give the proceeds from the bishop to Tyndale. More copies than ever were printed and sent to England. The bishop could not possibly buy every copy.

Imagine his shock when that bishop learned later it was his money, spent to keep English Bibles out of England, that actually paid for a veritable flood of Bibles into the country!

One might expect that Tyndale worked on to translate the Old Testament and lived well into old age, able to write and minister under God’s loving care. One would be wrong.

For nine years, Tyndale did escape authorities and was able to continue his work. But a man named Phillips, a frequent guest in Tyndale’s home, betrayed him. Tyndale was tried for heresy and condemned as a heretic. In 1536, he was strangled and then burned at the stake.

I’m tempted to ask, “Why, God? Tyndale was obedient to you. He left his home country, his friends, everything familiar. He worked so hard, ministered to others, and helped the poor. You miraculously blessed his work, and protected him for nine years. Yet in the middle of translating the Old Testament, Tyndale was arrested and martyred. Why, God?”

One commentator remarks: When God’s work for Tyndale was completed, God took Tyndale out of this life; and God gave his faithful servant the privilege of leaving this life through a martyr’s death (www.prca.org).

My perspective is so short-sighted. I tend to see death (martyrdom in particular) as tragic and distasteful. But from eternity’s point of view, “if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us?”

Heaven awaits!

* * * * * * * * * *

Thank you, Father, that there is no cause to fear suffering and death. You have promised to be with us, to give us the strength to endure, just as you did for William Tyndale. And then, after just a little while, you will take us to our real home of eternal bliss. Glory!

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I love words. I love the rhythm of syllables, like automaticity or higgledy-piggledy.

I love the precise images words can create: glam-shackle house, iridescent skin, aquamarine waters.

I thought about water

                                                   (Photo credit:  www.flickr.com)

And some words I love for their depth of meaning.

LEARN is just such a word. (Leave it to this former teacher to notice the word LEARN!)

When curious about a word and its nuances of meaning, a good place to begin research is with the dictionary. LEARN means: 1) to gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery of through study or experience, 2) to fix in the mind, 3) to become informed.

Those definitions certainly describe the LEARNing that is part of the Christian life. God wants us to:

• Gain knowledge of Him and His Word (Psalm 9:10; 119:24)
• Comprehend His ways for us (Psalm 25:4)
• Seek mastery over selfish impulses (Romans 13:14)
• Keep focused on Him (Psalm 141:8)
• Become informed about what pleases Him (Ephesians 5:10).

And God promises blessed dividends as we LEARN, like contentment, joy, and fulfillment in life. But how do we accomplish all this LEARNing?

A bit of research produced the following steps that also form an acronym of L.E.A.R.N.

L = Laws. “I will praise you with an upright heart as I LEARN your righteous laws” (Psalm 119:7). God’s Instruction Manual, the Bible, lays out the way to a rich, satisfying life. A wise person LEARNs all he/she can, because the Author is 100% trustworthy. He will never lead us astray.

Reading the Christmas Story

                                                   (Photo credit:  www.flickr.com)

E = Effort and Experience. “Continue in what you have LEARNed and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14a). What we learn from God’s Words we put into practice. Yes, it takes effort, but as our experience grows, so will our resolve.

I’m reminded of how I feel before my work-out most days. I hate exercising. But like so many distasteful tasks, getting started is the hardest part. Once I’m into the routine, it’s easier (not easy, just easier!) to keep going. The results of regular exercise are what motivate me: 1) The strength and energy I feel. 2) My back doesn’t give me as much trouble. 3) Moderately-firm flesh trumps flabby!

Exercise

Exercise (Photo credit: sanchom)

You see, I’ve LEARNed that effort (to exercise) leads to experience (the results are worth the effort). The same holds true in the spiritual realm. As I make the effort to apply God’s Word to my life, the experiences prove God’s way is best. And I like the results—the peace, joy, and contentment mentioned earlier.

Am I successful every day to apply God’s truth? No. But I take great encouragement from Philippians 1:6: The God who began this good work in me will keep at it and bring it to completion when Jesus returns.

A = Acclamation. “Blessed are those who have LEARNed to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord” (Psalm 89:15). Practice acclaiming—enthusiastically approving—your God. We can establish several “interludes of gratitude” into our daily routines—even leave notes here and there as reminders. Whatever it takes. According to the verse, great blessing awaits!

R = Righteousness. “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still. Teach a righteous man and he will add to his LEARNing” (Proverbs 9:9). The more we LEARN, the more teachable we become. LEARNing accelerates. It gets easier.

I remember looking at my grandmother with admiration. She seemed perfect to me. How does she do it, I wondered. No doubt it came through years of attention to God’s Word, effort that produced experience, and much acclamation for her God.

Grandmother

Grandmother (Photo credit: Samantha Steele)

N = Notice. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you…Whatever you have LEARNed or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice” (Philippians 3:17; 4:9).

Paul was not claiming to be a perfect. Back in verse 12 he had made clear, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect.” Paul, too, was LEARNing.

But his life of passionate pursuit after Christ-likeness was a worthy pattern to follow.

Perhaps there is someone in your family, church, or small group that would make a good role model. Look to him/her and LEARN.

And why is all this LEARNing about God’s Word and godly behavior worthwhile?

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20). To flourish in my soul, to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, to rest in trust—these are the ends that more than justify the means of LEARNing.

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Wisdom dictates that we learn from our mistakes. Better yet is to learn from the mistakes of others, and save the trouble of making them ourselves.

Listed below are a few of my recent mistakes, which may provide a learning opportunity. Actually, they’re typing errors—typos with significance!

Example #1:

Instead of thankfulness, I typed thinkfulness.

My mistake reminded me of a quote I read years ago: “If we would think more, we would thank more.”

And why is thankfulness a worthwhile pursuit? According to recent research, multiple benefits result from expressing gratitude:

• Better physical health
• Better sleep
• Better relationships
• Lower stress levels
• More optimistic attitude
• Longer life

Gratitude Journal

Seems like scripture was right all along: “Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9) That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Peace of mind and heart contributes to the items on that list. And gratitude is key.

 Example #2:

I meant to type worship, but what appeared on the screen was workship.

The truth is, worship does involve work. Not the work of getting to church on time, or the effort of tuning out distractions to focus on God. As valuable as those objectives are, there’s more.

Paul tells us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). True worship involves the work of obedience.

Gratitude

But again, God provides benefits that far outweigh the effort. Psalm 112 reveals a number of them:

• Households are blessed (vs. 2-3)
• God’s light breaks through the darkness (v. 4)
• Goodness comes (v. 5)
• Strength develops (vs. 6-7)
• Joy and peace fill the heart (v. 8)

 No doubt there are dozens more scattered through scripture. That’s one of the things I greatly appreciate about our God. When He asks us to work at something, and we comply, He generously blesses us!

Example #3:

Somehow my stumbling fingers produced medication on my computer screen instead of meditation.

It occurred to me, though, that meditating upon God and His Word works like medication to:

• Ease the aches and pains of life, such as miserable circumstances or  hurtful people
• Calm the acid of frustration
• Speed the healing of stinging remarks and wounded feelings

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7a)!

Example #4:

I saved the best for last. My intention was to make this point:

It is our responsibility and joy to “minister encouragement and hope into the lives of others.”

That’s what I meant. Here’s what I typed:

“Minister encouragement and hope into the livers of others.”

Wings of Encouragement

Quite silly at first glance; quite profound after some introspection.

You see, everything that goes into our body goes through the liver. It is in the liver that transformation takes place, the food we eat becoming nutrients.

Here’s the application: In order for our words of encouragement to be transformational, they must sink deep into the core of our listener. The comments need to be thoughtful and spoken with conviction. Glib platitudes will never nourish a hungry soul.

Another interesting fact about the liver: To some extent, this organ is able to remove toxins from the body. That’s what we can do with our words of hope. We can help overcome the toxins that have collected in a person’s spirit.

So, my friends, let’s:

Be thinkful in our thankfulness.

Embrace obedience as a spiritual act of workship.

Meditate on God and His Word, as medication for our souls.

Minister heartfelt encouragement and hope into the livers of others.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

And please share the outcomes of your efforts to make something meaningful out of these mishaps!

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Last Thursday I shared with you a decision-making discovery God brought to my attention while studying Acts 10:1-11:18. In that passage we read the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius (a non-Jew). As a result of the apostle’s visit to this Roman centurion’s home, his entire family and many friends became Christians. (For a summary of those events, click on the link above to Part One.)

In review…

God doesn’t always connect all the dots when guiding our decisions.

Peter experienced a strange vision, and received brief instructions from the Holy Spirit. But a number of important questions were left unanswered. It appears Peter was left to connect the dots on his own.

The lesson for us seems to be: act upon what you know (from scripture), heed the inner impressions from the Spirit, and step out in faith.

And now…

Decision-Making Discovery—Part Two:

Peter received confirmation from others that a visit to Cornelius was the right choice. (Remember, according to Jewish law, it was the wrong thing to do.)

Affirmation #1: The entourage from Cornelius knew exactly where to find him.

Peter was traveling about the country (9:32). There was no way for those messengers from Cornelius to know he was in Joppa, staying at Simon the tanner’s seaside home—except by divine intervention (v. 5).

Surely this extraordinary revelation was not lost on Peter. Events were lining up in a miraculous way. God was about to do something extraordinary.

Affirmation #2: Six Christian brothers from Joppa accompanied Peter to Cornelius’ home (10:23, 11:12).

There is no record that Peter had to cajole them. Scripture simply says, “Some of the brothers from Joppa went along.” Remember, Cornelius’ home in Caesarea was thirty miles away. This was no quick trip across town. By volunteering their time and effort, these six friends offered valuable encouragement and support.

Lessons #1 for us:  Affirmation of others can be important evidence of God’s approval.

I say can be because if we try to manipulate people’s response, if we shamelessly seek after it, that affirmation may not be reliable.

But let’s consider what happened to Peter, and learn from his experience.

Lesson #2: Step out in faith and accept the affirmation, especially if there’s any hint of God’s miracle-working ways involved. Peter’s encounter with the three messengers is our example.

Lesson #3: When a number of people tell us the same thing, it’s probable the message is accurate. Six men showed their support of Peter’s decision to visit Cornelius by going with him to Joppa. There may have been others who gave encouragement also. Scripture includes no record of opposition.

Are you puzzling over a course of action?

 

 

Do you have supporters coming alongside to offer encouragement, verification and support for a particular choice? Count them. You may be surprised how much confirmation God is presenting!

Thank you, Father, for the encouragers in my life. They have created uplift in my soul when circumstances have weighed me down.

May I remain faithful to renew my mind with the wisdom and guidance of your word. May I step out in faith each day, ready to embrace any surprises you have for me–like a spur-of-the-moment trip to Joppa! And may I rest in the confirmation you have already given. Equip me, I pray, to be a wise, encouraging support for others.

* * * * * * * * * *

What affirmation have you received as you faced uncertainty or a tough decision? Please share your experience and be a voice of encouragement for someone else!

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