Saturday, December 31, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - New

Time brings another year, but only God makes things new.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

As the word "unreasonable" is open to misunderstanding, the matter may be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian or mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this is not true of any of of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues. Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit  of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Heretics, Chapter Twelve, Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson, (Barnes & Noble Inc., 2007, p. 83).

Are these virtues indeed paradoxical? How do we develop them?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Making Resolutions

How do we really change? Whether it is a New Year’s resolution or some other commitment, how do we make it something that does not just vanish right after it is made, another casualty to our attempts at self-improvement? We need the power of God and we need discipline, not just one but both. Our attempts to change based on our own will power are feeble and generally fail. But God generally does not change us automatically, but puts us through a process where we have to respond step by step to His working in us.   

Now God is at work in all those who are genuine Christians (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10), but we are called to respond to that work (Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7; Ephesians 5:18). We do this by trusting in God’s power and not our own (Zechariah 4:6; Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6). There are also things that feed His working in us: study of the Word (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 5:11-14; 1 Peter 2:1,2), prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6,7), and the fellowship of other believers (Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:15,16; Proverbs 27:17). Now these things can come back again to discipline, but sometimes we need to start with the disciplines that feed the soul before we go on to exercise discipline in other areas. But it makes a difference what our attitude is here. If we see these things merely as religious duties, they can easily become tedious and of little help to us. But if we recognize we need these things to build ourselves up to obey God, it gives us a different perspective.

Our response needs to be motivated by our love for God (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14) based on what He has done for us (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16-18; 1 Peter 2:24,25). Also, it is important to understand from the outset who we belong to and to respond based on that (1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 12:1,2; Matthew 16:24,25). C. S. Lewis says there are three types of people in the world. There are those who ignore God and do what they want to. There are those who try to do what is right, but treat God like the tax collector and try to give Him as little as possible so they will have something left for themselves. Then there are those who give everything to God and allow Him to do what He wants with them. Given this, before we proceed we need to ask whether the changes we want to make are changes God wants us to make. God is not our servant who we use to accomplish our purposes. Then we need to persevere in the process of following after what God wants to do in our lives (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). Even when we stumble and fail, we need to trust God to pick us up again and put us back on the path. For only then will we truly change.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Tongues That Wag.

There are some sins that seem so innocent, but really are not. Christians have lists of the big sins, the ones that you better not be caught doing. But gossip is one that can slide in under the rug. After all, there are so many magazines in the supermarket devoted mainly to gossip. We can have this curiosity about what is going on in other people’s lives. And this is something that it is very easy to slip into. We can use various excuses. We are just sharing prayer requests or expressing concern, and it can become an excuse to gossip. But what does God really think of this?

Gossip is something that stirs up strife and dissension (Proverbs 16:28; 26:20). And stirring up strife and dissension is one of the things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19; 20:3; 26:17). We pass something along, and it results in alienating people from one another and ends up in fights and divisions. And this can happen even if it was not our intent. We say something to pass along a good story or to satisfy people’s curiosity, and it ends up going to someone who is hurt or angered by it. It also can have a negative effect on us (Proverbs 18:8; 26:22). At best, it can give us a negative outlook on life. At worst, we can become hurt or angry, possibly over something that is not even true or is blown out of proportion. And if we find that someone is prone to gossip, we find we cannot tell them anything for fear they will spread it all over (Proverbs 11:13; 20:19). And we need to be able to trust each other. How can we encourage one another if we do not to dare to admit anything to each other for  fear it will be passed on (James 5:16; Hebrews 10:24,25; Galatians 6:2)? 

Often, what is passed on is false and a lie (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 10:18; 12:19-22), or at the very least  it is one-sided (Proverbs 18:17; 25:8-10). Even if what is being said is true, that is not the way to deal with it. There is a point where love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8; Proverbs 10:12). But if there is something that needs to be corrected, it should be done by confronting the person directly (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; Jude 22,23). However, spreading things around to other people can end up ruining the reputation of a person , often a person who does not deserve it. Even if a person is genuinely guilty, it can be a roadblock to repentance and reconciliation.
Now God forgives sin (1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13; Romans 8:33,34). And we need to turn to Him for power to overcome our sinful tendencies (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 5:16; Philippians 2:13). But we need to recognize gossip as not just a minor peccadillo, but a serious sin that we need to deal with.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Remembering the Poor

God calls for us to help those who are poor, oppressed, or in need (James 1:27; Deuteronomy 15:11; Proverbs 22:22,23). This is a clear and basic Christian duty. But it becomes more complicated when it comes to dealing with those in need in other parts of the world. It is hard for us in the United States to even imagine the kinds of circumstances in which people in other  parts of the world are forced to live. It is also easy to be so overwhelmed by the need that we do nothing.  And It is easy to be so overwhelmed by guilt that we do nothing. In my opinion, major guilt trips are not at all helpful. We end up beating ourselves over the head and becoming depressed, but at the end of the day nothing really changes. It is better to calm down and ask what thing, even if it is a measured and perhaps inadequate thing, can I do to help? Is there some luxury I can forego or something I can give up to help people in other places obtain the necessities of life?

But the need is so great we can ask if we are doing any good. We are not God and cannot take the burden of the world on our shoulders. But if we do something to help just one person, we have helped that person. When Paul took his offering for the saints in Jerusalem, he told them to lay aside what God had put on their hearts (2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:5-11; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Now it is obvious he is urging them to generosity, even advocating an idea of bringing about some degree of equality. But he wants the giving to be voluntary and even cheerful. There is no specific amount given. Merely that they are to give themselves to God first and follow what He lays on their hearts. There is no idea that they can solve all the problems, merely that they should contribute to the solution. The giving seems to be as much for the spiritual benefit of those who give as the material benefit of those who receive.

But we may ask, how much is enough? I do not know the answer to that. But I think it is more important to start by doing something. I do not think we are required to live in cardboard houses because people do in other parts of the world. But sometimes asking how much is enough can be a way of drawing some kind of limit so we do not have to consider doing anything further. The example here is Jesus, who gave His life that we might live (2 Corinthians 8:9). I do not believe that God calls all of us in all cases to give to this degree. We do not have the ability. But it is the standard. And I do know we need to be open to what God wants us to do.