Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

Welcome to Black Friday.  Hopefully you won't be too tired from shopping to spend a little time with reading the blog.  Everyone should be full of turkey and dressing, entertained sufficiently from the numerous football games, and now we are thoroughly in the full swing of the holiday season.

Think for a moment about your Thanksgiving meal.  I am curious to know if you followed your President's suggestion to converse about your health insurance coverage, and come to the conclusion that Obamacare is the way to go.  I keep looking at the situation with my insurance and from what I read and hear, it's going to cost more and have higher deductibles.  I never intend to make this a political blog, but I must say for everyone I have talked to in a discussion about insurance, our care is going to decrease and our cost is going to increase.  So I will be the first to confess, Thanksgiving lunch was not the time to discuss health insurance.  

Think one step further with me.  If we are celebrating a day in which we are to be aware of blessings and express Thanksgiving, knowing that we have received in abundance from God, I want to thank him as an individual and as a family. Of course, for the Christian, every day  is Thanksgiving Day, in that one of the things we are taught is the attitude of being thankful. 

It's also a time of reflection of how much God loves us as we are more and more aware of the good things he provides and the things he does for us.  So for me and my house, yesterday our priority was to  honor God through the thankfulness from our hearts. 

I have responsibilities to my government, too, and I am as patriotic as the next guy in wanting to protect our nation and its heritage.  My real responsibility is my allegiance and devotion to God.  This was the same lesson Israel needed to learn when God spoke to them through Jeremiah and revealed some serious heart problems they were having.  Just a portion of that list reads like this:  The were following idols, they were rejecting God, those involved in teaching the law were rebellious, the prophets were prophesying by false Gods.  Read Jeremiah 2 for the remainder of their evils.

Basically, their sin was that they put their trust in men and in the things of the world. Their sin is just like ours. When we fail to put full trust and confidence in God, we are on a losing trip though life.

The confusion of our Black Friday provides a parallel to the confusion of Israel, and just as we can be lured into placing our priorities in the wrong place, like they did, we will end up on the wrong track.

On a Black Friday over 2000 years ago, Jesus gave his life to pay for our sins. His death is the only avenue by which we can truly be right with God. I read today, and share with you now, in the Black Friday of long ago, three  were crucified. We cannot by-pass the middle man. 


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

                                         Have a blessed Thanksgiving.  --RonB

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thinking about Thanksgiving

Meditate and pray about these Bible verses during the Thanksgiving season:

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge--

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let's Study

For the serious searcher for Biblical truth, the task of learning the complete meaning of a subject isn't always easy.  I am not one of those who delights in spending hours dissecting each and every word of a verse to come up with all the possibilities of the meaning.  True, there are some Bible subjects that are of greater interest to me than others, so I may spend more time in study on those topics.  I always try to find the intended learning for the believer in every aspect of God's word. 

Numerous methods of scripture study have been introduced over the years and a lot of those are good for our understanding of some themes.  Countless commentaries exist which will give varying interpretations of scripture, each with an author's line of reasoning behind reaching his conclusions. 

One of the ways I like to study scripture is by using only the Bible.  While there are good word studies in looking at entire verses in this way, the basics are usually understood better when studying a section of several scriptures as a whole. More recently the translations of the Bible utilize the chapter and verse divisions which we are used to, but also divide sections of scripture into paragraphs for easier understanding. 

In pondering the ways of scripture study today, I ran across a term which demanded a little more consideration.  The term is "contemplative scripture reading."  The more I looked into the term, I learned it had been around since sometime in the third century.  I want to mention it to you today just to let you see if this is a way for your personal Bible study to take on new perspectives. This method takes us through four steps as follows:

1.  Reading the passage (maybe several times.)   Sometimes for me, reading it aloud will help me in seeing which words were perhaps, "emphasized."  Look for words which are repeated.  Especially notice the words in the passage to which your attention is drawn.

2.  Meditate on those "special" words from step 1.  It is at this point where I try to think of other Bible verses which emphasize the same word or words.  Continue your meditation and attempt to draw your thoughts into God's message in the passage. 

3.  Pray about the passage.  Remember when we pray, we are not only talking to God but also listening to God.  Your prayer may lead you to come closer to understanding God's purpose, as will the nudgings of the Holy Spirit.  Your prayer should be accompanied by a heart that is open and receptive to what God is saying to you in the passage.

4.  Contemplate what you have read, how the passage might relate to you, and think of how the passage will help you to grow spiritually and be useful in the work of Christ.  At all times in this process we need to remember this is God's Word and it is speaking to us. 

I do not give you these suggestions as THE only way to study, but something which you can try.  I am always saying we should stay close to the Word of God, and this is one way that might be helpful to you. God bless. 


Monday, November 25, 2013

Disciplined Lives

What goes through your mind when someone mentions the term, "discipline?"   For the younger, there may be remembrances of time-out, or being sent to your room, or maybe even losing TV privileges.  Those of us who are older will possibly begin thinking of a personal reprimand or a time when someone confronted us with something amiss in our lives. 

Recent reading has brought me to some varied observations about those things we refer to as "Christian Disciplines."  Since the beginning of Christianity there has been teaching, supported by various Scriptures, which let us know the disciplined lives we live and the Christian things we do, are important  and life-changing.  Some churches will have training programs and take their teens through training in a group of six disciplines, while there are those which will add a few more and some that will have a smaller list. 

Perhaps we should ask up front, "What is a Christian Discipline?"  The answers are varied and most of the time similar, but all seem to have the same basic idea.  Henri Nouwen, in his book on the subject says, "discipline is the effort to create some space in our lives, so God can act."  That means we should not allow anything to fill us to the point where we have no time, and no room for God.  We can surmise from that definition, from the number of "things" we allow to occupy ourselves, a Christian discipline can be prayer, worship, scripture reading, fasting, or countless other things which will allow us to make some space for God to work in us. 

For the most part, we view Christian disciplines as acts which we do individually and personally.  It's a time where we can get close to God and consider priorities and seek God's ways, bringing us to make necessary changes as we try to be more like Jesus.  Lynne Baab, in her book, Joy Together, makes a push for us to consider going beyond the individual nature of the disciplines and in small groups or entire congregations focus on the benefit of Christian disciplines for the whole body of Christ.

Further we can visualize the effectiveness when two Christians, sharing similar needs, can help each other through praying together, studying together, or even visiting a hospital together.  Any number of chosen acts will be equally beneficial for the individuals and the church, as we are exerting the effort to allow God to work in us.  Such instances of these acts in pairs or small groups help us strengthen our lives while maintaining a sense of accountability to each other. 

Give all this teaching some thought.  It is by no means complete, but simply a springboard for us to see a need in our lives to make God more of a priority, and training ourselves to being open and receptive to his remedy for our weaknesses. 

So what is your weakness?  If, for example, you struggle showing a gracious spirit toward those who do not deserve it, start by confessing that weakness to God, then allowing yourself to be totally available for him to bring about the needed changes. That will require some time and effort on your part.  Make it a priority.  Remember always, we are on this journey to become more and more like Jesus. 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Some time alone with God....

It's bedtime and you are preparing to turn in for the evening. The kids have been tucked in bed for a while but you check on them once more before you retire. You have watched your favorite TV program or read a few chapters in a book. The evening news and weather reports have just ended. All the lights are turned off except your bedside lamp and you make your way to bed. 

What is usually on your mind at this point? Perhaps a few minutes to read something from the Bible? Maybe some thoughts about the day's activities or thoughts preparing you for tomorrow's responsibilities? Finally you reach over and turn off the lamp, but while you are resting your head on the pillow in the darkness of your bedroom, other thoughts come to your mind. 

One man I recently talked to said that is the time he starts asking himself questions.  Most of his questions are things like, did he make the right decision in the discipline of his children today? Was he productive at work, meeting the expectations of his supervisor?
He confessed that as a Christian, there were times when he questioned his relationship to God and wondered if he was living the life and being the person God wanted him to be. Further, this is the time he questions himself about helping people who are in need, being a friend to the friendless, and even his reaction to others in the church when there are disagreements.

As we talked, he admitted that he goes to sleep at night only after spending some time in prayer while wrestling over questions that are almost impossible to answer.  Then he asked if all that was normal or was he the only one that went through this procedure? I chuckled a bit and told him he had asked me a question that I couldn't answer. 

First of all, I did assure the man he was on the right track by taking these things to God in prayer each night, and the continued prayer of searching for answers to his questions was the correct way to ultimately find God's answers.  

I keep being reminded and also reminded my friend that some of those unanswered questions could be directly related to God's claim in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Above all, I told my friend that as a Christian, he needed to live his life knowing the blessing of God's grace.  Grace is God's gift to us because we are imperfect Christians, lacking, sinning, causing chaos, bringing disappointment, and not meeting expectations. Romans 5:1-2, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

A letter to Santa

Several blogs over the past two years have been devoted to telling you about a young man named Zack.  To bring newcomers up to speed, Zack suffers from an inoperable brain aneurysm and has undergone numerous treatments, four dangerous surgeries, countless doctor visits, and he just keeps on going.  In our local newspaper this week, there is a story about Zack that mentions his second surgery.  His family was told following that surgery in 2008 he would not live longer than a year.  Here we are in 2013 and he continues to bless people daily with his determination and his faith. 

If you remember, a couple of years ago Zack was asked about his favorite animal and he replied, " a zebra, because it reminds me of the Bible verse that says, 'by his stripes you are healed.'"  It was also Zack who wanted to play soccer but was advised not to do so by his doctors.  Zack told his mom, "If I can't play soccer here, I will play soccer with God when I get to heaven."

Other highlights of this amazing young man include the receiving of his wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation with a trip to Disney World. The front page of Tuesday's paper shows Zack at the Disney park, standing in front of Space Mountain.

I hear regular reports on how Zack is feeling, and it is understandable he has some good days and some that are not so good.  He knows and fully understands his prognosis is not good, yet he keeps on going and coming up with ways to help others.  So what is he up to now?  Zack is busy gathering up letters to Santa.  His own letter to Santa is also featured in the newspaper article.  In the letter he tells Santa to bring him lots of books to help him with school and help his brain to remember things.  His wishes continue when he asks for his brother to come visit from the Navy.  But get this, Zack says, "What I want most of all, is to make a difference in peoples' lives."

Getting back to those Santa letters Zack is gathering.  He's sending as many as he can to Macy's Department Store in their campaign to support the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  Zack was blessed with his wish in November of 2011, and now he wants others to be blessed with their wishes.  For every letter to Santa which Macy's receives, they will donate $1 to the foundation. Zack is the spokesman for our city and all its elementary school students as they work in a campaign to flood Macy's with Santa letters.  Anyone from anywhere can write a letter to Santa and send it to any Macy's, and the store will honor their pledge of a $1 donation.  But, you will have to send a bunch of letters if you are going to outdo Zack. 

I write this to you today, not only to honor Zack for providing another great example to us, but also to prompt us to follow Zack's example.  You and I bump into people every day who need a friend, or a hug, or even a smile.  Yes, there are those we can help with a monetary donation, or groceries, clothing, school supplies, or any number of things.  More than that, they just need to know someone cares.  That's what Jesus was teaching us when he told us to love others as ourselves. 

Oh yes, and Zack, concerning your wish to make a difference in the lives of people, you have been doing that for years, and it seems like there is no end to the blessing you continue to be.   God bless.