February 23, 2016

Jesus: A Good Luck Charm or Lord of All?

Ever noticed how easy and popular it is to *call* oneself a Christian but not prove it by one's actions? 

Yeah, I have too. I'll give you some scenarios:

Drove in my Jesus-bumper-sticker-laden van to the local theater to watch [insert trending horror film]. 
Gave money to that homeless person under that bridge. But I yelled at my brother when he begged me to give him money to buy some penny candy.

At the grocery store on the way home from work, wearing my favorite "I Am Second" t-shirt: I'm growing impatient, and start muttering to myself about how slow the line is. When it's my turn to check out, I practically toss my money at the cashier and fail to say "thank you" for their assistance. 

Just posted my 108th selfie on Instagram along with some Bible verses. (This one really steps on my own toes.)

Photo courtesy: Phoebe Kautt
 We go through our lives, giving little thought to the possible damaging consequences of our actions against our Christian witness. 

I've thought a great deal about this whole topic since I first began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book, "The Cost of Discipleship," He made some punch-in-the-gut statements about the lives of Christians. One such section,

"But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost....Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard....Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing of the world than this? What are those three thousand Saxons put to death by Charlemagne compared with the millions of spiritual corpses in our country today?"

Note when he mentioned the 'spiritual corpses' in our country. I can't think of a better way to describe the condition of our nation, honestly.

Photo courtesy: Phoebe Kautt
This land is filled with people who claim to be Christians, but in reality they have just baptized or whitewashed their secular, hedonistic lifestyles with the name 'Christian'. In effect, we've turned Jesus into a 'good luck charm' when we are in pain or distress. Our own personal genie to Whom we send all our wishes and desires.

But Jesus requires so much more. He doesn't want us to carry the name 'Christian'--anyone can do that. He doesn't want us to just believe (as good as that may be)-- "even the demons believe and tremble" (James 2:19). He doesn't just want to be our Help in time of trouble.

Don't get me wrong:
  • We, as Christians, are supposed to wear that name ('Christian') boldly, and use it as a catalyst to unashamedly proclaim the Gospel (Romans 1:16).
  • Belief is good-- in fact, "without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6). And in 1 Timothy 6:11 we are told to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." (emphasis my own) But it's not enough. "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:14-26, but particularly vs. 26).  
  • Calling on God in our distress is perfectly Biblical, too (Psalm 50:15). 
The real problem is when we don't allow our faith to saturate every area of our lives.

"God didn't give you the strength to get back on your feet so you can run back to the same thing that knocked you down."  What impact do we as Christians have when we allow ourselves to be conformed to the image of the World, instead of the image of the Son? The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:2, warns against such a lifestyle,

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Jesus portrayed the way to discern spiritual corpses from true Believers: 

Jesus hasn't called us to look or act like the World-- to look or act 'normal'. In fact, Jesus' own life was shrouded in abnormality. Among other oddities, He didn't have a home (Luke 9:58), wife, or children, and His own family thought He was insane (Mark 3:21).

Recently, one of my church's leaders, Stewart Bolerjack, gave the communion meditation. I found several things he said to be quite profound, so I quote:

"To be a Christian means that we have given our lives and our spirits

to God, that we willingly throw away whatever comes between us and God,

and that we have told the world that God is more important than anything the

world can offer. That’s unusual, not normal, and we may pay a price for it,

but that’s who we are: we’re 'not like them'." 

The World sure offers a wide range of 'delights': education, careers, riches, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.
But as Solomon said, "all is futile," (Ecclesiastes 1:2). None of that has eternal significance. None of that stuff grants us an eternity in heaven with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)

"Faith without works is dead." (James 2:14-26)

"Let us hear the conclusion 
of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 For God will bring every work 

into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil." 

(Ecclesiastes 12:13,14)

February 15, 2016

Picture post

So far this winter I have enjoyed a lot of quality family time with my brothers, and their lovely ladies. For Jo's 18th birthday the first weekend in February, Joel and Christine, Caleb, Claudia and Haylie came up to help her celebrate her big day.  We snapped a few pictures of the wonderful day.

Once the weather is consistently warmer, we are planning a big family picture, with Haylie.  We have taken a few pictures with her in them since her birth, but we are waiting until she is a bit older, and more alert.  I am amazed at how quickly she is growing, and changing.  Each time I see her she is more expressive and her personality is really starting to shine. 

A thought-provoking quote I came across last year, which now is a staple in my life and room. 

A modern  art painting I did last fall.  It's called "Hope Rising" 

Jaden snapped a candid picture of my interaction with "my" two boys.  I love them to bits, and enjoy playing with them, and watching them grow and learn something new each week. 

I got to go to Dallas to visit my lovely family the day before Valentine's which was GREAT!  The first part of the day was spent at Grandma's helping her do some things around her house, and in her yard.  And then we (the girls and Jaden accompanied me) concluded the day with a delicious meal at Christine's house, sandwiched between some hilarious games.  Snorta was the bomb!  

And of course, I had to get a selfie with my adorable niece.  She is so precious and tiny.  I am really enjoying being an auntie.  

February 10, 2016

What "Really" matters?

The new year brings with it many varying emotions, thoughts and reflections.  Some of them good, some of them full of regret.  

This new year has been no different for me, and the whirling of my mind has produced some of the hardest days full of sorrow and repentance, and the opportunity to begin again.  A blank slate of 365 days spreads out before me as I stand at the brink of another year.  And it has me asking some important, yet difficult, questions.  

One of them which I have turned over and over in my mind is the question of importance.  "What really matters"?  And am I doing that really important thing

I have filled my life with many useful and worthwhile activities since childhood, my mother made it of utmost importance that I learn to cook, clean and keep house.  And I had school book work to complete in my younger years, lessons to finish, chores to carry out, and bible study and prayer time.  Any extra time I had was spent in reading, playing outside, writing pen pals, or going places either on my own, or with my family.  All of those things served their purpose to form me into who I am today - a practical girl with hands on experience in the realm of everyday life and work.  

As an adult with some experience in this world I am interested in knowing if what I am doing with my life is what God would have me do with it, or if I am leading a purely selfish existence.  So I have been taking stock of my days, my activities, my job, my ministry work, and my household obligations.  

First off, let me run across the phrase which I began with earlier: What REALLY matters?  And why does it matter?  Or to whom does it matter? 

Something I have tried to do since I was about 18 or 19, is to live with an eternal perspective, realizing that my life here on earth is a short time of faithfulness testing by God, to see if I will prove who I say I am (I call myself a Follower of the Way - Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, a Christian), but does my living prove these words, or disprove them, or show a muddle of some combination of the two?  

Jesus said some stern words to people who claimed to 'know God' and yet their life's fruit showed otherwise: 

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."  Matthew 6:24

This passage has played in my mind since January 1st with persistence to the point of irritation, but God was using it to prod from me a satisfactory answer to something He needed to know about my heart's direction.  "Abby, do you really love Me?  Or does your life show that you only use Me as a way to get good gifts, and answered prayers"?  And so this struggle has gone on for over a month now as I have been sorting through the stuff of my life, trying to come up with a good response.  

What I have found is that I have let my first love burn low, to the point of neglect.  My prayer life, my devotional life (bible study and meditation), and my speech life have all suffered terribly from this neglect, and I have sunken to a point of spiritual stupor and weakness. When I pray I feel no power, and my fervency has waned.  Even though I have been reading the Words of life, I have not been applying them to how I live.  And so in my speech, the words of kindness, patience, grace, and respect have been missing from my vocabulary.  

I have been distracted by what man thinks is important to attain in this life.  How I dress, or look, or if I am liked has been on my mind, instead of asking "what would Jesus do"?  I suffered a time of turmoil, emotionally, due to the results of my neglect and laziness. But God used it as a chastening, well-timed discipline, to redirect my gaze to His face and to remember what is truly important. 

So I am taking stock of my life and finding those areas which need to be dealt with, and doing something about them.  As my teacher in my counseling course said:  "something can be changed today."  

My resolution is to "become in my day by day living what I am in Christ."  And to grab ahold of what really matters in this life with both hands, and not let go. 

Will you join me in treasuring what Christ treasures?  Will you come with me on this journey to becoming more holy, more pure, more Christ-like - in obedience, in faith, in conduct?Jesus calls us to come and die, but through our death to our selfish desires, to truly live.  He calls us to abide in Him, in the Vine.  To take and eat of His flesh and find life.  These are the things I must do in order to do what really matters for Eternity! 

"But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."   Colossians 3:8-12