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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Purposeful Acts of Sacrifice, Mercy, Compassion And Goodness

It is not knew to assert that I don't believe in New Year Resolutions. I have written elsewhere why. I do believe in goals and principles we ought to practice daily. Lately I've thinking about a motto I want to start using. I initially shared this with my students after we were discussing random acts of kindness. I told them how I don't like the "random" part and wasn't too satisfied with just kindness. So it lead to what I'd like to share. As I often state, what I write is from a Christian's perspective. It is seen through the lens of what I know in Scripture. So here is what I propose to do this coming year.

  With God's help I want to do purposeful acts of sacrifice, mercy, compassion and goodness. All of these are rooted in The Gospel and the end result is to share The Gospel through our lives. As we live our lives as God's letter (2 Corinthian 3:2-3) we demonstrate these qualities. They distinguish us as believers. Let me explain each of the elements.

 They are purposeful acts. They are done with a conscientious intent. They are not random. God's acts are purposeful, not arbitrary (see Ephesians 3:11). They are according to his good intentions and Divine plan. Our salvation was purposeful (2 Timothy 1:9). It didn't come from us. We join him in this plan when we intentionally live our lives for Him (Ephesians 2:10).

 Acts of Sacrifice - The Son's Sacrifice. This is a rare virtue for us who live in a country where we have everything. Little do we sacrifice. And yet, as Christians we understand what this is because the ultimate sacrifice was Christ who died on the cross for us. God became a man, suffered under sinful men, and willingly laid down his life for us (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Timothy 2:5; Matthew 20:18-19). It is through his (purposeful) sacrifice that we are saved when we trust in Him by faith (1 Peter 1:18). His sacrifice is the ultimate example for us to follow. In fact, Jesus said that laying our lives for others is the ultimate act of love (John 15:13). Just like He did.

  Acts of Mercy - Messiah's Mercy (or God's Mercy). God is a merciful God (Micah 7:18). Jesus showed us what mercy looks like. The Gospels show us Messiah's mercy. He often healed as an act of mercy. Mercy is an act that is rooted in the understanding of the sinful human condition and acting to favor others in a tangible way in spite of this. Many of the religious leaders of His time didn't practice mercy even though it wasn't a foreign concept to them. It was something commanded to them in the Old Testament: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 2:8)
Jesus not only demonstrated acts of mercy but called his followers to be merciful even with those who are our "enemies" or those who do evil things against us (Luke 6:27-36).
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7)
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

We can start by praying for mercy ourselves. Here is a prayer by St. Jerome:
Oh Lord, show your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded, and left for dead: O Good Samaritan, come to my aid. I am like the sheep that went astray: O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and praise you forever and ever.

Acts of Compassion - Christ's Compassion (or God's Compassion). Compassion is the understanding and empathy of people's conditions and needs. It is an internal feeling that should motivate us to do acts of mercy. Both mercy and compassion go together but are not necessarily always connected (see mercy above). I can do an act of mercy without really having compassion (e.g. I can show mercy to someone that does evil things against me without having compassion). I can have compassion and not do an act of mercy.

God is a compassionate Father:
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. 15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— 18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:13-18 - NIV)

Jesus's shows us the example of both compassion and mercy (Matthew 20:29-34). We should strive to have both. Jesus was often moved with compassion and acted mercifully. Here is a sermon on Christ's compassion by the Prince of Preachers.

Christ compassion is summarized well in these verses:
"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35-36)

Acts of Goodness - God's Goodness.
One of God's attributes is his goodness:
"Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever." (Psalm 107:1-NIV)

God defines what is intrinsically good not us. If we define what is good then it becomes subjective and an act viewed evil by one can be viewed good by another. We do good things which God calls good. We are incapable of doing good acts without his help (though I can say that there is relative goodness in everyone, traces left of God's image but even this comes from Him).

God is the only one is Good in the ultimate sense of the word:
"No one is good but One, that is,God." (Matthew 19:17)

Everything we have comes from God:
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17)
"“There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better. ‘He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a super-added quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him’ (Thos. Manton). God is summum bonum, the highest good.” "(A.W. Pink)

Acts of Goodness summarizes all of the other three. All four of these lead again to The Gospel. The goal is for other to see the embodiment of The Good News, that is, that God has sent us a Savior to rescue us from our sins of which we are witnesses. And Rejecting Christ's mercy will lead to a tragic end.

Let us do purposeful acts of sacrifice, mercy, compassion and goodness!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Student's Prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things
correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent
of being exact in my explanations
and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.

I ask this through Christ our Lord.

Unspoken Prayer of A Confederate Soldier

This prayer was found on the body of a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. A great prayer to keep close in 2012.

Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier, aka The Creed for the Disabled

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Love Your Wife

My wife and I have been married for over 20 years now. Wow! It hasn't been easy. There have been times when we really thought we wouldn't make it. So you say, maybe we needed to go to more conferences, counseling or read more books.  For the record, we had 24 sessions of premarital counseling at our church (how we got this is a longer story), read many books, attended many conferences on marriage and have heard countless sermons.  Have they helped? I always say "No" when first asked but I will be a bit more reasonable and say "maybe a little."  

So what makes write a post about loving my wife? For some time now I have been thinking that I don't need more books or more conferences to learn how to love my wife. I get dirty looks when I say this out loud.  Looks that say, "You think you know everything already? You are so proud!" None of this new! I get this all the time anyway.  And the stuff that is presented in books or conferences is not new either.  They all repeat the same stuff I have heard for over 20 years.  It's all reshuffled material. 

So you say, "What's the answer Mr. Know It All? How do you love your wife?" The answer is simple. The doing part is the hard part. If you have been a Christian for some time then you should know the answer. It's in the Bible! I hear voices, "Oh, that's a cop out! You are using the Bible."  Think about it. Shouldn't we focus on the what God says about how to love our wives? Yes, we should learn from other couples. And I am not saying that there is no value in marriage counseling, books, conferences, etc. I do believe some people need them. I think it should be mandatory for some. But let me get to the point.

The answer is found in the book of Ephesians. Chapter 5 verses 25-33. I am convinced that if we do this then our marriage will survive everything. It starts with husbands. I'm not going to even dare talk about the S word found in the previous verses (submission). Men should not focus there. Our focus should be on loving our wives. 

Here is what the Bible says about loving our wives: 
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (verse 28, NIV)

We need to love our wife AS (in the same manner) Christ loved (past tense) the church.  It is a reference to his sacrifice. Christ died for his Church. He gave his life to save her from her sins and make her holy. We need to love our wife the same way. Sacrificial love. As I read this passage and often pray about it God seems to be saying "Love your wife as Christ love his Church which includes you, yes you, Edgar! Period. Don't make excuses" 

Then verse 28 says, "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church" It is repeated in verse 33: "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself."

Just this week I was reading this again and it just hit me. These verses speak about the how part.  We need to love our wife AS we love our bodies. I hear some men saying "Yeah, look at my body!" Well, you still feed it, perhaps too much. The fact is, that we do take care of our own bodies or else we wouldn't be alive.  We love ourselves.  Love your wife in the same manner.

So men, might say, "What about if I do all that, and my wife takes advantage of it? What about my wife's role, doesn't she has to her part?" Think about how Christ loved the church, yes that's you! Do you do everything He commands you to do? Do you honor him the way he ought to be honored? 

"Well, does this mean that I never say anything to her even when she is wrong?" No. Look at Christ. Does He not tell us what we do wrong? Yet, He still loves us.

"It's impossible to do this! Christ was God and I am not!" You are right. It's impossible for you in your strength. Yes, you are right! You are not God. Yet the Bible says in Ephesians 3:17 that you can let Christ dwell in your heart through faith.  You can't do anything He commands you without being in Him (John 15:5).

When you are having problems in your marriage ask yourself, "Am I loving my wife as Christ loved the Church? Am I loving my wife as I love my own body?" If you answer is "No," then you know where the problem lies.

I know where mine is. I'm still working on it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Of Hugo, Clocks and The Purpose of Life

Recently I saw the movie Hugo which is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  The plot centers around a twelve year old boy named Hugo who is a clock keeper.  His job is to make sure they are maintained and fixed when they are broken. He is also on a mission to find parts to repair an automaton because he is certain that once it is fixed it will write a message from his father who has died in an accident when he was much younger.  In the process he runs into a mysterious man who owns a toy shop.  As the book progresses Hugo discovers this man has something to do with the automaton. In the end Hugo helps George Melies discover the purpose he had lost and at the same time Hugo discovers his purpose in life.

This movie and book made me think about the purpose of life.  For Hugo, the world is like a clock. He says,
""Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I'm not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city. I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need.  So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason, too."" p.378

And he also says, "If you lose your purpose...it's like you're broken." p. 374

An analogy helps us understand spiritual truth and I believe the analogy of the clock helps us understand about our purpose. We are like a broken clock.  We are broken because of sin. The Bible is clear that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We can't function the way we were meant to by The Great Clockmaker.  Thus, we have lost our purpose.  We try to find our purpose with so many things, but in the end we find no satisfaction.  We need to be fixed.  The only one that can do it is The Great Clockmaker. He made us and knows exactly how we are meant to work.  He can put all the parts together and make us find the meaning and purpose of our life.

During Christmas we celebrate the advent of the Savior. The Savior, God with Us (Immanuel) born from a virgin, who came as a human to die on our behalf and free us from sin:
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:21-22-NIV). 

He came to restore what was broken, the broken clock. Unlike Hugo, who wasn't sure why existed, Jesus knew his purpose:  

"He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:32-NIV)

He was born as a baby. Died on our behalf. Rose from the dead. He is alive! He wants to fix you, if you let Him. He will put the parts where they belong and give you the meaning for which you were created.  But this is only the beginning.  One day He will perfect you and make you as Himself (1 John 3:2-3).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

When God Is Not Enough

Yesterday I posted about 1 Samuel 7 where Israel calls on Samuel because they want to follow God. They repent and get rid of their idols and serve the Lord. You would think this would last but the next chapter is a disappointment. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel takes a turn the wrong way.  The leaders of Israel ask Samuel, who is now old and can no longer do all he used to do (and his children did not follow his steps-which often happens with good leaders, but it is a topic all of its own), to appoint a king for them like the other nations. You say, "What's the problem with that?" The problem is that they didn't need a king, they already had one: God!  In their asking they were essentially saying that God wasn't enough. Here is God's answer: 

"And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (NIV)

Samuel goes on to tell them what they will experience with a king and this in no way changes their minds. So God gives them their desire and get they get Saul who ends being a king who follows his own heart and not the heart of God.  

Every time I read this passage I think how foolish Israel was in this.  But then today I thought how often I think God is not enough for me.  For a while, God was not enough for me because he didn't answer my prayers the way I wanted. I questioned Him and walked away from Him. Slowly, God began to show me that He is enough for me. He is all I need!

Young people many times don't think God is not enough and decide that a girlfriend or boyfriend is better. Or sex. Or drugs. Or having fun. God is just not cool enough!

Adults think God is not enough and think that money, work, a career, children, traveling, having fun, fulfilling your "bucket" list are better pursuits.

Christians think God is not enough and think that their favorite preacher, books, churches and endless activities are a substitute for Him (and this is very subtle).

People in old age think God is not enough and think that doing their favorite activity, charity or just enjoying their retirement is more fulfilling.

In doing this God tells us: "You have rejected me as your king."  

God reminds us that He is enough.  Anything else is an idol (1 John 5:21)

Monday, December 05, 2011

What It Means To Follow The Lord: Three Simple Steps

In a society like ours, it is easy to get confused with the amount of information available to us. We can drown in it.  When it comes to Christianity, the same can be true.  People try to explain what it means to be a Christian depending on their denominational bent, theological bent, and a bunch of other "bents."

Then there's the Bible. You come to passages like 1 Samuel chapter 7.  Read verses 3-4:

"Then all the people of Israel turned back to the LORD. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only." (NIV)

The people of Israel want to come back to the Lord.  Samuel who has been silent for 20 years, tells them what to do if they want to "turn back to the Lord."  

First,  he tells them to repent.  Repentance is to turn away from those things that are sinful, to get rid of them. It has to be from the heart.  You can't repent and hold on to what's keeping you from God.  You have to let it go, get rid of it.  God wants all of you. You can never serve two masters because you can only love one (Luke 16:13).

Second, he tells them commit themselves to God. To commit to God means you deliberately make him Lord of your life.  The ESV says, "direct your heart to the Lord."  That's exactly what it means to commit to Him.  It means that your heart is directed at Him all the time. Your focus and energy are directed at Him. It means you align your heart to his heart (a man or woman after God's own heart - see Acts 13:22). A person who does everything God commands.

Third, he tells them to serve Him, only Him.  Everything you do must be for his glory (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). Some Christians misunderstand what it means to serve God.  They think they have to go to church a certain amount of times, be involved in it's activities as proof that they serve God.  Although, those are ways to serve, they are not exclusive.  For a Christian, there isn't a secular vs. sacred dichotomy. In other words, everything belongs to God, every aspect of our life and as such we either give Him glory with it or not.

These three things make up what it is to live for God.  This is the Gospel.  When we hear the Good News that Jesus died for our sins, we repent, commit ourselves to God and serve Him (we become his "doulos," slaves or servants).

We will not be perfect doing these three things but we don't make excuses. When we fail, we repent, commit ourselves to Him and serve Him. That's it! Simple!

The results? He can only bless you, even more!