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Friday, April 29, 2016

The Object of My Faith...

According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions the word translated “heard” in Colossians 1:4 means “To be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf; to attend to, to understand, and to perceive the sense of what is being said.”  For some reason that word has really triggered a lot of attention in me as I continue my study in Colossians.  Not only have I questioned what people hear coming through the words I speak, the attitude I carry about with me and my life in general, I also realized this morning that I get very frustrated when those I converse with seem unable to “perceive the sense of what is being said.”

Am I alone in this, or do any of you find this as an annoyance in your own life as well?  I have had a few responses to the sharing of my heart and emotions with others concerning my wife’s current battle with her health that have left me shocked, angry and almost in tears due to the insensitivity of their response.  But I have also learned a few things along the way.  In fact, something I read yesterday caused me to overflow with emotional compassion when I put it into the context of these folk’s words.

In bringing up the point that Paul told the church in Colossae that Jesus and His Word are the truth, the author of my new commentary on the book of Colossians stated that when we put our trust in Jesus we experience life.  He went on to say that “faith is only as good as the object in which a person puts his (or her) trust.  The true Christian believer has faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith is based on the Word of Truth.  Any other kind of faith is but superstition—and it cannot save.”  (“Be Complete” by Dr. Warren Wiersbe – chapter 2)

I uttered a verbal gasp at that statement when the reality of how individuals who have no hope in Jesus (in any particular situation) and the truth of His Word must feel when faced with a desperate dilemma.  Without Jesus they have no foundation, no hope and absolutely nothing to look forward to except death and destruction!  HOW AWFUL!
It has looked obvious to me (through their words and corresponding actions) that the objects of some folk’s faith (whether they realize it or not…) is in something other than Jesus and His Word.  For if it was, I believe that they would discern the foundation of faith in the Word that is being spoken and acted upon and “Hear” what was being said and answer accordingly.
The other – maybe more important - lesson I’ve learned was when I looked at my own history and realized how many times I have responded the same way to another’s words as I missed their point and blabbered on with my own (most likely incorrect) interpretation to their needs… and now determine to never do that again!

So my thought for this weekend is the idea of taking a self-inventory of the various areas of your life… ie; home, work, church, finances, etc… and see to what object you have attached your faith to in each of those places.  You know… you might just be surprised!  Have a great weekend, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Am I expecting to find Jesus and His Word as the object in which I have attached my faith to in every area of my life?”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Extra! Extra! Read All About It...

I noticed as I was reading in the book of Colossians, that the Apostle Paul used the word “heard” four times in the first nine verses of chapter one.  Now I may not be a Bible scholar but it is fairly apparent that he was attempting to make a point to his readers through the repetition of that action.  The first thought that I pictured in my mind was that of the newsboys back at the turn of the century standing on the street corners of New York City crying out to the passerby’s: “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”  Those youngsters were calling out in a loud voice in order to be heard above every other noise that filled the city street.  They had news to tell and papers to sell!

That piece of history then got me to wonder what people hear when I speak, or when others talk about me.  When Paul described what he had heard about the Christians at Colossi, he spoke of their faith in Christ and love for the brethren (Colossians 1:4) and how it was based on their expectations in the Good News of Jesus Christ, of which he defined as “the message of truth.” (Colossians 1:5 God’s Word ©)  In answer to my own wondering, I sat back in my desk chair this morning and declared aloud that I hope the same is said about me as well!

Since I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on the book of Philippians, I went ahead and ordered his commentary on the book of Colossians.  Over the last ten or so years, Colossians has inched up to the top as my favorite book of the Bible.  In fact, I was reminiscing with my wife just yesterday about our first (and last) solo weeklong vacation that we took up in the beautiful mountain tops of the Sierra’s in northeast California, in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary almost eleven years ago.  One of the many highlights of that special time included my first in-depth study of the book of Colossians!  

Since it was just the two of us without the kids, we had lots of extra room in the trailer to pack many of my favorite Bible study tools!  And I still have fresh memories of sitting under the canopy of trees with a steaming cup of coffee, in the quiet of the camp during the early hours of the morning studying God’s Word before other campers in the park arose for the day!  I have a picture somewhere of both of us studying the Word one afternoon.  I wanted to make sure that I had evidence to prove to our kids that we actually did relax during that special trip… And YES!  I believe in Jesus name that we will get to repeat a similar vacation trip together again!

In his opening comments about Paul’s reasoning for writing this particular letter, Dr. Wiersbe made the statement in reference to the preeminence of Christ, that “What we believe determines how we behave.”  That instantly got me to raise my eyebrows in thought and mumble to myself “hummmm… that may just explain why different people have responded to Piper’s and my situation the ways that they did!”  It also forced me to look inside and ask myself “Is Jesus just a prominent part of my life… or is He preeminent?”

At that moment it was like most of the major decisions my wife and I ever made together flashed across my mind.  And I would have to admit that in most of those situations we always yielded first to our trust in the Lord and the truth of His Word.  So in that instant alone in our study, I had to laugh a bit at the tinge of condemnation that was trying its best to enter into my head!  For what I pictured was the words I heard my wife and I speaking when we were faced with big decisions and difficult times.  I was happy to see that the Word normally seemed to be the first thing uttered from our lips!

Maybe I am so sensitive to this because of the differing things we have heard from various folks when they’ve been in the same room as my wife in her candy-apple red wheelchair.  Many times it is what we have expected to hear… but sometimes it was not! (both from the positive and negative standpoint) 

When’s the last time that you stopped and listened to what you hear coming from your own mouth?  I thought the Message Bible paraphrase of Colossians 1:5 was spot on when describing what Paul heard about the people in the church at Colossi of whom he had never set eyes on.  He said that “The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future hope in heaven, kept taut by (your) hope or expectations” in the preeminence of Christ.  I think that each of us can easily tell to what our expectations are tied to by the words that we speak… especially when the decisions of life come upon us.  What news would the newsboys standing on the street corners in your city be crying out about you today?

Have a great rest of the week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “What words am I expecting to let others hear from me today?”

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Importance of Joy!

With a tinge of disappointment, I wrapped up my current study on the Biblical book of Philippians over the weekend.  But as I turned toward the book of Colossians this morning, I just had a feeling that I wasn’t quite done yet!  So I flipped back through my notes over the last few weeks and reviewed the highpoints that I had come to experience in this exciting letter written a few thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul.

My recent journey through the book of Philippians had actually begun last month when I came to the end of a personal study of it and was meditating on some final thoughts concerning the idea of “Being Joyful.”  Then with that phrase in mind, I did a search on the internet using those two key words and low and behold, I came across Dr. Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” Bible commentary series.  As it turned out, his commentary on Philippians was entitled “Be Joyful.”  That caught my interest and I purchased a Kindle version of it, which meant I had instant access to its contents and immediately began another exploration into what I like to refer to as the “Joyful Book of the New Testament.”

As I contemplated on all that this morning, I realized that I have just about always been what some might consider being a joyful person.  Without a doubt, I take after my Mother on that behalf.  She once told me that I took after my Grandfather with his easy going, always positive and joyful personality.  So whatever the reason, I normally find myself looking for a joyful answer to whatever is on the path I walk each day.

And I guess that is why I like the book of Philippians so much.  Paul seemed to have the same attitude and wanted to pass it on to the readers of his letter.  He insinuated that it was an important key to a successful Christian walk.  He talked about the four foundations of our minds that will produce a joyful attitude and lifestyle in the midst of any situation.  These were a “single mind,” a “submissive mind,” a “spiritual mind,” and a “secure mind.”  A mind that is focused and yielded to God and the truth of His Word is one that cannot be moved when we find ourselves in the potential grasp of a downward spiral in life.

I have personally come to understand that my joy cannot be based on what I see with my natural eyes, but has to be founded on my increasingly intimate relationship with Jesus and my overwhelming expectations in His Word!  My inwardly based joy has been the constant in keeping my head above water in the current journey that my wife and I are walking in regard to the attack on her health.

I’ve been unpacking, going through and organizing the pile of boxes in our guest room over the last week.  In doing so I have come across A LOT of pictures of family events through the years.  And while it has been a time of sweet memories, it has also been a difficult experience as I repeatedly come upon photographs capturing the joy, laughter, energy, smiles, sensitivity to the things of God and the overall “spunk” that has always marked the personality of my wife.  For me it has been a time of laughter, lots of smiles at the evoking of the memories and an experience of personal tears.

But it has also served to renew my expectations in God and the truth of His Word in having the final say-so with her current situation.  In her abnormal quiet state today, I sometimes find myself questioning her feelings toward me, but when I see the pictures of her laughing at something I did or said to capture the look in the picture, or the mischievousness in her eyes when see stood in the ice-cold Sierra creek on one vacation in 1998 surrounded by our two youngest kids, I couldn’t help but be assured of the real Piper that still thrives inside her and of the love, compassion and joyful zeal for life that just seems to be temporarily covered up by the symptoms of this disease.  (It’s funny that our youngest daughter immediately replied back in reference to the copy of that photo I text to her on Saturday with great laughter and total recall to my wife’s words and funny antics following the taking of that picture!)

I also realized that my joy not only affects me, but those around me.  I understood at that moment, once again, that I have an important responsibility to keep the joy levels high in the atmosphere of our home… not only for me, but maybe more importantly for my wife’s personal fight toward God’s promise of total recovery. (Mark 16:18)  So, as you can see, I have come to understand Paul’s lesson on Joy as being one of the most important tools in the Christian’s tool belt for personal success in life, as well as in sharing the gospel to our world.  After all, it is called the Good News isn’t it?  If so, then maybe we need to inform our faces and put on a joyful countenance for others to see… and experience personally!

Have a great week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Am I expecting to be JOYFUL today?”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Second Nature

I’ve noticed that the more I use our new riding lawn mower, the more comfortable and familiar I am becoming to the ins and outs of its operation.  I will admit that I was a little nervous the first time I took it out to mow the front lawn.  I just knew that all the neighbors would be pulling out their binoculars to watch the “City Slicker” mow his country lawn… kinda like the old TV hit “Green Acres!”  

Unbeknownst to them, I was actually fairly knowledgeable about riding mowers as I had sold them for three years in the Garden Department when I worked at The Home Depot.  I had also driven them on numerous occasions as we moved them back and forth from the front apron of the store each morning and evening… But, even though I had a part-time lawn care business for years, I had never mowed a lawn with one.  All the accounts I had were for residential homes where using a riding mower would be impractical. 

So, the first few times I mowed took a lot longer than when I mowed them last week.  I found that I had to use much more concentration around the corners of the yard and garden while I figured out how to reverse the machine, turn the blades control on and off and raising and lowering the deck.  The mower has many safety overrides built in so that some of the procedures take multiple steps pulling and releasing different levers and pushing various buttons so as to prevent the engine from turning off.

Let’s just say that there were more than a few times when I could feel my face turning red when I got stuck in a corner and wasn’t real sure what to do.  Since you’re dealing with a good amount of power, you also have to be aware that a wrong move could end up with you inadvertently plowing into and knocking down a fence, tree or play structure!
The last time I mowed the back though, I was beginning to feel like a pro as I found myself responding to the different controls without much forethought… It seems the operation of the mower is finally becoming like second nature to me.

That same kind of thinking has been coming to my mind as I have been studying the book of Philippians.  The scriptures around chapter four verse 13 where Paul declares that he “can do everything through Christ who strengthens me” directs us to a Christian lifestyle that should characterize our daily routines.  Paul seems to be pointing out that the Christian can live life with a mind that is securely founded on the resources of heaven enough so, that they are independent of situations and circumstances as well as going far beyond their own individual resources, talents, abilities or income.

The author of my commentary wrote that as Christians, we have all the power we need within us to be adequate for the demands of life, and that we only need to release this power through faith.  I think that is where my analogy of the riding mower comes into play.  As with my experiences with the mower, the usage of my faith has also needed lots of practice so that my reactions to life’s dramas come as second nature to me.

I am beginning to think that this may be one of the reasons that some folks have responded the way they have toward us in our journey of faith with my wife’s health.  I was counting off all the major changes that Piper and I have weathered over the 45+ years of our relationship together and was a bit amazed at just how many there were!  Each of those experiences were opportunities which we attempted to conquer through our faith in God and His Word.  Most times we were successful but sometimes our results were less than stellar!  

But each of those events were practice for the next one, and each time it got a little easier or… a little more second nature to us to respond with stronger faith and expectation than the time before.  I have heard the question asked if we are thermometers or thermostats.  Are we of those who simply go up and down with the temperature and only reflect what is going on around us, or are we like a thermostat that controls the environment where we are?

I believe that Paul is telling us that with Christ inside, we can be thermostats that control the ups and downs of what life throws at us!  It just takes a continual communion with the Father with lots of practice letting go of our limited resources and yielding our lives and our situations to Him and His abounding, ever-increasing and many times miraculous resources.
So go out there and have a great weekend!  See yourself as the victor and not the victim of your circumstances, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Whose resources am I expecting to be second nature to me today?”