November 17, 2018

The Holidays

The anchor us just about ready to lift. The sails are soon to unfurl. And many of us have already begun moving about the deck, preparing to embark on that annual voyage we call ‘the holidays.’ But before the ship departs the harbor, how about some wisdom from God’s word to tuck into our hip pockets, and take with us on the journey? Here are a few portions of scripture, and some thoughts upon them, that I think could be helpful over the next few weeks:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). The holidays sometimes come with some peculiar challenges. One of them, for some of us, is the reality that our shoulders, during the holidays, are often in much closer proximity to family with whom the rubbing of shoulders (sad to say) comes with a good deal more friction than is comfortable. Some of it is perhaps our own faults, to be frank. And sometimes the provocation is largely coming at us. Often it’s both. But in any case, you must “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” And that means you must not be one of the cantankerous ones at the family gatherings. And it means that you must not respond to the cantankerous ones by bickering, or withdrawing, or silently fuming, or talking about them behind their backs. Be a peacemaker this holiday season.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). These next few weeks are going to bring some of us into proximity, not only with people who rub us the wrong way (or vice versa!), but also with people who need Jesus. Some of these lost people will be one and the same with the people with whom we have difficult relationships (all the more reason to “be at peace” with them!). Others will be those who are quite easy to get along with … but still lost. But, in any case, they all need the Savior! And, if you know the Savior, you may have opportunity to speak to them a “good … word” (2 Thess. 2:16-17) about Him. And you will likely have opportunity to do for them a “good work” that represents Him well. And, as you think about those opportunities, know that I have prayed 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 for those who read this article. Go out, now, strenghtened by the Lord, and do “every good work and word”!

“The LORD is near to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18). For some of us, the holidays not only come with the challenge to “be at peace with”, and be a witness to, folks who are present … but with heartache over those who are not. For some of us, the holidays draw extra attention to the fact that someone is missing from the table. Usually it’s someone who used to be with us, but no longer is, for one reason or another. And sometimes, since we tend to think of the holidays as times to be with family, there may be a quiet grief over family members that God never granted; over a spouse or children who never materialized. But if you are the Lord’s, and if you grieve this season over someone who is not at the table with you, know that God is with you; that He “is near to the broken-hearted”. Rest in His nearness, dear friend … during the holidays, and always.

Every blessing to you all this coming holiday season,

November 9, 2018

Love and Feasting

"Better is a dish of vegetables where love is
Than a fattened ox served with hatred."
Proverbs 15:17

"Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
Than a house full of feasting with strife."
Proverbs 17:1

We are entering the season of the “fattened ox” and the “house full of feasting”, are we not? And I, for one, am glad of it! God’s bounty to us – both temporal and spiritual – is grand reason for us to engage in the art of the shindig; for us to say, with the father in Jesus’ story, “bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate”. And so Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting are entirely appropriate and wonderful! And I like a good meal any other day, too!

And yet let us carefully observe the wise words of Solomon in the two texts quoted above.

Now, these words certainly apply to everyday life. It is better to be a family whose resources are pretty slender; whose everyday fare is along the lines of dry cornbread or simple veggie plates – but who genuinely loves and lives at peace with one another – than to be a family whose pantries, refrigerators, and tables are constantly bursting with scrumptious fare, but who are often at each other’s throats! Better a poor, but happy, home … than a rich, but tense, one! Take that to heart … and make life-decisions accordingly.

But let’s also apply Solomon’s wisdom on a micro level. Let’s apply it to the holiday gatherings with family and friends that many of us are soon to (theoretically) enjoy. I think it’s not a stretch to say that the air, at many family get-togethers, can sometimes have some tension (or at least potential tension) lingering in it. Maybe there are great worldview divides between believers and unbelievers. Maybe there are hurts, or disagreements, or bitterness that are often set to one side, but have never actually been buried. Maybe your family tends to just be a little pushy, or irritable, or cantankerous. Maybe sometimes there are just ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, as the saying goes.

Sometimes these things boil completely over. And sometimes they simmer, fairly palpably, just below the surface. And thus our holiday gatherings, which ought to be celebrations of God’s goodness, and which ought to be filled with enjoyment both of one another and of God’s blessings, can sometimes degenerate into being uncomfortable at best, or downright ugly and/or painful at worst. Sometimes there is “feasting with strife” or even “with hatred”. Because, while the “fattened ox” (or turkey) is on the table; and while the “house” is “full of feasting”, it is not full of love. And thus, some financially struggling family somewhere – scraping together a meal that hardly looks like what we expect out of Thanksgiving Dinner, but genuinely showing love toward one another – is better off than our well-fed, but squabbling or bitter, clans!

So what should we do about it? How do we apply Solomon’s wisdom this holiday season? Well, I don’t think he’d have us just serve dried cornbread or a plate of greens for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner! For, save that it might keep you from having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, this wouldn’t actually address the other problems (and even the ‘too many cooks’ problem, when it leads to strife, is deeper than just logistics). No, Solomon is not saying that feasting is bad, or that it is the cause of our family strife. He’s saying that feasting is less important than love; or, to put it positively, that love is more important than feasting – so much so that the family who can’t afford to feast, but who genuinely loves one another, is better off than the bickering family who has the fancy meals.

So how do we make application? Don’t cancel the feasting … but give a great deal more thought and effort to love! Think (and pray!), ahead of time, about situations and people and subjects that you know could be tense. Ask God’s great grace to truly love your family and friends when things are tense. And then choose, in the moment, to do so.  Choose, in the moment, to love!  Choose not to retaliate or to simmer, but to forgive.  Choose not to vent your frustrations.  Choose, if you must say something that will be difficult for others to hear, to do so gently, patiently, and (where possible) discreetly.  And make sure that it's really something that truly needs saying.  Choose to love!  For wouldn’t it be wonderful, this holiday season, if the love was even more memorable than the feasting!

November 2, 2018

Babies!

PRBC is blessed with babies! Praise God for another one born today! And praise God for how He offers us spiritual instruction through them. Consider …

Babies remind us that we “must be born again” (John 3:7). “Unless one is born again” said Jesus in John 3:3; unless one is granted new spiritual life, in other words, “he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Birth is a metaphor for the new life that men, women, girls, and boys so desperately need! And so, when a baby is born, let us remember the new birth as well … and long that this child, and we ourselves (if we are not yet saved), and those around us, and those at “all the ends of the earth” might experience it!

“Newborn babies” remind us to “long for the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2). Babies “long for” milk, Peter says. Have you observed it? The opening of their tiny mouths, and the turning of their heads, and the looking for some place to latch on? We ought to be like that, says Peter, when it comes to “the milk of the word”! And so, when we see “newborn babies” longing for milk, let us remember that such ought to be our longing for the Scriptures!

Babies remind us of the Baby. Jesus was once a baby, too, wasn’t He? Jesus, too, grew inside His mother’s womb. Jesus, too, had those little bitty hands and feet; and laid, newborn, in his mother’s arms; and had His first drink of His mother’s milk. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14)! The second person of the Holy Trinity became one of us! The “I am” became a human! And so, when we hold a tiny little human in our arms, or see him or her in momma or daddy’s arms, let us remember the Baby; let us remember that God Himself became one of us! And then let us remember, too, the saving purpose for His doing so!

Oh, let us thank God for the babies among us! And let us glean the instruction that God offers to us through them!


_______

P.S. The baby pictured is not the one born today, but my Lisi (2011), sporting an Ole Miss Rebels onesie!

October 12, 2018

The Mature Coloring of Autumn

I love the fall – the cooling of the weather, the hot apple cider, the pumpkins and dried corn, college football. Autumn is surely my favorite of the four seasons. And, of course, one of the great gifts of the fall is the changing of the leaves. What a stunning work of God’s artistry are the various hues that He draws from His palette every fall! And what a blessing that He grants the leaves this flourish of beauty in the final stage of their lives.

Perhaps there is a God-given parable built into that last reality. Perhaps we should be reminded, by the changed (yet gorgeous!) autumn leaves, that a similar beauty is meant for us in what has been called ‘the autumn of life’.

It’s not original with me to say that human life has its seasons – the spring of youth, when we grow and blossom; the summer of prime adulthood, when we produce fruit and get a lot work done; the autumn of older age, when certain things begin to slow down, and yet there is still produce to be gathered; and the winter of death.

And isn’t it interesting that the leaves, in the autumn of their lives, are given a flourish of beautiful color? Yes, they have lost some of the strength of spring and summer. But they are also granted a striking splendor in this final season of life!

The autumn of the life of faith can (and should) be much the same. Yes, as we draw near to winter, we are not quite the same as we were in the spring and summer of life. The energy of spring is no more. Some of the productivity of summer is just not possible any longer. But, if we are walking with the Lord, a beautiful autumn hue will also be growing upon our lives – the mature fall coloring of greater patience, a more fully-developed eternal perspective, and an increased dependence upon God in prayer.

Don’t you find these things attractive in mature older saints? Would, of course, that we all would seek much more of them earlier on, as well! But growth in grace is progressive and, as with the leaves, some of its warmest coloring appears later in life.

So whether you are living in the spring, summer, or autumn of life – take a parable from the changing of the leaves this fall. When you notice their changed, yet stunning, appearance, ask God to make you beautiful in your older age, as well; to grant you the autumn hue of increased Christian maturity. Don’t wait, of course, until older age to seek or expect growth in the graces that are sometimes peculiarly attractive in that season of life. But ask Him that in older age, you will indeed be colored with the maturity of autumn.

October 5, 2018

"Speaking the truth in love"

This is one of the ways in which we who are in Christ are to help one another become more like Christ: “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the Head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). We are to be “speaking the truth in love” to our fellow believers, in other words, so as to help one another “grow”.

And notice two aspects of this calling:

  • we are to engage in “speaking the truth”
  • and we are to do so “in love”

Now, none of us is immune to failure on either of these counts. And so I suppose that all of us sometimes fail at “speaking the truth” when we ought to; and that each of us also fails, at other times, to do so “in love”.

But I also reckon that, by nature, some of us find one aspect of this calling – or the other – more difficult.

Some Christians have the greatest trouble with the “speaking the truth” part. Maybe you are one of them. You are naturally timid. And thus you often find yourself so afraid of difficult or awkward conversations that you pull back from saying things that need to be said. Maybe you are sometimes afraid to address backsliding or sin in a fellow believer’s life. Or perhaps you are prone to shrink from correcting a fellow saint on some faulty way of thinking (v.14) which they are in danger of imbibing.

Other Christians struggle more mightily with the “in love” aspect of the calling. Perhaps you fit into this category. You are fairly assertive by natural disposition. And so, when something needs to be said, you are often quite ready to say it. Perhaps you don’t mind confronting sin, or correcting off-base theology, or tracking down a backslider. And yet you may sometimes be harsh in the way you do so.

But here’s the thing: No matter your natural disposition, you are still called, very plainly, to the task of “speaking the truth in love”! And so am I! A timid disposition doesn’t give us a free pass from “speaking the truth”; and neither is natural assertiveness an excuse for failing to do so “in love”.

And let us note that either sort of failure is a failure to love. We either fail to love by not “speaking the truth” that our brothers and sisters need for spiritual growth, or by speaking it in an unloving way!

Let us not fail one another in these ways, brothers and sisters! Let us, rather, live our lives “speaking the truth in love”.