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The Best Advice I Ever Got

Greetings All,

This week's thoughts come from a book entitled, "The Best Advice I Ever Got," a book of wit and wisdom for graduates, published by Zondervan.  I offer you just three of the many selections in the book. They are helpful and wise. I trust you will enjoy them!

1. "Humility is the mark of a true winner."    Coach Charlie Siesky

     "My coach was one of the winningest coaches in the history of Indiana track and field. It was the first meet of my sophomore year.  I had done well the previous season, but I knew I could accomplish more and trained rigorously to do so. When I finished in first place I pumped my fist in the air and raised my finger to signal my first victory. I was shocked, however, to see a picture of this in the local newspaper the next morning. Even though it hadn't been my intention, it looked as if I was signaling that I was number one.  That day is when coach Siesky offered his words of wisdom. He taught me, "humility is the mark of a true winner." 
     That season I went on to win all but four meets, I set and broke the city record twice and was named to the all-state team. My picture appeared in the newspaper five more times, but never again with my finger raised."
James Cullum --  Minister and Author

2. "It can't be sunshine all the time or the flowers wouldn't grow for lack of rain."   (Words to Francine Rivers from her mother.)
     "My mother wrote these words of wisdom to me in a letter during my college years when i was struggling. I was working part time and having difficulty completing my courses, and her timely encouragement gave me the fresh perspective and boost I needed. I've never forgotten those important words. They have carried me through many trials over the years. What I have learned is that there is no achievement without struggle. The Lord uses trials and trouble to draw us to him and to teach us to rely on his strength rather than our own. He develops our character and faith through all the difficulties of life on this earth."
Francine Rivers - Author 

3. "No one can be everything to another person."   (Unnamed church lady.)
     "When my daughter was born, I felt a huge amount of responsibility to be sure that I was able to give her everything she needed. I often felt discouraged and anxious sensing that I was unable to ensure her future success or even keep her as safe and well as I thought I should. Once, while I was murmuring and self-deprecating to a woman at my church, she interrupted me and said: "You can't be everything to your daughter or anyone else. Pray that God will bridge the gap between what you can give her and what she needs." Those words were a revelation and a relief to me.
     I've incorporated that principle into every area of my life. Before I begin a writing project, prepare for a speaking engagement, or deal with an issue with a friend or family member, I pray that God will bridge the gap between what I can give and what is needed. This does not mean that I ever do less than my very best, but it does allow me to accept my limitations and refocus my perspective onto God's vast resources. What I really love is when I realize that God is using me to bridge the gap for someone else." 
Nancy Rue - Author and Speaker

     God DOES call us to do things we cannot do.  That is what drives us in faith, and the reliance of a hope mixed with desperation, to seek Him who is faithful to fill the broad gap between our can't and His can.  For he is, as Paul says, "able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or think" (Eph. 3:20).  Were He never to ask us to do what cannot be done humanly speaking, we would never know the sufficiency of His power and grace to compensate for our human weakness. 
May the Lord encourage you in your walk this day.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff


Sexual Morality in a Christless World

Greetings All,

     This week's selection is about sex. Or more to the point, it's about the new views of sexual morality and how they vary from Christian sexual morality.  I copied and pasted it from a blog by Tim Challies.
     It's actually a critique of a book by Matthew Rueger entitled, "Sexual Morality in a Christless World."  Yet it offers to us some very helpful insights about the revolutionary nature of Christian sexual ethics in light of history, and I would add, the alarming rise of sexual violence, human sex trafficking of children and adults, and the type of environment that arises when people throw off all thoughts of sexual restraint.  I recommend both this blog entry by Challies as well as the book by Matthew Rueger. Enjoy.

Sexual Morality in a Christless World
Tim Challies

Times are changing. Sexual morality is undergoing nothing less than a revolution as traditional morality gives way to something radically different. The former morality, based on the Christian scriptures, is being shoved aside by a new one that not only departs from the Bible, but outright rejects it. Meanwhile, Christians who abide by those traditional sexual morals are increasingly seen as outcasts, backward people dangerously hung up on ancient, oppressive principles. It is all very disconcerting.
Into the fray steps Matthew Rueger with his book, "Sexual Morality in a Christless World."  Though the last few years have brought us no shortage of books on how to live on this side of the sexual revolution, Rueger offers something unique… he shows that Christian sexual morality has not always been traditional but was at one time its own revolution. In other words, Christians have been here before, and there is much we can learn from our own history… He offers a fascinating yet disturbing examination of what Roman culture considered good and normal. “Rome’s sexual climate is a model of the utopia for which today’s sexual ‘progressives’ are striving.”
     Yet it was hardly Utopian. He shows that “In the Roman mind, man was the conqueror who dominated on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom. He was strong, muscular, and hard – in both body and spirit. Society looked down on him only when he appeared weak or soft.” Respectable men were permitted to have sexual relations with just about anyone, provided they were the aggressors rather than receivers of such sexual acts.  Marriage existed, of course, but was not first about mutual love, but about the provision of an heir. A far purer form of love was the love of a man for a boy, so a culture of pederasty arose in which adult men carried on overt sexual relationships with adolescent boys. Prostitution was rampant. Rape was widespread and accepted, provided a man raped someone of a lower status. In so many ways Roman sexual morality was abhorrent and one of its most prominent features was the strong dominating the weak.
     And then Christians showed up. Christians began to teach that men were to be chaste, that homosexuality and pederasty were sinful, that men were to love and honor their wives, that wives and husbands had equal authority over one another’s bodies. Such teaching was not only seen as repressive, but as full-out destabilizing to the Roman system. No wonder, then, that the whole culture turned against Christians.  “Though Christian morality promoted genuine self-emptying love and was positive for society, it nonetheless set Christ’s people against the prevailing culture. Romans did not like being told that some of their favorite activities were displeasing to the Christian God, and they pushed back.”  And here is where we can draw important lessons for our day, for today, too, Christian sexual morality is seen as destabilizing to the culture around us, as a serious societal sin…
     Rueger also shows that Christian morality was almost as opposed to contemporary Judaism as it was to Rome. This was especially true in according equal rights to men and women, in protecting women from divorce, and in putting away notions of sexual purity that harmed women. Again, Christianity offered a sexual morality that was kind and equitable and that protected the weak and marginalized.
     With all of that context, he is able to show how these Christian teachings were full-out counter-cultural, how they were radical, not traditional. He shows how Christian sexual morality helped individuals, helped the marginalized, and helped society—it was a tremendous blessing to everyone.  Yet Christians suffered because their views were seen as destabilizing and harmful. Though today we see that their morality was actually a blessing, at that time it was considered a curse. And Christians suffered terribly for it...
     Rueger says “My desire in writing this book is to help Christians engage the world around them in reasoned discussion.” He does so very well. And his greatest contribution is helping us understand that this is not the first time that Christians have been at odds with the culture. This is not the first time the biblical understanding of sex and sexuality has caused the culture to turn on Christians, to consider them disloyal, to push them to the margins. For that reason we need books like this one to interpret the times and equip us for today and the days to come. I thoroughly enjoyed this work and highly recommend it."

     As I have repeatedly stated over the years (in light of studying history) -- our cultures sexual morals (or progressive eradication of them) is not a sign of progress, but the sign of a cultural regression which is taking us back to what existed before Christianity appeared on the scene some 2000 years ago.  And as those sexual morals are separated entirely from Christ, and Christianity, history will likely repeat itself and we will actually see more sexual violence toward women, more children put into the growing sex trade, and a continuing devaluation of the Christian virtue of committed and sacrificial love between a husband and a wife. And it will become harder and harder to police, because it will become more and more common, and more and more acceptable, and seen as less and less problematic to the societal conscience.
     As Jesus predicted for the latter days, "the love of most will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12).  And Paul restated that same truth when he said that people being "without love" (for anyone but themselves or money or pleasure - II Timothy 3:2-5) will be a sign of the approach of the last days.
     No predictions. I know better!  Just some earnest food for thought, Pastor Jeff


The Discipline of Grace

Greetings All!

Today's thought comes to you from Jerry Bridges and is found in his superb book, "The Discipline of Grace."
     What's the theme of the book?  How grace and the effort required to live a life of holiness are not incompatible. He shows how grace does not negate the need for effort, but actually empowers it and makes godly effort possible. Grace is not the need to do "nothing," but the God-implanted and God-sustained motivation and power to do what God would have us do! As Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:10 where he compares himself to the other apostles: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than the all, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me."  Grace, Paul assures us, empowers and sustains effort.  It is undeserved power and divinely given assistance that enables us to do what God wills. It's an unearned and undeserved inner urge, compulsion, strength, and assistance which comes from God and apart from which "we can do nothing" (John 15:5). 
     If you don't have a copy of this book, or have not read it, you have missed out on a real gem.  For he clears up what is for many the seemingly unsolvable paradox between grace and effort, usually caused by a wrong understanding of grace, or the place of grace in the process of our growth in godliness.  The following excerpt is only one step in that process which he elaborates on in the rest of the book. Enjoy.

Good Day Bad Day

     "Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness... are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness. Yet many believers do not understand what it means to live by grace in their daily lives, and they certainly don't understand the relationship of grace to personal discipline.
     Consider two radically different days in your own life. The first one is a good day for you spiritually. You get up promptly when your alarm goes off and you have a refreshing and profitable quiet time as read your Bible and pray... The second day is just the opposite. You don't get up when your alarm goes off. Instead, you shut it off and go back to sleep. When you finally awaken, it's too late to have quiet time. You hurriedly gulp down some breakfast and rush off to the days activities. You feel guilty about oversleeping and missing your quiet time, and things generally go wrong all day.  On the evening of both days you quite unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is really interested in receiving Christ as Savior. Would you enter those two witnessing opportunities with a different degree of confidence? Would you be less confident of the bad day than the good day? Would you find it difficult to believe that God would bless you and use you in the midst of a rather bad spiritual day?
     If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have lots of company among believers. I've described these two scenarios and asked audiences, "Would you respond differently?" Invariably about 80% indicate they would. They would be less confident of God's blessing while sharing Christ at the end of a bad day than they would after a good one. Is such thinking justified? Does God work that way? The answer to both questions is no, because God's blessing does not depend on our performance.  Why then do we think this way? It is because we believe that God's blessing on our lives is somehow conditioned on our spiritual performance. If we've performed well we assume we are in a position for God to bless us.  We know God's blessings come to us through Christ, but we also have this vague but very real notion that they are also conditioned on our behavior.  A friend used to think, "If I do certain things then I can get God to come through for me."  People who have a bad day tend to have no doubt in their minds that they have forfeited God's favor for a certain period of time, most likely until the next day... They think God would not use them to share the Gospel with someone on a "bad" day because, "they wouldn't be worthy." Such a reply reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: The thinking that although we are saved by grace, we earn of forfeit God's blessings in our daily lives by our performance.
     So what should we do when we've had a "bad" day spiritually, when it seems we've done everything wrong and are feeling guilty?  We must go back to the cross and see Jesus there bearing our sins in His own body (I Peter 2:24). We must by faith appropriate for ourselves the blood of Christ that will cleanse our guilty consciences (Hebrews 9:14).  We must remember that even when we have flagrantly and willfully sinned, Jesus bore the sins we've committed this day in His body on the cross. He suffered the punishment we deserve, so that we might experience the blessings He deserved.... I am not proposing a cavalier attitude toward sin. Rather, I am saying Christ is greater than our sin, even on our worst days. To experience that grace, however, I must lay hold of it by faith in Christ and His death on our behalf...
     Now let's go back to the "good" day scenario... Have you thereby earned God's blessing that day?  Will God be pleased to bless you because you've been good?  You are probably thinking, "Well, when you put it like that, the answer is no. But doesn't God work through clean vessels? To which I reply, "Let's assume that is true. How good do you have to be to be a clean vessel? How good is good enough?" ...
     Jesus said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind... and your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39)... Have you perfectly kept those two commands (even on your best day)? And if not, does God grade on a curve? Is 90% a passing grade with God? We know the answers to those questions, don't we? Jesus said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."  And James wrote, "Whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking it all" (James 2:10).
     The point of this good-day-bad-day scenario is this: Regardless of our performance, we are always dependent on God's grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath. Some days we may be more acutely conscious of our sinfulness and hence more aware of our need of His grace, but there is never a day when we can stand before Him on the two feet of our own performance and be worthy enough to deserve His blessing. At the same time, the good news of the Gospel is that God's grace is available even on our worst days. That is because Christ Jesus fully satisfied the claims of God's justice and fully paid the penalty of a broken law when he died on the cross in our place. Because of that the apostle could write, "He forgave all our sins" (Colossians 2:13).
     Does the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins mean that He no longer cares whether we obey or disobey? Not at all. (Ephesians 4:30, Colossians 1:10)   He cares about our behavior and will discipline us when we refuse to repent of conscious sin. But God is no longer our Judge. Through Christ He is now our heavenly Father who disciplines us only out of love and only for our good.  If God's blessings were dependent on our performance they would be meager indeed. For even our best works are shot through with sin -- with varying degrees of impure motives and lots of imperfect performance.
     So here is an important spiritual principle that sums up what I've said so far: Your worst days are never so BAD that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so GOOD that you are beyond the need of God's grace.  Every day of our Christian experience should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone. We are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day. This grace comes through Christ, "through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand"  (Romans 5:2)." 

     It's another way of stating the truth I frequently tell believers to make sure they don't get it backwards: "In Christ we work FROM grace, not FOR grace."  And believe me, that should be the cause of much thanks and praise!
     Blessings on your day, whether you happen to be having a bad one where you need God's grace, or a good one where you also need God's grace, Pastor Jeff


The Blessings of Marriage

Greetings All!

     Today I want to share a selection having to do with marriage -- though I must stress it's a helpful thought to consider whether one is married or not!  I do not know the title or publisher of the book I originally took it from years ago, though I did write down the author's name - Theodore Parker.
     I have used this quote numerous times at weddings and people have expressed their appreciation for it, and most all their complete agreement with it -- especially those who have been married for any length of time!  It is, in my humble opinion, worthy of your focused, thoughtful, and discerning consideration, since it contains much truth and wisdom. Enjoy.

“It takes years to marry two hearts completely, even of the most loving and tender type.  Every happy marriage is a long falling in love. Young people think love belongs only to the silken-haired and crimson-cheeked.  And it does in its beginnings.
But the golden marriage is a part of love about which the Bridal day knows nothing.  A mature and complete marriage, where wedlock is everything one could desire, where the ideal becomes actual, is not a common thing.  It is perhaps as rare as perfect personal beauty.
Men and women are married fractionally — a small fraction here, followed by a larger fraction there.  Very few are ever married totally, and those that are, only achieve it after some forty or fifty years of gradual growth, adjustment, perseverance and experimentation.

When a man and woman are successfully in love, their whole activity is energized and victorious.  They walk better, their metabolism improves, they think more clearly, their secret worries drop away, the world is fresh and interesting, and they can do more than they ever dreamed of doing.
In love of this kind, sexual intimacy in not the dead end of desire, as it is in purely romantic or promiscuous love. It is the periodic affirmation of inward delight in each other, and the crown of an active, intentional and well-lived life.  Knit together by the bonds of friendship and mutual affection, their love is as interesting as it is enduring — able to withstand the winds of adversity and change, bear hardships, build upon the mistakes of the past, and use them as opportunities for forgiveness and growth.”
     In a society which sees less and less reason for marriage (4 out of 10 thirty-and-under-people now see no need for it at all), this "thought" gives us a better insight into the blessings of marriage, how one should view it, and what it might take to improve it.
     The health of the family unit is key to the preservation of any civil society, and the health of marriages is key to the health of that family unit.  We must, therefore -- especially in a society like ours which is decidedly not "marriage-friendly" -- always be praying for those who have entered into this, "bond and covenant of marriage (which) was established by God in creation."  This relationship of committed love received Jesus' stamp of approval by, "His presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee."   After all, it's a way of life which, "signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and His Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people"  (from The Celebration of MarriageBook of Common Prayer).
May you be encouraged to persevere in this God-ordained relationship, and partake of the blessings God intended through it, Pastor Jeff