Saturday, February 25, 2017

Don't Be A Hypocrite

Well, if you saw me driving around town last week I guess you would have known the serpentine belt on my van’s engine was making so much noise I doubt I could have snuck up on a Rolling Stones concert without being noticed. The normally quiet, soccer-mom/covered wagon/truck/bus/taxi I drive, was screaming at the top of its lungs begging for a belt change. I didn’t want to do any mechanic work in the foul weather so tried to mask the inevitable by applying a “belt dressing” in an attempt to become incognito on the streets once again. As an experienced mechanic of thirty plus years I knew this wasn’t going to make the problem go away, only soothe the hurt with some salve to stop the screaming, but the old man in me said, “You don’t have time to fix it right now. Go ahead and try it. Maybe it will give you a few days reprieve before having to tackle the job.”  I showered the belt with the sticky goo from the can and “ta-da” - no more noise - for three miles! Two more applications netted the same results and one more app would certify me as insane, so I stopped at the parts store and bought a new belt. Thirty minutes of wrestling on the “crossways” engine got it installed and now my neighbors are happy.

[Matthew 23:13-15] “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to ...You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Hypocrisy is an unpleasant word. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be what he is not, or one who pretends to be better than he really is, or wishes to be seen as virtuous without really being so. Thayer defines hypocrisy as “the acting of a stage player.” Strong defines the same word as “acting under a feigned part, i.e.: deceit.” The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as “the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more laudable beliefs than is the case.” Does this definition define anyone that came in contact with Jesus? It is the scribes and Pharisees. And Jesus talks directly to them and tells them their hypocritical behavior in Matthew 23:13-36. Jesus is using their behavior as a warning to others and even us. Do not be like the scribes and the Pharisees. Why? Because they are hypocrites. So, how about us today? Our outward appearance and our inner character must match. In this regard, the poem, The Praying Hypocrite by Whitney Montgomery, will help us: I knelt to pray when day was done, And prayed, “O Lord bless everyone; Lift from each saddened heart the pain, And let the sick be well again.” And then I woke another day, And carelessly went on my way; The whole day long I did not try, To wipe a tear from any eye. I did not try to share the load, Of any brother on the road; I did not even go to see, The sick man just next door to me. Yet once again when day was done, I prayed, “O Lord, bless everyone.” But as I prayed, into my ear, There came a voice that whispered clear, “Pause now, my son, before you pray; Whom have you tried to bless today? God’s sweetest blessings always go, By hands that serve Him here below.” And then I hid my face and cried, “Forgive me, God, I have not tried, But let me live another day, And I will live the way I pray.” Those who would grow to be mature Christians must lay aside “guile” and “hypocrisy” (1 Peter 2:1-3), practicing an unfeigned love for both God and man (Romans 12:9, 1 Peter 1:22-23). Screaming for more “meism” only produces more law. Replacing it with God’s will makes life worthy. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

There Is JOY In The Lord

I really need to get out into my yard and do some work. Mind you, I’m not one to complain, but the West Coast needs to stop sending us rain on the weekends. My weeds are getting out of control and hopefully the grass will dry out by this afternoon where I can break out the mower and get after them. If I don’t get them cut and bagged soon they’ll turn to seed and I’ll have twice the problem next winter/spring. When those clover burrs get stuck to the bottom of ones shoe and tracked into the house, later to be discovered with bare feet at two in the morning, guilt sets in real fast for not cleaning up the yard weeks before. If that isn’t bad enough, there’s this glare I get from my wife while she’s explaining to me how much it hurts when she steps on one of those burrs and asks, “Isn’t there something you can do about those silly things?” What can I say? “Sure, but I just didn’t find the time to do it a few weeks ago.” That simply doesn’t go over well.

[Philippians 2:3] “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility  consider others better than himself.” A few days ago I was visiting with a man who told me about a visit to the doctor. "He gave me some new pills and I asked him what they were for.” The doctor replied, “They’ll help you to remember.” He told the doctor, “I don’t know whether I will take them or not, there are some things I don't think I want to remember!” Are there things in your past you don’t want to remember? There were things in the life of the apostle Paul that he didn’t want to remember. He said, “Forgetting what is behind…I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14). Paul wanted to forget the past, but he remembered what he had done calling himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:13-15). When Paul remembered his past it was with joy for he remembered the mercy and forgiveness he obtained through Jesus our Lord. For the non-Christian, memories of the past may bring only pain. Job spoke of bitterness when remembering the iniquities of his youth (13:26) and David pleaded with God not to remember the sins of his youth (Psalm 25:7). One of the greatest struggles for humanity is the discovery of our own value and self-worth. People often feel so very empty and insignificant. The cares of life tend to batter down our self-image and leave us with a sense of meaninglessness and even self-loathing. This is part of the reason why so many people turn to so many vices, i.e. alcohol, drugs, sexuality, in an attempt to “fill the void.” The world is quick to offer solutions. The self-appointed therapists of afternoon talk shows and the mega-rich attitude coaches of late-night infomercials tell us that we need to practice “self love,” and engage in more positive “self-talk.” They tell us that we have to love ourselves first before we can ever learn to love anyone else. Yet, however quaint their advice may be, it is as far from truth as the east is from the west. The Bible tells us that positive self-image does not come through believing we are wonderful, but through the knowledge that God loves us. We don’t need better “self-esteem,” but need a better understanding of God’s estimation of us! In fact, the Bible tells us that the first step to wholeness is understanding and accepting our own wretchedness and turning in utter dependence to God’s awesome grace. The old children’s song has more practical advice on developing self-esteem than all of today’s pop-psychology: JOY: “Jesus first, yourself LAST, and others in between.” There is joy in the remembrance of forgiveness and the future is bright (Romans 5:1-11)!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I've Got To Start...

Here it is, mid February already. We’ve been experiencing a typical South Texas winter with three or four days of cold and wet weather, then back to warm, sometimes hot weather, just to remind us of the beautiful spring-time ahead with wildflowers galore ready to pop out of the ground in a matter of weeks. It won’t be long before we see farmers in the field tilling the soil getting it ready for seed. In four weeks we’ll spring-forward with our clocks into daylight-savings time removing that “it’s already dark” excuse from my procrastination list as to why I can’t be out working in the yard after an eight hour work day. I still can’t help being at least a little bit motivated working around the house out-of-doors during the winter months when I compare mowing the grass to shoveling snow. As I write this day I’m a year older and after 2016, a year full of excuses, with surgeries and illnesses, as to why this or that hasn’t gotten done in my life, I’m doing my best to get motivated out of my chair. I stuck with my diet last year and at thirty pounds lighter at least I feel like doing something constructive. Although I feel 35-years-old I need to be careful with ladders and such for I doubt I’ll bounce as well as I used to if I hit the floor. My knees already don’t work as well getting up off the floor.

“I’ve got to start…” You may actually know someone who has begun a sentence using these words. The words that I’ve heard used most often to complete this sentence are “exercising” and “eating right.” It appears that most of us have a sense of what it will take to improve our health. The key to accomplishing the desired improvement is truly given in this statement. It is the word “start.” We may be playing mind games with ourselves when we utter these words, because if we never start, we will not have to continue the process. Perhaps we feel that we can handle the guilt better than the discipline. Nevertheless, if we don’t get started we’ll never feel better about ourselves.

[James 1: 19-25] What about our spiritual well-being? Have we not also heard someone, perhaps ourselves say, “I’ve got to start studying my Bible more regularly”? We believe what Jesus said about those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), but we are still waiting to start. What about the one who says, “I’ve got to start visiting like I should”? We believe what James wrote about “pure religion” consisting of visiting the “fatherless and the widows in their affliction” (James 1:27), but we just cannot seem to get started. In reality, when we make these statements, we are taking the first step; i.e., admitting the personal need and responsibility we hold for ourselves and others. Now all we need to do is specify our action. Instead of repeating the “I’ve got to” part, say, “I will start (a specific activity) today at (a time).” Next, set a reminder to repeat the new activity and adjust it to fit your schedule, then, GET STARTED! Change for the better will become reality when we do what we have promised ourselves to do. Studying and doing the will of God not only changes ones life but ultimately reconciles our sinful self to God through Christ Jesus. Paul exhorted, “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Pray to God about your life and the changes you would like to see come about. Be sincere and willing to endure loss in order to receive gain. Don’t give up! Let’s get started today, with God.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Are You a Fake Facade?

Remember when automobile bumpers were real steal that one could hook a chain to and help a neighbor out of a ditch? The wonderful age of plasticized molded materials have taken over with factitious facades resembling bumpers that just rip right off if pressure is applied in the wrong way – Useless! Close examination is vital in everything these days. Brick isn’t brick; hardwood isn’t hardwood; and plastic abounds everywhere.

Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was a well educated scholar of Wadham College, Oxford, England. His scholastic achievements included physics, astronomy, mathematics and architecture.  It is his architecture abilities that he is most well known for. Following the Great Fire that gutted the medieval section of London, September 2-5, 1666, which destroyed 13,200 houses and 87 church buildings, Wren was commissioned by the then King Charles II to design and help rebuild that part of the city. His designs were used to rebuild 52 church buildings, one of which included the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral taking 35 years to finish. Like he had nothing else to do, in approximately 1688 Wren, was commissioned by the Windsor town councilors to build the Windsor Guildhall. The ground floor of this building is completely open, with the main part of the building, a second floor, being supported by 18 pillars around the edge. This open space at ground level was designed to be used as a public market. When the town councilors saw what Wren intended to do, they (in their infinite architectural wisdom) protested to the great architect that his design would never work. Eighteen pillars would not be enough to support the weight of the building, and the whole thing would collapse. Wren insisted that his design was solid and safe, and an argument ensued. The upshot of it all was, Wren agreed to add four more columns into his design. But he had the last laugh. When he designed the four inner pillars, he deliberately designed them to be two inches too short; the tops of the columns do not even touch the beams of the ceiling. They bear no weight at all! Over the centuries, many people have had a good laugh at Christopher Wren's subtle jab at the town councilors (although today, if you visited the guildhall you would discover that at some point wooden shims have been placed above the pillars, so they really do bear weight.) But Christopher Wren obviously knew what he was doing; for centuries this building stood strong and tall without those center columns supporting any weight. (Wikipedia; Encyclopedia Britannica; Biblical

[1 Peter 2:4-12] The book of I Peter describes the church as a building ...not made of stone, but of living stone “ also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house”. We, as Christians, make up the structure of the church (1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Timothy 3:14-15). Just as men rejected and disbelieved Christopher Wren's architectural plans, much of mankind has rejected the foundation, Jesus Christ, (1 Corinthians 3:11) upon which God is building His church. But our foundation is a foundation which will never disappoint, and the structure built on that foundation will never collapse (Luke 6:46-49). But God is not like Christopher Wren. God has not put any "useless" columns in His church. We are all being fitted together (Ephesians 2:19-22) “ become a holy temple in the Lord”. There are no useless or unimportant parts in God's building. We each have a part to play, a work to do, a section of the building to support (Ephesians 4:11-16). And when we choose not to do our part, the whole building suffers - Useless!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Bible Can't Be Customized

With the holidays gone and the nights still too long, one often finds time to just sit back and become nostalgic in thought. The twenty-first century is really neat and exciting for a guy who has all but forgotten how to use a slide rule. Being taught how to use cell phone by a pup still wet behind the ears no longer intimidates me because I have lived and seen things the children of today will never experience, and I suppose, like every passing generation, they will have the chance to say the same thing one day in the future. One good thing about the computer is, your grand and great-grand-children can Google what appears to them as whimsical fables of your childhood and find them to be true. A boring winter afternoon could become quite entertaining by looking at the big finned, 8 miles-to-the-gallon, family automobile of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Some of the “must have” accessories included things like “fender skirts” and “curb feelers” and “steering knobs.” One could even make his humble Chevy Impala into a Lincoln want-to-be by adding a “Continental Kit” to the rear bumper. We called the “parking brake” an “emergency brake” which might stop the car if it were only going 2 or 3 mph. The greatest characteristic of the brake was the loud zipper sound it made when the handled was pulled applying the brake. The accelerator pedal was affectionately referred to as the “foot feed” and there was a time when youngsters waited at the road for dad to get home from work just to ride on the “running board” up the driveway to the house. “Store-bought” used to be a bragging right. A store-bought dress or a bag of store-bought candy always demanded attention and the discovery of new friends. “Coast-to-coast” and “Route 66” once held all sorts of exciting possibilities and they mean nothing today. Now we take the term “world-wide” for granted with real-time connectivity at our fingertips. On a smaller scale, “wall-to-wall” was once a magical term in our homes. In the ‘50s everyone covered their hardwood floors with wall-to-wall carpeting. Today everyone replaces their wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood floors. Go figure. It’s hard to imagine “pregnant” was too graphic a word so we heard about stork visits and “being in the family way” or simply “expecting.” “Divorce” was whispered and “unmentionables” weren’t mentioned. The “picture show” became the “movies” and the ruination of all of us. The little glass bead top “percolator” became Mr. Coffee – How dull! Our cars had “DynaFlow” transmissions and “Electrolux” vacuum cleaners sophisticated our everyday life. What a day it was when the 1963 Admiral “SpectraVision” color TV was introduced. By the way, if you want me to come for an evening meal, invite me to supper, not dinner – that’s at noon.

[2 Peter 2] Peter wrote this letter to the churches in 66 A.D. Christians at this time were now not in danger of persecution but were in danger of being confused by false teachers. As I see it today, not much has changed. It behooves every Christian to read this chapter very carefully and especially if you are a teacher. In 1 Peter 4:11, Peter warns “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Those teaching must follow the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) given to us through the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). If teachers deviate from the Word, they are not of God and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-37). The Bible cannot be changed by man to fit the world. It comes from the Creator our God.