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Archive for the ‘Christian life’ Category

225874-675x450-Two-Rings-on-Wedding-Vows

Two weddings down, two to go. We have an unusually busy two month period – we’ve been invited to three weddings and I have the honor of officiating at another.

Being present and celebrating the union of a man and a woman is a beautiful thing. But for those who are married, weddings are an opportunity, in a sense, to renew our own vows. You’ll hear the vows you made to each other (or, hopefully, something close to them) and be reminded of the obligation you have to keep them. It’s aways good to be reminded what and who you said “I do” to.

Weddings, however, aren’t the only place vows are renewed. As Christians, we renew vows at various times. If you made vows at your baptism, you can renew them whenever someone else is baptized. If you made vows when you joined your church, you’re reminded of them every time you accept new members. If you make vows when you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, even if silently, you renew them every time you partake.

Making vows and renewing them is a beautiful thing – for our good and God’s glory!

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Maundy-Thursday

On Thursday of what we call “Holy Week,” Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room to celebrate Passover. Before the meal commenced, the Lord Jesus – unexpectedly – washed the feet of His disciples, thereby taking the place of a servant/slave.

After Judas Iscariot had left, Jesus gave His disciples this command (“mandatum” in Latin  and “mandate” in English, hence the word “Maundy”): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). 

The command is “love one another.” The Lord mentions it three times in the space of two sentences. But what does it mean to love? Although the answer isn’t directly given here, a grasp of the whole of Scriptures provides us with the answer – God’s law. We know how to love God because of what He’s commanded in His law. By the same token, we know how to love one another because of what He’s commanded in His law. Contrary to present-day sentiment, love isn’t a gassy feeling which drives our interactions with others (or with God). Our hearts are a bad guide to what’s loving and unloving. God’s law gives us a definition and description of love. It tells us how to love and how not to love. We can’t ignore God’s law or “unhitch” ourselves from it and truly love the way God has commanded us.

Maundy Thursday reminds us of the mandate to love one another. Thankfully, God has given us a blueprint (His law and Word) and a model (His Son Jesus Christ).

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keelboat_s

On Wednesday I was one of the adult chaperones on a field trip with our 8th-graders (I teach the 8th-grade Bible class) to the Maritime Museum, Astoria Column, and Fort Clatsop, all in the Astoria, Oregon area. We had a good time, and it’s always good to spend time outside of class with students, parents, and other teachers.

What caught my attention was something one of the rangers said during her presentation at Fort Clatsop. She said we could learn a lot about Lewis and Clark and their expedition by reading books about them looking at the exhibits at the museum, but the best way to learn about them is to read their journals, which are widely available. We need the original, or primary, sources. In other words, even though Stephen Ambrose’s book “Undaunted Courage” is great, you need to read the original source to get the best picture.

The same principle applies to the Bible. We can learn a lot about God’s Word by reading books about it, listening to sermons about it, participate in Bible studies about it, or listen to podcasts about it, but the best thing we can do is read and study it for ourselves. Go to the original source!

Commentaries can be fantastic resources. Sermons – from your pastor to preachers on the Internet – can be edifying and thought-provoking. Books written by the best scholars and authors can be helpful. Read them, listen to them, and study them all! Most of our time, however, should be spent on the original and primary source – God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word, which, by the way, is a whole lot better than anything Lewis and Clark ever wrote.

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The Christian History Institute published the story of forty Roman soldiers who were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on March 9th, 320 A.D.

“Consider—you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” Governor Agricola was speaking to forty soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman army who refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor while they were stationed near Sebaste in modern-day Turkey.

“To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still,” replied one of the soldiers.

The governor became exasperated. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.” 

When that lure did not break their ranks he increased the pressure. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death!”

The soldiers stood firm. “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats—we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Agricola ordered them flogged. Guards dragged the men out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips with hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably not one of the forty surrendered. “Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. He referred their case to Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, whose coming was soon expected. When Lysias arrived he threatened a sharp penalty if the soldiers continued to disobey.

On this day, 9 March 320, the men remained respectfully defiant. A new torture occurred to Agricola. Nearby was a frozen pond. The March air was sharp. “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods,” he said.

The rebel soldiers tore off their own clothes and ran toward the pond in the freezing air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Striking up a song, they marched onto the frozen pond. Baffled, Agricola posted guards. He had baths of warm water heated as an incentive to the forty to come off the pond.

As dark closed in, the forty prayed, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.” It appeared their prayer was doomed to disappointment, however. Babbling, one of the forty crawled away from the ice. Guards helped him into a bath but the heat proved too much of a shock to his frozen system. He immediately went into convulsions and died.

However, one of the guards had seen a vision of angels with crowns hovering over the pond. Impressed by the bravery of the remaining thirty-nine, he shucked off his clothes and ran onto the ice. The martyrs numbered forty again!

When the sun rose, Agricola was told that the forty were dead. He ordered the bodies burned and their ashes dumped into a nearby river so the bones could not be collected and venerated. When the guards began stacking the stiff corpses onto a wagon, they discovered that Melito, the youngest of the soldiers, was still alive. 

Melito was a local boy. The soldiers recognized his mom nearby. “Listen, Mother, take your boy home, save his life if you can. We’ll look the other way,” they said.

“What kind of talk is that?” scolded the woman. “Would you cheat him of his crown? I’ll never let that happen!” As the wagon began to roll away, she hoisted her son in with the others.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12).

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toothpaste

From the first time I heard the illustration, I loved it. When a tube of toothpaste gets squeezed, what comes out? Toothpaste, of course! It’s what’s on the inside of the tube. In the same way, when we feel the squeeze of something in our life, what comes out? Whatever is on the inside – in other words, whatever is in our heart.

Trials, troubles, pains, hurts, and just plain irritations come our way. When they do, they squeeze us. Getting cut off by another driver, followed by an angry outburst, reveals the impatience or selfishness found deep down in our heart. Reacting to bad news with anxiety, or even panic, reveals a lack of trust in God. The list goes on and on.

Recently, I heard someone say they were thankful that God, in His grace, had used a “squeeze” to show them what was in their heart – specifically, something that was sinful and needed to change. This added element takes being “squeezed” to another level. We can be thankful for God-ordained “squeezes” because they are part of His plan to conform us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).

Nobody likes to be squeezed like a tube of toothpaste, but ultimately it’s good for us because it’s a tool God uses to mold and shape us to be more like Jesus.

Thanks be to the Lord for His squeezing grace!

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Desires

The following prayer is taken from Valley of Vision – a collection of Puritan prayers complied by Arthur Bennett. I highly recommend it.

O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray.
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I ought.
Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity.
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

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congregation

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25 ESV).

We should go to church because we need it, but also because our brothers and sisters in Christ need it, too. Yes, we gather together to worship the Triune God. No, it isn’t a solitary endeavor, however. We “stir up one another to love and good works,” and encourage each other by our attendance and involvement. They need us and we need them.

When you go to church, greet people warmly and with a smile. You may be the only person who’s greeted them that way all week.

When you sing (even if it’s a song you don’t like), sing it anyway. You may encourage someone who wonders if it’s possible to praise God in their circumstances.

When you sing a song you like, sing it fervently. You may motivate someone near you to sing with all of their heart.

When you pray along with someone else, say “amen” so it can be heard. You may strengthen the faith of someone who isn’t sure if God answers prayer.

When you listen to a sermon, pay careful attention with an open Bible on your lap. You may encourage someone who read and study  God’s Word every chance they got but has slacked off lately.

When you talk to people, show genuine interest in them and ask them how they’re doing.  You may encourage them to do the same.

You never know the impact and influence of simple acts simple acts during a worship service. You need the church and the church needs you.

(This post was inspired by a series of tweets written by Garrett Kell.)

 

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