Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankfulness -- An Acquired Taste

5 Reasons to Acquire the Faithful Character Trait of Thanksgiving

Being thankful is a natural honest response of someone who realizes he has been given something that is valuable, beyond what he earned or deserved. The word asks in 1 Corinthians 4:7 “what do you have that you did not receive?” In other words we brought nothing into this world, we did not create any of our faculties, aptitudes, or abilities that make us who we are, or do anything to cause us to be alive. God knew every aspect about us long before He knit us together in the womb. It isn’t that we have a checklist of twenty things we are thankful for, but rather there is nothing outside of the incredible treasure that we have been given. All any honest man can do is acknowledge he is blessed and thank the One who gave him the blessings.
In contrast, the person who refuses to give thanks begins a downward spiral of delusion and pride. Romans 1:21 explains that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The person who will not acknowledge God as his creator or be thankful to God for who he is and all he has been given does not think with true understanding and easily becomes captured by false pride and desires. This lack of thanksgiving is the key to a person developing a hardened heart that is closed to having a true relationship with God or being able to receive further from God. Verse 22 continues that this person claims to be wise but actually is a fool.
The word of God continually exhorts us to humble ourselves by understanding who our Maker is and what He has called us to be, then walking in an attitude of gratefulness and obedience. Psalm 100 reminds us Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
The just shall live by faith according to Romans. The book of James furthers this truth to explain that faith is shown by works, or more simply obedience. So when 1 Thessalonians 5:18 declares, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” it becomes both an act of obedience to give thanks and an act of faith, trusting that God is able to work all things for good to the one whose heart is right before Him.
Finally, God is worthy. Revelation 7:12 declares that "Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor…belong to our God."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To Me or Not To Me

The other day a student inquired about coming to CedarWood to acquire credits to graduate early. The disturbing thing about the interview was that the enrollment prospect's entire focus was her desire to graduate early and what teachers could do for her to get special individual courses and attention. There was no awareness that, as a high school student, she would be looked up to by the younger students and could contribute something significant to the school and the other students.

This caused me to reflect on how easily human nature operates in what can be called "tunnel vision." We tend to only think in terms of what we want and fail to consider others or that our life is designed to bless others. Fallen human nature thinks we are "God" and that life should revolve around us and our wants.

Jesus in the parable of the talents addresses the one who hid the one talent with the words, "You wicked and lazy servant..." Since this whole section in Matthew 24 and 25 is really talking about the end times, it becomes apparent that men will continue to regress in these choices, both to wickedness and to laziness.

Entertainment has never been so great in quality and quantity. Everything from HD video games, streaming sporting events, social networks, and a myriad of other activities which consume time and attention, there clearly are more great diversions available. Attraction to wickedness such as pornography and perversion through media options will increase in the last days, even more than now.

On the other characteristic, maybe because of all these distractions, more and more people will choose to not get really involved in any worthwhile pursuits that take whole-hearted commitment, but rather just do what they have to do to get by. An example is a student being content to get "C's" with no effort or the employee only doing the bare minimum to pick up a paycheck. Unfortunately, sin does not stand still and the laziness quality demonstrated in society will likewise grow out of proportion as we approach the end.

We can't change the world but can seek to influence it by our truth and example. Jesus has changed our heart by making us new creations "in true righteousness" (Ephesians 4:24) and has given us His power "to will and to work" for His pleasure. We do not have to be like the "Me" world. We can draw our life from the Word of God and be led by His Spirit in a daily choice to live for Him. To pick up our cross daily means to choose "Not to Me."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Heart of Christian Education

What is the difference between Christian education and what children receive through the public system? The argument is that both venues may have Christian teachers who love their students and the subjects are pretty much the same, so what is the big deal? Perhaps one of the key points is that Christian education integrates the Bible into our subjects in a way that shows how this subject relates to Scriptural truth. This article considers a more complete picture of the role that revealed Biblical truth provides in genuine Christian education.

Bible integration is a well-meaning term used to show how the Word of God is brought into every discipline. However, on a practical level that term is often a euphemism for a frantic search to find Scriptures that fit into various aspects of our curriculum, similar to the student who has finished a science project but needs to have a Scripture on it to make the presentation complete. The question is, does finding an appropriate Bible verse do anything constructive for developing a Christian worldview?

Developing a Christian worldview requires something so much more pervasive. The solution is not finding the right verses, but rather having a paradigm shift in what is reality. Consider this truth: Jesus reveals Himself as the way, the truth, and the life. He further points out that eternal life is to know Him and the One who sent Him. The goal of our life and teaching likewise must be to know Him. We are not teachers that happen to be Christian, we are Christians, people who know Jesus Christ personally, that have been entrusted the gift of teaching. In other words, we are to teach Jesus, His ways, His life, and His truth in order to let the Holy Spirit reveal the nature of God to each student. We teach Him through our subjects.

Reality is that all subjects are the reflections and handiwork of God and thereby demonstrate various aspects of His character, nature, and life. John Dewey deliberately established religion as separate from other subjects in the Dewey Decimal System. God didn’t. All creation demonstrates God eternal and invisible attributes according to Romans 1. Indeed the whole process of life shows God’s patience in desiring all people to understand their need for and come to know God. Therefore, genuine teaching is about God, who He is, what He is like, and how great is His mercy and goodness. Subjects just happen to be the physical examples and illustrations that allow human nature to grasp some understanding of the infinite, all wise, almighty, personal God.

For example, mathematics helps us perceive the three in one, the strength of unity, the ability to calculate and multiply, and a system that can evaluate the incredible order and vastness of all creation. Math further provides a method for man to marvel and to understand the greatness of the indescribable God who designed such an awesome precise universe in which each part has its exact place and value. Not one hair on our head is unaccounted for nor is one jot of the law left unfulfilled. Mathematics falls short in its ability to approximate or even define infinity but God rests eternally knowing the number of the stars and the thoughts and intents of the heart. The “teaching the greatness of God” point of view is infinitely greater than just finding a Scripture where David numbers his army to identify Biblical integration in math.

Unless we as Christian educators understand this perspective we will always be falling short trying to discover a verse or principle that might apply to what we want to teach. However, if we marvel at who He is and what He has done and how incredible His creation reflects His glory, then our history, literature, science, and even music or art lessons will naturally point to the greatness of the One who authored it all. Learning will be an opportunity for Holy Spirit revelation and the process will be life-giving in its perspective. Jesus will be the all in all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everyone Wants a Bowl of Porridge

“How utterly stupid can you be!” we scream at Esau, as he nonchalantly casts away his birthright for a mere bowl of porridge. Understandably he was hungry and the fresh cooked stew smelled so good, but …at what cost? Perhaps that is the question of life, at what price do we sell out? For what are we willing to compromise our values or ignore godly standards? When is the goal so precious and important that nothing is able to sway our convictions?
Let’s consider a couple specific situations.
Alexander, a junior in high school, has a solid workload from her classes and enjoys texting with her classmates and keeping up with friends on facebook. She has to write a three-page paper about some current event that is due tomorrow. Even though the assignment was given much earlier, somehow the urgency of this paper did not come to her attention until this afternoon. When she updated her facebook page, she noticed one of her “friends” shared a web site that has some well-written, excellent quality articles available to download free. After dinner and taking a little longer than usual on the Internet, she finally got down to doing her homework. She could do the math and history questions in less than a half hour, but she just didn’t have a clue on what current event she could write about. So out of curiosity, she checked the web site, and to her amazement there was an article about the oil spill that was the right length. Who would know if she downloaded it and made a couple changes? Alexander has to decide what she will do.
Ryan, an associate at a retail store, has been given a monthly cleaning project in his department area. It takes extra work and effort to move the products around and complete the dusting, sweeping, and mopping. Even after completing the assignment, there is not much noticeable improvement and rarely do the customers even notice. Plus, chances are that his manager wouldn’t even know if it wasn’t done this time. The store is large and there are many distractions and customer interruptions that could take his time and would serve as an excuse for the project not being done. Ryan has to choose whether to go to the extra bother to do it this week or take the easy way out.
Susan, who has two small children, works an 8 to 5 shift as a medical assistant at Children’s Hospital. After picking up the youngsters at the daycare she begins preparations for dinner. She knows that Melissa and Jamie would benefit from some one-on-one time and has even checked out a book from the library that she could read out loud to Melissa, the four-year-old, and that Jamie, the two-year-old, would be happy to sit with them. However, it would be easier to just sit the kids down in front of the television and take some “me time” with the magazine she picked up at the grocery store yesterday. Which will she do?
Apparently everybody does it. The high bar has been dramatically dropped many times. Business executives bilk the system for millions, or athletes indulge in steroids to beat the competition, and students in college cheat on a regular basis to get higher grades (around 75% of them according to Gallop surveys). Not to mention the politicians who decide which way to vote on a measure by the amount of money or influence that is used to persuade them. The integrity of many people is quickly cast aside for the immediate payoff.
However, since the Word of God is a mirror rather than a window, this question can be brought closer to home. It is not always the other guy. We like to live in our dream world and act as if everything we think and the way we do things is beyond reproach. Yet our own ways of dealing with situations, justifying various wants (as needs), and making choices may also be based on immediate personal rewards rather than the truth or principles that we know are right, truthful, and have more eternal significance.
Each of us generally contends that we are a good person, but what is the standard of comparison? The more we commit to maintain high standards of truth and integrity, the more we discover just how sold out our flesh is to having its own way. Paul shares his struggle with the flesh in Romans 7 concluding with the comment, “who can deliver me from this body of death?” Yet there is hope because the next line is “Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ…” Furthermore, in Ephesians 2:1-4, God, who is rich in mercy, delivers us from being a slave to the desires of body and mind. Naturally with any of the promises of God, the essential provision is for “whosoever will,” meaning for each person that chooses to receive the promise and then proceeds to obey the condition.
How do we choose to walk in freedom from the desires of the mind and body? The key is keeping our eye single or focused on something better. Without a vision the people perish or as some translations state, without a vision the people cast off restraint. God told Joshua that the way to prosper and walk in God’s blessings was to keep the word of the law in front of his eyes and on his lips. The word of God contains the vision and hope. It is up to us to let it become what we earnestly desire and the goal we think about reaching each day. Jesus states in John 8, “if you continue in My word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” or in John 15, “if you abide in Me and my words abide in you,” you will bear much fruit.
The point is simply this: everybody wants a bowl of porridge (satisfying the immediate appetite or pleasure) over holding on to the things that really matter. Unless we deliberately choose to hear His Word and desire to please Him by obeying it on a daily basis, we will by default follow our selfish ways and take the easy way out too. Each of us needs His help if we are going to live above the desires of the flesh. So let’s start every day by asking God to help us keep His thoughts in our minds and hearts, and then have the motivation to do the things that make a difference forever.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Humanism versus the God-directed Lifestyle

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to save sinners and to transform them into new creations, becoming sons of God. Yet the question is for what reason does a person turn to God and receive the forgiveness that Jesus purchased by His blood on the cross. Does one accept Jesus Christ as Lord so he will have a better life and enjoy eternal happiness or is there a better reason?
Humanism, by its very nature, is centered on man, his efforts, his needs, and his happiness. It is natural for human nature to focus on his own thoughts, feelings, wants, and pleasures. This truth is shown quite openly in the expression, “Look out for number one.”
The problem is that man’s human nature has been corrupted through sin. It doesn’t take long for even a baby to demand his own way or a young child to quickly declare “mine” to whatever he desires. Much advertising plays on how vulnerable man is to satisfying his wants, to feeling important, or to gaining the attention of the opposite sex. Man lives for the satisfying of his human nature and its needs and wants. This way of thinking leaves man always wanting more and never being satisfied. There is a reason that Proverbs points out that the way that seems right to man leads to death.
In the book of Jude, the word tells us to contend for the faith. Is it possible that humanism has crept into the church, and even into the way we present the Gospel? Do we “advertise” accepting Jesus so that man can have his needs met and be happy? Are we suggesting that man’s desires are the motivation to get saved?
Let the word of God suggest another perspective: God. He is the almighty infinite being who has demonstrated ultimate love in being pleased to let Jesus be crucified in our place. Rather than destroy man for killing His son, God actually invites man to receive the substitution gift that Jesus took the punishment for him. Truly this kind of merciful God is worthy of all service and praise.
The primary reason for accepting the saving work of Jesus Christ and making Him “lord” or “ruler” of his life is because man has offended an infinite holy God and now recognizes that Jesus deserves to have the reward of His sufferings. Man’s new purpose in life is to glorify God rather than live for himself. Paul states “He [Jesus] died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” in 2 Corinthians 5:15. Man is not only “born again” as a ”new creation” but now lives by the power of the Holy Spirit to offer his life for the glory of God.
The satisfying of human wants will ultimately fail. One cannot serve God by living for his own satisfaction. No matter what man does, there will always be criticism and someone who doesn’t appreciate it. Human wants or what the Bible calls “flesh” will conflict with the spiritual direction of what God desires. Only a deliberate purpose of living to please God will prove to provide the motivation and the persevering power to overcome to the end.
In short, even Christianity and its life-giving principles depends on man’s choice to focus on doing all things to please God rather than expecting God to be his servant and always meet his wants. God does promise that if man seeks Him first, all those needs will be met. God is a loving father who knows that the only way man will enjoy peace and joy is to repent from selfish human nature and to accept by faith the power of the Christ-filled life and the "yoke" of living to glorify God. Man chooses to be a bond-servant of Jesus Christ because God is worthy.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Many are Called, Few Chosen

“Many are called, few chosen.”

Who are chosen? What does it mean that only a few are chosen? Why does God only choose a few? How do I know if I am chosen? What is God saying to each of us in this statement? What can or needs to be done to be available to be chosen? Obviously, this succinct expression was designed to give life rather than cause anxiety or confusion. So it is necessary to ask for help: “Holy Spirit, open up this truth and help us receive it.”

It is always wise to go back to the context of these words. In Matthew 20 Jesus is talking about the master who goes looking for laborers and several different hours of the day. He hires those who are available. Finally near the end of the day he finds some whom no one has hired so he also sends them into the field. There is some jealousy among the early workers about the last ones being paid the same as the ones who worked all day. However, the master does pay the first workers exactly what both he and the workers had agreed, so it is up to him how much he wants to pay the last workers and he tells them so. Then the parable finishes with the words, “Many are called, few chosen.”

From the parable the master is looking for laborers and readily hires those who are in the marketplace ready to work. He doesn’t even make a distinction between those who show up at different times. It makes sense that God has called each of us to be a part of His body and that he has specific tasks for each of us to do (Ephesians 2:10) “which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” However, the point of the story seems to be how do we get ourselves in a position to be “chosen.”
Most people spend the majority of their lives concerned about their job, their finances, their relationships, their pleasures, and many other facets of daily life. People get preoccupied with the busy-ness of life and take little thought of a higher purpose for their lives. Even Christians rarely consider whether we are preparing ourselves to be chosen. Who is God looking for?
According to the statement in Isaiah 66:2 “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word,” He is looking for those who humbly acknowledge their need, are genuinely repentant for their wrong choices, and who show respect for the authority of God’s word.
God is an awesome powerful God and yet He delights to show mercy and is looking for those who know and trust His merciful love. In Jeremiah 9:24 God delights in those who understand and know Him, as the one who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth. Furthermore, Psalm 147:11 declares “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.”
God is faithful, and likewise puts high priority on faithfulness. In Jesus’ parable about the talents, He demonstrates that he who is faithful in little will be given much and enter into the joy of His father. Luke 12:42 reveals that God will bless the faithful one by making him ruler over all that He has.
Why would God choose you? A clear answer of His purpose is given in John 15:16, where Jesus assures each of us, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” The purpose is to glorify Him with a fruitful life that depends upon God’s continual answering of your prayers.

Finally in Colossians 3:12-17, the word summarizes how God desires the “chosen of God” to respond. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love…let the peace of God rule in your hearts…let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord…and whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”