Friday, October 28, 2011

What to Wear?

As I passed by the TV my husband was watching last night, a clip came on of a “surprise guest” on a talk show. The gentleman entered the set wearing a business suit and an Obama mask, and when he lifted the mask, the surprise was that it was President Obama himself!

Celebrity masks are big sellers at Halloween, but that clip made me wonder if the face we present to the world each day, even if our own, is more of a mask than our true self. Do we rush out of the house Sunday morning grumbling about how our spouse or children made us late, have murderous thoughts about the driver who cut us off, and then enter church with a cheery but somewhat forced smile?

This time of year always prompts discussions of how Christians should react to Halloween. The celebration began as a pagan ritual calling forth and consulting with spirits of the dead and celebrating death itself, at a time when the coming winter forced farmers to kill off sickly animals. Skulls and skeletons were important emblems representing death. The holiday was then was appropriated by the early Christian church as All Saints’ Day revering martyrs, and the night before was All Hallows’ Eve.

The Bible is clear that Christians should not take part in sorcery, witchcraft, fortune telling or other dealings with the spirit world, for we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Leviticus 19:31; Isaiah 8:19; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Micah 5:12; Nahum 3:4; Galatians 5:19-22; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 17:17). Costumes resembling demons, skeletons, wizards, vampires, or witches would therefore seem inappropriate.

Yet, some “Halloween alternatives” for children, such as a Parade of Nations to inform children of customs and native dress in lands where missionaries serve, may be educational, fun, and a good opportunity to explain the Great Commission and to explore the lives of missionaries. Even passing out candy and “Jesus Loves You” stickers or tracts may be a good ministry and witness opportunity.

But while we’re considering how or whether to dress up our children on October 31, we should address the deeper question of what to wear each day to honor Christ. Dressing modestly in attire that He would find pleasing and that would set us apart from the secular world goes without saying. But we need also to consider our countenance – are we so busy with worldly cares, or so preoccupied with physical beauty, that we neglect to let His light, peace and joy shine through us? (Matthew 5:14)

Our Bible study class verse is Proverbs 31:30: Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.

If our relationship with Christ is foremost in our heart, others will see it on our face, even if they don’t recognize the source of that inner beauty. To be told “I want what you have in your life, even though I don’t understand what it is or how to get it,” is not only a great tribute to the Savior Who changed us, but an open door to witness about His love.

So as we look in the mirror October 31 or any other morning, let us remember 1 Peter 3:3-4, which tells us not to beautify ourselves with “that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

Praise God that His blood has washed away the stains of sin (Revelation 1:5) from the filthy rags of our own attempts at goodness (Isaiah 64:6), and that now we are clothed in the beauty of His salvation and righteousness:

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.

Instead of putting on a costume or other outfit meant to impress, let us put on the whole armor of God to fight off the attacks of Satan (Ephesians 6:11-17). For those who don’t know Christ, Halloween may be especially scary or just an excuse for drunken partying and sexual sin. But Christians should remember that on Halloween as on any other day, we must watch out because Satan is prowling about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Praise God that we have victory in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57), and that He Who is in me is greater than he who is in the world! (1 John 4:4)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mary or Martha?

Are you more like Mary or like Martha? (Luke 10:38-42) Surprisingly, many of us identify with Martha because doing, serving, and complaining suit us better than being, receiving, and listening.

When we keep busy, particularly if we are busy with Christian service, we feel like we are accomplishing something important. The rewards are usually tangible, as we may see hungry people getting fed, more people sitting in the church pews, or more tithes or donations to missions. We may feel that we are at least in part responsible for that measurable success. People may even notice our labor and thank us for it or give us positions of greater responsibility.

But if others don’t notice our efforts and accomplishments, or if we feel saddled with the lion’s share of the hard work, we may get angry and even complain, perhaps even to those we are serving.

Both Martha and her sister Mary loved Jesus dearly and believed He was the Son of God, and Jesus loved them (John 11:1-27). Martha showed her love by opening her home to Him and making sure everything was perfect for His visit. No doubt she had planned the meal long in advance and saved money to purchase the best ingredients to prepare His favorite foods. On the day He would come she must have cleaned every corner of the house, picked flowers to decorate the home, and perfumed the air with spices and the aroma of freshly baked bread. When He arrived, she may have washed His feet and plumped the pillows where He would sit, and then began cooking the delicious meal.

No wonder she became frustrated, running from hearth to table, as she practically tripped over Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet! Mary sat listening to His every word, instead of helping her sister prepare the meal. Martha’s anger caused her to lash out at Jesus, the very One Whom all her hard work was to honor!

But the Lord’s response was not what Martha had hoped for. Instead of rebuking Mary and telling her to help Martha with serving, Jesus acknowledged Martha’s concerns and her efforts, but praised Mary for her choice. Being in Jesus’ presence was precious to Mary, and she savored every loving smile and tender word He gave her, which could never be taken from her.

God created us for His good pleasure, for intimate fellowship with Him (Ephesians 1:4-9; Philippians 2:13). If we spend all our time working, even for good causes, and distracted by the noisy pleasures and demands of the world, we will have no time to hear His voice and feel His love. Those lost moments, the sweet fellowship we can share, and His wisdom specific to the task at hand, will never be regained. A wise theologian once said that he was too busy not to pray! Jesus set the example by starting each day alone in the company of His Father, and praying often (Luke 3:21; 5:16; 11:1-4; Matthew 26:36).

Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God:

When I was a medical intern, a wise attending physician used to say, “Don’t just do something – stand there.” When faced with a crisis, it’s a natural instinct to rush around doing this and that in an effort to “help.” But that can be the worst possible response when the patient is suffering from an unknown condition. As the doctor administers different drugs or procedures that mask the symptoms, it may become more difficult to diagnose the actual problem, and the interventions may actually be harmful. It is often far better to observe the patient as the disease reveals itself, and to listen to those with more experience who are far better equipped to guide the evaluation and treatment.

Similarly, if we respond to a crisis or even to the demands of Christian life by rushing about in our own flesh, we often make things worse instead of better. If we’re floundering in the middle of stormy seas, swimming against the current may actually take us further from the shore. Far better to conserve our strength by resting in His embrace, waiting for His voice to guide us to safety.

Oswald Chambers: You have no idea of where or how God is going to engineer your future circumstances, and no knowledge of what stress and strain is going to be placed on you either at home or abroad. And if you waste your time in overactivity, instead of being immersed in the great fundamental truths of God’s redemption, then you will snap when the stress and strain do come. But if this time of soaking before God is being spent in getting rooted and grounded in Him, which may appear to be impractical, then you will remain true to Him whatever happens.

May God grant us the wisdom to be good stewards of the time, resources, and talents He has blessed us with, using them to serve Him, yet always returning quietly to His feet, content to be His child, following His guidance, filled with His love, joy and peace.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

God Answers Prayer!

As born-again Christians, we believe that God is in control and that His will is done. Why, then should we pray?

We should pray because His Word commands us to (Psalm 62:8; Luke 11:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:17), as an act of worship pleasing to Him, and because it changes us. Our prayers should not be directed toward changing God’s mind, since we know God does not change (Hebrews 13:8), but to align our mind and heart with the indwelling mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).

God always answers the prayers of His children who are right in their heart attitude toward Him (Isaiah 65:24), meaning they are not coming in rebellion or lusting after the flesh (James 4:3), but rather in humble submission, earnestly seeking God’s will and His face. Sometimes He answers “Yes,” sometimes “No,” sometimes “Yes, but in the right time,” and sometimes “No, because what I want to give you is even better than what you have asked for.”

It pleases God to give good and perfect gifts to His children (Luke 11:13), so if we ask Him to meet our needs in accordance with His perfect will, we can expect to be blessed. The clearest example of this is the sinner’s prayer, which is one prayer God will always answer “Yes!” because it is His perfect will that all should be saved. When the lost person realizes he is a sinner, turns away from his sin, and trusts in Christ as the Son of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins Who died on the cross, was buried, and rose again that we also may have eternal life, God will save him.

However, the blessing we receive from prayer may not always be what we had prayed for, and it may even seem to our limited vantage point to be quite the opposite. When we ask for healing of our loved one who is sick, and that person dies, we may despair that God has not heard our prayer or cared enough for us to answer it as we had hoped. Yet if that person was saved, God has indeed given him perfect healing and perfect peace, and he will use the situation to bring good into the lives of others in ways that we cannot begin to understand until we reach glory (Romans 8:28).

Paul asked God three times to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” a physical ailment that brought him great distress, but that kept his pride in check. God said “No,” because the lesson Paul learned of God’s grace being sufficient was a far greater blessing than physical healing would have been. This lesson enabled him to rejoice and be fruitful even when imprisoned, abandoned, and in other dire straits, because he was relying on God’s strength instead of trusting in his own flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

God the Father even said “No” to His own Son when Jesus asked that if it were possible, that the cup of suffering would pass from Him, yet the Son yielded to His Father’s will (Matt. 26:39).

God sometimes allows us to go through illness or other storms of life because they bring us closer to Him. If we seek His perfect will, He may sometimes calm the storm, as He did for His disciples in the boat on the troubled sea (Matthew 8: 24-27). But at other times, His perfect answer to our prayer may be to calm us instead, bringing us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the fellowship of His suffering that conforms us to the image of His Son (Philippians 3:10).

As we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, helping us to pray in accordance with God’s will even when we don’t know what to ask for (Romans 8:26). He will teach us to trust Him (Proverbs 3: 5-6), deepening our faith (Mark 11:22-24) as we accept that He knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8), and that He will give us what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Thank God for His infinite wisdom and infinite love, so that He answers our prayers in the best possible way!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Are You Too BUSY?

In spiritual warfare, the Commander in Chief of the Christian army is the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can march forth victorious knowing that the battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47), and that we are on the winning side (1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 16:20).

Still, to be effective, we must know our enemy and his strategies. Satan is not God’s equal or even His opposite; as a fallen angel, he is a being who was created by God to have supernatural powers that are limited by God Himself. When he was Lucifer, an angel of light, God endowed him with great beauty, wisdom and talent. But when his sin of pride caused him to rebel against God’s authority and to exalt himself above his Creator, God exiled him from heaven, along with those angels who joined in the rebellion (Luke 10:18; Isaiah 14:12-15).

God allowed Satan temporary control of the world, its institutions and its governments (Ephesians 6:12). God allows Satan to tempt and attack even His own children, but always for our own ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Satan can do nothing to us that God Himself does not allow (Job 2:6). God turns Satan’s evil weapons into instruments designed for our good, to conform us more to the image of His Son through suffering (Philippians 3:10), to strengthen our faith on Him, to give us compassion and experience to help those going through similar trials (1 Corinthians 10:13), and even to give us greater joy in our mountain top experiences.

We should not be afraid of Satan or his demons, for God’s perfect love for us casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Even so, we should respect the devil’s power and understand his strategies. Satan may try to intimidate us, but we can prayerfully use the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6: 11-15) to fight him off, just as Jesus did when tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).

As a former angel of light (2 Corinthians 11: 14), Satan may appeal to our sense of beauty, working through the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh (1 John 2:16), just as he did with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6). He surely will appeal to our pride, trying to convince us that we are self-sufficient and don’t need God. And as the father of all liars (John 8:44), he will distort the truth, which is why we need the discernment to realize that anything added to, taken away from, or changed in God’s Word makes it a lie.

All Satan wants is one little piece of our heart where he can set up shop (Ephesians 4:27). We must resist the devil, and flee from temptations that can harm us (James 4:7; Proverbs 6:27; 1 Corinithians 10:13). If we give in to that bad seed of doubt or fear that undermines our faith, or to that one sin that so easily tempts us (Hebrews 12:1), or to that false teaching that perverts the Gospel ever so slightly (2 Peter 2:1), Satan has established a stronghold. A single virus-infected email can crash your computer. A tiny drop of cyanide in a glass of pure water turns it to poison. Breathing in an anthrax spore can destroy our whole body. It is even more vital that we use the whole armor of God t0 repel Satan’s seemingly innocent intrusions.

When all else fails to neutralize effective, fruitful Christians, Satan tries to keep us BUSY. According to an Irish web designer in Galway, BUSY stands for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Mature believers who are in God’s will may keep from sinning, at least in their actions. Yet they may all too easily get distracted by things that are not bad, but that keep us from God’s best. God wants us to be productive, but not so busy that we lose our focus on Him and fail to hear His voice. Unlike Satan, Jesus promises us a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light because He will give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

Do we want to be like Martha, who loved Jesus but became too burdened with serving to sit at His feet, or do we want the joy and peace her sister Mary experienced by keeping her quiet time with Him her first priority? (Luke 10:38-42)

Time is the one resource that constantly gets depleted and can’t be bought back. When an opportunity passes by to witness to an unsaved soul, to encourage a fellow believer, to minister to someone in need, or to share love and joy with your family, it may never come again. Satan loves to keep us BUSY.

Do we serve on so many committees that we never have time to read God’s Word? Do we spend so much time tracking worldwide news that we don’t pray for missionaries risking their lives around the globe? At church functions, are we so preoccupied with preparing food, or passing handouts, or managing the sign-in, that we ignore those who need a kind word or a loving touch? Do we spend so much time at home cooking, cleaning or paying bills that we don’t notice when our loved ones just want us to spend quality time with them? Satan loves to keep us BUSY.

For those who have turned from their sins and trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only Way, our eternal destiny in Heaven is secure. But how sad it would be to learn of His perfect plan for our lives that we missed because Satan kept us too BUSY.

Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.