“A Christian Man”

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In the world we live in, it is difficult to know what is Christian and what is not Christian. When I am in the car, I generally listen to either a Christian radio station or public radio. I admit I live in tension between listening to either Christian music, which has the tendency to move from worship and praise to preaching (there is a lot of bad theology out there) back again to classical music. The problem with classical music is that it is just music and sometimes I want some substance. So then I retreat to Celine Dion.

A few years ago at River Festival, Hootie and the Blowfish performed. Many of you may not listen to alternative rock music. I listened to some of their music to decide if I wanted to go or not. In their music I heard references to God, the devil, angels, walking on water, love, peace and harmony. I also heard descriptions of broken relationships, racism, drinking, pain, hurting, despair and loneliness. They are clearly a secular group, but those words almost sound Christian.

Society has undergone so much transition, that men are finding a hard time knowing how to be a man. If we have a difficult time knowing the difference between secular and Christian, then how can we know what role to take as a Christian person? So what makes or defines us as a Christian man?

As the Apostle Paul goes through Asia Minor, he establishes leaders in the new churches. In so doing, Paul sets standards for Christian leaders. If these standards are what God looks for in men and women of faith as leaders of the Church, then shouldn’t these standards be what you and I strive for in everyday life? So, as we ask ourselves today, what it is to be a Christian man, we can answer that question. To be a Christian man is to exhibit these attributes.

To be a Christian man is to be blameless. The husband of but one wife. A man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Not overbearing. Not quick-tempered. Not given to drunkenness. Not violent. Not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable. He must be one who loves what is good. A man who is self-controlled. A man who is upright. A holy person. And a man who is disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. All these are found in Titus 1:6-9.

As I would observe the eggs at different stages of development, I became amazed and intrigued by the process. It would not take long before an egg would be discovered that had a baby chick struggling to free itself from the confines of the shell that once had been its protection but was now a prison.
The chick would first peck a small hole in the side. Then with all its energy and might it would slowly but surely enlarge the hole by chipping away at the shell. Many times the pecking would cease as the baby chick lay in complete exhaustion. But as soon as strength was regained, it was back at it again. Soon a beak would appear. Then a head. The struggle continued and a wing would pop out. The baby chick would have to stop to rest having come so far yet still not being free. Once a leg was out the battle was almost won. Finally, freedom was realized. But even then the skinny, wet scrawny looking chick would spend several long moments in total exhaustion before regaining enough strength to walk.

I felt sorry for the chicks, even wanting to reach in and break the shell so the chick could be free. But the attendant told me that had been done before and every chick that had been freed prematurely had died. It was the struggle that prepared the chick for life. The battle gave the chick strength.

God will not prevent a lot of our pain and struggle for our own good, as much as He would like to spare us the pain. It is the struggle that gives us purpose and determination and strength. We like to say, “I’m no saint.” You learn to be a man by facing the battle. You learn to be a Christian by each victory that is won.

Doesn’t this sound like the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11)? I read about a small boy who was consistently late coming home from school. His parents warned him that he must be home on time that afternoon, but nevertheless he arrived later than ever. His mother met him at the door and said nothing. His father met him in the living room and said nothing. At dinner that night, the boy looked at his plate. There was a slice of bread and a glass of water. He looked at his father’s full plate and then at his father, but his father remained silent. The boy was crushed. The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of meat and potatoes, put it in front of the boy, and smiled at his son. When that boy grew to be a man, he said, “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.”

Holding Onto Grudges and Bitterness

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Everyone has been hurt at times by the actions or words of someone else. Most of those hurts will come from people we love and supposedly love us. When family, friends or relationships we value cause the hurt, it is even more painful. When those hurts go unresolved they can create a wound that leaves lasting feelings of anger, bitterness, stress and even a desire for vengeance.

I have family members that can carry a grudge for a lifetime. It seems to be in their DNA. I have one family member that has been angry at me for fifteen years simply because I hold a different view or opinion than she does.

Forgiveness is not just a Christian act, it is a gift of love that God gave to us in creation. Forgiveness allows the ability to let go of our hurts, anger, resentment and revenge; to forgive and move forward with our lives. Of course we see it in what God did for us, in giving Himself so that we could be forgiven.

When we are unwilling to practice forgiveness there is a price. That price isn’t just spiritual, it is also physical and emotional. Often times that price comes with high blood pressure, stress, unhappiness, isolation, depression and even sometimes a compromised immune system. Bitterness has a cost!

Spiritually, being unforgiving can cost us our soul. Remember the Lord’s prayer? “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:9) Did you see it? Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Forgiveness is the decision to let go of the wrong we have been done. To let go of the resentment and the feelings of wanting revenge. When we are willing to “let go” we are set free from the bitterness and pain. We may never forget what has happened, but we are no longer a prisoner of that past event. When we “let go” we may even begin to feel empathy and compassion toward the one that hurt us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we deny the truth or the others person’s responsibility in the pain or even minimize the injustice. Forgiveness simply helps us to move on with life.

Forgiveness is a commitment to God and ourselves to change. It is not necessarily a one time act, it is a process that is ongoing. It allows us to stop playing the role of a victim and take control back. It is empowering. It is the best gift we can give ourselves.

Love Has A Price

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It takes courage to face the future! Only the valiant can make the most of life. Sydney Smith said, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage.” Fear of failure is the father of failure. The main battlefield is in the heart and the chief foe is fear.

What a person thinks and does when things are at their worst makes or breaks him or her. Crushed hopes, broken trust and bitter disappointment precipitate a crisis for every soul; and it is that person’s behavior then that determines their failure or success. The coward in time of crisis thinks with his/her legs; but the brave keep on fighting though he/she is scared half to death.

Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem for that final week. It is important to remember that Jesus is human, but He is also God. His stomach turns with the agony that is ahead. He feels as you and I feel. But He is God and He knows the future, well. By now, large crowds are gathering around Jesus. Some want miracles. Others want to meet this One who has changed Israel. Most want to hear the “words of life.”

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters and yes, even his own life he cannot be my disciple. This at first appears to be an unacceptable cost for any of us! Who wants to pay this price, it is too high? Then we realize the twelve did. “…he saw two other brothers, James and John (MAT 4:21). They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets, but immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

But the word “hate” is misunderstood. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; the cost is not hating those whom we love, but do we love God more? There is a cost to being a Christian.

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1842. Before he reached the age of two, it was discovered that his eyesight was defective. He, his parents, and the specialists fought a heroic fight, but before George had finished his course at Glasgow University he was completely blind. With courage and faith he graduated with honors in philosophy, studied for the ministry, and in a few years’ time became the minister of one of the largest churches in Edinburgh, where he carried on a memorable ministry. He did a great deal of parish visitation, wrote numerous articles and twelve books, and continued his own studies throughout his life. Yet, in that tragic situation George Matheson found God’s resources available for him. God poured into his heart the courage, resourcefulness, and grim perseverance that gave him victory over his handicap. After twenty years of blindness he wrote:
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul on Thee!
I give Thee back the life I owe
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

He Is Risen Indeed!

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We human beings have within our hands the capacity to do much good to alleviate some of the world’s great pain. Technology, science and medicine have done little to take away one painful human inevitability that we have no power to modify – death. Christians believe the good news that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has done something decisive about death. All our human attempts to defeat death are pitifully inadequate, but God’s work is grand in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The roles of the disciples now appear to have been taken, in the Gospel of Mark’s account, by the women who go out to the tomb in the darkness to dress the decaying body of Jesus with sweet-smelling spices. What the women discover is that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. A “young man” (an angel) tells them that Jesus is raised, and the women flee in terror and in silence. Mark’s account is not only terse, it is also what one might expect in a Gospel like Mark that is one long passion story. In Mark, the story of Jesus is full of rejection, pain, and failure. The disciples are promised few rewards and favors for their discipleship. Rather, they are promised a share in the suffering and rejection that Jesus encounters.

In what way are the women, with their spices, a parable of us all when it comes to our reaction to defeat and death, and also to God’s miraculous, powerful response in the resurrection of crucified Jesus from the dead? Because it reminds us that “you have come from dust and to dust you shall return.” Death is universal and inevitable. Nothing we can do – no diet, no endowment, no healthy way of living our lives – can do anything substantial in the face of death. Only God can do something decisive about death.

So here are the women coming out to dress the dead body of the one whom they had loved. Of course, the covering of a dead human with spices provided only a meager, temporary reprieve from the reality of death. Death is about decay. The living organism immediately starts to break down. The women with their handful of spices, seen from this point of view, are a rather sad, pitifully ineffective response to the reality of death. Look at what friends say to us at the time of death of a loved one. They are attempting to console and to comfort us. They say things like, “Well, he has gone on to a better place,” or “He will live on in our memories.” But when we love someone, we don’t want them to leave us, to be absent from us, to go anywhere, no matter how wonderful the place they are going is alleged to be. And though we have some wonderful memories, we don’t want memories. We want them as they were; here, with us.

The women go out to the tomb with their pitiful array of sweet-smelling spices. “He is risen!” says the young man dressed in white. And what does that mean? No one had ever been raised from the dead, bodily raised, set loose again in the world by their own power. What does that mean: “He is raised”? Humanism, the belief that we are all that there is, can be, in many ways, a very noble point of view. Humanism tends to have a very exalted sense of the dignity of human worth. Most humanists believe that we human beings have within our hands what we need in order to set right whatever is wrong with the world. Humanists also tend to believe that human beings are basically good creatures. We are, despite any momentary setbacks, making progress as we go through this life, according to the humanist. And this is all well and good until we come to the fact of death.

Only God can overcome death and, so Christians believe, in Easter, God has done just that. This day we can drop the spices and run back, despite our fear, to tell anyone who will listen: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Christians Don’t Discriminate

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The General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) met in a special called business session on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (The General Board represents all of the Disciples of Christ churches in the United States and Canada.) The meeting was called for the expressed purpose of considering a resolution that would move the 2017 General Assembly out of Indiana because of the new law, “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

The Indiana law has been in the news lately. Just reading the law, one would think that there is no problem with the law. Several other states have the same law or similar laws. What makes Indiana different from those other states is that all of the other states have other laws against discrimination. Indiana does not have any law against certain types of discrimination such as sexual orientation. The law also has enough ambiguity that under the cloak of “religion” it would allow other types of discrimination in the business world.

If the General Assembly was to be moved, there would be contracts that would have to be broken. Because of the sensitive nature of contracts, time was important. It would not have been prudent to wait and see if the Legislature repealed or modified the law.

By a 53 to 0 vote, the General Board approved a resolution that would move the 2017 General Assembly. The General Board stood against discrimination of any kind and against any law that would allow discrimination to be a possibility.

When we turn to the Bible and see how Jesus viewed people (all people), He treated them with extreme kindness and respect. The woman caught in the act of adultery, a sin worthy of stoning; Jesus treats her with love and compassion. Those who were Gentile (non-Jewish) He extended God’s love and never belittled them for not being Jewish. The challenge of the Word is how can you and I treat others any different? As Christians, we can’t. We treat each other as God’s beautiful creation even when we disagree with their choices.

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We express our sorrow to Charlotte in the death of Bob.  Robert Loveland died on April 1, 2015.  Bob’s service will be Tuesday (April 7th) at 2:00 PM at Hillside Christian Church.

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James (Jim) Scott died on Monday, March 30th.  His service will be at Hillside Christian Church at 10:00 AM on Friday, April 2, 2015.  We express our love to Edyth.