The empty promise

…many of the authorities believed in Him, but for the fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it … for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:42-43 ESV)

The Bible quotation above is especially relevant in today’s contentious society where a person, public or private, may be harassed and assaulted because of their beliefs. It’s no wonder many of us are loathe to profess support of a political person or idea.  However, this is nothing new. For as long as Christianity has existed there have been factions and governments attempting to suppress and destroy it. Even in modern times, we may read of people being killed for refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus.

Things haven’t reached such a pass in the United States, but the wave of intolerance is creeping up. Individuals and businesses are targeted with lawsuits and boycotts simply for trying to live a Christian life. Politicians deny long-held truths and beliefs in order to curry favor with their more extreme and vocal followers. The temptation is everywhere to lay low and stay out of the line of fire of the social media mobs.

While professing Christians are not, yet, being put to death in Western society, we are encouraged to keep our faith to ourselves in order to avoid mockery, derision, and to remain in the good graces of our modern day social justice and LGBT Pharisees.

Scripture tells us that if we deny Christ in this world, he will not recognize us in the hereafter. This warning should give all believers pause. We can loudly deny Christ with our actions, or with in-action and silence, and give away our hope of Glory in exchange for the empty promise of approval from a capricious society.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)

 

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High hopes

“It’s so frustrating! I feel so helpless!” my friend lamented. A supervisor where we both worked at the time had made exciting promises of improvements and opportunities in order to recruit my friend’s help, only to let her down, badly.

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The higher the hopes, the deeper the despair from disappointment. This is especially true in a position of powerlessness, as with an employee and employer, or voters and  elected officials. When there is no effective outlet for our feelings of frustration and anger we can be overcome by hopelessness or tempted to act out, rashly.  Fortunately, there is a way to avoid these feelings in the future: Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. Psalm 146:3

If I remember to never put my trust, my hope, my faith in my fallible fellowman, I will never be so downcast by disappointment that I feel hopeless. …those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

These are words to cling to in just such times as these. Amen and amen.


Using my maiden name, J.B. Hawker, I write what I call “feel-good fiction”, dark cozy thrillers/mysteries with a Christian worldview.
The Tillamook Tillie series features Mrs. Matilda Thistlethwaite, a wise, energetic, retired school teacher who tries to live out her faith with her whole being.
In her mid-eighties, Matilda Thistlethwaite lives each day to the fullest. Keeping her body in fine fettle with yoga exercises, church and community activities, and good-hearted meddling, Tillie, as she is known to her many friends, works to keep her mind sharp with a regimen of “cerebral calisthenics”, a seemingly endless series of self-improvement classes. However, whether leading a senior citizens’ yoga class, baking boxes of yummy treats for the town’s public servants, learning an obscure language, or practicing the bagpipes, Tillie always has time for friends and neighbors. All her efforts seem to be working until she shares a bus stop with a murder victim…or does she? When the body mysteriously vanishes, Tillie is hard pressed to convince anyone of what she’s seen. Unable to explain what happened, she even begins to doubt herself. No one can stay young forever. Has old age finally caught up with remarkable Mrs. T.?
If you like wholesome fiction, click on the book cover to go to the Amazon page. This book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program and also available in print.
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What if everybody does it?

I have a confession to make. For years I’ve admired a particular perennial flower growing in the landscaping beds of a local store. These flowers flourish with little care, thriving in our local conditions, and I’ve looked for them in flower catalogs and local nurseries, without success. When taking a walk this morning my inner voice of temptation suggested that I should simply dig up one of the plants for my garden. “No one would miss it,” I reasoned. Fortunately, my better nature broke through, admonishing me with the words, “What if everybody did that?”  The image of denuded planter beds from such vandalism erased all trace of temptation.

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I realized how helpful it might be to pass all my actions through the same filter; what if everybody did the same thing I was considering?

“What would Jesus do?” is a valid question when considering our actions, but it can be all too easy to tell ourselves the Lord would do whatever we want to do in any given circumstance. How much more effective might it be to imagine everyone around us making the same choice we make?

Picturing the world flooded with acts of kindness, wisdom, and love encourages my better nature, while images of the chaos resulting from everyone giving in to selfish words and actions can be an effective tool in resisting such temptations.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
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Whatever happened to polite conversation?

When I was young, there were topics considered taboo for polite discourse. Talk about intimate activities and functions were, of course limited to the immediate family. While some subjects, such as finances and health issues, might be discussed with close friends, it was felt that religion and politics should never be brought up in general conversation to avoid unpleasant disagreements. It was understood that feelings run high and individuals’ deeply held opinions often vary when it came to topics of faith and politics. Those were days when it was considered rude to pick fights and start arguments over personal opinions and feelings.

Back in those long ago times it was also considered tacky to “air one’s dirty linen in public”, but that quaint caveat has also passed into history in these days when people whose actions would once have been condemned as infamous are touted as celebrities or even “stars” for their bad behavior.

In our current culture many people seek out confrontation, both in private and in public, as outrage has edged baseball as the national pastime. Being a good sport is no longer valued and failing to protest at every real or imagined slight is sneered upon.

I sometimes long for the days of civility and good manners. While I can’t turn back the calendar, I can, at the very least, keep my own speech and behavior in line with the old-fashioned standards and attempt to bring a bit of polite conversation into my own little world.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.-Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

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Midlife blessings

I like to think of myself as approaching middle-age, even though the odds of my having as many years ahead as I have behind me are, well… not good.

When I was under twenty I thought anyone over thirty was middle-aged. In my thirties, middle-age had shifted to anyone over forty. This phenomenon has continued until now I realize that middle-age begins with whatever decade I have not yet reached.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Although the middle section appears to be flexible, we generally recognize three distinct stages of life; when one is either young, middle-aged or old.

Just as there are three developmental trimesters from conception to birth preparing a person for life outside the womb, we can see three trimesters of life in the world. We grow physically stronger during the first or youthful stage, more capable and productive during the middle years, and gradually more enfeebled in the last.

Looked at from a spiritual perspective, the Christian’s born again experience could be considered a spiritual conception when the soul begins its journey of preparation for eternal life in heaven. However, our spiritual growth stages do not exactly mirror our physical ones; instead there is a steady increase in our spiritual understanding during all three, and rather than declining in the latter trimester, our spiritual vigor increases exponentially with the addition of wisdom and increased reliance on God.

Although I’m reluctant to be classified as a woman past her prime, on the spiritual track I am happily middle-aged, praise God, and eagerly anticipating maturity.

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Get physical

Although I have more enthusiasm than rhythm and grace, I have always loved to dance and I’ve enjoyed watching TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)

One thing I noticed during the audition segments for  SYTYCD is that the degree of devotion to dance was not necessarily reflected in the contestant’s talent or ability. The performances ranged from the sublime to the sub-par, but with the exception of those performers who were merely hoping to be outrageous enough to appear on TV, the contestants appeared to be deeply dedicated to the hard work and pain of becoming a professional dancer. Some even expressed that “dancing is everything”. Relatively few ever become professional dancers, even fewer attain anything like fame and fortune. So, why the commitment to such an onerous, injury-plagued, short-term lifestyle?

I think the answer is joy. Dancers, even the dreadful ones, have experienced the joy to be found in using their bodies to communicate. When the talent and skill are on a high level, even observers are pulled into that joy.

A friend of mine, a middle-aged lady with no dance training or background, uses dance in her daily devotions. Wherever she finds herself in the morning, whether at home, at a conference, or on a mission trip, she greets God in the morning in dance. She puts in her earbuds, turns on the music and lets her body speak her praises to God.  I came upon her unexpectedly at a women’s conference while on my own early morning walk and was enchanted and inspired.

I once spoke at a conference about the many tools God has given us for communication with each other and with Him. During the segment on body language I asked for volunteers to come forward and demonstrate various emotions without words.  One of the volunteers was in a wheelchair.  She did a brilliant job and we all understood her meaning. Everyone was moved by her courage. I can’t remember which emotion she was asked to portray, but it looked like victory to me.

Involving the body in communication enhances the message. If you have ever been deeply touched by sign language interpretation while singing a favorite hymn or if you have been moved by liturgical dance while Scripture is read, you know what I mean.  When we receive a message on multiple fronts the impact is intensified.

We are instructed to pray without ceasing. I think that means that everything we think, feel, say, or do should be lifted up to God.  Our actions speak louder than words and when offered up for God’s approval, they are a form of prayer.

It is a shame that so many of us are afraid to dance for fear of looking foolish. King David was chastised for his public display of joy and thanksgiving to God. In 2 Samuel 6 he replied to his wife’s criticism by saying that he would celebrate before the Lord without worrying about his own dignity.  That is a good lesson for those of us today who are afraid to show our love of God for fear of public opinion.

In Olivia Newton John’s song Physical she sang, “Let me hear your body talk”. Although she had a different meaning in mind, I always hear that refrain as if it is being sung to me by God. He wants me to walk the walk, feel the joy, and share with him on every level.

He wants to see and hear every body talk to him.

So let’s get physical, physical…

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If you can’t say something nice…

Have you ever made a thoughtless comment and wished you could hit the rewind button and pull it back?  Most of us have uttered words better left unspoken at least a time or two. As we read in the Book of James (3:2 NIV), “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”

In our world of hyper-connectivity, when every social media post or broadcast word reaches around the world in an instant, the advice we read in the rest of James Chapter 3  is especially relevant.  Perhaps some of the celebrities in this week’s controversies might wish to consider, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

When we are tempted to post something thoughtless on social media, shock with vulgarity to get attention, or try to get a laugh at someone’s expense, we should stop and consider those familiar words, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Much unpleasantness in the world might be averted if we remember to THINK before speaking. Before speaking or tweeting consider this:

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspirational?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

The first and last letters in this mnemonic are the most important. If your words are neither true nor kind, perhaps they are better left unsaid.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. – Psalm 37:30  (ESV)

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. – Psalm 34:13 (ESV)
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Anticipate joy

I used to spend a lot of time leading workshops, planning trainings, and giving motivational talks.  In all of these there was an emphasis on goal setting, because it is a universally accepted truth that we need to have measurable, attainable goals in order to steer a straight course.

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Goals are good and necessary things to have, but as with most of life, too much of a good thing can be bad. How goals affect us can depend on how we perceive them. Are we excited and confident of achieving them, or daunted by the challenges? When I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the goal at hand, a little trick I use is to imagine myself on the other side of the challenge before me.  Whether it is a trip to the dentist or learning a new skill for a major project, picturing myself as having gone through it successfully always makes the task seem more doable.

Anticipated pleasure or dread of a future event influences the way we perceive the actual experience of it. Consider the way many people feel about Fridays as opposed to Sundays.  The anticipation of a full weekend ahead colors our Friday experience, making that workday more pleasant, while the need to gear up for a week of work can cast a pall on the relaxation or recreation we enjoy on Sunday. We can use this powerful transference effect  to our advantage. By turning the future over to God’s control, and trusting that whatever He allows is for my good, I can anticipate and look forward to the blessings on the other side of a challenge. On the other hand, if I focus overmuch on my goals, and the many steps needed to reach those goals, it can overshadow any satisfaction I might have in the process.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, or frustrated along the pathway to meeting your goals, try looking through the struggles with anticipation of the promised blessings. When active anticipation of joy meets the passive depression of dread and gloom, joy conquers, every time.

11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

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Adapt, resist, or transform?

I once participated in a webinar of church leaders discussing the need for adaptive change in the organized church.  It was proposed that the only way for the church to thrive in modern culture is to adapt to it. Although my personal prejudice is against the church becoming more like society in order to remain relevant and attractive to more people,  some of the things being suggested seemed valid and could spark congregations into looking at their communities with new eyes. I began to think about the pros and cons of adapting to a situation, as opposed to resisting or trying to transform the situation itself. If the church adapts to its culture without watering down the Gospel message or compromising God’s Word, while broadening its evangelistic scope, it could be a good thing. However, we must resist the temptation to become just another service club or social organization in order to add names to the membership roll.

In every area of life it is important to know when to accept and adapt to new circumstances and when to resist.  We only need to look at the disruptive, divisive, and destructive power of the #resist movement on our country to see just how important our choices can be.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. Matthew 5:13 (ESV)

The church, corporately and individually, is to be salt and light. Our mission is to introduce the world to God’s Word and His love in order to achieve transformation of the culture, not to become indistinguishable from it.

It is said that an organism requires stress in order to grow strong. Stress comes from effort. If I am adapting to circumstances in order to avoid the effort of resisting or transforming, I won’t grow stronger.

Sometimes adaptation looks just like capitulation. Perhaps the key is in knowing when to adapt to circumstances, when to resist them, and when to try to change them.

 

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The terrible, beautiful responsibility of motherhood

Whoever you are, wherever you live, you began your life’s journey nestled within the body of your mother.  From the spark of your conception, your mother’s life was changed, irrevocably. The first changes were merely the invisible effects of her hormones, but as you were allowed to grow, you made your presence felt in her swollen breasts, thickening waistline, and all the myriad changes, physical and emotional, of a woman with a new life inside her.

Matty going homeOnce through the trauma of your delivery, when you were placed in her arms, the real adventure began.

I have been blessed with three wonderful sons and I well remember the flood of emotions I experienced, at the tender age of nineteen, when I brought my firstborn home and realized this precious person was my responsibility. I was overwhelmed by all of the possible ways I might fail him in the next days of his life. For many mothers, that feeling of responsibility never goes away.

I managed to muddle through and today, despite my many failures and mistakes, my three sons are fine, upstanding men. I’m so very proud of them, but, no matter how independent they are, with families of their own, I still feel the same need to cherish and protect that I felt when I first felt each one flutter beneath my heart.

That’s what it means to be a mother.

On this Mother’s Day, please take a few moments to think about your mother, even if she has left your life. If you are fortunate enough to have her with you, let her know you appreciate just how much giving birth to you changed her life and thank her for choosing to accept the terrible, beautiful responsibility of motherhood.

 

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), – Ephesians 6:2 English Standard Version (ESV)

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