How clean are your feet?

Many churches follow the liturgical calendar during the Lenten season, with sermons reviewing the events in the life of Christ leading up to the Resurrection.

Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Passover meal is usualfootwashingly highlighted, emphasizing how His followers are to follow His example, being humble servants of one another.

I heard a message on the radio this week illuminating a new aspect of this  familiar episode. Along with the example set by Christ, I saw another lesson in the disciples’ need to have their feet washed.

In those days it was customary for a servant to wash guests’ feet before a meal because everyone wore sandals or went barefoot. Like now, people wore their finest and got cleaned up before attending a banquet, but without Uber or Lyft to carry them, everyone walked to their destination on the dusty or muddy streets, arriving with dirty feet.

The lesson for Christians is that although we are washed clean by faith when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, our walk through this world continues to leave a residue. Ignored over time, this dirt becomes ingrained and, although others see the stain, we no longer even notice it.

We need to wash this worldly soil off daily to avoid a filthy build up. We need to get down on our knees, humbling ourselves in prayer as we scrape and scrub off the layers of pride, vanity, resentment, compromise, and sin.

We need to be ready when we are invited to the Lord’s banquet.

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The man behind the myth

You sometimes hear it said there is a germ of truth in every legend. As with St. Valentine and St. Nicolas, the mythology we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day was built upon the life and history of a real person.

In honor of the day, I’m sharing the following article from Ligonier Ministries for our edification:

St. patrickWho Was Saint Patrick?  By Stephen Nichols

 

When it comes to Saint Patrick, the true story is even more exciting than the legend and the myth. The facts are far better than the fable. This day that belongs to St. Patrick has become about leprechauns, shamrocks, pots of gold, and green—green everywhere. Famously, the City of Chicago dumps forty pounds of its top-secret dye into the river. A green racing stripe courses through the city. But long before there was the St. Patrick of myth, there was the Patrick of history. Who was Patrick?

Patrick was born in 385 in Roman Britannia in the modern-day town of Dumbarton, Scotland. Patrick opens his autobiographical St. Patrick’s Confession with these opening lines:

“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers…”


Patrick skips over much of his first sixteen years. But who can blame him? At sixteen and being captured by barbarian Irish pirates is a pretty exciting place to begin a story. When the pirates landed on the Irish coast, they took Patrick about 200 miles inland where he was a shepherd and farm laborer. Six years passed and Patrick had either a vivid dream or a vision in which he was shown an escape route. Emboldened, Patrick made his break from his captors, traveling back over the 200 miles to the shoreline. As he approached the docks, a British ship stood waiting. The sails unfurled and Patrick was home. But he didn’t stay long.

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Appreciating Old Women

In light of the recent Woman’s Day, I think it is appropriate to share these thoughts I posted a few years ago.

“The stereotypes of old women as poor, dumb, and ugly have remained similar over the past 15 years. … The older woman should be viewed from another perspective, one in which her life history records her transformations and individuality throughout her lifespan.”

While reading  Older and Happier at Work by Luchman, Kaplan, & Dala,  the phrases  above popped out at me.

elder on laptopAlthough I don’t yet consider myself to be an “old” woman, with any luck I am moving inexorably in that direction. I come from a long line of old women. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all lived vigorously into their late nineties, so I have always supposed  I would follow in their path. For this reason, among others, I have chosen as my motto Anyone can be young; it takes talent to grow old.

Few women would agree with all older women being stereotyped as hags, crones, or bag ladies, but how many of us think about looking at one another in light of our life histories and the resultant transformations which created our individuality?

Do we bother to look for these facets in one another? Or in ourselves?

If you belong to a group of women, whether a group of two – just you and your best friend – or an organized gathering, try the experiment of learning each others’ history highlights, life transformations, and idiosyncrasies. What did each one want to become at her various life stages? Did she accomplish any of her youthful goals? Why, how, or why not? What wisdom was gained on the journey? What skills?

If your group is a ministry or community action group, you may discover unknown talents and resources to help achieve your mission.  At the very least, you will learn things about your friends, and about yourself; giving you a new, richer perspective on the journey of life.callout

You may even become better equipped to enter old age with the talent and flair necessary to enjoy all the days God gives you.

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The meaning of life

God created everything for His pleasure (“…and He saw that it was very good.” -Gen 1:31). With that in mind, I have long believed the purpose of my life is to please God.

A few days ago I had my viewpoint altered when listening to John MacArthur on the radio. He presented his own interpretation of our Creator God’s motivation, and it was one I’d never considered.

Although the concept of the Trinity (One God in three separate persons) is beyond full human comprehension, one uncontested aspect is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit share a deep, abiding communion of purest love.  Taking his lead from a variety of Scripture verses, MacArthur, as I understood his message, sees Creation as God the Father’s love gift to His Son, with the Church-the body of believers, as the heart of that gift.

The Christian walk is sometimes described as having three main parts:

  1. Justification – when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior
  2. Sanctification- our earthly years of seeking to know Him better and follow His teachings, and
  3. Glorification – when we enter His heavenly presence to love, worship and praise Him eternally

Using the gift analogy, justification makes the believer part of the gift. Sanctification is the process of refining, when the Holy Spirit polishes and smooths out our rough edges, and Glorification is when Christ opens the gift.

love-gift

God’s love gift to Jesus

This idea has given me a richer perspective on my life’s purpose as not being simply to amuse my Creator, but as His shining love gift to His Son.

How’s that for the true meaning of life?

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Radicalized Christians

We hear a lot about the difference between radical, fundamentalist, Muslims and the more moderate followers of Islam. We are assured the moderates are no danger to us.  I believe that may be true, if these moderates are simply cultural Muslims, similar to the cultural Christians of the world.  Cultural or social adherents to a particular faith have little relation to the radical followers of a religion’s fundamental principles.

The word radical as an adjective speaks to something, in this case a belief, relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough change. Cultural, social, or in biblical terms, lukewarm followers, have not experienced a far-reaching or thorough change in their fundamental nature as a result of their beliefs. You won’t find them changing, risking, or sacrificing their lives to follow their faith.

The radicalized factions of the Islamic faith are thoroughly following the fundamental tenets of the faith, as set down in their holy writings. A search of these documents will show that ISIS and its ilk are following these writings to the letter.

Some commentators like to equate the excesses of radical Islam to those of the historic Christian church or to modern acts of violence perpetrated by individuals or groups claiming to be Christian.

Christianity has one holy book, the Bible. The Old Testament chronicles our history and the New Testament tells us how to live as followers of Christ. You can search this book for years and never find Christ advocating violence toward non-believers. In facbiblet, He tells us to pray for them, turn the other cheek, etc. Any violent, hateful acts are contrary to authentic Christian fundamentalism.

Far from being suicide bombers in the name of wiping out those who will not convert to our faith, a radical Christian’s style is more likely to resemble the service and self-sacrifice of Mother Teresa, or any of the 100,000 Christians martyred each year in Christ’s name.

While we Christians would love to see all radical terrorists disappear from the face of the earth, our main weapon is prayer for their salvation.

What would this world look like, if all Christians were to be radicalized, having our fundamental natures changed by the study and adherence to our holy book? What a wonderful world that would be, indeed.

If God is for us, who can be against us? – Romans 8:31

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Open letter to congregational worship leaders

Having been on both sides, serving as a worship leader for many years and also sitting in a variety of pews, I feel at least moderately qualified to address what I see as a common issue in today’s churches: Worship leaders who don’t understand their role.

A worship leader has one primary function: to lead a congregation in the act of worship. The performers in a church worship service are meant to be the worshipers, not the leaders. While the pastor’s leadership role is one of preaching, teaching and admonition; the praise team, song leaders, choir, musicians and scripture readers are meant to bring attention to God, not to themselves. They exist to help the congregants connect to the Lord in worship.

worship-leader

If you are on a praise team leading your church in a chorus and you notice very few of the people are able to sing along, you should ask yourself if you are leading them or performing for them.  No matter how spiritually you present the song, with upturned hands, closed eyes, and soulful expression, if the congregation can’t even follow the tune enough to sing along, you are performing, not leading. There is a place for inspirational performances in a worship service, but they should be presented as such, not disguised as congregational singing. No matter what style of music is used in worship, it should fulfill its purpose of turning the peoples’ hearts toward God.

It is tempting to select repetitive choruses meant to play on the emotions, rather like primitive war chants, but remember, we (the congregation) are to worship in spirit and in truth, with our hearts, minds and strength, not simply our emotions. You have a responsibility to help us keep that in mind.

As a worship leader, if I pull the focus onto myself, or onto the difficulty of following the words or the tune I’m leading, I have failed. The position of worship leader is sacred and a great joy when we help the people we lead to declare this to God:

I have seen your power and your glory in the place of worship.

– Psalm 63:2

 

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What good is a wall?

All the controversy about walls has me thinking.

  • Walls support the roof of a home, preventing it from collapse. That’s a good thing, right?
  • Walls also protect us from harsh weather and wild animals, another plus.
  • Walls can keep us separated from other people or places we might like to visit. In that case we need the owner’s permission to enter. That’s what doors and locks are for.

The properties of physical walls have their counterparts in the spiritual realm, as well. Walls made up of fear, prejudice, and pride can separate us from other people and keep us from stepping in43902-quotes-about-building-wallsto new experiences or understanding other cultures and attitudes.

I think the worst thing an emotional wall can keep us from is intimacy with God. A wall of pride, or selfishness, or rebellion keeps the Holy Spirit at arm’s length where He is unable to be a true comforter and guide. While we may need to throw up walls from time to time to protect ourselves from those who wish to do us harm, no good can come from erecting a wall against our Lord. If you have one in place today, I would like to quote Ronald Reagan’s famous Berlin speech, “Tear down this wall!”

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They will know us by our Love

The Scriptures tell us to love one another. As we approach Valentine’s Day, it seems fitting to consider what this commandment means.  “Love” is not only a noun, but a verb, as well. More than a feeling, it requires action on our part.

What does this action look like?

  • When we feel love for another person, we are concerned with that person’s well-being and happiness. We put the loved one’s feelings ahead of our own.
  • We want to spend time with the loved one, learning everything we can about them.
  • We want to give them things they want or need.

As Christians, we are to extend our love to include our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is put to the test in our congregations and neighborhoods, where many of us have a hard time genuinely acting in love.

Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.” He also said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (action, again), and to love our neighbor.

Think about how we show love to one another and how our obedience translates to showing love to God:

  • When we feel the emotion of love for another person, we become concerned with that person’s well-being and happiness. We put the loved one’s feelings ahead of our own. – Is pleasing God your main concern?
  • We want to spend time with the loved one, learning everything we can about them.- Do you spend time in prayer and reading Scripture to learn more about God?
  • We want to give them gifts. What gifts do you offer Him? (God doesn’t need anything, but He wants our devotion.)

Homemade Valentine cards created from construction paper Valentineand lace doilies may have fallen out of fashion, but the weeks leading up to this Valentine’s Day celebration of love is a perfect time to create a heart-made gift of loving acts for our Lord…

…then the world may truly know we are Christians by our love.

[Updated from original post from January 2014]

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American Idols

The Lord Condemns Idolatry

You people are unfaithful!
You go to fortunetellers,
    and you worship idols.
Now pay close attention!
Who are you making fun of?
    Who are you sneering at?
Look how your sins
    have made fools of you.-Isaiah 57:3-4 (CEV)

These words from the Old Testament of the Bible are considered foolish and irrelevant by a wide swath of Americans. Indeed, the Bible is often the focus of open mockery and sneering. We are no longer even a nominally Christian country. However, it is mankind’s nature to worship; if not God, then something else will fill the emptiness within; perhaps self-love, superstition or idolatry.

In our culture, we have elevated our celebrities, entertainers, actors, and athletes to such heights with our money, praise, and adulation that they easily fit the definition of idols. Is it any wonder when they begin to act like gods?

It is natural to admire beauty, strength and skill, but admiration should never grow into worship.

celebrity_culture_350_234_90There is great power in celebrity and great temptation to abuse that power and influence. This is especially true in the world of the actor. Acting is a false portrayal by its very nature; people in fictional settings are pretending to be what they are not. We all know it isn’t real, but something happens during a performance, both to the audience and the actor. A skilled actor makes us, at least temporarily, believe they are their role. When the curtain comes down, at least a bit of that portrayal becomes identified with the actor in our mind. There is an even stronger effect on the actor.

I was involved in drama in school and portrayed several leading roles. The response of  my classmates to the person I became on stage was surprising and, at least in the short-term, this reaction influenced my self-image. Imagine how much stronger the impact can be on renowned professional actors. It is no wonder they begin to believe they have the characteristics they portray on stage or screen. Coupled with a fawning media and the praise of fans, and it is easy to see why modern celebrities believe they should tell the rest of the country how to vote, behave or feel. They are our idols and we have convinced them we are eager to follow their godlike pronouncements.

Even devout believers in the one true God are swept up in this charade. It’s time for us to withdraw from the cult of celebrity worship before our sins in this area make fools of us.


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Time for a Restful Arbor?

[Updated from original post of January 20, 2013]

In the Christian classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan talks about the restful arbor which awaits Christian on his journey to the Celestial City.

In times of struggle in my life I have clung to this illustration and looked forward to the R&R God will provide in order to prepare me for the next leg of my walk with him. When I am discouraged and spiritually footsore, the image of a fragrant arbor, with a comfy bench where I may sit in the blessed shade and be cooled by heavenly breezes strengthens me to carry on.

To the weary, the concept of rest is irresistible. But rest is one of those words, like hot and cold or light and dark, which only has meaning when contrasted with its opposite.  If there were no work or struggle there could be no rest.The restful arbor is not  meant to be a retirement home. The Christian life on this earth is one of constantly striving for greater obedience, greater faith and a closer walk with our Savior. Only when we see him face to face will our journey to perfect peace be complete.

Christian sleeps in the arbourChristians are currently enduring a time of struggle and difficulty and our Lord is certain to provide restful arbors along our path. We must heed the lesson in The Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian lingered too long, sleeping in the arbor and losing track of his roll containing God’s word.

God provides the restful arbors of life for rest, reflection and rejuvenation. If you have been taking up residence in one, perhaps it is time to get a new attitude and use it to sweep away unproductive anger, hurt, regrets and grief.

If we want to reach the Celestial City it is necessary to leave the shady arbor and step out again into the sunshine.

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