The Cardinal Element

winter-2401Anyone who watched the Super Bowl last night would have to agree that it was an amazing game.  The last two minutes packed in so much action that it was breathtaking to behold — including the disappointing, but still impressive, touchdown the Steelers scored in the last thirty seconds of the game.  From the picture on the left you may gather that my family and friends are dedicated Cardinal fans, so the Steelers’ victory was indeed a blow — especially considering the fact that we were still soaring from their dramatic gain over Pittsburgh before that final touchdown.  To illustrate our ardent dedication, the only Steelers’ fan present was promptly thrown in a snowbank when the game ended.  Thus always to tyrants.

Rather than going to church yesterday we did our once-every-two-months Homeschool Fellowship:  a gathering of homeschooled believers in one family’s home.  One of the fathers leads the study and discussion and an assortment of the young people leads the music.  It is a very enjoyable time.  Due to my distraction over the Super Bowl, I did not post a sermon review for yesterday’s “service”.  Today, then, will have to do.

We have been slowly studying Daniel, and are currently in chapter two.  This particular passage details Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchanezzar’s dream.  We talked about Daniel’s faith and virtue, his merit to the kingdom, and his position as a wise man.  Daniel was surely something else.  He was different from the Babylonian astrologers and enchanters, but even among his colleagues he excelled. 

Daniel had something about him that separated him from the others.  It wasn’t a horizontal separation, but a vertical one.  He was not removed from others on a level of personality but on integrity.  Daniel was above and beyond.  This is what kept him at the forefront of current events throughout the reign of three different kings — each of which promised him greatness and riches for his wisdom.  Yet the integrity that gained Daniel his position also instigated his humility and deflection of praise to Almighty God. 

Integrity is a rare virtue in this day and age.  Integrity means you don’t change with circumstance; you don’t manipulate, connive, or weasel your way through life.  You have goals, purposes,  and convictions that are unmoved by the wave of society’s ideals.  To quote a much beloved country song:  “You’ve got to stand for somethin’ or you’ll fall for anything.”  This was Daniel.

This can also be us.  Integrity is a facet of the Christian character that cannot be emphasized enough.  Love and peace sound great, but the nuts and bolts of Christianity come down to how firm a foundation you stand on, and whether you even believe that foundation is real.  Remember, love and peace sounded great in the seventies too, where integrity went out with the doo-wops and poodle skirts.  The Christian faith is not all feelings and fuzzies.  It’s rock-solid. 

The Cardinal element in the Super Bowl didn’t quite cut the mustard, but what’s the cardinal element of your character?  Is it emotion and fluctuating feeling?  Or is it the eternal strength of integrity of heart?  That was Daniel.  Is there a Daniel in you?

You Will Never Walk Alone

I taught the preschool class today, and because of that I missed hearing the sermon.  However, I was sitting before the service listening to the worship team practice, and a song began to play that I couldn’t help sing along with.  It was “Jesus Paid it All”, one of my favorites when I was on the vocal team.  Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;  Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow… 

I smiled to myself and began to prepare my lesson for the morning.  The children were going to learn about Jacob, who was fleeing Esau and journeying to his Uncle Laban’s home.  I looked at the picture:  a weary Jacob, under a full moon, with a rock for a pillow and a staff at his side.  It was very dark, in the middle of the night, because Jacob had just awoken from his dream…

“So Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place and stayed there one night, because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven… And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac… Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…”  (Gen. 28:10-13, 15)

When I sat at the round wooden table on my red plastic stack-a-chair, I read that last verse to the ten eager faces around me.  They trilled it in their innocent, happy little voices:  “I am with you andwill keep you wherever you go!”  Jillian peered out from under her blond bangs and lisped, “I went on a long trip once, and God didn’t stay here, he went with me ALLLLLL the way!”  A chorus of agreement resounded around the table at Jill’s exclamation.  As they chattered excitedly, Abigail leaned on my shoulder and looked up with wide green eyes. “I love God so much,” she sighed.  “I know He loves me too.”

In that moment I knew I didn’t need a sermon.  One little lesson for a group of four-year-olds was enough.  Their wide-eyed, reckless faith in God was a testimony to Jesus’ words:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matt. 18:4-5)

The worship team began to play at the end of the service, and I heard the old hymn being sung by a hundred voices in the sanctuary:  Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;  Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow…  It reminded me that He is with me… He has paid it all.  Joshua tugged at my shirt and I looked down into his blue eyes.  “The muthic ith playing!  The muthic ith playing!”  I picked him up and whispered in his ear. “Yes, it is.”

From Here to Eternity

When you hear the gospel message often it can become one of those “Ho-Hum Sundays” when your pastor preaches on what you’ve ‘already got covered’.  You flop your Bible in your lap and get out a pen to keep focused, scrabbling down notes that gradually turn into caricatures of fellow church members as time wears on.  Thoughts wander… which you quickly ‘take captive’ with a scowl to yourself that has your neighbor wondering what hidden sin you are being convicted of, hoping it will turn up under the church bulletin prayer requests so she’ll know.  The gospel never grows old, you tell yourself, concentrating hard on outlining the word JOHN with your escaping pencil.  You just can’t seem to keep your mind on the sermon, no matter how hard you try. 

It’s sad, but it’s true:  and the devil would love nothing better than to have people forgetting what Christ did.  Even when they are reminded of it, he would love to have them yawning and doodling throughout the retelling — and while he isn’t present in the church, he’s probably doing a regular happy dance on the stoop. 

We shouldn’t give him the chance to dance.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of what Christ did for us so that we do not grow cold or hardened to the sacrifice.  We can begin to take for granted the life He lived, and the death He died.  Worse yet, we can forget how and why we were saved, and thus are unable to give an explanation to those who do not have Him as their Savior.

In John chapter three Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus to ask Him some questions.  There were essentially two:  the first was, “Why do we need to be born again?” and the second, “How can we be born again?”  As Christians, we probably don’t ask those questions anymore.  We are saved, and that’s that.  But ‘that’s’ not all there is to it.  When someone gives you something precious, like a wedding ring, you don’t cherish it for a time and then forget it.  You keep it near you — in this case, on your finger — as a constant reminder of the love of the one who gave it to you.  Our salvation is the same way.

So why do we need to be born again?  Jesus said in John 3:3:  “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  And also in John 3:5:  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  Not only can we not even see God’s kingdom in our sinful state, but we most certainly can not enter it.  We are all born in our sinful natures, passed down through Adam from the beginning.  This is the reason for evil in the world. 

Our fleshly nature, our human self, is spiritually dead.  It is also spiritually bankrupt. 1 Corinthians 15:15 says:  “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  In our own natures nothing we do has ‘kingdom value’.  We need a new life.

How are we born again?  Being ‘born again’ means to be born with a new nature;  to be awakened to a new life.  Just as we are born into this life as a child, we are born into spiritual life as a child of God — but only if we make that choice.  We can remain in the darkness of the womb of the world, or we can journey out into the light of God’s love and law, where we will grow to full maturity. 

I watched The Matrix last night and it fits very well with this sermon.  For those of you who have seen it, you will know that when Neo is awakened from his stupor, he finds himself to be not the free person he thought he was (which he was in his mind) but simply a pale, naked, weak creature dependent on a machine for sustenance.  The lost are like this.  In their minds they are free, but in reality, their souls are in bondage to sin — only to be freed when they make the choice to remove themselves from the womb of their former life and be born into the new. 

Christians may no longer be in the fetal state that the lost are in, but many choose to remain in a stage of infancy when it comes to their spiritual life.  Rather than growing up, and taking to heart hard words about sin, they prefer to be coddled and fed the milk of ‘a loving God’ without challenge or consequence.  They never mature, but remain a weak, toddling baby as long as they refuse to let go of the umbilical cord they have left uncut from their former life.

For those who choose be born again, they are led by the Spirit of God and are changed by Him.  They grow and mature and are used greatly for His glory.  They are our leaders, and they are very few — but there can be more.  It just takes more people to stop doodling and take seriously what their salvation is, from here to eternity.  Will you be one of them?

Unlocking Contentment

Our world is a world of ‘never enough’.  Whether it is with money, vehicles, houses, relationships, food or things, there is ‘never enough’.  We are surrounded by advertisements and commercials telling us we need more, we need better, we deserve more and better.  To be content is rare indeed.  It is a struggle… even for the Christian.

Contentment goes so much further than just with material things.  For me, it’s not about how many clothes I have or even how much money I have.  I have to learn to be content in other ways, which I am sure most of my single female readers can relate to. 

Today my pastor talked about contentment in a financially failing nation.  He gave us nine keys for dealing with our finances in today’s world.  As he read them to us, my mind wandered to what else they could be applied to, beyond monetary relevance alone.  As he read each one, I saw how they were very important for anyone striving to have contentment in their lives — in all areas.  For me, it is to be content without a ‘special someone’.

If you knew me well, as some of my readers do, you would know that I have wanted to have a ‘special someone’ for a long time.  At heart I am a hopeless romantic, and while I am trying to temper it now with practicality, my instinct is to revert back to wishing and pining for Mr. Knightley to come riding in.  Those hopes and dreams have been a part of me for a long time.  So I did some research.  Because of how my family goes about relationships, I won’t get into a serious relationship with a man (boyfriend-girlfriend) unless he clarifies that his intentions are more than simply ‘a good time’.  He must have a goal in pursuing me.  This levels the playing field right away.  Secondly, young men who want a serious relationship are usually established in their career and thinking about the future.  This means they are older.  According to the census records of the U.S., the average age of marriage for men these days is 27, and for women, 25.  This is due to that fact that men need to get established before they marry.

So what if I am single till I am 25?  I thought about it.  There is little chance I will be in a relationship before twenty, so if I am pining away now, what will I do for the next seven years?  Die?  No.  I need to learn to be content where I am.  No man would want an emotionally needy, weak-willed woman as his helpmeet anyway — he needs someone who can support and encourage him, someone who has learned and grown, not sat for twenty five years wishing he would come.  Contentment provides the freedom to work while waiting… never sacrificing the dream, just trading it in to Him who knows every dream and hope.

How do we unlock contentment in a heart that longs for something still far off?  There are nine keys given by my pastor which I have fit to apply to our situation as Christian women and girls.

1.  Spending: Control it.  Not money.  Emotional spending.  I have wasted emotions and time on people and situations that were hardly worth worrying over.  I have given away my heart when I had no valid reason to do so.  Control your heart’s expense of emotion and invest it instead with Christ, who will keep it until the right time.

2.  Debt:  Eliminate it.  Emotional attachments are a burden that weigh you down.  They alter your emotions, perspectives, and even your worldview.  These attachments hurt to break, whether by you or by the person you admire.  I know because I have felt that pain.  Yet they must be eliminated in order to walk free.

3.  Enough:  Learn the power of it.  Do you truly believe that Christ can satisfy?  I didn’t.  Sometimes I still don’t.  The key here is not to ‘surrender’ and then wait for the feeling of satisfaction to flood over you.  That is not how God works.  Believe that He will satisfy you, surrender to Him, and He will keep His word.  You may not ‘feel’ it at first, but He will be faithful if you trust Him.  He will be enough.

4.  Giving:  Enjoy the freedom of it.  Make this the time to serve.  You are free in contentment to use the time you have for God’s glory.  Down the road, whether you have a boyfriend or husband or no one at all, there will be times when you will need contentment again — in finances, in a less-than-perfect home, with young children.  Contentment is not just a one time thing.  Use it always as the support while you serve.

5.  Faith:  Defeat fear through it.  I have known the fear of being left behind, or unwanted, or that something must be the matter with me because no one even asked me out… is there ‘Avoid Me’ written on my forehead or something?  This is fear.  It is a lack of trust.  Have faith that God will work and He will.  He works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

6.  Remember:  Gain confidence through it.  God does not change over time, although people and circumstances do.  He is always the same, always faithful, always loving.  You’ve probably heard or even said that plenty of times — but the question is:  do you believe it?  He will be faithful to those who put their trust in Him and believe that He does have the power to do what He has done for the past 6,000 years.

7.  Wait:  Listen carefully through it.  Waiting is not easy, but as I have said in the past, it’s not a situation of ‘twiddling your thumbs’ as the world passes you by.  Be the waitress, constantly moving for Christ.  Be found working, not idling.  The damsel-in-distress concept is not the attitude a daughter of Christ should be aiming for.  You are not in distress.  If you are a princess of God, you do not act according to entitlement but according to the will of your King.  Don’t sit in the tower, tossing down your tresses at every passing peasant.  Knot up your hair and work while you wait.

8.  Forward:  Don’t be paralyzed.  Keep moving.  Step out in faith that God is leading and that He will guide your steps.  Let His word be the lamp to your feet and the light to your path (Psalm 119:105).  The longer you stand still, the stiffer you will become to God’s leading and voice.  Fear keeps you rigid.  Faith makes you strong.

9.  First Love:  Return to it.  It’s funny my pastor should bring this up, because I posted about it earlier this week.  For all areas of life, this is most important.  Without Christ as our First Love, other loves will rise to fill the void… money, possessions, houses, cars… or earthly ‘lovers’.  When He is first, all things fall into their rightful places and He can work for our good, because we are dependent upon Him for it.  We trust Him.

When we trust Him, we have the greatest key on the ring.  It opens a heart that otherwise would shut out the freedom that deep down, it longs for.  This freedom only comes with contentment.  The contented heart can be self-controlled, free, satisfied, giving, faithful, thoughtful, patient, ambitious and loving… because it is content in Christ, and Christ is all those things.

Through Our Father’s Eyes

Beginning this month I am starting a new pattern for this blog.  Monday through Friday will be themed posts covering topics like relationships, singleness, flirtation, modesty, and other issues, Saturday will be movie and/or book reviews, and Sunday will be a sermon review based on what my pastor talked about that morning.  Since it is Sunday — the first one of the year — I will be giving my readers the first sermon review. 

Being human, we often look at the world through our own biased lens.  We see things colored by our circumstances and perceptions, our backgrounds and histories, our pains and our joys.  Too few times do we stop to think if these perceptions are right and true; if they are in line with God’s word or even with the actual facts.  Sometimes the fiction appeals more than the truth. 

Everywhere you look, in your own life and outside it, there are problems with the world.  There is death and destruction, whirlwinds and war, hurricanes and hatred, bitterness and bloodshed… concentrating on these things can be depressing.  For those in a lost world, it is.  For those in the lost world, depression and despair are well known.  There is no hope.  Yet those of us that have Christ have hope — we have a hope that transcends circumstance. 

Are we as Christians giving this world our hope, or are we hiding it under a bushel as we join in the moanings of those who see nothing but the evil of society?  We have a choice — to perceive our world as negative, focusing only on the evil, or to remember the hope that lies within us.  Do we share that hope?  We should.

In 2 Kings, the prophet Elisha was being sought by the Syrians.  The Syrian army surrounded the town of Dothan to capture and kill the prophet.  In the middle of the night, hundreds of chariots encircled the little city, and as morning dawned, Elisha’s servant beheld what seemed to be an impossible situation: “Alas, my master, what shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15).  Elisha replied, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those that are with them.”

Do not be afraid?  That’s our first instinct — but in every situation that confronts us God calls out for us to trust Him and dispels the fear from our hearts.  When the angel came to Mary his first words were, ‘Do not be afraid.’  When the host of holy ones met the shepherds of Bethlehem, they announced, ‘Do not be afraid.’  “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  (2 Timothy 1:7)

When we decide that our circumstances or situations are insurmountable we are limiting God.  By limiting God we lack faith in Him.  We must choose to believe what He has said He will do, and that He is who He says He is.  We must also surrender the attitudes that we have taken upon ourselves that keep us from believing Him — attitudes of pride, self-righteousness, and insecurity — and take hold of the promise that He has extended to us…

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  (Isaiah 41:10)

I forgot to tell the rest of Elisha’s story.  After he admonished his servant to take courage, Elisha prayed that the servant’s eyes would be opened to see what God was doing on behalf of his people.  As the servant looked again at the surrounded city, he saw fiery chariots and horses by the thousands, ready to protect only one prophet of God and his trembling companion. 

Fear not… He is with you.