To Be Blessed of God!

I recently wrote on the thought of being blessed.

Are You Blessed?

god bless

Our idea of being blessed of God often only looks at the physical or material aspects.  A nice home, a good marriage, a great job.  While these ARE blessings of God for which we should be thankful, the Bible is clear these kind of blessings are temporary.  The real blessings of God are those that will last throughout eternity.

And receiving those blessings require more than just a “God bless you” that we share with each other in passing.

Just a few thoughts on God’s blessings and how to obtain them.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither…..Psalm 1

It appears that receiving God’s blessings requires us to be careful whose advice we take and how much time we spend thinking of His Word.

God's word

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed…..1 Peter 3:14

Whoa!  Blessings from God might include suffering?  

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Wait a minute here!  Blessings from God might require trials?  And the blessing is not a promotion at work but eternal life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…..Matthew 5:9

Come on now!!!  When I seek to bring peace to others rather than pushing for my own agenda I will be blessed?  And the blessing is the privilege of being called a son of God?

peace

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Again, it seems God’s blessings are somehow connected to knowing His word – and obeying it.

God's word 2

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.  We Americans count blessings from God almost as a right rather than a privilege.  When we do not get that promotion at work, when we get that diagnosis of cancer, when someone makes fun of us for being a Christian, we are so quick to complain or feel like somehow God has failed us.

If God’s blessings are so tied to material things, how do we explain the Christians who live in a third world country and often wonder where their meal is coming from?  Who are persecuted, put in prison, even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ?

God is much more than a genie in a lamp.  He does love us, He does want to bless us (yes, even in material things) but more than that, He desires a real relationship with Him.  One that loves Him for who He is more than for what He does.

May God truly, really bless you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Blessed?

We love the idea of being blessed.

We greet one another with:

god bless

But what does all that mean?

Can we cause God’s blessings to be given to someone simply by saying “God bless you.”  Is God waiting around to hear us pronounce blessings on someone before He blesses them?  Is He obligated to bless someone because we say so?

We claim God’s blessings on our country:

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When we say “God bless America” what are we wanting God to do for our country?  Give us peace?  Make us rich?  What exactly do we expect from God – what do we want from Him for our country?

We often declare:

blessed

What are the reasons that make us say we are blessed?  We have a good marriage, we just got a promotion, we brought a new car, we won the game.  We know God is the giver of good things and we certainly should thank Him.  However, are we reducing blessings from God just to material things, times when things go our way.  Do we feel blessed when our marriage falls on rough times, we lose our job, our car breaks down, we lose the game?

Often, we tell people they should:

blessings

Again, we should be a grateful people and it is always good to stop from time to time and really look at all God has given us.  But in counting our blessings, what is it we count?

Do we include those times when life felt apart – but God was there?

Do we count the privilege of being able to worship God freely without fear of being thrown into prison?

Do we count the joy of knowing we are forgiven?

Or do we again just think of material things we have been given?

And if we are going through a difficult time, do we feel like we have no blessings to count?

What does it really mean to be blessed of God?

What does His Word say about that concept?

Hope you will think on that question for a while.

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Give me some feedback on what you think being blessed is really all about.

I’m taking a long look at what the Bible has to say about this subject and will write more in the days ahead.

But, give me your thoughts on this.

 

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Tradition in Religion – Good? Bad?

This past week I was at a women’s Bible study when our leader asked us:

What is today?

Everyone immediately called out:

It’s Valentine’s day!

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She then asked us:

But what else is it?

Sadly, only a few realized it was the beginning of Lent, it was Ash Wednesday.

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For this week’s lesson we had been asked to read the first 15 chapters of Exodus.  Strange you might think to read in Exodus when you are studying in Mark.  Our leader used Exodus to point out to us the similarities between Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and our belief that Jesus came to lead us out of bondage to sin.

She shared with us the tradition of Passover and how the Jewish people at Passover reflect on their past deliverance from slavery and look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  She said, for the Jewish people, celebration of Passover allows them to:

experience what they do not remember and to remember what they have not experienced.

During the Passover time, the story of how God delivered the Jewish nation is recalled.  Though the present generation naturally cannot remember that event from thousands of years ago, through the special food and the retelling of the story, they take time to try to understand what their ancestors experienced that night.   They take time to remember what they did not experience and let it give them hope and encouragement as they look forward to the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy when he shared the word of God:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

As Christians we celebrate our own time of deliverance from bondage and we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior.  With His death and resurrection He gave us freedom from the bondage of sin.  We now celebrate this important event every year just as the Jews celebrate Passover.  We call it Easter but I think a better name would have been Resurrection Sunday.

Many churches at this time observe Lent.

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection…..from the United Methodist website

Coming from an evangelical background I never observed Ash Wednesday or Lent as a child.  To be honest (please forgive me my dear Catholic friends), my church thought the whole “ashes on the forehead” and giving up something for Lent was simply “tradition.”  And we all knew that Jesus condemned traditions of men.  Right?  We go to the Gospel of Mark and the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees when they questioned why His disciples did not follow the traditional washing of hands before they ate.  We know Jesus said, in part,

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered:

So we have taken pride in rejecting the “tradition” of the mainline denominations.  We have felt that we were somehow more “spiritual” because we, like Jesus, rejected religious tradition.

But, in rejecting many of the traditions of the other churches, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

This week I have continued to think of how the Jewish people still observe Passover.  It is not just a meal that they hurriedly consume and move on.  There are days of preparation as they remove all trace of yeast from their homes and prepare the special food they will eat at the Sedar.  They take time to really remember their past deliverance and look forward to their expected future.  There is a lot of thought and reflection in this time.

As I look at our evangelical Christian community, I see little time spend in real reflection on what Good Friday and Easter should mean to us.  We might attend a short Good Friday service, but for most of us Easter is one service on Sunday morning celebrating the resurrection.  Little or no time is spent reflecting on what Good Friday really meant.  We take no time to reflect on our own lives and as the Jews remove yeast from their homes, ask God to help us remove from our lives the things that hinder our walk with Him.

I feel I missed something growing up without observing Lent.  Without taking time from my busy schedule to take a closer look at my own life, to really remember the pain and suffering Jesus went through for me.

To take a long hard look at the cross

the cross

before I rush into celebrating the empty tomb.

tomb

The dictionary says a tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.  Perhaps some of the break down in our society today is the failure to pass on beliefs or behaviors that were the very foundation of our own lives.  The word is derived from the Latin tradere and literally means to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.

So, I ask myself as I reflect on Lent this year:

  • Are we missing something in rejecting some of those traditions of the church?
  • Are our children really understanding the true meaning of  Easter or Christmas when we make it basically a one-service event at church and little more?
  • Should we not take more time in celebrating the events of Good Friday and Easter?

I’m not ready to put ashes on my forehead (again forgive me my dear Catholic friends), but I’m taking time this year to observe this season of Lent and do more serious reflection on what my Savior’s death really means.  Not just an empty tomb, but pain and suffering that He took on Himself for me.

Give me some tradition!

Greetings – Chairein – Joy to You

Jesus laughing

I love this picture of Jesus laughing!  I think too often we vision Him as somber, even stern.  But He talked about giving us joy.  At His birth, the angels proclaimed “Joy to the world.”

Studying the book of James this week I again realized how much we miss when the Bible is translated from the languages of Hebrew and Greek into English.  James begins his letter by saying what is translated in most of our English version as “Greetings.”

To me I have just thought James was basically saying hello.  Just the kind of start to a letter we often would use (in the days when we really wrote letters instead of texting or posting on Facebook).

Hi!  How are you?  I am fine.

As I began to take a more serious look at this word, I find it has much more meaning than just “hi”.

The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”

“Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.

joy

 

joy baby

 

 

 

On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

Hold on there a minute James!

You just wished joy and well-being to your readers and then you talk about troubles.  What gives?

James was writing to the Jewish people who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but who were now experiencing difficulties because of their belief.  He indicated difficult times can be opportunities not just for joy – but great joy.

Hold on there a minute James!

Difficult times bring joy?  Trials, tests bring joy?  What are you – some kind of Pollyanna?

James is not suggesting to his readers that they thank God when a loved one dies, when they get cancer or lose a job.  (These are the things we think of as trials.  The people James was writing to were probably experiencing more severe trials such as real persecution because of their stand for the Messiah, not just experiencing the normal cares of life that we characterize as trials.)  Rather he was telling them they should recognize that these difficult times, while not in themselves something to take joy in, would bring about a real change in them – and that would be something to rejoice about.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

Hey James, I think you are right.  As I look back at times of real trials (like becoming a widow with two young girls at 33 or getting aggressive and advanced cancer at 53) I realize that those times brought me much closer to God and gave me a strength I would never have had without those difficult times.  While I will never thank God for the death of my precious husband, for seeing my body deformed after surgical removal of a breast or for the effects I still suffer in my body because of chemo and radiation, I am thankful for the growth I gained because of those trials.  I am thankful that I have truly discovered what Jesus was talking about when He spoke of the joy and peace He was giving us.  

Finally, James not only tells his friends to find joy in difficult times, he lets them know how they can do that.

And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him

You make it sound simple James!  But life is not simple!

Oh I get it!  That’s the beauty of the gospel.  It is simple.  Trust and obey.  I sometimes make it so hard.  My mind doesn’t want to just trust.  I want detailed answers to my questions.  I want to know the end before I take that step of faith God is asking me to take.

Peter sums it up pretty good in his letter to the church.

And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.

Yes that it is.  It is a joy that words cannot express.  Joy unspeakable and full of glory!  To all my friends who follow me on my blog, chairein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now That It’s Over

Christmas 2017 is now history.

christmas tree decchristmas dinnerpresents

The beautiful tree we spent hours decorating is now ready to be taken down and put away for another year if it was an artificial tree, or it soon will join the landfill if we chose a live tree.

christmas tree dead

All the presents that we spent days and weeks searching for in the store or online and then wrapped so carefully are now opened.  The beautiful packaging is probably in the trash cans ready to also go to the landfill.  Some are enjoying their gifts while others are perhaps a little disappointed that Santa did not bring them exactly what they wanted.  Maybe it was the wrong size so a trip to the store to make an exchange is on the agenda this week.

presents unwrapped

All the delicious food that Moms spent hours preparing has long been consumed or is sitting in the refrigerator waiting for leftovers tonight.  The beautiful china has been washed and put away for another year – or the Christmas paper plates are also headed to that landfill.

dirty dishes

Some are savoring precious memories made this year with family and friends.  For them it was a time of great happiness and an almost Christmas-card perfect day.  There were newlyweds spending their first Christmas together.  Grandmas and grandpas were enjoying spending time with grandchildren they do not see the rest of the year.  Brothers and sisters, cousins laughed over board games or their favorite Christmas movie.

Still others are glad it’s over because it was a sad time.  There were family members who were absent at the table this year.  Some were gone because death tragically struck this year.  Others grieve over the divorce that split the family in two.  Some families spent the holiday in the hospital or sitting quietly by the bedside of a loved one who is quickly spending their last days.

But regardless of how this year’s Christmas season turned out – happy or sad, perfect or so imperfect, it is history.

So now what?  Do we just put away the decorations, replace our Christmas CD’s with our favorite music style, close our Bibles to Matthew and Luke and go on with “normal” life.  Did we just “enjoy” the Christmas play at church, the children singing “Away in a Manger”, the classic Christmas carols or the contemporary songs like “Mary, Did You Know”  Is that all there is?

While we hear the Christmas story every year and it is old and well-known, I think we would be wise to follow Mary’s example as found in Luke’s story of the nativity.  When the shepherds found the baby in the manager and told Mary and Joseph of the message of the angels, Luke tells us that

Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.

So what do we do now?  Put aside all we have heard this season of the Christmas story and go back to our busy world.  Or, would it not be a good idea to stop now and then as winter turns into spring, then summer, then fall and think about what the Christmas story really means.  God come in the flesh to redeem mankind.  God’s demonstration of His love for us.

My prayer is that you will take time to think about Christmas – the real meaning of Christmas – in the days, weeks, months ahead and let it change how you live in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Am I Waiting For?

As we enter Advent – the season of waiting – I have been reading scriptures that speak of the wait for the Messiah, the one who would save the world, scriptures that speak of our wait for our Lord’s return.   Examining my life I realized I do a lot of waiting – but what am I waiting for?

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Banana curls just like Shirley Temple

First, as a little girl I waited:

  • to learn to read the “big” books.
  • to be able to jump rope
  • for Santa Claus to come
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Don’t you just love the hairstyle?

Then, as a young high school graduate I waited:

  • to find a job
  • to meet “Mr Right” and be married
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Home on leave just before going to Vietnam my Marine asked me to be his wife

When he came along, then I waited:

  • for the day we could say “I do”
  • to have my own home
  • to be a mother
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The major joy of my life – precious gifts from God

After my girls were born I waited:

  • to see them grow up
  • to see them married and with a family
  • to someday be a grandmother
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This grandson, who never met his grandfather, is so much like him

After my husband was killed in an accident, I waited again:

  • wondering if the pain would ever go away
  • wondering how I would raise my girls alone
  • wondering if there could be happiness again for me
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Thankful for this man who brought joy once again to me

When God took my pain (but never the precious memories I will always keep in my heart and treasure), I waited again:

  • for our blended family to become one
  • to grow old with this man
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I lost my beautiful red hair – but now I wear a wig so I’m still a fiery redhead

Then cancer came and I waited:

  • to recover from surgery and aggressive treatment
  • to get my hair back
  • to get past that 10 year mark of survival
  • to reach retirement

I spent so much of my life waiting for things in the “here and now.”  Spending so much effort and hope and time anticipating for my future in this life.

That is certainly not wrong.  God made us to enjoy this life and all of the things I waited for were good and blessings from God – job, family, health.

But as I reflect on the scriptures that speak of waiting, I realize the most important thing I should be anticipating and waiting for are not those things in the “here and now” but the hope of what is to come when the “here and now” is over.

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I can only imagine what this moment will be like

At this Advent season – this time of waiting and hoping – I wait for

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is…1 John 3:1-2

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed….Titus 2:11-13

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness…2 Peter 3:18

As we celebrate this season of waiting, anticipating – I ask you, what are you waiting for?

Fellowship – What is that?

Fellowship

In Christian circles we love to talk about fellowship.  When we announce church events, we often try to encourage everyone to attend by talking about the opportunity we will have to “have fellowship with one another.”  There is the weekly/monthly/annual fellowship meal.

Fellowship 2

And, of course, when summer comes we often have the church picnic.

Church picnic

Most every church has a fellowship hall.

fellowship hall

Or, a coffee bar.

coffee bar

According to Webster’s dictionary fellowship is:

a community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience; meaningful communication for building trust and fellowship

While this definition could be used for activities not related to church, we usually do not hear the secular world using this term.  When was the last time your coworkers invited you to join them after work at the local bar or restaurant so you could have “fellowship?”  When was the last time your boss offered a fellowship meal for the employees?

In the church world, we love this word.  But what do we really mean when we use this word?  What does the Bible mean when it uses this word?

The Greek word used in the Bible  for fellowship is “koinonia.”  It is usually translated in English to “communion,” “fellowship,” “sharing in common” and “partake.”  The Apostle John wrote a lot of fellowship in his epistle 1 John.  After recently doing a study on that book, I have come to believe we use the word “fellowship” too often and too lightly.  As I read what John had to say about this word, I realize that Biblical fellowship is more than just an informal social gathering.  It is more than just sharing an interest or having meaningful communication with others.

In the New Testament this word for fellowship is translated many different ways.  Its first appearance is in Acts 2:42

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

In his letter to the church at Corinth the Apostle Paul used the word in a slightly different way.

They will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution (koinonia) for them and for all others.

Then when Paul wrote to the church at Philippi he again used this word with a slightly different meaning.

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share (koinonia) his sufferings, becoming like him in his death

Just as we lose some of the meaning of the word “love” when it is translated from Greek to English, I think we have lost some of the true sense the word “fellowship” carries.  Looking at just these three scriptures it appears what the Bible means by “fellowship” involves a relationship between God and other believers.  A relationship that is more than friendly words spoken over a common meal.  It involves identifying with the sufferings of Christ (and of others).  It is real participation in the lives of others rather than just an association with them.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ

John shared the good news that He had seen Jesus, been with Him, heard His teachings and he shared that good news so fellow believers  could have fellowship with John.  But he based that fellowship he wanted to share with others on his relationship with God.

 

Many Christians have concentrated on their fellowship with others.  They emphasize the need for fellowship dinners, the church gatherings, the social interaction with one another, but they leave out the importance of a close relationship with God.  This can lead to the church being nothing more than a social club.

On the other hand, many Christians concentrate on their fellowship with God.  They isolate themselves with their Bible, their prayers and their own personal relationship.  They have little interaction with other Christians, often saying “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”

But John tells us in order to be the Christian God desires us to be we need both vertical and horizontal fellowship.

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Only as we begin to have more than just a social interaction with others, to really weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, will we experience that fellowship God intended for the church.

Only as we spend time drawing closer to God and allowing His word, His spirit to direct our lives will we experience that fellowship God desires for us.

So, I ask you:

How’s your relationship with other Christians?  Do you have any fellowship, any bonds with other beleivers?

How’s your relationship with God?  Are you taking the time to grow in your relationship with Him?

We have often heard the expression, “You can’t have it both ways.”  But in this instance, I think it is true, “You must have it both ways.”