Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thankful for the Old Year, Grateful for the New

"Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name." 1 Chronicles 29:13

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Simply, Lowly and Quietly Joyful

We crave the emotionalism of Christmas like a drug. And when it doesn’t come, we buy more, drink more, bake more and eat more, in hopes that sooner or later, if we do all the traditional things, the emotions will genuinely come. But often, the older we get, they never do.

This is my first Christmas where there was altogether no snow, no home-baked goods except for the cupcakes brought over by my neighbor, no focus on presents, and no children (both our kids are far away in two different states). And God in His mercy made it an exceedingly contented Christmas.

I love my kids and being with them at Christmas. I delight in traditional Christmas cookies. And I adore a white Christmas. But this year, knowing I would have none of that, I prayed a simple prayer to God to keep me strong. He not only kept me strong, he cleansed me of the need to have the usual accouterments of Christmas, and gave me His peace (which indeed does truly go beyond comprehending). 

The only thing I can compare it to is the residents of Whoville as they gathered together that Grinch-ransacked Christmas morning: For them, Christmas “came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” My Christmas even came without “rare Who-roast beast” (my husband and I grabbed a late dinner of Chow Mein at a small Chinese take out place after driving back from an impromptu snack gathering with extended family on Christmas day).

What freedom to finally be able to sit with God each day of December and just be still in Him! I thank God that no depression or funk befell. I thank God especially for the young couple, friends of ours that we met in seminary, who visited us in our home the weekend before Christmas. I thank God that my husband and I had a quiet, lovely time on Christmas Eve that harkened back to when it was just the two of us. I thank the Lord for His coming into the world and into my husband and mine’s marriage. I thank God for the life that each of my children is living that, although it keeps them away, fulfills them.

Yes, Christmas came without the usual brouhaha, but also without the usual dependence on it. Perhaps that is why it also came without the attendant post-Christmas let down. That is something I didn’t think I would ever experience. Christmas came pretty much as it did in that manger long ago: simply, lowly and quietly joyful. It came, fully embracing the gift and tender blessings of God.

I pray that the peace and contentment God turned Christmas into this year will be the case every year: whether it arrives with all the trimmings or not; whether surrounded by loved ones or not.

I perceive this is what wise, aged believers experience, and not just at Christmas. It is what they have come to know of God and the birth of His Son into their lives.

copyright Barb Harwood

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why Jesus Came to Us

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever Amen." 1 Timothy 1:15-17

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Living What We Already Know

I’m reading the book, Loving Well by William P. Smith, in which the author talks about how, even after having already written a booklet entitled, How Do I Stop Losing It with My Kids?, he indeed continued to “lose it” with his kids. This was balm to my sorrowful heart that regrets the fact that I could spend an hour or more in devotions, Bible reading and prayer with God and then five minutes later engage in a tantrum with my kids or become impatient with them.

Peter Furler, when he was lead singer of the Newsboys, sang,  “I dunno how I can end a prayer, then turn on a friend.”

As comforting as it is to hear other people confess and write about how they, too, forget Scripture’s precepts the minute life or people make demands, we can’t stop there (as I wrote in a recent blog post, we are not to wallow in our sin, but to be those who overcome sin). We have to go further. And the only way to exit the roundabout of “read Scripture, pray, then yell-at-the-kids, curse the boss, take everything personal, etc. etc.” is to stop it. We have to start living what we already know.

I live across the street from a workout facility and I am amazed at how, already at 4:30 am, a few cars trickle into the parking lot. These early birds are the folks who don’t just read exercise and fitness books, buy Adidas and talk about ten-minute abs, they follow through and actually exercise! They put on the Adidas, prioritize getting themselves to the fitness center and do the ten-minute ab routine.

The funny thing is, I know Christians who have no problem running marathons or 10K’s or attending Spinning classes religiously yet struggle to follow through on their heart and mind exercises of doing what Scripture says! I used to be one of them. Sixty miles on a bike? Piece of cake! Running outdoors in January? No problem! Holding my tongue? Fail. Thinking more highly of others than myself? Flunk.

The point is, we know how to follow through in other parts of our lives. So why not with Scripture? If follow-through in other parts of our lives is taking time and effort away from prioritizing the Biblical growth of our hearts and minds, then perhaps we need to lower the priorities in other areas and put the intentional practice of Christ’s commands first.

© Barb Harwood

“because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5a

“encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 1:12

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:19-25

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to Stay Married 70 Years (or more)

What a joy to read the following article on a couple who raised 5 children and have been married 70 years:

"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." Psalm 127:3

"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." Romans 12:10

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." Hebrews 3:13

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Inauthentically "Authentic?"

A criticism is often cast towards “people in the church” for being phony, putting on a good front, and lacking honesty about and acknowledgement of their faults and shortcomings. However, it has been my experience that, among true Christians who have fully submitted to Christ not only as their Savior but as their Lord also, honesty and openness about their sin has never been a problem. I have found that, among trusted Christians with whom I have established a relationship, I can freely and safely be “authentic” in my personal battle with sin. For this, I am exceedingly grateful.

However, I have noticed that too much of a dependence on “authenticity” can sometimes lead to excusing ourselves, without even realizing it, to an ongoing life of known sin. If we establish our Christian life as one of readily confessing our failures and how we’ve fallen short in our relationships, that can become, in essence, our Christian walk. We excel in sharing, commiserating and “loving on” ourselves and others through our brokenness. 

But sometimes all of this openness and ready admission becomes an end in itself. We are living the “authentic” Christian life, we say. We are poster children for admitting we’re not perfect. We are making it safe for others to be “authentically imperfect” as well. And we live in this cycle, with the confession being the beginning and middle point, with no intentional end in sight for the particular sin we are confessing. In effect, we have over-corrected. We don’t like the formality and superficiality of what we see elsewhere, so we emphasize our fallen-ness to a fault.

But being a disciple of Jesus Christ is about leaving our life of sin once we are made aware of it (John 8:11), not wallowing in it. Being a disciple means discipling (not enabling) others. One of the last instructions given by Jesus is to go and make disciples and teach them to obey His commands (Matthew 28:19-20). Being discipled and discipling others does involve honesty and authenticity about our sin. But it also involves honesty and authenticity about overcoming sin. Authenticity includes improvement in our relationships, full recovery from addictions, an end to particular sin, increasing spiritual maturity, and a willingness to rejoice in and share these victories and not feel guilty or “inauthentic” for doing so.

When letting our hair down takes precedence over actually doing something about our sin, when reliance on our fallenness supersedes a reliance on victory in Christ, when our Christian faith becomes nothing more than a share group for our shortcomings, we have indeed fallen short.

We are sinners justified freely by grace; this is true (Romans 3:23-24). But we are also children of God whom Jesus commanded to leave our lives of sin (John 8:11). This does not mean we will become sinless. It means that, along with commiserating about our ongoing brokenness, we rejoice in our ongoing being made whole in Christ. 

Our drive to be "authentic" with others must never become an idol that comes before God. It must not be more about ourselves and our sin nature than about Jesus Christ and freedom in Him.

copyright Barb Harwood

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'” John 8:34-36

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:1-23

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” 1 Corinthians 10:13-14

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Comfort and Joy

I am currently reading The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, by Kevin DeYoung

Here is a quote from the book:

     " doesn't help much to know all about comfort and joy if we don't know what is required to live and die in this comfort and joy. Belonging to Jesus and not ourselves means knowing three things: guilt, grace, and gratitude...First, we understand our sin. Then we understand salvation. And finally we understand how we are sanctified to serve.

     "All three things are necessary. If  we don't know about our sin--which brings a true sense of guilt--we will be too confident in our abilities to do right and make the world a better place. We will ignore our most fundamental problem, which is not lack of education, or lack of opportunity, or lack of resources but sin and its attendant misery. But if we don't know how we are set free from this sin and misery--...through God's grace--we will try to fix ourselves in futility or give up altogether in despair. And if we don't know how to thank God, showing gratitude for such deliverance, we will live in a self-centered, self-referential bubble, which is not why God saved us from our sin and misery in the first place. If Christians would hold to all 'three things' and not just one or two, we would be saved from a lot of poor theology and bad ideas." Kevin DeYoung

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." John 15:10-11

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Grace of God Through Us

God’s grace is always with us, along with Satan’s attempts to appeal to our pride to bring us back to our own independence. This is especially so in our inter-personal relationships.

For example, many people of diverse political, moral, spiritual, emotional, and mental convictions will find themselves in confined quarters this Thursday for the annual celebration of the Thanksgiving meal. As is true whenever folks gather, each person will bring a presence into the room: a jolly person lightheartedness; a negative person a pall of depression. Some people fill a room with tension; others instant calm and security.

We as Christians can choose to either bring God’s grace into a room or our own independence. In the latter case, we drag in whatever mood or attitude we are currently indulging in: nastiness, haughtiness, remoteness, superiority, intellectualism, self-promotion, self-justification, self-protection, syncretism (trying to look like or please the people we are surrounded by), superficial compassion, drama or an internal critical spirit. Our mood, along with the mood of an entire room, can change depending on who enters or leaves.

But when God’s grace is brought into the room: His warmth, wisdom, strength, silence, calm, patience, confidence, love, and discernment--others will notice. They will feel a presence like never before unless they’ve previously been around other true disciples. And when people continue to perceive this same remarkable and positively peculiar presence around Christians, they will begin to understand that it is Christ who they are seeing in Christians, not the person in whom Christ lives.

As Christians, the last person people need to see is us. The first, and finally only, person they need to see is Christ. This requires God’s grace flowing through us to bring Christ into a room. We do this out of love for and obedience to the One who showed forth Christ to us through others and now instructs us to let Him do the same for others through us.

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  1 Corinthians 2:2