Scars Can Rob Of Us Of The Joy Of Life Or They Can Be A Source Of Renewal And Strength.

Scars.

Most all our bodies are marked by them. Most all of us wish they weren’t.

We generally view scars to be blemishes to the body’s beauty and purity.

They are signs that one’s body has been harmed. It may have been due to a freak accident. It may have been due to abuse; either self-inflicted or inflicted by others. It may have been due to the harmful consequences of an unwise decision. It may have been due to a life-saving or life-giving surgery. It may have been due to an intentional effort to try to improve the looks of the body. But scars are signs that one’s flesh has been openly wounded in some fashion.

The events that scar the physical body usually scar the emotions and soul as well.

Each time we experience the tenderness or numbness of a scar, we are reminded of the way things were before we were wounded. Each time we glimpse a blemish, our mind relives the events which opened the wound. Each time we relive those events, we reflect upon their impact upon our character, our personality, our emotional stability, our interaction with others, and our spiritual beliefs.

Scars produce a variety of reflections and emotions. Some bring back pleasant memories of carefree childhood days; a time when our mama was always there to fix any wound we received while playing. Some remind us of the joy we felt when we heard our baby’s first cry. Some help us to be thankful that we didn’t suffer the full consequences of our stupid youthful actions. Some give us relief that the doctors were able to perform preventive surgery before a major health issue occurred.

But many scars produce negative reflections and emotions. Each time we feel them, we cringe in fear once again. Each time we see them, our mind begins to reel over and over, out of control, as if we were in that somersaulting vehicle once more. Each time we wash them, we hear the abusive words that accompanied the abusive blows which opened the wounds.

Many of us spend much of our lives trying to deal with the events which have scarred our body, soul, and spirit. We want so much to put these events behind us. We desire to not be afraid, or bitter, or resentful, or filled with hate. Though we wish they had never happened and we wonder why they did occur, we realize that the events cannot be undone.

So, how do we deal with life’s scars?

The simplest answer is to say, “Give your life to Jesus, and let him take care of your burden.” But that is a simple statement summarizing a complex process.

Jesus is the answer to life’s problems, but he does not erase the past, nor does he create completely smooth sailing for the future. Jesus does not create a pain free life for his servants.  Instead, he helps them deal with the pain they encounter through love, forgiveness, selflessness, and hope. Jesus exemplifies each of these and then enables his followers to practice them. The problems and memories do not fade away, because the scars are always there. But as we grow in Christ, the events that caused the scars take on a different meaning. And the feelings we have toward those who may have inflicted the wounds transform from bitter hatred to forgiving love.

Scars can rob us of all joy in life or they can provide a continuous opportunity to add more joy to each breath we take. The difference between the two is attitude. Experiencing Jesus’ love can help transform our pain into healing.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Jesus (Luke 23:34) ESV

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” – Stephen (Acts 7:60) ESV

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) ESV

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Dangerous Encounters Are Usually Only Seconds Away. Are You Prepared?

Life has a way of transforming from contemplatively peaceful to potentially dangerous in a matter of seconds.

A narrowed section of roadway lies at the bottom of a long hill which I walk each morning. The shoulders on either side of the section are virtually nonexistent, the sides being bordered by large holes leading into and away from a drainage culvert.

As I neared the section this morning, I saw a car heading toward me about a 1/4 mile away. This was only the second car to interrupt my peacefulness, 30 minutes into my walk. I looked up the hill behind me to make sure all was clear, then crossed the road to give the approaching car more room. A few seconds later, the driver slowed, flashed her lights and waited for a car which had come over the hill behind me. No sooner had these two passed one another, when two more vehicles entered the picture, each approaching from opposite directions. The meeting was completed successfully but only due to both drivers slowing and cautiously approaching the narrowed section which I was trying to quickly navigate. I saw no more vehicles for several minutes after that.

In a matter of seconds, and for just a brief moment, at least 5 lives were thrown together in a circumstance that presented potential danger to all. None of them had purposely planned the encounter, but it happened. Probably few other than I felt endangered, but the risk to all was real.

Thankfully, everything turned out okay.

But the lesson remains. One never knows when the joy of a peace filled day can instantaneously transform into a potentially life-threatening happenstance.

Be prepared.

“16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21) ESV

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“I Need To Work!”: An Utterance That Will Always Produce Respect And Appreciation.

“Is it supposed to rain today? I hope not. I really need the work. We didn’t get to work much last week. And I have a payment coming up Saturday. I really need to get in some time.”

The middle-aged man, slightly younger than me, sat in his car waiting for his employer to arrive. I sat on the edge of a feed bunk, taking a break from my walk. Fencing (not the sport but installing wire boundaries for livestock) is his second job; his first is milking cows for a local dairyman. Both are laborious and physically taxing.

The conversation sounded so familiar. As we talked, I couldn’t help but go back to a time when I tried to make ends meet by picking up as many jobs as I could and by putting in as much time as my employers would allow when they were paying me by the hour. Preaching, working at a local retail building supply store, stocking drywall in newly constructed houses after business hours, harvesting tobacco, installing vinyl siding, and picking up handyman jobs here and there.

A couple of memories immediately popped into my mind. There was the Friday when one of my retail employers handed me my pay check at dinner and told me to go home because they were cutting my hours that week due to slow customer traffic. I remembered the bewilderment, disappointment, and resentment. I was only making minimum wage. I remembered thinking that the 5 hours saved was not going to make or break the business. Why would they do that to me? I stayed mad all weekend.

Then there was the memory of driving 20 miles to meet another employer before daylight on a fairly cold winter morning, only to be told there would be no work that day, and that I should go home.  This was before the days of cell phones. He had told me the day before that if it snowed much, I should not come to work because we would not be able to install vinyl siding in snowy weather.  Apparently, “much” is a relative term, depending upon your need. Yes, it had flurried, and there was a skiff of snow blowing across the road in front of me. But in my mind, because the ground was not covered and since I needed the money, it had not snowed much.

Yesterday’s conversation was refreshing. I left it with a high respect for my newly found acquaintance. In a day and age when so many conversations bemoan the majority of society’s poor work ethic and lack of desire to perform any type of sweat producing labor, it was good to talk to a man who wanted to work. In a day and age when entitlement, a feeling of irresponsibility to repay incurred debts, and dependency upon the generosity of others seems to be the prevailing philosophy, it was good to speak with a man who is willing to accept responsibility in repaying a debt he willingly agreed to accept.

“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12) ESV

“We urge you . . .to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:

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It Could be Clogged Arteries, But I Really Think It’s Just my Age!

Before my heart surgery, I knew that I was becoming sluggish, both physically and mentally, but I attributed my sluggishness to my age. After all, I’ve never been this age before, and I really don’t know what energy level I am supposed to possess, nor how keen my thought processes should be.

So, though I congratulated myself for accomplishing small tasks that I once would have considered feats of minimal effort, I really thought that it was just an unpreventable, natural part of becoming older.

Before the surgery, the doctors and several people who had experienced bypass surgery told me that I would not realize just how bad I felt, or just how the clogged arteries were affecting me, until I experienced the results of free blood flow.

They were right.

Since my surgery, my energy level has increased exponentially, and my thought processes have become keener than they have been in the past 15 years or so.

That which I considered an unpreventable, incurable consequence of age was actually the result of restricted blood flow due to clogged arteries. And it could be reversed or cured.

Spiritually, as we become older and invest more and more time in the service of God, we can often become sluggish in our efforts and thinking.  We may recognize our sluggishness, but we may consider it an unpreventable, natural part of becoming older. However, many times, it is the result of spiritually clogged arteries.

Several things can clog our spiritual arteries, especially when we hit middle-age.

Fear of not having financially accumulated and saved enough to provide for us in our “golden years” can cause us to want to focus more on money than on christian service.

Applying the worldly concept of retirement to our spiritual service can cause us to believe that just as we can leave our secular jobs to travel, or enjoy leisure, so we can minimalize our service to God so that we can fulfill all the dreams we have worked so hard to achieve.

The desire to sow a few “wild oats” before we become physically unable to do so can often lead us to engage in immorality, intemperance, unwise stewardship, and unbridled rebellion.

Apathy disguised as contentment can lull us into refusing to promote or allow the church to actively grow. We convince ourselves that all change is bad. We try to convince others that the way we have always done things is the right way. We cherish tradition, routine, and the memories of the good old days. Thus, we find it difficult to embrace the use of new technology, new methods of evangelism, new programs of benevolence, or new ways of teaching Bible classes.

The desire to believe that we are not unique and that our sluggish outlook reflects the attitude of the whole congregation can cause us to hold back those who are younger or who do not have clogged arteries. We believe that because we no longer feel like having frequent fellowship gatherings, no one wants to. We believe that because we do not think a proposed activity will be successful or beneficial, no one is in favor of it.

Clogged spiritual articles can affect us in many ways. And they fool us into thinking that our sluggishness or distorted thinking is a natural part of our age.

But like physically restricted blood flow, our spiritual blood flow can be restored.

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

We can begin by turning our focus away from the things of this world and turning it to things that are above. (Colossians 3:1-4). We can help it by focusing on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-3) Our spiritual blood flow will continue to improve if we come to understand the true value of the church. (Ephesians 3:10).

We can continue to clear our spiritual arteries by learning the difference between true contentment and being set in our ways. (Philippians 4:10-13)

We can also increase our spiritual blood flow by realizing that the concept of spiritual “retirement” cannot be found within the scriptures.

“16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

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A Woods Without Trees Would Cease To be A Woods. Would A Life Without People Cease To Be A Life?

We have always called the three acre plot covered by trees located at the east side of the family farm, “the woods”. It’s not big enough to be called a forest; a forest is a large wooded area so densely populated that one could become lost. To some, I’m sure our 3 acres would be considered nothing more than a thicket. But to us, it will always be “the woods.”

The trees that populate the woods vary in species, size, shape, and age. Hardwoods make up most of the vegetation; red oaks, post oaks, white oaks, pin oaks, hickories, and more. Several red cedars give the underbrush a year-round green hue. In recent years, a specie of tree which we always called an “island tree” because it reminded us of the coconut trees on “Gilligan’s Island” has forged its way more deeply into the woods. And there is one stray peach tree which has sprung up from a randomly discarded seed.

From Spring to late Fall, the foliage of this hodgepodge of trees provides a beautiful canopy for the wildlife which seeks refuge beneath its shade. In the Spring, redbuds and dogwoods blossom and fill the air with a sweet aroma. Turkeys roost high in the branches of the hardwoods at night. During the Summer the varying shades of greenery ripple in the wind allowing the occasional warming sunray to reach the ground below. And in the Fall, acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts provide much needed sustenance for the deer and squirrels which scurry beneath the trees.

Several of the trees which are growing in the woods possess potential monetary value. Throughout the years, professional loggers have asked me to consider selling the boundary of logs. A few times, I have considered the offers from the loggers.

But each time, when I have weighed the cost of losing its beauty, the cost of losing the wildlife habitat, the cost of cleaning up the residual laps and stumps, and the cost of reseeding the acreage in grass to protect it from erosion, I have decided to leave it as it is.

I’ve also considered trying to “weed out” some of the “undesirable” trees; the “island trees”, the cedars, and some of the deformed hardwoods. But this too seems to be counter-productive. If they were transmitting diseases to the other species, I would clear them out. But since they are in no way detrimental to the other trees, removing these “undesirables” would diminish the beauty of the woods and it would make it less wildlife friendly.

In the end everything which has naturally sprang up within the woods has made it what it is today.

As we apply this to our lives, the many people who surround us form our own little “woods”. Some resemble us in race, creed, color, and belief, and some do not. Some are hardwoods in that they stand firm in their system of beliefs and lifestyle which they have developed over many years.  Some are bloomers in that they occasionally seem to bring beauty and sweetness into our lives. Some are evergreens in that they always seem to be energetically alive and growing no matter what season of life they are in. Some are fruit bearing. And some are so unique that we don’t really even know how to describe them.

But they all make up our woods.

There are times when we are tempted to sell off or clear out the woods of our life. To sell off the relationships which we believe are holding us back economically or professionally. To clear out the people who are different than we are. To clear out the people who may be considered undesirable by our peers or by society. To clear out the people who are unique or odd.

It’s not that these people have an evil or negative influence on our lives. It’s just that we don’t want them around or we believe that we can economically benefit from their removal.

Before we do such, we need to take time to truly evaluate every person’s worth to our lives. We need to make sure that we consider our value to their lives. We need to make sure that we take the time to count the cost of losing the blessing of knowing these people.

Many times, when we take the time to carefully consider the situation, we will realize that each person in the vast hodgepodge of people which surrounds us plays an important role in making us who we are.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. . .this is good, and is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself up as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

 

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Those Amish Are Really Different Than Us! Or Are They?

An unusual sound emanated from one of the Amish houses I passed on my morning walk.

Normally, these homesteads are very quiet. One may hear an occasional “neigh” or “moo”, or the sounds of metal buggy wheels rolling over a graveled drive. But this sound was different.

The distinct chug of a gas-powered small engine echoed through the trees. As I drew near the house, I saw the engine anchored to a small metal plate which had been welded to a pole driven in the ground beside the house. The engine’s crankshaft had been extended through the metal siding and into the open “utility area” of the home.  It powered some type of tool or appliance located inside.

Which is highly unusual.

The Amish in our area are known for their conservative stance when it comes to the use of gas-powered engines. These sources of power may be used on hay balers and other farm implements. Occasionally, they may be utilized in the form of a chainsaw or other tool necessary for accomplishing a task on a jobsite. But until recently, gas-powered engines were considered taboo for any type of tool used for chores around the home; they could not be used for mowing the yard, generating electricity for milking a cow, powering a clothes washer, or anything else.

Apparently, changes are being made in our community’s Amish order. Now, occasionally, one will see a man mowing his yard using an old-fashioned gas- powered push lawnmower. Some things that once were considered worldly are now being considered amoral. Some things that once were shunned due to the possibility that they could contribute to worldly temptations, are now being utilized in moderation.

Which brings to mind some questions which are regularly thrown out around many a table in our area.

“Why do the Amish have such an aversion to modernization? If there truly is something worldly or sinful about it, why will they eventually change their practices?

Why are some “orders” so conservative, while others located just a few miles away so liberal; for instance, one order may not allow any use of a phone, another order may allow the use of a community or pay phone, and still another order will allow the use of cell phones, providing they are used for business purposes? Why can the members of one order only utilize horse drawn implements with metal wheels, while the members of other orders are allowed to use equipment which rolls on rubber tires, and still the members of other orders are even allowed to drive tractors or automobiles?

Why do some advocates of the Amish faith continually relocate as they search for a community which will allow them to work and live the way they want to work and live; for instance when a man desires to operate a commercial dairy but his current community will not allow him to use an electrically powered milking machine, why will he move his family many miles away into a community which will allow him to do what he wants?”

All these questions have been pondered and discussed by some very religious individuals who question the reasoning, motives, and standards of this “unusual” or “odd” sect which dwells among us.

But are the Amish that much different than most of the religious world? Do not many within “Christendom” think and act the same way?

In every “faith” are there not “conservative” and “liberal” congregations? Haven’t the core members of every church in existence at some point considered some things taboo, but later consider those same issues or practices acceptable? Doesn’t every faith have members who continually relocate from congregation to congregation, or even from “faith” to “faith” until they find a group that will allow them to live the way they want to live and to do the things they want to do?

People are people no matter where they are located, or how modernized or civilized they become. Perhaps we more readily notice the changes in the Amish community because they are more visibly identifiable. Perhaps we openly discuss these changes because more times than not, there are no Amish present during the conversation. Perhaps we sometimes can’t understand their reasoning because it resembles the same logic we use for arriving at our own religious beliefs; and we can neither understand nor willingly admit our use of such unreasonable logic.

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:1-11) ESV

 

 

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Nurses Hold The Key To Any Surgeon’s Success. Members Of The Church Hold The Key to Any Preacher’s Success.

“Who performed your surgery?”

It seems that at least one person has asked me this question everywhere I have gone over the past 4 weeks. Sometimes as many as 3 or 4 people have asked it. And each time I answer the question, the response has been something like, “He did my surgery. He’s such a good doctor. I don’t think there is a better one anywhere.”

I have yet to hear anything negative about this surgeon. I will agree that he does excellent work. My results are an attestation to that fact.

But there is a group of essential people who we often overlook when we single out the surgeon as the key to a successful procedure. Most surgeons would hardily agree that these people are absolutely necessary to their success.

Nurses play a major role in the success of any surgeon.

Nurses do all the prep work before the surgery. Nurses assist during the surgery. Nurses ensure the surgery’s success during the recovery period.

Nurses keep an ever-vigilant eye on the patient’s vital signs during those critical hours immediately following surgery. They are the ones who administer or adjust the levels of medications which ensure healing and comfort. They are the ones who continually evaluate the patient’s condition and make extemporaneous decisions as to their needs. The nurses are the ones who remove tubes, apply prolonged pressure to potential bleed-out sites, ensure that the patient exercises, and puts up with the patient’s ever-changing mood swings.

Indeed, the surgeon plays the role of conductor of the surgical staff, but without the nurses which make up that surgical staff, most all patients (myself included) would be singing a totally different tune when we describe our satisfaction with the surgeon and the procedure. For without the prep nurses, the surgical nurses, and the recovery nurses, successful recovery would be virtually impossible.

Spiritually, there are times when it seems certain people have been blessed with an exceptional gift for leading people to Christ and encouraging them to remain faithful to their commitments. Christians often sing the praises of these gifted people. They will describe them as persuasive, powerful, encouraging, motivational, and exemplary. Indeed, these persons seem to have been blessed with a unique gift.

Paul was such an individual. Few people will argue against an assertion that the Apostle Paul was a gifted evangelist. But Paul, himself, would insist that he could not succeed without the help of his fellow workers; people like Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Timothy, Titus, Phoebe, Aquila and Priscilla. Paul was the surgeon, and the other christians were the nurses. But Paul could not have accomplished all he did had it not been for his faithful companions.

So it is today. Zealous, enthusiastic, charismatic preachers and teachers may seem to be the primary instruments for the spread of the gospel in a community. But often, the “regular” christians in the community are the key to a preacher’s success. The preacher may be able to present the gospel so that it stirs the hearts of his listeners, but the “regular” christians are the ones who monitor the pulse of the listeners. They are the ones who interact with the listeners and who provide the needed support for the new born babes to grow in their faith.

Appreciate and commend the skills of a surgeon, but don’t ever forget that his nursing staff provides the key to his success.

Appreciate and commend the gifts of an evangelist, but don’t ever forget that the “regular” members of the church are the key to his success.

“Who then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) ESV

1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. . . .6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. . . . 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. . . .12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. (Romans 6:1-12) ESV

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Maybe I Don’t Need My Insulin Or Medicine Anymore. And Maybe I don’t Need Jesus Either!

Many diabetics control their blood sugar levels by injecting insulin and/or orally taking medicines. I am one of those diabetics. The condition is relatively new to me, as is the treatment. Through the knowledge and wisdom of the medical personnel helping me to gain control of my condition, my sugar levels have gone from consistently sky-high to consistently falling between the accepted standards for a healthy lifestyle.

A part of my treatment has been modification of diet and exercise. This is something I can and must control on my own.

The temptation I am facing is to believe that I am controlling my sugar levels totally through my own efforts.

I desire to one day hear the words, “You no longer need to inject insulin.” I’d like to eventually hear the words, “You no longer need to take medication. You are doing a fine job of controlling your sugar levels through healthy diet choices and exercise. Just keep it up, and everything will be fine.”

So, about every day, I must remind myself that the diet and exercise modifications I am making to my life are helpful and essential, but the modifications, by themselves, are not the stabilizing forces which have led to the leveling of my sugars.

These modifications are working in conjunction with the insulin and medication. The insulin and medication are not optional. Without them, my sugar levels would consistently run much higher, and would exhibit major spikes from time to time. I cannot control the levels by my own efforts. I need the benefits of the medications.

(Please note the number of times the personal pronouns “I”, “me”, and “my” are used in the section above. This indicates a desire to be in control. It indicates a desire to be totally independent of anyone or anything else. It indicates a desire to deny personal weakness and helplessness.)

Spiritually, we often face the same type of temptations when it comes to dealing with sin. Perhaps we give our hearts and lives to Jesus, and by the power of the initial emotional adrenaline rush, we make some major modifications to our lives. Our goal is to totally change. Our goal is to be as “good” and moral as we can be so that God will be proud of us.

Often, we may experience our lives transforming from an emotional rollercoaster filled with drama into a calming Sunday drive down a country lane. And we are tempted to think to ourselves, “Through my own efforts, I have made an amazing change. Maybe I don’t need Jesus; at least not as much as I once did.”

Often we joyfully witness our list of priorities shifting from parties, excitement, lust, and self-fulfillment to family, sobriety, love, and service. We think to ourselves, “I have finally found myself. I have discovered that which I have been searching for; that which fills the void in my life. I am complete. I have arrived. Maybe I don’t need God or Jesus; at least not as much as I once did.”

In those times of temptation, we fail to realize that Jesus is the reason we have been able to get off the emotional, drama-filled rollercoaster. Jesus is the reason we have replaced selfish superficiality with selfless profundity. Jesus is the reason our lives have gone from spiritually depleting to spiritually enriching.

Physically, some of us diabetics may one day be able to discontinue the insulin and medication. But spiritually, none of us will ever come to a point that we can discontinue Jesus. He will forever be the stabilizing force within our lives.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) ESV

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) ESV

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) ESV

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“I Used Your Recipe. But I Omitted 2 Ingredients And Substituted A Couple. Yet It’s Still Your Recipe.” Or Is It?

A recipe for a delicious looking Brussels sprouts side dish came across my FaceBook newsfeed. I saved it, thinking I would make it one night for our supper. The ingredients were simple; Brussels sprouts, garlic, heavy whipping cream or half-and-half, bacon, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. The author listed specific amounts of each ingredient to be used.

The night that I made the dish, I read the directions. I planned to follow the directions. I tried. I followed the preparation and cooking portion of the instructions. But giving in to my own tastes and opinions caused me to significantly veer from the author’s ingredient list.

I saw some fresh vegetables in the refrigerator which needed to be used before they spoiled; cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots. I thought that these would enhance the taste of the dish. So, I added them. Due to the additional vegetables, I added more half-and-half than was called for in the recipe. I did not have the needed amounts of parmesan or mozzarella cheeses, so I purchased an Italian blend at the store. Although the recipe called for 2/3 of a bag, I poured the entire contents over the concoction. (After all, who doesn’t like melted cheese.)

What started out as one person’s Brussels sprouts side dish became my vegetable medley bake.

The dish was delicious. My wife and I agreed that I should try to recreate it.  But we also agreed that the baked mixture could serve as a main dish rather than a side dish if chicken was added.

A couple of weeks later, I tried to make the dish again, just as I had made it before; only this time I planned to add chicken. I read the original directions, starting with the Brussels sprouts as the main ingredient. I used the author’s preparation and cooking instructions. I threw in my additional vegetables. However, this time, I added a greater quantity of each to the pot. I could not find fresh garlic, so I tried to substitute garlic flakes. I did not sprinkle in enough. By the time I added the half-and-half, the hot skillet I was using was filled to the brim so I had to pour the concoction into a pre-warmed Dutch oven.

Needless to say, the dish did not taste the same as the first time that I made it. It was alright, but not the same.

Yesterday, my wife tried her hand at recreating the dish. But like all good chefs, her intent from the beginning was to bake her version of the concoction. She read the author’s original recipe; the one that called for Brussels sprouts to be the only vegetable ingredient. She followed the preparation and cooking instructions. But her ingredient list veered significantly from either the author’s or mine. She omitted the Brussels sprouts entirely. She omitted the carrots. She used heavy whipping cream instead of half-and-half. She used a different blend of cheeses.

My wife’s vegetable dish was delicious. I hope that she can recreate it. But the words she used to describe her inspiration are the motivation for this blog.

She told me, “I used your recipe.”

I had no recipe. I simply started with someone else’s formula for a baked Brussels sprouts side dish, and tried to transform it into a main dish by adding the ingredients I wanted or had available. My wife started with the same baked Brussels sprouts side dish recipe, and tried to transform it into her own personal main dish, omitting the ingredients she dislikes and substituting the ones she finds tasteful.

In the end, three separate dishes have been created; the author’s, mine, and my wife’s

Spiritually, many within Christendom approach the church in the same way we approach cooking. In the Bible, God has told us and shown us how he wants his church organized, the type of worship he wants it to offer, and how he wants his church to fulfill its mission of evangelizing the world.

But we are not satisfied with God’s instructions. They are too basic.  They are too simple. They do not satisfy our tastes or our need for adrenalin producing excitement.

So, some of us start adding our own ideas to the church’s organization, to its worship, and to its work; we put in that which excites and invigorates us; we omit that which we consider boring or offensive.

Then when we each have our own version of the church, we turn to God and say, “I used your recipe.” We imply, “What I have designed and made is exactly what you intended.”

But what we have is an organization suited to our own taste and not made according to God’s original instructions. We have a denomination. We have a social club. We have a community activist organization. But we do not have the church.

The only way that we can have the church is to go back to the original, and to restore it, using God’s recipe.

“Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13)

“I therefore a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

“And he put all things under his feet and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

 

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Famous Last Words: “I Can Handle This.”

“You will be thirsty. You will beg me for water. But I will not give you any, because your stomach will still be asleep. Until your stomach awakens, I can’t give you water.”

The pre-op nurse stood at the end of the patient’s bed, using her 18 years’ experience to help the surgical candidate understand what lay in store for him.

“You will be in pain. Ask for pain medicine. Take the pain medicine we offer you. You will not get a gold star for resisting the pain unmedicated, and taking it will help you calmly endure the inevitable.”

The nurse continued to describe the different reactions which she had observed patients experience during their revival and recovery process.  No, she had not personally experienced these hardships, but through the years, she had assisted several hundred patients to regain consciousness and to learn to breathe on their own again.

“Do your best to listen to us, and to do what we tell you to do. We are here to help you. We will try to get you off the ventilator as quickly as we can, but you must work with us.”

The patient listened. He heard. He took it all in. He stored it in the back of his mind. Yet the whole time he was thinking, “But I am an exception. You have not witnessed my abilities as a patient. I’m different than all the others. I can handle this.”

These were his thoughts until the first pangs of conscious pain hit him. He believed these thoughts until his parched tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Then he understood that though we are all unique, we are all the same. Then he understood that years of witnessing the inevitable stages of the revival process produced a beneficial wisdom within his friend, the pre-op nurse.

Experiencing his own weaknesses stopped him from saying to himself, “I can handle this.”

Spiritually, we all have many people within our lives who try to help us see the dangers and pitfalls of sin. Some speak to us from firsthand experience, knowing the pangs of addiction or depravity. Some try to convince us from years of  lovingly counseling others who were searching for hope and truth upon which they could rebuild their lives. Some speak from a knowledge of the wisdom which God inspired the biblical writers to expound and preserve for us.

The most helpful adviser is one who combines all three; one who knows the truths of God’s word,  who can beneficially apply those truths because he realizes how he himself has been affected by sin, and he has witnessed many of the same affects in the lives of others.

But so many times, the wise advisers’ advice falls on deaf ears. As they try to warn us of the dangers of sin, we look straight through them and say to ourselves, “But you don’t understand. I am an exception. I am unique. I am strong. I can handle this. This will not be a sin to me, nor lead to my downfall.”

“The things that has the power to addict others will not addict me. That which may lead to depravity and poverty for the majority will not be strong enough to lead me down such a path. I will not allow those things which leave others lonely and empty to desert me in such a miserable condition. I can handle this.”

Then one day, we find ourselves slavishly swilling the alcohol or drugs. One day, we find our marriage broken beyond repair because we enjoyed the endorphin rush of flirting with lust. One day we find ourselves struggling to keep our family fed because we bet our paycheck on the horses.

That’s when we realize that though we are all unique, we are all the same. That’s when we realize that there is a reason why our wise old grandma warned us to flee from sin. That’s when we realize that the Bible’s wisdom applies to every generation of every age.

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33) ESV

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) ESV

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray ny it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) ESV

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