Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Days 12/16 - 150 Day Challenge

Psalm 12
It is our tongue that get us into trouble most often, is it not? We speak without thinking. We talk trash about our neighbor. We angrily rail against our adversaries. There are so many ways that our tongues can trap is in wrong behavior.
Remember that old saying 'Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me? That statement is absolutely wrong. Proverbs 15:4 tells us that kind words heal and that deceitful words really hurt, and it is true. Words can wound us so much more than physical wounds because they last longer. We never know when something we say will stick with the recipient of our words long after the fact.
I am reminded of an incident that happened when my 11 year old was in 2nd grade. One of his friends called him fat. Now, mind you, my son is not overweight in the slightest. He has always been in the 25th-50th percentile in weight and height for his age. That didn't matter, he still thought he was fat. He came home very concerned about his weight. This one comment caused him much anguish over the course of a couple of years. He still brings it up periodically even though I have reassured him over and over that he is the exact right weight that he should be. It saddens me that one mean comment by child can cause so much pain to another.
It is the same in our adult lives. We are still wounded by hurtful words that others fling at us. It may not stick with us quite as long as it did when we were children, but unkind words still sting. It behooves us all to do two things. Number one: guard our own mouths and number two: mentally combat the hurtful words of others with the truth.
Watching what we say to me is the easy part (most of the time). It means requiring ourselves to think before we speak. To all of our speech we should apply the fruit of the spirit litmus test. If the words are not loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle or self-controlled then we really shouldn't say them. Now, I realize that sometimes that is easier said than done, but we should strive towards that as a goal nonetheless.
When we encounter cutting words from some else, we have to immediately ask ourselves 'is that a true statement?'. If it is, then perhaps we have some changing to do in our own lives to bring our character in line with the ideal. If it isn't a true statement then we need to replace it with a true and positive statement about ourselves. This will help combat any negative self talk that goes on inside our heads so that we don't start to believe lies about ourselves.
Satan loves for us to put each other down with words. He also enjoys us feeling down about ourselves. It is a great victory for him to have us at each others throats. We have to fight against that urge. In order to do that, as Christians we have to rely on our Lord to give us refuge and comfort.
Whenever we feel the urge to wound, we have to remember that everyone is His creation and loved by Him. Whenever we say unkind things to someone else, it is as if we are saying it to Him. We also must be mindful of our own value in God's eyes. We were made for his purpose (Philippians 2:12-14) and we can't fulfill that purpose if we are arguing amongst ourselves all the time.

Psalm 13
This Psalm really spoke to me today. For many years I have felt God calling me to do something in the way of ministry. Growing up I always felt that God had a special plan for me, but I never knew what it was. Plus I always felt like Gideon in that I didn't feel worthy of God's call, so mostly I tamped it down lest anyone think I was trying to be boastful.
Then one day I stumbled upon the unlikely ministry of Internet blogging. I began to write things about my relationship with my Savior and much to my dismay, people read it. Not only did they read it, but they were touched by it. This was both exhilarating and humbling at the same time. I appreciated the responsibility I had in my representation of God and his love for people. I made sure that I was prayerful in my writing. I wanted to be a help, not a hindrance. I adopted the practice of praying, from Psalm 19:4 that my words and meditations would be pleasing to God before I sat down to write. Many is the time that God told me not to write something I was planning on writing and turned it into something totally different.
I do have a point that pertains to this Psalm, I promise. :)
As time wore on I realized that along with the people who were touched by my words, there was another group who were opposed to them. This caused me great pain, because the adversaries were not always non-Christians, but yet some of my fellow Christians. It was hard for me to imagine that my own 'brothers' and 'sisters' were so against me. I spent many hours in anguished prayer trying to sort out this puzzling development. I continued to get the same message from God : Press on.
I certainly don't believe I have unlocked any secrets of scripture or anything like that; there are no secrets in the scriptures. They are all there for any of us to read and prayerfully consider. I also don't think I am beyond being taught by others. Whenever I encounter someone who is opposed to what I am doing/saying, I pray that if there is any truth to their admonishment, that I would be able to see it and correct it. If I am told to correct something I said or did, then I do it. It is not always easy to suck it up and admit fault, but I try to do as I am called to do.
Here's the point I promised to make:
There have been many times I felt just as the Psalmist felt in this passage. I felt that those who were against me were rejoicing in times when I had to humble myself and admit I was wrong. I wrestled with my thoughts and cried out to God to just make them leave me alone. I admit at times I felt He was hiding His face from me.
It was then that I realized it was me who was hiding from Him. He was asking me to fully trust in Him - to fix my intentions on His unfailing love. As long as I followed what He was calling me to do and earnestly sought His approval in my life, I would be okay.
Of course, that doesn't mean everything will be smooth sailing. I will still encounter opposition. I can't please everyone or satisfy all, but I don't answer to people. As long as God knows my heart, that is what matters to me.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 14
In this Psalm we see that the Psalmist was incredulous that anyone would not believe in God. This is a common thought among Christians. What seems obvious to Christians is much more ambiguous to non-believers.
It can be hard not to get frustated with others when they don't believe as we do. Conversing with them can feel like we are beating our heads against a brick wall while talking in circles. I does little to convince them to come to our way of understanding.
That is why I gave up proselytizing years ago - no one was listening. I was never much of an evangelist anyway, it is not my gift, but I did accompany my mother on her evangelism calls as a child. I saw how futile that tactic was as door after door was either not answered or we were 'politely' told they weren't interested. I vowed then to find a better way. I felt conflicted for many years though because weren't we supposed to 'go out into all the world and preach the gospel'? Surely not doing that was a sin.
Then it dawned on me that there are many ways to 'preach the gospel' and that God did not expect us to simply stand on a street corner and exhort or knock on doors to recruit. I learned that he has uniquely gifted each one of us and with that gift we are to follow his lead and spread the gospel, which means Good News, by the way, to others.
I found that I had a talent for writing, so I was convicted to use that gift as an not only an offering to God, but also as a tool to show others the good news of Jesus. In other areas of my life, I try to let the love of God shine through my service to others. This has been a fairly effective way of spreading the gospel, I think.
I am not looking for notches on my belt. I don't expect anyone I come in contact with to convert to Christianity. I don't make friends with people simply to convert them. That is not my mission. I choose my friends because they are wonderful, caring, honest, trustworthy, smart, etc. not for any other reason. My mission is simply that when I am around they would feel the love of my God.
So, while I can understand the frustration of the Psalmist that everyone around him seems to be a Godless heathen, I wonder why it bothers him so much?

Psalm 15
In today's Psalm, the person whom David is describing sounds like Jesus. Who else can say his walk is blameless? No one but Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we all strive for that perfection that Jesus embodied, but we can never achieve it.
Of course, knowing that we can't acheive perfection does not give us license to simply do as we will and continue in our old sin patterns. Romans 6 clearly states that even though the grace and mercy of Christ is always extended to us, this is no reason for us to continue to give up trying to be like Christ.
This is undoubtedly a very daunting task. To speak the truth in love, to say no slanderous words against another, to keep our promises even when it hurts, to give of our money (and ourselves) freely to those in need. These are just some of the characteristics of Jesus and even to be true to these few attributes is hard for us. But try we must.
There is a lot for us to strive for in those verses. Perhaps concentrating on one thing for today will help us to focus more clearly on God's intentions for us. Let's focus today on speaking the truth in love.
This is a sometimes misunderstood responsibility. In Ephesians 6, Paul admonishes the people in Ephesus to speak the truth in love to one another. We must remember that Paul is writing to a congregations of believers, so whatever he is telling them is meant as a directive on how to treat those within the body of believers. We can't augment that to mean we, as believers should treat non-believers the same as we treat those within our own faith community.
Does this mean we aren't supposed to speak the truth of God the way we see it? Certainly not. It simply means that we are obligated to one another to speak up when we see a fellow Christian in an activity that contradicts scripture.
Here is the tricky part, though, there are so many divisions among Christians, different sects and denominations, that it is hard to dissect what the truth really is when it comes to the small details of our faith. The list is endless of the points that can be quibbled about when it comes to Christianity.
There is however one truth that is absolute in the Christian faith - a belief in Jesus as our Savior, that he was both God and human at the same time, that he came to us as a servant to fulfill a mission in his death and resurrection. On this point we cannot quibble. To us he was not simply a good man, nor only a prophet. He was (and is) or Lord and Savior. It is the one thing, when all the other squabbles fall away that fastens us all together.
So, when we hear a brother or sister who declares themselves a Christian but does not believe in Jesus in this way, we must speak the truth to them in love. That is what we are required to do and that is what Romans 6:14 means. It means that those who are no longer babies in the faith, take the newer Christians under their wing and make sure that this truth is not overlooked.
I admit that I am rather progressive in my biblical interpretation, but on this fact I do not waver. I don't assault others with my beliefs; it is their right and privilege as a person with free will to choose as they see fit to worship. But for those who are under the umbrella of Christianity, I will speak the truth of our faith to them. By the blood of Jesus we are made whole because he is our Emmanuel - our 'God with us' - nothing less.

Psalm 16
This Psalm has long been my favorite Psalm. I believe it embodies the spirit of our lives as Christians. It speaks of the greatness of God as our refuge. It praises Him for giving us good counsel. It gives us hope that we will always be with Him.
Many is the time I have come to this passage for solace when I felt like things in my life were hopeless. The promises in it's words really resonate with me.
I first found this Psalm close to 20 years ago. I had, at that time, renewed my faith, after having been away for several years. I never really lost my faith, I guess you could say I put it on hold for a while. I was still a believer, but not much of a follower. Lucky for me, even while I was not following, God continued to protect me. I can see that now, even though I could not at the time.
There are a number of incidents I can point to in retrospect where God truly saved me from the grave. Why He did that for me, I am not sure, except that the words of Philippians 1:4-6 rang true in my life. God wasn't finished with me.
When I found Psalm 16, I felt it had been written especially for me. I had been very quilt ridden for my years of living away from my Lord. Then I read this passage and felt instantly at peace. I knew that, as the Psalm said, "The boundary lines had fallen for me in pleasant places." Hallelujah! What else could anyone want in life?
From then on, I have gone back to these words many times. I have dreamed of my 'eternal pleasures at His right hand' even while I understand that I have work to do here in this life. Somewhere along the line I adopted the mantra 'Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet'. There will be many times when set-backs happen and I don't seem to be moving forward, I still have things to accomplish and plans to carry out.

©KDV 2009