Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Big Ten

by Tim Howard

Someone made the observation that the Ten Commandments are not the Ten Demand-ments. This person evidently understood that God isn’t intent on forcing anyone to comply with His decrees. He simply wants to counsel us on the best way to live in the same way a good parent would do for their children. It’s God’s wisdom passed on to us.
The very word "commandment" has a negative connotation to us; when independent-minded humans like you and me think of rules and regulations.... we tend to think of burdens. People think that by their very nature these ten laws are restrictive limits to our freedom.
When many of us hear, 'THE TEN COMMANDMENTS' we hear the clank of chains and the rattle of padlocks. We hear God saying, 'You mess with Me, you step out of bounds, and I'll fry you like a bug landing on a transformer.'  And this view... this opinion... of the Ten Commandments plays right into Satan's master plan – the one he's had from the beginning.
You see Satan has always wanted mankind to believe God is a prude, that He is the cosmic killjoy, a harsh old grandfather with a long, gray beard and bushy eyebrows.... Who doesn't want anyone to have any fun.... EVER!
That’s what happened with Adam and Eve. They believed the lie of the enemy. "Has God really forbidden you this lovely fruit?” Oh my. What a pity. What a shame. You realize of course, Eve, God knows if you ever taste from this tree, you’ll be able to do anything you want. God doesn’t want you to have that much authority. Eve, you need to know that true freedom means freedom from confining restrictions such as these."
Was Satan right? If you look around, you see what a life without boundaries will do. Every day we witness what happens in our communities when people choose to live by their own rules and reject the wisdom from above. Solomon said: Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
Are these 17 verses from Exodus 20, which contain these commandments harsh, negative, narrow and legalistic? Are they cold and confining? No! In fact they are just the opposite. God's laws bring freedom not confinement. They are not cold and harsh but warm and loving.
God gave us commands like: You shall not commit adultery because He knows sexual immorality is a path, not to pleasure and fulfillment but to emptiness and frustration. Don’t covet what your neighbor has because it will create a sense of competition and discontentment. Set one day aside for God because burnout awaits those who never pause.
God didn't throw His precepts into the Bible just because He liked the way they sounded; He didn't concoct those rules to throw His weight around; No, He gave those commands because He loves us and He knows some things that we don't. He wanted to protect us. He wants to show us the best way to live.
Solomon said: That wisdom cries out in the streets and even shouts to us. Have you committed the Ten Commandments to your memory? Which ones are you applying to your life? Which ones are yet to be acted upon? Even though God’s not forcing anyone to do anything, His wisdom is worth following. The Big Ten can lead you down a pathway that leads to life and fulfillment.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When You Have A Bad Day (Part 2)

by Andrew Cromwell

A bad day is when things in your life are turned upside down and you don’t know if you are going to be able to make it to tomorrow. On bad days we lose our job or a loved one dies. On bad days everything else in life stops because you get the worst news of your life. 

In my last article we began to look at a story found in the Bible in 1 Samuel 30 that gives us insight into how we can face a bad day and come out on the other side winning instead of whining. That chapter recounts a day when David lost just about everything that was valuable to him in life—his family, his possessions and his home.

We discussed the first two things that David did when he heard that all was lost.  First, he cried. It is important not to skip the step of actually allowing yourself to feel the weight of the situation. Don’t deny your emotions; just don’t be led by them. Turn your tears into prayers. Second, he decided not to get bitter. Bitterness will kill you from the inside out. It is all about blame and the blame game won’t get you anywhere. The only real way to overcome bitterness is by deciding to forgive! 

The third thing that David did was to encourage himself in God. The phrase actually comes straight from the Scripture—one translation says that he “drew strength from the Lord.” David made a decision to get his eyes off of the tragedy and put them on the only One who could truly help him through it. In difficult times people often draw strength from sources that are ultimately destructive—unhealthy relationships, behaviors and coping mechanisms that seem to help at first but that demand a vicious payback in the end.

To draw strength from God, we begin to remind ourselves of who God is and who we are. God sees all and knows all. He has the big picture. He also loves us and ALWAYS desires the best for us. He also promises to be with those who call on His name. We, on the other hand, are small and don’t see much (let alone understand much). We need to reach out and grab hold of Him and refuse to let go. Instead of getting mad at God and moving away from Him, we need to grab hold of God and refuse to let go! 

After David encouraged himself, he then got a word from God. In the story, he actually called for a priest to come and help him pray. He spent time in God’s presence and he came out of it knowing that God had spoken to him. We should do the same. After we have encouraged ourselves and put our mind in the right place, we need to get into His Word and read and read and read. We need to get around people of faith who we know hear from the Lord and have them encourage and pray for us. We need to spend time in prayer, both pouring our heart out to God but also listening for what He would say in return. We will discover that God will speak and He will almost always say “I am with you, I will never leave or forsake you and I will help you through this.”

The last thing that David did (and that we need to do as well) was to fight. The reason this step comes last is because we need to fight against the right enemy! Far too often we run off halfcocked and start attacking the wrong people or things. But after we have met with God, we find ourselves equipped with the right tools for the job—prayer, God’s Word, praise—and we know the right direction to point the spear. And even though this step is last, it is still part of the process. Don’t just give up! If you’re alive and kicking than God’s not done with you and you need to get back into the fight.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Advice for Fathers

by Tim Howard
The Bible gives some great advice for all fathers in all places. Fathers have a tremendous influence in the lives of their children and God designed it that way. A father who chooses to be an absentee dad, for whatever reason weakens the very fabric that stabilizes the family unit. A dad’s actions speak loudly and his words carry tremendous weight when they are guarded and guided by time-tested truth.
A first word of advice comes from a man named Moses. He was adopted by a wealthy family but after being reunited with his family of origin and becoming a father himself, said these words to all future dads: Deut. 4:9 “… be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Great fathers can’t afford to live by this motto: “Do as I say and not as I do.” If you are going to teach something that’s worth accepting and following then be careful to follow your own advice. Kids can spot a phony and when someone isn’t practicing what they preach – It’s noticeable.
Make sure, Moses says, to watch over your own lifestyle and choices in order to impact your family because teaching children is more than conveying information.
You don’t merely pass on information but teach the experiences God has used to shape your life. You teach what you know but you reproduce who you are.
 Train up a child in the way he or she should go and when old age comes he or she will not lose sight of it. A second word of advice from King Solomon is a proverb and even though there is no guarantee, there is a promise. Kids are not always going to follow good advice but if they choose to stray, the training received from childhood can help greatly.
 When kids find themselves lost or stuck in the difficulties of life, they won’t know what to do or where to go if a moral compass hasn’t been planted within them. Parents and fathers especially have a great opportunity to plant this moral compass by training their children in the ways of the Lord. Don’t merely tell your kids what to do, coach them show them. It takes more time to train rather than tell but it is worth it in the long run.
A third word of advice to fathers comes from the New Testament. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…”
As a father myself I unknowingly provoked my kids at times but learned some things along the way that’s helped me change. A dad can provoke his children to the point of frustration and anger if he chooses to dictate everything and discuss nothing! Making his view the right and only view will surely infuriate kids. Trying to fix your children without really listening to them or making ‘Dad’s’ rules more important than relationships doesn’t help very much either.
Dads! As we celebrate Fathers this weekend, remember the advice God gives in his Word. It will make a good father into a great father.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When You Have a Bad Day

by Andrew Cromwell

A bad day is when things in your life are turned upside down and you don’t know if you are going to be able to make it to tomorrow. On bad days we lose our job or a loved one dies. On bad days everything else in life stops because you get the worst news of your life. Everyone has bad days, and if you are fortunate to not have had one, chances are pretty good you will have one before too long.

Bad days happen for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they happen because you made a decision that had negative consequences. Sometimes they are caused by other people making a terrible choice. Sometimes there’s no one to point the finger at when things happen with seemingly no rhyme or reason, it’s just because we live in a fallen world that is broken and full of sin and darkness. And sometimes bad days happen because we have an enemy—Scripture says that he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour—who is looking for an opportunity to wreak havoc in our lives.

How do you respond when you have a bad day? Some people fall apart. Some people scream. Some people go deep and hide. But there are some people who seem to be able to walk through those difficult days and come out on the other side better. Instead of being destroyed, they are strengthened.

How do we become like these people? I believe the Bible gives us some wonderful keys for how to make it through a bad day. You can see these in the story of David found in 1 Samuel 30. That chapter recounts a day when David lost just about everything that was valuable to him in life—his family, his possessions and his home.

The first thing that David did, and that we need to do when a bad day happens in our life, is that he cried. Go ahead and cry! Don’t skip this step because you’re trying to be strong. Let the tears flow, but remember to turn your tears into a prayer. Scripture says that Jesus Himself “offered up prayer and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him.” We would do well to follow Jesus’ example.

After we cry, or even while we are still crying, it is important that we don’t miss step two in this process. Step two is: don’t get bitter. How many times have you seen people move from mourning to blaming in the space of a single breath? There is something in all of our hearts that wants to point the finger of blame at someone and say “you did it!” Sometimes that someone is a fellow human and sometimes that someone is God Himself. Either way, when we allow ourselves to play the blame game we become bitter and resentful. 

When you are bitter, it changes your whole outlook on life. You become jaded and sarcastic. You can’t enjoy life and you certainly can’t enjoy anything about the person you are bitter against (this is pretty rough when the person you are bitter against is God Himself!). I have heard it said, “bitterness is a poison you drink, hoping the other person will die.” 

The antidote to bitterness is forgiveness. It’s the only cure I know. It’s the only cure that works. Forgiveness may not change the situation, but it sure will change you and your heart. It will free you from the chains that you have wrapped around your heart and you just might be able to move on from that point of pain and step into the next phase of your life.

Next time we will look at the three other steps to dealing with a bad day: encourage yourself in God, get a word from God and fight back. Until then, make a decision not to let the worst day of your life become your end, instead make it an opportunity for a new beginning.