Setting Your Mind

 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth – Colossians 3:2 (NRSV)

“Set you mind minds on things above” sounds like something that should be so easy to do and fairly simple to incorporate into our daily lives.  Yet it is something that I struggle with daily.  Why is that?

Life kicks in and the daily grind starts to overwhelm me and my focus becomes fixed on my problems or aspirations in this world.

All of my intentions of setting my thoughts on things above, heavenly things, God’s plans for me, or being in relationship with God, become lofty ambitions.  The things that I will get around to AFTER I have dealt with the business of living.  Why is that?

Our culture is one that puts tremendous importance on things like survival of the fittest, self sufficiency, self-reliance and self-help.  Societal norms have left us with expectations that we need to be constantly improving ourselves both materially and personally, physically and mentally.  Just grab a magazine and look at the photos inside of them.

Is there something I want?  Work to earn it.

Is there something I am struggling with inside?  Find a self-help book and become more in tune with myself.

I want to be all that I can be and as well-rounded as my peers.  I want to have all of the nice things I see in the homes of others and on the television commercials and shows that I watch.  The culture around me tells me that I am entitled to all of this if I just work hard enough.

Eventually this idea became so ingrained in me that I started to have a prosperity gospel kind of outlook.  Surely with all the good works I do at church God will bless me with all of these wants!  He will surely see that I am deserving of a comfortable lifestyle and bless me with the means to have one.

  No matter how much I earned or what I was able to get it was never enough.  The list of wants continued to grow. My life didn’t leave me with a sense of contentment or peace or joy in my life.  Why is that?  If all of this stuff I am acquiring is a blessing from God for all of my hard work and self-reliance shouldn’t I be filled with these things?

Perhaps this isn’t God’s plans for me after all.  All of this focus on what I want and never being truly happy with what I have could be a distraction ploy of the Evil One instead.  Could he be blinding me and others in our cultures with all that glitters in this world?

The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. – A.W. Tozer

I know that I have fallen into this trap many times.  I would become preoccupied with things like getting a better promotion in order to have financial security and end up losing track of spiritual things.  All of these things that I viewed as blessings from God as an indication of his pleasure or displeasure with me kept me focused on the things of this earth.  Each time I have been distracted by the things of this earth I lost sight of the God who loves me and seeks obedience and humility from me.

God is always patient with me and lovingly calls me back to him.  It is never to late to come back to his welcoming embrace.  The more that I turn to this God of love the more I find myself wanting to walk in complete submission to his plan for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  To walk in complete submission to God’s will I have to choose to do so every day.  It requires me to be intentional about quiet times of prayer as well as time of soaking myself in his Word.  Just because it is intentional doesn’t mean that it is a chore.  The more I submit in prayer and soak up his Words of life the more I find myself wanting to do just that.  These small changes in my life have brought about immense amounts of peace into my life.

For the first time ever I am finding my way and establishing healthy boundaries in many areas of my life that up until now have not had any.  This has helped me to stop being the overwhelmed people-pleaser with no time for myself or my family who was very stressed all of the time.

The most amazing part of all of this is that as I have been changing my attitude about prayer and actively seeking a relationship with God, he has been changing my heart to that of a servant.  His servant.  Sent to do the work he has specifically equipped me for.

The tone of my prayers has changed from requests for things that I want that are things of this earth to requests that He change my heart so that I might know him better and know how best to use the gifts he has given me.

Not my will be done, but His will be done.

The material things just don’t seem to be all that important after all.  Maybe focusing on the things that are above aren’t such lofty ambitions after all.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Instead of waiting to “find my calling” or “a way to be used in ministry” I must simply place my trust in Him and start being God’s light right where I currently am at.  I can show the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in my home, in my church and in my workplace.

God only asks for me to be obedient and humble in doing his will.  He will take care of the rest.  As C.S. Lewis says in The Joyful Christian, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”  My eyes need only be fixed on Heaven to successfully travel my path on Earth.  My eyes are fixed on the treasures of above.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21 (NSRV)

 

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Talents and Testimonies

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A few weeks ago my son and I joined our church family on the annual weekend spring retreat.  It was held at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center near Mt. Pleasant, PA.

One of the activities available at Laurelville is a prayer labyrinth. It is situated at the top of a long, gradually winding, hilly path.  From this labyrinth, which is a large circle and consists of winding stone and pebble paths, you can look out across a breathtaking view of a valley.

As I set out for an afternoon walk to the prayer labyrinth I found sunshine, deep vividly blue sky, brisk winds, and a quiet meditative time of reflection and prayer.  My thoughts began to reflect on the powerful messages our resource person for the weekend had shared with us earlier that morning and the previous night before.

Our resource person was Dr. Don Bartlette*.  He is a very gifted speaker known for his  life story, Macaroni at Midnight.   It tells of the struggles he faced as not only a disabled child, but also as a discriminated Native American child who grew up in poverty.  He over came all of the adversities of his childhood and young adult years and would eventually go on to use his story of healing and redemption to help spread God’s message of love.

As I continued to walk with the brisk breezes and sunshine hitting my face my thoughts shifted from Dr. Don to one of the scriptures I have been meditating on over the past month,  the Parable of the Talents.

Found in Matthew 25:14-30, this story tells the tale of three servants who are each entrusted with different amounts of talents (money) from their master.  Two of them immediately go out and use the talents they have been given to increase the total amount of talents.  The last servant, who had only been given one talent, dug a hole and hid the talent given to him there.

When the master returned he was greatly pleased with the first two servants and rewarded them.  The third servant was not so fortunate.  He was tossed out for being wicked and lazy.  I must admit that I have always felt sorry for this poor guy.

Until recently I must have been taking this story quite literally because I couldn’t understand why the guy who protected the money he was given was considered so lazy.  He was entrusted to protect the money given to him, right?  That’s exactly what he did!  In my mind the first two were the ones that were questionable because they were gambling with the master’s money.

It turns out Jesus wasn’t telling this story to warn us about the dangers of a gambling addiction!

In this parable the talents are actually representing spiritual gifts and the master is God.  So the first and second servants went out immediately and used the talents/gifts God had given them to increase the numbers in God’s flock which in turn brought the gifts of the new members to be used for Kingdom work.  They were obedient and willing servants.

The third servant, who was called lazy, actually kept his gifts locked inside and was refusing to use his gifts because he was afraid of God.  I believe that at the heart of this fear was the fact that he didn’t clearly understand the nature of God.  He says to him, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,” in verse 24.

We have been taught in songs that there are many gifts but the same Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts and talents that are uniquely suited to our purposes and tasks in the Kingdom:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;   and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.   To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV)

However, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit forces us to use these gifts.  We have to willingly make the choice to share our gifts and to be used for good here on earth.

We are also each given a testimony that is unique to us.  These testimonies are made of good experience and bad experiences.  There is pain in this life.  No one can escape from it.  However, God is using that pain in the process to help refine us.

God doesn’t choose to let bad things happen to us, but he will always use the experience for good.  If we are willing to live lives of obedience and humility in his service he will help us to not only survive but to heal and to thrive.  He will use these experiences as teaching tools once the work of refining and molding are done.  The greatest men and women in the Bible had to go through pain and trials as God was cleansing them and preparing them for great tasks.

Who would know this better than Joseph?  He chose to trust in the Lord in the midst of his betrayals and sufferings caused by his brothers’ jealousy.  Joseph also allowed God to heal his wounded heart.  When the time came, he was able to not only forgive those same brothers, but he provided for them and their people during the time of famine:

Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. – Genesis 50:20 (NRSV)

We each have a testimony to go out and share and talents to use to help us share not only our testimony, but also the love of God.  Our heavenly Master is weaving together our gifts and experiences into the tapestries of our lives.  Will the finished tapestries reflect love and care for gathering in God’s people?  Or will they be marred by insecurity or an unwilling, unrepentant spirit?

Will we allow God to heal our wounds and depend on him to use them for good? 

Trust in God and he will make all things new and good.

I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. – Philemon 1:6 (NRSV)

*To learn more about Dr. Don Bartlette and his experiences and testimony, visit his website or find his recordings at Amazon.

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Mr. Max and Dr. Don Bartlette – Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, April 2016

Turning Over a New Leaf

A meditation  on Psalm 32 based on the Leader worship resources for Lent, published by MennoMedia for the fourth Sunday in Lent 2016.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit. (psalm 32:1-2)

We have been thinking about ourselves and our relationship with the Father as a relationship between the great Author and his collected works.  We are each living ink.  Our stories are still flowing from the pen of life.

During the first few weeks of lent we focused on turning over the pens of our lives and allowing the great Author to write our stories for us.  As well as how to find light in the dark texts of life and also that we can leap off the page and become living ink in our lives through the relationships we have with others.

Today we are going to think about turning over a new leaf.  The focus statement for this week says,

“Turning Over a New Leaf.”  As we turn over the page of each chapter in the grand covenant narrative, we find ourselves invited to “re-turn” to the open arms of Christ and his ways, and to experience his good news of reconciliation.

So what does it mean to turn over a new leaf?

Perhaps the most familiar story in the Bible of someone turning over a new leaf is in the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32.  We all have heard this story of the man with two sons who chose two very different ways to go in life.

The younger son thought all he needed to be happy was his share of his fathers wealth.  He took it and went out to find his happiness. seeking his identity in the world.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
 For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4) 

God desires a personal intimate relationship with each and every one of us. He sees the way we each have tried to follow after the world.  He sees each sin that we commit in an effort to chase after the world to find happiness.  And yet he still calls each one of us back to him with his arms opened wide to receive us.

Why should we go to him?  Because no matter how long we chase after things in this world we can never find something that truly satisfies us.  Just as the younger son in the parable learned, even with all the wealth and privilege an inheritance can bring you are still constantly looking for the next thing to try to find fulfillment. Eventually you fall so low even the pigs have it better.  And you are just as miserable as when you had the wealth that couldn’t buy you contentment.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin (psalm 32:5)

For contentment comes from the Father.  Our identities do no come from this world.  They come from the Father.  When we find our identity in him, he helps us to turn over a new leaf.  We can begin to become the living ink of the Father using our lives to tell about the stories he is waiting to write with in the lives of others.  Stories of love, redemption and humility.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
 You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:6-7)

When we turn over a new leaf we must turn it over in complete and utter submission to the Father.  We must go forward in total surrender to God’s will.   We come to the Father broken people, broken both by the world and by ourselves.  It is only in our obvious brokeness that we can begin to heal through the Father.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)

But there was a second brother in the parable.  He too sought to find his identity.

We must be careful when turning over a new leaf of righteousness that we don’t then become like the older brother in the parable.  This brother too was separated from his father.  He was so wrapped up in being a righteous man and doing everything to the letter of the law that he lost the righteousness that comes through the Father and instead he became self-righteous, finding his identity in the wrong kind of legalistic righteousness.

Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him. (Psalm 32:9-10)

The father is patiently waiting for this son to turn over a new leaf and come home to him as well.

Just as he waits for me and for you.  He patiently waits for each of us.  We just have to stop and listen.

Come as you are where you are.  Bring your brokeness to him!  He seeks to heal us.  He ignores our brokeness to pull us in.  He seeks to restore us to our identity in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)

So this week I invite you to re-examine the stories currently being written in your life.  Is it time to turn over a new leaf?  For myself this is a daily thing.  Each morning I must turn over a new leaf and start the story again.  Asking the Father for his loving guidance to help me find and live my identity as a new creation in God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Then, and only then, can I become living ink.  An ambassador for the Father, taking this living ink out into the world around us that is hurting.  Helping the lost to see they need to come back to the open arms of the Father.

C. S. Lewis once said,

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

Come back to the Father.  He is waiting with open arms.  Turn over a new leaf and leave behind whatever has pulled you away.

 

 

 

 

Whom Will You Serve?

 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

Modern life and cultures have taken us into a Post Christendom world.  Fewer people have heard the good news.  Today there are children who have never heard the Christmas story. They have no clue why it is that we have a festive season in December each year.

We as a society have moved away from religion and more towards self-reliance.   Even if we do know who God is, and profess to be a Christian, are we really humbled and committed to following his commandments?

In the days of Joshua it was very clear who the other gods were.  Humans and animals didn’t spring to life from nothing but a sudden big bang.  Each group of people encountered in the Old Testament had a deity or two or more that they worshiped:

Baal

Amon

Asherah

Ashtoreth

Molech

There are more mentioned in the Old Testament, and a few more in the New Testament.  That isn’t the take away though.  It would seem that the one thing that everyone agreed on and had in common is that there was some higher power out there.

Where they differed is that all of these false Gods were dependent on their followers and needed the gifts and offerings brought by the worshipers to survive.  If you wanted something from a foreign God you needed to offer it a sacrifice in exchange.

The God of Israel, our God, however didn’t need the Israelites at all. He was (and is) all-sufficient in himself but he chose them as his people and provided for them.   God didn’t need their sacrifices of food or grains and he never required human sacrifices (followers of Molech sacrificed their children) in order for him to continue providing for them or to continue to exist.  The sacrifices the Jewish people did make were for the purpose of purification and forgiveness of their sins, but that is a topic for another time.

Fast forward to our present age.

Just like the Israelites God has chosen us to be his children.  All of us. The offer is open to any person willing to accept the gift of saving grace offered on the cross.  He accepts us exactly where we are and expects us to grow through the Holy Spirit’s leading.

But what about other gods.  Are they still around in our present day world?  While there are still people who may worship a deity other than the God of the Bible, the false gods mankind is inclined to worship today are a little more human made.  A little more materialistic. We seem to have decided we are self-sufficient and have no need for a God at all.  We can provide for ourselves.

Today the list of false gods looks a lot different:

Career

Hobby

Houses

Cars

Money

Gadgets

Celebrities

Food

Appearance

Self

The list is endless.  We don’t tend to worship and honor false deities, but Satan has supplied us with plenty of new false gods to take their place.  Materialistic gods.  Pleasure seeking gods.  Self serving gods of our own pride and vanity.  The whole purpose of them is to put distance between us and God, driving in wedges to keep us divided.

Often times we sit in our pews on Sundays to check off the religion requirement in our lives for the week, but then head out, back into the world of men forgetting the teachings of the rebel Messiah once we are out of the sanctuary doors.  Are we truly committed to following Jesus?

Not just on Sunday mornings.

God wants a relationship with us all the time.

Every second of every minute of every day.

If so, we must separate ourselves from the false gods of our time and worship the one true God instead.  We are called to live in the world but not of it.  This doesn’t mean that we will have dull, grey lives full of things we CAN’T do.  It means that we know that we are called by God and we want to follow his teachings and be used for the purposes he created us for.

We live with joy.

We see the world through the eyes of Jesus Christ as we act as his hands and feet on earth.  He didn’t promise that we would have an easy road if we chose to follow him.  What he does promise us is eternal life.

What or who will you choose to worship?

Who is your God?

But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:33-38 (NRSV)

 

 

 

 

Courage

In thinking about living in the world but not being of it yesterday, it brought to mind this verse, Joshua 1:9:

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

You probably already know that this was said to Joshua as he and the Israelites were preparing to cross over into the promised land.  Moses has died and the torch is being passed on to Joshua so to speak.  They are preparing for an invasion to take the land by force.  They are also cautioned to be sure to keep the laws of Yahweh.

When you think about it, that is exactly what we are being charged to do as well.  We are to go forth into a land that has forgotten God or never known him to begin with and to spread the gospel.  Our land, our country, our communities, our homes.

And this takes courage.

Unlike the Israelites, we don’t need to have actual weapons and armour, but we do need to dress ourselves in the full armour of God.  And that includes our Bibles and the truth that it contains.   We need to prepare our hearts and minds for battle by soaking in the Spirit breathed words of God so that we can hide them in our hearts, ready to bring them forth when needed.

Jesus calls us to conquer our world with love.

And this takes courage.

It takes courage to be the one person to stand up in a crowd to say that something is wrong.  It takes even more courage to try to right the wrongs we see.  Whether it be bullying or racism, we can be strong and courageous and be a voice for the persons being wronged and we need to take that stand.

We are called to be light bearers in a broken world.

And this takes courage.

It takes courage to be the dissident voice in the crowd in order to point out that a popular movie or show or song isn’t pleasing to God.  However, we need to be the torch bearers leading the way to things that are wholesome and draw us closer to God rather than displeasing to him and alienating ourselves from him for the sake of being one of the gang.

We are called to speak truth, even when it isn’t popular opinion.

And this takes courage.

I have heard it said recently that you can’t talk religion without bringing your politics to the table.  I don’t know if that is a universal truth, but it certainly seems to be the truth here in our society today.  How many of us go along with things for fear of crossing party lines if we don’t?

Abortion.

LGBTQ rights.

The Death Penalty.

Syrian Refugees.

Continuing Warfare with U.S. assistance in the Middle East.

All of these issues, and many, many more are hot topics right now.  The supporters on both sides of the aisle are convinced their solutions are the only right solutions.  The only ones that make sense.  But how did they all come to those conclusions?

They also think in many cases, at least in religious circles, that God is on their side and they are in the right.  Their cause is just.   But is it?

 When is the last time we actually came together on both sides of the table to engage in God’s word to see what is actually there?

When did we last pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we search for answers to these difficult issues that involve the lives of very real people?  Hurt people.  Marginalized people.  God’s people.

My friends, it takes courage and strength to stand up for what we KNOW is wrong.  We need to take that stand regardless of what our friends and family may think of us.  We need to quit worrying so much about being politically correct and start worrying about being spiritually correct.

We are just sojourners here.  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be fearful.

He is always with us.  Filling us with love, light, and courage.

Courage dear heart

Aslan to Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis