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Dear Gary,

It is with sadness too deep for words that you, my friend, mourn the death of your beloved wife. Through the months and days to come, you will think of Verdeen and all that she was to you.

She was your bride. She was the mother of your children. She was a role model and mentor. She was a skilled craftswoman. She was the love of your life.
But do you know that Verdeen was—and still is—so much more?

At much too young an age, your beloved began to change as she suffered the progressive disease of Alzheimer’s. How many times did you hear someone say, “She isn’t the person she once was”?

But do they know that the person, Verdeen, was—and still is—so much more?

How difficult it must have been when you understood that your wife could no longer be a homemaker but would, instead, be a patient in the care center.

But, oh my friend, do you know that Verdeen was—and still is—so much more?

Do you know that as a baptized Christian, Verdeen has an identity that never changes no matter her appearance, abilities, or circumstances in life? Illness did not change who Verdeen really is. Nor did her funeral. Verdeen will always be the person she has been since her Baptism. On that day, she was washed with water and the Word, given faith, and dressed in righteousness and purity. She was marked with the sign of the cross and made a daughter and heir of God because of what Jesus her Savior and Lord did for her.

Think of it, my friend! Jesus invited both you and your beloved wife to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” The Apostle John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).

But the world does not know who Verdeen is because it does not know God. If the world does not know God the Father, it cannot know His sons and daughters.

My friend, you are not like the world. Even though it has been difficult to watch the changes in your wife, you treated her with the honor and dignity that an heir of God deserves. It would be a lie to say that you didn’t suffer with her, or that you never experienced frustration, impatience, and even anger. But when we see another human being in the way that God does, our attitude is transformed. Indeed, each human life is a treasure for whom Christ gave all He had.

Dear friend, in all your years of courtship and marriage, did you see that Verdeen was dressed in Christ’s Robe of Righteousness and proclaimed “holy” in the eyes of God? Yes, I think you did. That is why you held her in high esteem and put her needs before your own. That is why you read to her, held her hand, looked at family photos with her, brought her flowers, sang hymns with her, wiped her bloody nose, combed her hair, and prayed with her.

Here, my friend, is your comfort and peace. You did not love as the world loves. You loved with compassion which means to “suffer with.” You loved more than a bride, the mother of your children, a role model and mentor, a craftswoman, and the romance of your life. You loved a daughter of God who now enjoys her “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [her]” (1 Peter 1:4).

My friend, you defended the life of your beloved and honored her as her Father desired. You helped her navigate her earthly journey until her Father said: Well done, good and faithful husband. Now let Me carry My daughter home.

Oh, and there is one more thing, says the Lord: You will see her again.

Image credit:
gerardnadal.com

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What about our children and grandchildren?

Is there hope?  Yes!

It makes no difference if we’re talking about music, the Christian faith, etiquette, speech, or clothing.  We teach our children best by equipping them to contrast what is good and right with what is not.

In his new book, Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music, Robert Reilly writes:

“I employed a very simple teaching method with my children.  I regularly showed them beautiful things and great movies and played for them some of the finest music.  I didn’t preach about these things; I simply let them experience them.  They gained an intuitive appreciation for beauty and were automatically repelled by ugliness.  I then let them explain to me what was wrong with it.  When my oldest son was still in grade school, he came back from seeing a movie with one of his classmates.  The father driving the car played only acid rock on the car radio.  My son returned very agitated about the music.  I asked him what was wrong with it.  He replied, “It is irritating to the mind.”  I then knew that what I was doing worked.”

Quote from an interview with Robert Reilly
by Michael Cook, MercatorNet, 5/26/17.

 

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There is a strange silence surrounding the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) on young girls.  Perhaps we are too anesthetized by the legalized mutilation and death of girls (and boys) in the womb through abortion.

According to a 2012 report of the CDC, an estimated “513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation.”  Amanda Parker of the Aha Foundation reports that “the increase in FGM in the U.S. is almost entirely, if not entirely, due to the increase in immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced.  Somalia, Egypt, Sudan and others all have very high rates of FGM with more than 90 percent of girls in each country undergoing this abusive practice.”

In America today, FGM is illegal in only 24 states.  My own state of Iowa does not outlaw this crime against women.

Why aren’t more of us speaking on behalf of little girls brutalized by FGM—or babies who feel pain during an abortion?  Because both FGM and abortion have been placed in a religious and cultural context.  Americans who once enjoyed civil discourse over contrasting perspectives now fear being offensive if we oppose or even question a faith or practice different from our own.  To “offend” someone in America today is to risk judgment for a “hate crime.”

FGM is protected by Sharia law.  Sharia law is part and parcel to the religion of Islam.  With Islam’s Sharia law also comes forced marriage, honor killings, pedophilia, sexual slavery… and Sharia courts.  

Christianity does not force marriage, honor murder, or defend sexual sin.  Christianity understands that God wants us to first love Him and then love our neighbors as much as ourselves.  Children are our littlest neighbors and we should not keep silent as they are being carried to the butcher.

Christianity understands that every boy and girl—in the womb or born—has value, not because of how their parents perceive them, but because of what Jesus did for them.  To silence a voice that protests FGM or abortion is to silence the Lord who says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”  To silence a voice that exposes any child abuse is to silence Jesus the Shepherd who gathers the little ones in His arms.

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I am in need of Good Friday.  That’s because I’m in need of love.  Not the love that people “fall into” or “out of,” nor the kind too commonly used in place of “like” when fawning over a friend’s dress, sparkly ring, or new shoes.

Love, as shown by God, is compassion.  Compassion is “com,” meaning “with,” and “passion,” as shown on Good Friday by the passion of Christ.  God’s passion for me means that He desired something on my behalf so intensely that it caused His suffering.  Compassion means to suffer with.

Since childhood, I have sung “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  His love is not a mere hug and kiss.  It is not getting what I want.  It is not Jesus thinking happy thoughts about me.  Jesus’ love for me involved His persecution, sorrow, pain, abandonment, and death.  This love cannot be expressed in a romantic way, nor can it be summed up in the modern phrase, “I just want to be with the one I love.”  Defined in this way, love is more about how the one I love makes me feel.

God loves me, but it’s not because I make Him “feel good” or “happy.”  In fact, He is angered by my rebellious sins.  His love, therefore, takes me by surprise.  He does not declare me unlovable!  He does not turn His face from me as I deserve, but comes to suffer with me!  “God loved the world so that He gave His only Son.”  The word “so” is not used here for emphasis; therefore, I really shouldn’t paraphrase John 3:16 as “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.”  This verse more accurately reads: “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

Good Friday doesn’t seem like a “good” day for Jesus.  But, it is a good day for me.  Yes, there is His tortured body on a cross that I would prefer to look past so that I can experience the joy of Easter.  But there cannot be a Resurrection Sunday without a suffering Friday.  On this Friday, the love of God is shown to me!  God so intensely desired my rescue from sin that He suffered with and for me.  He laid the burden of my sins upon His only Son who did what I could not do for myself.

What wondrous love is this?  It is the suffering Servant Jesus.  It is His submission, humiliation, and death.  This Love could not be kept in a grave.  Love is risen… and abides forever with me.  With you.  With all who call Him Savior and Lord.

Even when we’re feeling unlovable.

 

(With appreciation to Rev. David H. Petersen)

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joseph-and-his-rib-biblepictures-net

Joseph, a young man from the house of David, was probably like every other soon-to-be husband: nervous, but excited all the same.  That is, until his fiancée came to him with shocking news.  Mary was pregnant, but Joseph was not the father.  The world, as Joseph knew it, had collapsed around him.  He felt betrayed, hurt, angry.  Break the engagement, whispered his pride, and walk away from this woman.

Everything had changed.  Plans were ruined.  Reputation was at stake.  Unchartered territory lay ahead.  At this precarious moment in his life, Joseph had nothing to hang on to… nothing, that is, except the Word of the Lord.

The Word gave Joseph courage.  “Don’t be afraid!”  It was the word that showed Joseph how to be faithful.  “Take Mary as your wife.  She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Perhaps, in holding on to the Word, Joseph remembered the experience of his ancestor, Adam.  Perhaps, in a moment of truth and with eyes focused, Joseph could picture Adam standing next to his wife, Eve.  Perhaps, with wisdom only from the Holy Spirit, Joseph recognized the significance of Eve’s creation by God from man’s rib.

God made (literally: “built”) woman using part of man.  With this, He established their relationship within the order of creation.  A rib is structural; it supports.  A rib guards and protects the heart and breath of life, yet it is vulnerable.  Under attack, it can easily be fractured or even broken.  Satan despises the order of creation that God uses to protect the man and woman He so loves.  So, that day in the Garden, Satan set his target and went straight to Adam’s rib.  The man was responsible for using God’s Word to cover his wife, yet he did nothing.  Joseph knew the consequences that followed.

Perhaps, with discernment only from God, Joseph understood that he must not repeat the sin of his ancestor and do to his rib what Adam had done to his.

Perhaps, in remembering what Adam had failed to do, Joseph was given the courage to cover his wife, Mary, and lead her to safety.  Let the village talk!  Adjust carefully-made plans!  Trust the Word of the Lord!  Although it meant leaving his zone of comfort, Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do.  He covered his rib by taking Mary as his wife.  And, when Mary’s child was born, Joseph named Him Jesus.

God wanted Joseph to make a difference – a difference that would impact the world.  But, such a difference could be made only by being faithful.  Such faithfulness required that Joseph leave all that was familiar and put his life and the life of Mary into the hands of God.

Today, when a young man pressures his girlfriend to have sex, he is leaving her physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable.  He has placed his “needs” before hers and, in so doing, left her open to attack.  When a man does not promise to love, cherish, and cover a woman with his name, but simply share living quarters and a bed, he is leaving her open to attack.  When a man fathers a child but does not accept the privilege and responsibility of being a daddy, he is leaving both mother and child uncovered and vulnerable to the world.

But, when a man remembers God and His call to leadership, he is able to make a difference.  A young man who guards his girlfriend’s virtue makes a difference.  A husband who remains true to his wife makes a difference.  A dad who understands the privilege, responsibility, and generational influence of fatherhood makes a difference.  Men of faithfulness have a grand opportunity to defend against chaos and leave a legacy of hope.

Convenience told Joseph to walk away from Mary.  Self-defense told Joseph to think of “number one.”  Pride told Joseph that he could do better.  Fear told Joseph to hide.  But, God told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He covered Mary, his rib, and the unborn Child whose heart beat under her own.  And, after the Baby was born in the most humble of circumstances, Joseph named the Child Jesus.  Through all the frightening days ahead, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And the Lord did not forget Joseph.  In the midst of danger, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph.  When uncertainty abounded, the angel of the Lord directed Joseph.

It’s true that life wasn’t ever the same for Joseph.  It certainly wasn’t what he had planned.  But, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And, in doing so, he received courage to do what was asked of him.  Joseph was faithful to cover Mary, his rib.  He raised her Son Jesus in a godly home and took Him to worship.  Some 2000 years later, the Boy who grew to be a Man in the house of a carpenter is still changing lives.

Joseph made a difference.

by Linda Bartlett
Revised 2010
(image: biblepictures.net)
“Joseph & His Rib” available from LFL

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One Little Word

casting-out-demons

In A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, we sing, “…One little word can fell him.”

What is that word?

When Jesus cast the demons out from the possessed men, He uttered one word: “Go.” And so the demons did go into the pigs and “… behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters” (Matthews 8:28-32).

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Nehemiah buildingWhat is a Christian to do?  It’s as if God asks the impossible of us.  He wants us to build with one hand and resist evil with the other.  But with more cultural decay comes more evil.

Mindful of raising up a new generation of Christians but also keenly aware of our own inadequacies and failures, parents, pastors, and all who love children become discouraged and even fearful.  With fear comes the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of God’s Word and more easily accept the help of passionate unbelievers.  “Why do you cling to ancient traditions?” they ask.  “Can’t you see?  We have something new!”

There is a lesson to be learned from God’s people who, in a time before us, were also discouraged, overwhelmed, and taunted by unbelieving neighbors who offered something new.

The remnant of Israel that had survived exile in Persia returned home to find the walls of Jerusalem broken down and city gates destroyed.  To this small number of faithful people was given the arduous task of re-building the temple and walls of Jerusalem.  God also wanted His people to grow faithful families.  He wanted them to be holy and set apart in their worship and practice.  When people in the neighboring land saw that Jerusalem was being restored, they offered their help.  After all, these people explained, they worshipped God, too.  (In reality, they were a people of blended religions.)  Fearing that they would commit themselves to false worship, the Israelite fathers refused the offer of resources and help.  They knew that God had entrusted the job of rebuilding the temple and walls only to them.  So “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5).

The culture in which God’s people found themselves made the building project very difficult, but the Word of the Lord consistently commanded the people to persevere.  God also reminded His people that they were to be holy and set apart for His good purpose.  But the people of Israel, following the example of some of their leaders, mixed themselves with the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and others through marriage (9:1-2).  The people were guilty of breaking faith with God and allowing impurity of worship, teaching, and practice.  There was confession and absolution but, because the potential for continued corruption of worship was so great, illegal marriages were identified and ended (10:18-19).  The rebuilding of the temple, restoration of the walls, and growing of faithful families began anew.

However, when the neighbors in the land saw that the Israelites were again doing the work of God in rebuilding Jerusalem, they were angry.  “[T]hey all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:8).  It was easy to cause confusion and discouragement among the Israelites because fathers, mothers, and grandparents were overwhelmed by the task that lay before them.  “There is too much rubble.  By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (4:10).  The enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (4:11).  Nehemiah encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (4:14).  When the walls were rebuilt and the gates restored, the law of God was read to the people who were both joyful and repentant (chapters 8 and 9).

Everything was coming back into order and Israel was prepared to live by the truth of God’s Word.  What could go wrong?  What went wrong is incredibly significant.  Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chambers of God, gave Tobiah the Ammonite a place in the temple (13:4-5).  Under the guise of helping God’s people, Tobiah was given a room formerly used to store the offering for God.  There, within the temple, sat Tobiah and his possessions.  Nehemiah was away when this happened, but when he returned, he “was very angry, and [he] threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.  Then [he] gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and [he] brought back there the vessels of the house of God” (13:8-9).

God entrusted the rebuilding of His temple and the city walls to His people.  He entrusted the growing of holy families to husbands and wives equipped with His Word.  He does the same today.

God wants His people to keep their worship, teaching, and practices pure and different from that of the dark and unbelieving world.  Certainly, there are resources in the world that can be practical and helpful to the Christian.  But we must take care especially when it comes to instructing Jesus’ little ones.  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).  It is a frightening thing indeed to compromise one of the Father’s children.

Compromise happens, however, when God’s people are weary and burdened, or prideful and above reproach.  Compromise happens when we let down our guard and grow comfortable with the world.  At such times it is easier for an opposing foe to gain access by offering some kind of help or resource.  It was for this reason that Nehemiah “stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows … each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Neh. 4:13, 18).  The men were on guard at night and labored by day (22).

We are weary and overwhelmed by a multitude of life issues.   Sometimes we are prideful after doubting God’s Word and trusting something else.   As the culture decays and evil abounds, we may believe that God asks the impossible of us.  But, Martin Luther reminds us that the task of rebuilding the temple and shoring up walls was given to a weak people, few in number; a people against whom stood powerful princes and nations, which lived round about and daily threatened imminent destruction.

There will be days when failure distracts us from the building project.  There will be those like Tobiah who mock our faithfulness to an ancient faith while tempting us with new practices.  In the face of evil, let it be said of us:  Look!  They remember “the Lord who is great and awesome,” and they “fight for [their] brothers…sons…daughters…wives…and homes” (Neh. 4:14).

Excerpted from The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity
(pp 61-63) by Linda Bartlett;
Amazon.com.  Please also visit Our Identity Matters.
Image: mudpreacher.org

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