Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Archive for the month “September, 2015”

*Be An Encourager

Dear children

When I was about fifteen or so, a friend called me on the phone while another friend listened in to our conversation. He brought up the friend who was listening and I had a lot of negative things to say about him. A little later the friend who was listening in called doing the same thing.  I’ll never forget that.  But worse, even though life went on with these guys, that is to say, their knowledge of how I talked about them in their absence didn’t seem to phase them.  Nothing changed, as far as I could tell, between us.  I’m not sure whether that would have been the case had the tables been turned.  That’s because they were better people than I was.  I wish I’d known that then.  The Bible tells us to let nothing be done through strife or vainglory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.  (Phil 2:3)  This is not a command for church life, but a command for life in general, and you would do well to make every effort to live it out even though it goes against your sinful nature.

When I was young, and even when I was much older you see, I was like a black hole.  My entire worth, life’s meaning, and all my effort in life revolved around the gaining of praise and appreciation from my fellow man.  That was a sad state. But worse, it was a one-way street.  I never praised another for their accomplishment. I only sought it. It simply never occurred to me that others might have had, to some degree, the same need or desire. And even if I had seen some reason to praise someone else, I wouldn’t have.  I saw the success or unique abilities of others as a threat to my own place in this world, and the last thing I would have done would be to encourage anyone. I actually found it to be strangely comforting to hear negative things about other people in general, and my friends in particular. Everything in life, you see, was on a scale.  And so it was my mission to bring everyone down to my level.  I can tell you, dear children, that a mentality like that will bring you pain and hardship, and worse, it will bring those around you pain and hardship too.  Not only will you not ever really like yourself that much, you won’t be able to like anyone else either.  And it will cut you off from some of the most valuable life’s lessons that you could ever learn in being a decent human being.  But worse than that, it will cut you off from learning how to love and be loved.

I somehow reasoned then that if I was better at everything, or could hide it when I wasn’t, then I would be more liked by others. I would have worth. It was of course nonsense, yet I believed it.  I had no one to help me work through these deficiencies in life skills.  I didn’t even actually know I had any deficiencies, and I’m sure if I had known I would have worked tirelessly to hide them.  Looking back, however, I now realize that they were like neon signs to the world around me.  So if I have anything to do with it, you will not suffer the pain and sorrow that I did because of this warped view of yourself among the people of this world, and reality.  So here are a few pointers:

First, you have your own gifts and strengths that were given to you from God.  As life goes on it will become ever more clear what your particular strengths and abilities are.  And God didn’t put those gifts in you just for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.  People around you need what God has given you.  As you discover these gifts, it’s up to you to develop them.  It’s also up to you to redeem them so that they will be put to use in God’s kingdom and not Satan’s.

Second, others will have similar gifts as you, and some will be better at exercising them than you will be while others will not.  That’s a fact of life.  If you have a gift in music, and you decide to exercise that gift on the piano, know that there will always be a better piano player out there somewhere.  Let that person inspire you.  He is not a threat.  If that person happens to be your friend, then esteem him as the better player.  Be delighted in your heart for your friend when he excels.  You do have control over such things.  It’s fine to be challenged by your friend to be better yourself, for the purpose of developing your gift.  Avoid pride and competition with your friend for vainity’s sake. Such will not work righteousness in your heart, and it will not develop the depth of your friendship.

When I was young I raced motorcycles.  On one particular day, a friend of mine was in first place and I was in second and he fell.  But he was far enough in front of me that he had time to almost get up and get going again before I could pass him.  So when I approached him I didn’t go around him like I should have, rather I purposely ran into him in order to knock him back down.  I couldn’t have my friend, of all people, beating me in a race. That’s the kind of guy I was. I should have been happy for him to win fairly.

Third, help your friends discover and develop their God-given gifts.  Look for people’s strengths and point them out.  Build them up at every opportunity.  Help them in their weaknesses too.  But train yourself in sincerity.  Flattery is ugly and it has no place in you.  Always check your motivations in everything you do. Never lie to a person about their abilities in order to gain their favor. It’s my hope that you’ll have enough confidence in yourself, and your own gifts, to not seek or need to use such trickery to get someone else to approve of you.

Fourth, not everyone is going to be your best friend forever.  I can even guarantee you that there will be some out there who might not like you that much, even though they don’t really even have a good reason.  They may not even know themselves why.  And you might feel the same way about someone else too.  This is life.  Accept it without malice.  Decide to love that person anyway doing nothing in retribution for a feeling they may have about you that they cannot even help themselves.  You will not win everyone you meet as a true friend and that’s fine.  That’s just the way it is.

Fifth, and mostly, encourage all at every opportunity.  Some are gifted by God as encouragers.  For others it takes work and we never get that good at it.  But nevertheless, be on the lookout for things to encourage others about.  And remember, do it with sincerity. Not only does everyone like being encouraged, they need it, just as you do.  Expect nothing in return for your encouragement.  I’m sure that there are others out there like me who couldn’t give an encouraging word if their life depended on it.  They need it more than anyone else I think.

Finally, beyond God, people are everything.  They, like you, bear God’s image.  Your relationship with people will be a big determiner of whether or not you will live in joy.  Boasting and showcasing your gifts, which God gave you, will not bring you joy, only pride masquerading as joy.  Be joyful when you see what God has given to someone else, or what God is doing in another’s life.  Be satisfied with what God has given you.  Life is very momentary.  The pride of life and the lust of the flesh lie to us.  They promise a joy that never comes.  They are like the thirsty man drinking saltwater.  It only makes him want more until it kills him.

I pray that you, dear children, will be humble of heart.  I pray that you would work hard at developing the gifts that God has given you, and that you will be generous with your gifts, and most of all that you would be generous at building others up.

Your father.

 

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I Have Food That You Know Nothing About

Dear children,

In John chapter four there is the account known as Jesus talking to “the woman at the well”. The part of the story that I like is when Jesus’ disciples return from their food-buying expedition into town. It seems that lots of things are going on around Jesus, and His disciples are worried about Him nourishing his body. But he replied to them in a tiniest of parables. He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”   But the disciples didn’t hear a “parable”.  They heard a stated fact.  So Jesus explained, My food,” said Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 

In your christian lives you will have ample opportunity to work on one project or another with your church. And you can have a great time with your church family in these outreaches or whatever.  But there will be those times when you do something, almost on a whim, and it turns out to be amazing and satisfying.  You will realize that you have just been involved in a sort of miracle, something that cannot be attributed to mere happenstance.  Here’s one of the few examples in my own life.

Many years ago, on a warm summer’s afternoon I was driving from Nashville to Chattanooga.  Just out of Nashville I saw a man hitchhiking.  Without much thought I made the decision, just as I was passing him by, to pick him up. As he approached the car I got a better look at him, and realized that he was quite scary looking.  For just a moment I contemplated peeling out of there before he could get in.  But I didn’t.

He was quiet as we drove along.  His head was almost shaved, and he had lots of scars and tattoos.  He said he that he had just got out of prison and was trying to get to Florida.  When I asked him what he was in prison for, he dryly answered, “murder” as he stared emotionless out the front window.

As we drove his eyes began to grow heavy as he fought off sleep.  I told him he could recline his seat if he wanted, but he would not allow himself that kind of vulnerability with a stranger, and I understood that.  So I was quiet.

Wanting to witness to him in some way, and being a little afraid myself, I decided to plug in a praise and worship cassette.  I thought that might at least put him at some ease in his weariness.  As we drove I began to get an inkling that I ought to buy this man some food. And so an internal argument ensued  in my thoughts about the matter.  All I had on me, you see, was a credit card, and I didn’t want him to know that I had it.  After all, I was already thinking about my plan if it turned out that he wanted to commandeer my  car in Chattanooga.  So I put the matter to rest, I would not be stopping, or so I thought.

Somewhere in rural Tennessee between Nashville and Chattanooga, on a Sunday afternoon, where businesses were scarce, most being closed for Sunday and with soft worshipful music and the lullaby of the road singing their sleepy songs to both of us, a sudden loud and continuous noise and vibration started us from our daze.  I entered the emergency lane and learned that though it was still holding air, the tire had come apart.

It so happened that we were right at an exit off the freeway, so I followed the ramp i[ tp the stop sign as I contemplated a tire change.  But as I came to a stop I saw two things that changed everything.  An open tire store, and right across the street a Golden Corral.  As far as I can remember, those were the only two businesses open.  This was a rural stretch of I-24.  It was over 20 years ago, it was on a little two lane road that happen to intersect the freeway, and there weren’t lots of businesses around.  Just these two as far as I can remember.  But what is important is the fact that I then realized that God wanted this man fed, and He was going to feed him, and I was going to be the one who did it.  That was impeccably clear to me as I rolled to a stop.

The whole experience became a wonderful one.  It is an experience that I think only a Christian can appreciate.  It was the maker of the heavens and the earth, the creator of all things, deigning to use me in his work.  I can tell you that there’s nothing like it in this entire world.  I took my car into the tire shop and told them to replace the two rear tires then I offered the hungry soul with me an all you can eat feast.  It was a special treat to watch that man eat, and to see the excitement in his eyes.

But I too was fed in more ways than a physical meal for my physical body.  I was fed by doing God’s will and his work.  And when we are fed in that way, it is better than the best of the best in gourmet feasts.  Most of us, I’m convinced, have very few opportunities like this to actually see God’s hand move.  But I am also convinced that it need not be quite so rare.  That day, I missed a golden opportunity.  Today I would have no problem to almost immediately strike up a conversation concerning the Gospel.  Then, as a new Christian I was afraid.  I don’t know why.  As I’ve introduced the Gospel to more and more hurting people it has gotten much easier to do.

That day was a blessing to me more than it was to that poor man.  He didn’t hear of God’s redeeming love from me that day, as he should have.  But I caught a glimpse of God’s sovereign hand at the price of two tires and two meals.  I have learned since then to reject, outright, the notion that the Gospel is preached without words.  There are many many organizations and people who expend themselves in alleviating human suffering.  But that’s all they do.  Preaching the Gospel is the only hope that the cause of that suffering, which is man’s unredeemed heart, will be dealt with.  Jesus said that fixing up the outside of a man was nothing more than whitewashing a tomb full of dead men’s bones.  Jesus deals with the heart through the Good News of reconciling man with God.

I pray for you therefore, dear children, as you walk through this life that you will feast on doing the will of him who sent you and finishing his work.  The field is indeed white for the harvest, so I pray that you will go forth, and reap a barnful of food that you will find eternally satisfying.

Your father

Legalism, The False Plague

Dear Children

Legalism is a bad thing because it is of the flesh which leads to death.  It’s based on the assumption that not only can you earn your way into heaven, but that you must.  Combine this with the fact that man has an affinity and a love for all things of the flesh, and legalism becomes the basis for religion in general.   As I’ve said before, man is by his very nature religious.   Indeed God has made us as spiritual beings.  But like all good gifts that God has woven into our hearts, the gift of spirituality becomes corrupted by, as John pointed out, “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life“.   Every person knows deep down inside that this life is not all there is.  We all long for purpose beyond  our flesh.  Even militant evolutionist atheists long for more.  That longing generally leads to a works based religion of some kind.

Christianity however is not based on the flesh, which is to say that it’s not based on works.  This fact is what makes Christianity unique in Religions.  It is not based on man’s own ability to be good enough.  Religion, on the other hand, attempts to give man a way to show his fellow man that he is up to par with a set of man-made rules.  It is therefore based on pride.  Not so in Christianity.  To be sure, Christianity does not escape the corruption of the flesh.  Christians can be just as plagued with the pride of their own works as those in the next religion.  We know this because Jesus found it worthy of addressing in the sermon on the mount. He admonished us to not “practice our acts of righteousness before other people“.  But the more real that God becomes in the mind of the believer, the more he realizes that the only affirmation that counts is that which comes from God.  Every man knows in his own heart that he is not good, and while we think, on the one hand, that we can fool our fellow man, if God is real to us we also know that we haven’t fooled Him.  The more real God becomes to us then, the more humble we become, both before God and before our fellow man.

A research poll was recently published which indicated that many people were abandoning Christianity.  While this poll would seem to indicate that “Christianity” is in trouble, we can know that this isn’t the case.  Sure, many people are walking away from an old religion tagged with the name of “christianity”, but no true Christian is abandoning his faith.  I can say this with certainty because it would be quite impossible for a Christian to abandon his faith.  What we are witnessing is a cultural shift.  Christianity has become unpopular in culture, and those who have been beholden to culture all along are simply following their true love.  Works based religion is a heavy load, so if it isn’t a necessary part of our righteousness before our fellow man, why in the world would anyone bother?

Yet there are those who still want to retain the name of Christianity while at the same time following this world.  Such people are easy to spot because they will hate true Christianity just like the culture does and will even go so far as to call it un-Christian.  Pay no attention to their antics.  We must trust in the Word.

In living this out we must realize a few things.  First, that we have in us a propensity to justify our sin because of grace.  That is a lie.  We should fight such inclination with all diligence, and seek to live righteous lives according to what God calls righteous.

Second, we must at the same time work at our on sanctification while disconnecting that work from our salvation.  The salvation is a given.  Any “works” we perform, whether they be to help our fellow man or in mortifying our own flesh are a result of that salvation, not the cause of it.  There is nothing we can do, but there is much that we ought to do.  And with the spirit of Jesus living in us, there is much we’ll want to do.

Third, don’t forget that man–and that includes you–loves the praise of his fellow man.  And being a good Christian in the Christian community will gain you some of that praise.  Accept it with humility, but also guard yourself from working for it, for to work for it is a sin.  Check your motivations.  Are you wanting to tell others about what you are doing… in other words, are you wanting to display your works?  This is difficult, but you must mortify, and continue to mortify, that desire.  There are entire cults built on works who have convinced themselves that their works based religion is what sets them apart from true Christianity.  Pay no attention to anyone who tries to tell you that they have found the right way because they are “doing” the work.  It is vanity.  And speak of your works with humility when you must.

Finally, Jesus said that it was better that He leave, and for the Holy Spirit to come.  Learn to discern.  Jesus has given you the lighter yoke.  If you are burdened with a heavy works-based burden, you have taken on the wrong yoke.  He will give you rest.  His burden is light.  Doing His “work” is not toil, but pleasant, with grace in failure.

I pray for you dear children that God would work “in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” And I pray that you would take on and feel the lightness of his yoke as you rest in His salvation.  It really is an amazing thing, and He is worthy of all praise, honor and glory for that salvation which he worked on the cross and in His resurrection.

Your father

False Freedoms And Freedom Indeed

Dear children,

You will hear words like “liberty” and “freedom” bandied about.  But these words more times than not are sorely misunderstood in this age.  They imply something that is impossible, which is that man can be free.  But man is not free.  Life itself binds us.  So we are left to choose one set of freedoms over others, all of them coming with their own set of snares and constraints.

Kris Kristofferson penned the now famous words, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” some years ago, and yes, the freedom he was referring to is a kind of freedom.  Having nothing to lose, nothing to claim as your own, nobody to love, or to love you, or no material possessions that can be used as leverage to control you does provide for a sort of freedom.  A homeless panhandler, for example, might have that kind of freedom.  What can anyone do to him?  But he’s not free to go home, or to know the joy of providing for a family, just to name a couple of the things he’s not free to do.

Marxism offers a concept of freedom for others.  This is the freedom that comes with being a ward of someone or something much more powerful than one’s self.  So big all-encompassing governments are empowered and charged with making sure that all have food, clothes and shelter, and that no one has more material wealth than anyone else.  In short they are charged with making everything fair.  But in order to achieve such a world heavy handed laws must be enacted and enforced with an iron fist.  Man is then freed from the necessity of effort.  He need not apply himself to anything, for doing so will reap him nothing more or less in return.  For many this is a coveted freedom.  Those who long for this freedom are easily recognized because they worship an ideological concept: equality.  But with all the words spoken, and the millions murdered in order to achieve such “freedom”, no equality has ever been achieved,  only misery, poverty and captivity.

For some hedonism is liberty.  Our bodies want to sleep, be comfortable, and most of all to experience pleasure.  But to run after these things without constraint is self destructive.  Our bodies, or as the Bible puts it, our flesh, is by its nature self destructive.  It can never be satisfied.  It can never get enough of what it craves constantly.   At some point our bodies want to sedate themselves with drugs and alcohol, to take away the pain brought on by self destruction, which causes even more self destruction.  It’s a downward spiral.  Yes, there is a freedom in casting off all restraint, but in the end it leads to death.

For others still, lots of money is freedom.  They cast off the restraint of slothfulness that the body attempts to impose, and they work really hard in hopes of great reward.  They are then free to have nice things.  But they are not free to be satisfied with those nice things, or to stay home from work.

There are so many freedoms that we can go chasing after.  But in the end there is no freedom.  In the end we will live out what Solomon called, “vanity of vanities”.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun? ” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 )

All freedoms have merit.  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?  Who desires to toil day and night only to be exploited by the lords of the market place?  Who wants to be poor?  But all of these “freedoms” involve submission to masters, none of which are righteous.  But there is a righteous master to whom we can submit.  His name is Jesus.  And He is a ruler, make no mistake about that.

The Bible tells us that this ruler came to set the captives free.  This ruler tells us that in Him there is freedom to be found.  And when we find that freedom, we will be free indeed.  So the question is, what is this freedom that Jesus offers?  To answer, why don’t we first take the scriptures on their face value.  They too tell us that we are not “free”.

I’ll show you two examples.

In the first one Jesus asks us to throw off the heavy yoke.  We must understand that that word, “yoke” is a word that points to a master to whom our will must bend.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is pointing to a freedom here, but not freedom in the sense that man normally thinks of it.  He is not saying that we are able to cast off everything that constrains, for that would be impossible in this fallen world.  He offers us an exchange.  Beware therefore of anyone who ever implies total freedom, for such does not exist, and an awful snare awaits those who believe such things.

The second passage points to another kind of master, the shepheard:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  (John 10:21)

Jesus is our shepherd, which means He is our authority.  We are free to graze in His pastor, but we are not free to graze wherever our flesh demands.  But Jesus does speak of freedom, and even a “freedom indeed”.  So what is that freedom?  If Jesus came to “set the captives free”, then what are we captive to?  The answer is “sin”.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  (Jn 8:35-36)

Jesus here is in a discourse on the subject of slavery.  Those who opposed him were claiming to be free.  They rejected Jesus’ assertion that they were in fact slaves.  But the slavery of which Jesus spoke was worse than simply being a slave to an earthly master.  One might hope to eventually break such bonds as those.  But no man can break the bonds of sin.  He is a slave to it for life except that he surrender to the good master, his very creator, who alone has the keys to unlock those chains.

Dear children, I would that you not go chasing after the things of this world which make empty promises, but that you would chase after your Heavenly Father.  It is my desire for you that you seek the face of God, and that eternity would ever be in your sights.  I pray that you would put Jesus’ yoke on you, and that you would answer to His commands so that you might experience joy in this life that cannot be taken away or stolen by circumstances.  I pray that you would fix your eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen with your eyes is all temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal; they will not pass away!

In our hearts, we want freedom.  And I pray for you dear children that you would find the kind of freedom that will make you free indeed, that we may enjoy it forever.  Amen.

Your father.

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