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Friday, November 27, 2009

Conversations with a bullfrog ( I helped him'a drink his whine........)

'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.............'

I didn't answer right away, because I love listening to the good ole' Statler Brothers sing that song, but I noticed that the name 'Jeremiah B.' showed up on my caller ID, so I figured I'd better answer sooner, rather than later. As I flipped my phone open; I said 'Hey, Jer; what's up?' Boy, was I in for it this morning! 'Somebody' must have had quite a day yesterday ( Thanksgiving Day )! First, it was 'What took you so long to answer?', so I had to remind him of my enjoyment of Newton's hymn, as sung by the 'Brothers', after which he began his tirade........................'You know what my favorite thing about the holidays is?', he asked. 'I used to think it was family and friends, but now I really think it's the food!' ( I love food too, and Thanksgiving really brings out the best in most cooks! ) I had to ask my friend, at this juncture, what had happened yesterday that had so soured him on the family aspect of the holidays He replied, 'ya know, Chuck; it's not just yesterday that I'm talking about, it's the holidays in general......................why do we wait till certain days to get in touch with each other............wait a minute; I think I just answered my own question ( having family of my own; I kinda understood where he was coming from )..........I almost interrupted at this point, but I decided to let him continue his 'rant'. 'I've always had problems, if not outright, most of the time, then latently, with my family!' Harking back to what we had talked about last time, Jeremiah Bereano went on to explain that, for whatever reason, whether because his beliefs ( which he doesn't apologize for ) are somewhat different, or because he leads a different sort of life, he has had problems communicating with his family, and thus holidays can become quite strenuous for him, since he feels that preaching is his life, that's what he knows. As he too a short breath; I had to interject a few thoughts, reminding him to look at himself, and not others, for the source of his 'problems': 'if you really want to get to the bottom of your family troubles, you might wanna take a look at yourself!' Having heard much of his family history, previously; I rehearsed to him how, after he had been introduced to some 'new' ideas, he had adopted much of them as his own, even taken them further in some areas, and had become rather vocal, if not a little antagonistic, toward those who disagreed. ( I've had some pretty heated discussions with him, myself ). I continued, 'Have you ever stopped to think that might be part of YOUR problem?!' 'Maybe your family ( and certain friends ) have become so used to your disagreeable temperament, especially regarding religion, that they've ( consciously or unconsciously ) decided that you're not that much fun to be around, except for the occasional holiday!' I could hear nothing but silence for what seemed like a few minutes, on the other end of the 'line', and I could almost see my friend hang his head as he thought about the harsh possibility of what I'd outlined for him. 'You might have a point there, Chuck', he ( almost grudgingly ) said; 'I realize that, in the past, I've held such an attitude of 'I'm right, and you're wrong', and 'if you don't see it my way, you just don't get it', that many people have probably, as you said, consciously or unconsciously, 'turned me off' and 'tuned me out'; so what can I do now?' 'I don't think it's too late', I consoled him; 'a couple things you might do is, first; get off your high horse, stop talking down to everybody about how all this so-called 'knowledge' of yours makes you so 'all-fired' right all the time, so everybody else is wrong, or just hasn't gotten it yet..............' He interrupted me quickly, saying, 'I believe that God has given me this knowledge, and if that makes me right, then they ARE wrong!' 'Jer', I said, 'that may or may not be the case, but if you go around alienating everybody, because you think God's given you this 'knowledge' that He's, for whatever reason, held back from everybody else, by telling them that you have the truth, and they, just because they don't understand it quite the same way as you, don't; then it's no wonder that nobody wants to listen to you!' 'You need to realize that, just because you believe that God's shown you the truth, doesn't mean that you have it, and even if you have it to a greater extent then the average person, that doesn't give you the right to walk around ( no pun intended ) acting like you're better than everybody else, trying to prove that you're right all the time and that you know everything!' 'Learn what it means to defer, and whether you think you're right or not; humble yourself, and acknowledge that you DON'T know everything, you're NOT right all the time, and there just may be something you CAN learn from other people; like how to show people you love them , not just tell them, and then act differently, and how to show people that you believe such and such a way, not just tell them, and then destroy any effect you might have had ( for good ) by not living up to your words! Now I was ranting, and hoping that my friend wouldn't hang up in fury and frustration! My friend had had enough, so he quietly said that he had to go, and before he said goodbye; he meekly ( or is that 'weakly' ) said 'thanks', then softly hung up the phone. In God's good providence; I might not hear from my friend, while he mulls things over, then hopefully, acts on them!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apples & Oranges ( and cranberry sauce )

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner is cranberry relish!

I love a good cranberry relish; not too sweet, but not too sour!

There are several topics that I wanted to 'treat' here; first of all ( and don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining ), the celebration of 'special days': two, the comparisons that we make between 'fruits', and three, how we ought to be especially thankful for all that God has given us ( leading right back to number one )!

Whoever came up with the idea for setting aside a certain day in November ( to say nothing of a certain day in December, a certain day in April, even a certain day of the week, etc. ) as more special, or more important than another, ought to be flogged ( and thanked )! Thanksgiving Day was a great idea: as a nation, we have been greatly blessed, and setting aside that certain day every year to gather together, whether it be just family, family and friends together, or even strangers, to especially thank and praise God for His great goodness, is a good thing, a great plan. When I say that this man should be, or have been flogged; I say this because of the commercialization that has come from specializing this, as well as certain others you might think of. Thanksgiving Day, as with so many ideas, started well; what a great idea! A good time to remember how God has blessed us, not just as a nation, but as individuals, but why wait till November 26th ( or the last Thursday of November ) to get together as family, friends, and strangers, to eat turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry relish? As with certain other holidays ( as opposed to holydays? ), we have a tendency, as human beings, to treat these certain days as so much more special than others, that we might start to think that we should do things differently ( and I'm as guilty of this as anybody ) than we do other days of the week, or year ( as the case may be ). Should we be thankful everyday of the year for what God has blessed us with? Should we not celebrate the greatest Gift ever given everyday of the year? How about remembering what this Gift did for us, dying for our sins, and rising again that we might have life, everyday? I don't think that anybody would argue against this, but we still bow to tradition when, because of our busyness, or for whatever reason ( or excuse ) we treat certain days as better than others. I'm not complaining, as I said earlier; I enjoy getting together with family and friends ( even new friends ) for the holidays, eating special meals, and doing special things as much as the next guy, well, maybe not as much as some, but, as many of, I'd like to imagine, I'd rather that we weren't so busy with our hectic lives, so that we could afford to celebrate what God has blessed us with all the time!

The question is; 'can we afford not to?'

I spoke above of comparing 'fruits' ( 'Apples & Oranges' ): I refer to us humans, and in particular, Christians. I speak for myself, I accuse no other; we have a bad habit of comparing ourselves, especially as Christians, to the next guy. I know I have a problem with doing things that I believe I shouldn't because, well, my friend does the same sort of thing all the time and he obviously doesn't think it's wrong, so how bad could it be? One might think of the obverse of James' statement in James 4:17, 'Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin'. ( Romans 7:15-20 ) Scripture has much to say on the subject of 'conscience', and Paul even goes as far as saying, in regards to the conscience, 'Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble'. ( I Corinthians 8:12 ). Along these lines; Paul further writes, in I Corinthians 10:12, 'For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.' ( Now; before anyone feel like I'm pointing the finger at them: I am not saying that those who exercise their liberty ( in Christ ) to the fullest are unwise, or even sinning, just that each of us must live according to his own conscience, not that of someone else. ) Eventually; we might hope that those who 'beg to differ' might have a change of conscience so that they might more fully enjoy the liberty that we have in Christ Jesus. Until that point, if ever, I believe it not unwise to defer, as Paul did, certain of those liberties, in order that we might not wound those with 'weak' consciences ( II Corinthians 4:2 ). As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church earlier, in the beginning of chapter 8, 'We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies'. If we have a conscientious objection to something that our brother or sister does, yet do the same; are we not 'comparing apples and oranges?'

Not to sound hypocritical, but; I love Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving and Christmas, with Easter bringing up a close second, are probably my most favorite holidays ( although they really are 'just' holydays, like all the rest! ) Two main reasons; first, it's a great 'excuse' for family to get together, renew bonds of friendship, pick up the chains of sibling rivalries, etc., and two; the food ( especially cranberry relish )! It's really kind of sad, but too often; we wait for those two, maybe three days of the year to do this kind of thing, to fix these special dishes. As I've said; I'm not complaining ( for one, because I'm no better when it comes down to it! ), because I know the reason that we don't, several actually: the busyness in which we're all involved makes it difficult for us to get together for the purposes of celebrating everyday ( hard to get the same days, or amount of time, off, etc, for those who live far apart from each other; finances are always a factor, and I think that we, because of tradition or for whatever reason, seem to have gotten the idea, as I said above, that certain days are, and should remain, better, or more special than others. Thanksgiving Day ( or Turkey Day, as it's becoming more commercially known ) has become, to some, the day of the 'triple-header' ( as a friend of mine and I were talking about this morning ) where we stuff ourselves 'to the gills' with turkey, stuffing ( apt, huh? ), sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie ( don't forget the cranberry sauce ), and then sit on the couch with our beers, and watch some 'fools' ( with nothing better to do on TD ) run around and beat themselves up for four quarters ( X3 ). I dare say that most of us are thankful for what God's given us, although it may be questionable whether or not everyone actually acknowledges where these blessings come from, but are we truly being thankful to God, by relegating the celebration of this thankfulness to one particular day ( even a season )? I mentioned the over-commercialization of these three major holidays ( although many others have suffered ): many of us look forward to 'Black Friday'; most stores offer their best deals ( for a limited time ) on the day after Thanksgiving Day, and every year the stores are opening their doors earlier, competing to see how many people they can get to come through their doors, spending all kinds of money ( usually plastic ) that they may or may not have, buying all kinds of 'things' that they may or may not 'need' ( want ). For every major holiday; stores have special sales, sales which draw us into their stores; all to one end: the almighty dollar! This is not the way it should be!

God has certainly blessed us and it is more than right, and less than His due that we should set aside a certain day, even a season, to gather and celebrate our thankfulness, but as is common among humans, even Christians; I believe that we tend to forget our thankfulness in the humdrum and busyness of everyday life, and this, again, is not the way it should be! I chastise only myself with these words, because I have the same tendency ( problem ) with thankfulness: I'm not, much of the time. Especially in this season; let us remember to give thanks to God for all His manifold blessings, and then after all the 'hoopla' of the Thanksgiving holiday is over, and we're strutting around like over-stuffed turkeys, even the next day when we 'proclaim, 'I never want to see another turkey leg again', that it is not only when we have friends and family around, or turkey ( and cranberry relish ) on the table, that we should be thankful for His blessings, nor is it just on a certain day each year that we should gather as friends and as the family of God to celebrate that thankfulness, but everyday, in everything that we do and say! The apostle Paul said 'in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you' ( I Thessalonians 5:18 ), and earlier, in Romans 14:6, referring back to an earlier topic of mine, 'He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;a]">[a] and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks'. The Psalms are full of references to the giving of thanks: in Psalm 18:49; David wrote, 'Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name', after God had delivered him from the hand of Saul. We are told, in Psalm 30:4, 'Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.b]">[b]' Asaph wrote, in Psalm 75:1, 'We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near', and again, for deliverance, in Psalm 79:13, 'So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations'. In Psalm 92:1; we read that 'It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High': Psalm 97:12 reminds us to 'Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.[a].' The psalmist pleads, as so many of us today, 'Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!' ( Psalm 107:8 ), and David wrote, in Psalm 140:13, 'Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall dwell in Your presence.' Whether or not one believes in fulfilled eschatology, whether one believes God is present with us in His fullness, or whether just through His Holy Spirit; it is a 'concrete' fact that the righteous dwell in His presence, and for this, if for no other reason; we should give thanks: Job, when he had just lost most of his material possessions, and also the children that God had given him, in one fell swoop, said 'Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD' ( Job 1:21 ). In the next verse; we read that 'Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong': can we do less, but in every situation, good or evil, give thanks to God for all things, even those that we do not recognize as a blessing? Finally; as Paul wrote in one of his most comforting passages, 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.' ( Romans 8:28 ) Now, pass the cranberry relish, please!

in thankfulness, Charles Shank
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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Conversations with a 'bullfrog'

First of all; I would like to introduce my readers to a good friend of mine, named Jeremiah. ( 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog.....................wazza good friend o' mine.........') Sorry, just had to slip that in! Jeremiah seems to have a 'Jeremiah complex': he's a bit of a self-proclaimed preacher ( prophet, if you will ) that has a problem, as do most of us, when it comes to putting into practice what he preaches. In this way; he is not quite 'on par' with his name-sake. I remember quite often, as does my friend, the prophet's words in Jeremiah 20:9; 'Then I said, 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.' But ( His Word ) was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones: I was weary of holding it back, and I could not'. Whenever Jeremiah, almost pridefully mentions this; I have to remind him that, although the situation that he faces may almost be compared to the situation that the prophet faced, it is nowhere nearly as dire, because Jeremiah was being persecuted for speaking the truth of God's promises of adverse judgment upon His typical Old Covenant 'children' because of their disobedience. I tell him, 'You are under no such persecution for declaring such things; you are surrounded by God-fearing people, though maybe a bit mixed up, that 'persecute' you, not so much because of what you preach, but because you don't practice what you preach, as you should.' 'You're right, brother Charles', he says, ashamedly 'but I still feel like the prophet must have felt sometimes, because when I do remind those around me of God's Word and face 'persecution' because of it, I'm almost sorely tempted to say, 'forget this', and stop preaching, because I don't always practice; it seems like my conscience just won't let me be, ya know, kinda like when God's Word was like a burning fire in Jeremiah's heart.' I, along with other friends, then remind Jeremiah ( B) that we shouldn't stop preaching just because we don't always practice; rather, we should do our best to always practice, not only because it's the right and grateful ( thankful ) thing to do, but because it does help our witness, helps those around us to see that, 'hey, he really means what he's saying, he's not just spouting off at the mouth!' I went to see Jeremiah the other day, and after the usual talk about the weather, sports, etc. ( we usually end up gravitating to discussing religion; it's rare that we don't! ); he remarked to me, 'ya know, Chuck; sometimes I almost sympathize with those prophets of old ( like Jeremiah ) when God used them, not only as His mouthpiece ( 'Thus says the Lord........' ), but as examples of what He was about to do to His Old Covenant 'children''. When I asked him why he would say something like that, he told me that he found that some things that he naturally did ( I must make a note here, and I hope that Jeremiah's not reading this; my friend can be a real jerk sometimes, insensitive, selfish, immature, prideful, etc.............), he realized later that, although he was acting wrongly ( proudly, selfishly, immaturely, etc...........), he was really showing others around him their own weaknesses and helping them to see the wrongness of their own actions and to correct those actions. I told him that this sounded a little like he was trying to rationalize, and he said, 'I realize that, Chuck; and I try not to act like that, but I also realize that God uses our actions, wrong or right, for His own purposes, and I thank Him for that!' 'Remember what He said through the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 55:8, 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord.' Before I could accuse him of proof-texting, he quickly said, 'I know I'm kinda pulling that out of it's context, as I might seem to be doing with Jeremiah's words, but I believe that, even though the historical context of the prophet's words is quite a bit different than the situations that we face today, we can still find application for God's words, in that there is a tendency today to try to put God in a 'box', and say, 'well, this is the way we do things ( or more to the point, the way I do things ), so it must be the way God acts, too', or 'God wouldn't ( or doesn't ) do things that way'. 'This is not to say that my actions are without fault, and that I'm inculpable because I believe God's 'using me for His own purpose', just that, as Christians who, though chosen and perfected (although still being sanctified-Hebrews 10:14 ) still act wrongly ( sin? ) sometimes, we must remember that we have been forgiven 'once for all', not that........' ( I rudely interrupted at this point ) 'Are you trying to tell me that Christians can now sin for free, that we don't have to worry about consequences because 'once saved, always saved'?' Jeremiah replied, 'if you'd let me finish; I'm not saying that because of Christ's work, and yes, I believe 'once saved, always saved', that we can live however we please and we'll be okay, rather, because we've been forgiven and healed of all our iniquities ( I John 1:9 ) we are free to do what's right, we don't have to worry that our little slip-ups are gonna separate us from the love of Christ; as Paul said, in Romans 8:38 & 39, 'For I am persuaded that nether death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' I had to remind my friend, yet again, of the historical, not to mention immediate, context of Paul's words. ( Although thinking of Paul's remonstrations in the previous chapter almost makes his point, huh? ) When I did mention this to him, he reminded me of Paul's words in Romans 7, and that, although the historical context may have been quite different; the situation ( on the surface, anyway ) that Paul treated in that chapter was not so different from the situation that so many of us face today. 'Paul's words in Romans 8:38 &39 though', he continued, 'should give us all the comfort of knowing that no created thing ( does that include us? ) can separate us from God.' 'You're preaching to the choir here, Jer,' I amusedly told him; 'but one might argue that God, through Isaiah, told His Old Covenant 'children' that 'your iniquities have separated you from your God.' ( Isaiah 59:2 ) 'Whoa', he replied, 'now it is I who must remind YOU of the historical context!' 'God was speaking to those under the Old Covenant, not the New, and although Christ's atonement and redemption had been prefigured since day one and revealed, in a sense, to some of the faithful ( Hebrews 11 ); salvation had not yet been fully revealed, and their iniquities had not been pardoned: as we can see by reading the end of the Bible first, their sins finally and irreversibly separated them from God.' As sometimes happens; my friend was right, so I had to cede his point, and I promised that one day, we would get back to the subject: right now, my head hurt ( from overuse, maybe? ) and I had some things to do at home. I left my friend with this thought; 'if you're really serious about being a Jeremiah to those around you; you need to start being more serious about practicing what you preach, and controlling your own actions: start seeking God's will rather than your's more'.

As I got on my bike to pedal home; I distinctly heard him mutter, after our usual 'c-yas!'; 'till next time, Chuck, till next time...........................'