Saturday, April 5, 2014

Happy Birthday Nigerian-style

One of my Facebook friends shares my same birthday month. His birthday was yesterday. I admit that I have never learned the technique of doing all my birthday wishes at once, nor have I learned how to keep up with all the birthdays. Most of the time, I catch the event on the backside and send belated wishes. 

That was exactly what I did for my friend. He expressed his thanks for birthday wishes and I slid in on the back side. I wished him many blessings on his birthday, and I am ashamed at that paltry greeting. 

My friend lives in Lagos, Nigeria, and apparently birthday greetings have some meat to them there. As I began to read what his other friends had written, I was astounded. These were really birthday blessings. Some of them seemed like prophetic words. "Restoration will be the next chapter of your life."  He received wishes for the "new age". This was my favorite though: "In this new age, you shall run a good race, you shall fight good fights, and his grace shall be sufficient for you all the way. He shall bless those who bless you, even for your sake, so, many more shall arise and bless you speedily." 

Those are amazing birthday greetings, aren't they?  There was none of my usual, "Hope you've had a fun day." This man's friends didn't seem one bit worried about whether or not he'd had fun. They were interested in the impact he would have on the kingdom of God in the coming year. Judging by their comments and his posts, I'm pretty sure that his will be fruit that lasts. 

Don't misunderstand me here.  I like fun as much as the next person. I like cake, ice cream, and presents. I like birthday candles, especially sparkler candles. In the light of my friend's birthday wishes, though, those things don't seem so important.  

For my Nigerian friend, his birth day was more an opportunity to look toward the future than one to celebrate the past, and that's as it should be. One day, we will give an accounting of how we spent every day of our lives. I hadn't thought much about accounting for how I spend my birthday, but I will now. 

I've been pondering my birthday greetings, too.  I want to give "meaty" Nigerian-style greetings that look to the future impact on the Kingdom of God.  In case I've missed your birthday (or more likely when I do), here it is:  "May you bring more people to Jesus during this next age than in all your ages thus far combined. May God's path be clear and your feet stay on it. May you hear God's voice clearly and heed it completely."  Happy, happy birthday!

Loving without expectation (Luke 6:35)

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. (Luke 6:35 NASB)

This is the ninth verse in this section on loving your enemy, and there are more to come. You can see from the sheer bulk of words spent on this topic that Jesus meant business about it. When it comes to loving enemies, He was not kidding around. We have it to do. 

The marvelous thing about the God-man Jesus is that He not only told us what to do, He explained how to do it, and then He showed us what doing it looked like. As a little bonus, in this verse He told us what we could expect when we obey. 

There are three parts to this verse. The first is a summary of what we are to do. The second part is a promise for those who are obedient. The third part is the WHY of obedience. 

We will consider the initial section first. As before, we are to love, do good, and lend. There's an added phrase, though, that is vital to our acts of loving. "Expecting nothing in return".  Our tendency is to think that, if we love our enemies, it will bring about a transformation in them, and they will become dear friends. "Don't expect it," Jesus said. Don't expect anything at all. We can be hopeful that God will use our obedience to work in our situation, and He will, but we are not to be motivated by what we expect will happen. We are to obey without expectation.  

Ponder that a bit. We will discuss the promise tomorrow, but for today, think about obeying Jesus "just because He said to do it".  Our children don't like it much when that is our expectation, but it doesn't change the need for their obedience. It doesn't change the need for our obedience either. 

Love your enemy. Don't argue. Just do it. 

Pray today that we and our loved ones will have hearts willing to obey without complaints or arguing. Pray that we will " just do it".
Link for last night's blog:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Counting Your Blessings by Dr. Christy Lee

Intro from LH: This is an unusual Friday Night With Friends post. Dr. Christy Lee is not only my cousin, she is the little girl for whom I babysit as a teenager, and the daughter I never had. I love her dearly and am insanely proud of the woman she has become. She sent this to me after the blog post on counting your blessings, and I have listened to it over and over. I've saved the recording to a Dropbox link.  It's as safe as I can make it. Click on the link and then click download. You will be glad you did. It's ministered to me in ways you can't begin to imagine in the last few days, and I am immensely grateful for the wisdom in God's timing. Enjoy!!
 My dearest friends, Phil and Caryn Marlowe, live in Knoxville and are a husband/wife singer team.  She did a production of White Christmas last fall at her high school and we recorded this late one night last August while goofing around.  Phil's dad was in the middle of progressing downward from pancreatic cancer, and my daddy had just gotten the diagnosis of tongue cancer.  Those were frightening times.  It was a very meaningful night, as we played and sang with all the emotion of both families welling up and threatening to overflow.  We shared this recording with both our fathers afterwards, and it has been a blessing to all of us.  Phil's daddy passed away in December.  My daddy is doing well now. 

Loosen the grip (Luke 6:34)

If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. (Luke 6:34 NASB)

This is the third of the examples of what loving your neighbor is not, and involves the lending of money. The practice of "sinners" was to loan money only to those they knew well and were certain could repay the debt. Jesus, however, said that if we lend only to those who are certain to repay, there's no credit in it. It was an astute play on words that indicates we are to loosen our grip on our financial resources and be willing to give to those in need regardless of their ability to repay. 

We want to receive with our hands wide open so that we can receive the maximum. We are to use those same open hands to hold our treasure, so that God can have access to it to do with as He wills. 

How tightly do we hold to our possessions?  Are we willing to give without expectation of return? 

Today, pray that we will loosen our grip on the resources God has placed in our hands and cheerfully allow Him to do as He will with what He has loaned us. Pray, too, that we can have that same freedom toward those we love, allowing God to move as He wills to bring transformative change to them. 
The link to last night's blog is here;

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Doing Good (Luke 6:33)

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (Luke 6:33 NASB)

This series of lessons from Luke 6 are focused on the "love your neighbor" teachings. The verse for today's study is one of three that teaches what loving your neighbor is NOT. Jesus repeatedly calls us to love the unlovely, the unfriendly, the unkind. He calls us to go beyond loving those who love us.  We are to love those who not only do not love us, but also those who hate us. It's the most difficult kind of love. 

Today, we see that this very hard love is not simply doing good to those who do good to you. Even sinners, He said, do that. The first thought, on reading this verse, is that we are all sinners. (As Romans 3:23, written years after the resurrection of Christ, teaches us, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God) Indeed, we are all sinners, but the word here translated as sinners is hamartōlos, indicating one who is a chronic sinner, one who is devoted to sin. In other words, even the worst of the worst people are good to those that are good to them. 

We are to go beyond what the one who is not constrained by Christ would do. We are to rise to a higher standard of love. It was while we were sinning, doing the worst that we could do, that Christ willingly died for us. We will not, of course, die on the cross for the sin of the world, for that job has been done once and for all. We are, however, called to love ceaselessly and give limitlessly. Are you loving that way?

Today, as a gift to Christ, make an effort to do good to the least lovely, most difficult person you encounter today, and don't tell another soul. 

Pray that our loved ones will be drawn to Christ because of the great goodness they see in His people. 
Here's the link to last night's post. Feel free to share it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bahamian Blogging #10: the Gift of Song

When Ryan and I spoke at College of the Bahamas, we had a wonderful time. The class was filled with sweet, fun-loving students who welcomed us like family, and we fell in love with them all. After we spoke, we asked the students to take turns sharing their music. Someone sang the most beautiful song called "When the Road Seems Rough" and I was so moved that I asked them to sing it again and let me video it. "Sing from your soul and make me cry," I said, and that's exactly what they did. 

This song is written by a Bahamian composer, Clement Bethel. According to my cousin Dr. Christy Lee, "He and his family have a wonderful legacy.  His wife was the first president of the College of the Bahamas.  He studied in the UK and was the first Bahamian to get a PhD in music. His son and daughter are both currently on the faculty at the college."

The song speaks to the importance of persevering through trials and the understanding that all the seemingly insurmountable trouble of today will eventually pass. There is no need for despair.  It is a song filled with hope and endurance. Although God isn't mentioned, it reminds me of this passage from Isaiah. 

"He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (Isaiah 40:29, 31 KJV)

When The Road Seems Rough
    By Dr. Clement Bethel

When the road seems rough
When you've borne enough
Don't faint. Don't sigh. 
Don't cry, wonder why. 
Just keep on trying. 
Cease your sighing. 
Look beyond the present way. 
This time will pass. 
Tomorrow's another day. 

I've posted the video to YouTube and here's the link.

Shooting at Fort Hood

The WTVA alert flashed on my phone just moments ago.  "Fort Hood Shooting - 1 dead, 14 wounded," it announced. My first thought was, "That was years ago!" It was quickly followed by the frightening thought that it WAS years ago, but perhaps it had happened again.  

In fact, it has. 

In 2009, an army psychiatrist opened fire at Fort Hood. When the shooting stopped, eleven people were dead. Two more would join them before the dying was done.  Thirty more people were wounded. There is no way to estimate the collateral damage in the lives of families, friends, and coworkers. A military trial eventually found the gunman guilty on all 45 counts and he is now on death row. 

Justice has been served and the maniac is behind bars. We are safe. Or so we thought. It turns out that there are more crazed gunmen and they are shooting again. There are more deaths and there are more injuries. Not only are there more deaths and more injuries, but those poor people at Fort Hood have been forced to relive their worst nightmare. 

I do not understand. I do not like this. 

I had enough of brutality as a child in rural Mississippi in the late 1960's, where the nightly news was filled with the horror of the Vietnam war and the daily count of young men who were either wounded beyond what we could believe or dying for something we didn't understand. Our days were filled not only with bomb drills designed to prepare us for a nuclear attack but also with the confusion of integration and the effort of blending two disparate cultures into a whole that would, one day, (we hoped) bring equality and unity to us all. 

Then there was Iraq and Afghanistan. If we are not fighting, the rest of the world is, and the war rages on.  I am sick of it, but in this world, there will always be wars and rumors of wars. There will be tragedy and humans will do the unthinkable. 

The problem is not guns, or alcohol, or fast cars, or any of the other convenient targets. The problem is US. We humans have a bent for wrong-doing that we refuse to deny, and the toll it has taken is absurd. It is senseless. It leaves the world a dark and scary place. 

We CAN be a light in the darkness. We are supposed to be a light in the darkness. If enough of us would choose right over wrong, and actually live accordingly, we could make a difference. The light could shine in the darkness and overcome it. We could. If we would. 

I, for one, am taking a stand against the darkness. Let your light so shine before men, Jesus said, that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. It's time we started shining, dear ones. The darkness has won enough. 

Shine your light. 

Easy love is not enough

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:32 NASB)

In this passage, Jesus was preaching to a multitude of people. They were assembled on a "level place" at the foot of a mountain. There were people from all over the region, from every socioeconomic level, from every faith persuasion. Some were strictly adherent to the law. Some... well, not so much. 

There was one theme that Jesus was hammering home. He spent a significant portion of this discourse on the subject. Loving your neighbor is the topic, and it is critical if we are to be an effective witness for Christ. This verse is the first of three examples of what loving your neighbor is not. 

To the command to love their neighbor, people were silently thinking, "Look at all the people I love. I love my neighbor." They were quietly tallying the count and feeling pretty good. 

Jesus knew that everyone on their tally list also loved them. Ever the Confronter of Falsehood, Jesus confronted that deluded thinking. "There are no extra points for loving the people that love you.  Anyone can do that."  The overwhelming grace of God is not required to love the people who love us back. That is relatively easy. Jesus was making it very clear that we were not called to easy love only. We are called to HARD love. We are called to love those who are difficult to love. 

Certainly we are to love those who love us in return. He was not denigrating that love at all. He was saying that easy love cannot be all the love you show.  

Think of the people on your "love tally". Are there those on your list who are hard to love? Are there people on your list who do not love you in return? If not, Jesus would have you make some changes. Easy love is not enough. 

Pray today that we will see the most difficult people we encounter as opportunities to love in the name of Jesus, and that seeing our love for the least lovely will demonstrate the love of Christ to those we love the most. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Counting Your Blessings

I've always loved the movie White Christmas in which Bing Crosby sings an Irving Berlin song, "If you're worried and you can't sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep..." Isn't that a wonderful truth? When we understand how blessed we are, our worries don't seem nearly so large. 

I saw something that reminded me of that song today. Our office has the usual physician waiting room magazines, all of which are either addressed to the office or to my boss or to me. The Ebony magazine is addressed to me. I'm not really sure how this got started, but we have a little Ebony ritual. When the magazine arrives, my boss brings it (usually with a stack of mail he's sorting) to my desk. "Here's your magazine," he'll say. While he finishes sorting through the mail, I flip through the Ebony, which is very informative, and read the most interesting parts aloud. 

As you may have guessed, the magazine arrived today. On page 11 of the April 2014 issue, I found #30 in a list of ways to transform your life. It recommended that, every night before bedtime, you make a list of three blessings. Having a grateful heart, it said, would help you both mentally and physically. In just three weeks, the article claimed, you would be sleeping better and "less likely to catch a cold".  

I laughed out loud.  "How funny!" I said. With a nearly-straight face, my boss said, "And you haven't had a cold since you started blogging!"  We both laughed about the claims, but I don't think they were wrong. Proverbs 17:22 says "A cheerful heart is a good medicine...." (ASV). I'm pretty sure a grateful heart is, too. 

In the words of Irving Berlin, "If you're worried, and you can't sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep..." When you start counting, try writing them down, too. You might be surprised by how good God's been to you, and you are likely to feel better, too! 

Loving your neighbor (Luke 6:31)

Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:31 NASB)

A lawyer once asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment. It was asked as a trick, of course, and intended to trap Him. He promptly replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' (Matthew 22:37, 39 NASB). Jesus effectively summarized the entire law in two brief sentences.  Oh, if obedience to those sentences were as quick and easy as His reply!  Jesus knew it would be easier to obey a set of rules for a God we don't see than love our neighbor, who we see and may not find terribly attractive, as ourselves. To make it a little easier, He told us HOW to love our neighbor. Every time you have an opportunity to respond to someone else, regardless of how much you "like" them (or dislike them), treat them the same way you want to be treated. 

A little trick that would help me more if I used it consistently to is remember that when we have "done it for the least of these" (including the least pleasant) we have done it unto Christ Himself. Well, that puts a little different spin on this loving your neighbor business, doesn't it?  If we could just treat our neighbor the way we'd like to treat Jesus, what a difference it would make. Even better, if we would treat our neighbor as Christ has treated us, what an amazing change it would work in us and in those around us. 

Here's what treating your neighbor as yourself looks like:  
Mercy and grace. Every time. 

You can't do it, but Jesus, working through you, can. 

Pray today that we will allow Jesus to love others through us. Pray too that our loved ones will see the love of Christ in us and be drawn to it. 
Link for last night 'a blog here:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Loving your enemies part 2 (Luke 6:28-30)

bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:28-30 NASB)

We continue the passage on loving your enemies. Jesus offered a three-step plan for loving your enemies that involved our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. Praying for our enemies was a critical part of loving them. 

Jesus followed those instructions with examples of mistreatment that would need to be forgiven, done by enemies that would need to be loved. He describes physical violence, stealing/robbery, and unpaid debts.  The examples are all examples of betrayal. The first is a betrayal towards your physical person, the second a betrayal toward your possessions, and the third is a betrayal of trust. 

In every instance, Jesus recommends a very unexpected, nonviolent, response. Turn the other cheek, offer your shirt along with your coat, let the debt go. It's one thing not to fight back. It's another thing entirely to do the surprising act of giving more than has been taken. It makes no sense to us, but it is a very powerful response. In a way, it changes us from victims into victors because it gives us a measure of generosity and control. It loosens our own hold on our possessions. If everything we have is a gift from God, then it is more His than ours. By letting God deal with those who have wronged us, we put the responsibility on the One who can right every wrong. 

How easy it is to get caught up in the wrong that has been done! We can spend years trying to set things right. Choosing not to become embroiled in retaliation sets us free to serve Christ and be about our business. Loving our enemies and forgiving those who have wronged us is mostly for our own benefit. It allows us to avoid the snare of bitterness and anger. 

Has someone wronged you or your loved ones? Are you struggling with unforgiveness or a desire for revenge? Listen to the words of Jesus. "Offer the other... Do not withhold... Do not demand..."  It is a radical response. It's not easy, but it is required. 

Pray today that our response to every wrong would be one of generosity and love. Pray that our loved ones will be so surprised by our response  thst they will be drawn to Jesus. 
Here's the link to last night's post:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hardest love part 2 (Luke 6:27,28)

When I looked at the blogstats for this week, I realized that there are quite a few readers who live in countries that ARE experiencing the terror of invading marauders and the turmoil of civil war. Would you join me in praying for those who are not only living under literal siege but facing grave dangers on a daily basis? Pray especially that their faith would be strong, their needs would be met, and their testimony would be so powerful that it would be used of God to draw people to Christ. Thanks. 

The Hardest Love of All (Luke 6:27,28)

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27, 28 NASB)

As if the blessings and the woes weren't difficult enough to hear, Jesus plunged right in to a discourse on loving your enemies.  For a people who had suffered horribly at the hands of their enemies for centuries, these were hard words. For people who were surrounded by armed enemies in the form of Roman soldiers, these were impossible words. Impossible, except for the grace of God and as an act of the will. 

Most of us in this country will (hopefully) never have the kind of enemy who invades our land, takes our freedom, rapes, pillages, and terrorizes, but many of our readers experience these frightful horrors on a regular basis We do, however, experience the kind of enemy who says unkind words, starts rumors, cheats in business dealings, betrays us, and does all manner of unkind and hurtful things to us. Those wounds can trigger the same fierce emotions in us that the invading marauders trigger. 

Jesus has a simple solution to either kind of enemy. Love them. It seems easier said than done, but it IS possible.  Jesus knew it would be hard, so He told us how to get started with it using a three-step plan.  

1) Do good to those who hate you. It's not optional if you plan to obey Christ in loving your enemies. When you have an opportunity to do good or get in a little revenge toward your enemy, choose good. When you can, do good. My grandmother used to say, "Kill the devil with kindness."  She wasn't far off. 

2) Blessing those who curse you involves your words, as opposed to doing good to them, which involves your actions. Don't add fuel to the fire with your own unkind words. My grandmother also said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Exactly. 

3) Pray for your enemies. The first two ways of loving are not possible without this most important step. In fact, loving your enemies is a choice that starts with prayer. If you can't think of a blessing you want your enemy to receive, begin by praying that God will bless them with conviction that leads to repentance and transformation. Praying for your enemy also requires that you pray for your own attitude about them. Praying for the heart of Christ toward them is a great way to start. 

Loving your enemy requires every part of your being. Your heart begins by praying, your mind by blessing, and your body by  doing good. This loving is a package deal, and no part is optional. 

Are you willing to love your enemies?  Will you love even those who have contributed to the problems your loved ones encounter? 

If you want to change the world, begin by loving your enemies. Nothing points to Jesus more than this. You will leave those around you stunned and deeply affected. You might just draw them to Christ. 

Today, pray that we will love our enemies with our whole being and that our loved ones will be drawn to Jesus by what they see. 
Here's the link to last night's post: