Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks Beyond Circumstances

This has been one of those weeks where I have received much bad news from friends.  Cancer, grief, miscarriage, death, moving, and health issues have all made unwelcomed appearances this week amongst people I know. 
My friends facing these issues are believers, and they are facing Thanksgiving with hard circumstances.  As Christians, though, God calls us to look beyond our temporal circumstances and live in thanks for the eternal state of our souls.  As we journey through valleys, we should be able to look up with an eternal perspective and secure hope to see the glory we will enjoy--an existence far beyond the dark, unknown valley we might currently traverse. 
Ephesians 5:19b-20 says, "Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
This verse reminds us that we are to thank God ALWAYS, even when life is hard and painful.  We are also to be thankful for EVERYTHING, as we know God is sovereign and allows circumstances in our life to grow us and form us into the image of Christ.
Christian ladies, as you sit around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, you might be facing hard, painful trials--circumstances that bring us real tears and pain.  However, our hope is not gone or in vain.  We are still His, and He is faithful.  In the midst of trial, we should shine brightly amongst our non-Christian friends and family, who wonder how we can be peaceful, trusting, and THANKFUL in the midst of very hard circumstances.  What an opportunity to share the hope we have!
Abraham Lincoln wrote a proclamation about making Thanksgiving a national holiday in October 1863.  He called the nation to repent of sin and focus on God's goodness.  Lincoln was focused on thanks, praise and glory to God in the midst of a very painful and difficult Civil War.  In fact, in October 1863, Union forces were not doing well.  The Confederacy had just won several important battles: Vicksburg, Gettysburg and Chickamauga.  Success for the Union looked bleak.  Yet, Lincoln chose this very difficult period of life and presidency to point to God's goodness in the midst of the valley and our need to exalt Him.  He was living out Ephesians 5:19-20.
I encourage you, whether you are in a time of plenty or a time of need, to give thanks wholeheartedly and confidently to God.  Happy Thanksgiving--a day of thanks for the world, and a life of thanks to God to those who are in Christ.

October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sacrificially Loving Your Husband Part I: A Foundation

Well, I just finished teaching my first lesson at church--in front of adults.  Gulp.  I actually loved it--God put a love of teaching in my heart from a very early age.  This is strange for a shy introvert, but God loves to show HIS strength and power through weak people.  The great thing about teaching is that you gain such a deep understanding of the material because you have to understand it well enough to teach and explain it to someone else.  Personally, this means a big helping of conviction on my plate--a truly Thanksgiving sized plate portion.

Just like every woman who attended the workshop, I am a sinful lady with selfish flesh.  God's teaching me and growing me to love my spouse more and more like Christ loves me--sacrificially, but it is a long road, and it isn't easy.  It means less of me and more of God.  John 3:30 puts it well--"He must increase, but I must decrease."

The topic is SO important, I thought I would break down the workshop to small blog posts.  The workshop was called "Preferring Your Husband".  There were four main categories of practical application, which I can dive into one at a time on separate blogs.  Today, I thought I would just lay the foundation for the lesson.

The entire lesson was built upon the foundation of Philippians 2:3-4, which says, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."  You see, we are called to treat the general "others" in our lives better than we treat ourselves, so how much more should we be considering our spouse, our partner for life? 

The word rivalry, in verse 3, refers to selfish ambition or hostility.  We fall into this mindset when we think "I deserve this" or the famous makeup commercial motto, "I am worth it."  Also, when we start getting angry at our spouse for his lack of service or attention to us, we are adopting the "what have you done for me lately" mindset.  This is hostility against others (our spouse) in the interest of selfish ambition.

The word conceit in verse 3 means pride with no foundation or proper basis.  As Christian ladies, we know we have NO value in ourselves, right?  Our entire value and boast is in Christ alone.  There is no room, then for puffed up attitudes or thinking of ourselves better than others.  Therefore, we are forced to recognize that through God's lens, which is the lens of TRUTH, rivalry and conceit are SIN.

The answer is, however, found in verse 3 also.  It tells us, IN HUMILITY, to count others as more significant, or important to ourselves.  This is countercultural.  We are engrained to compete with others and believe in some layer of survival of the fittest.  Just look out at the freeway and the amount of people who don't want to let you over into their lane!  I am sure we have all heard the tune that says, "Make sure you are taking care of yourself FIRST so that you are happy enough and whole enough to help others."  These are lies propogated all over society by satan.  They are the direct opposite, the antithesis, to the message of Philippians 2:3-4. 

So if we believe the Bible is correct, we recognize we need to be considering our spouse more than ourselves.  However, this may be hard to swallow when he is sinful in his behavior.  First of all, we are called to humbly submit to our own husbands as to the LORD.  (Ephesians 5:22)  How are you doing with submission to God?  Are you pursuing holiness and listening to the Holy Spirit convict you in areas where you are in sin?  Are you using your talents and gifts for His glory and not your own?  See, if we are not exercising the skills to submit to God, it will bleed over into our marriage relationship too.  If you ARE making every effort to submit to God, the self discipline and self denial you are exercising will help you and benefit you as you seek to submit to your spouse.  If you aren't attempting to properly submit to and be humble before a perfect, faithful, holy and loving God, then how in the world do you plan to submit to your imperfect and sinful spouse?

Secondly, we can better understand how we sacrificially love our sinful spouse when we look at Romans 5:8.  It tells us, "but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Christ died a horrific, painful, humiliating death for His enemy.  God wholly loved and sacrifieced for us while we were hating, ugly, horrid, hurtful, hard hearted, selfish, prideful people.  We were His ENEMIES.  We were at WAR against Him.  We despised his authority over us.  Despite this, Christ died for us so we could be reconciled to God and forgiven our sins.

If we are Christians, we are called to love as Christ loved us. Since this is the case, we have no choice but to sacrifically love and honor our spouse.  I know our husbands have moments when they seem like an enemy--they can be hurtful.  God knows this and still calls us to obediently love them and respect them.

Common sense also tells us this fact.  If you pridefully withhold love and honor from your husband because of his flaws, you are in essence saying you are flawless and far superior in your behavior.  Really?  Have you never raised your voice?  Have you never been frustrated or annoyed and taken it out on your husband?  Have you never looked less than perfect in your appearance?  Have you never made a mistake in judgment?  Do you never require your spouse's attention when they are busy or tired?  I know we are all guilty of everything mentioned, and these are just examples of some imperfections.  So we have no choice.  We must, as imperfect wives, love and honor our imperfect husband.

In the next few blogs, we will roll up our sleeves and get practical.  We will look at four separate categories in which we can give our spouse sacrificial love and preference.  Until then, ponder what God has called you to do and pray that He grows you in humility and love for others, especially your spouse.  Make a list of what God has done for you, though you were undeserving.  With a better understanding and foundation, we can enthusiastically work on our Philippians 2:3-4 attitudes!