Sunday, December 21, 2008

Convicted Read

I am always blessed by Kerry Hasenbalg's wisdom and admonishement and this particular post did it for me. I was convicted and encouraged and wanted to share it with my readers. I know if you continue reading you will be encouraged too. If you can sit down and read several chapters in a really good book then you can read this post. No guilt intended :) I admit I am guilty of doing what she describes in her post and sometimes I need a strong rebuke instead of gentle chiding to remind me that I fall so short. Hope it blesses and encourages you. "Lord, change my heart O God. Make it ever true. Change my heart O God. May I be like You."

Honoring God at Christmas

"They act so pious! They come to the temple and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act as a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. 3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.‘Why aren’t you impressed?We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. " Isaiah 58:2-4

As Christmas is approaching, it seems that many Christian households are again seeking to know how to honor God and set tradition examples for their children to follow. Very often the holiday traditions we learned when we were young are the ones we continue to practice to this day. I am really impressed when I see Christian families seeking to serve and give to the needy more than having the holiday season focused on just the receiving of gifts. This is a good example.

But what I believe the Lord has really placed on my heart this year is something I have never thought much about in connection to the holiday season. It is based on the discussion recorded in Isaiah 58 between God and His people about what kind of holiday celebration actually pleases the Lord. And it begins first with an indictment of their false piety. Thinking they are honoring God but in fact dishonoring Him with their lack of genuine love for others.

So, if you are still reading, I am going to ask you to join me in searching your hearts to see how you might be dishonoring the Lord and how to begin honoring the Lord truly. First let us ask God to show us how we are pretending to love Him (fooling ourselves even) and yet continuing to oppress those we have power over? And second to show us how we have a quarreling spirit against the people God has placed in our lives.

Because if we really want to please God and want Him to be close to us, then we have no choice but to know and repent of these things hiding in our hearts. The houses, the churches, the workplace, and the fellowship circles of most Christians is filled with “secret” contempt for one another. And it is so terribly displeasing to the Lord and it keeping God’s mercy and power far from us! In this section of Isaiah, it talks about how the Lord refuses to answer the prayers of His people because of these hidden things. I don’t know about you, but I desperately want God to answer my prayers. If you have things you need God to help you with then please join me as we ask ourselves, who have we cut off in our hearts because of petty offenses? Who have we spoken ill of and justified in our hearts for doing so? Who’s reputations have we harmed that are part of our own God-ordained environments…our churches, our offices, our homes, our fellowships. How are we pretending in public that they are our “friends” but still continue to think and speak ill of them to those closest to us?

And why are we doing this? Primarily we do this because we think we are better! Well, we are not! Most likely, somewhere along the line, we have offended others similarly and we don’t even realize it. We think these people should be more honoring to us, but how honoring are we to them really. Perhaps we have unspoken expectations of them that they have not met. Let’s get some perspective…who’s expectations have we not met? Our parents? Our spouse’s? Our co-worker’s? Our boss’s? Our friends? If we desire mercy, we must first give mercy, right?!
Most often when I am offended, I chose not to go to the person directly and address the issue as the Lord has asked His people to do in the book of Matthew. And I am ashamed to say that I am too often willing to speak about it to others and not to that person directly. Venting is not Biblical! It is so wrong; and this does not honor God at all - and what's more it is harmful to our lives, our souls, and our relationship to God.

What about if we are sharing the situation because we are seeking godly counsel about the situation;, is it OK to talk about it in these cases? Well, it is critically important to understand your own motive in sharing with another. First, make sure you are only talking to someone who is willing to speak to your sin first and still expects you to go to that person directly if you are not the one entirely at fault! Christians rarely talk about their own sin…yet we love talking about the sins of others though, don’t we?! We are so unwilling to address how the real issue is that our pride has been offended. Often our anger towards others is based on our setting these others up to honor us (which is idolatry…us being the intended idol) and them being upset because they fail to meet our expectations of them. Often it is because we are angry that they can get away with their sin (which is jealousy because we want to get away with ours as well). And often it is because their personality or way of acting simply annoys us (this too is often jealousy - because we usually don’t like people with our similar giftings because we feel replaced by them…and we think we can fulfill the role better than them).

So, if we are unwilling to see our sin of pride and yet continue to praise the Lord while holding on to our secret contempt towards our brethren, then this is what makes us true hypocrites! We look pious with our hands raised in church or by serving the needy, all the while we harbor resentment and justify it in our hearts! This is hypocrisy. But until we are willing to see that we are hypocrites, we will not change and we will lack God's full blessing in the things we care about. God detests these things just as He detested them with the Israelites.

Are you a pretender too? You are if you are holding a grudge against your brother or sister! And as for people over whom you have power such as workers or those with less wordly influence, do you honor them the same as you would your own flesh? No matter how much we give to the Poor and needy, just like Paul said, it means nothing if we refuse to really LOVE!

Please dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, forgive and love. Speak the truth to men as to God. Do not be afraid to see your own sin…because this why Jesus died, to remove all the sin that we give to Him in confession. Go do something very, very kind to the one whom you have been offended by. Honor them; honor their reputation. Because someday God will make sure the same is done for you when you don’t deserve it either! It is Christmas after all! We want to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas right?! Unless we love through forgiveness and being humble and honest with our brethren, all our other Christmas traditions really do not honor God and it profits our souls nothing! So, let’s all stop pretending to honor God and begin really honoring God! For this will give the One whose Birthday we are celebrating after all - a Very Merry Christmas! And I promise that what you will find is that your soul will be merry as well!