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2009-02-08_1917-15_SigmaCam

Should Christians actively struggle and fight as they live out their lives with Jesus? Should they strive? If they did that, would they be falling into a legalistic trap? A destructive pietism that emphasizes law over grace?

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This morning, I was immersed in all the weirdness of the election in the United States, until I had conversation with an old friend who was trying to help avert a Christian friend’s marital disaster. She was asking for advice.

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When music aficionados shop for high-end equipment, they are not only looking for a powerful or smooth-sounding amplifier. The most expensive amp in the world is useless if quality speakers are not connected to it. The retail store has these speakers out and in use so they will be available to produce the best sounding music possible for their customers. They are the speakers to which all other speakers are compared, or referred to, for quality of sound, and therefore are called reference speakers. The point I will attempt to make in this article is that the Christian God is the ultimate referent in the earth for power and love.

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img_3503Is it difficult to be married?

Let me think for a microsecond.

Yes.

Over the years, I have told couples many times that marriage is a committed relationship in which two people join together so the Lord can grind them up with His mortar and pestle. Disagreements pop up, selfishness shows its ugly face, our pride is made manifest and then crushed. This is what happens, that is, if we want to have a lasting relationship with our spouse. It is a good thing, this pride-crushing, since the Lord hates pride. The Lord uses marriage as part of His process of bringing forth His godliness in our lives. I am skeptical when people tell me their marriage is free of arguments. To me, that means that one partner is dominant and the other remains passive in order to eliminate confrontation. Married couples need those sometimes ugly confrontations, those tumultuous laboratories, to help us learn how to love as the Lord does.

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“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

I am so happy to be a Christian. I am so happy that the Lord has given us such a high standard by which to live. Honestly, I’m just stunned about what the Lord teaches us and expects from us. Anyone who has even a passing understanding of what Jesus taught should be challenged down to his or her core. Let’s look at a few of the New Testament commands that are just impossible for us to live up to.

“Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s a nice place to start, don’t you think? Perfection. Sure. No problem.

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I’ve been thinking about the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps I should add that I’ve been praying it, too, as Jesus taught us, in case you were wondering.

But there’s a whole lot more going on here than I have traditionally thought. I’ll admit to giving in to repeating these words on certain occasions without thinking much about what this prayer is all about. And to be transparent, I must admit that there’s probably a lot of stuff going on in this prayer that I still don’t know much about.

So, I’ll start with what is happening in my prayer life right now as I consider this prayer. It begins, as one would expect, with the first sentence, which almost every citizen in the United States knows: “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy be Your name.”

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Another challenging truth that the Lord seems to be causing us to consider is suffering. It seems like the Lord wants us to include suffering as part of what He has determined for us?  Cheery topic for Sunday morning, huh?  Aren’t you glad you came?  Let’s start in Romans 8.

“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”  (Romans 8:12-17).

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What are the three things that I would like you to remember most of all:

The first one is a simple one: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Make Him the ultimate focus of your life. As you know, this is the first and most important commandment, and the commandment from which all others flow, including loving others.

These two commandments are simple, but they’re not easy.

But there is another biblical truth that we include as we try to keep the commandment to love God: We are unable to do that, in and of ourselves.

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A word of caution. People in the church do not have the place to go up to church leaders and tell them that they are nothing. Leaders, though they are nothing, deserve respect.

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Paul reiterates this in 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

Everybody is to be respected. We are to respect one another. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Peter says, “Honor everyone” (1 Peter 2:17a).

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A Christian friend sent this to me last week:

Over the past several years, many people have felt that the Church was dead, or at least they’ve raised that question. One time, when I was talking with someone about this, the scripture came to my mind where Jesus says, in Matthew, “The maid is not dead, but sleeping.” I felt that the Lord was telling me that that applied not just to the young girl that Jesus went to raise from the dead but also to the Church. For the Church has mostly been asleep, and for quite a long time. But she has not been dead.

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