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Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Mask Are You Wearing?

Have you ever attended a street festival where the participants wore masks and you wished you knew who the wearers were? From religious rituals, as in Ancient Greece, to burial customs of Ancient Egypt, to modern-day costuming, masks have been around for centuries. Some are pretty, while others are downright hideous.

In this post, my focus is on the invisible masks we wear. They do not hide our faces, but they may prevent our true identity from being revealed almost as much as a physical mask does. Masks can be as varied as there are wearers - over- confidence, exuberance, aloofness, I- don't -need -you-mask, arrogance, anger, pride. The list can go on and on. Some people may wear a permanent mask in public, or they may change it, depending on the setting.

Wearing a mask gives you a certain amount of protection while you are with others, but just as the reveler removes his mask when the ball is over, you too have to remove yours when you are alone. What happens then? You may find it difficult to get rid of it. You may have become so used to wearing it you can't let it go.

The Bible gives us a chilling example of a man who wore a mask. He was Judas, one of Jesus' disciples, and a close friend. The other disciples couldn't see behind his mask of innocence. "Surely not I, Rabbi?" he asked when Jesus said one of them would betray Him. Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you" (Matthew 26 : 25). And when Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to identify Him to the Roman soldiers, Jesus said, "Friend, do what you came for" ( v 50).

Before this incident, we didn't hear much about Judas, but I think it would be fair to say that he was not a contented person, even up to this point. And so he hid his true self behind a mask. But Jesus saw through it, as clearly as He can see through yours and mine. He sees you when you are crying alone at night, and when you are laughing in public, pretending everything is all right. Contented people have no need for a mask.

The Bible tells us that one day, "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7: 17), but meanwhile, Jesus wants to remove that mask. He wants you to show your true self. 3 John 1: 4 says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." If you are wearing a mask, you are not walking in truth, you are deceiving yourself and others. Go to Jesus, and let him remove your mask today.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Can You Love Your Enemies?

protesters and punks
protesters and punks (Photo credit: danoxster)

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his followers principles they had never heard before, and some of which they found difficult to understand. They had been taught, "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot," (Exodus 21: 24), and now here was this young Rabbi telling them,  "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"( Matthew 5 : 43 - 44).

Jesus' teachings are what set Christianity apart from other religions - teachings of humility, generosity, forgiveness and yes, loving our enemies. We live in a world where people still look to get even with someone who has wronged them, or worse yet, seek revenge. Can you love your enemies? 

Jesus told a parable of the Samaritan who saw a man who had been robbed and beaten 
lying on the roadside. A priest and a Levite passed by, looked at the man and went their way, but the Samaritan stopped, put him on his animal and took him to an inn where he paid for the man's care. The passage doesn't say what ethnicity the victim was, but I believe the reason Jesus pointed out that it was a Samaritan who took care of the man is because Samaritans and Jews did not speak to each other. Jesus wanted to show that the Samaritan went out of his way to help someone who was not his friend.

Jesus exemplified His own teaching when He cried out on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23: 34). Forgive them? Jesus could have called ten thousand angels and they would have smitten His enemies and set Him free, but He didn't.

Do you have an enemy or enemies who are making your life miserable? You have to love them. Not because you want to, but because Jesus says you must. Have you considered that that person who behaves in such a hateful manner toward you is probably hurting inside and in desperate need of a friend? 

When I was a child we lived next door to a couple who never spoke to us, or anyone in the neighborhood. The husband would wave sometimes when he saw us, but the wife always looked away whenever our eyes met. Sometimes my mother would call to her, but she never responded. One day, my mother decided this had gone on long enough. I don't recall exactly what she did to break the ice, but that lady and my mother became great friends. Not only did she become friends with us, but my mother introduced her to the other neighbors, and they too became friends. 

Now that I think about it, that couple probably felt isolated because they were from a different country. Sometimes what may appear to be unfriendliness in someone may really be insecurity or nervousness. If you have an enemy or someone who seems unfriendly,
 ask God to give you the courage to reach out to this person. When you show love, you are exhibiting one of the graces of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He is with you, and will help you.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened

A funny thing happened on my way to the parking lot the other day. I heard a thud and
when I looked around, there was this pigeon that had fallen off the roof of the building. For a split second our eyes met, and I was certain I saw a look of embarrassment in his eyes before he got up and flew off. I was glad he didn't seem hurt, but I don't recall ever seeing a bird fall and get up like that. I continued on my way thinking, what resilience, what fearlessness that bird showed.

The Bible and history record many stories of people who fell, got up and continued on their way. King David is one who comes to mind. David was specially chosen by God to be king of Judah after Saul displeased God. David became an exemplary leader until he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. But David rose from his position of disgrace and went on to write Psalm 51. In this Psalm, David admitted his guilt, cried out to God for forgiveness, and God heard him.

 "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge" (v 4).

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" ( v 10 - 12).

This Psalm touches the heart of everyone who reads it because it is a genuine outpouring of David's sorrow for his actions. It's the reason God called David a man after His own heart ( Acts 13 : 22). Contrast this with Saul's reaction when he realized that the Lord's spirit had departed from him. He didn't pour out his heart to God and beg for forgiveness the way David did. Saul consulted with the witch of Endor to bring up the spirit of Samuel the prophet to tell him what to do. The Philistines were gathering forces against Israel, and Saul was very afraid. (1 Samuel 28: 1 - 19).

This is just one of the many accounts in the Bible of how God uses imperfect people to carry out His purpose. David was not perfect, but he knew how to humble himself in order to be restored to God's will. So, what will you do if, or when, you fall from God's favor. Will you turn to your friends or to supernatural means for guidance? Will you stay down, or will you rise up and fly away like the pigeon? We are all prone to sin, but thank God for His grace that is bestowed on us through Jesus Christ. When we fall, we can cry out to Him and He will hear and restore us. Don't be embarrassed. Get up and fly into the arms of your Maker.  He is waiting for you.
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Memories Of My Mother

It's been over three decades since my mother went to be with the Lord, but I still
remember her, and her passing, as if it was yesterday. Lately, I've found myself thinking more about her. I don't grieve for her anymore though, although I wish she was still here. But I reflect on things she used to do. Like what a great storyteller she was. She would hold me and my cousins - I am an only child - spellbound  while she wove the most titillating tales. Maybe I got my love for creative writing from her. She was also a great cook and wonderful hostess who always made a point to cook a lot of food so that anyone who dropped in - as they did quite often - could partake of her sumptuous meal.

My father passed away quite suddenly when I was just ten years old, and my mother raised me as a single mom, running her little store so she could provide me with a good education. But I believe the biggest influence my mother had on my life was spiritual, although the irony of it is I did not accept Jesus Christ while she was alive. Not that she didn't try.

Shortly after my father died, my mother became a Baptist and began telling me the importance of accepting Jesus Christ and of being baptized, but I turned a deaf ear. I continued attending the Anglican church regularly, but the priest never gave an altar call and the church practiced only infant baptism. At age twelve, I got confirmed and began taking an active part in the church. I thought I was okay.

Was I rebellious? In a way, yes, but I loved my mother, took care of her until she died, and I believe deep down inside I loved the Lord. My mother used to read the Bible to me and when I got old enough, she had me read it and memorize scripture verses. Most of the verses I know today are what I learned as a child. So why did I resist?

Looking back now, I think the main reason was fear. I was afraid of what my friends would say, and afraid of being laughed at. You see, my mother's church was very strict. Women were not allowed to wear makeup or pants, and there were some places you just didn't go - like to the movies or to parties, so I continued in my church where I could live my life the way I wanted to. It wasn't until years after my mother had passed away that I gave my heart to the Lord.

 You may have a child that you have been praying for for a long time, and it seems like your prayers are going unanswered. Don't give up! The Bible says we are to "pray without ceasing"( 1 Thessalonians 5: 17). I know my mother did not give up on me, and neither did God.

So, to mothers on this Mother's Day, be joyful and thank God for His gift of children. Thank Him for His faithfulness to you and ask Him to show you how to continue to be a godly mother to your children. To the children, if your mother is urging you to give your heart to the Lord, don't resist as I did. Don't be afraid of what others may think. Maybe when they see the change in you they too will want to know Christ. Why not accept Him now, and give yourself, and your mother, the best Mother's Day gift ever. God bless you. 

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Saturday, May 03, 2014

What's Stopping You?

Bride And Groom
Bride And Groom (Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps)
Have you been hearing the gospel since you were a child, but you still haven't given your heart to the Lord? Maybe you come from a Christian home and attend church regularly, but you don't really believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Or maybe you believe some of the gospel, but not all of it.

The Bible  tells the story of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom. These virgins, or bridesmaids, had a duty to perform. They were to go to the bride's house on the wedding night with burning lamps or torches in their hands to wait for the bridegroom. When he drew near, they would meet him and escort him to the bride's house. But as it turned out, five girls took oil in their lamps, but five didn't.

The bridegroom was a long time in coming and their lamps began to go out. Afraid they would have no light by the time the bridegroom appeared, they asked the others to give them some of their oil, but they refused. The five - I'll call them unprepared girls - set off to the store to buy oil, but guess what? The bridegroom came while they were gone. When they returned, they found the door shut. Read Matthew 25: 1 - 12

Sad, isn't it? These girls were part of the wedding party, but they were not ready to meet the bridegroom, who represents Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom who will one day return to claim His bride. Are you ready? Or are you in the church, but your heart does not really belong to the Lord? It may seem that our Bridegroom is tarrying, but make no mistake, He will come, according to the Bible "like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5: 2). So, get your lamp ready now. Don't let that door shut in your face. You don't want to hear Him say, "I don't know you." Go to Him now and make it right while there is still time.

Heavenly Father, you know our hearts. Help us to follow your teachings and keep our lamps burning brightly so that when Your Son Jesus Christ returns, we'll hear Him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

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