Sunday, February 1, 2015

Greater Ends

In The Horse and His Boy, one of the seven novels in C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series, a boy named Shasta dreams of traveling to the unknown north, which turns out to include the magical land of Narnia. One night Shasta overhears the fisherman he has been led to believe is his father sell him to a noble from a neighboring kingdom. (We find out much later that Shasta had been shipwrecked as a baby and was found by the fisherman.)
As Shasta awaits his new master in the stable, he is surprised to find out that the noble’s stallion, Bree, is a talking horse from Narnia. Bree explains that he was kidnapped as a foal and sold as a warhorse, and suggests that they escape together. 
Their journey north is long and perilous, and they have several encounters with lions along the way.
During the first, Shasta and Bree meet two others who are trying to escape to Narnia—Aravis, a young aristocrat who is being pressured into marrying an unsavory character, and her talking mare, Hwin, who was also kidnapped from Narnia. The four decide to travel together.
When Shasta is separated from the others, he arrives first at their prearranged meeting place and must spend the night alone at the spooky ancient tombs. He is awakened by a rustling in the brush, but it is only a cat, who settles in at Shasta’s side. When Shasta is awakened again by the cry of jackals, followed by the terrifying roar of a lion, he opens his eyes and is relieved to find only the cat.
After meeting up and learning of a plot by evildoers to invade Archenland, a small kingdom that borders Narnia, and then conquer Narnia itself, the four are off to warn Archenland’s King Lune when another lion comes upon them. This causes the horses to run even faster, but the lion overtakes them and attacks Aravis. Shasta drives the lion away. The horses are exhausted, so Shasta leaves them and Aravis in the care of a kindly hermit and runs on foot to warn the king.
Shasta meets up with King Lune and his hunting party, delivers the message, and heads off with them on a borrowed horse, but gets separated in the fog. Lost and downcast, Shasta senses a presence walking beside him in the darkness. Eventually the two get into a conversation, and Shasta recounts what he sees as his many misfortunes, including his recent encounters with lions. The presence turns out to be Aslan, the “Great Lion” from the other Narnia books, who reveals that he was the single lion Shasta has encountered on his journey:
“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis,” Aslan tells Shasta. “I was the cat who comforted you among the tombs. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the [lifeboat] in which you lay, a child near death, so it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
A golden light breaks through the fog, and Shasta turns to see “pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful.”
Aslan vanishes, Shasta finds his way to Archenland, and King Lune then recognizes him as his own son Cor, the long lost elder twin of Prince Corin and therefore heir to the throne. Cor and Aravis eventually marry. “And after King Lune’s death they made a good King and Queen of Archenland.”
This children’s fantasy contains some timeless truths: The difficulties we face in life are not left to chance. God allows each one for a specific purpose, all can ultimately work out for our good, and none are too great for us to overcome with God’s help. The “lions” that we fear are actually our salvation, because without them we wouldn’t reach our destination; we’d never become the people God wants us to be.
From our vantage point, troubles hardly seem like good things, but God knows what He’s doing. He knows where we should be in every sphere of our lives, and He will help us get there if we will do our part, which begins with trusting Him that whatever troubles we encounter on the way are within His benevolent control.
God often lets us get to a point where our own resources aren’t enough, but He never brings us to a point where our only choice is to give up. We always have the choice to turn to Him and draw on His resources to get us through, to depend more on Him. When we choose that, He never fails to come through for us one way or another.
God uses our external problems and our inner torments; He uses our failures and our successes, our trials and our temptations to achieve His purposes for our lives. If we are His, we are held by Him in a love that will never let us go. We need never fear the circumstances around us.—Coty Pinckney
Romans 12:21 ESV / Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
James 1:19-20 ESV / Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
1 Peter 5:7 ESV / Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Renewing Your Mind

I once talked with a woman who said she tried very hard to think only positive thoughts, but she was never able to keep it up for long. Even when she managed to appear optimistic, inwardly she was often in turmoil. Her self-help approach to positive thinking excluded God, so when things went wrong, she didn’t have anything solid to hold on to.
That may seem paradoxical—faith in God being something substantial—but it’s true. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In the face of difficulty and disappointment, faith is far more effective than mere mental exercise because it is backed by promises that God has made in His Word—promises that bring about tangible results when believed and applied to real-life situations.
These promises not only have the power to change problem situations; they also have the power to change us. The Bible tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of the mind.” It is through those “exceedingly great and precious promises” that we “may be partakers of the divine nature.”
We can, by an act of our will, take our mind off of negative thoughts. Unless we fill that void, however, the negative thoughts will rush back in. What should we replace those negative thoughts with? What is more positive or more powerful than the living Word of the living God? When coupled with prayer, the uplifting, transforming Word of God can give you victory over every ugly, negative thought and its consequences.
As you make a consistent effort to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts from God’s Word, it will become a habit; you will learn to—as the Bible puts it—“bring your thoughts into captivity.”
This is very difficult to accomplish in the tumult of the world. We don’t find the mind of God on the streets of social life or in the hobby shop. To connect with Him, find a place where there are no distractions. “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
There is no place where the mind can be as fully renewed as in the secret place of prayer, alone with God. When we come aside from the temporal things that distract and harass us, and there in the presence of God we put our mind on the things of God, the transforming power of God then begins to work in us, and we are changed, renewed.
Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
2 Peter 1:4 (ESV) by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Just Sing!

I was awakened early by a choir of birds. Singing, chirping, chanting, chiming, and conversing, their melodies were loud, joyful, and everywhere—nature’s own surround sound. Some friends and I were camping in a wooded area near Mostar, the 600-year-old city that was often in the news during the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s.

The birds’ notes rose in pitch and volume, then swung to a whisper, then reached a crescendo again, victorious, full of inspiration and joy. The difficulties facing this ethnically divided country were clearly the furthest thing from their little minds. Nearly 15 years after the official end of the war, Croatian Catholics, Bosnian Muslims, and Serb Orthodox are still learning how to live in the same cities, how to work together, and how to forgive.

I went for a walk along the narrow river and took in the scene—the potholed asphalt road lined with bench frames with no seats, the bridge that had been all but destroyed, the small cafĂ© without doors or glass in the windows, the flowerbeds overrun with weeds. Don’t step onto the grass, I reminded myself. There could be mines! For a few moments I forgot about the birds. Why did this happen? Who was responsible for this mess?

As I neared the teetering remains of the bridge, I saw a bird on one of the rails. Could she remember? Could she have seen someone die here, or have heard the shooting?

Then the bird began to sing, and I forgot about all those questions. Her tiny body quaked as her song burst forth. The music seemed to come from all of her. The sounds poured out with such force and conviction that I wanted to sing too. She seemed to be singing about the rising sun, about a new morning, about the blue sky, about a new day full of hope, about beautiful flowers and the gentle forest, about cool, flowing, sparkling waters that wash the old away. She wasn’t thinking about how she looked or her performance. She was just singing with all of her being.

I don’t know how long I sat there watching her, but I forgot about everything else. I listened and sang along. I sang about the feeling of freedom I felt rising in me, about new possibilities, about new ways of looking at life, about a new day full of hope, about the beauty of creation and its gentle Creator, about a great love that washes away mistakes of the past. It felt good, it felt great, and it felt liberating.
Forget about ethnic differences. Forget about broken relationships. Forget about the other guy’s mistake that never ended in an apology. Learn from the birds. With all your being, with all your strength, just sing!
Psalm 45:7 ESV / You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
Isaiah 40:8 ESV / The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Hebrews 13:5 ESV / Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Appreciation

Jesus taught “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”1 There are many ways to put this Golden Rule into practice; appreciation is one.
Think for a moment about your family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Doesn’t it make your day when one of them says or does something to show they appreciate you?
Everyone benefits from appreciation. Here’s an exercise to strengthen your appreciation skills. Pick three people that you interact with daily, and make it a goal to show appreciation to each of them at least once today. Be on the lookout for things that you genuinely admire about them or can thank or commend them for, and say or do something that tells them so. Take a moment at the end of the day to reflect on how it went. Did you meet your goal? What effect did it have on the recipients?
Repeat the exercise every day for a week, targeting some of the same people and some new ones as the week progresses. Make an effort to not choose only those people you like most or feel closest to. Even the most difficult people to get along with have some good qualities.
Showing appreciation will not only give the recipient a lift, it will also improve your own outlook by helping you view those around you more positively. It seems to be human nature to notice the bad more easily than the good, and it’s often relatively minor things that sour our relations, such as idiosyncrasies that we find irritating. 
By making a conscious effort to look for things to appreciate in others, focusing on the good will override human nature and make you a more positive person. Appreciation is contagious. It may not happen overnight, but in time it will nearly always bring about a remarkable change in any home, workplace, or circle of friends.
Hebrews 13:5 ESV / Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Ephesians 5:19 ESV / Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
John 4:24 ESV / God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Gender Differences

Question: My boyfriend and I normally get along great, but sometimes one of us becomes frustrated when the other one reacts differently than we expect or would like. How can we avoid those situations that put a strain on our relationship?
Answer: You’re not the first to encounter this problem. In My Fair Lady, the musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins raises the question, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” That just about sums it up—from both sides. Men think women ought to respond to things like men, and women wish that men thought and responded the way women do. 
That’s not going to happen, of course, but God does have a solution, as always. The first thing to understand is that God made men and women the way they are, and for good reasons. A world where everyone thought and acted alike would be as boring and off-balance as it would be doomed. Gender differences also help make us more well-rounded people. It’s usually easier to understand those of our own sex, but relating to the opposite sex causes us to stretch ourselves in the areas of humility, love, and patience, to name a few. If all of that is so, then neither gender is wrong for being the way they are. 
The next key is determining to bridge those differences rather than letting them derail your relationship. For example, it could hurt your feelings to realize that the love of your life still needs time with his or her other friends. Or it could frustrate you when the one you love experiences emotional ups and downs that you don’t. 
But once you understand these things, you’ll be better equipped to accommodate your partner and not become resentful. Here is a list of just a few common differences between the sexes. Though generalized and of course not universally applicable, they provide food for thought: Men are often more practical; women are often more emotional.
Men desire trust, respect, and acceptance; women desire words of love and endearment. Men like to get to the point; women like to discuss things from every angle. Men need more time to themselves; women need to express their feelings to others. Men like practical gifts they can use; women like sentimental and romantic gifts that make them feel special. Men tend to make decisions based on circumstances and practicalities; women are more likely to consider the emotional repercussions. 
Men are more solution-oriented when it comes to working out marital problems, whereas women want understanding and reassurance first. Not all men or women fit all these profiles, of course, because God made each of us a unique individual. 
So just because most men or women are a certain way doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with those who aren’t. Everyone is different! The idea here is not to put you or your loved one into a mold or to cause either of you to prejudge the other. It’s to give you an idea of where your partner may be coming from, so you’ll be more tolerant and understanding when differences arise. And remember: Love, humility, and prayer solve all problems.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV / Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Galatians 5:19-21 ESV / Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger,
rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not
inherit the kingdom of God.
Genesis 2:24 ESV / Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Love, As Seen Through the Eyes of Children

A group of social scientists asked this question to a group of children: “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think.
“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”

“Love is that first feeling you feel before all the bad stuff gets in the way.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“Love is when someone hurts you, and you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My mommy and daddy are like that.”

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

“There are two kinds of love—our love and God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.”

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.”

“Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.”

“Love is when your puppy is so glad to see you even though you left him alone all day.”

“Love cards say stuff on them that we’d like to say ourselves, but we wouldn’t be caught dead saying.”

“You really shouldn’t say I love you unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

“When they crucified Jesus, God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but He didn’t. That’s love.”
Proverbs 17:17 ESV / A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV / Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV / Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Success in Marriage

Lasting, genuine love is based on a more enduring foundation than mere fleshly gratification. It must be an unselfish desire to protect and to help and to make
someone else happy.
As my mother used to tell me, don’t marry the girl you can live with—marry the girl you can’t live without!
Marriage should be as equal as possible, as sharing as possible. You should talk together, pray together, love together, discuss together, and then decide and
agree together.
One very important thing that is often overlooked in a marriage is for both partners to have faith in God and Jesus Christ. When you have faith, everything is
possible, and you can do all things through Christ.
In marriage you die to self, but you find new life.
Don’t forget to thank her; don’t forget to thank him. Gratitude is a great thing in married life. Show appreciation!
Two of the greatest assets to a good marriage are honesty and a sense of humor.
“Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things!” That applies to
your spouse as well. Try to remind yourself constantly of his or her good qualities—the good things—and try not to think about the bad things.
Say “I love you” a hundred times a day!
Marriage is more than sex or friendship or a business partnership. It is the most intimate, humbling, loving, and self-sacrificial relationship between human
beings in all of life. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” This is love, real love, true love—the willingness of a
husband to sacrifice himself for his wife, the eagerness of a wife to lay down her life for her husband. This is supernatural love, divine love, God’s love, more
than human.
Marriage is so difficult in today’s society. There are countless temptations—not just to cheat on your spouse, but to be selfish, to assert your independence, to
insist on your so-called rights over another individual. All of these stem from people’s desires to promote themselves, and they run counter to God’s idea that
self-sacrifice is the way to happiness.
Thinking of your spouse first is the secret to married happiness. You give up old habits, old preferences, and old ways in favor of the new, in favor of this
wonderful person God has put in your life. In doing so out of love, you find great happiness because God blesses unselfishness; He blesses your sacrificially
yielding to another person’s needs and wishes and seeking their well-being, even above your own.
Matthew 17:20 (ESV) He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this
mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.