Midweek Reflections

The Danger of “I”dols

Read: Exodus 20:3-4

One thing in the Bible that people are usually pretty familiar with are the 10 Commandments. They give guidance for our spiritual lives and a few of them are even reflected in the laws of the land. Do not steal, do not murder, etc.

But the first two commandments seem to be getting ignored more and more in today’s culture of narcissism. They say, “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the waters below.”

When we think of idols today the first things that usually come to people’s minds are related to television shows, athletes, music stars, and movie stars. We seldom think of idols in the form of Baal or other idols we read about in the Bible.

In reality though, today’s idols are very similar to those of many years past. They are things, people, hobbies, and so on that take our focus off of God and put our focus elsewhere. In the case of narcissism (defined as an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism) it puts the focus squarely on ourselves.

In a recent “Breakpoint” commentary (http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/23183) John Stonestreet related this to many of the recent stories we are reading in the news. He brought to light a quote that the late Chuck Colson once made. He said, ” “The cure for narcissism, is stepping away from the mirror and looking at someone else — especially Him (Jesus) who is the true desire of us all.”

In this age of Facebook, Twitter, Vines, reversible camera’s on our phones, personal blogs, etc. we need to be careful that we are not making an idol of ourselves. Christ wants us to have self-confidence, but he wants us to find it in our relationship with God not ourselves.

There are some valuable uses for today’s technology and I personally find Facebook and Twitter to be very useful with keeping up with friends, family, and other events; but I hope that I would never find my worth through those things. My worth and your worth is truly found in God and through his Son Jesus Christ, not how many “likes” we got on yesterday’s post.

In the end, we truly will be most content and happy when we place our focus on God. As Mr. Stonestreet said in his blog, “Jesus Christ is not just the cure for narcissism. He’s the cure for all forms of sinful pride and selfishness, and every other sin.”

My prayer this week is that we would refuse to be drawn into the “me first” approach of the world and recommit ourselves to these first two commandments. In Matthew 22:34-39 when the experts in the law were trying to test Jesus and ask him which of the commandments were the greatest he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And second…. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Make it personal: In the normal activities of your week try to notice the appearance of narcissism in your life and in others around you. If we become aware of this sinful attitude it will be easier to keep ourselves from falling into it.

Have a God focused week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Smiley Faces

Read: Philippians 4:4-9

In our world of texting and emails the smiley face 🙂 has become a nice way to communicate joy, laughter, and good feelings as we converse back and forth. Some of them are simple as the one above and others become quite elaborate. But I was reminded yesterday about how important it is to share those smiles on our faces as well.

I was having one of those days yesterday. Things just seemed to be piling up and nothing really seemed to be going particularly well. But there were three people in the course of my day who helped to brighten it and make me feel blessed. I did not know these people, I did not talk to these people, but their wonderful smile truly blessed me.

One of them was in a car, one was in a store, and another one was walking down a sidewalk. I don’t know why they smiled at me and perhaps it wasn’t even directed at me, but their joyful spirit reminded me that my difficult day was not my lot in life.

We are reminded often in the Bible that “the Joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). In Philippians 4 Paul proclaims that rejoicing is not only a way to bless our lives but a way to bless others as well. It brings peace and brings to mind things that are praiseworthy, pure, and good.

E. Stanley Jones once said, “When I met Christ, I felt that I had swallowed sunshine.” I think we know that, I think we have experienced that, but sometimes we need to remind our faces to show that. I am thankful for those three people yesterday who blessed me in that way.

I heard a popular song recently that had the lyrics, “I’ve been waiting to smile, been holding it in for a while.” My prayer for all of us this week is that we would let it out and not hold it in any longer. My prayer is that our physical smiles will outnumber our texted or emailed smiley faces.

You just never know how much of a blessing you might be if you walk around with a smile on your face and have a joyful spirit and attitude that backs up your smile. Not only will you be blessed, but you will bless others as well!

Make it personal: Here are several more short scriptures to help us make this personal this week…..
Psalm 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation”
Jer. 15:16: “Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.”
1 John 1:4: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
James 1:2-4: “My brethren, count it all joy..”
1 Peter 1:8-9: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…”

Have a joyful week filled with smiles,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Magic Words

Read: 2 Corinthians 7:2-13

When our daughter was very young she loved watching the large purple dinosaur named “Barney” on T.V.. One of Barney’s best known songs was a song that encouraged children to use the magic words of “please” and “thank you.” Even as I write about it now the song begins to echo in my mind once again.

As adults those words are still very helpful and polite to use of course, but in people relationships there are two other words that are of utmost importance. Those two words are “I’m Sorry!” At almost every wedding I am a part of I will somehow include the encouragement to the bride and groom to make those magic words a part of their normal vocabulary.

When we are willing and able to be sorry for something we have done to someone else, and speak it to them, we open the door for true, meaningful, and healing reconciliation to take place. When we are not sorry, the festering and anger often lead us to a boiling point that is neither healthy or Godly.

In this passage from 2 Corinthians Paul is talking more about the repentance of the church than he is about repentance between individuals. But the results are similar. The repentance that restores our relationship with Christ can also restore our relationships with friends, your spouse, your child, a co-worker, or anyone else.

In verse 9 Paul says, “Yet now I am made happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led to repentance.” Hannah More once said, “A Christian will find it cheaper to pardon than to resent. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”

Being sorry and granting forgiveness is a two-way street. But if we are willing to walk that path with each other our lives can be so much more enjoyable and our relationships so much stronger than if we hang on to those wrongs and hurt feelings.

At some point in all of our lives we are going to do something, say something, or react to something in a way that is sinful and/or wrong. What we do about it after the fact matters a lot! Someone once said, “He that doth not forgive burns the bridge over which he himself will someday need to pass.” We could also add “He that does not ask for forgiveness” as well.

Barney called them “Magic Words” but I think we as Christians should call them “Godly Words.” After all it pleases the heart of God when we are truly sorry and repentant and we make it known to the Lord and to those we have wronged.

Make it personal: How hard is it for you to say “I’m Sorry!” How many times have you spoken those words in the last month or year? Think about that this week and be aware of the opportunities you have to speak those words. You will find both healing and blessings when they become a part of your everyday vocabulary.

Have a blessed week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Festival Celebrations

Read: Leviticus 23:33-44

I can probably count on one hand and maybe even one finger how many times I have used a text from the book of Leviticus in these midweek meditations.  But last week I ran across a devotional that fit very well with an upcoming church retreat that our congregation has planned.

The devotional was in the Rejoice magazine and was written by Craig Snider.  Here is what he shared about the importance of festivals, camping, retreats, and finding rest from our normal activities and gatherings in life.

“Years ago we were a part of a congregation in Florida. On fairly short notice, we learned that the community center where the church met would be closed for renovations.  So we met together in a local park. While county-league softball
teams played nearby, we arranged picnic tables under trees for Sunday school classes and worshiped in the park’s pavilion.

It was a wonderful five weeks. We learned that we did not need a building, for the earth is the Lord’s and so are we (Psalm 24:1).  During those five weeks, we broke ground for a building we would construct. When our season in the park ended, we talked about celebrating an annual festival of booths to remember our congregation’s history and celebrate God’s provision.

To my knowledge, that never happened. Why not? I suspect it’s for the same reason my family doesn’t go camping more often, and for the same reason that I fail to keep the simple discipline of a walk in the woods with the Lord once a month. It takes work. It’s difficult to disengage from our regular activities.

In today’s Scripture God commands the Israelites to go
camping once a year. Why? Something powerful happens when we
untie ourselves from our familiar places and routines. We see
that we are not the sum total of all our activities. Our
everyday bustle can become a way of claiming our own place in the world. When we live in booths we get back to basics: the Lord is God, the whole earth is the Lord’s, and we are God’s people.”

Craig reminds us of the importance of celebrating our relationships in different ways and in different places from time to time.  It refreshes us, it energizes us, and it’s hard to come back from a retreat like that and not appreciate the way God recharges our Spirit for the days ahead.

Let’s make it a part of our spiritual growth plan to find ways to disconnect from the busy schedules of our weeks and find time to reconnect with Christ, our family, and our church.  In the end we will be glad we did it!

Make it personal:  When is your next time away?  Is the Lord prompting you to put something on your calendar right now?  I hope that you will plan to join us for the AMC weekend retreat at Camp Menno Haven on Sept. 14-15.  If you can only come up for the day (Sunday) there will be a large coach/bus leaving that morning from the church and returning that evening.  Try to make it a weekend and come up on Saturday morning, but at least make it a day and join us on Sunday!

Have a wonderful week everyone,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

Walls and Fences

Read: Ephesians 2:14-22

Earlier this month at the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix the whole concept of tearing down walls and making peace between people was one of the main themes. In fact this passage from Ephesians 2 was one of the focus passages that was used.

It talks about how Jesus came and “his purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” It goes on to say that true reconciliation is possible through Christ who is our chief cornerstone.

Reconciliation is often hard to come by. We hear cases like this in the news all the time. Recently it has been the Martin-Zimmerman case in Florida, sometimes it is the Israel-Palestine situation, and as each week passes there seems to be something else in the news that depicts wall, fences, and misunderstandings between people.

In fact, we don’t have to turn on the news, we often can just look at our own relationships. Unfortunately we do a pretty good job ourselves of wall and fence building. It reminds me of the story about two farmers from Alberta, Canada.

In Alberta you can find two parallel fences, only two feet apart, running for a half mile. Why are there two fences when one would do? Well, this is where Paul and Oscar come in. These two farmers had a disagreement that erupted into a longstanding feud.

Paul wanted to build a fence between their land and split the cost, but Oscar was unwilling to contribute. Since he wanted to keep cattle on his land, Paul went ahead and built the fence anyway. After the fence was completed, Oscar said to Paul, “I see we have a fence.”

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Paul replied. “I got the property line surveyed and built the fence two feet into my land. That means some of my land is outside the fence. And if any of your cows sets foot on my land, I’ll shoot it.”

Oscar knew Paul wasn’t joking, so when he eventually decided to use the land adjoining Paul’s for pasture, he was forced to build another fence, two feet away. Oscar and Paul are both gone now, but their double fence stands as an unfortunate monument to the high price we pay for stubbornness.

You see, Christ came not only destroy the wall of sin that separates us from God, he also came to show us how to reconcile our differences with each other. When we place reconciliation above our own selfish preferences we learn to find peace and contentment with each other. Jew, Gentile, and whatever other differences are represented.

Let’s live by Christ’s example and work at tearing down the walls and fences that keep us divided and opposing each other. Let’s work at peace, reconciliation, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Make it personal: Who comes to mind when you think of walls and fences? Make an effort this week at taking those down and moving towards common ground. Read the Ephesians 2 passage and others that give testimony of the Jesus way.

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

You have the first piece!

Read: Proverbs 3 and Mark 12:41-44

One day two little boys were each given a box of chocolates by their grandfather. The first boy took the package into his bedroom, tore into it, and stuffed the candies into his mouth until he had it smeared all over him. The other boy unwrapped his package in front of his grandpa, opened the box and looked at all the candies, then raised the box to his grandfather and said, “Thank you for giving me this candy! Here, you have the first piece!”

The ideal of firstfruits giving is evident throughout the Bible. In Exodus 34:26 it says “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.” in Proverbs 3:9-10 it says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barn will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

The word wealth in that verse is relative. What I mean by that is that firstfruits giving to God is something that should be practiced no matter how much one makes. Jesus gives the perfect example of that in Mark 12 when he tells the story about the poor widow who gave all that she had.

When we give to the Lord it should be with the attitude that the second boy in the story above had. He was overjoyed with what he had been given and he offered the first of it back to the giver, his grandpa. When we have a heart that gives to God freely we find ourselves blessed beyond measure.

Those blessings may not always come in things or money, but true joy is not found in those things. True joy comes to us when we know we have taken the first and the best of what God has given to us and given it back to him as an act of worship.

J. Oswald Sanders once said, “The basic question is not how much of our money we should give to God, but how much of God’s money we should keep for ourselves.” That put’s it into a very helpful perspective for us.

The Lord wants us to have the provisions we need. He cares for us, provides for us, and blesses us at times with abundance. But when we see it as the Lord’s, first and foremost, it makes it much easier for us to give with a thankful and worshipful heart.

Make it personal: The next time you sit down with a paycheck or income of some sort start by giving to God, and then pay your bills and buy your other things. People who practice this act of firstfruits giving most always report the blessings that come from saying, “Here God, you have the first piece!”

Have a great week,
Glen Rhodes, Minister of Discipling and Community Life, Arthur Mennonite Church

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