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Contributed By:
Mark Brunner
 
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"DON'T SIT ON ME, LORD!"

Romans 6:8-14 Key verse(s): 6: "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the bod of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin...”

There are many things that a dog does not like. Chief among them for many dogs is the seeming innocuous task of having their nails clipped. Dogs have very sensitive paws. I have often been amazed as to the amount of time our little dachshunds and the lab spend grooming them. The lick and lick is often followed by nibbles and chomps directed at the skin between the toes. Taught at a very early age to be fastidious groomers by their mothers, what we might regard as almost ritualistic and surely repetitive is really more than it seems. Dogs don’t sweat. For the most part they exchange body heat largely through panting. But there is one place on their bodies that is the exception and that is the bottom of their paws. The only place on a dog’s entire body that sweats is its paws. Stress a dog and make it pace, then touch the bottom of their paws. Surprisingly they are quite moist. It is no surprise, therefore, that dogs are so sensitive to the manipulation or grooming of their paws. Their paws are precious to them, providing not only their sole means to escape enemies and pursue prey, but also the one avenue by which they are able to employ evaporation as a means of cooling down.

The longer you allow a dog to go without grooming, especially a dog that is kept indoors and away from the natural corrosive environment that will normally serve to keep a dog’s claws blunted and short, the harder and harder it becomes for it to walk. As the claws grow, the paw is pushed upward, causing an abnormal pressure on the spine. Eventually a dog with unmanicured claws may develop back problems or become listless or agitated. Yet, as good as grooming is for a dog, the dog doesn’t seem to recognize the boon. It will pull, bite and writhe in your grasp as if you are trying to inflict great harm on it. And, the fact is, nail clipping is uncomfortable for most dogs since their paws are very sensitive to touch, temperature and pressure. The very thing that benefits them is the one thing they most fear.

Sanctification, the process by which we are made holy, like Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit seems to have the same effect on humans as nail clipping does on dogs. We want to be like Christ. We long to conform to the image of our Savior in every way possible. We long to walk uprightly and in a "holy" manner. Yet, the old Adam in us, has grown disproportionately to our ability to maintain a holy balance in our life. We often stumble and fall. But, sanctification? Sounds kind of painful and harsh, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is just better to let well enough alone and go on coping as opposed to confronting the nuisance and pain that must be involved to rid us of our old but "thank you, it will do and I will cope" nature.

As a dog must be sat upon in some instances just to convince it that what we are about to do will ultimately be for its own good, so too must our God sit upon us with the weight of his grace. Our hearts are sensitive and we strive to avoid any pain to them. Yet, they are fated to become calloused and anemic unless something crush them and break away the layer upon layer of daily sinful grime and worldly grief that serves to lacquer them. Sound painful? Death always is and that is what is transpiring on a daily basis in every Christian’s life. God is plucking the covering from our hearts; a covering we have worked hard to secure, even nurture. It is a destructive but necessary process in order to reveal what He designed in us from the beginning of time. The comfortable and warm covering of sin that helps us get through the day is seems like such a necessary enemy. We are willing to let it have its way just so we can avoid the cure that would, on the surface, seem more difficult than the illness. So on and on it grows, insidiously and silently wrapping layer upon layer so skillfully and cunningly that we are almost completely unaware of its stifling heaviness. That sin-loving nature we inherited from our father Adam will eventually hobble us. It’s crippling effect robbing us of our ability to walk uprightly in the presence of our God. Unless He sits on us, crushing our natural will to be sinful and clipping away the filth of sin, we will never know the tremendous relief that such a clipping can bring.

Author C.S. Lewis confirms these suspicions in his book God in the Dock, "Man or Rabbit?" He compares the rabbit’s nature to be careful while cowardly to our inherent willingness to avoid trouble by avoiding pain: "All the rabbit in us is to disappear--the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy." (God in the Dock, [1946], para. 10, p. 112.)

 
Contributed By:
Timothy Darling
 
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RELATIONSHIPS IN EPHESIANS 5 & 6

Paul was sending a slave back to his master, and he was concerned that Philemon's gracious treatment and this slave's escape and rebellion not be seen by other slaves as an opportunity to copy Onesimus' earlier, rebellious example. These other ideas are not big problems for the Colossians, but Paul briefly mentions and explains them.

What does a believer at home look like? First ask what is my primary identity or identities at home:
* Wife
* Husband
* Child
* Parent

Then there is a basic guideline that applies to you because of that identity.
* Wives are in submission to their husbands
* Husbands love their wives
* Children obey their parents
* Parents do not provoke their children
* Slaves obey their masters
* Masters treat their slaves justly and fairly

Each of these guidelines are defined more specifically or given a rationale.
* Wives submit ... because it is appropriate
* Husbands love ... in spite of the temptation to fight
* Children obey ... because it pleases God
* Parents do not provoke ... in order to encourage your children

Introduce the elephant
There is a big thing here about slaves and masters and it raises several questions:
* Is Paul condoning slavery?
* Does it have anything to do with a society where slavery is not tolerated?
* Is there anything at all we can get out of it?

Paul is not condoning or condemning slavery. He is acknowledging it as a reality. For the most part, since it is not a reality in our world, some like to draw connections between Paul's instructions and employment. That is ok, as far as it goes. But at any given time, we may quit our jobs and go somewhere else. It has strong implications for people who have little flexibility or who have unusual power. Perhaps few jobs are out there. This gives bosses more power.

Here Paul has little to say to slave keepers. He says all that somewhere else. Mostly, he speaks to slaves like Onesimus, the slave who is delivering this letter.

So to slaves and keepers, Paul says:
Be fair and be just. Always be aware of the treatment God, your master, gives you. Don't be harsh, but treat slaves with respect. Some ancient writers took his instruction to mean that masters should provide well for their slaves, even paying them for their work. But none of us keep slaves. Suffice it to say that if you hold an unusual amount of power over anyone, it is wrong for you to exploit that power and it is right for you to treat him with respect and fairness.

The biggest point Paul makes in the passage is in the way a slave should behave. Again, none of us ever will be slaves, but every single person finds himself in the legitimate power of someone. This is not bad, it is real. So, how should we respond? With obedience.

What kind of obedience? The kind that has integrity. It does not matter whether or not the cat is away, the mice do not play. We work at the orders of others because it is right for us to do so. The quality of our work should never be dependent upon supervision.

Obey with sincerity and energy. It does not matter whether we like the work or not. We may not do it half-heartedly. We should do the whole job, we should do it well, and we should do it in good time.

Do it as if Jesus Himself was boss. Don't do it for the paycheck but for the reward He gives in eternity. God establishes the authorities in our lives. Even if we get away with shoddy, slow or grumbling work with our bosses, God notices.

Can you, and do you treat,
* every floor swept
* every gear shifted
* every shelf stocked
* every penny counted
* every customer served

As a stroke of work done for the kingdom of God?

Household operation, not employment is Paul's main concern. But whether in a home or a workplace, they are as much a witness as any religious word you speak. It is difficult to witness at home, and we must come to grips with the way a believer behaves at home.

Wives, submit to your husbands

This is not a popular word and more than one person has interpreted it as meaning that Paul hated women. and yet, Peter said the same thing.
It grinds against many women to hear this. Ladies, your impulse is part of the curse. One translation of the Bible puts the Genesis curse on the woman like this:

You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you." (Genesis 3 NET)

In this passage we begin seeing that the harmony between the man and the woman was damaged in the fall. The power struggle between them arises from the curse. The raw dominance of men in their homes is not part of God's original design. As part of the struggle, women, it says, will desire control over their men.

But Paul says submission is more in keeping with God's plan. It is appropriate. It is fitting. But I don't believe that it is indiscriminate and unconditional. I don't believe it means that her submission in sinful things is fitting.

I knew a woman who was determined to submit to her husband in everything, and he wanted to swap her out for the wife of another couple. She believed that she was meant to submit to this. This was clearly not a situation where her submission would have been, to quote Paul, "fitting in the Lord."

We need not go to extremes to clarify Paul's words. Our tendency to see things in terms of night and day can blind us to the beauties of the sunset. We forget that between black and white is not merely gray, but every color of the rainbow. When Paul says for the woman to submit, he is not commanding the ultimate and unquestioning submission due to a master or even submission that comes naturally because of strength or personality. He is encouraging a submission that is given for the glory of God.

Husbands, love your wives

The impulse to dominate can overwhelm a man. It can blind him to his own lack of gentleness. It can make him selfish and overbearing. Even around other men, a man's impulse to resolve all challenges with force is never far from the surface. Fighting does solve disputes, by turning overcoming problems into overcoming people. It is simpler. And any man who resorts to force to solve his issues is simple-minded. It proves only that he can indulge his own selfishness.

As much as a woman's desire to control her husband is part of the fall, a husband's urge to dominate her is. Husbands are meant to lead, not dominate. When a woman is being subjected to domineering physical, emotional or sexual abuse, her submission is not appropriate. Her protection of her health and safety and that of her children is more appropriate and fitting in the Lord.

Instead, men, love your wife. Do not allow the taming of your strength to make you bitter. Do not allow disagreements with her to sour your spirit. Do not be harsh. Do not be mean. Do not be abusive. Do not fight. These are not the features of love.

Both the love of the husband and the submission of the wife draw the other into their own example. Once again John Chrysostom says it better than I could:
"To love ... is the husband's part, to yield pertains to the other side. If, then, each one contributes his own part, all stand firm. From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield" (Homilies on Colossians).

Men, love is not a power struggle or a declaration that you are the tie breaker in every disagreement:

Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not self centered
Love trusts
Love believes
Love hopes
Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13)

I am afraid, men, that we have allowed this description to fit women better than it fits us. And we are the ones given the command to love.

Children obey your parents

Children are not inclined to do this. But if a child truly wants to claim to be a believer, it is how he or she will behave. It is not always fun or in keeping with our image of ourselves, but as children, we are called to obey. It is pleasing to God.

If a child wants to please God, this is his or her first instruction. Our parents are our first, best teachers and pastors. If you do as they say, you are exercising your first and most immediate obedience. It is good.

But, Parents, Do not provoke your children

There is a fine line of wisdom in parenting. You can and should expect obedience from your children, but you should also be wise in what you require and how you treat and speak to them. Our tone and the character of our expectations upon children should avoid demanding, but should encourage them in their obedience.

Allow me to confess my ignorance. I am not good with children, largely because I do not have any. It is easy for me to become the unwitting victim of their manipulations. I will not pretend to be a child rearing expert and will not presume to give you too much advice. My purpose here is to attempt to interpret what Paul is saying about appropriate and fruitful parenting. It is not much, only one line, so I will attempt also not to over-do it.

Pay attention to the responses of your children. If they are prone to anger in response to your treatment of them, perhaps it is time to try a new approach. It is a path for them to walk and you are their guide.

Their path is obedience. Your guidance determines how they walk:
* In anger and resentment
* Or in courage, curiosity and enthusiasm

In other words, the fact that your children obey you is not as good a gauge of your parenting as the spirit in which they obey. We sometimes think that if we get compliance that is enough.

I like the story that Stephen Covey tells in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. His daughter has a birthday party. After she opens her presents the children want to play, but she does not want to share her gifts with them. So Dr. Covey tries everything:
* He tries appealing to her better nature: It is nice to share
* He tries appealing to her gratitude: They just gave you the gifts, they were nice to you
* He tries bribery (in a whisper): If you share, I will give you some gum (to which she loudly responds in the hearing of the other parents that she doesn't want any gum)
* He threatens: If you don't share, I will punish you
* Finally he uses force: Over her protests, he takes some of the gifts away from his daughter and distributes them to the other children
You may think he did the right thing, but Dr. Covey believes that in her frustration, that particular lesson of the value of sharing was stolen from his daughter. He could have been more understanding of her desire to explore her new toys before, with a sense of security and generosity, sharing them with others.
I will not question his wisdom. I will only say that our goals sometimes need to be adjusted. We need to have loftier and more positive goals in many things, including child rearing.

 
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JUSTIN

I want to tell you about a 12-year-old boy we’ll call Justin. Justin never knew anything good. His parents, if you want to call them that, were completely without qualifications to birth the boy, having done so quite unintentionally, making far less effort to raise him than they made to conceive him. So, like many other boys of similar background, he literally grew up on the streets.

He had seen and done it all. By this young age he had already committed crimes that should have landed him in prison for a very long time. But, "fortunately" for Justin, in the crowd he spends time with, these crimes were everyday life largely hidden from mainstream society.

Everything he had, such as it was, was stolen. He rarely ate well and never on a plate. His language was foul, his manners atrocious. He was always dirty, always smelled bad. And the evil things that shock the average citizen either went ignored by him or, sometimes, it made him laugh. But mostly, he didn’t laugh, not really. Mostly he was just sad. Very, very sad. But, by now, he had grown numb to it.

One day Justin was picked up by the police (nothing new). But this time he was taken into a room and shown a large file. He had no idea the cops had so much dirt on him. They seemed to be aware of his crimes, but since there were so many boys like him, the police seemed to mostly ignored them. But he had gotten worse. Of course, in his culture he was getting better. He was able to steal without anyone detection, inflict pain without remorse, and even smile when he needed to. But he wasn’t just picking pockets any more. He was up to home invasions, mugging, carjacking, drug dealing, and other things I won’t mention here. He was actually considered to be very successful among his peers, destined for great things, well respected.

But this day his sat in an interrogation room with an iron clad case against him. He was going away for a very long time. He knew that he would be tried as an adult, this time he would not be able to get off by blaming his parents.

Just as his fate was sinking in, an extremely well dressed young man was brought into the room. He introduced himself as Joshua. He came representing a man that wished to adopt him.
Justin was incredulous. "What? Why? Who? What does it even mean?"

"As to the ’who’," replies the young man, "it is my father. He is the King of a foreign nation, though he spends much time in your land. As to the why, he has noticed you on his visits here and even has people watching you. He takes a great interest in you and is convinced that you are a great man inside the mind of a broken boy. He wants to adopt you and help you become that man. To put it short, he loves you. He talks about you all the time. Don’t get me wrong, you aren’t the only one he has sent me to bring home, but he acts like you are. He acts like you all are."

"Your dad is clearly out of his mind, Josh. And I am guessing that you are too."

"It would seem so, but he’s just unusual, as, I suppose, so am I. But he’s never wrong...about anything. And he’s absolutely determined to put all his vast resources into getting you, and others like you, up to your full potential."

"Why?"

"Because he can. Because he cares. Because nothing else makes sense. He’s just like this, and it’s what he loves to do."

"Has he seen my file?"

"He had it made. This is all the work of special investigations. It begins with how your parents came together and is thorough right up to the moment you were picked up. The ink is barely dry on some of this stuff."

"And still, he wishes to adopt me. There is something very wrong about this picture. Tell me, what does adoption mean exactly?"

"Well, it means that you immediately become a prince. Not much different from me, really. Everything that it is his is mine, and everything that is mine I share with you and the others measured out according to how cooperative you are."

"Ah ha, cooperative. That sounds like the catch to me. Explain it."

"Well, Justin, you will be retrained. From the ground up you will be completely re-educated on what life means and how you are to live it. In fact, you will no longer be called Justin. My Father has a special name for you that you will find out at the end of your process. In the meantime, you will be taught how to see yourself, your world, and your life. You will be given an almost entirely new picture of how to treat others. And, each of you, based on your particular skills and weaknesses, you will be given specific tools to help you in the re-education of others."

"That sounds easy enough. Why the emphasis on ’cooperation’? I am still missing something here."

"It isn’t easy. I am offering you something wonderful, but don’t ever think that I am offering you something easy. You will very quickly begin to come at odds with this training. The ideas you will be taught will sound completely wrong, and you will refuse most of it. There will be times when you will be very angry with my father. You’ll want to come back to your former lifestyle and will likely attempt to do so."

"What then, you have the cops pick me up again?"

"No. We simply wait. You’ll come back. My father is never wrong. You might take a while, but you’ll come back. Once you know my father, you’ll never see life the same again. All the things that make you happy today will seem bland by comparison or at best, they’ll simply remind you of him. No, you’ll come back. But you will have wasted a lot of time feeling sorry for yourself. It’s very painful to watch."

"So, if I accept this offer, my life as I know it is over?"

"Sort of. Actually the training takes place right here. You don’t leave."

"What? That’s nuts! How am I supposed to do that?"

"Well, a person doesn’t truly change unless he rises above that which has kept him down in the first place. We have training facilities all around to help you through this process. These facilities are run by people just like you. But this is why it takes cooperation. No one is going to force you to do anything. No coercion, no manipulation. You will be pushed, but you will have to choose to engage every step of the way. Otherwise, it will have no value and no real effect. This entire arrangement is built on trust. My father trusts you. So do I. You have to trust him, too. That’s what this is all about. The sooner and deeper you learn that, the more you’ll get out of this offer. But you must completely and thoroughly promise to give this your best effort."

"I’ve got to tell you, this seems way too good to be true. It’s like I won the lottery or something."

"It is good, real good. But it is true. And let me remind you, it is no picnic. You HAVE won the lottery, but you will not be spending the rest of your life sipping pina coladas on a beach somewhere. At least, not most of the time. When you are engaged, you will work like you’ve never worked before. It will hurt. You will struggle. I just want to make sure you understand this. But, if you completely surrender to the process, you will love it and the rewards are beyond your dreams."

Looking down at the table Justin asked, "What about this file? What about the cops? I can’t imagine they are going to let me off just because your dad’s a rich king?"

"Actually, no, they won’t. Nor should they. But we HAVE worked out a deal with the judge. I will be arrested in your place. I will serve your sentence."

Complete silence. Justin just stares at Joshua in shock. Not only at what he just heard, but at the fact that Joshua was smiling. "Joshua, do you have any idea what they will do to you in there?"

"I know EXACTLY what they will do to me in there."

Justin was used to pain. But he always feared prison. He was also used to fear and he could see that while Joshua was smiling...

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Contributed By:
Peter Loughman
 
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Years ago this worker would stroll into the department I was working in, make several observations about how we were doing our jobs and then proceed to tell us what we needed to do to be better at our jobs. Later she would visit and be taken back that none of her “suggestions” were implemented. Over the months she became more insistent and more demanding, growing more frustrated, growing more angry each time she came by. Why wouldn’t we listen to her?! The fact that she wasn’t our boss, the fact that she didn’t have any authority over us, the fact that she worked in the sock department and not housewares….never seemed to occurr to her. This woman could not manipulate us, she could not control us, she could not make her will happen, and this infuriated her.

Have you had people like this is your life? – They give you direction – “This is what you need to do”, they give you a task, “Here, do this and things will be better”, they make demands, “You must make this happen”, they may even dis...

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A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell . The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, "Sally, let’s wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?" And she whispered to him, "Remember the duck” So Johnny did the dishes. Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, "I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally smiled and said, "That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it." Again she whispered, "Remember the duck." Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and his sisters, he couldn’t stand it a...

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