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How much time do you spend thinking about your conscience? If you're like me, I would guess not much. That's why a book on the conscience spent some time on my shelf before I finally decided to pick it up and read it. But when I finally did, I realized that we need to be thinking about the conscience more than we are.

The book I picked up was "Conscience: What it is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ" by Andrew Naselli and J.D. Crowley. (You can buy it here or here).

Though we may not think about our conscience very often, we use it every day. And though we might not talk about it much, the Bible sure does. I was surprised to find out just how much. 30 times in the New Testament the word "conscience" is used. That's a lot! From those 30 uses, Naselli and Crowley came up with this definition of conscience:

"The conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong." (p 42)

Now of course there is such a thing as right and wrong. There is a standard, and that's why it's so important that our conscience is informed by the Word of God. However, in some of those New Testament passages on the conscience it becomes clear that there are things that Christians will disagree with one another on.

In their book, Naselli and Crowley, speak of performing theological triage. Triage simply referring to ordering things by their "priority and urgency" (p. 85) And they suggest three levels of priorities when it comes to doctrine:

  • "First level issues are most central and essential to Christianity. You can't deny these teachings and still be a Christian in any meaningful sense."

  • "Second-level issues create reasonable boundaries between Christians, such as different denominations and local churches. These issues will have a bearing on what sort of church you are part of."

  • "Third-level issues are disputable matters...disagreement on third-level issues shouldn't cause disunity in the church family." (p 86)

It's in the last two levels, and particularly level three where the issue of conscience comes into play. And where we need to learn how to work together with those who might share a different conscience than us.

One of the passages that deals with how to do that well is Romans 14:1-15:7. Until reading this book I never thought about the fact that in Paul's magnus opus, Romans, 10% of it is devoted to the conscience. In chapters 14 and 15 Paul talks about how two Christians can function together when their conscience differs. You can read the book to see how the authors break down that passage, but it was very eye-opening for me.

Hopefully our churches are filled with people whose conscience differs then ours. If not, we should ask ourselves if we are part of a church, or a club. Are we a group of people who gather because of our faith in Jesus and desire to be more like Him, or because we want to surround ourselves with people who are just like us? If it's the former, then we're going to have to know how to think about the conscience.

Let me close with these words from Naselli and Crowley:

"What's going to happen when you obey Christ and become a servant to the people inside your church who aren't like you, who make you uncomfortable - people you want to judge in your heart because they're not strict enough, or people you want to roll your eyes at because they're not free enough? What's going to happen when you obey Christ and become a servant to people outside your church who differ from you and make you uncomfortable? What's going to happen? The same kind of fruitfulness that came about when Jesus and Peter and Paul laid down their lives in the same way. Unimaginable fruitfulness. And fruitfulness always brings happiness to the glory and praise of God."

May this happen in our lives and our churches.

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I love New Years resolutions. I guess I should clarify. I love making New Years resolutions. I'm not as big of a fan of keeping them. Usually by mid-January I've given up on most of them.

I begin this post by saying that for two reasons. First of all, this post is a result of a resolution for 2020. My goal is to post one book review - a book blurb I'm calling them - per month. But secondly, because the book I'm recommending has to do with the resolutions that many of us make. Spiritual disciplines.

The book I'd like to recommend this month is Habits of Grace by David Mathis. The subtitle to the book explains what Mathis aims to help us accomplish: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines. I appreciated this book for several reasons. First of all, I liked the perspective on the spiritual disciplines that is found throughout the book, and stated in the title: habits of grace.

Now, I have no problem with the term spiritual discipline. And I think that maybe Christians today could learn a little bit about disciplining our lives for spiritual gain. But I also like the title habits of grace. First of all, it reminds us that in order for a resolution to gain traction for the long haul in our lives it must become a habit. But it also reminds us that all of our spiritual discipline depends on grace. Grace to actually do them, but then also they are dependent upon grace to receive what we hope to receive from them.

Mathis reminds us in the introduction: "the grace of God is gloriously beyond our skill and technique. The means of grace (spiritual disciplines) are not about earning God's favor, twisting his arm, or controlling his blessing, but readying ourselves for consistent saturation in the roll of his tides." (p. 21)

Later on in the introduction he writes this:

"I can flip a switch, but I don't provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don't make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it. And so it is for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don't control the supply. We can't make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor...we can routinely avail ourselves of these revealed paths of blessing - or neglect them to our detriment." (p. 25)

Mathis admits that he is offering nothing new. The disciplines that he highlights are ones that the church has practiced since it's foundation. However, he groups the disciplines in a way that I thought was helpful. He labels them as voice, ear and body.

In the first section labeled "Hear His Voice" Mathis focuses on disciplines of the Word. Referring to God's Word. The disciplines of Bible reading, memorization and meditation all have chapter devoted to them. All of these are practices that we know are to be a part of the life of a Christian, but we all need to be reminded of them and encouraged to practice them.

In the second section, Mathis looks at the disciplines that have to do with prayer or "Having His Ear". As he does with all the spiritual disciples, Mathis begins by reminding us of the joy it is to be able to have the ear of God. He writes in the opening chapter of this section: "The great purpose of prayer is to come humbly, expectantly, and - because of Jesus - boldly into the conscious presence of God, to relate to him, talk with him, and ultimately enjoy him as our great Treasure." (p. 95)

One of the more interesting chapters for me centered on solitude. This has long been a spiritual discipline observed by the church, but perhaps more than any other generation, one we need to be reminded of more than ever with the constant noise we are surrounded with. This is one area, among many, that I leave Mathis's book wanting to implement immediately in my own life.

The last main section of "Habits of Grace" focuses on fellowship. Or as Mathis puts it - Belong to His Body. You might not think of fellowship as a spiritual discipline. Our focus is often that discipline is something we do alone. And while we practice the spiritual disciplines ourself - no one can do them for us - we don't do them by ourself. Fellowship is an important aspect of Christian life that is needed for our spiritual growth.

I love the visual that Mathis gives us (especially as we are approaching this event on our cultural calendars):

True fellowship is less like friends gathered to watch the Super Bowl and more like players on the field in blood, sweat, and tears, huddled in the backfield only in preparation for the next down.

In addition to simply admonishing us to be together on Sunday, Mathis reminds us of what our gatherings accomplish in us, and how to maximize them in our lives to the fullest. He gives practical advice on how to approach corporate worship, how to listen to sermons, even how to think about baptism and communion. All of these are means of grace that God has made available to us for our good and his glory.

Let me encourage you as you begin New Year: form habits that will shape your life for good, not just in this world but for eternity. And as a help to that end, I would recommend to you Habits of Grace by David Mathis. May 2020 be a year where all of us find ourselves "enjoying Jesus through the spiritual disciplines."

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This is the transcript of the funeral meditation for Dema Mishler, given at Greenwood Mennonite Church on February 17, 2019 by her grandson Shawn Yoder.

C.T. Studd, a missionary to China, India and Africa, once wrote a poem entitled Only One Life. I won’t read the whole poem, but the first two stanzas go like this:

Two little lines I heard one day

Traveling along life’s busy way; Bringing conviction to my heart

And from my mind would not depart Only one life, ‘twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last

Only one life, yes only one

Soon will it’s fleeting hours be done Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet

And stand before His judgment seat Only one life, ‘twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last

Today is a reminder that we only have one life…and that one life will soon be past.

But it’s also a call for us to use that one life in ways that last.

There are many words that we could use to describe Grandma

  • She was a woman who lived life with Joy. Grandma loved to laugh, and she loved to make others laugh.

  • A word that comes to my mind is Ornery. You never knew what Grandma was going to come up with.

  • You might use the word Love to describe Grandma. Grandma was someone who sincerely loved those around her. One of the last things that Grandma said to me was that “[she] couldn’t have loved me any better.” And that was true not just of me and of her family, but of everyone. Grandma couldn’t have loved any better. Whether you knew her for many years or you had just met in an aisle in the grocery store – Grandma extended love to you.

  • One of the more defining characteristics of Grandma’s life is that she was a Wife. You can’t speak of Grandma without Grandpa. Or Grandpa without Grandma. They were a team. Whether they were serving in the church, attending a Billy Graham evangelism conference, or working on a house Grandpa was building they were together, working side by side. Grandma loved her John dear – and was deeply loved by him.

There are many words that could be used to describe Grandma, but as I have reflected on her life the word that stands out above them all is Intentional. Grandma lived her life intentionally. She lived it with purpose. And that purpose was that in all things her desire was that Jesus would be exalted in her life.

And that was because Grandma knew what C.T. Studd knew. That we only have one life, and that it would soon be past. And Grandma intended to spend that life, to leverage the one life that she had been given, to the greatest good.

In Ephesians we’re called to “make the best use of our time.” And days like today remind us why – because we never know how much more time we might have.

That is part of the reason why in Ecclesiastes we’re told that:

Ecclesiastes 7:2 “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”

Think about that: It’s better to go to the house of mourning than a feast – it’s better to go to a funeral than a party - the author of Ecclesiastes tells us. Because it is there that we learn lessons, and take to heart what is important in life.

Daniel Fredericks in his commentary on these verses said:

“[Death] is the great mentor for diligence, sobriety, love, generosity, reverence and humility. Death forces the most profound questions to be asked, but mercilessly mocks those who sleep through its lessons.”

In her Bibles Grandma would fill the margins and empty spots on the opening pages with sermon notes, quotes, and thoughts that she had as she read God’s Word. In fact, I’m not sure who wrote more in Grandma’s Bible – her or the Holy Spirit. And I’ve spent a lot of time reading through those notes these last few days.

And one of the comments that she made is a question that she asked herself: “Do you ever think of dying?” And then she wrote: “I’ve read that the amount of time you spend in thinking about it tells the maturity of your spiritual life.” And she commented: “Wow! This makes sense to me.”

And then underneath that she wrote: “a beautiful chapter on life after death is 2nd Corinthians 5.”

So following Grandma’s lead, I want to briefly look at the first few verses of 2nd Corinthians 5 and look at some lessons that we can learn as we enter the house of mourning.

And the first lesson that we learn in 2nd Corinthians chapter 5 is that Death is Certain

Lesson 1: Death is Certain

Grandma loved her Living version of the Bible, so let me read verse 1 of chapter 5 from that paraphrase:

2 Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down – when we die and leave these bodies – we will have wonderful new bodies in heaven, homes that will be ours forevermore, made for us by God himself, and not by human hands.” (The Living Bible)

Paul compares our earthly bodies to tents. Tents were a familiar object for Paul. He made his living and supported his ministry by making tents. Paul valued tents……But he also knew the limits of a tent.

  • A tent is great on a peaceful fall evening. But it is terrible in a storm.

  • A tent is great for a weekend getaway, but it isn’t suitable for a permanent dwelling.

Tents are vulnerable, and tents are temporary.

And Paul says, that is what these human bodies are. They are temporary. And they are vulnerable. They aren’t made to last forever. They are susceptible to storms. And Paul tells us, we should know this. We need to know this. We should know that there will come a day when our tents will be taken down.

Not too many people tent camp anymore. I spent three straight months living out of a tent, so I don’t like to tent camp anymore either.

But now days we have campers and RV’s that fill our campgrounds with maybe a handful of tents scattered about. And sometimes I look at the setup of some people’s RV’s and wonder: can this really still be considered camping? Isn’t it really just relocating your home? Or making a second home?

We go to great trouble to remove all of the experiences we don’t like about camping:

  • All the inconveniences,

  • All the vulnerabilities,

  • All sense of it being temporary.

Sometimes we do that with our lives to don’t we? We go to great lengths to make ourselves forget that this world is not our home. We go to great lengths to forget that this is simply a temporary visit. We go to great lengths to forget about the certainty of death.

Paul doesn’t want us to forget this – this life is temporary. This body, this existence, is simply a tent. And one day it will be taken down. Death is certain.

God told Adam and Eve that on the day they ate of the fruit of the tree they would surely die. And ever since that day, death has been a certainty for all of mankind.

In the book of Job, Job says I know of the certainty of death.

Job 30:23 “I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.”

And we should know this as well. Death is a certainty.

Lesson 2: Death is Necessary

But in that first verse of 2nd Corinthians 5 we also see that Death is Necessary.

Death is not just inevitable, but Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that Death is vital. It’s necessary.

Because without it - without the folding up of our tents - we cannot put on our permanent dwelling.

Let me reread verse 1 in the ESV along with the verses that follow it:

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (ESV)

C.S. Lewis once wrote that if we find in ourselves desires that cannot be satisfied with anything in this world, then it tells us that we were made for another world. Paul tells us that there is a desire that we all share that cannot be satisfied with anything in this world. And that is the desire for eternal living.

Paul tells us we weren’t made to dwell in tents, but we were made to dwell in buildings. We were made for permanent dwellings. And we long to put on those permanent dwellings. We groan for it, Paul says. And that word groan refers to an inarticulate painful longing.

Deep within us there is an unshakable longing for the eternal. But the only way for that longing to be satisfied is through death. Death is necessary.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth Paul writes that:

1 Corinthians 15:53-55 “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (NLT)

There is coming a day when death will no longer be inevitable or necessary. And we long for that day, don’t we? There is coming a day when death will be swallowed up in victory. But the only way to arrive at that day is for our mortal bodies to put on immortality, and our dying bodies to be transformed into bodies that will never die.

And that transformation takes place through the gateway of death.

How amazing it is that the greatest enemy – which is death – for the Christian, has become the way to victory. And that our greatest fear, is now the pathway to find what we long for the most.

And all of this is because God himself, has come, experienced death, and robbed the grave of its power.

Donald Grey Barnhouse was a pastor and seminary professor, who lost his wife when his three children were still very young. As they were driving to the funeral, he was looking for words to say to his children to bring them comfort and peace.

It was a bright, sunny day, and as they came up to a stoplight, a big truck pulled up beside them and cast its shadow on them. Just then Barnhouse had an idea. He asked his daughter, “Which would you rather be hit by, that truck or the shadow of the truck?” “The shadow, of course,” she answered. “That’s right,” Barnhouse said, “and that’s the way it is with death for a Christian. Jesus was hit by death so that we would only be hit by its shadow.”

All must die, but because of Jesus, all those who are saved by his death on a cross – though we die, yet shall we live.

And finally, the last lesson from 2nd Corinthians is that Death is not the end.

Lesson 3: Death is Not the End

Death is certain, death is necessary, but the good news that we celebrate today is that Death is not the End.

In the front of her Bible, one of the notes Grandma wrote reads: “To a Christian, death is not a punishment. But an open door to Heaven.”

Death is not the end. But death, ultimately is just the beginning. Death is a bridge, from this temporary life, into eternal life with God.

And what awaits us on the other side of that bridge? Verses I love to read and include in as many sermons as possible, Revelation 21:

Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

And I love that God commanded, at the end of that passage, that these things be written down. He wants to make sure we know these things.

And as I think back on Grandma’s life, one of the things that was the driving force of her life was that she wanted people to know these things. She wanted everyone she knew, everyone she met, to arrive at this day in Revelation 21.

Paul says that in light of these lessons that we learn from the house of mourning, we too should live with that same ambition. In verse 15 of chapter 5, the Living Bible reads like this:

2nd Corinthians 5:15 “He died for all so that all who live – having received eternal life from him – might live no longer for themselves, to please themselves, but to spend their lives pleasing Christ who died and rose again for them.”

Or as C.T. Studd said in the last two stanza’s of his poem:

Oh let my love with fervor burn,

And from the world now let me turn;

Living for Thee, and Thee alone

Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

Only one life, “twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one

Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;

And when at last I’ll hear the call

I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;

Only one life,’twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Death is Certain. Death is Necessary. But thanks be to God, Death is Not the End.

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