Staying Warm

“Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
(1 Peter 1:22)

Greetings on this cold, blustery January morning.  The church here in Cherokee seems to have gone into hibernation mode: last Sunday’s blizzard conditions prevented our guest speaker from coming so worship was cancelled; today’s dangerously cold temperatures have prompted us to cancel all church activities for the evening as well.  The forecast calls for temperatures ranging from -9 to -15 tonight.  You shouldn’t go out unless you absolutely must.

I read on the mayo clinic that Frostbite can occur rapidly in these conditions.  The risk of frostbite “increases as air temperature falls below 5 F (minus 15 C), even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F (minus 27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.”  With the expected wind chill tonight around -30, frostbite can develop after only 10 minutes of exposure.

The danger of frostbite is that you first lose the sensation of feeling before the damage is done.  You don’t know you have it until it is too late.  If not addressed, frostbite can lead to deep tissue damage, changes in the cartilage between the joints (frostbite arthritis), infection, gangrene, which is the decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the affected area.  Frostbite can also lead to hypothermia, where the body’s temperature drops to dangerous levels, cause a malfunction of the heart, nervous system and other organs; eventually leading to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.  So for goodness sake, stay inside and stay warm.

But as you are warming yourselves by the fire, bundled under the blankets, stop to consider the warmness of your heart.  We know the dangers of prolonged exposure to the cold and biting wind, but the hazards of a cold and bitter heart are just as deadly.  A cold heart that does not love has many of the same characteristics as frostbitten skin:

  • It is hardened: A cold heart does not move or feel for the needs of others,
  • It is infectious: A cold and unloving heart spreads easily, tearing others down and encouraging the same attitude in others,
  • It is gangrenous: A cold heart destroys relationships, crushes spirits, blocks any healthy growth,
  • It is deadly: When Christians harbor coldness in their hearts, when Churches are cold and unloving, it leads to a complete failure of all the vital ministries. Cold hearts kill churches.

Jesus talked about this when He warned His disciples of the coming persecution, saying that “many will fall away and betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).  In Revelation, this is the charge against the church in Ephesus, “but this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

A church, a Christian, that does not love does not know love, does not know God (1 John 4:8).  A church, a Christian, whose heart has grown cold and unloving harbors a bitterness and unforgiving attitude that will lead to death.

So what can you do to warm the cold, cold heart?  Kindle your heart with new affection.  Turn first to the Word of God.  Look there to read of and know of His great love for you in Jesus Christ.  God’s word is the revelation of His love, and by His Holy Spirit His word brings life, and love, to our hearts.

In the story of the Emmaus Road, the two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus, their hearts heavy and broken because of the death of their savior.  Jesus met them on the road, but they did not recognize Him.  As they walked, He taught them from the scriptures all that was said about the Christ.  After they had broken bread together, and the eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw Jesus, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us… while he opened to us the Scriptures?  If you want your heart to burn for the Lord once again, turn to His word.

Finally, turn to your brother and sister in love.  The best cure for a cold heart is love – actual, tangible, expressions of love.  1 Peter 1:22 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.”  That word earnestly means “fervently, sincerely, genuinely,” some translations have even said “love each other with a warm heart.”

Expressions of love have a tendency to grow love, to break the cold and unfeeling heart.  What does this look like?  Send someone a card saying that you have been praying for them or thank them for something they’ve done.  If you’re able, shovel someone’s driveway, or take them a batch of warm brownies.  Invite your neighbor into your home for a cup of coffee and catch up on their life.  An expression of love doesn’t have to be a grand costly gift, but it will change your world, and theirs.

Stay warm this week, and warm your hearts with an earnest love for one another.

SDG

I Choose Praise!

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
Psalm 34:1 (ESV) 

It’s cold here in Northwest Iowa.  The minute you step out the door and face -10 degree temperature, a blowing wind, and an inch of snow on the ground, your nose hair’s freeze, your toes go numb and you think to yourself, “Is (whatever I have to face today) worth this?”  Between work and the kids’ busy schedule we always have somewhere to go and something to do.  It’s a little hectic, but it’s a good thing too.  Otherwise, we’d make like bears and hibernate through these long, cold, and dark winters.

There are some who have learned to deal well with the winters.  Either they were raised here and are accustomed to the climate, or the cold has done something to their heads and their just blissfully unaffected. 

That’s not me; not yet.  I’ve given up the compulsion to have my drive and sidewalk perfectly cleared every time it snows.  “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is no longer my favorite winter song (it is now Ella Fitzgerald’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside”).  And I have been seriously considering attending a Pastor’s Conference in Florida and just extending the stay.

I’m also finding that some long-time Iowan’s aren’t responding well to the long-cold winters either.  People, and this is a very generalized and broad-sweeping statement, are grumpier than usual.  I honestly think it’s the cold that brings this out in us.  The chill in the air creeps into our hearts; we become as icy and cold as the landscape around us.  Cabin fever has set in and all of a sudden “Jack Torrance” from the Shining gets a little more sympathy than before.

Here’s the thing, though.  There is nothing we can do about the weather, so what we must work on is our attitude.  I shared the following devotion from Charles Spurgeon the other night at our Church Meeting Night:

Others may do what they please and murmur and complain and be filled with dread and apprehension of the future, but I will bless the Lord at all times.  I can always see something for which I ought to bless Him.  I can always see some good that will come out of blessing Him.  Therefore I will bless Him at all times. “And this,” says the psalmist, “I will not only do in my heart, but I will do it with my tongue.  His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” that others may hear it, that others may begin to praise Him, too, for murmuring is contagious, and so, thank God is praise; and one man may learn from another – and then begin to praise God with him.  “His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  What a mouthful!  If some people had God’s praises in their mouths, they would not so often find fault with their fellowmen.  “If half the breath thus vainly spent” in finding fault with our fellow Christians was spent in prayer and praise, how much happier, how much richer we should be spiritually! (From Strengthen My Spirit, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc.  Used by permission.)

To further drive the point home, our men’s Bible study this morning focused on James 3:1-12.  Remember verses 9 and 10, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.”  The study guide offered this,

The right control of our speech takes a concerted and disciplined effort, and we cannot do it on our own.  Taming the tongue takes time, and the process is tested and proven through trials and challenges in our lives (like a long and cold winter)…  If you examine your pattern of speaking and you change it, you can turn yourself in a new direction, opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and acting.

Praise is a matter of choice.  I could choose to be consumed by bitterness and chilled of all love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, or I could choose to praise the Lord and be a blessing to those around me.  Really, there isn’t much of a choice.  If I claim to be a Christian, if I know the love of God and His grace for me in Jesus Christ, if God’s Spirit has made me alive, then I will choose praise.  “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mat 12:34).

So I choose praise.  I choose not to be nudged along by the nattering nabobs of negativism, but to follow the prompting of God Holy Spirit.  I choose the warmth of the love of God rather than the cold world around me.  It is not hard for me to come up with reasons to praise God.  I’m still writing, still talking, still walking.  I’m standing six feet over not six feet under.  I woke up next to my beautiful wife this morning, got hugs and kisses from my wonderful kids.  I get to do a job I love with people I love.  I have every reason to be thankful, so I will choose praise.  Hopefully, what Spurgeon said was right, just as murmuring is contagious, so, thank God, is praise.  Let us praise God together.  Let us praise God forever!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless, His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits.
(Psalm 103:1-2 ESV)

SDG