Friday, December 1, 2017

"The Next Big Thing"

     Sitting and sipping my coffee this morning, I could not help but reflect on the old coffee mug which once belonged to our oldest son Aaron.  It has a large representation of the Tasmanian Devil (cartoon character) on the front of it.  I have probably used it since the day our son moved out.  It feels comfortable to me.  We have plenty of other coffee cups, but there is nothing like my "Taz" cup to start the day.  There is something to be said for tradition.
     Growing up, my family attended a Presbyterian Church in our community where we weekly recited the Lord's Prayer, said the Apostle's Creed and sang the doxology and the Gloria Patri.  After hearing it for years, I learned it by heart so it became a part of meaningful worship to me.  Now that I
am older, I find a security and stability as I recite these same things that the saints of the early church also said.  Yet there was a time when I thought tradition was boring and went searching for "the next big thing".
     My husband and I joined with a group of believers who were going to "throw off" tradition and hear from God afresh in worship.  It sounded good, and so a new church was born.  A praise band replaced traditional hymnody, and we rarely, if ever, recited the "Lord's Prayer" or the "Apostle's Creed".  Instead, we stood and sang until the Spirit of God moved upon us and someone would utter a prophetic word in tongues with an interpretation.  Needless to say, it had elements of excitement because it was new and different.  However, I believe much of it relied upon feelings and emotion rather than a move of the Spirit.
     Cracks in the foundation of this new body of believers began to show when doctrine came up in preaching.  Most of us had come out of traditional churches and were well acquainted with the Bible. Yet one week, we were told "once saved, always saved."  The next week, we heard that we could lose our salvation.  Nothing seemed to be settled.  After a number of such incidents, we prayerfully decided to leave this body.  We had made many wonderful friends and thankfully, we are still friends today, but we realized we could not stay where doctrine was fluid.  The whole experience was very painful for us as a family, and for a time, we had no church to call home.
     When we finally settled in to the ARP Presbyterian Church in our community, I cannot begin to describe the comfort that came over me as we sang the "Doxology" and recited the "Lord's Prayer".
I was home...felt secure again as I heard the Doctrines of Grace expounded from the pulpit.  "The next big thing" was not at all what I thought it would be.  Lesson learned.
     Solomon learned this over the course of his life too.  He started out well by asking God for wisdom ( 2 Chronicles 1 and I Kings 3).  God was pleased at his request and granted him this as well as riches and peace.  From there, however, things went downhill.  Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter and formed an alliance with Egypt.  God had told the Children of Israel not to marry foreign women, so while Solomon may have been wise in his decisions among his people, he was not wise in his own life.  He was always seeking "the next big thing".  He gathered 700 concubines to make his life happy, and he began to engage in pagan rituals along with them.  He certainly had a fabulous palace, he built the Temple for God, and he had peace on all sides with the nations around him.  However, in all his quest for "the next big thing" to titillate his senses, he lost sight of true worship of the only God.  His regrets are recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes where he writes, "Vanity of vanities says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity."  His quest for excitement led him to the realization that "new things" were not always the best things.    He concludes his writing (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14) by saying, "The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."  Indeed, Solomon learned the hard way and after him, the kingdom was torn in two as a result of his wayward leadership.
     As we look at our culture today, we see the pursuit of the same thing Solomon wanted:  "The next big thing."  Whether it is the newest smartphone, electronic gadget or toy, man's heart has not is still tinged with that old sin nature.  Unfortunately, some of that desire for the next big thing has also crept into the church.  Even though our experience happened many years ago, the same scenario can be seen today where congregations want to throw off the "old" traditions in favor of new ways of attracting a crowd.  Yet Scripture teaches us " one understands; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:11).  What is it we are missing here?
     The church is to be a bastion of teaching and discipleship.  A place to be equipped to go into the world and share the Gospel.  We are to be the salt and light.  As a peculiar people, we are to influence the world and not allow the world and its methods to influence us.  Why is it that  in many cases we see bodies of believers compromising with the world's standards and becoming places of entertainment rather than centers of teaching?  God does not change and neither does His Word.  Therefore, do we think we can improve on what He has told us?  My prayer for the church at large is that we seek to return to reformation principles:  Sola fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone),
Sola Cristos (Christ alone), Sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and Sola Deo gloria (to God be the glory alone).  All else is window dressing.  We must not get caught up in "the next big thing" if we are to be faithful to the one who calls us.  Tradition may seem stuffy to some, but in the context of the Christian faith, it ties us to the generations that have gone before us saying "The Lord's Prayer", the Apostle's Creed and singing the doxology.  It is what sets us apart from this world with its trinkets and baubles.  Selah!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Being Thankful in All Things Great and Small

     In this season of Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of visiting my grandsons today at their school for a special parent/grandparent lunch with them.  What a delight to see them smile and hear about what they have been doing.  Family time and the simple things like having lunch in a school cafeteria are a gift from God.  Perhaps we forget to take time just to praise the Lord for these moments that bring a smile to our heart.
     As I was reading today in "The Valley of Vision", the Puritan prayer I read touched my heart strings:
     "O my God,
       Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee,
       for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in
       ceaseless flow.
     When I think upon and converse with thee, ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
       ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
       crowding into every moment of happiness.
      I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it,
       though it is fixed in barren soil; for the body thou hast given me, for preserving
       strength and vigor, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom
       of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; for thy royal bounty
       providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste,
       sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others,
       for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
       for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
       for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
     I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures.
     Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity." (pg 16-17, The Valley of Vision).

     What a beautiful expression of thankfulness and praise to God in this prayer.  How often we overlook the bounty of all that we have been blessed with.  We often complain about our appearance, or even our performance on the job whether homemaker or worker outside the home.  "I wish I was more like so and so," we say.  However, Scripture paints a different picture of who we are in Psalm 139.  David writes:  "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:13-14).  Our Creator made us just the way He wanted us to be with a plan for us to bring glory to His name.  In this, we should express our thankfulness just as this Puritan prayer expresses.
      Having the basic needs of our life met (i.e. food, clothing, shelter), what more do we really need?
Yet, daily, through commercials, we are told that we deserve more.  Our society runs more on "the next great thing" than on thankfulness and praise to the God who has so richly blessed us.
     Perhaps the most meaningful part of this prayer is at the beginning where the one uttering the words calls herself a "little vessel" that is filled as it can be.  Jesus told us in John 7:38:  "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  We are meant to pour out the streams of living water to those who do not know the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit use us all for His glory and praise.
      As we approach Thanksgiving, let us begin to reflect on all that God has given us and be thankful for who we are, for the time we live in, and for the opportunities we have daily.  These have been ordained by our Sovereign God who made us and loves us.  If we do this, we will find a greater contentment in the life He has given us.  Selah!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tinkering With God's Things

     Years ago, I tried to get an old clock fixed.  It was a treasured clock from my father's collection.  I loved to hear it but one day it stopped.  So, I perused the local phone book and found a fellow who said he could repair old clocks.  He came to our house and picked it up and promised to get it back in working order.  After several weeks with no word from him, I called to see if he had it finished.  He replied that it was tricky and he was still working on it.  When a month went by, I called again and he said he needed to take it to Orlando where there was a clock repair school since he could not locate the problem.  Finally, the clock was returned to me after several months away.  The clock repairman had broken off a wooden piece at the top of the clock which he had glued back on.  In addition, the clock had all new insides since the school could not fix the original works.
     With my assistance, the repairman remounted the clock on my wall but when it chimed the hour it sounded terrible.  So, this man bent a piece in the clock so it would chime without such a tin sound.  Unfortunately, the clock still does not work.  We all know the old saying, "Let the buyer beware", but in this situation, I think I needed to do a better investigation of this man's credentials before giving him my old clock.  He tinkered with it and it hasn't been the same since.  When it comes to the things of God, we might be just as cautious before we begin to "try" to improve on what God has said.
    In my quiet time this morning, I read a story about King Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16).  This king, like many before him, did evil in the sight of the Lord.  The Bible says, "he walked in the way of the kings of Israel" by introducing pagan, idolatrous practices into the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Since Ahaz was being threatened by the king of Syria, he made an alliance with Tiglath-pileser the king of Assyria who protected him.  Upon visiting Tiglath-pileser in Damascus, Ahaz saw an altar used by the Assyrians that caught his eye.  He liked it so much that he made a drawing of it which he sent to Uriah the priest.  Uriah built the altar according to the drawing before the king returned from his trip.  When he saw this altar, he made his burnt offering, grain offering, and drink offering on it.  Afterwards, he replaced the bronze altar which had been the center of offerings that Solomon had dedicated in the temple to God's glory and according to God's design.  Ahaz moved the bronze altar to one side so he could use it to inquire by or divine the future.  This was something which the Lord had forbid (Deut. 18:9-14).  This new altar would now be center stage for all the offerings by the priest.  Additionally, Ahaz made many other changes in the Temple.
     None of the changes which this king made were commanded by God.  The Lord had laid out all the specifics when the Temple was built by Solomon.  It seems that Ahaz was beguiled by the altar he saw in Damascus more than by his relationship to the Living God.  He was tinkering with God's things.
     Over a period of time, God's chosen people became more and more enamored with the culture around them.  They started to add pagan practices and idolatry into their worship, and much of this was a result of their leaders falling away from the truth of God's Word.  There were a few kings who tried to reverse this trend, but they were far and few between.  Indeed, God was patient with them for a time.
     Ahaz focused his attention on the beauty of an altar rather than on the worship of God.  We don't know what he was thinking, but we know that he moved things around and thought nothing of it.  Maybe he wanted to make the House of God more esthetically pleasing or streamline it.  Unfortunately, the priest did not object as he had become caught up in the spirit of the age.  So what is the takeaway here?
     First, we need to ask ourselves, "Do we think we have better ideas than God?"  Ahaz tinkered with the Temple.  He was the "clay" that indirectly told the Potter (God), that he did not like that old boring bronze altar compared to the pagan one he saw.  So he moved, without God's approval, to change the house of worship.  He also incorporated, in his own life, pagan worship along with the ordained worship prescribed by God, and allowed the people to do so likewise.  This was no small thing.  As we continue to read in the Old Testament, the consequences for disobedience would follow.
     When we look at our own lives, what things have we put ahead of God?  Ahaz was impressed with
an altar more than obeying the Lord.  He altered worship to incorporate the elements of the culture around him rather than following what God laid out in His Word.  We see this happening in churches today when people put more emphasis on the comfort or beauty of a building rather than on the worship of God.  In addition, many denominations have caved to cultural pressures and accepted practices which God has clearly forbidden in His Word.  We cannot have it both ways.  Either we follow the Lord in all things according to His Word as our foundation, or we tinker with the Bible and worship and do things our way.  At some point, we, too, will face the consequences if we let this happen.
     I certainly regretted letting the clock repairman work on my treasured antique.  His tinkering did more damage in the long run.  The same will be true when we start to add to what God has already told us in His Word concerning our faith and practice.  We do not want to tinker like Ahaz and be in love with an altar rather than the One whom we should focus our attention on.  There is no substitute for fidelity to God's Word, worship and precepts.  His Word is truth, and we cannot improve on that.  Let us be found faithful to His glory!  Selah!