Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Memories

     Recently, we completed a remodeling project in our home. As we started to put things back, both my dear husband and I have been going through our possessions to dispose of things we no longer use or need.  As we looked through our boxes, we found pictures, news clippings and items given to us from our families.  What a flood of memories for both of us.
     In fact, I can close my eyes and see all the scenes of the snowy Christmases past.  There was the one horse open sleigh ride I had as a small child.  It had been a heavy snow day but my grandfather hitched up a horse to his sleigh and took my cousin and I on a ride of a lifetime.  Then, there were the 5 a.m. Christmas mornings when I tried in vain to wake everyone up because I wanted to see my gifts.  I remember my sister (8 years older than I) opening her bedroom door and throwing shoes at me down the hallway telling me to go back to bed.  All this and more as I think of my childhood home.  It was the same for my husband as he showed me pictures of his childhood.
     Pictures of our children when they were small made us smile as we recalled our many celebrations with them.  Now we have our grandchildren to enjoy watching.  Time grows more precious to us as we grow older, and this brings to my mind a song that has lived in my heart for many years:  "Heirlooms" by Amy Grant.  The words are simple but so meaningful at Christmas:
Up in the attic,
Down on my knees.
Lifetimes of boxes,
Timeless to me.
Letters and photographs,
Yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter,
Some bringing tears.
Time never changes,
The memories, the faces
Of loved ones, who bring to me,
All that I come from,
And all that I live for,
And all that I'm going to be.
My precious family
Is more than an heirloom to me.
Wisemen and shepherds,
Down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures
To lay at his feet.
Who was this wonder,
Baby yet king?
Living and dying;
He gave life to me.
Time never changes,
The memory, the moment
His love first pierced through me,
Telling all that I came from,
And all that I live for,
And all that I'm going to be.
My precious savior
Is more than an heirloom to me.
My precious Jesus
Is more than an heirloom to me.
     I remember singing this song in church during the time my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers so it has always been dear to my heart.  It reflected not only the precious gift of family but the even more priceless gift of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This is the true meaning of Christmas and here is the invitation that God offers to each of us:  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).  He loved us so much He sent His Son to pay the price for our sins.  All we have to do is repent (turn away) from our sin and believe in Him as our Savior.  We cannot earn salvation.  God gives it as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
     This is the real heart of the Christmas celebration.  He came and we will never be the same.  Of all my memories, I will never forget the day that both my husband and I believed in Jesus Christ three months before we married.  It made such a difference in our life.  If you do not know Him, I pray that this Christmas you will make Him your Savior and Lord.  If you already know Him, rejoice knowing that God gave us the best gift we could ever have!  Merry Christmas from our house to yours!  Selah!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Getting to the Root of It

     While trimming shrubs the other day, I noticed a number of vines had grown up among the shrubs.  These pesky plants can also climb the side of a house.  I always attempt to pull the vine up so that I get the root of the plant.  Doing this, prevents it from regrowing.  Unfortunately, it is hard to get the root to come out of the ground.  It takes effort, but it can be done.  The same is true in our own hearts when it comes to bitterness.  It is a root that goes deep inside, and one that needs to be removed as soon as possible.
A root from a vine
     Most of us have encountered people who are afflicted with bitterness towards another person.  This could come from jealousy, envy, unforgiveness or pride.  No matter what begins the episode the effects of bitterness on the whole person can be devastating.  A bitter person is often angry, demanding and spiteful.  Their reasoning and judgment become poisoned as well.  A biblical example of a bitter person is King Saul of Israel.
     In I Samuel 18:1-30 and I Samuel 19:1-18, the Scripture writer describes the slow deterioration of a relationship that started out well in the beginning.  David had come upon the scene as a shepherd boy who was visiting his brothers to bring them food at the scene of a battle with the Philistines.  Everyone in the army fears the giant Goliath but David takes him on with a sling and a stone defeating this threat to Israel.  Saul is impressed and welcomes David into to his court as a musician.  Eventually David also becomes a military leader and this is where the trouble starts.  For we see that David is more successful than Saul, and the people praise him highly. Thus begins the jealousy in Saul's heart that leads him to try to kill David even though he is a part of the family having married Michal (Saul's daughter).  Even Jonathan, David's best friend and Saul's son, tries to intervene to no avail.  For seven long years, David had to run and hide in order to avoid being killed by Saul.  But who was Saul really mad at?  David?
      Behind the bitterness that Saul felt in his heart is a deep rooted anger at God.  Saul had been anointed a king, but he failed to obey God several times.  Samuel, the prophet, told him that the kingdom would be taken from him and his family as a result of his failure to follow God's laws (I Samuel 15:26-28).  Saul tried to justify his actions to Samuel but this did not change the fact that someone else would rule and reign.  When David came on the scene and God's favor was upon him, Saul reacted with jealousy at his success as well as bitterness that God had abandoned him.  His solution was to eliminate David.  In the end, Saul's disobedience led to his death and the death of his son Jonathan.
     Bitterness distorts
the human soul, and the person that suffers the most is the one who is infected with this sin.  If we are a Christian this is something we must pull out by the root so it does not continue to grow.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).  So the first thing we must do when bitterness begins to grow is to forgive the other person who offended us.  Then, we need to begin praying for that person.  This changes our heart quicker than any other thing.  Finally, we need to try to get to know that person.  Our anger and bitterness is often a reflection of how we feel about God rather than another person.  Maybe we didn't get the recognition we thought we deserved and the other person got it instead.  Yet we focus our disappointment on them instead of immediately taking it to the Lord in prayer.  We must not allow bitterness to gain a foothold in our heart.
     Recently, a war hero died, and over the course of years, I had seen him go from being an effective public servant with a likable demeanor to someone who had become very bitter towards the President.  It seemed that he tried to throw a monkey wrench into whatever was proposed by the President.  He even disinvited several people from coming to his funeral.  In my eyes, he had become a bitter man.  Why, I do not know nor do I understand, but it caused me to stop and think how much this sin can damage our character as well as our legacy.  Just as in gardening, we have to grab bitterness by the root and eliminate it lest it consume us and destroy our witness for Jesus Christ.  God grant us the strength to pull it out by the roots!  Selah!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Living Between Two Worlds

     Being a Christian has never been an easy assignment for those of us who love our Lord. Walking through temptations, being persecuted  for our faith, and facing the same tragedies in life as those who do not believe can, at times, cause us to wonder why God allows this.  However, Jesus made it very clear that if we are to follow Him we must be willing to take up our cross and to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23).  This means putting aside our self centered plans and demonstrating a willingness to obey God's commands and leading.  Living between two worlds is the challenge that all Christians must face.
     Walking in this secular world some days feels like trying to navigate a mine field especially in our current political environment.  I am reminded, though, of the Scripture that assures us of our identity in Christ.  During His high priestly prayer for His disciples and those who would come after them, Jesus said:  "14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it."  We learn in the Bible that we are present in a world that Satan has dominion over.  Nevertheless, we no longer share the values of this world system we are in so we know there will be clashes.  Our worldview has changed but so has our citizenship.  The Apostle Paul in the third chapter of the letter to the Christians at Philippi referring to the false teachers among them (vs. 18-21) states:  " For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself."  In this passage, Paul makes a distinction between those outside of Christ (the false teachers) and those who are believers.  One will face destruction, but Christians will enjoy the presence of the Lord in heaven.
     While we are on earth, God uses us for His glory that we may enjoy Him forever.  We no longer share the values of the fallen world under Satan's rulership.  This is why we find ourselves the brunt of persecution or at odds with those who do not share our worldview.  In addition, we are God's ambassadors sent to tell others the Good News of Jesus Christ that they too might be set free from sin and death.  We are in this world but no longer of it.  We are co-heirs with Jesus Christ and have an inheritance that no one can take away.  At times, this may make us feel like an alien as we interact with the world system.  Yet, we have some important take aways to encourage our hearts.
     First, though we may face the same heartaches and tragedies that non-believers share, we have the power of the Holy Spirit living in us to carry us through whatever we face.  We are not alone.  We are not hopeless.  Jesus said there would be tribulations we would face but He told us that He had overcome the world.  We have that ability to overcome hardship when we put all our trust in Him.
     Second, we have to realize that when we meet opposition whether political, spiritual or in our jobs, we are not struggling against people but as Ephesians 6:12 tells us:  "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  Right now, in this nation, there is a lot of hatred, animosity, tension, and fear over all the events taking place.  Look beyond people and see who is behind it.  The Father of lies, murder and deceit is none other than Satan.  But he is a defeated foe.  Therefore, step back and trust in the Lord who is always with you and remember where all this dissension is coming from.
      Finally, remember that we are on a journey.  God is working on us and through us to fit us for heaven.  We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  This means we are to grow day by day in obedience to our Lord.  Yes, we live between two worlds while we are here on earth, but the joy comes in knowing that our citizenship and home are in heaven.  Therefore, spend time in prayer and read God's Word.  This is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path.  Remember Jesus told us to let not our hearts be troubled for He will come again for us.  Selah!