Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two Kinds of Funerals

     Over the last several days, I have been thinking about the passing of some folks that I know.  It is always sad to say good-bye to someone with whom you have been acquainted, but it is even more difficult if you do not know where they stood with Christ.  I have personally been to many funerals during my life, and they come down to two types.  There is one type of funeral which is the celebration of a life that was committed to Jesus Christ.  This is a bittersweet service where all present know they will miss the person but will one day see him/her again in heaven.  Then, the other type of funeral is one that is far more difficult both for the pastor and the people.  At this funeral, no one really knows for certain that the person who has died was a believer.  What do you say to comfort the family?  Based on the Word of God, we know their destination was not heaven if they had never made Christ their Savior.  Yes, this is a difficult thing to think about, but I believe the Lord
wants us to wake up and take the opportunity to tell others about His saving love and grace while there is still time.

     Jesus gave a command to his disciples and all believers that would come after them to go out and tell others about His life, death and resurrection.  Matthew 28:18b-20 reads:  "...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age."  We know these verses as the "Great Commission".  It is a directive given to us by the Lord Himself to tell others about Him and offer them the opportunity to commit their life to Christ.  Then, we are to teach them what we have learned from God's Word so they can grow in faith.  This sounds simple, but we often avoid doing this very thing.  Our excuses range from "I don't like to be rejected" to "It's the Pastor's job to tell people about Jesus."  Yet, there is nothing so final as when the coffin lid closes on someone we could have shared Christ with and now it is too late.

     Perhaps, the thing which spurred my thoughts on the two types of funerals was a conversation I had with someone this past week.  A mutual friend had passed away and they remarked that this individual was now at rest in heaven.  I thought to myself, "How do they know that?"  I had talked with the person who had died many times and never once did that person show any interest in spiritual things.  They may have been baptized and confirmed but does that make you a believer?  In my own life, I was baptized as an infant and confirmed in my church, but it was not until I was 23 that I had a divine appointment where I met the Savior as my Lord.  If people had thought that based on my church attendance and confirmation I was a Christian, they would have been wrong.  I had a "head" knowledge about Christ.  I could recite verses, but He was not in my heart.  I was not a new creation in Him.

     According to the Apostle Paul in his letter to believers in Rome, this is what it takes to become a child of God:  "....if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Romans 10:9b-10).  There is an element of vocal and public affirmation stated in this verse.  We are to confess with our mouth that Christ is our Lord and then believe in our heart.  This is what happened to me and to my dear husband three months before we were married.  We gave our lives to Christ and made it public both to our families and to our friends.  Since we made that commitment, it dramatically changed our lives for the better.  We became new creations in Him, and when we are called home by the Lord, we will be alive in Him in heaven.  This is the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

     I readily confess that I, like many of you reading this, have not done all I can to share the message of Jesus Christ with others.  For this reason, my heart was heavy over the death of this acquaintance.  I am not certain where this person is.  Only God knows if there was repentance before this person left this life.  What we cannot depend on to save us is church membership, confirmation, baptism or any of these good works.  The only thing that can redeem us from our sins is the blood of Jesus Christ.  When we call upon Him, repent and make Him the Lord over our life, then, we can know that we will spend eternity in His presence in Heaven.

     Sadly, there are people dying every day who have never heard the news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  They will go into eternity without God's presence.  Their funeral will truly be a sad one.  However, we can make a difference if we accept the call which Christ has put in His Word and tell others.....family and friends....about the wonderful news of salvation.  Then, when their time to leave this earth comes, we can rejoice knowing they will enjoy the Lord forever even though we will miss them in life.  May we take seriously this call to share the Good News with those around us.  Selah!

Friday, October 17, 2014

FILL IT UP!

   
    
I remember my days growing up in small town America where we had full service gas stations.  We would pull in and my father would roll down the window when the attendant came out and he would simply say “Fill ‘ER up.”  They washed our windshield, checked the oil and tire pressure and took good care of us.  Plus the cost of gas was next to nothing at that time.  But as we all know, times have changed!
The cost of gasoline has skyrocketed with no end in sight, and we have to do the pumping, windshield cleaning and checking all on our own.
     Despite how bad the prices are right now, no one can do without gas.  We need to get to work, shop and take our family to various events.  As a result, we take good care of our cars by making certain the tank is full.
     Today, however, I got a fill-up that was free and I have been delighted ever since then.  The fill-up I am talking about  comes from going to church.  This is where I have an opportunity to find encouragement and accountability from other believers.   It is a place where I can learn by sitting at the feet of Jesus as Scripture is read and discussed and it is a place where I can worship the Lord.
     My father always used to say that he could worship God riding his tractor while working in the field.  This is true.  We can worship God anywhere and at any time.  However, something unique happens when we come together in shared faith to lift our voices to God.  The writer of Hebrews knew how important this was and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he penned these words:  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
     In this passage, the author mentions holding fast to our confession of hope without wavering.  Let me suggest that this is easier to do when we are in regular fellowship.  I liken this to attending classes in college.  I had the freedom then to attend class or not.  However, if I did not go, I missed material that often ended up on a final test.  Plus, I was wasting my investment in my education.  Therefore, I made it to my classes even when there were times I would rather have stayed in bed.
      Several months ago on a Sunday, for example, I was not particularly motivated to attend church.  My husband was away and I hate to go alone.  Nevertheless, I knew that my heart needed inspiration…a fill-up if you will.  I was not at all disappointed.  God never disappoints!  When we go to meet Him, He will always touch us.  In addition, I got to sit next to a wonderful young woman whose husband was also away.  We had the chance to visit after church and share about our respective family’s.  I left with renewed joy, encouragement, fresh teaching from God’s Word that stimulated me and a sense of great peace.  Now I ask you….where can you get all that for free in this day and age?
     In his letter to the Ephesian believers, the Apostle Paul wrote these words of exhortation:  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart….”(Ephesians 5:15-19).  Where better can we do this than in the body of believers?  It serves as a spiritual filling station where we can meet the Lord to make certain our lives stay on track.
     Just as I take my car in for regular tune-ups, I want my life to be in tune with God’s will.  As I study and share with other believers, my faith grows, and I am better prepared to face the new week.  We all need a “safe house” from the storms of life and that is what church  fellowship can do.  It helps us refocus our lives on Jesus Christ.  May we all search out a fellowship to be a part of if we do not have one so we can say as David did in Psalm 84:10:  “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”  Selah!

    Father, You delight in our worship and coming together.  You admonish us not to miss assembling together.  Let us never forsake the privilege we have in gathering together to study Your Word.  Implant in our hearts a desire to encourage each other and all the more as the Day of Your return draws closer.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sowing the Seeds of Prayer

 
 When my father became disabled and was no longer able to farm his land due to heart disease, he found great comfort in playing hymns on the organ in our home.  He was not a great musician, but this did not matter to any of us.  We knew that he found solace in the words and notes of the hymns.  One of his favorites was “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  I think he played that one more than any other because for him, prayer is what kept him going day by day.  This should be true not only in our individual lives but also in the church as well.
     Since I grew up on an Ohio farm, I know about planting season and harvest time.  There was a lot of work in preparing the ground and planting the crop.  The rest was in God’s hands.  My father worked hard to keep the weeds down, and the plants fertilized.  His labor is not unlike that of a Christian.  As we labor in prayer, we are planting seeds that will one day come to fruition just as my father’s crop came to harvest time.  The question is will our harvest be plentiful because we sowed many seeds to the Lord or will we reap only a small harvest because we did not spend much time in His presence?  How then, do we begin to sow the seeds of prayer?
     Coming into His presence with reverence, worship and thanksgiving opens our heart before the Lord.  Psalm 50:14-15 says:  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  We honor God by coming to Him and offering ourselves in an attitude of thanksgiving.  Yes, sometimes it is a sacrifice on our part.  Life is hard, and at times, it is all we can do to find much to thank God for.  Yet, when we come thanking Him, we open our own hearts to His healing touch.  He rejoices more in this sacrifice than anything else we could bring to Him.
     Once the soil of thanksgiving has been tilled, we are ready to plant the seeds of prayer not only for our concerns but also for the needs of others.  I Timothy 2:1-2 reads:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Rather than spend our time complaining about things we cannot change, let us go to the only One who has the authority and power to change the things that concern us.  God already knows our thoughts and our hearts, but He waits to hear from our lips the words of our concern.  What a release we experience when we can carry our burdens, our cares and our family before the Lord.  He is able to do what we cannot.  As we pray, we sow these seeds into His soil.  Likewise, these verses tell us to pray for our leaders, our church and our brothers and sisters in the faith.  More is accomplished in prayer than can ever be done through our own efforts.
     Now, at this point, I have to caution that prayer does not mean instant answers any more than when my father sowed seeds in the ground.  It is God’s perfect timing for all things that brings results.  My father could not make those plants grow.  He did what he could but only God could bring the harvest.  The same is true in prayer.  Be patient but persistent in prayer.
The harvest will come if we remain faithful.
     What should we carry to God?  All that troubles our heart as well as all the praise for what He has done.  Once we have spent time communing with Him, we will never be the same.  Corrie Ten Boom once said:  “Don’t pray when you feel like it.  Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.  A man is powerful on his knees.”  What a privilege we have to carry everything to God in prayer.  The more we sow to His glory the more we will find joy in our daily living.  Do we want to see souls saved?  Then, we need to pray daily for those around us.  Do we want to see God at work in our church and our homes?  Then, we need to bathe all this in prayer.
     My father always had a great harvest each year.  It did not come about by chance but by effort in working his ground and trusting in God.  We must, likewise, labor in prayer sowing the seeds of faith and see what great things God will do for His glory and our growth.  His harvest never fails.  Selah!