Friday, October 13, 2017

Our Promise of Heaven

     This week my dear Uncle Paul went home to be with the Lord.  He was a godly man who loved his family and served the Lord through his profession as a dentist.  The example he set of attending church on a regular basis was something that no one could miss; so I find it a comfort to know that he is now resting in the arms of Jesus and is reunited with his sister, my mother as well as other family members who have gone before.  What a great homecoming celebration he received I am certain.
Dr. Paul Engel..a man who loved the Lord
      One of the greatest joys in walking with Christ is knowing what our eternal destination will be when we lay down in death.  Our body will die but not our spirit that has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  He said so clearly as he comforted Martha over the death of her brother Lazarus.  John 11:25 says:  "Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live..."  At that moment, I do not think Martha could comprehend what was about to happen, but Jesus would call forth her brother from the grave to demonstrate the power of God over life and death.  Believing His Word (the Bible) is truth gives hope to all who call upon His name in faith.
     There is an old saying that goes, "Nothing is more certain than death and taxes".  We know about taxes but none of us has yet experienced death.  What do we really know about eternal life and heaven?  In the book of Revelation we read this description:  "3And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
      5And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Chap. 21:3-5)  If we knew nothing else about heaven, this would be a great blessing.  No more pain, no more suffering, no more sickness, no more death and all the tears we have cried, will be wiped away by the Lord.  For those that long for perfect peace, justice, truth and happiness, this will be the place where there is joy forevermore.
     If you read on in chapter 21 of Revelation, there is a description of the new Jerusalem that has come down from heaven.  The description is beyond our understanding as the streets are gold and many beautiful gems make up this magnificent dwelling place.  There is no need for the sun and the moon because God's glory lights the entire realm.  God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit dwell here, and we are forever with Him in this perfect place.  This is the City of God and is for those whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world.  Verse 27 says:  "27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life."
     I will never forget that a few days before my own father died, he looked off in the distance and described this beautiful city.  He said the streets were gold and it was so remarkable.  This gave me peace as I knew from God's Word that he was given a glimpse of heaven.  Even more though, I know that he also is enjoying a special home in heaven because Jesus went on to describe that in His Word.
John 14:1-3 says:  "1“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also..."  How wonderful to know that those who have physically left our presence are now living in a city not made with hands and a dwelling prepared for us by the Lord.
     Dear ones, while we grieve the loss of those we love, we also rejoice for them that their race here in this fallen world is over.  Their worn out bodies sleep but their souls are bathed in the presence of God where they will live forever.  This is the inheritance of all who confess their sins and receive the gift of God's salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
     This past August and I had the opportunity of seeing my Uncle Paul for the last time when we traveled to attend my husband's class reunion.  We laughed, reminisced and then, before leaving, we prayed together outside his home with his wife Anna.  I will carry that memory in my heart until I see my Uncle in heaven again.  He has now joined that great crowd of witnesses in heaven cheering the rest of us on to fight the good fight and run the race for the prize of God's high calling.  This is our comfort, our encouragement and our future in Christ!  Selah!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Praising Him in the Storm

     In many ways, the last two weeks have been surreal.  First there was the preparation for the storm and all the stress which came with knowing there was a Category 5 hurricane out in the Atlantic.  Most Floridians watched "The Weather Channel" non-stop as the storm drew near.  We, as well as others in our community and state, made our preparations gathering supplies, buying extra gas for our generator along with food and water.  Then, it came ashore in the Keys first moving farther eastward than had been predicted.  Our power went out on Saturday, September 10th so we had no way of knowing where this one eyed monster storm would travel.  Little did we know we would be experiencing the eastern eye-wall of Irma in our county.  Although we do not have a run-down of the wind speed, we knew as we sat in our home that it had to be greater than 80 m.p.h.
     Having experienced the damage of the three hurricanes that crossed over Highlands County in 2004 and a tornado spawned from Hurricane Wilma in 2005 that crossed our property and took out our pole barn, we were not certain what we would find when the storm finally passed us by.  Looking outside to see what had happened, however, was a shock.  Twisted broken trees, signs bent or brought down completely, uprooted trees, power lines lying on the ground and shingles off the roof.  In some cases, people lost most or all of the roof to the wrath of this storm.  Then, there was the oppressive heat.  With no electricity, there was no air conditioning.  Fortunately, the generator we bought after the hurricanes of 2004 had been hooked up to save the contents of our refrigerator and freezer as well as some lights and fans.   We had not remembered that we also had our pump attached to the generator so we could at least take a cold shower and get a cool drink.  That was a nice surprise!
     Gathering debris the day after the storm, my mind went to another time not that long ago when we experienced a different storm in our life as a family.  It was 2014 when we lost our six year old grandson Branson James Thayer.  At the time, I clung to the words of a song written and sung by Casting Crowns entitled "Praise You in This Storm".  I remembered the story that Mark Hall, lead singer for Casting Crowns, explained how the song came together.  He made the acquaintance of a family who had a child diagnosed with cancer.  The family braved the ups and downs fighting long and hard for their child over a three year period, but in the end, this young girl who loved Jesus lost the struggle.  Mark Hall said that through it all, the parents never quit trusting the Lord or leaning on Him.  He was so impressed by their faith that he wrote the song along with Bernie Hermes (for the full story...have a tissue nearby...go to Christianitytoday.com and read "He Gives, and Takes Away" a commentary written Sept. 11, 2006).  So when Branson was suddenly taken from our family, I tearfully listened to the words of this song and found encouragement because we all walk through storms in life, but we are not alone.   Isaiah 43:1-2 says:  "1But now, thus says th
e LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you."  Jesus also told us in Matthew 28:20b "....and behold I am with you always even to the end of the age."
      As I sat under the shade of a tree on the tenth day of no power, I remembered the words to the song again, knowing that God had miraculously brought us through this storm.  In fact, He did more than that.  He brought neighbors together to help each other.  The Lord worked through churches to supply meals and relief for those who needed help, He worked in the hearts of women to do laundry for linemen as they tried to restore power to our state.  In so many ways, we are witnessing God's hand at work.
     While the storms of death, sickness, or hurricanes come to everyone in this fallen world, we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, who has overcome this world.  In Him, we can too.  Read the chorus to the song and be encouraged...no matter where you are today:
     "And I'll praise you in this storm
       And I will lift my hands
      For You are who You are
      No matter where I am
     And every tear I've cried
     You hold in Your hand
     You never left my side
     And though my heart is torn
     I will praise You in this storm."
     
Take time to read or listen to the song which can be found on YouTube or Google.  It will bless you!  We can all praise Him in the storms of life!  Selah!
   

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Like a Good Marriage

     Glenn and I recently celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary.  It seems like only yesterday that we exchanged our vows and made our covenant to live together under the headship of Jesus Christ.  I will admit that it takes daily effort to keep the wheels of relationship running smoothly.  Contrary to the media, no one just falls in love and lives happily ever after.  Life is full of heartache and challenges.  That is why it requires effort to make a marriage successful.  However, this is not the only important relationship that needs regular attention.
August 21, 1971
     As I reflected on our many years together, I also thought about being a part of a church.  There are many occasions in scripture where the body of Christ is referred to as the bride and our Savior as the bridegroom.  Like marriage, our relationship to the church is similar.   When we join a church, we agree to support it financially, with our efforts and in prayer.  Too often, I think, people tend to take their church membership in a very casual manner.  Some hop from place to place seeking to find what  in their mind is the "perfect" church.  I hate to say this...but....there is no such place.  Being part of a church is very much like marriage.  It requires effort.
     One of the key reasons why we have to work at both relationships is that it involves imperfect people.  A pastor friend of mine says, "The church would be perfect if it weren't for all those sinners who belong to it."  Indeed, we see this even in the early church where Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement over John Mark who deserted their missionary efforts at one point.  Barnabas
was willing to give him another chance but Paul was not ready.  We know later in Paul's epistles that John Mark was a comfort to him.  Just from this example alone, we can see that even at the beginning of the church nothing was ever perfect.  This is where forgiveness and growth can take place if we pray and allow the Holy Spirit to resolve conflict.  Let me share another example.
     Early in our marriage, our differences were very clear.  Glenn was highly organized, and skillful at keeping things in order.  I, on the other hand, am a spontaneous person who does things on the fly.  When it comes to packing a car trunk, I would put anything in wherever I could while my dear husband neatly places things with care.  Now I am certain that my spontaneity has many times irritated my husband and his organization has at times done the same for me.  However, together we have learned from each other and the blend has been to God's glory and our benefit.  The same is true in the church.  How many times do people get upset over the color of the carpet or other things in the church and leave as a result?  It takes God's work in the heart to overcome the imperfections we see in one another.  We are all a work in progress.
     Secondly, communication is another area of importance in both the church and marriage.  If you do not tell someone how you feel, how will they ever know it?  I remember being upset one time because I expected some flowers from my dear husband for a certain occasion.  He did not give me any.  I stewed about it and let him know I was upset.  However, he said something that helped me understand him.  He said I should tell him if I wanted flowers because he could not read my mind.  He never meant to disappoint me...he just did not know.  The same is true in church relationships.  Are you hurt over something someone said to you?  Go talk to that person and tell them.  Is there something about the church that needs to be addressed?  Do not keep it to yourself.  Go speak to your pastor, elder, deacon or leader so that they are aware.  Too many people leave a good fellowship because they feel left out.  This does not need to happen if we communicate clearly, and this leads to another important point.
      We must not approach marriage or church with unrealistic expectations.  Even if we communicate clearly our point of view on issues and accept that we are imperfect people, we will not always have things go our way.  So do we abandon our marriage or our church just because of this?  No!  We must remember in both relationships that Christ is our head.  He is sovereign and will direct us in all things.  We often fail to talk to God first about the issues that trouble us.  He is Lord...we are not.  We have to look beyond ourselves to the overall welfare of not only our spouse but also our congregation as a whole.  If there is a lack of a ministry in the church and it troubles us, then, we might want to step out and meet the need that we see.  Today, there are many people who walk away from their marriage or their church over unrealistic expectations instead of trying to keep the commitment they made to God.
     With all these things in mind, we might wonder when is it ever right to look for another church body?  If the teaching in the church ever departs from the foundation of God's Word and begins to embrace error, then, we should go to the leaders and express our concerns.  We need to pray, and if they do not turn away from serious error, we should seek another place to worship God.  This does not include things like carpet color, building programs etc.  We are talking about heretical teaching.
God has planted us where we are in order to grow us into the likeness of Jesus Christ day by day for His glory.  It is not about us, and we need to look with greater perspective at God's overall plan.
     Forty-six years is a long time, but we have stayed together because we made Jesus Christ the center of our marriage.  We have been through difficulties, joys and sorrows together.  It has taken perseverance, work and effort to sustain our relationship day by day, but it is more than worth it.  Four children and ten grandchildren are the reward of a good marriage.  Likewise, the fruit of church membership is seeing others come to Christ, watching fellow pilgrims overcome difficulties and standing by those who sorrow or are sick.  We are meant to bring glory to God through our faithful witness within the Body of believers.  Pray for the church, the leaders, the pastors and fellow believers.  As a community, we are all on our pilgrim's journey, and we need one another.  Keep in mind that it is Christ who is our head.  He will do what is necessary.  Remember these words in Ephesians 5:25-27:  "25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."  He will complete what He has begun in us.  We can depend on that!  Selah!