Friday, April 26, 2019

Is It Any Wonder?

     Opening our local newspaper today, I came upon a cartoon in the commentary section.  The message in the picture could not be more clear.  There was a computer screen with the large word PORN on it, a collection of alcohol bottles and drugs, a movie theater marquee with the title "Chainsaw Sadists III Rape Rampage", a newspaper with a headline stating "Dropout Rate" and "Cyber Bullying", a gun with bullets laying next to it and a video game player with a screen that reads "Grand Theft Carnage".  A dotted line runs by each of these pictures that is the path that two young children have just taken on their way home.  The boy says to the little girl, "Why do our parents worry so much about us?"  The message is very clear.  Our society has done little to protect children from an all out assault of the profane, vulgar, immoral, murderous mindset portrayed in video games, T.V. shows, and the movies.  Is it any wonder then that we can pick up a newspaper and read about a man who was babysitting his six week old baby and when the baby cried too much the man put the baby in the freezer, and went to take a nap for an hour.  Fortunately, the mother came home in time to discover the baby and get it medical attention.  Reports are that the child will live.  Shocking?  Yes, but it is it any surprise when our world promotes the idea that "if it feels good, just do it?"  Even Christians, can become ensnared by the vile things we put before our eyes.
     Listening to the podcast of Alistair Begg this morning, he taught on "The Parable of the Sower and the Seeds" (Mark 4:1-20).  As he discussed why some seeds do not put down deep roots, he mentioned an example of someone who came from a Christian home but who lost his way during his short life.  Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, was instructed by his nanny in the Bible and the writings of John Bunyan.  His grandfather was a minister in the Church of Scotland, but Robert rejected the faith and turned, in later years, to a Bohemian lifestyle visiting cheap pubs and brothels.  In fact, his own father came across the constitution of the Liberty, Justice and Reverence Club that stated:  "Disregard everything our parents have taught us."  Both Stevenson and his cousin Bob belonged to this organization.  What corrupted his thinking that once listened to the Bible and the works of John Bunyan?  He became enamored with the current artists, writers and philosophers of the day which more and more drew him away from the foundations he had at home.  Even at this time in history, the devil was more than happy to offer alternatives to reading the Bible and serving the Lord.  A sad note to his short life of 44 years was that while his parents were practicing Christians they did not teach young Robert the Bible truths to live by.  This was left up to the nanny.
     David's Psalm concerning the walk of integrity (Psalm 101) says in verses 3-4:  I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.  I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.  A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil."  While David did not live up to all his statements, he desired to live in a manner that was worthy before the Lord.  He sought out holiness, but found that neither he nor anyone else could do that without the help of God.  Our flesh is weak even if our spirit is willing.  However, why set any temptation before our eyes?
     Today's Christian home has access to many electronic gadgets and tools that can serve a good purpose or be used in the wrong way.  Carefully limiting and pre-screening shows that children may watch on T.V. is vital.  Watching movies that are filled with illicit sex and violence also can numb the conscience along with violent video games that portray life as a cheap object to be blown to bits.  If we think this does not impact the way in which we live, we are very wrong.  It sets a wrong example for our children and infects our mind with sinful thoughts.
     God has told us to put on the breastplate of righteousness so that we may guard our hearts.  He has also told us to put on the helmet of salvation that we may guard our minds.  The Lord knows the fierceness of the enemy and his crafty way of entangling us with a worldly mindset.  Therefore, we need to be careful in choosing the things we set before our eyes.  We need to ask ourselves if we would be comfortable with the Lord Jesus Christ sitting next to us as we go about doing a particular activity.
     Paul wrote that we are to be "transformed by the renewal of our minds" (Romans 12:2).  Being careful, therefore, in what we watch is key to growing in the Lord.  It also sets a great example for our children and grandchildren.  With this in mind, let us be careful what we introduce into our own thinking, our own homes and into our relationships.  Just as we would never drink a glass of water with a touch of arsenic in it, we should not introduce things in to our homes that would cause us to stray.  May God give us the strength and ability to walk in integrity and holiness all the days of our lives.  Selah!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Create in Me a Clean Heart Oh God

     All week long, the song our choir sang in church this past Sunday has echoed in my head daily, relentlessly.  It's a fitting song for this season of reflection called Lent when we contemplate the Lord's sacrifice for our sins. The words are from  Psalm 51 penned by King David when he was confronted not only for his sin of adultery but also of murder.  Nothing is hidden from God's eyes, not his lust for Bathsheba nor the planned murder of her husband so he could take her as wife.  If ever there was a true cry of repentance this Psalm clearly spells it out.
     David does not make excuses or point fingers.  He accepts the responsibility for his sin and he makes one other very important point.  His sin is against God.  Verse 4 tells us:  "Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in you sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment."  With true repentance comes true restoration.
     Further on in the Psalm, David asks God to give him a clean heart and this is where our choir piece is drawn from.  Verses 10-13:
     "Create in me a clean heart, O God,
     and renew a right spirit within me,
     Cast me not away from your presence,
     and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
     Restore to me the Joy of your Salvation,
     and uphold me with a willing spirit.
     Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
     and sinners will return to you."
     One of the key elements of music and singing is that it tends to stay in your heart for a long time. In fact, many of us can sing word for word a song that was popular on the radio when we were in high school or college.  Yet God's Word is has that same staying power.  Psalm 119:11 says: "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." A key way to remember something as a child is to sing it( like the alphabet).  So it is with God's Word.  Singing the Psalms, and hymns that glorify the work of Christ help us to retain the truths from the Bible.
      Another benefit we receive as we sing during worship services is that we are encouraging one another.  Remember the words of the Apostle Paul when he told the Ephesians: "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart..."(5:19).  From my perspective in the choir, I can honestly say it sounds heavenly when the congregation joins in a familiar hymn.
     There are so many reasons to sing whether in church or at home.  It lifts our spirit and drives away
doubts and fears that can at times overwhelm us.  If a song sticks in your mind, sing it.  That is what I have been doing all week long and I know it has been good for me to think on.  I have a link below so you can enjoy a YouTube video of young women singing the song we sang in church.  Be blessed by this and remember to sing to the Lord a new song each day!  Selah!

 https://youtu.be/sQD7x0MeVak

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

BLESSED TO BE ABLE TO PRAY

     Growing up on a farm in Northwestern Ohio, I learned a lot from my father about working the land he loved.  He would first plow a field then disc it to prepare for planting.  Once the planting was completed, my father would follow up with cultivating the soil several times while the plants were young.  This not only aerated the soil but it also kept weeds from growing.  It was a first line of defense for the young crop developing in the field.  In fact, my dad often said the cultivator was one of his most valuable implements in working the soil.
     As Christians, we are also equipped with tools to help us in our growth in Christ.  Ephesians describes for us the picture of armor:  the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit and the Gospel shoes.  However, what knits everything together is prayer.  Like the cultivator, prayer keeps the weeds of wrong thinking out of our hearts as we grow and keeps the soil of our soul aerated by keeping our focus on God.   Is there any other privilege quite as special as the ability to talk directly to our Lord?  I can think of none.  Here are some of the reasons we need to become prayer warriors.
     First, Jesus Christ our Lord was the perfect example of someone who prayed regularly to the Father.  He frequently went off to a quiet place to commune with the Father either before He ministered to the needs of the people or after He had finished teaching.  He taught the disciples to pray and often pointed out to them that prayer should not be vain repetitions (Mathew 6:7) or for show but to talk with God in private (Mathew 6:6).  Jesus prayed and blessed food for the 5,000, and He prayed for Himself and all who would come after Him in John 17.  This high priestly prayer is one of the most beautiful examples to us of how to pray.
     In addition to our Lord’s example, we also have received a command in Scripture to “pray without ceasing” given in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:17).    This may sound difficult, but in reality, it is easier to keep a running dialogue with the Lord throughout the day.  I find myself many times praying over situations and people silently as my workday goes by.  God hears us whether we are eloquent with our words or very simple in our manner of speech.  The key is to focus on the Lord who delights in communing with us.
     As we engage in prayer, we are also changed by our time with Him.  I often think of Moses who spent time with God as he led the people of Israel.  If ever there was a man who had a tough job, it certainly was Moses.  Being in relationship with God, he never missed an opportunity to seek His face when the people were rebellious, hungry, or complaining.  He could have tried to handle things on his own, but wisely, he realized his deep need for God to intervene.  Each time Moses met with God, his face shone so that he had to wear a veil because ultimately the glow faded as time went on.  Now I do not expect our faces to shine each time we meet with God in prayer, but I do believe that each time we pray we come away a different person.  God is at work in us to accomplish His will.  This is especially true when we are surrendered to Him in prayer.
     Certainly my father worked hard to cultivate his fields so that the weeds would not grow but the crops would.  In like manner, we need to do the work of prayer not just for ourselves but also for our family, neighbors, church, city, state, nation and leaders.  We live in perilous times and the weeds of discontent, division and evil are being sown everywhere.  As believers, we need to humble ourselves before the Lord and take up the tool of prayer as well as God’s Word daily.  We will see results and uproot these toxic weeds that threaten to cause havoc both in our homes as well as our nation.
     Here are a few suggestions to help you develop a more meaningful prayer time:  1.  Make a prayer diary.  List the requests and as you see answers write them down.  This helps your to rejoice in what God is doing.  2.  Look for opportunities to focus on just one area of our church ministry or for a specific church staff member.   3. Read the prayer lists announced in Sunday School, church or in home groups.  Pray for the needs whenever it comes to mind.  I am blessed to let people know I am lifting them up in prayer.  It means so much for them to know that.  4. If someone comes to you with a prayer request, take time to pray with them on the spot if possible so you do not forget to lift the matter before the Lord.  5.  If you have drive time to work, pray as you go (obviously not with your eyes closed).  These are just a few ideas to help you get started.   This I know:  time with God is time well spent.  Let us be known as a people of prayer.  We will see great results if we humble ourselves and pray.  Selah!