Wednesday, March 30, 2011


An alabaster jar
     When we hear the word extravagant, most of us think of a very pricey item over and above what one would expect.  A picture of a young man buying a very expensive gift for the love of his life comes to mind; or we might think of the rich and famous with which to associate this term.  However, when my pastor used it in a sermon this past week as he told the story of Mary the sister of Lazarus, many new thoughts blazed through my mind.  What did this woman do that forever linked her to the Gospel story?
     In John 12:1-8, we read:  "Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for him there.  Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, (he who was about to betray Him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?'  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  The poor you always have with you but you do not always have me.'"
     Both the Gospel according to Matthew(chapter 26) and the Gospel according to Mark (chapter 14) have this same story presented but no name is given for the woman involved.  All three stories remark about the extravagance of this gift which is given to Jesus.  In Matthew and Mark, however, it is mentioned that the head of our Lord was also anointed, and in Mark 14: 9, Jesus said:  "And truly, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."  This is a remarkable statement and one worth noting.
     Looking at the passage in John, it is important for us to reflect on the background of this woman who gave her best to the Lord in an act of humility and devotion.  Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus and resided at Bethany.  Jesus had come to visit (as recounted in Luke 10).  Martha busied herself with a meal preparation but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear Him teach.  When Martha complained to the Lord about Mary not assisting her, Jesus gently told her that Mary had chosen the best part.  Later on, we see both sisters again when their brother Lazarus died.  Following this momentous event, we do not encounter them until this meal at Bethany six days before the Passover.
     What Mary did at this meal was scandalizing to Judas Iscariot and the other disciples.  She took an expensive perfume equivalent to a year's wages and poured it on the feet of Jesus.  Then, she took her hair and wiped His feet.  We can only speculate what was running through her mind, but ultimately it was an act of devotion.  She had broken many traditions of the day; first, by sitting at the feet of Jesus as a disciple in the earlier visit to their home, and secondly, by letting her hair down to perform an act of servitude.  Neither act was acceptable for a Jewish woman. This devotion and love for our Lord was extravagant.  Jesus noticed her genuine heart and proclaimed that she would never be forgotten.
     On the opposite end of this spectrum is the grumbling, Ebenezer Scrooge response of Judias Iscariot the treasurer of this band.  He took no joy in her sacrifice.  He saw it only as a monetary loss because he really did not care about the poor.  No, Judas was a thief himself as the Scripture recounts.  His hand was in the till so to speak.  He would have loved for Mary to sell the ointment and give the money to him as treasurer.  He could have used it for his own desires as he had before.
     Within this short 8 verses, we see the contrast between the heart forever changed by an encounter with the living Lord, and the miserly, empty clutching heart of a man who would betray the Lifegiver for 30 pieces of silver.  Mary gave her best in an extravagant display of her love.  Certainly, she was thankful for the restoration of her brother to life, but she had also had a true encounter with "Emmanuel"...the God with us Messiah promised by all the prophets.  How could she not give Him her all?
     In the same manner, we need to ask ourselves if we have given the Lord our very best.   After all, His display of extravagant love was to step from the height of heaven to become man and suffer a tortuous death so that we might have eternal life through Him.  His sacrifice went beyond perfume or pretty gifts. He gave His very life for us.  So what, we may ask, can we give Him in return?  The Apostle Paul writes the answer in Romans 12:1:  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
Nothing less, than giving ourselves in utter gratitude for our salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is our due.  
     Because He first loved us with such extravagant love, we are now free to offer ourselves to Him completely just as Mary did in her act of devotion.  She did not know what would occur in six days, and that she was preparing the Lord for burial.  She only knew that she had been changed by her encounter with her Messiah.  She gave the best that she had.  We are called to do no less.  Our time, our talents, our love and our gratitude all belong to Him.  This is what extravagant love really is all about.  Selah!

Father, teach us to give as freely and fully as Mary did.  She gave her best and we can do no less.  You loved us with extravagant love.  Give us the heart to do the same.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

How can we demonstrate extravagant love in our daily walk?  Has anyone ever demonstrated this kind of love to you?  How did it affect you and change you?  I would love to hear your stories and thoughts.  

Monday, March 28, 2011


Rosco P. Coltrain
     I am an animal lover and have been from my youth.  For me, watching a bird soar high in the sky or a gopher tortoise lumber to his den makes me stand in awe of my Creator.  There is so much variety, intricacy and beauty to behold.  Within the animal kingdom, we can learn many lessons if we will just watch God's handiwork in action.  
     Take, for example, our dog Rosco P. Coltrain.  He is a basset hound extraordinaire that has lived with us for ten years.  Mostly, he acts like floor decoration as he stretches out on his side all day long, but he is loving, funny and faithful.  Dogs are loyal creatures who are always happy to see you when you come home.  Rosco has a special routine when he sees me.  He picks up his favorite toy as an offering and brings it to me every day.  I take it gently from his mouth and tell him what a good dog he is.  This seems to make him satisfied as he curls up next to me.  We could learn a lot from dogs about being faithful and loyal.  In fact, Proverbs 28:20a reads:  "A faithful man will abound with blessings...." and in Galatians 5:22, the Apostle Paul lists "faithfulness" as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Being loyal to our Lord, His Word, and fellowship with other believers will keep our feet on the straight and narrow path in life.  Likewise, if we would only be half as happy to fellowship with God as our dog is to see us come home, how it would delight our heavenly Father.  This is a dog lesson we need to take to heart.
     Another creature that stirs my heart and imagination is the American Eagle.  Here in Florida, we have
a large number of both bald eagles and golden eagles along with an assortment of hawks.  Watching them soar easily through the sky makes me think of the Bible verse found in Isaiah 40:31 which reads:
"...but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."  Can we feel the exhilaration of riding the currents of the wind with our troubles far below us?  This is what it is like when we trust in the Lord who lifts us up and helps us run the race called life.  We were meant to fly high and taste the freedom from sin that our faith in Christ gives to us.
     A final example from the animal kingdom is a sheep.  Our family has had some experience in raising sheep for 4-H.  Both our daughter and oldest son raised lambs and brought them to show at the county fair.  We learned a lot during that time.  Sheep are basically gentle animals, but they can be very stubborn.  They love to follow their owner who feeds and cares for them.  However, they also have a strong odor which remains in the nostrils long after you have left them.  Jesus likened us to sheep in His description of us and it seems quite appropriate.  We are a "stiff-necked" people who, like sheep, want to go our own way.  We also smell a lot when we are caught up in sin.  With Jesus as our shepherd, though, we have someone who can clean us up removing that stinky sin and keep us from the danger of temptation that can entrap us.  In John 10:14-15, Jesus said:  "I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep."  I guarantee that with the Lord leading us as our shepherd, we will know comfort, care and love like we have never experienced before.  
     I guess over the years we have had all kinds of God's creatures living on Serenity Acres both wildlife and domestic animals.  Yet I never cease to wonder at the things which God can teach us  through observing them.  When it comes to our relationship with God, we need to remember the faithfulness  of a dog.  If life seems overwhelming, we need to think of the eagle and mount up on the wings God gives to us through His Word of redemption, and when we feel alone, we need to remember that we are like sheep who need the guiding hand of our Shepherd even Jesus Christ.  All around us is the magnificence of the Lord's handiwork.  Lets soak it in and see what lessons He will teach us both in His Word and by observing His creation.  Selah!

Father, thank You for all the beauty of Your creation.  The animals You have made are precious reminders of Your Almighty design.  How marvelous are all Your creatures!  Help us cultivate faithfulness and joy in Your presence.  Teach us to soar with wings as an eagle and keep our feet on the path like sheep following their shepherd.  To You, we commit our lives this day.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

I would love to hear from you about your observations and if you want to see some beautiful photography of birds, flowers and God's creation, please visit my dear friend Pat's blog Pollywog Creek which is linked to my blog.  She is an amazing photographer too!    

Thursday, March 24, 2011


       Lately, I have been thinking about friendship and what it means.  My mother used to tell me that if I wanted to have friends I needed to be one first.  This is really sound advice because we cannot sit in our homes without any interaction and expect people to seek us out.  I believe this is what Jesus meant when He said that all the Law and the Prophets were summed up in this:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-39).  Our first great friendship needs to be with God and then with our neighbors.  Knowing the Lord, changes the way we relate to others including family.
     In His instruction to His disciples, Jesus told them what it means to be a friend.  We find this in John 15:14-17:  "You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.  Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  This is my command:  Love each other."  What an honor and privilege to be called a friend by Jesus Christ.  However, we must never take this for granted.  We are His friends when we come to believe that He is the way, the truth and the life.  Once we have made that commitment, we must follow what He has instructed us to one another and live the way He has told us to in His Word.  Having that relationship with God enables us to love others around us.
     Being a good friend in the biblical sense is first of all sharing with one another.  Jesus told His disciples what the Father had told Him.  Likewise, we need to be able to share our hearts with one another in a loving spirit.  I hate to say it but in our day, we fall far short of being able to even have civil conversations with one another on any issues.  There is a spirit of contention out there, but we do not have to live like that.  We can set an example of Christ-like friendship by being kind, listening to people's  points of view without attacking them, but holding firm the truths of our faith.  In many cases, just being a shoulder to cry on is what our friends really need.  We sometimes think we need to tell another person what they need to do rather than affirming who they are in Christ.  Like Jesus, we need to share the love of God with our friends and be someone they can trust with their confidences.
     Secondly, a good friend is someone who loves us "warts and all".  Jesus loved us that way.  In fact, He loved us so much that He died in our place on the cross.  How can we then pick on another person's imperfections when God has forgiven us so much at such a high cost?  Besides, Jesus told us that if we loved one another it would demonstrate to the world that we are Christians.    The world system by contrast is marked by hatred, greed, envy, and strife.  On top of all this, friendships in the world are rarely deep or lasting.  Instead they are formed as a matter of convenience or control.  I believe that deep in our hearts is a desire for true and lasting friends who will not betray us, but people of integrity who will pray for us and encourage us when we are down.  We have that in Jesus Christ.  His love for us sets an example of how we are to love one another.  So how do we flesh this out?
     I know in my own life, I have not always been the best friend I could be.  There are times when I have not extended myself to others as I ought to or phoned them just to check on how they are doing.  It is little things like this that make us a good friend.  We share with one another and keep in touch.  I believe that between brothers and sisters in Christ this is so important because it acts like a framework of accountability.  It is true even between husband and wife who are also supposed to be friends as well as partners in life.  We are to laugh, cry, pray and care for one another.  If the friendship is rich, it usually works out that when one is down the other is up.  That is why we need one another.  We were made for relationship.
     Perhaps one of the greatest and yet most difficult parts of being a friend is telling another person the truth in love.  We hear that term a lot, but really do not know what it means.  It does not mean hitting someone over the head with the Bible to make them go in the right direction.  Rather, it means being willing to sacrifice self and tell someone the truth knowing that they might reject us.  Jesus did that many times.  He confronted the woman at the well with the truth of her current living arrangement with a man she was not married to, but He did not condemn her.  He told the woman caught in adultery in another situation to "go and sin no more."   This is one of the hardest things we ever have to face with our friends or even our family, but if we never tell someone they are about to fall in a pit, we will be sorry when they are injured.  Proverbs says:  "The kisses of an enemy may be profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Proverbs 27:6).  I would rather have a friend wound me with the truth for my soul's sake than to tell me lies to tickle my ears and lead to my destruction.
     Jesus was a perfect friend.  He sticks closer than a brother, and shows us, by laying down His life for us, what true love and relationship is all about.  As believers, how do you treat your friends?  Are you willing to take time to talk to them, pray for them and reach out to them?  If ever the world needed something is genuine friendship and love which Christians have to offer.  Lets begin in our homes to grow our friendships with our family.  Then, let us reach out to our neighbors and acquaintances demonstrating the love of Christ.  I guarantee it will not only enrich our own lives, but it will also change others in the process.  Be a friend to someone today.  Selah!

Father, teach us to be a friend to those around us.  Help us to serve with gladness, listen with kindness and speak with wisdom so we may glorify You.  Thank You that You called us friend and loved us even before we loved You.    In Jesus' name, Amen.

P.S.  What does real friendship mean to you?  I would love to hear your thoughts on friends in Christ who have helped you grow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


     When you are up to your ears in diapers with dinner to cook and a house to clean, there are times when you wonder if life will ever slow down just a little more!  Then, the day comes, as it has for me, when the house is empty and quiet.  Our four children have all grown up, and it seems to have happened overnight. Now we are grandparents of four with a fifth blessing on the way.
     Only two weeks ago, all of our children descended on our home to visit, and once again, the house rang out with happy laughter, children playing and busy activity in the kitchen.  It was a delight to share time together and it made me smile in my heart.  However, one by one, everyone had to return to their homes and their busy lives.  As I cleaned each room, I lingered for a moment reflecting on all the storybooks I read, all the injured knees I bandaged and all the wonderful long talks we shared together while the children were growing up.  In that moment, I could identify with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who treasured up in her heart all the things she witnessed as her Son grew.  
     From the very beginning of the Bible all the way to the end, it is clear that God instituted marriage and the family as the foundation of stability and protection for His creation.  Throughout the Old Testament, we find countless references to the lineage of the Patriarchs and other leaders.  Long lists of people from each tribe is seen in the Book of Numbers.  Then, in the New Testament, Matthew is very careful to list the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In short, God worked within the family to bring forth His plan of salvation.  With that in mind, lets look at several elements of the family that make it a good environment for us to grow in our faith.
     First, the family provides a place of love and nurturing.  In the Garden of Eden, God created a man and a woman and brought them together in marriage that they may be fruitful and multiply.  Unfortunately, the picture of a perfect family was shattered by sin, but God promised that a Redeemer would come who would redeem fallen mankind.
     In the Book of Exodus, the Ten Commandments further clarified not only man's relationship to God but also to one another.  This is especially true of the marriage covenant and the way in which children are to respond to their parents.  When God is obeyed and put first in a family, harmony and love prevail.
     Another area that family touches is instruction.  The book of Deuteronomy in chapter six and verses 6-9 speaks specifically about meditating on God's Word and teaching them to our children.  We are not to do this one time only or even once a week but throughout the day.  This was one of the main benefits I saw when we home educated our children.  We were able to bring God into every area we studied and spend extra time in the Bible.  Whether parents choose to home educate or not, the family should be the place of first instruction when it comes to teaching God's Word, praying, and setting a good example for children in how to worship.  I remember very well my Grandfather Engel reading the Bible to me even when I was very young.  I may not have understood all the stories he read, but I knew that this was an important part of our family life.
                                                         Grammie holding Branson
   Finally, the family is where we gain an understanding of how to resolve conflicts, how to live in harmony, how to forgive, and how to encourage one another towards a goal.  Within this safe haven, we have the opportunity to develop a healthy view of life if the family is centered on Christ.  Without the Lord, as we have seen in our world today, the family unit struggling to survive.  Even Christian families are having difficulties in this increasingly secular society.  It is critically important, therefore, to pray and seek to support all the families in our church fellowship along with those in our community and especially to ask God's protection on our own family.
     Our time with our children is very short before they leave and move out on their own.  By honoring our marriage vows, living and walking by the Spirit, and instructing our children and/or our grandchildren in the Word of God we will strengthen the family unit.  This, in turn, builds up the church which consists of many families.  If we want a better world, nation, city or church, we must first begin with the family.  This was God's design from the beginning.  May we be found faithful in our call to build our homes on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ.  Selah!

     I want to invite you my readers to make some comments on how God is working in your family.  What brings you together?  How do you encourage each other in the faith?  I look forward to hearing from you as we share our walk together.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


     Over the years, I have seen some videos showing domino competitions where contestants try to build the largest configuration.  The final test is to see if the dominoes fall one after another to break a record. It often takes them a very long time to build and only a short amount of time for it to fall.  This is fun to watch, but in real life, the domino effect can have tragic consequences.  This was true in the life of King David.
     In 2 Samuel chapter 11-13, we read about a series of events that create havoc in the life of David and his family (please take time to read these chapters for a better overview).  Most of this story is well known so we often overlook the details that demonstrate how one sin can lead 
to even more.  There are always consequences for our actions, and the idea that we can do "our own thing" because it isn't hurting anyone is a fallacy as we shall see.
     Instead of going out to battle with his army, King David stayed behind in Jerusalem.  Scripture does not tell us why he chose to do this.  During this time, he regarded a beautiful woman as she was bathing.  With lust as his motivation, he sent for her and committed adultery with her.  This was the fall of the first domino.
     Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite one of David's faithful soldiers.  When it was discovered that she was pregnant, the king began an elaborate cover up plan.  He called Uriah back from the field thinking he would go home and spend time with his wife.  This would provide an explanation for her pregnancy and the adultery would go unnoticed.  However, Uriah was a loyal man and refused to enjoy any time at home while his fellow soldiers were at war.  David tried everything to entice him, but nothing worked.  Therefore, he sent word to his commander to put Uriah in a dangerous position, and withdraw support so he would be killed.  When word was received that Uriah was dead, David took Bathsheba as his wife.  The second domino fell.
     While King David thought he had covered his tracks, he did not understand that he had a close observer to everything he had done - God.  It was the Lord that sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin.  Nathan's rebuke from the mouth of God stung because he knew it was all true and the one chilling word that the prophet spoke came true not long after:  "Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.  This is what the Lord says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.  Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.  You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel'" (2 Samuel 12:10-12).  The death of King David's son with Bathsheba following this pronouncement was a crushing blow, but further pain was about to follow.   The third domino fell and they were picking up speed.  
       In Chapter 13 of Samuel, David's son Amnon, who was the crown prince, lusted after his sister Tamar and in a ruthless scheme devised by him and Jonadab (King David's nephew), this young virgin daughter of David was lured to Amnon's home and raped.  She was the sister of Absalom and after her defilement, Amnon threw her out of his house.  When David got the report of this incident, he was angry but did not discipline Amnon as the law required.  This lack of response only created more enmity within the family.  Absalom plotted a way to kill Amnon by inviting the sons of David to a feast.
After his brother was put to death, Absalom fled and lived apart from his family.  Once again, David failed to act and bring proper retribution.  Another series of dominoes fell.
     Ultimately, Absalom returned to the land when David was persuaded by Joab to do so.  However, there was no real reconciliation between father and son.  How sad to see the family picture fall apart.  Amnon committed sexual sin with his sister and Absalom murdered his brother.  Like father like sons?  To make matters worse, Absalom tried to overthrow David by winning the favor of the people and driving his father from Jerusalem.  He even violated his father's wives as the Lord had spoken through the Prophet Nathan.  Then, he pursued his father to kill him and take the crown.  The whole affair came to a tragic end with the death of Absalom.  It was the final domino to fall.
     There we have it.  This story makes soap operas pale in comparison with the death of so many:  David's loyal soldier Uriah, his baby with Bathsheba, his son Amnon, and finally, his son Absalom.  Sadly, it all started with a glance, followed by a thought and carried out in a sinful act.  Actions have consequences.
     Our relativistic society says it doesn't matter what you do as long as you don't hurt anyone.  Yet, when we commit a sin (any sin), it does affect others.  In addition, even if those around us are unaware of something we have done, God knows.  Trust me, secret sins ALWAYS become known.  Sooner or later, it will be uncovered.
     True life stories like David's are recorded in the Bible so that we might see the painful results of our actions.  David repented and continued to be used by God because He is a God of mercy.  Nevertheless, there was a price to pay and pay King David did.  The sword never did depart from his household, but we do not have to live like this.  No dominoes have to fall if we will clean out and clean up our thinking, before we step across the line.  We do this through prayer, Bible study, and church fellowship.
     If we have stumbled into sin, we do have an advocate with the Father...our Lord Jesus Christ.  By sincere repentance, our relationship with God can be restored (1John 1:9); yet, we may suffer some consequences that will need God's healing touch.
     Today, I hope you will join me in prayer for those out there who have been wounded by someone who stepped across the line.  Pray also for those who are on the brink of pushing over that first domino that they may repent before it is too late.  Lastly, let us pray for our own hearts that we may not be caught up in the domino effect.  No one is immune from sin, but we serve a mighty God who can keep us on the right path if we will seek Him with all of our hearts.  Selah!

Friday, March 18, 2011

You've Got to Squeeze the Orange to Get the Juice!

     Our son and daughter in law live in a lovely home not too far away from our community.  They are blessed to have several orange trees growing on their property, so about a month ago they brought us fresh squeezed orange juice. There is just nothing to describe how delicious this juice is to the taste buds!  We relished every sip until we had finished off the container.  What a treat it was for us, but I got to thinking about it.  In order to get the juice for us to enjoy, those oranges had to be squeezed to extract that golden liquid.  There is no other way to process that orange other than to put pressure on it.  The same is true in our lives as well.  When we are under pressure, what is inside our hearts comes out in the open, and God often uses difficulties to make us sweet in spirit.
     As I reviewed my life, I thought about the hard times:  going through polio;  losing my dad when he was only 63; watching my mother lose her ten year battle with Alzheimer's among other difficult places.  However, God used those times of heartache and challenge to teach me His abiding love and presence.  I ran to the Bible when confronted with emotional and physical pain.  I prayed like there was no tomorrow because I knew that only God could help me through my difficulties.  He took what Satan meant for evil and turned it to good.  I can look back now and see that.  
     There is a saying down here in the South:  "When you are up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember the original objective was to drain the swamp" (adage from unknown source).  Sometimes this is how we feel in life.  Things are sailing along just fine, and suddenly an unexpected or painful circumstance arises.  It is how we look at it and what we do with it that will either make us better or it will make us a bitter person.  I believe that God allows these trials to bring about our greater dependence on Him for the answers.  He is the one allowing us to be squeezed so that we will produce a sweet spirit that is a blessing to others and a glory to Him.
     In his letter to the believers at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote these words:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.....Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:7-10;16-18).
     Paul knew something about being under pressure and enduring hard times.  He nearly died from stoning, he was shipwrecked, bitten by a poisonous snake but survived, and was taken prisoner by Rome.  Yet, he did his greatest work for he wrote many of the epistles of the New Testament by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit while he was a prisoner.  God knew just what pressure to allow in Paul's life that would produce the sweet testimony that would bring glory to His name.
     I do not know what challenges you may be facing today.  First, I want you to know that you are not alone.  All too often, the enemy of our souls wants us to think that no one else has had to face what we are facing.  This is simply not true.  Suffering is common to all men and women.  For the Christian, however, it is an opportunity to run to God for His comfort, direction, and guidance.  He is able to make sense of it even when we cannot.
     He has further promised in Romans 8:28 "that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."  We may not have any idea why we are going through a difficulty, but if we know God, we can trust that as our Sovereign Lord He will work for our good.  After all, He has made us and established all the days of our life, so He knows the plans He has for us. (Jeremiah 29:11)
     I know for a fact that all the places of pain and loss in my own life have given me a greater compassion and understanding for others when they face trials in their lives.  It has drawn me closer to God and caused me to trust in Him knowing I cannot change my own circumstances...only He can.
     I challenge you today to allow God to use those difficult places in your life.  Seek His face and ask Him what He wants you to learn from them.  Embrace the difficulties knowing that God is attempting to bring out a stronger, sweeter faith in your life.  Above all, remember the orange.  You've got to squeeze the fruit to get the sweet juice out!  I would rather be squeezed by God's hands than avoid the pressure and miss the blessings that come from being used by the Lord.  Selah!

Father, life hurts at times.  The pressure we undergo sometimes makes us wonder where You are, but we know that You promise to bring good out of the circumstances we encounter.  Help us to trust You more each day and not lean on our own understanding.  Thank You for loving us enough to mold us in the image of Your Son our Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


     Many years ago, a singer named Mac Davis sang a song tongue in cheek that made everyone laugh.  The title was "Oh Lord It's Hard to be Humble".  The first verse went like this:  "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way.  I can't wait to look in the mirror 'cause I get better lookin' each day.  To know me is to love me, I must be a h*** of a man; Oh Lord it's hard to be humble, but I'm doin' the best that I can."  Now, when I saw him perform this on T.V., we knew he wasn't serious because even he broke out laughing as he sang this.  Unfortunately, in today's world, humility is often a forgotten virtue. So what does humility look like?
     We need look no further  than to our Lord Jesus Christ who was not only perfect but the only one who lived a life of humility.  He demonstrated his servant heart when He washed the feet of the disciples.  This was a job that only a servant would do when his master had come home.  Read John 13:1-17 to get the entire picture.  We will key in on a few verses starting in verse 12 and going to verse 17:  "When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?' He asked them.  'You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent Him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.'"
     In this passage, the humble conduct of our Lord is not a result of Him forgetting that He was the Son of God; rather, His conduct demonstrated that his position was not an occasion for feeling superior.  Instead, He became a servant and bid His disciples to do the same.  This pattern of humility in Jesus Christ is one which He wants all followers to copy.  We must be more willing to serve than to dominate or become "top dog" in any area of our life.
     A brief description from The Reformation Study Bible states that "humility does not mean pretending to be worthless and refusing positions of responsibility, but knowing and keeping the place God has appointed for one.  Being humble is a matter of accepting God's arrangement, whether it means the high exposure of leadership (i.e. Moses) or the obscurity of being a servant.  When Jesus said that He was 'lowly in heart' (Matt. 11:29), He meant that He was following the Father's plan for His earthly life" (pg. 1519, The Reformation Study Bible).  For me, this was an eye opener.  I especially love the phrase "knowing and keeping the place God has appointed for one."  Why is it we always try to go beyond God's plans for us?  Jesus followed God's earthly plan even though it led Him to the cross.  However, in due season, God glorified Him in His resurrection and ascension. God desires our obedience not our performance or accomplishments.
     Somehow, we have allowed the world to influence our thinking even in the church.  Many Christians feel that their small contributions cannot amount to much compared to those who have high visibility or who have done something outstanding.  Our Lord, however, does not look on outward activities or appearances.  He looks at the heart.  Do we possess the heart of a servant?  Are we willing to work in obscurity to serve people who cannot repay us?  These are the things which catch His attention...not trophies, recognition or applause.
     Jesus refused to be made king over Israel when the people wanted him to take the crown even though He was our King.  Instead, He lived a life of obedience and servanthood to set an example for us of how to live before God and treat one another.  Humility is indeed a virtue which we do not often find today and yet, brings rich blessings when it is embraced.
      While Mac Davis introduced us to a cute song, only the first few words are really true:  "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble...." because it really is hard unless the Holy Spirit empowers us.  Jesus gave us, as His disciples, the example to live and serve as He did.  Further, His promise to us is this in verse 17:  "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
     During these days of reflection as we await the joy of Easter, may we also seek to serve as our Lord served.  We are not to lay up our treasures on earth which pass quickly away.  Instead, we are to invest ourselves in serving others and lay up blessings in heaven which will not disappoint or fade away.  Selah!

Father, it is hard to be humble.  We get so puffed up and self important that we lose sight of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Forgive our arrogance, and superiority.  Take our hard hearts and give us tender hearts that beat to serve You.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


     Where we live in Florida, we are surrounded by orange groves and cattle ranches.  The picture above is not an uncommon sight here as we drive along the countryside.  An interesting fact, which some of you may already know, is that cows ruminate.  In other words, they chew their food several times as a means of digesting it.  Noah Webster's dictionary (1828 edition) says this:  "To chew the cud; to chew again what has been slightly chewed and swallowed.  Oxen, sheep, deer, goats, camels, hares and squirrels ruminate in fact..."  Honestly, I only thought cows ruminated.  I never knew so many other creatures did the same thing.  
     I know it sounds disgusting to chew some food, swallow it, bring it back up again and chew some more.  However, God designed the cow's digestive system in such a way as to allow proper assimilation of food.  He also gives us a very good example of what we are meant to do with the Bible on a daily basis.  We are to ruminate on the Word of God.
     Webster's other definition of this word reads:  "To muse; to meditate; to think again and again; to ponder."  This confirms what the Bible itself says in Deuteronomy 6: 6-9:  "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."  This is a comprehensive description of how we are to handle God's Word to us.
     For many of us, our daily routine consists of grabbing a cup of coffee and running out the door.  If we are lucky and not running late, we take time to pray and read the Bible or a devotional before we go.  However, the implication of the verses above is that we are meant to ruminate on what we have read in God's Word throughout the day.  His commandments are to be chewed on and pondered whether we are at work, at home, getting ready for bed, and when are arise in the morning.  We are to teach them to our children and talk with others about what we have discovered.  This helps to cement God's thoughts into our own minds and starts to transform the way we live.
     One of the many blessings of home educating our children was the fact that we could bring God's Word into every subject that we studied throughout the day.  Lets face it....there is no subject area where God is not seen or present.  As we studied the Bible and our academic work each day, we all grew in our faith and understanding.  I was delighted that we had the freedom to do this.
     Ruminating, chewing the Word over and over again, musing and pondering every element of the Lord's instruction to us results in a truly changed heart and life.  We were never meant to have a "McFaith" where we can grab a quick verse or two and be on our way.  Yes, society demands a fast paced lifestyle, but as Christians, we do not have to follow this policy when it comes to our relationship with God.  We can and must take Him into all that we do so we can enjoy His blessing throughout our day.  A once a week serving of Bible teaching and praise will not carry us far in our growth in Christ.  That is what I call a starvation diet!  No, we need a regular, balanced study of God's Word so that our soul will prosper in the knowledge of the Lord.
     God's admonition to us is to teach our children, our grandchildren, and acquaintances His commandments daily so that we might enjoy His blessing in our lives.  All we have to do is remember the cow when we pick up our Bible in the morning, and be prepared to chew, re-chew and chew again on the things which we read from the Word.  I promise nothing will ever taste so sweet to us throughout the busy day as His Word.  It is our refuge and our strength!  Selah!

Father, we so often neglect Your Word to us.  When we do, we begin to live for self once more.  We respond to others in unloving ways, and fall back into old habits that we thought we had conquered.  Remind us that our flesh is weak unless we depend upon You and the truth You have given us in the Bible.  Give us a fresh new desire to chew on Your Word all day long so that we might not sin against You.  Thank You for the example of the cow who chews and chews again to digest its food.  May we do the same with Your Word.  In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Does It Mean to Glorify?

(Originally posted on March 15, 2011)
      For anyone who has looked at the first question in the Westminster Catechism, it asks what the chief end of man is.  The answer is:  "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever."  Yet, how many of us really know what it means to glorify God?
     Wanting to have an accurate definition, I turned to "The American Dictionary of the English Language" written by Noah Webster in 1828.  The depth and meaning of words seems so much more specific in this edition of the dictionary.  According to Webster, "glorify' means to praise; to magnify and honor in worship; to ascribe honor to, in thought or words".  This is  all encompassing when we look at this definition.  Literally, it means that in every aspect of our life such as our thoughts, words and actions we are to bring honor to God.  Our lives are to be filled with continuous worship so that God receives the glory.  Have we ever really considered what this means to the way we live each day?
     Church is only one place to worship and glorify God, but what about the other six days of the week?  We are to work to God's glory, enjoy fellowship for God's glory and rest all for His glory.  This puts a new slant on our lifestyle doesn't it?
     When I consider my thought life or the words I have spoken out of turn, I am convicted that I have missed God's glory.  I know that I am not alone in this sin.  According to the Word, we have all sinned and come short of God's glory....but we have a Savior in Christ!  When we fall short of glorifying the Lord, we can turn to Him in repentance (1 John 1:9) and He will cleanse us.
     Our goal is to live in such a way that we reflect the love of God in Christ by our thoughts, words and deeds.  This means we must go the extra mile to help others not out of selfish motives which would bring us recognition, but for the sake of our God.  Furthermore, we are called to make our worship acceptable to the Lord.  He is to be the center of our praise and honor.
     Unfortunately, in many fellowships today, the emphasis can be on a speaker, the music or a program rather than on the Lord.  This robs God of His glory whenever we take our eyes off of Him and put our attention on the performers.  Please do not misunderstand here.  I am not saying that we cannot encourage someone who has made an offering to the Lord of beautiful music or a solid sermon.  By no means!  Rather, I am saying that we should not come to church with any thought but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  After all, He has given us the gifts of music and preaching.  Therefore, we need to enter into the service with our heart and ears open as active participants not merely bystanders.
     As I was reading in the Gospel of John today, I was reminded that even Jesus, our Savior, came to serve and did not seek to glorify Himself, but to obey the Father in all things (John 8:50).  Likewise, John the Baptist told his followers that he was not the Messiah.  He said that He must decrease while Jesus increased.  This was not false humility.  Neither our Lord Jesus Christ nor John the Baptist, His forerunner sought to bring recognition and fame to themselves.  Instead, they pointed to God and His glory.  One day our Savior will return, and we will see Him coming in glory, but during His walk upon this earth, He showed us the way to worship, pray and give ourselves to others.  He perfectly glorified God.
     None of us can do this on our own.  However, God has sent us His Holy Spirit to live within us and give us the ability to glorify God by using our talents and gifts for His service.  Each one of us during this time of Lent, needs to take an inventory of our thoughts, actions and words.  We have to ask ourselves if we are glorifying God in our daily routine for this is our call.  When we lift up the Lord, He will also lift us up that we may live an abundant life to His praise and glory.  Selah!

Monday, March 14, 2011


     My mother passed on to me many treasures which I have kept in a box at the top of my closet.  Not long ago, I pulled out the box and began to leaf through the pictures.  As I went through the memorabilia, I discovered several confirmation certificates in German, a German prayer book and my Grandfather Hess' Bible.
     The book was worn with age and the date listed in the front cover was February 25, 1929.  My grandfather signed it "Otto W. Hess, Napoleon, Ohio."  What made it remarkable, though, was the back few pages where he had written this note on January 2, 1956:  "I have but one prayer..that all my loved ones will go with me into Eternity.  I do not hate to die for death's sake - I only hate to leave you all so that I cannot be with you if you need me.  The joy you give me will go with me to my grave - I hope my memory will follow you forever.  Then, I shall be happy in my grave.  I wish we could all live forever."
     Sadly, I cannot say for certain if my grandfather is in heaven.  He said he believed in God, but he only went to church every now and then.  Indeed, he was well acquainted with the Bible and used it most effectively in his many court cases for he was a defense attorney.  The Psalms were his favorite to quote.
     Reading what he wrote in the last sentence really makes me stop and pause.  He wanted us to all live forever....but did he really know and believe that we can?  Faith in Jesus Christ is the way we not only receive forgiveness for our sins but also the way that we have assurance that we will live forever with our Lord.
     Isn't it peculiar that people can own a Bible which is a treasure trove of grace, mercy and peace, but never look inside and find the eternal life they want to live?  Most people have two or three Bibles in their home but never open the Word to find the answers to life.  It is like having an owner's manual for a new gadget but never bothering to read it.  We stumble around and try to figure out the gadget without any assistance from the manual.  Sometimes we get lucky and the new gadget works.  Other times when we are about to give up completely, we break down and open the manual to see how the gadget is supposed to function.  The Bible is the same way.  If we read it, we will live more successfully.
     My grandfather read the Bible.  He used it in the courtroom very powerfully.  However, I do not know if it penetrated his heart.  I do not know if I will see him in eternity.  Perhaps this is why I devoted myself to teaching our children about the Lord.  I want them to live forever and enjoy the Lord in all His glory.  Even more, I want friends and neighbors to know the Good News too because I have read it for myself in the pages of God's Word.
     Our Bibles are meant to be read, meditated on and absorbed so that our lives become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ.  According to Hebrews 4:12, we read:  "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  Now, that is what I call a powerful book!
     I am glad that I have my grandfather's Bible.  It is a precious memento of times gone by, but unless he read and believed the truth contained in it, I will not see him in heaven.  This more than anything else should make us want to reach out to those around us and share the salvation story in all seasons of life.  May we be quick to put on our Gospel shoes and do just that so that we may be able to enjoy eternity with family, friends and neighbors in the presence of the Lord.  Selah!

Father, help us to be faithful in reading Your Word.  May it change our hearts and minds in Christ.  Lead us to boldly share the story of salvation with those You put in our path so that we may glorify You and live forever in Your presence.  In Jesus' name, Amen.