Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Through My Window Part II

     In Part I, I covered three qualities that God looks for as He gazes into our heart window:  prayer, conduct including our speech, and Bible study.  As we grow in our faith, these qualities should also be more and more evident in our lives as we travel the highways and byways of this life.  God, after all, is working to conform us into the image of His dear Son.  There are, however, three other qualities that serve to help us grow in our walk and provide a clear testimony to those outside the covenant of grace.
     First among these three is love.  When we first fall in love with Jesus Christ as our Lord, Redeemer and King, we are excited to share with others the Good News of our salvation.  We also want to do all we can to please the Father in heaven.  This is what I call the "honeymoon" phase of our love for God.  However, as time passes and troubles come, we tend to neglect our love relationship with the Lord and this affects all other qualities I previously mentioned.  This is the place where we need to remind ourselves of what Jesus instructed His disciples in John 14:15:  "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments."  Then again in John 14:23 Jesus said:  "If anyone loves me, He will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him."  Our obedience, then, reflects our love for Christ.  In addition, when we love the Lord, His love then is able to flow out to others.  Jesus says in John 15:12:  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
     When we entered into covenant relationship with God through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord gave us a new heart capable of loving and obeying Him.  This new heart also has the ability to love others even as Christ loved us.  In fact, we can even love our enemies when we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with the fruit of His love.  This kind of love is far more than mere emotion.  Instead, it says, "I love you in spite of any flaws I see in you."  The world cannot love like this, so they will notice when we do.
Our love for God is reflected in how we love and treat others.  A good way to check ourselves is to see how well we are doing in our relationships with our family and friends.  If things are not going well, it could be that our love for God reflected in our obedience to Him is not what it should be.  Remember, the quality of our vertical relationship affects all our horizontal relationships with our fellow man.  We need to remember Paul's admonition: "So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (I Cor. 13:13).
     A second quality we want the Lord to find as He gazes at our heart is that of service.  When we love others, we want to serve them.  A true leader, according to Christ, is first a servant.  The mother of two of his disciples made a request that each of them be given a seat next to Jesus in His kingdom.  Of course, this made the other disciples irritated at these two.  However, Jesus made clear when He spoke these words:  "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" ( Matt. 20:25-28).  Clearly, the Lord demonstrated, many times, His humility and service.  He washed the disciples feet in a display of love and service to them.  Then, He gave His life as a ransom for those who would call upon His name.
Love and service go hand in hand.  Practically speaking, we cannot be good leaders, teachers, pastors, or disciples unless we are willing to serve the needs of others.  Again, this is contrary to the way in which the world thinks and acts; therefore, it becomes a powerful testimony of Christ's redemption in our lives.
     Finally, a quality which is so often overlooked in our hustle, bustle lives is fellowship.  The fellowship of believers is critical for our growth in Christ.  In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer says:
"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 10:24-25).  The purpose in gathering together is to worship God and encourage one another.  Rubbing against other saints, like iron sharpens iron, refines us in our faith and makes us able to withstand the arrows of the enemy.  We have fellow soldier/servants who stimulate us to good deeds and pray for us when we are down.  Why do we neglect something so valuable?  We comprise the Bride of Christ, and we know that wherever two or three are gathered He is there with us.  No man alone is as strong as he could be with the assistance of brothers and sister in the faith.  Fellowship provides the platform for accountability when we sit under the teaching of God's Word and interact with other believers in corporate worship.  Our lives will be enriched when this is present on a regular basis.
     All of these qualities are tied together and enhance one another.  The question is, "Are we allowing God to build these into our lives and will He see them when He peers into the window of our hearts?"
Prayer, our good conduct and right speech, Bible study, our love of God and fellow men, service to others and fellowship in worship are all reflections of our new heart in Christ.  When we display these, the world will notice and God will receive the glory.  We are made to shine for Him.
     As I look through my window each day, I delight in what I see.  I know that the Father in heaven delights in us when He looks into our hearts and sees these qualities in full bloom.  Meditate on this and examine your heart in light of His Word.  May we bring praise to God the Father when He looks into the window of our heart!  Selah!

I welcome your comments here.  Please leave an insight, word of encouragement, or thought here.  I enjoy reading them.

P.S.  All the pictures are taken from the windows of my home with my new camera.  It is a delight to be able to share them with you.  If you would like to use one, please ask me for permission.  Thank you...hope you are blessed!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Through My Window

     Not long ago, I hung a bird feeder on a tree not far from our front window.  Through that window, I  watch many different kinds of birds come and feed.  We have mourning doves (I counted 27 one day), blue jays, cardinals, black birds, red winged black birds and an occasional woodpecker.  Taking pictures of their gatherings through the window has been a delight for me.  There is pleasure in observing God's creation.  Then, I had to ask myself a question.  What does God see when He looks in the window of my heart each day?  Is He delighted and does He find pleasure?
     When we commit our lives to Christ as our Savior and Lord, we begin a journey that does not end until God calls us home.  Like the character "Christian" in "Pilgrim's Progress", we have chosen to follow a path that at times leads through some valleys and some hard places along the way.  Most of us wish there was an expressway to get us there without all the hassles of life, but remember, most expressways are boring, endless stretches of highway with no colorful scenery to enjoy.  Life is meant to be lived and the difficulties, while challenging, work to form us into the character of Christ.  This is God's goal for us.  So, as the Lord of heaven peers into our heart each day, what qualities will He see us working on?
     In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells us:  "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving...(Col. 4:2a)"  No one can emphasize enough how much we need to be faithful to pray in every situation, and Paul emphasizes "with thanksgiving".  Our prayers are not meant to be a laundry list of all the things we want from God, but rather a conversation with our heavenly Father acknowledging His holiness and thanking Him for His many blessings.  We need to pray for others, for our leaders, for our church family, for our family, for those who are ill, and for the needs we have.  God already knows what we have need of before we ask, but He wants us to come and talk with Him about them.
     Secondly, Paul talks about our conduct.  He writes:  "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the times.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Cols. 4:5-6).  In this passage, he covers two areas we need to cultivate in our hearts.  We need to match our conduct with our talk.  People watch us and how we relate both to them and others.  They listen to our words to see if what we say matches with our behavior.  Therefore, as Christians we need to strive to line up with the call God has placed on our lives. We are His ambassadors.  We are not perfect, and yes, we will stumble and sin.  However, our goal needs to be conformed to His for our lives:  "Be ye holy as I am holy" (I Peter 1:16b and Leviticus 19:2).
Of course, our conduct, is also a result of another quality which needs to be in our lives.
     Within his letter to the Christians at Rome, the Apostle Paul speaks of renewing our minds which directly affects our conduct and our prayer life.  He writes:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).  In order to have our minds transformed, we need to be in the Bible.  The Gospel brings the good news to us of our salvation, but it also gives us instruction, correction and training in righteousness.  It changes how we think as well as how we act.  If we fill our minds with mental junk food, our actions will reflect it.  However, when we feed on the solid meat of God's Word it allows us a means for discerning what is right and wrong.  Ignorance of the Bible provides no foundation for judging what is acceptable to God or knowing His will.  We could all afford to put down our newspapers, remote controls, and electronic games and get biblically fit by spending more time in the Bible.
     These are three of the character qualities that we want the Lord to see through the window of our heart, but there are three more which I will take up in Part II of Through My Window.  Meditate on these qualities and see if your heart window reflects these to the Father who sees and knows what is in our hearts.  Selah!

I welcome your comments here.  Please leave your thoughts that we might converse in Christ.

Friday, June 24, 2011

If I Saw It I Would Believe It

Raphael, 'The Healing of the Lame Man'
     I cannot tell how many times I have heard skeptics say that if they had lived at the time of Jesus and witnessed His miracles they would believe in Him.  They want a sign or some dramatic event to capture their imagination.  However,  people called for signs at the time of the Lord's visitation and they still did not believe.  In Matthew 12:38-39, the passage reads:  "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him saying, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'  But He answered them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.'"  Here the Lord is referring to His death, burial and resurrection as it pertains to the miracle of Jonah being swallowed by a fish for three days and nights and coming out again to fulfill the mission that God sent him on.  Jesus knew that a sign would not impress or move the hearts of the Pharisees.  They did not really want to believe in Him.
     Another passage in Scripture deals with the same issue.  In the book of Acts, Luke writes about Peter and John going to the Temple and walking by a lame man who was begging outside (Acts 3 and 4).  Peter speaks to the man:  "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! (Acts 3:6).  Instantly, the man was able to walk, and he began to leap and praise God.  This created quite a stir in the temple, and people gathered around.  Peter used this opportunity to address the crowd and preach the Gospel message.  However, as he was speaking, the priests, temple guards and Sadducees came and took both Peter and John to jail.  The next day they were brought before the high priest and elders who asked them:  "By what power or by what name did you do this? (Acts 4:7b).  Peter boldly proclaimed the power of Christ and made it clear to the rulers:  "And there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
     These assembled rulers were surprised that men who were not educated could speak so clearly and they realized that they had been with Jesus.   In fact, the man they had healed was standing next to them, and scripture tells us:  "But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition" (Acts 4:14).  Don't you just love it?  Here they had clear evidence by this healed man that a miracle had taken place.  What could they say?  They knew that those in the temple in Jerusalem had witnessed this as well.  However, they did not want this belief in Christ to spread so they charged Peter and John not to speak or teach about Jesus.  Naturally, Peter told these leaders that he was only telling of what he had witnessed.  He would not nor could not stop preaching about what he had seen.
     Within this passage of scripture, we see once again that even when reasonable, intelligent people are presented with something which they cannot explain (a miracle) and they are even told the story of Jesus Christ, yet they still resisted believing in Him.  Signs and wonders do not lead people to Christ.  Rather, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that quickens the soul breathing life into the dead heart.  Then, the person can hear and believe the message of God.  We call this act regeneration.
     When we are dead in our sins, we cannot respond to the call of Christ because we have no ability to do so.  Just as someone who is physically dead cannot speak, move, or hear; so a person who is spiritually dead cannot respond to God.  It takes an action by the Holy Spirit to awaken us from the death like slumber so we can hear and respond to the Gospel.
     Notice in this passage too, Peter preached the Gospel to all who would listen.  He did not know whom God would call.  Whether we are confronted by a skeptic or a group of willing listeners, we are called to share the news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and leave the results to God.  He has chosen those who will believe before the foundation of the world to be His own.  What is amazing is that He uses us to carry the news of salvation in Christ.  We do not know those whom He has called; therefore, we must continue to declare the news no matter what the results.
     We must remember that signs and wonders do not make a person believe - even Jesus knew that.  Belief comes when the Gospel is preached and shared in faith to a heart already prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive it.  May we follow Peter's example and preach in season and out of season to any and all that the Lord will receive all the glory.  Selah!

How did you come to know Christ as your Lord and Savior?   Please share your thoughts here.  I welcome them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Drought Time

     With the heat index soaring to nearly 107 degrees, Florida is facing a time of drought.  Not all areas are as dry as others but it seems that those of us who live on the ridge (300 feet above sea level - the highest elevation in the state) are not receiving the much needed rain.  For the owners of orange groves and cattle ranches here in our area it poses other problems both for livestock as well as our famous citrus trees.  Each night, we can hear the hum of the water pumps in the groves doing their work of bringing life giving water to the trees.  However, what we really need are good soaking rains every day.  This would also ward off the high probability of wild fires which could devastate thousands of acres.
     Normally, our weather pattern produces an hour or two of daily showers followed by wonderful sunshine.  The rains cool the earth, wash over the plants and lower the temperature just a bit.  Instead, we have had long days of unrelenting heat.
      Every evening when I get home from work, I go outside to water my plants that appear wilted from the heat.  It is a task I do not mind as I am determined to provide them with relief until the rains come.  While I was engaged in this activity, I thought about the many times when the Lord had tended to my needs and watered my heart when it was dry and crusty.  Hardly anyone escapes those dry times in their life when it seems as though God has moved far away, and our prayers  bounce off the ceiling.  It is a time of spiritual drought.  In fact, one of God's greatest messengers went through a dry place from which he could not escape without the Lord's tender care.
     This story is told in I Kings chapters 18-19.  Elijah the prophet had a mighty show down with the prophets of Baal who had led the Children of Israel into great sin under the kingship of Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  After Elijah confronted these false prophets, the Lord performed a mighty miracle by consuming the sacrifice, the wood and even the stones that had been dampened with water by Elijah.  This mighty act brought the people evidence that it was God alone who was Lord and King.  Following this event, Elijah ran to Jezreel ahead of King Ahab.  When Ahab told Jezebel what had happened on the mountain, she sent a threatening message to the prophet telling him she would kill him for what he had done to the prophets of Baal.  This is where Elijah's drought begins.
     Upon hearing that the Queen wanted him dead, this mighty man of faith ran for his life to Beersheba some 130 miles away from Jezreel.  Such a journey would exhaust anyone.  Chapter 19, verse 4 reads:
"But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree.  And he asked that he might die, saying 'It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'"  Certainly physical fatigue can skew the way we look at life and Elijah is no exception.  He had faced the prophets of Baal, run ahead of Ahab to Jezreel and then he ran out of fear to Beersheba.  Elijah was empty, worn out, and had lost his hope in the Lord.  Most of us can identify with this at some time or another.  Take, for example, a young mother with several children, a house to keep up, mouths to feed and maybe she has a job outside the home on top of all this,  Or consider a man who comes home from a tiring business trip to find several major repairs to his home that need his immediate attention.  We call it burn out.  No matter what name we give it, we feel an emptiness inside.
     God recognized the exhaustion in Elijah and in Chapter 19: 3-9, we read that Elijah slept.  Then the Lord sent angels to provide food for Him.  When he had rested and been nourished, the prophet traveled to Mount Horeb called the mount of God.  Here at this place, Elijah meets with the Lord.  Still, Elijah displayed his "drought" mentality as he whined to God that he was the only one left in all Israel who had remained faithful.  It was on this mountain that the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah.  He was not in some showy form such as a fire, an earthquake or even in the wind.  Instead, He spoke to him and gave him direction on what to do next.  The Lord also made clear to Elijah that there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal.  He wasn't alone after all.
     While Elijah was dry with exhaustion physically, spiritually, and mentally, God watered him with rest, food and then, revealed Himself to this prophet.  He ministered to Him, and made provision for another to take his place.  Our God is mighty to quench the dryness in our heart if we will turn to Him.
     When times of drought come to us because we are trying to cope with too many things all at once, we can take some direction from this story about Elijah.  First, we need to get adequate rest.  Exhaustion tends to affect the whole person.  We are not able to think straight or make wise decisions when we are overly tired.  Secondly, we need to eat a healthy diet to restore energy.  Finally, we need to seek the Lord in His Word so that He may reveal Himself to us.  He is the Living Water and when we drink deeply of Him, we will not thirst.  Our drought will disappear when we take time to give our bodies rest and our hearts refreshment at the feet of Jesus.
     If I stopped watering and feeding my plants during this time of excessive dryness in Florida, they would die or wither.  The plants depend on me to care for them.  In the same way, God wants us to depend completely on Him even when we are faced with dry times in our life.  He is our source and provision in this life.  This is what He demonstrated to Elijah and it was recorded in the Bible to encourage us as we read it.  Let us take a lesson from the recounting of Elijah's dry place, and remember that it is God who was His source and ours.  As He cared for Elijah, He will care for us.  May we immerse ourselves in His Living Water so our time of drought will end.  Selah!

How has God watered your heart lately?  Please share your thoughts with me.  I love to hear from you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking Responsibility

     One of the saddest realities in our society is that many people do not take responsibility for their actions. Both in the newspaper as well as on television, reports come nearly every day on people who walk away from their home mortgage with no thought of ever repaying their debt.  Along with this problem, many of these same people also abandon their pets.  Somehow, it is some other person's   fault not theirs.  Certainly, we are in economic hard times, but the problem is somehow deeper than this alone.  I often wonder if these folks ever stopped and took a long look at their finances, savings, and present income prior to making such a huge commitment.
     This is not the only problem, though.  There are many people who want a job, but then, when they get a position, they do not come to work.  They take advantage of their employer by calling in sick frequently or quitting without adequate notice.  Whatever happened to the work ethic?  Why are so many in our society blaming parents, their environment, their job, or who knows what other excuse rather than accepting responsibility for their actions?
     Because we are born with a sin nature, our focus in life is very self-centered. This is the crux of the problem.    As my husband frequently reminds me, it all started in the Garden.  Satan tempted Eve.  Eve ate the fruit and gave it to Adam who also ate in direct violation of God's command to them.  Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed the woman whom God had given to indirectly, Adam accused God of creating the whole mess.  This was the first lesson in "passing the buck."
     In the book of I Samuel chapter 28, another example can be seen.  King Saul was in a bind.  The prophet Samuel had died, and Saul was facing a show down with the Philistines.  The king had wisely sent all the mediums and necromancers out of the Kingdom of Israel as the Lord had commanded Him.  However, now Saul was in need of a word from the Lord concerning the battle that lay ahead.  Verses 5-6 read:  "When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.  And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets."  Instead of waiting to hear from God, Saul decided to take matters into his own hands.  He called upon a medium and promised nothing would happen to her if she would call up the spirit of Samuel.  As she did this, the Lord allowed Samuel to appear to Saul.  We can tell from the Scripture that this was not just an apparition but the prophet himself as the woman was shaken by the experience.  Immediately, Saul began making up reasons why it was necessary to use a medium to call up Samuel when he said:  "....I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me, and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams.  Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do" (vs. 15 b).  What Saul did was a sin.  He felt he was justified in what he had done because, after all, he was in a tight spot.  However, Samuel reminded the king of what he had told him before that due to his disobedience God was tearing the kingdom from his hand.  Furthermore, he told Saul that he and his sons would die.  Everything happened just as Samuel said it would.  There were consequences that followed Saul's actions of disobedience.
     A lesson can be learned from this tragic recounting of Saul's life and death.  He was exalted above his fellow Israelites and given the responsibility to rule wisely under God's authority.  At first, Saul followed the Lord, but then, he began to take matters into his own hands.  He became jealous of David and drove him out.  He sacrificed a burnt offering to the Lord because Samuel delayed in coming in a timely manner.  This was a direct violation of the Law.  Then, finally, he consulted a medium.  He had excuses for all these actions, but he never truly repented of his sin.  As a result, he paid the consequences.
     Sin is a hard task master.  When we choose to follow our own desires, we will pay a price.  We may think it is a good thing to skip out on a debt, leave a difficult marriage, or steal goods from our employer.  All the reasons we think up sound good to us too, but they will lead ultimately to the judgement of God. If not in this life, then, we will face it in the life to come.  There has never been anyone who has not faced the consequences of his/her actions.
     God has a higher standard for the believer.  We are to follow His commandments and accept responsibility when we sin.  He offers us forgiveness when we come to Him and confess our wrong doing (I John 1:9).  Our lives are to be a reflection of His glory and to do less than to fulfill our commitments in this life is to diminish the name of Christ in this world.   Times are challenging right now.  Jobs are scarce.  However, our God is our provider.  We must remember that.  He calls us to be good stewards of what we do have.  As Christians, let us make certain that we take responsibility in our family, our work, our church and our community.  If we put God first in our lives,  He will take care of us and meet our needs.  There are no shortcuts to holy living!  Selah!

What are your thoughts on taking responsibility?  I appreciate the things you share.  I hope you will leave your comments here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Be Thou My Vision"

     Of all the hymns I've sung in church, "Be Thou My Vision" with its haunting celtic melody touches my heart more than any other song.  The words are like a prayer for the heart dedicated to Christ.  In fact, the words of this song were taken from an Irish prayer which dated back to the eighth century.  History behind so many of the great hymns of the faith always have a story worth repeating.
     This story took place around 433 A.D. when St. Patrick came to the Hill of Slane in County Meath.  It was the night before Easter and also the start of a Druid festival called Bealtine.  The Spring Equinox was also being celebrated. The ruling king at that time was High King Logaire of Tara who ordered that no one light a fire until he lit his to announce the pagan spring festival.  However, St. Patrick, in defiance of the King's orders, lit candles on the Hill Tara about ten miles away.  Instead of punishing St. Patrick, the king was impressed with his boldness and allowed him to continue his missionary work.   As a result of St. Patrick's work, nearly 100,000 people came to Christ, and over 2,000 churches were established.
     A poet by the name of Dallan Forgaill was inspired by the events on the Hill of Slane and nearly 100 years after the event, he wrote the original words to "Be Thou My Vision".  For many years, it was said as a prayer in a monastic order.  In 1905, the poem was translated into English by Mary E. Byrne.  The literal prose was then put into verse form and published in 1913 by Eleanor H. Hull.  This metrical version of the poem was put in a book of poetry.
     Eventually the words of this poem was set to the Irish folk melody entitled "Slane" named after the Hill of Slane.  This melody was published in a 1909 collection of old Irish folk music and songs by Patrick W. Joyce.  Finally in 1919, Leopold Dix put together the melody with the poem and published it in the Irish Church Hymnal.
     What is so interesting in this story is how God wove together all the events through history using one person after another to bring this hymn to His people.  We never know how one thing we do out of dedication to Christ can inspire another person to take some positive action.  It was St. Patrick's faith that 100 years later inspired a poet to write the words to recite as a prayer.  Then, it was not until 1905 that the words were translated.
     We so often think that what we attempt in terms of our every day activities does not amount to much. In our own strength, they do not.  However, when we dedicate our lives, our actions and efforts to God, He will take our gifts and make them larger than we can ever imagine.  Just as Jesus took those two fish and five loaves of bread that the little boy had for his lunch and multiplied them to feed five thousand, so God can take our offerings and multiply them to bless those who have need.
     Let me illustrate.  I have a dear friend who is very gifted in photography.  She has shown me and many others the beauty and intricacy of God's beautiful creation.  Her lens captures the color, hue, and shades that testify to an omnipotent Creator who is to be worshipped.  She is currently collaborating with a friend who is working on a book.  See how God can put things all together?
     If God has called us to write, then we should write with our very best effort.  If He has called us to sing, then we should lift our voices to His throne!  No matter what He has ordained for us to do, if we do it in the name and for the glory of Christ, He will use it to bless others.  Micah 6:8 reminds us that this is what the Lord desires:   "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."  Sounds simple doesn't it?
     God wants a heart devoted to Him and when we hear the words of the hymn "Be Thou My Vision", we should hear it as a prayer remembering the story of how this song was birthed.  In God's timetable and through the work of many souls, this hymn came to strengthen and encourage us.  Listen to the words and make this your prayer:
     "Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
      Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
      Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
      Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

      Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true word;
      I ever with Thee, and Thou with me, Lord;
      Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
      Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

      Be Thou my battle shield, sword for my fight,
      Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight.
      Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower.
      Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

      Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise;
      Thou mine inheritance now and always;
      Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
      High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

      High King of heaven, my victory won,
      May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Son!
      Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
      Still be my vision, O Ruler of all."

     Whatever gift God has given to you, pledge it to Him.  He will use it and touch lives with it beyond anything you or I could ever imagine.  As the hymn tells us, we do not need riches or man's empty praise.  Our inheritance, our worth and significance are found in Christ.  He will take our offerings and use them to touch other lives.  That in itself is reward enough.  Selah!

What gifts can you bring to the Lord as an offering?  How has He used you to work in someone else's life?  I welcome your thoughts and insights as always.  This is our place of conversation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Family Vacation You Won't Believe Part III

Our campsite in Michigan
     Having a good night of sleep in a much cooler environment, we packed up our tent and headed out on the highway once again bound for Canada.  When it came to crossing the border, we had no difficulties.  In fact, I think the officers at the border took one look at the back end of our van and all the children and decided to let us go on.  We traveled all day around the northern perimeter of Lake Superior through mountain passes with stunning views all around us.  That evening, we decided to make camp at White River.  There was a nice campground there and we were all tired from the long day on the road.
Along the Trans Canada Highway
     When we got out of our van, we knew it was going to be a very cold night.  The air temperature had dropped even more so we were glad we had borrowed a few extra sweatshirts.  As we began setting up the tent, we noticed something we had not seen in quite a few years - snow!  Yes, it had begun to snow.  However, this did not deter our teenage daughter who was determined to wash her hair at a nearby outside sink.  The water was ice cold, but she continued to complete the task.  Then, she stood, in her shorts blow drying her hair in this small shelter near our campsite.  All the while the snow continued to fall along with the temperatures.  Our sleeping bags were designed to withstand the cold up to 32 degrees, and I believe we were near or at that temperature that night.  All of us donned extra socks, pants (if we had them), sweatshirts, jackets and even knit caps for our heads.  My husband and I zipped our sleeping bags together and placed our youngest, Nathan, between us.  He was three and having a hard time going to sleep in the cold.  We figured we could use body heat to keep him extra warm.  Somehow, in the middle of the night, we awoke to him crying.  He had worked his way to the bottom of the sleeping bag we were in and could not find his way out.  This, too, proved to be another long night without much sleep.
     In the morning, we packed up quickly and drove into town to look for warm clothes.  We had not come prepared and obviously the borrowed items helped but we were still freezing.  Canadians know how to prepare for cold weather no matter what the season and we found plenty of nice warm clothes for the children as well as ourselves.  In fact, we all became acquainted with thermal underwear and heavy wool socks.  It felt so good to be warm again!  The only one who resisted wearing cold weather clothing was our teenage daughter who continued to wear her shorts.
     Around lunch time, we pulled off into a nice picnic area along Lake Superior to enjoy our sandwiches.  As we were sitting at the picnic table, our daughter commented that she was very cold.  Her father, who was not at all surprised that she was freezing, said, "What's the matter?  Aren't your Arctic thermal shorts keeping you warm?"  We all had to laugh at that comment, but as most parents know, teenagers have a mind of their own when it comes to what to wear.
     By late afternoon, we rolled into the campground at Sand Bar Lake near Ignace Ontario.  Our in-laws had gone on before us and were waiting to greet us.  We found a nice campsite and set up our tent.  The children were delighted to be able to roam around.  In fact, our three year old Nathan met two twin girls his age that lived at the camp.  Their parents worked there, so he had some friends to play with.  We tried to keep a close watch on him though because we had been warned that there had been a black bear in camp recently.  With tall woods all around the campground, it would not be a surprise to have unwelcome visitors of the furry kind.
     When we finished setting up our campsite, we suddenly became aware that Nathan had disappeared.  I had thought his siblings had been watching him play with the girls, but he was no where to be found.  My heart started racing as we began calling his name and searching all around the area.  There was a drop off that went down to the lake and I was almost afraid to look over the edge for fear of seeing him in the water.  Panic was beginning to rise for all of us.  Soon we began to knock on cabin doors and ask around if anyone had seen him.  No one had.  The camp owners and workers all stopped their chores and assisted us with the search.  Thinking about the bear that had been spotted and how easy it would be to get lost in the woods, I came near to tears.  Then, all at once after looking for nearly 45 minutes, our son appeared with the two little girls casually walking down a path from a cabin where they had been getting some candy from one of the guides in camp.  He had not heard us calling his name.  After hugging him, we had a very stern talk with him as well.  What a frightening episode on a trip that was already pretty challenging!

     By the second day, a huge lake of water had puddled on our children's side of the tent over their heads.  We warned them not to touch the tent ceiling or the water would leak through.  We went outside and lowered this end of the tent to drain off the water.  All of us were cold and the only relief was to visit the nice indoor bath house or our in laws cabin.  In fact, our daughter wanted to sleep in the bath house if we didn't do something soon.  She said that was preferable to freezing in the damp tent.  We thought we would give it one more night though.
     As we turned in that evening, with no let up in the rain, we lay on our foam pads in our sleeping bags trying to rest.  In the middle of the night, my husband rolled over and told me "That's all I can take.  We are either going home, going to a motel or getting a cabin tomorrow.  I just rolled over and my foam pad was full of water.  Now I am all wet."  I had to agree.  This was not a pleasant way to enjoy a vacation.
However, I did not want to go home after traveling 2200 miles for a fishing trip.  I suggested we try to get a cabin if one was available.
     In the morning, we inquired about a cabin, and luckily, one was available that would take care of our crew.  Everyone was thrilled at the prospect of having a nice, comfortable, warm bed to sleep in.  Of course, in the meantime, I had to go to town again and spend another thirty dollars to wash and dry all our wet clothes.  I didn't mind as long as I would not have to do this again.
     By the fourth day, the rain had let up enough to allow us to go fishing.  We took turns going out so that someone could keep an eye on Nathan.  After our scare, we wanted to make certain he was accounted for at all times.  My husband took our daughter and our son Reid out to fish on Sand Bar Lake.  They went out quite a ways from shore, and were gone for some time.  The rest of us were waiting for their return so we could begin our evening meal.  When it began to get towards dusk and they had not returned, we went down to the dock.  I could see someone in an orange jacket and I wondered if it was my husband.  The boat seemed to be dead in the water.  About half an hour later, the boat returned having been pulled in by another fisherman who was out on the lake.  As luck would have it, their engine quit and they had been trying to paddle back to shore.  However, they had too far to go.  Our daughter yelled as a boat came near, and they got an assist to get back to shore.  Yet, again, another adventure on this vacation nightmare.
     The last two days in Canada were relatively calm, and we even had a chance to see the sun on the last day there.  No one complained though.  We had been delivered from the tent, the cold and the wet.  As we began to pack our van for the long trip home, my husband vowed to take the tent back to J.C. Penney as soon as we got back.  It certainly was not waterproof or even water resistant.  What we did not know nor did anyone ever tell us was that we needed a fly to cover the tent and protect it from rainfall.  We found this out after we came home from our long adventure.
     Thankfully, our trip home was uneventful and we enjoyed the comfort of a motel instead of a campground next to I 75.  We have never been tent camping since that eventful trip.  Oh, I still have the camp stove which comes in handy if a hurricane heads our way, but our days of adventure are long past. The children have grown up, some are married and we are now grandparents who can spin the best yarns for our grandchildren.  This was a true story and none of the names have been changed to protect the innocent.  I hope you enjoyed traveling down memory lane with me.  I also hope that you had a few laughs too.  This will certainly be a trip we will never forget!

Along the icy waters of Lake Superior
Have you had a vacation like this?  I welcome your thoughts and reactions to this true life adventure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Family Vacation You Won't Believe Part II

     Having had little sleep the first night on the road, we arose to make breakfast and pack up our van for the long day ahead.  Traveling to the Northwest corner of Ohio from where we live in Florida is about an 1100 mile journey.  Most of it is interstate highway so it seems to go by quickly although the lack of scenery tends to make the trip boring.  We had made the journey many times before, but now we had camping gear to tear down and pack  into our overloaded van.  Of course, taking the tent out of the bag it came in was easy.  Putting it back with all the poles was another story.  As you may remember, we wanted to hit the road early.  We had gotten up around 6 or 6:30 (who could sleep with all the trucks rumbling by) and we were fully packed and ready to go by noon.  It was then that my husband made an executive decision.  That evening we would either stay at a motel or drive the rest of the way to his parent's home.  He was not willing to spend another night trying to set up the tent.  Besides, we had to buy metal tent pegs since our plastic ones were curled at the point from the hard Georgia clay.
     As we got on the road again, the weather was perfect, but the traffic heading north was heavy that summer.  My husband and I took turns driving the new van which seemed to handle very easily.  Naturally, minor squabbles broke out among the children from time to time.  Our daughter had brought a "Walkman"so she could listen to her music tapes.  At one point, our son Reid who was seven at this time, wanted to lay on the floor of the van to sleep.  When we stopped to change drivers and take a short break, Reid accidentally tipped over the box of his sister's tapes sending them under the seats in both directions.  This drew an angry response from our daughter as she said, "Reid, you're dead!  You spilled my tapes all over.  Now pick them up!"  Reid, our quiet and not easily perturbed child, simply remarked, "I can't.  I'm dead."  We all burst into laughter and the tension quickly melted away.
     Taking my turn at the wheel, I kept pushing on towards our next stop near Chattanooga, TN where we would take a break and have some snacks.  We made good time and arrived safely at a very nice state rest area.  Since we were approaching the Smokey Mountains the air was much more comfortable compared to the heat of Florida and Georgia.  After taking a short break, we climbed into our van ready for more hours on the highway.  As my husband started up the engine, we heard a boom and white smoke started pouring out of the engine.  Terrified, we all jumped out of the van.  The children were certain it was going to blow up.  My husband turned off the vehicle and got out quickly trying to assess what had just happened.  After the smoke cleared, he opened the hood to find that some part of the air conditioner, in our new van, had broken.  The van was safe to drive, but we could no longer use the air  conditioning until we arrived  at our destination in Ohio where we could get it repaired.  Since we were coming into the mountains, we knew the air would be comfortable so we opened all the windows in the van and got going once more.
     Traveling at highway speeds with the windows open makes it impossible to hear yourself think or even be able to talk.  However, we were very comfortable with the cooler temperatures.  As we drove along, I heard a shriek from the back seat of the van.  My daughter shouted, "Mom, I think your dress just got sucked out the back window.  It's gone!"  I immediately told my dear husband to pull over so we could walk back and get it.  My husband replied, "Are you crazy?  We can't stop with this traffic and besides I think that semi just rolled over it.  You can always get another dress."  I was not happy.  After all, I had told the kids to keep an eye on the items packed to the top of the back seat so they would not blow out with the windows open.
     At our next stop, I got a surprise.  We opened the back of the van to get drinks and there was my dress which had slid down to one side of our mountainous supplies.  It wasn't lost after all!  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I wouldn't have to go shopping all over again.  This time....I found another spot to place the dress so it would not be near any windows even if I did have to press it when we got there.
The dress I thought I had lost on the road!
     We pushed on into the evening with the thought that it would be better for all of us if we made it to Defiance that night rather than staying at a motel.  All of us needed some sound sleep and Glenn's parents had a big beautiful home with some comfortable beds for us to stay in.  Unknown to us, however, an unusual summer cold front had moved through Ohio during the day, and when we stopped for gas not far from our destination, we were stunned as we stepped outside.  Here we were, thin blooded Florida residents wearing shorts and tank tops having come from sweltering heat stepping out into a blast of 48 degree cold!  None of us had packed more than one sweatshirt or maybe a pair or two of blue jeans.  We didn't have jackets just lightweight wind breakers.  With the air conditioning broken, we also had no heat.  The rest of the trip to Defiance was cold and miserable.  Because the windows kept fogging up, we had to keep a window cracked and the defroster running.  I never thought the lights of home would look so good!
     After a good night of rest, we went shopping the next day to see if we could purchase some more jeans and sweatshirts especially since the cold spell was not supposed to let up for at least a week.  However, being in the middle of summer, finding these items was nearly impossible.  So we borrowed what we could wear hoping that when we reached Canada, we might find stores that had a few items for cooler weather.  In the meantime, the weather during the day proved to be very pleasant.
     My husband's class reunion went without a problem, and we enjoyed our time with family and friends during the first week of our vacation.  The plan was to relax a couple of days and then, push on to Western Ontario Canada around Lake Superior for our fishing trip.  My in laws loved to go fishing at a camp in Ignace, Ontario each summer.  They usually rented a cabin there but we were determined to camp under the tall pines in the unspoiled wilderness.  This meant another 1100 miles on the road with our four children, a van filled to the brim with supplies, and nerves starting to fray just a little.  But we were determined to have fun!
     Our goal was to reach the northern point of the lower peninsula of Michigan by night fall so we could make camp before pushing on the next day.  We stopped for the night at a busy campground and found an ideal spot for us to enjoy.  This time the tent set up did not take as long, and with our metal tent pegs, we had no worry that our shelter would fall down during the night.  After our evening meal, we retired early hoping to get a good start in the morning.  What lay ahead the next day was the breath taking views of Lake Superior along the Trans Canada Highway.  However, we could not have predicted the challenges at our next campground.

     I hope you will come back again tomorrow for another episode because it just keeps getting better!   See you for Part III.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Family Vacation You Won't Believe Part I

     It's that time of year again when families across the nation are planning their vacations.  Some are short jaunts to the beach and others involve several weeks of travel.  Our family has always taken time to get away from the daily routine.  However, in the spring of 1992, no one could have imagined or even written a script for National Lampoon that could have matched our vacation trip.  This is a departure from my regular writing of devotions, but in reality, we all need a good dose of laughter, and I assure you, this was the incredible journey.
     With four children ranging in age from three to 15, we knew we needed a new vehicle if we were going to take a two week camping trip.  We had planned to return to Ohio for my husband's high school class reunion and then, journey on to Canada for a camping/fishing trip with his parents.  Having a good deal of equipment to carry, plus luggage, we began looking for a window van.  Without much trouble, we located a Dodge van and placed an order for one several months prior to our departure date.  However, what seemed like a simple process turned into a nightmare.
     One month before we were to leave, we received a call from the dealership telling us that they had stopped production for the color and model we wanted.  After nearly a week of frantic phone calls all over the state of Florida, we finally located a gray Dodge window van in Jacksonville.  It had all the features we wanted and could accommodate our crew plus all our supplies.  The dealership picked up this van and we were finally going to be in business.   Now all that remained was the camping equipment.
     Knowing absolutely nothing about camping, we looked in the J.C. Penney catalog to find a good tent for the family within a reasonable price range.  They had a sale going on so we stocked up on sleeping bags, foam mats to sleep on, a chargeable lantern, fans, and a cooking stove.  This was going to be an adventure after all.  The tent we selected indicated that it repelled rain which was a must for the Canadian wilderness where you can get socked in with rain for days.  It also had a screened porch area and two rooms for sleeping so the children could be on one side and we could enjoy the other.  Set up for the tent appeared easy and since my husband had been a Boy Scout, I figured it could not take us long once we reached a campsite.
     Everyone awoke with anticipation of our trip on their minds.  I had purchased a new dress to wear at my husband's reunion, so once we had all the camping gear, food, and luggage in, I put the dress on top so it would not get wrinkled during our long drive.  When I say top, I mean the back end of our van was packed to the top of the back seat.  Everything had been placed carefully by my meticulous husband so every inch of space was filled.  Supposedly, the order in which things were packed would make it easy to unload for the night at a campsite without disturbing the things which we did not need until we arrived in Ohio.  Of course, the summer had been blistering hot in the south.  We were actually in the middle of a long drought.  With temperatures in the 90's, we brought along mostly hot weather clothing with a pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt for cooler weather "just in case".
     With the van fully loaded, we took off on the great camping adventure.  Even though we did not get an early start, we had hopes we could make up time the next day.  Florida is a notoriously long state and getting into Georgia seemed to take forever.   Arriving at the only campsite we could find for miles, in southern Georgia, we were happy to find a place for the night.  We chose a nice spot to set up our tent,
and I began to prepare to cook a quick meal on my new camp stove...that is, if I could find it in the well packed van.  My husband and the boys were attempting to set up the "easy to assemble" tent.  Only one problem slowed the process down.  The Georgia clay had also been drought stricken.  Therefore, when my husband went to drive the tent pegs into the ground the plastic tent pegs turned right back up at him.  This was a serious problem since we didn't carry any spare tent pegs with us.  Somehow, he had enough equipment and "Boy Scout" know how to be able to pound a hole in the ground using other tools he brought along.  We managed to get the tent up vowing to purchase metal tent pegs when we arrived in his home town of Defiance, Ohio.
     After our tasty meal and clean up, we got ready to turn in for the night.  Unfortunately, the blistering heat of summer did not let up that evening.  Even though we had fans in the tent and all the screened windows were open, we were all suffocating.  It wasn't so much the heat we minded, though, as much as the trucks on I 75 because the campground was only a short distance from the highway.  We made a mental note to check out campgrounds a little more carefully in the future at least those that were located further from a major highway.  All in all, we had a good first day on the road. sleep.
     Oh but wait....there is much more ahead on this ill fated vacation trip.  Stay tuned for Part II.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Measuring Up

     School is finished in the Sunshine State for this school year and this past week was filled with final exams for the local students.  No one was excited about the prospect of test taking, but this is an essential part of the educational process in order to tell if the students have made progress throughout the year.  It also helps teachers consider the weak spots and strengths of their methods as well.
     While testing is a good way to have a clearer picture of where we stand in our education, God also uses tests and trials in our lives to see the depth of our character and commitment to Him.  Are we as faithful to Him as we say we are?  Have we grown in our spirit or do we just think we have?  These are the things which the Lord observes when we are under pressure or are in difficult circumstances.
     Look with me at Ephesians 4:11-16:  "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure  of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth  of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
     Within the framework of education, we talk about goal setting.  By setting goals, we have a means to measure how we are doing.  The same is true in the Christian walk.  What is God's goal for the believer?  He gives the ministry gifts  for the purpose of  equipping us so we may grow up in the faith, be encouraged and strengthened. He, further, wants us to come into unity and the knowledge of Christ so we become more like Him.  What God does not want us to do is to waver in our faith and jump from doctrine to doctrine.  He wants us on firm foundation.  God wants the believer to know what he believes and why he believes it.
     To accomplish His purpose in our lives, God allows testing and trials to enter each life.  We may receive a challenge from a friend on our beliefs.  A loss might come in terms of a job or a loved one.  Though seemingly harsh at the time, these providential tests serve to strengthen our faith and our commitment to follow Christ.  In my own life, I know that when painful trials come, I am driven to the Word and prayer more intensely than before.  It is in these hours of darkness that I find a closer walk with God for whom else can we trust that never changes and will never leave us?
     God ultimately wants each of us to grow in our faith and learn to work together in unity.  He desires for us to build each other up.  This, in turn,  will cause the whole body of believers to grow in their love for Christ.  Have you noticed how many verses of scripture deal with love?  The Lord wants our love first, but then, He wants us to love each other as a testimony to the world in which we live.  Our actions, words and demonstrations of love for one another is what causes people to take notice.
     How do we measure up, then, in light of this scripture?  We need to meditate on this passage and consider what we can change that will help us to pass through the trials and temptations that are bound to come in life.  We do not need to be tossed around in our faith for we have a firm foundation in Christ.  So begin by asking yourself these questions:  Am I in fellowship with other believers on a consistent basis?  Am I under solid Bible teaching in my church?  Do I read the Bible and pray daily?  Am I accountable to a Body of believers who will straighten me out if I get off track?  Do I love others in the unity of the Holy Spirit?  By taking a daily moral inventory of our lives and evaluating where we stand, we will be able to see how we are working towards the goals which God has for us.  When we see weak areas, we need to take these to our Lord who can minister to us and guide us into all truth.  Think on these things because for the Christian, school is never out until we come home to glory.  Selah!

Father show us where we are weak and guide us into the truth that will strengthen our hearts.  Help us to cling to You in the power of Your Spirit so that we might not sin against You.  Instruct us through Your Word and bless those who are called to minister to the Body of believers that as they preach the power of the Gospel hearts will be changed and You will receive all the honor and glory.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Where are you at in your walk?  If God tested  you today, how do you think you would do?  Please feel free to share your thoughts here with me.  I welcome the interaction.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oasis Living in a Dry Parched World

      Dry, parched earth.  Yellowed grass that crunches when you walk across the acreage.  Blaring sirens all around as firefighters rush to put out yet another wildfire.  It is drought time here in our area.  No rain for weeks with temperatures soaring in the 90's each day.  Florida in the spring and summer can be brutal with its unending heat.  When rains do arrive, they quench the earth that hungrily drinks deep each drop of chilling liquid.  However, I have a secret oasis.  A little spot of beauty that I admire each day.  I purchased some flowering plants and ferns to place on a small porch area.  Each day, I water this little garden so the plants will be healthy at least until the rainy season begins.  I guard it carefully making certain to feed the plants, and then, I step back and watch it grow.  How pleasant is this little oasis in the middle of this drought.  I believe this is how we are meant to be in the midst of this world.  Like an oasis to a dry and parched society all around us.                                                         

     If we look carefully, we can see the garden that God is planting and tending.  He places us just where we are supposed to be in our lives right now, for He is the gardener of our souls.  When we remain in Him, who is the true vine, we will flourish, but if we stray, we will wither.  Our hearts will be darkened and our understanding will be clouded.  So how do we remain abiding in Him so that we can be "like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither" (Psalm 1:3)?  The key is found in guarding our hearts and minds in Christ. 
      In his letter to the believers at Philippi, the Apostle Paul writes these words of instruction:  "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:4-7).  To unpack this, we need to look at a couple of words.  When Paul tells believers to "Rejoice", he means no matter what the circumstances appear to be.   Our joy, which is found in Christ, will abound from a well deep within to water our souls and sustain us from the droughts of life.  One thing I do not think that some Christians fully understand is that God sends the rain on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45).  We tend to believe that somehow we have a supernatural shield around us when we accept Christ that prevents anything bad from ever happening to us.  If we accept that, we will be disappointed.  Jesus said that in this life we would have tribulation, but He also said that we should rejoice because He has over come this world.  In our rejoicing in Christ, we are proclaiming a joy that no circumstance can take from us.  It is a joy not dependent on the is the joy found in our redeemer.                                                       

      Another word we need to consider if we are to flourish in this drought stricken world is the word "reasonableness".  The Greek word used here means that we are able to rise above offenses.  We are generous in heart and forebearing with others - not repaying evil for evil.  This was modeled for us in the life of Jesus Christ who did not claim equality with God His Father but emptied Himself to be a servant.  People notice a servant heart.  They notice someone who does not strike back or who holds a grudge.  This is very "earth-like" when we do these things.   However, in our dealings, we are called to be Christ-like.   Our vine must flower as we demonstrate a reasonableness that others do not possess.                                                            

     Finally Paul tells us not to be "anxious".  When we are anxious, we are not able to concentrate.  Our minds and hearts are paralyzed by unknown fears.  Half the things we worry about never come to pass which means we have wasted a lot of time speculating on "non-events" in life.  Isn't that silly?  Instead, Paul encourages us to take all our concerns to God in prayer.  Carry every thought, every worry, every concern, every pain to Him.  Then, leave them there and quit trying to go back and pick them up again!  Either we trust God or we do not.  Is He not the vinedresser and we are the vines?  Then, we must allow Him to trim off our dead branches and pull up the weeds that have grown.  As we pray, we are giving God the ability to work on our behalf and do just this.                                                                                                                     

     As a result of turning over our lives into the hands of the Master Gardener, God grants us something in return.  He gives us peace that surpasses comprehension and He guards our hearts and minds in Christ.  Oh how we need this!  Our minds are the entry point for ideas.  Every day we are bombarded by ideas.  Many are negative, drought infused, empty, and sin-filled.  God wants to guard us against this by washing our minds in His Word and refreshing us in His Spirit.  By protecting our mind, He also keeps safe our heart as well.  What better place to give our hearts and minds than into the hands of God?  He provides the nourishment we need in order to be that oasis in the middle of this dry, thirsty world.     Living an oasis life in Christ comes as a result of rejoicing, demonstrating reasonableness and turning over our worries to the Lord.  The result is peace which this world does not understand at all.  It attracts them to come and ask us what it is we have that keeps us from falling to pieces when difficulties occur.  If as Job did, we could say:  "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10); then, we would experience peace and joy which this world does not know.  Job kept his faith even though he was sorely tested.  Yes, he questioned, and could not fully fathom why he had to go through the trials he did, but all the while, God kept him in the hollow of His hand.  God will do the same for us if we will abide in Him.  We must daily drink the Living Water in prayer and feed upon the Word.  Committing to this will allow us to bear much fruit in this dry and crusty world.  People will notice and they will ask in what is the hope that keeps us growing and green.  This will give us the opportunity to tell them the Good News of new life in Christ, and how they can also become an oasis in this drought stricken world.  Selah!

How is God helping you to flourish in this dry and parched land?  Please share your thoughts with me.  I always enjoy hearing from you as you read.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Warmth of Fellowship

     Growing up in farm country, I always looked forward to Sunday gatherings.  After attending church service, we would go out to lunch with my grandparents to a local restaurant to enjoy family fellowship. At other times, we would travel to the small community of Holgate, Ohio where my mother had grown up to visit relatives.  Of course, the most happy times were family reunions when many of the cousins would come and visit.  These were times of warm fellowship.
     Unfortunately, today, most families live separated from one another by many miles.  The Internet, television, cell phones and other electronic gadgets make the world seem smaller, but they are not the same as being together.  There is something special about sitting around a table and discussing the Lord or having a chance to pray for one another.  Not only is it stimulating, but it also is biblical.
     In talking about the church and believers, the Lord, Himself, stated "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."  When we think of church, we think of a building, a large congregation, and perhaps the worship service itself.  Yet, in the context of this verse, Jesus is saying that even when two or three are together gathered for fellowship and prayer, He is there among them.  This is the value of relationships in Christ.  We were never meant to be off by ourselves in isolation.  We not only need to be in Christ, but we also need one another.
     Hebrews 10:24-25 admonishes believers to come together for the purpose of edification:  "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."  Looking at the times in which we live, can any of us say we don't need to stick together or encourage one another?  Truly, the Day of the Lord is drawing near.  We do not know when, but we need to find ways to build each other up in Christ.
     When my husband and I came to the Lord through Campus Crusade for Christ, we went to a Bible study at the student union so we could learn more about the decision we had made.  During one of the meetings the leader gave the illustration of a camp fire in relation to our growth.  He said that when all the logs were together the fire burned brightly.  However, if a log was removed and put over to one side, it eventually went out.  He pointed out that in order to grow in our faith we needed regular fellowship to keep the fire of the Spirit burning.  There was strength, blessing and power when we met around the Word of God.  I have never forgotten that example, and our family has always sought ways to find time to worship both in church as well as with other Christians even in relaxed settings.
     A friend of ours gave us a sign once that said "Christ is the head of this home, the unseen Host at every meal".  It is good to remember this because fellowship is something that takes place every day both in the work place and in our homes.  Wouldn't it make a difference if we remembered that where two or three believers are gathered the Lord is there?  It might change our conversation and how we behave.
     There is deep warmth in Christian fellowship and in corporate worship.  To miss out on it is to deny ourselves the blessings that only the Body of Christ can provide.  As Paul pointed out in his letter to the Corinthian Church, one part of the body cannot say it does not need another.  We need all the parts in order to have the ability to function as Christ has commanded (I Cor. 12:19-26).  In the context of fellowship we find people who can cry with us or laugh with us.  We sharpen each other and encourage one another.  All of these things happen when believers come together.
     People today do not spend time together like they used to do.  No more Sunday afternoon drives to visit relatives and play games.  Instead, most of us boot up the computer and talk to friends on Facebook.  However, there is no substitute for the real thing.  Jesus knew that and encouraged us to spend time with one another.  He promised to be there in the middle of it when we prayed and studied His Word together.  How could we want to miss out on that?  Therefore, if we get an invitation to join in a small group, a church service or a home fellowship time, we should be quick to say yes!  It is our opportunity to keep our hearts burning for Christ just like the log on a campfire. Even more, we can encourage others in their growth as well.  Selah!

How has fellowship been a blessing for you?  Do you make every time you gather with fellow believers a time to encourage one another?  I welcome your thoughts here.  I hope you will take time to comment.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Power of Words

     For many years now, I have enjoyed visiting various websites, blogs and groups on the Internet to participate in or observe conversations on various topics.  It has always been fun and informative.  However within the last few years, I noticed a trend that concerns me.  In the past, secular websites would often get into a disagreement on an issue and comments would fly like fur during a cat fight.  People's feelings would be wounded and a number would leave never to return.  How sad!  However, blogs and the Internet are not the only places this is happening.  Even in our civil discourse over political issues, we find people throwing vitriolic barbs at one another as though they had been life long enemies rather than representing their views in a constructive manner.  Little is accomplished when this happens.  Instead, people are separated one from another.
     Unfortunately, I have begun to see this happen even on Christian websites and blogs.  Instead of presenting arguments and ideas in a respectful manner, some folks attack without warning leaving the conversations in a tatter.  It happens, as well, in church meetings, national congregational meetings, and
at times, within the home of a believer.  The old joke goes, "What did you have for lunch on Sunday, roasted Pastor?"  These really are not laughing matters but something we all ought to take to the Lord in prayer.  It is hard enough to deal with those in the world who attack the faith.  When Christian brothers and sisters turn the guns on one another, there are many casualties.
     Jesus taught His disciples how we need to relate to one another and to God.  In the Gospel of John chapter 13 verses 34-35, Jesus said:  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another."  This is one of the most critical statements Jesus made.  Our love for each other is to mirror the love that Christ has for us.  What kind of love does He demonstrate?  The word agape best describes it.  This word refers to an unconditional love.  Nothing can be done to earn that literally says, "I love you in spite of your imperfections."  Secular society does not operate in this kind of love.  The world's love is more "I will love you if you perform according to my standards.  It is self-centered and self-serving.  Our Lord wanted us to stand out and be different in the way we relate to one another so it would be evident to those outside the faith that we possess a love that builds up, edifies and does not tear down.  This is what makes the Christian faith attractive.
     In addition to uttering this command, Jesus carried the concept further.  John 14:15 reads:  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."  Beyond professing with our lips that we love the Lord, our lives should reflect obedience to Him and to His commandments.  With regard to our words and deeds, Scripture is clear.  We are not to kill, lie, steal, slander, or envy one another.  Likewise, we are to honor our parents and not commit the sin of adultery (Exodus 20: 9-17).  Jesus summed up all the Law and prophets by reminding His disciples that we were to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and our neighbors as our self.   By walking in obedience, we prove that we have had a heart change towards God and man alike.
     Paul, in his epistles, echoes these commands from the Lord.  I Thessalonians 5:11 reads:  "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."  In his letter to the Romans, Paul again writes in 14:15:  "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."  These passages point to the importance of encouraging one another.  This shows love and commitment as brothers and sisters in Christ.  This does not mean that we can never disagree.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this.  Beating someone over the head with your Bible (figuratively speaking)  in public is certainly not the way to glorify the Lord.  Rather, Christ exhorted us to go to a brother or sister privately if we have an issue with them.  We are to make every effort to show love in what we say and do.  This is God honoring.
     When we read a public blog or website where Christians are engaged in derogatory comments, it is no different than being in a public meeting.  Non-Christians who come to read think that if this is the way Christians respond to one another they would rather not become a believer.  Our witness is seen everywhere we go for we carry Christ in these vessels of clay.  Whether we write, speak in a public gathering or in some other forum, we need to exemplify love for one another, respect, courtesy, and measure our words before we say them.  Reputations can be damaged, fellowship can be broken, and irreparable harm to a ministry can occur when we become a judge and jury of another brother or sister.
     Responding to a person in love means showing restraint, humility, and careful thought.  If there is some error we are trying to address, we should do so remembering, first, how Christ loved us unconditionally.  No one can win another back into the fold by attacking him.  Our job is to pray, weigh our words carefully and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their life.
     Words and actions are powerful.  They preach to others what we have in our heart.  We can either have a positive impact on others or create turmoil which leads to confusion.  Satan loves to see the Body of Christ at war with itself.  Therefore, let us be the peacemakers as much as possible.  Let our love for one another be the key characteristic that people see in our lives, and let us behave as ambassadors in this world for Christ.  There are too many people perishing without the knowledge of our Savior every day for us to spend our time battling one another over things which one day we may realize were not that important in light of eternity.  Selah!

Father, help us to keep our eyes on You.  Help us to work on our own issues instead of always trying to pick the speck out of our brother's eye.  May we demonstrate the same love for one another that You demonstrated for us that we may glorify Your name.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

How can we be the peacemakers that God wants us to be and still address issues we are concerned about?  I welcome your thoughts here.