Friday, July 29, 2011

Sticky Seeds and Sin

     On a recent walk in our neighborhood, my husband and I took our son's West Highland Terrier with us.  "Rocky" has been our house guest for a few weeks now to make life a little easier for our son and daughter in law who just welcomed their third little boy.  This dog is full of energy and loves to walk with us in the morning or should I say run?  If there is a mailbox to sniff or weeds to walk through, he will find them.  Along one road are plants that carry hairy, Velcro like seeds.  These are commonly called Beggarweeds, and Rocky knows how to get into them.  In fact, by the time we arrived home from our walk, his face was covered on one whole side making him look like he had leprosy.  It was a funny sight, but he didn't like our humor as he rolled around trying to get the seeds to come off.   I took pity on him and brushed him gently removing those clingy seeds.  God certainly invented the first Velcro didn't He?  And we thought we were so smart when we introduced it!
     As I worked on cleaning up Rocky, I started to think about how much those seeds that cling are like sin that seems to cling to us as we go along our daily walk.  When Rocky went with us that morning, he certainly had no intention of getting seeds all over his muzzle.  However, when he got off the roadway into the underbrush, he came up covered with them.  Isn't that a lot like us?  We start out on the straight and narrow road, but then, something tempts us to get off the path of obedience.  Before we know it, we are caught in a thicket of sin.  It sticks to us tenaciously marring our appearance and heart.  Despite our attempts to free ourselves from its grip, we are helpless to remove it.  Only when we come running to the Lord with a heart of true repentance are these ugly burr like sins cleansed from our soul.  I John 1:9 reads: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  God is the one who can gently remove all those tangled sins that hold us back.
     Now the question we need to ask ourselves is how did I manage to get off the path so far in the first place?  Let me suggest three areas that we need to strengthen if we are to avoid getting covered with the "beggarweeds" of sin.  First, we all need accountability.  Proverbs 27:17 reads:  "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."  In order for us to grow in Christ, we need to be involved with other Christians in unified fellowship.  We cannot succeed in our walk as a "Lone Ranger".  Life has too many temptations and pitfalls.  We need the wisdom, prayer, and gentle guidance we can find in the body of believers.  In addition, we are stronger when we are together.  Solomon spoke of this in Ecclesiastes 4:12: "And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him - a threefold cord is not quickly broken."   When we cooperate and work together, it is far easier to withstand the lure of temptation in this world.  Why do we try to do things alone or on our own?  We need God's strength and the accountability of brothers and sisters to stand our ground in Christ.
     Secondly, in order to avoid getting off our path, we need to know and study God's Word.   There are many false teachings out there and many false teachers.  How would we recognize erroneous ideas unless we know what God thinks first?  Lets consider this.  Would any of us want to go in an airplane piloted by someone who likes flying but has never really read anything about an air craft or flown one before?  I don't think so.  That would be foolish and risky.  So why do we think we can navigate this life without the knowledge of who God is and who we are in relationship to Him?  The Word of God is our very spiritual food and most of us have been living a life of self imposed famine.  Each time we read His Word, we are adding another layer of armor so we can stand strong in Christ.
     Finally, we need to be in faithful prayer in order to stay on the path which God has laid out for us to walk.  Communing with our heavenly Father deepens our faith, opens our understanding and draws us nearer to our Lord.  The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1-4:  "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  It is easy to see from this passage that Paul considered prayer a cornerstone for living a life that pleases God.  Prayer not only lifts the needs of others before the Lord, but it also changes us in the process.  As we praise God for His many blessings, we begin to develop a heart of gratitude that washes away the crustiness of selfishness and sin.  What a rare privilege that we can take our burdens into the very throne room of God and lay them at His feet.  He invites us to come.  When we do not communicate with our Maker, we are like an airplane that refuses to talk to the tower.  Most of the time, those planes are in great danger and so are we if we choose to ignore the guidance God offers in prayer.
     Just like little Rocky, we forget that we do not have to walk through the "beggarweeds" picking up those nasty Velcro seeds of sin all over us.  We can stay on the roadway and avoid the mess if we are willing to make ourselves accountable to other Christians through regular weekly fellowship and by the preaching of the Word, through sincere Bible study that deepens our knowledge of God, and by prayer which opens communication with the One who made us.  We must keep in mind that if we do end up in the underbrush of sin we can come to the Father in sincere repentance.  He, alone, by the blood of Christ, can lovingly remove those sticky seeds of sin that have covered us.  What a Great Shepherd we have who is ever willing to welcome us home, bind up our wounds and fill us with His Spirit.  May we strive to stay on the path of righteousness as God enables us for His glory and our good.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights.  How do you avoid those sticky seeds of sin from clinging to you?  Please feel free to share encouragement here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Preparing for the Trip of a Lifetime

     Since the news that my husband has planned a special trip for us to Europe in honor of our 40th wedding anniversary, both of us have been diligently preparing for this big adventure.  The first leg of our journey will take us from a two day stay in Scotland to a car tour throughout England.  With this in mind, we have to plot out the route we will take, the cities we wish to see along the way and where we will stay.  For some, this would be a nightmare but part of the fun of going to a new country is finding a way to meet the people and learn about the history of the area.  From our point of view, this is more difficult if we are on a guided tour.  We want to be able to mix with the folks on the street, but I grant that it does take planning.
     In addition to looking up interesting historical sites on the Internet, we are also listening to travel shows that describe the culture, background and food in the area we plan to travel.  Reading a good travel guide and assessing the amount of time we have to spend all have to be considered.  Then, when the trip takes place, we can relax and enjoy it knowing the course we plan to take.  Isn't this really the same thing we are supposed to be doing as Christians?  I had to think about that as I was furiously typing sightseeing side trip websites into my laptop.  We are to prepare for the trip of a lifetime by preparing our hearts for our soon coming King.  We will not be ready for heaven if we sit on the sidelines just waiting for it to come.
     Jesus told a parable that talks about the importance of planning and preparation.  This story is found in Matthew 25:1-13.  He told His disciples about ten virgins waiting for a bridegroom to come.  Five were wise and five were foolish.  The wise virgins had their lamps trimmed and ready for use, but the foolish virgins brought no oil for their lamps.  The virgins all fell asleep waiting when a cry came up at midnight that the bridegroom was coming.  The wise virgins ran out with their lamps prepared and burning to go on to the celebration.  However, the foolish virgins had no oil.  They asked the wise ones to share their oil.  The wise virgins told them to go and buy some for themselves.  However, by the time they returned, the gates were shut and the wedding celebration had commenced.  Though these foolish virgins knocked on the door, they were not admitted for they were not known by the Lord of the feast.
Jesus concluded this story by saying in verse 13:  "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
     This parable points out the importance of preparation and planning.  The wise virgins had their lamps ready for use and brought extra oil for them.  On the other hand, the foolish virgins brought their lamps but no oil.  They had not bothered to be ready for the bridegroom.  We should not be too critical of those foolish virgins though.  Many of us are just like them.  We do not prepare our hearts for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that will come one day.  Our Bridegroom will return for us and we do not know when.  So how can we plan and ready our hearts?  Here are some thoughts we should consider.
     Scripture tells us:  "Pray without ceasing"...(I Thess. 5:17)
                                  "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"
                                    (I Thess. 5:18)
                                  "Do not quench the Spirit" (I Thess. 5:19)
                                  "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good."
                                    (I Thess. 5:20)
                                   "Abstain from every form of evil" (I Thess. 5:22)
                                   "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no
                                     need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15)
                                   "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).

     Each of these Scriptures (and there are many more) point us in the direction of how we can keep our lamps ready for the coming of our bridegroom and the trip of a lifetime.  The study of God's Word, prayer, fellowship, walking in the Spirit are all important elements not only for our growth but for our preparation.  This is not unlike planning the route we will take for our European trip.  We would be foolish if we went with no idea in mind of how to get to our destination.  What a waste of time!  Yet, many of us do waste precious hours that we could be spending at the feet of our Lord.  I want to recognize the voice of my Master when He calls me.  I don't want to be running around looking for my Bible just like the foolish virgins that went to buy more oil.  It was too late!  They missed the blessing and so can we, unless we take the time to be prepared.
     My husband is gifting me with the trip of a lifetime.  However, Christ has given to us salvation and an eternity in His presence free from sin, evil, tears, sickness and death.  To enjoy fully what He has done for us and to bring greater glory to His name, we must be like the wise virgins and prepare the lamps of our lives.  He has given to us all we need for life and godliness.  We just have to be faithful to prepare.  Selah!

Friday, July 22, 2011

In Retrospect

     Maybe it's because I am growing older that I often sit and reflect on life.  I see things now in a much
different light than when I was in my twenties and thirties busy with our children trying to go in ten directions all at once.  Those days were filled with stress, tension, and at times, exhaustion.  However, much of it was my own doing.
     Solomon had a similar problem.  He was endowed by God with great wisdom, wealth and peace.  Yet, he chose to squander much of his blessing by marrying many wives who were not believers but pagans.  They led him into foreign worship which greatly displeased the Lord.  At a later time in his life, Solomon reflected on the emptiness of "self" gratification in the Book of Ecclesiastes.  He says in Ecclesiastes 1:12-14: " I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.  It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind."  For Solomon, life has been empty when it comes to the pursuit of pleasure or even of wealth.  He had it all.  However, in it, he found no deep satisfaction.
     As this book winds down to a conclusion, King Solomon says these two important statements:  "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them;.....Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccles. 12:1; 13b-14).  Having reviewed his life and all that he has observed, Solomon now reminds the young to remember the fear of the Lord and to keep His commandments.  What wonderful wisdom he imparted, and he learned it the hard way through actions that separated him from God at times.
     While I have endeavored to walk in the light of the Gospel all my life, I have missed the boat at times like Solomon.  However, God grants us the grace in later years to pass on what we have learned to help our children, grandchildren, and fellow believers so they do not run into the same "walls" we have.  With this being said, here is some practical advice to help you on your walk.
     1)  Learn to say "NO".  At the time you are up to your ears in diapers, college, or work, someone will come along and tell you about a GREAT ministry opportunity that you would be perfect for.  You already are stressed beyond belief, but you don't want to let God down, now do you?  Somehow you will find a way to make it happen.  Sadly, all you do is cheat yourself and those around you.  Our most important ministry is in our home to our spouse and our children if we are married.  If you are a single person but still trying to find your niche in the job world or with college, do not overburden yourself with a million obligations.  Believe me, I know what I am saying.  I was the Queen of the overloaded Titanic schedule quickly sunk by exhaustion in college.  I carried this into our home, and now, I wish I had spent more time enjoying what God had given to me in our children instead of always looking out to do more beyond the home.  If you learn to say "NO", there will be other opportunities for you when life is not so hectic.
    2)  Remember that you are a human being - not a human doing.  Your worth as a person is in Christ not in all your accomplishments and activities.  I had a wise college professor that told me it was great to win lots of trophies, but one day, I would have to dust them all off and the thrill would be gone.  Reaching the pinnacle of achievement is wonderful at the moment, but it doesn't fulfill your heart the way a relationship with Christ does.  In addition, the blessing of a family and time invested in serving them reaps rewards that no amount of recognition in this world can ever equal.  I have a lot of dusty trophies today that cannot compare to the four wonderful children we raised and the five precious grandsons God has blessed us with.  There is no comparison.  My advice is to invest yourself in serving God by serving your family, your friends and in your work place.  Accolades are wonderful but the crowds move on in this world.  As Solomon said, "All is vanity".  The only thing that will last forever is your relationship with Jesus Christ.  Develop that and you will find true wholeness in your life.
    3)  Invest yourselves in others.  Instead of worrying about all the things you do not have or why someone else has them rather than you, start thanking God for what you do have.  Then, go out and invest yourself in the lives of others.  Rejoice when they rejoice.  Weep when they weep.  As we do things to help others, we find such blessing.  It cures depression, envy, and self-pity quicker than any other remedy I know.  Lets face it. We are a selfish, self-centered, sinful people.  Our hearts always tend to look out for number one.  However, if we are in Christ, we are supposed to be a different person...a new man or woman.  The old man has passed away - remember?  Therefore, lets be serious about putting on the new man.  When others pass by some one who needs help, we need to be the ones to reach out our hand.  We can be a good Samaritan in another person's life or we can remain detached and miss the blessing.  I once had a psychologist tell me that the best way to defeat  depression was to go out and help others.  I took that advice and found such a joy through service.  This glorifies the Lord when it is done with a heart to please Him rather than for our own glory.
     4) Cherish each day as though it is your last.  Life is short.  This past week a young 18 year old went home to be with the Lord after losing his bout with cancer.  We do not know the hour when the Lord will call us home.  Therefore, make every effort to use your time as a good steward.  Devote yourself to prayer and Bible study each day so that you may grow in grace and knowledge.  Share your faith with family and friends that they may hear the Good News.  Kiss and hug family members whenever you have the opportunity and tell them you love them.  It does no good to say this after they are gone.  While we are here, we are to shine as lights on a hill in this world of darkness so that others will see Christ in us.  If we make the most of our time, we will not live with regrets later in life.  We will also bring glory to God by living each day as the gift that it is.
     These are just a few of the lessons I have learned over the years.  Certainly, as long as I am here, God is not finished with me.  He will continue to refine, remind, and realign my thinking so I reflect His dear Son our Lord.  Along with Solomon, though, I pray that we all will "fear God and keep His commandments."  May these insights encourage you and keep your feet from stumbling as we see the time drawing near for our Lord's return.  Selah!

What has the Lord been teaching you?  I welcome your thoughts and insights here as words of encouragement for each other.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Put Out the Food and They Will Come

     Each morning, I look out my window to see what birds have stopped by the feeder I hung on my oak tree.  It delights me to see such variety and beauty.  There are cardinals, female cardinals, mourning doves, black birds, red winged black birds, blue jays and an occasional woodpecker who come to gather their fill.  Such diversity and color are a feast for the eyes.  Every now and then, a small fight breaks out between birds wanting to hoard the food for themselves, but over all, the birds all seem to gather in peace.  Until recently, the squirrels came for a visit to pick up what their fine feathered friends dropped on the ground.  However, the nuts are ripening on a few trees so they are more content to hunt for bigger grub.
     As I reflected on the gathering of God's creatures at my bird feeder, I couldn't help but think of the church.  It is, after all, God's storehouse where we come to be fed the Word of God.  Consider the varieties of people who come each week with one accord to worship the Lord.  We come in all shapes, sizes, colors and age representing many different backgrounds, but all seeking spiritual food.  Our hearts are hungry after time in this world, and our souls need refreshment if we are to continue our journey through life.  In light of this, we need to consider several ideas about our fellowship gatherings.
     Of most importance in any church is the preaching of the Word.  This is the food for which the soul longs.  Unfortunately, there are a number of fellowships today that major in the minors in order to draw large crowds.  On a recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn Podcast (Doctrine or Life July 3, 2011), Dr. Michael Horton and his co-hosts discussed interviews of various pastors and teachers at an evangelical gathering.  A question was asked, "Which is more important - understanding biblical doctrine or following Jesus in the way we live?"  An astounding 60% of those questioned felt that following Jesus in the way we live was more important than understanding biblical doctrine.  I say astounding because without the foundation of God's Word how do we even know who Jesus is?  Just following Jesus in the way we live can mean many things.  We may think He is merely a good example or a great teacher without knowing His role in salvation and His identity as God in the flesh.  Understanding biblical doctrine comes from the preaching of God's Word on a consistent basis.  In my mind, it is the difference between eating a healthy meal every day or filling up on junk food.  Both fill you up, but one clogs your arteries and the other nourishes your cells.
     Over the past year, I have read and heard about churches that use all kinds of interesting approaches to drawing people into their fellowship.  One church in Texas advertised that they were giving away a car during their service.  It drew a large crowd, but we have to ask why they came.  Some would argue that at least people came in the door and heard the preaching.  However, it is not by man's efforts that salvation takes place.  Only God can regenerate a heart so that a person can hear and respond to the message of salvation in Christ.  Paul points this out in his letter to the Thessalonians chapter 2:3-6:  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness.  Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ."  The key in the passage is the phrase, "not to please man, but to please God".  This is what should be at the heart of all preaching and teaching.  We do not need extravagant musical shows, car give-aways, or gimmicks.  We need the Word of God preached in honesty and truth.  This is what feeds the soul with sound doctrine and causes men to grow.  When this is done faithfully, people who are called by God will come.  The goal is not to build a mega-church, but to build the kingdom of God with sound doctrine so that when the winds of adversity come it will stand.
     Secondly, church fellowships need to be welcoming.  When visitors do come for the first time, do they feel at home?  Do we reach out to them and ask them to return?  I have been in churches out of town or on a trip where not a single person said hello or went out of their way to talk with me.  Now that is sad!  I went to church to join in community worship of God.  However, I felt all alone in the middle of a crowd.  This should never be the case in our home churches.  If a variety of birds can all commune together peacefully around a bird feeder, don't you think that a group of people gathering in the house of the Lord could also be welcoming and loving?  James writes about this at length in his letter (chapter 2:1-9).  We are not to show partiality in our assemblies.  We are to demonstrate love for our neighbor who comes to join us in fellowship.  Why should anyone want to return to our church if the love of Christ is not abundantly displayed each and every time the doors are opened?  We must remember that we are Christ's ambassadors to this world.  When people see us, they should see Christ in us!
     When both the preaching of the Word and a welcoming atmosphere are present in a church, people who are drawn by the Spirit of God will come.  This does not mean we should not invite any and all to come with us on a day of worship.  However, we don't need gimmicks to get them there.  God's Word is the power to salvation (Romans 1:16-17) not worldly programs.  God's plan is simple, and it works.  I pray that each one of us can be an instrument used of God to share the Good News with others, invite them to attend our church and be welcoming ambassadors for Christ wherever we go.  Remember the simple example of the bird feeder.  When I fill it with food, the birds come.  If we feed people the truth as found in the Gospel, they will come as well.  Sound doctrine is the bedrock of our faith.  Selah!

P.S.  I would be remiss if I did not say how grateful I am that the Word of God is preached each week in my home church.  I am thankful for our godly pastors.

I welcome your thoughts and insights here as well as words of encouragement.  Please leave your comments.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From Anxiety to Trust

     Heading to worship this past Sunday, I felt the old gnawing sensation creeping up my back and sending my stomach churning once again.  I knew only too well the old enemy of my soul was stirring up those feelings of insecurity and anxiety that have dogged my footsteps for many years.   Having experienced a panic attack, no one would ever want to have another one; so the fear of the "fear" is what paralyzes me.   I never have thought of myself as a worrier, but that is exactly what God showed me during the service.  We have been planning a trip to Europe to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and with so many unknowns,  I allowed my concern to grow.  By the time we arrived at church, I was inwardly battling old emotional responses to stress.
     As we settled in our pew, I began a slow breathing exercise to calm my anxiety.  It helped, but not nearly as much as the Word being preached and the worship that filled the sanctuary.  Both lifted me out of myself so that I could hear what the Lord had to say.  What began with anxiety that morning, ended with a prayer of gratitude for God's goodness in revealing to me my sin and its remedy.
     Our pastor has been preaching a series on the Songs of Ascent in the Psalms.  Psalm 127 and 128 were to focus this past Sunday.  The first few verses of Psalm 127 are what began to open my mind and heart releasing them from the icy prison of anxiety.  These words of Solomon are so rich with wisdom:  "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep."
     These words pried open the door shut hard against the fear I was feeling.  It was a revelation though I had heard these verses many times before.  Yet, this time was different.  The Holy Spirit helped me see that God is in control.   He is the one that builds the house, guards the city, provides for our needs, and leads the way.  When we take it upon ourselves to do these things, we bring only anxiety and stress into our lives.  We demonstrate to God that we do not trust Him.
     Jesus said it well:  "Therefore do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will put on.....And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? " (Matthew 6:25a; 27).  Jesus goes on to describe how God takes care of the flowers of the field and the birds of the air.  Being even more valuable than these creatures, God will also take care of us.  He already knows what we need.  While I have read these verses a zillion times, somehow they didn't register until now.  It became clear to me that worry was a sin.  My anxiety resulted from lack of trust in God who watches over all the affairs of my life.
     Amazing, isn't it?  We can be given a precious gift (like time with my husband on a special trip) and yet, we begin to worry about all the "what ifs" that may never occur.  Even if they do occur, what is the worst thing that can happen that God cannot deal with?  I had a counselor point that out to me years ago.  She told me that even if we suffer a bout of depression, a panic attack, or some other problem, does that mean our life is over and God is not present to help lift us up?  Admittedly, the answer is "no".  Since nothing can separate us from His love, we have no reason to fear and all the more reason to trust.
     All our worries, anxiety and fear cannot accomplish anything.  It can cause us to have an upset stomach, tingling in our fingertips, and a sense of impending doom.  However, trusting in the God who builds the house, keeps the city safe and watches over us, brings peace as we yield to His sovereignty.
     I left church fully blessed.  I repented of the sin of worry and committed my heart to greater trust in God.  Let no one ever say that God does not speak through His Word when it is faithfully preached in the assembly of believers.  When we come expecting to hear from the Lord, He will never disappoint us.  I am grateful to our faithful pastors who study and share from God's Word each week.  Most importantly, I am grateful to God for setting me free from the bondage of anxiety.
     Are you faithfully attending church each week?  There is a wealth of fellowship, teaching, and prayer that can help you face the trials and circumstances of your life.  You may not suffer from anxiety, but there is no problem to big or small which the Lord cannot touch.  God dwells in the middle of His people when they come together in worship before Him.  Do not miss out on His blessings.  Answers to life's dilemmas come when we seek first His kingdom.  He will add just what we need when we need it.   Selah!

How has God been speaking to you this week?  What Scriptures come to your mind as you face each day?  I welcome your thoughts and insights here as well as your encouragement.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Hardest Bridge to Cross

     At our wonderful family get togethers when all the grandsons are happily playing, it seems that nothing in the world could be better.  However, tranquility doesn't last when "Mr. Me, My, Mine" shows up to play too.  During our recent vacation, we heard the word "mine" and "my" quite often.  When it occurred, it would not be long till someone would burst into tears requiring a parent to step in and bring resolution.  The outcome was a blessing because the boys would apologize and follow up with a hug for the wronged cousin.  How much clearer can a Bible lesson be than to observe this taking place before us.
     Jesus had some important words for us concerning forgiveness.  In Matthew 18, Peter asked the Lord about this critical concern.  "Peter came up and said to Him, 'Lord how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?'  Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven'" (Matt. 18:21-22).  I can only imagine that Peter thought he was being generous when he suggested seven times but the Lord requires more of us as believers.  The passage then goes on in the telling of a parable of the king and his servant to illustrate the point that Jesus was trying to make.
     A certain king had a servant who had not paid a large debt to him.  Since the man could not pay, the king was planning to sell this man, his wife and children and all he possessed in order to recoup the lost money.  However, the servant begged the king to be patient with him and he would repay everything.  This caused the king to have pity on his servant and so, in a surprise move, he released his servant and forgave the debt.  Instead of rejoicing in this wonderful gift of mercy, the ungrateful servant went out and found another servant who owed him money.  It was a small amount in comparison.  Nevertheless the ungrateful servant began to choke the man until he pleaded with him to have mercy.  The ungrateful servant sent his fellow servant to prison until he could repay.  As word came back to the king about this incident, he called the ungrateful servant before him.  The king reminded him that he had forgiven him much because he had pity for him as he pleaded for mercy.  Yet, this ungrateful servant threw a fellow servant into prison because he could not repay.  Therefore the king ordered this man to prison until he could pay all his debt.  Jesus ended the parable by saying:  "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matt. 18:35).
     Christians are called to be a people of forgiveness.  We know this not only from this teaching of our Lord but even within "The Lord's Prayer" which we often recite during our worship services.  In teaching the disciples to pray, Jesus included the phrase, "And forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)."  
     When we ask God to forgive us, we are called upon to forgive our brothers just as the parable described.  However, there is something important to take note of in the passages mentioned before.  The servant who owed a lot of money begged the king to spare him and allow him to repay.  He was sorry he sinned against his master, and the king forgave his debt.  According to Dr. R.C. Sproul in his podcast concerning the Lord's Prayer, he indicated that unless someone repents we cannot give forgiveness.  Certainly, we can pray for the person and the Lord is pleased for us to pray for our enemies and all who despitefully use us.  We are to pray for their health and well being.  Yet, we are only called to forgive those who truly repent for an offense done against us.  This is why Jesus made the statement to Peter about forgiving seven times seventy.  If a brother/sister wrongs us but repents, we must forgive them.
     What happens if we cannot forgive a person who repents?  Just like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we will be thrown into a prison of our own making.  Our thoughts become consumed with a desire to punish the person who offended us.  We spend our days dwelling on the hurt until it spreads like a sore into our very soul.  While we are eaten up with anger, the person who offended us and asked our forgiveness will go on with their life relieved of their guilt  while we are stuck in pain.  We are the ones who have the guilt of unforgiveness before the Lord.
     No one says forgiving another person whether family member or business associate is easy.  It requires the supernatural strength of God to overcome the lure of the old flesh.  If only we had hearts like little children that easily could wrap our arms around another and say we are sorry, our world would be a better place.  Jesus is calling us to cross the bridge of forgiveness to those who truly repent....even seven times seventy.  The next time we pray the Lord's Prayer or prepare our hearts for communion we need to stop and consider if there is any unforgiveness in our hearts before the Lord.  The Lord will not hold us guiltless if there is since He has forgiven us much.   In this and all else He commands, may we be found faithful until He returns.  Selah!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"What is That to You?"

     Ever notice how children always want what another child has?  They worry over it and fuss until they get it.  Then, they want the next thing the other child has and so it goes.  It seems they are never satisfied with what they have in their hands.  Just like us adults, children worry about what the other person is doing, saying or what they possess.    Of course, this is nothing new.  Peter had the same problem when he was talking with the Lord Jesus after His resurrection.
     As the disciples were gathered with Jesus having breakfast together, the Lord began to inquire of Peter if he loved Him.  He did this three times.  Each time, Peter answered in the affirmative and Jesus replied with a word about feeding and tending the sheep.  During this conversation, Peter raised a question about another disciple:  "Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said 'Lord who is it that is going to betray you?'  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, 'Lord what about this man?'  Jesus said to him, 'If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!'  So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, 'If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?'" (John 21:20-23)
     Whenever the Lord was asked a question, I love the way He answered so directly.  Peter was concerned about what would happen to his fellow disciple.  In a loving, yet firm way, Jesus replied that it was none of his business.  Instead, it would be according to the will of the Lord what would become of him.  As for Peter, he had one command, "You follow Me."
     More than any other statement made in the New Testament, this one command resonates with me.  Far too often, we are so busy worrying about our neighbor that we do not look to our own spiritual growth.  Our call is to follow the Lord wherever He leads us.  We are to bloom where He has planted us, and use the gifts He has given to us.  Unfortunately, many of us get caught up with trying to micromanage everyone around us.  They should be like us, and think like us; otherwise, we tend to be uncomfortable around them.  However, God has made each of us unique.  No two people will ever have the same plan or call from God.
     When we are concerned about others more than how we are following the Lord, it can lead to squabbles in the church as well as in our relationships.  This does not mean that we are to ignore what others are doing.  If we see them in sin, the Bible speaks to this issue by encouraging us to go to them with another brother/sister and confront them so as to bring them into repentance.  However, beyond a genuine concern for their spiritual welfare, we are not to interject ourselves into their business.  No one likes someone looking over their shoulder all the time.  We have got to trust that God is BIG enough and SOVEREIGN over all things and that He will take care of our brother or sister in the Lord.  Our job is simple:  Follow the Lord.
     I am so grateful that at the end of his Gospel John wrote about this incident.  God put it there for our benefit so that we could avoid this pitfall which keeps us from hearing His instructions to us.  May we keep our eyes on our own walk and not on everyone else's walk in Christ.  Then, we will be more content, and effective for our Lord and look a lot less like a little child.   Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  Please feel free to leave your insights and words of encouragement.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Putting Down Deep Roots

     My father was a farmer, so I grew up hearing about things like plowing the field, disking and fitting the field and cultivating.  Dad would explain to me that the soil needed to be aerated so the plants could grow. He had to add fertilizer and rotate his crops in order to keep the fields productive.  It was a lot of work and effort, but it paid off every year.  He used to get a magazine called "Successful Farming" and believe father was a successful farmer.
     In our Christian walk, we also need to be aerating the soil of our lives and pulling out the weeds on a daily basis.  It's so easy to get stuck in a rut.  Sometimes, we need to be fertilized with the Word and then, pruned by it so we can grow more successfully ourselves.
     Paul's letter to the believers in Ephesus emphasizes the need for a solid root system.  "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:14-19).  This passages touches my heart that Paul not only prayed for the believers in Ephesus but for us as well.  Paul asked God, in this passage, that He would strengthen our inner man for that is exactly where Satan will try to attack.
     One of the key ways we can be deeply rooted is through the Word of God.  Within the pages of this book we discover the character of God and who we are in relationship to Him.  We learn about our great salvation and the doctrines of our faith.  To think that our Creator has provided for us all we need for life and godliness is a great blessing!  We cannot begin to love God or fully understand the fullness of His Son's sacrifice for us unless we fill our minds with His thoughts as recorded in the Bible.  This is the essence of what Paul was praying for us.
     Like a farmer, the Holy Spirit that indwells us aerates our soil by applying the Word of God and loosening the hold of false beliefs.  He cultivates our hearts so the Word of Christ may penetrate it into the deep places.  He also pulls out the weeds of sin that crop up from day to day.  His ministry in our lives brings a crop of grace.  Our part is to yield daily our hearts to God so that the Spirit is free to do His work in conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.  Along with Paul, our daily prayer needs to be that we may be rooted and grounded in God's Word so we may experience the love of God and bring Him glory.  Selah!

I welcome your comments here.  Please feel free to leave your insights and words of encouragement.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lessons From a Gopher Tortoise

     Throughout the state of Florida, we have a unique species of wildlife that lumbers slowly across roads, pastures and yards.  In fact, this creature carries his home with him everywhere he goes.  It is the gopher tortoise which is on the endangered species list here in our state.  This turtle can grow to about 16 inches in size and weigh up to 29 pounds.  They also can live for nearly 100 years.  Their safe haven is found in sandy soil where they can dig burrows up to fifty feet in length and up to three to twenty feet deep. Additionally, their burrows can also be home to Indigo snakes, rattlesnakes, foxes, armadillos, skunks, possums and other creatures meaning they do not discriminate when it comes to company.
     One of the interesting facts about the gopher tortoise is that they are much like a cow with a shell since they enjoy eating vegetation.  This results in helping to spread seeds for a variety of plants.  While out on a stroll one day across Serenity Acres, I discovered this big fellow headed for his burrow.  He did not seem to mind my presence as he knew he was well protected.
     As I thought about the gopher tortoise and his unique ability to thrive and survive, it made me think of the simple lessons we can learn as we observe them.  First, the gopher tortoise is always ready for a fight since he wears his armor all the time.  No one can really take him by surprise.  Oh that we as believers could learn that lesson!  The Apostle Paul encourages us to put on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-11:  "Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."  This passage goes on to describe at length what comprises this protection for our minds (helmet), hearts (breastplate) and very soul (shield of faith).  An author I read some years ago, spoke of verbally putting on the armor each morning in prayer before walking out the door.  I thought this was a wonderful idea.  We become aware of our utter dependence on God who provides the armor that keeps us safe.
     A second characteristic of the gopher tortoise is that he carries his house wherever he goes.  When we become believers, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus, become a vessel for God's glory.  In fact, a church is not a building downtown some where.  We are the church of Jesus Christ, and a temple for God's own glory.  Therefore, our conduct is important.  We are representatives of the Lord.  I Corinthians 3:16-17 reads:  "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him.  For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple."  Then again, in I Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul says:  "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own.  But you were bought with a price so glorify God in our body."
     From these passages, we learn that we are to take care of these bodies of ours for the Holy Spirit dwells there.  He calls us to holy and righteous living when we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  It is important, therefore, to take care of our physical body and remember that how we walk in this world is a living demonstration of the church each day.  Our speech, conduct and thoughts reflect the heart.  As a result, keeping our temples clean is paramount to being a real witness to others.  Like the gopher tortoise carrying his home with him everywhere he goes, we also carry the Spirit of God who dwells within our earthly vessel.
     Finally, the gopher tortoise is slow but steady.  People may make fun of his inability to move quickly, but in the end, he gets where he is going.  Nothing stands in his way.  He knows where his burrow is and he keeps right on moving towards it.  What a lesson for us!  We should be like that tortoise moving at a steady pace towards the goal of the high calling in Christ.  Heaven is our home so we know where we are heading.  With this in mind, we need to press on daily just like the gopher tortoise heading back to his burrow.  He doesn't get side tracked, confused, worried, or upset.  He just keeps plodding along.
     For each of us, our energy source that keeps us fueled is the Word of God, prayer and fellowship.  We can keep plodding along at a steady pace when we are plugged in to these resources that God has provided.  We do not have to run off on a tangent or get sidetracked by attractive temptations.  Instead, we can be like that turtle and just keep on keeping on.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:  "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God to Christ Jesus" (Chapter 3:14).  If we faithfully, persistently do this, we will reach the goal of our heavenward call.  It is a daily moving forward in the strength and power of Christ.
     Just like the gopher tortoise, we have the armor to protect us, the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives each day that we carry about as a witness for God's glory, and the slow, steady pace of Christian growth that will lead us ever onward to our heavenly home.  Isn't it amazing how God's creation points back to the Creator and teaches us wondrous lessons if we will only look?  Let us remember that God has given to us all that we need for life and godliness.... may we be faithful to use the tools He has graciously placed in our hands.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  Please feel free to leave your comments and words of encouragement.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Discerning or Deceived?

     At the conclusion of a highly publicized murder trial, many (including myself) were left scratching their heads when the jury pronounced the defendant "Not Guilty" on most of the major charges.  As I read the newspaper today, one of the comments made by a reader caught my attention.  The individual known as
"Commonsensical" wrote:  "I think this verdict is just an example of today's society being unable to clearly recognize right from wrong.  'Non-judgmentalism' has become more important than justice" (Tampa Tribune, Metro Section, pg. 4).  I could not agree more with this reader's assessment of what transpired.
     In the wake of the verdict, many people (including Christians) have stated that we really do not have the right to judge someone.  Within their thinking, only God has that right and they quickly point to the verse in Matthew 7:1-2: "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."  This passage comes from the "Sermon on the Mount" and is a call not to go around fault finding as we so readily do.  Instead, Jesus calls us to examine our own lives and offer gentle, humble criticism only after our self-examination is complete.  However, later in this address, Jesus goes on to tell believers about the type of judgment that should take place.  Matthew 7:15-20 reads:  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."
     Christ calls us to be discerning in our relationships especially with regard to our beliefs.  False prophets are just as present today (if not more so) as they were then.  How can we tell who is telling the truth?  Jesus said that  by their fruits we would be able to recognize them.  Their actions, their words and ultimately their hearts would betray them.  Perhaps the most important weapon in our arsenal of truth detection, though, is the Word of God.  It is the foundation and the rod of measurement for all of life...both Old and New Testaments.  God established His Laws and makes known His Sovereignty through Scripture.  He has also allowed the creation of government and leaders to better deal with wrongdoing as a result of man's sinful nature.   The Apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the Romans:  "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good and you will receive His approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:1-4).
    All this being said, let us consider the comment I mentioned earlier about not judging others.  In the case of criminal conduct, we thankfully have policemen and a court system to deal with those who break the law.  As the Apostle Paul indicated, we do not need to fear those in authority if we have done nothing wrong. He also calls them "avengers" who carry out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  Ultimately, all who break the law will face God's judgment.  He uses those in authority to carry out His judgment.  At times, there is a miscarriage of justice and the criminal is set free.  Still in other situations, an innocent person is falsely accused and often imprisoned.  We do not have a perfect system because we are not perfect people, but this system of reaching a judgment is God ordained.
     Whether we are called to discern if a teacher that comes into our midst is a false prophet or if we are called to serve on a jury, we are called to use the wisdom of God based upon the foundation of His Word to make a judgment.  If we do so with humility, prayer, and gentleness, we will be following the direction which Christ offered to us.  He did not want us to be deceived by high sounding words or gimmicks.  The Lord wants us to walk in the truth.
     I became very aware of the pitfalls we Christians face when my husband and I studied and then led "The Truth Project" by Focus on the Family.  Dr. Del Tackett does a superb job of taking a believer on tours through every area of life to show us that there is no area that God's Word does not speak to.  However, as believers, we can so easily buy into the world's system of relativism and humanism to the extent that we no longer reflect a Christian worldview.  We become deceived rather than discerning.  I commend this entire series to you if you have never been through it.  It will open your eyes as it has mine.
     God has called us to discernment in our homes, our communities, our churches and in the courtroom. We, of all people, need to be able to make sound judgments in order to be the salt of the earth.  By no means are we to attack or impugn another's character to make ourselves look better.  This type of judgment is condemned.  Yet, we are to take a stand when it comes to discerning good and evil.  It may not be politically correct or endear us to those who wish to avoid the hard calls in life but it will honor God if done with the right heart motive.  My prayer is that more Christians will exercise their discernment so that none may be deceived.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments.  Please feel free to leave them here as encouragement.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Special Needs

     When we hear the term "Special Needs", what do we think of?  Most of us would say that the term refers to children/adults who are born with neurological disabilities or other challenges such as our little grandson Branson.  However, the term could be broadened to include many others such as the terminally ill, invalids, the mentally ill, the disabled, those with serious chronic illness and no health insurance and the elderly who need assistance with daily living.  All of these people have requirements that take time, energy, prayer, effort and money.  Unfortunately, the attitude of some within our society is not unlike that expressed by Adolf Hitler in the 1939 when he called for the extermination of those "unworthy of life".  His order was entitled "The Destruction of Those Unworthy of Life" in which he stated those patients "considered incurable according to the best human judgment of their state of health, be accorded a mercy death."  This was considered an economic move to lessen the burden of society at the time.  From history, we know that he started with the mentally ill and moved on to invalids and the disabled.  Eventually, his extermination plans took the lives of over 6 million Jews, Gypsies and Christians before he was stopped.
     While some of you may be thinking this is a stretch to compare our society with the dictates of a mad man, let me remind you that every year 1.7 million babies are legally aborted.  What ever happened to the sanctity of human life?  In addition, two states have approved Physician assisted suicide.  So the question arises, will this downward spiral begin to creep into eliminating those with "special needs" as it did in Nazi society?  After all, we are in a severe economic time in our nation.  As believers, what should and can we do?
     Jesus made clear how we are to treat others who have special needs when he addressed His disciples about the final judgement.  In describing the separation of those who believe and those who do not believe, Jesus addressed the righteous in this manner:  "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:34-40).  What an outstanding explanation of how God views the value of life.  The actions we take to assist the "least of these" is directly related to our love of Christ.
     In practical terms, Christians have the greatest opportunity to make an impact right now on our society.  With economic problems and joblessness growing, we can participate in a variety of ministries that help those with special needs.  Our small community has a Christian food pantry and clothing center to help people in need. In addition, a new ministry has just come into being in our town called Samaritan's Touch which will provide free medical care to those unable to get health insurance or qualify for state run programs but whose income does not allow them to seek care.  This is also a Christian ministry outreach to our community.  Various churches have prison ministries that take the "Good News" to those incarcerated as well as nursing home outreaches which provide visitation to those in nursing homes.  The possibilities for involvement are endless.
     Personally, our family was greatly blessed when a church sponsored a special dinner to raise funds to assist with the medical expenses of our grandson.  No one will ever know how much it means to have fellow believers reach out and touch a family.  Hosting dinners to raise funds to assist people in need, working in a soup kitchen, volunteering to give a ride to a person who needs to go to the doctor, volunteering to work at a pregnancy crisis center, or preparing meals for those who have had surgery are just some of the ways we can extend the love of Christ to those with special needs.  By doing this, we are a witness to our community, our county, our state and our nation.  We are also fulfilling the call of our Lord to cherish life at all stages and in every situation.  Who better than the church to go out and touch the lives of others with the love of Christ?
     All around us there are people with "special needs".  These may be physical, spiritual, or mental.  Now is the time to take action as believers and demonstrate as well as tell others about the Lord we serve.  Government cannot provide or fulfill the needs of the human heart, but Jesus Christ can through the hands and feet of His disciples.  Let us accept this call to action with humility and grace.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments.  Please feel free to leave them here as encouragement.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Perseverance Plus

     When our first grandson was born in October of 2007, both our family and our daughter in law's family rejoiced at his arrival.  We could not wait to see him, touch him and love him.  In the midst of all the excitement, though, a word came from the doctor that something was not quite right.  He had a larger than average head size, and the pediatrician ordered tests to be done right away.  To all of us, he was perfect in every way a gift from the hand of God, so what could be wrong?
     After MRI's and CT scans, an evaluation by a doctor at All Children's Hospital, and other tests, we heard some large meaningless words:  polymicrogyria and megalencephaly.  After further pursuit by my son and daughter-in-law, the diagnosis of MPPH Syndrome (Megalencephaly, Perisylvian Polymicrogyria, hydrocephalus) was given to him.
Such big words for such a tiny boy named Branson.  What the doctors began to explain was that as a result of a birth defect, our grandson's brain did not fully develop.   It was very rare and he was one of 15 children so affected in the world.  His head was larger than normal and he might eventually require a shunt to relieve any fluid build up on the brain.
     A flight to Chicago and a visit with a doctor who was researching this rare abnormality brought further insight.  He told us that no one really knows why this happens.  He felt that Branson might one day be able to produce speech, but there was no guarantee as his speech center had been affected to a certain degree.   He recommended a communication device.  Additionally, he recommended that therapies might be helpful.  All else was left to conjecture.  We had a surprise package sitting in the lap of his loving parents.  Before departing, the doctor also informed us that Branson might suffer seizures at some point.  It was a lot to chew on.  At times like this, it is God's grace that sustained our son and daughter in law as well as the rest of the family.
     Amazingly, this little cherub with a bright happy smile, has continued to bless us with his determination and perseverance.  Since the visit with the specialist three years ago,  he has gone through countless hospitalizations in his short life having a shunt installed and suffering from a severe bout with seizures, but through it all, he has shown determination like no other child I have ever known.  He does say some words, he is able to do both the army crawl and crawling on all fours, and can walk with the aid of braces and a walker.  We see progress every day.
      This week, we have been on vacation with our family at the beach.  Watching Branson do an army crawl across the beach to get the toys he wanted to play with humbled me.  His determination, his perseverance brought to my mind the verse in I Timothy 6:12:  "Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses."  Branson is fighting the good fight daily.  Obstacles do not stymie him.  He keeps reaching for new goals.  Stretching his overly tight muscles on his leg and hand that are affected by his neurological problems is not comfortable.  He doesn't like it, but he goes through it with the aid of his loving parents.
     What about us?  Do we keep on fighting the good fight when we are faced by what seems like insurmountable obstacles?  When God stretches us and it hurts, do we work through it and go on?  Or do we whine, complain and say, "This is too hard for me. You don't know how badly I hurt" ?
     Beloved of God, the Lord has called us to take hold of the eternal life which He has called us to live.  He wants us to fight through the difficulties of life by the power of His Spirit.  He is our loving Father who all the while we are hurting is there holding our hand.  The pain will subside.  We will be stronger for it, and better able to push through the obstacles of life.  Just like little Branson, we are called to persevere.
     Each day, we watch another wrapping come off the surprise package that is our little Branson.  There is no greater joy in life than seeing his sweet, patient smile.  He has taught us all so many lessons...especially me.  His perseverance reminds me that we are in a fight - the good fight of the faith in Christ.  If we are ever tempted to whine or complain, lets remember Branson a child born to teach us all about perseverance and determination.  Selah!

I welcome your comments here.  Please feel free to share your story of perseverance or to leave an encouraging word.