Friday, October 28, 2011

Living in Our Own Little Box

Our daughter Jordan enjoying her box!
     When our children were growing up, they loved boxes almost better than toys.  I have pictures of them sleeping in a box, sitting in a box and pretending the box was a boat.  It was as if the box was their own special safe place to play.  Being in a box is fun for children, but when, as adults, we choose to live in a box of our own making,  the fun stops.  We cut off meaningful relationships with others because they don't fit in our box, and heaven forbid, if we step out of our box to try something new.  After all it is safer here in the box where we can control everything.  Know someone like this?  The Bible tells us about someone that God removed from his box - none other than the Apostle Peter.

     In the book of Acts chapter 10, we are introduced to a Roman Centurion names Cornelius.  He was a god fearing man who prayed to the Lord and gave alms to help others.  He had a vision, one day, of an angel that instructed him to send for man who was staying with Simon the Tanner.  So, Cornelius sent a faithful soldier to bid this man come to his house as the Lord instructed.

     On the next day, Peter the impetuous, headstrong disciple of the Lord went up on the roof of the house where he was staying to pray.  As he did so, he fell into a trance and saw a vision.  Verse 11-13  reads:
".....and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.  In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.  And there came a voice to him: 'Rise, Peter, kill and eat.'"  Peter, of course, declined as he was an observant Jew and many of these things were considered unclean.  However, the voice of God spoke again:  "What God has made clean, do not call common.'  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven" (Acts 10: 15b-16).  Peter's box was being shaken.  The Bible says he was perplexed.

     By the time this had concluded, the servant of Cornelius had reached the home where Peter was staying and asked him to come to the home of the Centurion so he could hear what Peter had to say.  The Apostle invited these men in the home for the night and departed with them the next day.  When they arrived, Cornelius had quite a gathering in his home.  Peter opened his discussion with an admission:  "And he said to them, 'You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.  So when I was sent for, I came without objection" (Acts 10: 28-29a).
Nathan enjoying his box!

     In the events that followed, Cornelius relayed his vision to Peter, and Peter preached to all who were gathered.  While he was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who had heard the Word.  Peter and those with him heard them extolling God and he remarked:  "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (vs.47).  This entire incident opened doors to a broader ministry than Peter could ever have conceived of because he had been busy staying in his box.

     Certainly, Peter never dreamed of going to a Gentile home.  He was a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ who knew the Law.  Even when he had that vision from the Lord, he fought it initially because it was forbidden to eat certain types of animals, birds and reptiles.  However, God was forcing Peter to consider the world outside of his box so that many could be reached for Christ.  Isn't it amazing how we limit ourselves and God all because we are in our own little box?

     Here are some points to ponder.  First, when we live in a box, we cut off certain people because they don't measure up to what we think they should be.  We are in danger of developing a critical spirit.  Peter certainly wouldn't have gone to a Gentile's house unless God had shaken him up with that vision.  He admitted to the Centurion that God revealed to him that he should not call any person common or unclean.
How often do we consider someone as being unable to measure up to our standards?  I would venture to say that most of us have been in that box before and it is not pleasing to God.

     Secondly, when we stay in our own box, we limit our outreach to others.  It is as if we have our own little club and no one else is allowed to join it.  This can happen in churches as well as in individual lives. There are congregations that refuse to associate with other believers because they either feel superior or they want to avoid contamination of ideas.   How sad!  In addition, think of what would have happened if Peter had refused to go into the house of the Centurion.  He would have missed the blessing of seeing what God was about to do in the lives of these people.  The Lord demonstrated to Peter that He had other sheep that were not of the original fold of Israel.  These were people who would be grafted into that tree by God Himself.
Grandsons Briggs and Gavin enjoying a basket together

     Finally, living in a box, keeps us from growing.  In fact, it can make us rigid, and much like the Pharisees of the New Testament.  They knew the rules backwards and forwards.  They dressed the part of religious people and had an attitude that said they "had it together".  This rigid lifestyle, however, became a great burden and squeezed the life out of them.  They could not recognize their own Messiah when He walked among them.  They were blind and so will we be if we choose to stay in our nice, tidy, perfectly controlled little box.

     Jesus called us to radical living.  He challenges all religious, sanctimonious, box-like thinking about God and our fellow man.  We are called to forgive when others hurt us.  We are called to walk in love even towards our enemies, and we are called to share the Good News with everyone.  This is box busting at its best!  Unfortunately, some of us run out there and get our duct tape and try to save our boxes so we can climb back into them.  If we do, we will miss what God is trying to do in our lives.

     Maybe it is time for us all to think hard about the boxes we have constructed for our lives.  Perhaps God is trying to get us to break out of that stale thinking and grow in His glorious light.  God may also be attempting to move us to share with those we have avoided for so long.  He certainly moved in Peter's life in a powerful way, and as a result, the church grew as the Gentiles were welcomed into the fellowship of believers.  God's plan is always bigger and better than our box.  Isn't it time we quit living there and began to step out like Peter?  When we do, we will see greater blessings in our life.  Selah!

Have you ever lived in a box?  How did God help you to escape?  I welcome your thoughts, insights and
encouragement.  Feel free to leave comments here.  Blessings!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The church of the Holy Rood
Stirling, Scotland
     I had an interesting conversation at our office the other day with a fellow believer.  She and I were discussing the gloomy economic circumstances in our country and the world.  With the election a year away, the talk turned to who might be elected and what that individual needed to do in order to turn things around.  She was plainly unhappy with the current leaders in our government and felt a big change might help to set things right.  I told her that no matter who we elected we could not put all our hope in government to solve the issues at hand.  Rather, we need to put our hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  When He returns to this earth, every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.  She told me that I had given her goosebumps by saying that.  We both needed that reminder because it is so easy to get caught up in the present day turmoil in our world.  Where we place our hope makes all the difference in how we view life.
     King David had the right perspective when he wrote Psalm 20:7-8:  "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright."  David knew that there was power and might in an army, but his hope was in the God who had delivered him from Goliath and even the wrath of King Saul.  God's power and justice were perfect when all else failed.  Those who trust in the Lord will remain standing when everything else collapses.  To put this verse in modern terms, we might say:  Some trust in government and some in their wealth, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  This is our hope!
A sign within the Church of the Holy Rood
      Do not misunderstand me.  We need to be well informed citizens voting our conscience based upon the Word of God after much prayer.  The Lord directs us to obey our leaders,  abide by the law and live as an example.  However, our hope should be placed squarely on the Lord who alone has authority over all the governments of this world.  Romans 13:1 reads:  "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."
Our hope, our trust should be in God above not on things below.  We must remember that our citizenship is in heaven if we are a Christian.  We are here only temporarily and this is the mindset that should keep us from despairing when circumstances seem difficult.  At best, we will spend 70 or 80 years here, but we will spend eternity with the Lord where there will be no tears, no suffering, no injustice, no heartache.  In addition, we should, every day, look forward to the glorious second coming of our Lord who has promised to return.  When He does, our world will be set right.  This is our glorious hope!
      Right now, all around our world, there is famine, sickness, pain, poverty, economic woes, despotic governments, injustice, disappointment, unemployment and the list could go on and on.  Yet, for the Christian, our hope should not be man focused but God focused.  Changing leaders in government or other man made remedies will not bring about utopia as some believe.  The only "change we can believe in" is found in changed hearts made new by Jesus Christ.  When people have a new heart, we will see the difference in how they treat others and live to God's glory.  What the world needs now is the change that only Christ can bring.  This is why it is so important for us to be telling the Good News to others.  We are giving a drink of hope to those who are otherwise hopeless in this life.
      As I wrote this today, the hymn "My Hope is Built" by Edward Mote written in 1834, came to mind:
              My hope is built on nothing less,
A chapel within St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland
              Than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
              I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
              But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
              On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
              All other ground is sinking sand;
              All other ground is sinking sand.

              When darkness comes to hide His face,
              I rest on His unchanging grace,
              In every high and stormy gale,
              My anchor holds within the veil.

              His oath, His covenant, His blood,
              Support me in the whelming flood.
              When all around my hope gives sway,
              He then is all my Hope and Stay.

              When He shall come with trumpet sound,
              Oh may I then in Him be found.
              Dressed in His righteousness alone,
              Faultless to stand before the throne.

     My friends, we can watch people "Occupy Wall Street" or anywhere else on earth, but until and unless Jesus Christ comes to "occupy" the heart of man, there will never be a change in the way we live and treat one another.  He is our Hope, our soon coming King and the only one to whom all the glory and honor is due.  He will bring justice and His kingdom will never end.  Until then, we are to be a light to all nations, and people of this earth telling them of His saving grace in the power of His resurrection.  Remember....don't look to government....look to God in whose hands all nations rest.  Selah!

How has Christ brought you hope and comfort in these days?  I welcome your thoughts, insights and encouragements here.  Please share a comment.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Depending on a Fleece?

     In talking with friends about their life circumstances, I often hear them tell me that they are waiting on God's direction.  Rather than searching in the Scriptures and praying to find His will, they depend on putting out a fleece to give them the go ahead for their plans.  While this method may have worked for Gideon in one particular instance, this does not mean this is the way we are to establish a plan of action.
Glenn standing at the open door to Lincoln
Cathedral in Lincoln, England
     Gideon's story as told in Judges chapter 6 describes a young man who was called by God to deliver Israel from the Midianites.  The people of Israel had sinned and turned away from God.  Their cry to God was heard, and the Lord sent an angel to call Gideon to the task of saving the people.   This young man had a hard time believing this call.  He was filled with doubts about how he could possibly deliver his people.  In verse 16, the Lord spoke to Him:  "But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man."  Still, Gideon needed something more.  Verse 17 reads:  "And he said to Him, If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speaks with me."  The angel granted his request.  When Gideon returned with food, the angel touted it with his staff and all the food was consumed by fire.  With that evidence, Gideon believed he had heard from God.
     Even though God was with him, Gideon still harbored doubts.  So again, he set out a test as recorded in verses 36-40.  He laid out a fleece on the ground and asked the Lord to make the fleece wet and the ground dry around it if, indeed, he was to save Israel.  When he arose the next day, the fleece was wet and the ground was dry.  This, however, was still not enough for Gideon.  He asked God for one more sign.  He put the fleece out again and asked the Lord to allow the ground to be wet with dew but the fleece to be dry if he was to deliver Israel.  Once more, the Lord answered Gideon through this sign.  To Gideon's credit, he did believe God and obeyed him defeating the Midianites with only three hundred men thus glorifying the Lord before the people of Israel.
     While this methodology of laying out a fleece worked for Gideon, does this mean we are supposed to use this method ourselves every time we have doubts about our direction in business, life or spiritual matters?  According to our Lord during His temptation in the wilderness, He said:  "....Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Jesus quoted Deut. 6:16).  Certainly in Gideon's situation, God demonstrated great patience with this man who was filled with doubts, but this is not to be the norm in our dealings with God.
An ancient closed door in the Cathedral of Lincoln
in Lincoln England.
      Some people wait for "open doors" or "closed ones" before they will move on a decision.  In fact, it almost seems as though they are holding out for that magic sign that will give them the go ahead.  However, when we depend on circumstances to line up, we could be sorely disappointed.  Where is the faith in that?  Rather than yielding to Christ's Lordship in our life, it is as though we are making a deal with Him.  I will do this if you do this.  Since we were bought with a price, we are no longer our own.  Therefore, we need to put away the idea of putting out a fleece before we go forward in our lives for several reasons.  First, God has given us a good mind with which we can reach decisions.  Second, He has given us His Word to read and bolster our confidence in Him.  Third, there is no roadblock in talking directly to our heavenly Father.  We can come to Him at all times confident that He will answer.  Finally, any decision we make is not set in cement.  That is, we can make a course correction at any step of the way.  It is my belief that people use the excuse of a fleece to delay any action at all.  Perhaps they are afraid of failure, defeat, or embarrassment if they make the wrong move.  Even if we miss the correct turn in the road, God is able to use this to bring us valuable lessons and turn it for good in our lives.
     Just because Gideon used a fleece does not mean this is a doctrinal approach to finding God's will for our lives.  We have to be careful of taking a scripture and running with it as though it was the only way to know His direction.  Knowing that we have God's Word, prayer and Christian brothers/sisters who can affirm us in our decisions should be more than enough to guide our steps.  Circumstances can change radically from day to day, but God's Word stands forever.  As a result, we need to put away that fleece and put our faith in God who knows our beginning and our end.  Selah!
A garden inside the Castle of Lincoln in Lincoln, England

I welcome your comments and insights here.  How has God guided you in your decision making?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taking Care of our Mind

A squirrel in our yard
     Going on our walk this morning, I was blessed to see a beautiful hawk sitting on a power line majestically looking down at us as we strolled by.  At that moment, I thought of how marvelous is God's creation.  To the hawk and eagle, God has given tremendous sight so that they can spot a small animal for their meal from high above the earth .  When it comes to dogs, the Lord has endowed them with a sense of smell that beats anything we can imagine.  In addition, their ears can catch sounds too high pitched for our ears.  Then, there is the comical squirrel who does a daily high wire act on the power lines.  Their tail gives them tremendous balance, and their ability to bounce across a piece of property often enables them to run for cover when a predator is near.  Each of these animals have certain abilities but they do not have a mind and soul like man who was the crown of God's creation.  Indeed, our mind is like a giant computer able to run the functions of the physical body and also able to learn and reason.  God's intent was to create us to bring glory to His name and to enjoy fellowship with Him forever.  However, we all know what happened in the Garden to disrupt that relationship with our Creator as well as corrupt our minds and souls.  But thanks be to Jesus Christ who came to set us free and restore us by the sacrifice of His life!  We now are new creations in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This leads to a question.  How well are we taking care of our minds and hearts?  If we are to care for God's creation and bring glory to His name, we need to know how to be renewed in our minds.
A falcon at Dalhousie Castle in Bonnyrigg, Scotland
     One reason the mind is so important is because it is the seat of the will, emotions and reasoning.  It is here where the enemy strives to gain entrance.  If he can capture our thoughts in weak moments, he can stir temptation.  This is why Paul's writing to the church in Ephesus included a description of putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).  One of the most important pieces of protection is the helmet of salvation.  We must remember to whom we belong and think as our Lord thinks so that we can withstand the flaming darts sent by the enemy.  A key example is our Lord Jesus Christ who stood against the devil as He was tempted in the wilderness.  He was able to over come each temptation by reciting to His adversary the truth that comes from the Word of God.  This is what drove the devil away.  We can do the same thing if we  know the Bible.  Yes, it does require how can we exercise our mind to make it able to face the challenges that come to us each day?
     Of course, the first thing I think of is a private time of prayer and reading of God's Word.  It is a simple exercise which really needs to be a regular staple of our daily spiritual diet.  Many Christians are starving for truth simply because they will not spend time getting to know God through the pages of His Word.  Without this knowledge, we open ourselves up to attack.
Roscoe P. Coltrain our Basset Hound
     Secondly, we protect and nurture our minds when we take time to attend Sunday school and church.  These are times of instruction, discussion, and accountability.  The early believers did not neglect gathering.  Luke writes in the book of Acts these words:  "And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.....And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:42,46-47).  We do ourselves a good deal of harm when we do not make the effort to be in God's house each week.  Private study alone cannot bring about the growth in our faith. We need the accountability of fellow believers and the preaching of the Gospel each week in order to stretch our minds and heal our souls.  It is a negative, painful, harsh world out there.  We cannot be a light to others if we never trim the wick of our mind.  Burning brightly for Christ requires fuel, and this comes as we gather together in the presence of the Lord to hear His Word preached and taught.
     Finally, I believe our mind is renewed each time we tell the story of our salvation to others and offer to them the "Bread of life" as their Savior and Lord.  As we recall the changes He has made in our life and share the scriptures with others, we are reaffirming the glorious transformation that God has accomplished in our own hearts.  It is like preaching to ourselves as we share with others, and there isn't a soul who does not need daily reminders of God's mercy and grace.  I believe this is another reason why Jesus gave us the privilege to be His ambassadors so that we would never forget our great salvation as we tell others what He has done for us.
     Truly, God has given great gifts to all His creatures, but to man, He has given the greatest crown of creative ability - his mind.  When that mind is fully engaged for the sake of Christ and changed by His truth as found in the Bible alone, we will reflect and glorify our Creator.  We will be able to enjoy Him forever, but we must commit to private study of the Word, gathering in fellowship with other believers and sharing the Good News of our salvation with others.  When we take the time and effort to put God first, He will guard our hearts and minds in Christ (Phil 4:7).  May God help us to yield every thought to Him that we may have the mind of Christ in this world!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts.  They bring encouragement to me and others.  How has God worked in your life to stretch your mind and make it more like the mind of Christ?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just What Are you Downloading?

     Two weeks ago, we downloaded an upgrade to our software system in our office.  It was supposed to make utilizing the program much easier.  Unfortunately, what they did not tell us was that we were also getting some bugs which were not cleared from the system before it was rolled out to consumers.  Our wonderful IT tech has been working to eliminate the problems and the company promises future patches to fix the problems as well.  Few updates are perfect.  Most of us know that from our own home computers where every other week an update is sent out to fix a previous update.  On top of all the fixes, we also have to be careful to not download a virus, a trojan, or some other potentially harmful program that will lock up our computer.  It all sounds so complicated doesn't it?  However, it is not nearly as complex as the human mind nor is it as easily corrupted as our hearts become if we download the wrong things.
     During the years that I home educated our children, we had a verse posted in our school room.  It read:  "I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.  I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me" (Psalm 101:3).  This Psalm of David sets forth a very important principle which we tried to teach our children.  Whatever we allow to enter our minds can affect how we behave.  Just as a computer can download things that can create problems, so we can allow entrance to images, books, movies, games, magazines or other media that can cause us to stumble in our daily walk with Christ.  Once we have given entrance to these harmful things, they are not always easy to over come.  This is due, in part, because we have a marvelous memory that God has built into our brain.
     When we became believers, God did major surgery on our hearts.  The scripture tells us:  "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We are new people no longer bound by our sinful ways.  However, we are not yet perfected and we still have this proclivity to sin.  The difference is that once we are in Christ we have a choice to sin or to remain faithful.  This is why it is so important that we be careful what we take into our minds and eventually our hearts.  The Bible instructs us in Romans 12:2:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then, you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will."   The only way to renew our minds is to fill it with God's Word and to study in fellowship with other Christians.  Please do not misinterpret what I am saying here.  We can read other books, but we should evaluate it in light of the Bible.  Will it cause us to stumble or be drawn away from Christ?
     In the same way, we really need to consider what types of T.V. shows we watch as well as movies we see.  While most of us do not think that something can have a negative impact on us, we need to take the admonition of scripture seriously.  God knows our weaknesses.  He has given us His wisdom and His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  Therefore, we need to use the resources He has provided us with so that we can continue to grow in our faith.  Our goal is to have the mind of Christ as we walk each day rather than the mind of the world.
     Having had computers for a number of years now, I know how difficult it is to get rid of a virus or trojan once it gets into the system.  In the same manner, it is difficult to get images out of our head from seeing something or hearing something we should not have.  The best plan is to avoid those things which cause us to stumble in sin.  Just as we try to protect our computers with a virus program, so we also need to protect our minds as the Apostle Paul describes in Philippians 4:8:  "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  If we follow his advice, we will do well in our daily walk.  The choice is ours and it has never been more important to our witness.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights.  Your words of encouragement are a blessing to me and all who read this blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Finding Joy in the Small Things

     As many of you know, our grandson Branson has been battling a new type of seizure in the last few weeks.  The doctor was consulted and new medication was tried.  For a while, it did not seem like
it was working.   We all had been praying hard including our church family, our son and daughter-in-law's church family, Facebook friends and others.  Then, last week the seizures stopped.  How grateful we all were for God's grace and mercy to be shown in this young life.  However, God did not stop there.
     This past Monday, Branson had an appointment with his doctor concerning his seizure medications and when the visit was nearly over a miraculous event took place.  Our son took him down from the examination table and stood him on the floor.  Branson balanced by himself with no one holding him and walked three or four steps to his mother's waiting arms.  What joy filled my son's voice as he retold this story to me.  This was the first time Branson has walked on his own, and even this little guy knew it was an accomplishment as he smiled with excitement.  Certainly, this was another answered prayer.
     Following Bible study the other night, I told my husband that we are rich.  Our treasure is not made up of gold, silver, or properties.  Our wealth comes from moments like this...the little victories in life that are so often overlooked by others.  To be able to see our special needs grandson blossom in the Hands of our Almighty Father brings greater joy than any possession on earth.  On top of this, we have the blessing of other grandsons who never fail to fill our hearts with many smiles and love.  This is what counts in life more than all the toys a man could buy.
     Quite often, we overlook the small things in life which bring us the greatest fulfillment.  Jesus talked about the tiny mustard seed to His disciples.  They had come to Him having failed to cast out a demon.  Jesus replied to them:  ".....  For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20).  For those of you who may not know, a mustard seed is a very tiny seed.  However, Jesus says if we have faith just this big, it will move mountains.  Out of something small, we can find great joy.
     On another occasion, Jesus spoke of the coming judgment when the sheep and the goats would be separated.  As He speaks to His sheep, Jesus welcomes them to the kingdom that has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world.  Then, He gives them these words of exhortation:  "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" (Matt. 25:35-36).  Naturally, the people (His sheep on His right) responded in a puzzled manner:  "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?.....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'" (Matt. 25: 37, 40).  Herein lies the heart of the matter.  All of the actions that these people did were small.  They were not great, mighty feats performed before thousands.  Instead, they were acts of kindness demonstrating the love of Christ.  In the small things, these believers were blessed as they blessed others.  What's more, Jesus said that doing these things to assist others is like doing it to Him.  God sees the heart. He knows our motives.
     A final example of God being in the small things of life is found in I Kings 19.  Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and has run many miles to escape the wrath of Jezebel who has promised to have him killed.  He hides in a cave certain he is the only one  left in all Israel who is faithful.  Actually, he is in the middle of exhaustion and a major pity party.  God calls to him and tells him to stand on the mount and this is what is described:  "And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And behold, there came a voice to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" (I Kings 19:11b-13).  God came to Elijah in a still small voice not in the raging wind, fire, earthquake or any other manner.  He whispered to him and Elijah recognized it as the Lord.  God wanted Elijah to hear Him so He whispered to this prophet.  God's meeting with the prophet brought another assignment and reassurance that he was not the only one who had remained faithful in Israel.
     At times, we think it is a small thing to talk to God and wait upon Him to speak to us through the pages of the Word.  Yet, it is not a small thing at all.  We find comfort, peace, joy and strength for what God calls us to do just as Elijah did.  In fact, if we would just take our time each day to count all the small blessings, our day would be filled with praise for God.  Unfortunately, our human nature wants to emphasize only the big things...big house, big income, big accomplishments, big job etc.  However, we need to consider the mustard seed, the small acts of kindness towards others, and the still small voice of God.  Each of these things is small, but they are mighty.
     As I look at what God has done in the life of Branson in just this past week.  I stand in awe of our Lord.  Those first steps taken by a determined little fellow are more valuable than any trophy I ever won or any accomplishment in life which came my way.  For me, this is a gift to our family.  It is a small thing, but an extravagant gift from God that we have all prayed for.  Many of you, through your prayers, have been a part of this miracle.  It may seem like a small thing to pray for someone, but it makes a BIG difference in the life of that person.
     I hope you will begin, like I have, to look at the small things around you and find the riches of the Lord in them.  We are His children in Christ and heirs to a kingdom we cannot even begin to imagine.    May we find the joy He has for us in the small things in life. With those things, let us be content.  Selah!

I welcome your insights and comments here.  They bring encouragement to me and to all others who read here.  Blessings!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Demonstrating Charity

Inside the Cathedral of St. Giles, Edinburgh, Scotland
        " And now abideth faith, hope and charity these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
                                                      I Corinthians 13:13
        "Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered, unites us to God, for by it
          we love Him."            St. Augustine

     Charity is one of those words we do not hear much  today except in reference to foundations or groups that provide monetary relief for certain disadvantaged people.  However, this word implies so much more in the Christian life than the mere giving of money to help the poor.  As the verse of scripture quoted above implies, charity is the greatest of all the virtues a believer can display.
     In Webster's "American Dictionary of the English Language" 1828 edition, he defines charity in this manner:  "that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good.  In a theological sense, it includes supreme love to God and universal good will to men" (Webster pg. 35).  Webster had a grasp on what it means to demonstrate charity in a life.  In the flesh, we do not look favorably upon God or man.  We would rather run someone over than to help them up.  Our hearts are inclined towards evil always until that day that God draws us to Himself.  When we come to Christ, we have a new heart that seeks to please God, and for the first time, we really see people in a different light.  As Webster said, we have "that disposition of the heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men and to do them good."  This comes from God not from our own sin sick soul apart from Him.  So a question has come to my mind lately.  If we are a new creation in Christ, why is it that we, as believers, are often the ones to throw stones at others in the household of faith?
The Cathedral at York, England
     This morning I was listening to a podcast by Dr. R. C. Sproul.  His topic was predestination, and he planned over the course of the next few days to explain this doctrine.  One of the key things he stated is that all churches actually believe some form of this doctrine.  Further, he cautioned his listeners not to open fire on other believers who do not hold to the view of Martin Luther and John Calvin on this topic.  He said we can have discussions and disagreements on issues, but it should not lead to contention that does not demonstrate charity.  I loved his wise advice.  
     In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul gives him similar advice when dealing with false teachers in the midst of the congregation:  "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned" (Titus 3:9-10).  I enjoy reading Paul because he pulls no punches.  It is one thing to address heresy in the body of Christ and quite another to attack a brother/sister who don't happen to share our exact viewpoint on doctrine.  What if, in the end of our earthly journey, we find out that we were wrong on certain issues after all?  We have missed relationship with other believers in pursuit of proving we are right and at the same time, brought no glory to our heavenly Father.
Inside the Cathedral of York
     Life is short.  I think we are all aware of that.  God gives us so many years to walk on this earth reflecting the light of Jesus Christ in our lives.  If we spend our time finger pointing, name calling, or diminishing others to build up our own set of beliefs, we have lost the battle and allowed the enemy of our soul to have the victory.
     Charity grows out of the agape love that God demonstrated for us by sending His Son to die for our sins that we might have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.  Our Lord sends us forth to demonstrate that same agape love to our fellow man through our words and deeds.  Let us be people of charity putting aside our "I'm right, you're wrong" attitude and donning instead the humble clothing of a servant.  This is the way that Jesus taught us to live.  In the words of my wonderful mother, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."  If we demonstrate charity, we will win more listening ears than if we attack and condemn the ideas of others.  May God grant us the wisdom to know when to speak and when to remain silent.  And in all things...may God grant us a heart of charity towards one another.  Selah!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Must Read - Bonhoeffer by Edward Metaxas

Statues  of martyrs at Westminster Abbey in London, England
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is on the far right.
     I have just completed one of the most interesting and encouraging books I have ever read by Eric Metaxas.  The book is entitled "Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy".  While a lengthy tome, the detail concerning the life of this man of faith is outstanding and well-researched.
     Dietrich Bonhoeffer was raised in a prominent family in Berlin.  His father had been a distinguished professor at the university.  From his earliest days, Dietrich had been single-minded and intense in his study for the ministry.  He could have easily taken an academic post and taught theology but Dietrich felt a call to preach and teach.
     A providential trip to the United States led him to a church in Harlem which kindled a deep fire in his soul to make a difference in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler.  Many pleaded with him to remain safe in the United States or to go to England where he had ministered to a German congregation earlier in his work.  However, Dietrich felt his call was to return to his homeland to strengthen the Christians there against the tide of compromise he witnessed as the government interfered with the churches.
     Bonhoeffer was a leader in "The Confessing Church" which stood in opposition to many of the false teachings being propounded by the state church.  He worked hard to teach other pastors at a seminary in Finkenwalde (an unauthorized seminary)  until this work could no longer be carried out.
     Eventually, this man of faith made the difficult decision to enter a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler as a means to saving his country from destruction and to prevent further death of Jews and others under this reign of terror.  Unfortunately, the plot was uncovered resulting in his imprisonment.
     Prior to his arrest, he had worked with many of the top generals in this plot and even found time for romance in his life.  He had become engaged just before he went to prison, and within this book, there are letters written to his fiancee filled with hope for their future.  Indeed, the Allies were closing in on Hitler's Germany and the war appeared to be drawing to a close.
     On April 9, 1945 after preaching a Sunday service to fellow prisoners, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg Concentration camp.  This occurred just weeks before the Allied troops brought the war to an end.  The doctor at the concentration camp remembered:  (Just before the execution) "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to certain that God heard his prayer...I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
     This is perhaps the first time I have seen with clarity what it was like to live in Germany under the Nazi regime.  Quite often, people believe that all Germans supported Hitler and his henchmen, but this was not the case.  Many of the top leaders in the military were alarmed at the invasions of other countries and especially of the invasion into Russia.  Likewise, those who served in the military deplored the wholesale slaughter of women, children and men by the SS squads.  Within the pages of this book, we see another side to history through the eyes of a Christian leader who chose to take a stand.
     Every detail of Bonhoeffer's life was covered with depth so that we could really see who the man was.  The author, Edward Metaxas became a believer himself in 1988 and became interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he read the book "The Cost of Discipleship".  As his interest in this young pastor grew, he set out to tell his story.
     While the book is lengthy, it gives the most well-rounded and balanced description of Bonhoeffer's life.  The author even addresses issues of criticism that Bonhoeffer faced from other theologians of his day.  There apparently were many misunderstandings of just what he believed and stood for which are cleared up in the book.
      Being an outstanding theologian doesn't seem to square with Dietrich's involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.  However, as a person reads the context in which Bonhoeffer, his family and friends lived, we come to understand the need for action.  If there had been another way, I am certain Bonhoeffer would have taken it.  The choice before him, though, was to allow an evil government to go on murdering innocent people or take a stand to enter a conspiracy to stop the madness.  Bonhoeffer chose the latter believing it was the right thing to do.  If we have never been pressed into such a situation,  it is hard to imagine.
     Edward Metaxas does a wonderful job of helping us see inside the life of this man of faith.  We see his weaknesses, his strengths and his growth.  His stand for Christ is without question, and I promise you that you will see things in a different perspective once you have read this well researched book.
     I am a lover of history and especially of Christians within history.  I derive so much encouragement and faith by reading about the fearless stand others are willing to take.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was such a person.  He, along with others, was willing to take up his cross and follow Jesus.  May we be as strong in our faith should we be called upon to give our all.  Selah!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1930's
I welcome your thoughts here.  Please feel free to leave a comment.

Picture of Dietrich Bonhoeffer courtesy of Wikipedia.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me

     Years ago, my husband and I used to watch a show called "Hee Haw".  It was a country music show that featured funny little vignettes, clean jokes and good music.  One particular scene has always remained in my mind.  Several men were sitting around on the ground with their old blood hound stretched out beside them and they sang:  "Gloom, despair and agony on me; deep, dark depression excessive misery.  If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Gloom, despair and agony on me."  Of course, these fellows hammed it up by telling a brief story of their bad luck in between choruses.  It always brought a chuckle.  While the show poked fun at those who choose to have a negative outlook, the truth is that there are many in our world who seem to enjoy wallowing in the mud of self pity and gloom.  For them, all of life seems to be against them.  As believers, we are to demonstrate a different outlook on life.
     Within the book of Psalms, one of the key phrases given over and over is "Praise the Lord".  In the opening of Psalm 146: 1-2, we read:  "Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord O my soul!  I will praise the Lord as long as I live.  I will sing praises to my God while I have being."  Then in Psalm 147:1, we read:  "Praise the Lord!  For it is good to sing praises to our God, for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting."  Each Psalm on to the end of the book (Psalm 150) begins with this phrase.  In several of my education classes in college, our professor reminded us  that repetition was the best way to bring home a point, and he was right.  Any time a phrase or group of words is repeated we know that it is important to remember, and the Psalmists wanted God's people to know the importance of praise.  So why is praise so important to the Christian life?
Stained Glass Window at St. Giles Cathedral
Edinburgh, Scotland
     First, God is worthy of our praise (Revelations 5:11-14 and I Chronicles 16:25).  He is our Creator, Redeemer, the great I Am, the Alpha and Omega and our King of Kings.  Without Him, we would not exist or even take our next breath.  He made us in His image that we might glorify Him.  He provides for our needs and He sent His only Son to die for our sins.  Is there any more reason than this?  He is due our praise every day.
     Secondly, praising God reflects an attitude of obedience.  It is not always easy to praise God and at times, it is more than difficult.  However, the Lord tells us to offer up a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:5).  As scripture tells us, the fruit of our lips is an offering before our Father in heaven.  An added benefit to praising God when we are having a hard time is that it lifts us up as we lift Him up.   We can offer up righteous praise by singing praise songs or reading the Psalms out loud.  Certainly, if we do not know what to praise Him for, we can find abundant reasons in the Bible.  I challenge you to try to remain depressed if you make praise a regular part of your prayer life.
     Finally, praise keeps our eyes and hearts focussed on what matters most in life - the Lord.  Psalm 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people.  Even Jesus reminded us that "where our treasure was there would be our heart also" (Luke 12:34).  Investing our songs, words and hearts into the store house of God will reap blessings of a closer relationship to the sustainer of our lives.
The Cathedral at York, England
     One thing that needs to be clear, though, is that praise cannot be used to manipulate God to do what we want,  Sadly, our flesh is so eager to leap to the conclusion that if I just praise the Lord enough I will earn points from Him and He will answer my requests.  Nowhere in scripture, however, does it say that God dances to our tune.  We are His creation not the other way around.  We live to serve and worship Him.
     As our minds are renewed through prayer and Bible study, we will not be able to do any less than praise our  Lord.  In heaven, we will join the angels and the saints who have gone before in unending praise for what God has accomplished.  Therefore, we need to spend time practicing here on a daily basis.    The alternative, of course, is to lay down and join the boys on "Hee Haw" and start singing about all the gloom and despair.  This is what the world does all around us.  But if we want to make an impact as God's light and salt in this life, we need to praise the God of our salvation.  Let us take to heart the words of the Psalmist:  "From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised" (Psalm 113:3).  Selah!

How do you praise the Lord?  What helps you remember the good things He has done for you?  I welcome your thoughts and insights here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Misjudging Others

Scottish heather in bloom
     Have you ever made a wrong assessment of an individual that you met but do not know too well?  It is so easy to do.  Most of us have done this at one time or another.  We react to a glance in our direction at a gathering and read into it a negative connotation.  Then again, we may hear part of a conversation and make assumptions without having all the facts.  When we jump to conclusions about another person, we may decide to eliminate them as a potential friend before we have ever really had a good talk with them.  Unfortunately, we do not see others as God sees them. This happened to the Children of Israel as well.
A crown worn by the Wittlesbach family of Bavaria
     When the Israelites demanded a king of their own, God granted them their request warning them of the  demands a king would make on them.  However, they wanted to be like all the nations around them and were not satisfied with God alone being the head of their nation.  As a result, God sent the Prophet Samuel to anoint the first king of Israel.  God instructed him to set apart Saul for this position.  In I Samuel 9:2, we read this description of Saul:  "And he had a son named Saul, a handsome young man.  There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he.  From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people."  The writer here describes the appearance of this man chosen to lead the people.  No doubt his height and good looks made him appear to be the perfect man for the job, but not many chapters later in this book, we read of his jealousy of David, his sin against God by offering a sacrifice and his disobedience in consulting with a medium.  All of this was against God's Law.  Saul may have looked good on the outside but inside, he was sinful.
     Inevitably, God rejected Saul as King of Israel.  Samuel genuinely grieved over this, but God told him to go to Jesse the Bethlehemite and find a new king among his sons (I Samuel 16:1b).  The prophet came with a sacrifice to offer and invited Jesse and his sons.  When Samuel saw Eliab, he thought surely this was the one which God had chosen.  Then the Lord reminded him:  "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as a man sees;  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" ( I Samuel 16:7).  One by one, each of Jesse's sons came before Samuel and the Lord rejected them all.  Then, Samuel asked if there were any other sons and Jesse told him that the youngest, David, was out tending sheep.  Samuel asked his father to call him back.  When he came, the Lord made it known to Samuel that this was His chosen one.  So Samuel anointed David king although he would not reign until years later.
A shepherds crook
     This story in Scripture has a lot to say to us when we are tempted to make judgment calls on those around us.  First, appearances can be very deceiving.  Look at Saul.  He was handsome and seemed on the outside to have what it takes to be a leader.  Indeed, he did win some battles, but ultimately, he fell prey to following his own way of doing things rather than obeying the Lord.  Just because someone has charisma when they talk, or appear to be one of the "beautiful people" does not mean they will necessarily be a good leader, a friend, or someone we can trust.
     When it came to choosing a second king, God was very specific in what He was looking for when He spoke to Samuel.  He said that He looked on a man's heart not on his appearance.  As the sons passed by one by one, the Prophet kept expecting this one to be chosen, but chose the least of the brothers.  David is described as being the youngest with ruddy cheeks.  He was good looking but God saw into his heart.  It is through the line of Jesse that God would bring the long awaited Messiah.  It was His plan.  Good thing Samuel wasn't in charge, and it is also a good thing we were not in charge.
     How many times have we misjudged a friend, relative or co-worker?  Sadly, we often sound worse than children as we tell another, "Did you see the way he/she looked at me?  I know they are out to get me!"  In fact, it could be that other person is having a bad day and you didn't have anything to do with it.
     At other times, we may take a simple statement someone makes and build an entire case against that person when it is not at all what they meant.  We would all do well to look at the heart rather than appearance, facial expressions or words.  It takes time to get to know someone, and the important thing to remember is that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  If God did this for us, how can we then exclude others on the basis of comparing them to our own standards of conduct?  We have to see others through the eyes of Jesus.
     Granted, there are and will be people with whom we may not come to develop a deep relationship with.  We are not all alike.  However, God calls us first to a relationship with Him and then, to develops relationships with one another.  We need His discernment rather than for us to lean on our own understanding when it comes to this task.
     Think of how many family feuds could be avoided and how many hurt feelings could be spared if we would look at the heart and not outward appearances.  Satan loves to plant vain imaginations in the minds of the willing, so we need to be on our guard.  Instead, let us take up the mantle of Samuel and call upon the Lord to help us see someone's intentions and heart as He does.  We will find that new avenues of friendship and relationship are available to those who are not easily offended by others and who are willing to go the extra mile to get to know someone.  May we glorify God in our relationships and not be carried away by outward appearances.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments here.  Thank you  for visiting and I pray you have been encouraged.

Monday, October 3, 2011

That's Not the Way I Planned It

A Tudor style home
     Throughout my life, I have made many plans, but God had a different idea.  For example, I used to drive back and forth from our home in Defiance, Ohio to visit my parents in Napoleon, Ohio.  The route I chose was 424.  It was less traveled and a pretty drive along a portion of the old Erie Canal.  As I passed a certain piece of ground that had a nice slope to it, I dreamed of building a Tudor style home there one day with my husband.  This would be a quiet country place to enjoy the beauty of God's creation.  However, God closed some doors for us, and opened others which resulted in a move to Florida.  We do not live in a Tudor style home I had envisioned, but we do have a beautiful place on five acres where we raised our children and now enjoy our grandchildren.
Our church home - First Presbyterian Church of Lake Placid
     Our move was traumatic for me as we had to leave our family behind and venture to a community where we only knew one couple who had lived in Defiance before moving to Florida.  Nevertheless, God provided a wonderful church family for us that helped our transition.  I know I am not the only person who has made their plans only to find out that God had something different to accomplish in our lives.  Quite often, we think we KNOW how people should behave towards one another.  After all, they are not living up to our plan of how things should be.  Or, we believe we should have gotten a job and for some reason, God gave it to someone else.  The way we respond when the Lord moves us another direction tells us a lot about our character and willingness to obey.  Consider, for example, how Abram responded to God when He called him to another land.
       In Genesis 12:1-3, we read:  "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'"  What a tremendous promise God made to this man.  However, think about a few things with me.  Abram was 75 years old when the Lord called him.  How many of us at that age would think of leaving family and friends behind for a land we did not know?  Likewise, God promised Abram that he would make of him a great nation, yet Abram did not even have a child of his own.  His wife was barren.  Despite these circumstances, Abram believed God and obeyed Him.
      Abram took a 1500 mile journey that was energized by faith, and the book of Hebrews best summarizes this amazing journey in chapter 11 verses 8-12:  "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in a land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."
     In the passage, I love the writer's statement:  "And he went out, not knowing where he was going."  Isn't that the case that many of us face?  We had our plans.  Things were supposed to be thus and such, but then, they all changed when God pulled the plug on that scheme.  Even the Apostle Paul in many of his letters talks about how he had planned to visit a certain place but God prevented him from going.  He took him another direction instead.  Now here is the crux of the matter.  We can either believe God knowing that He is sovereign and follow His lead as Abram did or we can get mad, plant our feet, resist with all that is in us, and miss the blessing.
     God's grand design is His alone to know.  Through His Word, we receive wisdom and guidance, but like Abram, we must come to " look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder are God."  He has the architectural plans for our life, and He is sovereign in all things.  Therefore, we must avoid kicking at the "goads" as Paul did before he met the Lord.  He had things all planned out as to how he would eradicate Christians in the land until that special appointment with Christ on the Damascus Road.  It was there that the Lord turned his life upside down and ultimately brought greater blessing to Paul than he could ever imagine.
     All who believe in Christ have been purchased by His blood.  Scripture reminds us that we are not our own.  We belong to Him.  This is why it is so important for us to go to God and lay our plans before Him that He may direct our steps according to His sovereign will and purpose.  We may not be able to see the "why" immediately.  However, down the road, like Sarah, we will see the fulfillment of God's promises if we choose to obey Him with a joyful heart.  This is our call:  to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  It may mean putting aside our plans for His direction.  When we do, we shall find a richer life than we could have ever imagined.  I know I have!  He has been faithful to us in His call and given us rich blessings where He brought us to serve.  He will do the same for you.  Selah!

I welcome your comments here and your insights.  Please leave an encouraging word so that others can be blessed.