Monday, December 31, 2012

Resolutions or Regrets?

     It is that time of year again when we reflect on the last twelve months and consider our gains and our losses.  Many of us will consider some resolutions for the new year ahead.  Unfortunately, many of these pledges we make fall short before the end of the first month or two of the year.  Lets face it.  We may start out with good intentions, but in our own strength, we just cannot do it.  So this New Year's Eve, I am calling upon the only One who can finish the work He has begun in me.  I am calling on God, and my sincere prayer is that I might "hunger and thirst after righteousness" in every area of my life.
     In our Sunday School class, we have been studying "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount" by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  It is an examination of chapters 5-7 in the book of Matthew as given in sermons by Dr. Lloyd-Jones.  These sermons were then transcribed into a marvelous work which I highly recommend.  We think we have heard the Beatitudes and know this famous sermon of our Lord, but I, for one, have had my eyes opened in the short time we have been studying.  Each of the Beatitudes builds upon the one that came before it, so it is progressive in nature.  Once we know and acknowledge that we are poor in spirit (having no good within us), we can then mourn over our sins.  This, in turn, leads to a sincere humility of heart or meekness knowing that our only source of salvation and righteousness is in Christ.
     When we come to the fourth Beatitude, we read:  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6).  This Beatitude comes with a promise...that we will be satisfied when we seek to live a holy life before the face of God.  So how do we hunger and thirst after righteousness?  What steps can we take that will help us along this path?
     Dr. Lloyd-Jones has a number of suggestions to assist us.  There is nothing new in what he says, but it bears repeating.  If we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness, we need to make this the prayer of our daily life.  It is not a one time request, but a heart cry to God as we begin each day.  Living in this world with all its secular temptations is like walking through a mine field without a map.  Therefore, we need God's daily guidance and strength to stay focussed.  Prayer is the first important step.
     Secondly, we need to read the Bible with regularity making certain to study it not just read it.  Anyone can read a book and say they have completed the task, but God's Word is meant for study and meditation.  As we allow His Words to live in us, we will be changed.  Memorize the Word and get a plan for reading which will take you through the Bible.  Ligonier Ministries has several Bible reading plans for the year at their website and on Facebook.  They are free and offer an opportunity to help you organize your study time.
     Finally, we need to take a daily moral inventory.  We are all familiar with the trucks on the highway that have a sign on the back asking "How's my driving?"  In the same way, we need to think back over the day and ask ourselves questions about our walk with the Lord that day.  Are we seeking for His righteousness in our lives?  Did we step out of bounds at work or within the family?  We should begin as David did when he asked God:  "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me, and know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23).  Our Lord will reveal to us areas where we have transgressed, and we have only to repent and confess them.  By His strength, we can walk in the righteousness of Christ, but if we never take a moral inventory, how will we know?
     Jesus told us to "seek first the kingdom of God".  This is what I see in this Beatitude.  When we seek Him above all else, He will add what we have need of in our lives.  This is why it is my prayer resolution for this new year ahead.  I want to hunger and thirst for righteousness in Christ because the satisfaction He gives surpasses all else this world has to offer. It is the only resolution with a promise that comes from the highest authority, and He will even help us to reach this goal.  That beats any list of resolutions I have ever made and failed to fulfill.  Won't you join me in this New Year and make it your prayer as well?  God will bless us when we seek Him first and walk in His righteousness.  Selah!
One of the Cathedrals we visited in England had statues of godly men and women who had gone before.
It served as a reminder of how we are to live before Him.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Outward May Perish But the Inward Grows

     As we are coming to the close of an "old year", I could not help but reflect on the journey I have taken over the course of my lifetime.  Reading 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 this morning, brought encouragement to my heart today:  "And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I believed and therefore I spoke,' we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.  For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
     In reading this, I recalled the very difficult days when I cared for my mother during her ten year struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.  She came to live here in Florida where I could look after her.  It was a bittersweet time in my life to watch this bright, energetic woman slowly slip away from us.  However, God blessed our family when He gave her a roommate that prayed for her and read Scripture to her.  Having had the opportunity to care for her, I now cherish that memory.  Her outward body was failing but her spirit could hear and be renewed inwardly.
     I, myself suffer with Post Polio Syndrome as many of you are aware.  My physical body cannot do the same things it used to do without causing me discomfort.  But inwardly, I am being renewed.  We cannot look at external things which are only temporary but to inward things which are eternal.  That is a hard thing to do at times, but it is so encouraging to know that our Lord renews us each and every day on the inside where it counts!
     Some years ago, my dear friend and fellow blogger Pat Hunter ( also went through a difficult time with her own mother who was failing physically.  She sent me a reflection from a book called "Green Winter:  Celebrations of Old Age" by Elise Maclay.  It makes you think...especially about the infirmities of the elderly.
     "In line, in the supermarket, I stood next to a young woman with a baby.
       The baby drooled, His mother smiled and wiped his mouth with a tissue.
       The baby seized the tissue and threw it to the floor.
       His mother picked it up, laughing.
       He grabbed it again and threw it under our feet.
       Again and again.
       His mother laughed.
       The baby squirmed, disarranged his clothes, grew red in the face, babbled gibberish.
       His mother cuddled him and smiled.
       Would she be so gentle, so understanding, so kind,
       To an old father, trembling, murmuring,
       Wandering in his mind?
        Am I?  To my friends who falter and fail.
       Why do the infirmities of age revolt us?
        They seem unnatural.
        We're wrong; all living things move gently toward decay.
        Is a blasted oak revolting?
        Are we afraid?  Yes.  I draw inwardly away from my failing friends because I see myself in them.
        I don't drool, but tomorrow I may.  My hands shake and I don't always catch what people say.
        Help us to be as gentle with old people as we are with infants.
        Help us to look past the tic, the tremor, the gray failed flesh the way we look past the baby's
        helplessness to see a unique self reflecting your divinity."

     This is food for thought my friends.  As the old year outwardly is passing away, inwardly it is being renewed by a new year.  The same is true for us in Christ.  Our bodies may be growing older but inwardly we are to grow in Christ.  Our Lord loves us and sees the beautiful inward person we are for all eternity.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.  Please feel free to share your comments.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Message of Christmas

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard Von Honthorst (1590-1656)
courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
     As I was reading my Bible yesterday, I came across a wonderful, clear sermon which Paul spoke to men of Israel as well as Gentiles who worshipped God.  It was such a clear message that it bears reproducing it here.  The passage comes from the book of Acts 13:16-41  in the NIV version.
     "...Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!  The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; He made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power He led them out of that country, He endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, He overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to His people as their inheritance.  All this took about 450 years.
     After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.  Then the people asked for a king, and He gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years.  After removing Saul, He made David their king.  He testified concerning him: ' I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'
     From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised.  Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.  As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am?  I am not the one.  No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'
     Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.  The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.  Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have Him executed.  When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem.  They are now His witnesses to our people.
     We tell you the good news; What God promised our fathers He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.  As it is written in the second Psalm:  'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' ......
     "Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses. Take care of what the prophets have said does not happen to you:  'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe"  ( Acts 13:16-41).
     Paul speaks clearly to those assembled by relating their own history of God's intervention on their behalf.  He does it so succinctly that it is hard to miss.  Reminding people about the glory and provision of our heavenly Father is like giving a cold cup of water to a thirsty man on a hot day.  We are a forgetful people.  We need a strong reminder.
     As the Apostle traces the story from the Old Testament, we see how God's plan has been woven into history all along.  This is the beauty of the Bible.    It is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
     God's plan was for both the Children of Israel and the Gentiles to come into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the message of Christmas that we are forgiven of our sins when we believe in Christ.  He came that we might have eternal life.
     My prayer at Christmas is that many who are reading this will come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, for believers I pray that we can tell others this good news as simply as the Apostle Paul did in this short passage.  May God give us the boldness to proclaim this message of salvation.  It is the best Christmas gift we can give another.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts.  If God has touched your life, please leave a message here to encourage others.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Silent Night

One of the many churches we saw in Zurich
     Sitting in my home this evening, I turned on my Christmas village lights.  One of my new additions is a church with choir members that revolve through an open door.  The song "Silent Night" softly plays over and over again.  How this brings back memories for me of my childhood days and visits to my grandparents home.
     On Christmas Eve, our family would gather at my Grandfather Hess' home for a meal and gift exchange.  They had a large Christmas tree in one room but on a table in their living room sat a small Christmas tree with liquid bubble lights.  Over and over again it played "Silent Night", and I never tired of watching the lights and listening to the music.   This much loved hymn has an interesting history.
     During the winter of 1818, a group of actors who traveled around the countryside came to the town of Oberndorf, a small village near Salzburg, Austria.  Their intent was to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the church of St. Nicholas.  However, the church organ was not working properly and could not be repaired in time for this drama.  The actors decided to do the drama in a private home.
     As the Pastor Joseph Mohr went home following the drama, he took a longer path over a hill that overlooked the peaceful village below.  The silence of the night and the beauty of the snow covered homes made him recall a poem he had written some years before.  The poem was about the night that the angels came to declare the birth of the long awaited Savior to the shepherds.
     Deciding that this would make a good hymn to sing on the night of Christmas Eve, he went to the church organist Franz Xaver Gruber to compose the music.  There were only a few hours left in which to come up with the music which could be accompanied by a guitar since the church organ was not working.  By evening, the composition was complete and ready to share with the congregation at the service.   Pastor Mohr and Franz Gruber sang the hymn as Gruber played the guitar.
     Several weeks later, Karl Mauracher, a well-known organ builder, arrived to repair the church organ.  Once he had completed his work, he asked Gruber to test it.  When he sat down, he played the composition "Silent Night".   Mauracher was very impressed with the beauty of the simple tune and took copies of the words and music to his own town.    Eventually, two famous singing families heard the song and added it to their repertoire.  The song was spread all over Europe and eventually brought to the United States in 1838 and translated into English in 1863.
     In our own church, this hymn if often played and sung during a candlelight service.  Peace, quiet, reflection brought to mind as we sing it give us a sense of what it might have been like on the hillsides outside of the town of Bethlehem on the night of Christ's birth.  Scripture tells us:  "And in the same region there were shepherds out int he field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior; who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!'" (Luke 2: 8-14).
We can only picture in our minds the scene of calm and quiet on an otherwise, unremarkable night when suddenly God's angels descend to announce the birth of Messiah to these shepherds.  I believe this is what Pastor Mohr had in mind when he penned the words to this great hymn.
     Furthermore, we need to remember that God came to announce the birth of His Son not to kings and important people of the day, but to a group of lowly shepherds working on the hillsides.  Commentary notes tell us that shepherds often kept flocks nearby in the open that were to be used for Temple sacrifices even during the winter.  These men were considered ceremonially unclean as they could not follow all the cleansing laws; therefore they were despised and considered thieves as they moved around the countryside.  In addition, they were considered unreliable and often kept from giving evidence in a court of law, and yet, God chose these common men to bring the news of highest importance.  They listened to the angels and responded by going to see their Messiah.  How wonderful are God's ways?  They are so much wiser and higher than ours.  We would have taken to the airwaves or Facebook with our message about a Savior, but God went to the hillsides to tell the common man about His extraordinary entrance into history.
      Over this next week, as we hear the hymn "Silent Night" played, we need to reflect on this hymn and the picture it paints for us of that quiet night in Bethlehem.  As the angels announced His birth to the shepherds, so He also comes to us that we might hear the "Good News" of our redemption which was made possible through our Savior Jesus Christ.  Let us pause and replace our busyness with the calm of that "Silent Night".  Selah!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Only One Way

     Years ago when I worked in downtown Columbus, Ohio, my boss asked me to deliver some papers to another businessman.  I hated city driving because there were many one way streets, but I agreed to do the job.  Traffic was heavy and as I approached the address, I made a right hand turn.  Unfortunately for me, it was a one-way street and I had traffic heading right for me.  Quick thinking and God's providence kept me from getting into an accident as I was able to do a U turn and park over to the side of the street until I could calm myself.  However, a policeman saw the incident and gave me a lovely ticket.  There are consequences for going the wrong way!
     In like manner, there are consequences for not realizing that Jesus is the only way to God.  Many religions proclaim that they are a path to heaven, but Christ made it clear in Scripture that He is the solitary way to the Father.  As Jesus was reassuring His disciples concerning what was about to happen following the treachery of Judas, He made this statement: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  This is a declaration of exclusivity.  There are no alternative methods to reaching everlasting life.  It is a one-way street which God established according to His good pleasure.  Now you may not agree with this premise, but it does not make it any less true.
     C.S. Lewis puts it well:  "Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, is of infinite importance.  The one thing it cannot be is moderately important."  There is no middle ground and I tried to explain this to a Muslim friend in one of my classes at Ohio State University.  He told me I was bigoted because I declared Jesus Christ to be the only way to God.  I repeated John 14:6 and said that it was the Lord Himself who made this pronouncement.  He needed to look into the Bible for himself to see what it said.
     If the claims of Christ are true, they are true for everyone...not just some.  Jesus never asks for our opinion or our vote about His position as Savior and Lord.  He merely states His divine authority over the universe and demands our allegiance to Him alone.  There is no other way.  Now we can choose to go down the one way street the wrong way if we desire pursuing other means, but there are consequences.  Those who are found in Christ will receive everlasting life.  Those who choose to reject Christ face an eternity in Hell.    God sets before us two leads to life and the other to eternal agony.
     There are many among us today who have never heard the good news that Jesus Christ came into this world to fulfill the Law, die for our sins and rise again to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.  These dear people are going the wrong way on a one way street.  If we care about them, we need to be proactive at Christmas time to tell them the life changing story that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  This can be the best gift we could ever give to another in this season of celebration.  Selah!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Light in the Darkness

     In 2004, our area of Florida experienced three hurricanes that swept over the central part of our state.  Our inland county, which rarely experiences the effects of these storms other than wind and rain, took some direct hits and many were left with badly damaged homes.  Roofs were torn off and some homes completely destroyed.  Perhaps the worst part, though, was not having electricity in our community for about four days.  This is minor, I realize, to the huge storm which has wreaked havoc over the northeast.  However, it was quite a change for us with no power in the dead of late summer.  There was no air conditioning, no water  (being on well water we depended on our electric pump) and no lights.  It was eerie to hear nothing in the streets.  Cars could not safely travel as lines were down, but the worst part was the absolute darkness of the cloudy nights.  With no moon shining and no street lights, it was black when the candles were blown out.   I can remember feeling totally enveloped by the darkness as we lay in our beds trying hard to sleep in the heat of Florida.  How much we take for granted.  If it were not for our candles,  our evenings would have been spent in the dark.
     As I recalled this time in the darkness, I remembered the words of our Lord Jesus when He said:  "I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness (John 12:46).  Our world is filled with a deep darkness...the darkness of sin.  When Jesus entered this world, He came to drive that darkness away by shining the light of His truth into every corner.  Those who receive Him as their Lord and Savior by the gift of grace given to them now walk in the light and are no longer confined to the depths of darkness.
     While God created physical darkness and called it night, He did not create spiritual darkness which entered this world when man sinned against Him in the garden.   God's design was for us to walk daily in His light and fellowship being guided by His Spirit.  Therefore, He made provision for us by sending His Son Jesus Christ into the world to redeem us and restore the light of salvation to all who would believe.
     The great invitation of Christmas is to open our hearts to the Lord who has come to end our darkness.  Jesus said in John 12:36:  "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."  Once we have the illumination of the truth found in Christ alone, we will no longer  need to stumble in the dark.  In fact, He then, calls us to be a light to others:  "You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).
      This Advent season we need to examine our hearts and find out if there are any dark corners that still need the light of our Lord to shine in them.  As we come into His light, we will see our sin more clearly that we may repent.   Better for us to walk that straight and narrow path in His light than to stumble in spiritual darkness.  If you have not come to the light of Jesus Christ, I ask you to open the Bible and allow the lamp of His Word to show you the truth that is found in Him alone.   He came to bring us light and life.  Then, He has sent us out to share that Good News with others who still are in the dark.  May we be beacons of light and hope in this world as we tell others about the salvation found in Christ our Savior this Christmas season.  Selah!

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Monday, December 10, 2012

Redeeming the Time

     This season of the year is filled with activities, and we can get so busy that we lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.  I find myself in that bind often between working a job, participating in the life of our church fellowship and being available to our family to help whenever I can.  Fortunately, God provides some rich guidelines to help us make the most of our time.
     In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul helps us prioritize the way in which we decide what is the most productive use of our time.  Read Ephesians 5:1-17 and we will key in on certain verses.  Verse 1 begins:  "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also loved us and has given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma."  Our first priority, according to this verse, is to be an imitator of Christ.  How did Jesus use His time?  He used it wisely.  He took time to rest as well as minister.  He took time to pray.  He took time to worship in the Synagogue.  And in all that He did, He did it with love for the glory of His Father.
     If we analyze our activities in light of Christ's example, how would this change the way we do things?  For many of us, we try to jam too many activities into too little time and something has to give. We either do not get our work done or we exhaust ourselves to the point of sickness.  Jesus balanced His time even though He was greatly sought by the masses who turned to Him for help and healing.
     As we go on reading this passage, we see that Paul outlines those things which we are to avoid being involved with.  Impurity, sexual immorality, crude talk, course joking, filthiness of language.  All of these fall into the category of sin.  Our lives are meant to be righteous, holy and set apart unto the Lord in all we do.  Using our time wisely means we need to be in the Word of God so that "no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (vs. 6).  After all, we are to be a light in this dark world.  We are not to join in as partners with people who live in the darkness doing the things they are doing and talking like they talk. We were once like this, but now, we are children of light Paul tells us and as such, we are to be a witness "and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord" (vs. 10).  In fact, we are to expose deeds of darkness, but we cannot do this unless we understand how God wants us to live.  This is why we need to find the time during this season to read the Bible.
     In the last two verses of this chapter, we have a summary of how we are to use our time:  "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (vs.16-17).  The only way we can understand God's will is by following the example of Jesus that I mentioned above.  Being in fellowship, taking time to pray, reading His Word are all a means for us to know how to walk wisely and redeem the time.
     Each of us has only a certain amount of energy and ability.  Are we trusting our lives and time to God so He can direct us or are we being falsely led by the flesh and wasting our efforts.  Time is a fleeting thing and it is rapidly going by us.  Who can say when the Lord will return again?  Will He find us busy serving Him in the Spirit or will He find us asleep and unprepared?
     During this busy time before Christmas and New Year's, let us pray for one another that we might use our time wisely and be a light to those around us.  We do not need to get sucked up into the world's trappings and lose our solid grounding in Christ.  Instead, let us be careful to redeem the time God has given us that we might glorify Him.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights on this matter of using our time wisely.

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Friday, December 7, 2012

Finding New Joy at Advent

     It was all her fault.  My dear friend kept bugging me about joining choir.  I had many excuses for not joining.  The chief one was the time I left work on the evening of rehearsal.  We put in long days in our office and sometimes I do not leave until 6 or 6:30 p.m.  This means I have to race home, let our dogs out, feed them and change clothes.  If I am lucky, I can grab a quick snack to tide me over until I get home at 8:30 p.m.  Then, we have supper.  I had said "no" any number of times due to this reason.  However, this time was different.
     When she approached me, she said that the choir needed a few extra singers for our Christmas presentation.  I would only have to be committed during the month of December and then, we would be finished.  My first thought, as usual, was to say "no".  But there was something stirring in my heart.  Maybe I could do this one little part and contribute to the season.  Little did I know what God had in mind.  I agreed to come and sing.  It had been many years since I had participated in choir, so this would be a fresh start in some respects.
     After the first few rehearsals, I kept going back and forth in my mind over whether I could do this on a regular basis.  Then, I quickly put it out of my mind.  After all, this was a short term commitment, but I do love music.  I am one of those people who cannot get a tune out of my head.  Words stick with me.  When I read a book or watch a movie, I have to be careful because I become so involved that it stays with me for good or bad.  I believe that this is exactly what the Apostle Paul was writing about when he penned these words to Roman Christians:  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-3).   Singing hymns and songs to the Lord changes us and our thinking.  We become conformed to whatever we spend time doing.
     Driving home after our rehearsals, I found my joy growing.  I loved the sweet fellowship as we worked together to bring glory to God with our voices knowing that our hearts were united in love for God.  Paul again wrote this admonishment in his letter to the church at Ephesus:  "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:18-21).  What we were doing in our rehearsals was encouraging one another in the power of the Holy Spirit.  No wonder I left so uplifted!
     This past Sunday, I decided to join the choir on a regular basis.  My long buried passion for singing to God was reawakened and all by a simple invitation from a persistent friend.  In yielding my time and vocal chords to the Lord, He blesses me back many times over.
     There is a lesson in this.  First, be a friend and invite someone to a Sunday school class, a small group, the choir or to church.  Politely refuse to take "no" for an answer.  Look for those opportunities because there are people out there waiting to be invited to participate.  For months, I worked at inviting a friend to our small group.  She would always decline, but I never gave up.  One day, she came and soon after her husband joined as well.  They were a blessing to us and I believe they also were don't give up on anyone.  Secondly, if you are the person invited, it could be that God is calling you to something new that you have need of for your own life.  Pray about it and seek the Lord's guidance.  He will show you how to work around your schedule.  He did this for me.  
     Serving the Lord and others brings great joy.  Singing and making melody to the Lord brings Him glory.  Is the Lord knocking on your heart's door about something right now?  If so, don't fight it, but try it as I did.  "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:6) .  May we be those lights this Advent season and throughout the new year!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts.  How have you found special joy this Advent Season...what new door has God opened for you?

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In the Middle of Ordinary Circumstances

     During this season of Advent, I often find myself thinking about the miracle of our Savior's birth.  His coming to earth, however, was a quiet event that all began with God meeting Mary during ordinary circumstances of life.  This is how God often works in the lives of His chosen saints.
     Luke, the physician, writes in his Gospel account:  "In the sixth month the angel 'Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, 'Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!'  But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus'" (Chapter 1:26-31).  Looking at this situation, we see Mary probably going about her usual daily activities.  There was nothing out of the ordinary here, but when the angel appeared, everything changed.  This is how God works in our lives.  He meets us where we are at in the daily routines of life.
     When God met with Abraham, it was by the oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1-8). God's encounter with Jacob took place while he was napping, and Moses was tending sheep when he saw the burning bush.  In all these situations, people were going about their daily activities.  Somehow we have convinced ourselves that God can only meet with us in some spectacular way with a sign or a special word; yet, God's ways are much different than our ways.  He chooses to speak with a still small voice even though He could thunder an answer to our questions.  So how do we detect God in the ordinary activities like Moses, Abraham, Jacob and Mary?
     By walking in close relationship with our Lord each day through prayer and reading of His Word, we become attune to His footsteps in our lives.  Knowing His character, obeying His direction for our life, and seeking His guidance help us to recognize His presence throughout each day.  God is in the small details of our lives even more than the big ones.  This was illustrated to me today when a fellow came into our business.
     This gentleman had made several appointments with us for our professional services, but he either cancelled or did not show up.  Today, however, he came to say that he had not followed through because he lacked funds.  I suggested a free program that would provide for him (if he qualified) professional services without any cost to him.  He was delighted at this prospect.  During the time he was in our office, he overheard conversation about the Bible amongst our employees and was encouraged when we were able to repair his glasses.  Before he left, he told me that our office had been an encouragement to him.  He said we provided a lift that he needed and he knew the Lord had met him there today.  What a blessing to hear this!  We always try to treat everyone with kindness and a good witness, but God met this man in a special way that he needed today.
     As we prepare for Christmas, remember that God meets us in ordinary circumstances just as He met with Mary.  We need to take our eyes off of bright lights, big billboards, extravaganzas and other distractions and focus instead on the still small voice of God that meets us where we are at.  He speaks to us through His Word and communes with us in prayer.  Don't miss the blessing of the ordinary places this Christmas.  Instead, enjoy and embrace a daily walk with our Lord who desires to fellowship with us each day.  Selah!

How has God met you in an ordinary place?  I welcome your thoughts.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Be Ready

     As Jesus was sharing with his disciples, thousands had gathered to listen Luke records in his Gospel account in Chapter 12.  In verses 35-40, Jesus admonished his followers to be ready for His return.  In reading this passage, I began to think of this season of Advent that we are in presently.  Awaiting Christmas and celebrating the birth of our Savior is not much different from awaiting His second coming.  However, when He returns, as He said He would, will He find us busy about His work?  This  is the subject found in this passage.
     In verses 42-48, we read:  "And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.  But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming, and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  And that servant who knew his master's will, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.  Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.'"
     When we become a Christian, we enter into a covenant with our Lord.  We are His servants.  He has called each of us to a task in order to bring glory to God through our life.  Perhaps, we are a homemaker and mother to God's glory, or we may be a working person called to assist others in various ways.  However, whatever the place God has for us, He expects us to be obedient servants, following His commands and honoring Him by being a blessing to others.  We do not know when He will come again, and in the passage we just read, Jesus contrasted a faithful servant who is doing what his master has asked him to do and a scoundrel who decides to do what pleases himself rather than his master.  In both cases there are consequences.
     For the faithful servant, there is a reward of being given charge over more in his master's household. By contrast, the disobedient servant will receive a beating.  He failed his master because he did not do what was asked of him.
     Examples of this abound even in our homes.  When our children were young, they were asked to do certain chores.  They knew the ground rules and the consequences of not following through.  It brought me no pleasure as a parent to have to discipline them, but they needed to learn early on how important it is to follow through on our responsibilities.  The same is true in terms of our relationship with the Lord.
     Jesus has called us to be His ambassadors.  We are to share the Gospel with others and live holy, righteous lives reflecting the glory of the Lord.  Are we doing this each day or do we tell ourselves we have plenty of time?  After all, it has been 2,000 years since Jesus first walked this earth.  Yet, He could return even tomorrow.  We do not know the hour or the day, but we know He will return.  If we would live with His Second Advent in mind, we would be richly blessed for being a faithful servant.
     Are you hiding a talent you could be sharing? Are you neglecting to write or call  someone that God has placed upon your heart?  Whatever it is that He has called us to do, we must be about His business for we are His servants.  Let us be doers of the Word and not hearers only.  Let us be swift to obey and serve the Lord so we may not be found wanting in our service before our God.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights of encouragement.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover

Our handsome Aiden!
     During the Thanksgiving celebration at our home, I offered to read a classic book I had purchased for our grandchildren.  Four year old Aiden told me he didn't care to read that book because it looked boring and so did the illustrations.  His mother Bonnie overheard our conversation and gave him wise advice:  "You can't judge a book by its cover, Aiden."  Needless to say, this did not change the status of things so we never did open the book.  What a shame!  It is such a good story too.  However Aiden's response is not unlike others I hear from believers who feel the same way about the Bible.
     This past Sunday during worship service, our associate pastor asked how many of the congregation were taking the challenge to read the Bible through in a year.  The show of hands (at least in our service) revealed only a fourth of the gathered believers were committed to doing this.  It made me sad to see this response.  If only they would open the cover to see the treasures that lie within.  There is drama, intrigue, betrayal, action, tragedy, and ultimate victory in life all within the pages of this God-breathed book.  While our world is filled with lies, political correctness and half-truth, this book contains pure truth.  It is all we need for life and godliness, and it serves as a sword of protection against the deceit so rampant today.  There are many benefits to looking into God's Word which we will consider.
     First, the Bible describes itself as a sword.  Hebrews 4:12 reads:  "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  What the Bible does is to reveal our sins to us.  As we look into its pages, it shows us where we are falling short.  Furthermore, it is a powerful weapon in cutting down the lies and arguments that are raised up against God.  This book cannot only be used to keep us on the narrow path but it is also able to defeat the lies of our world system which come from the Enemy of our soul.  2 Corinthians 10:3-5 reads:  "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ;"  In this passage, Paul refers to the weapons of our warfare which include prayer and the power of the preached Word of God.  This is how the enemy is every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God which is found in the Bible.  The description of scripture, then, is more than accurate when it likens itself to a sword.  Do we want to be effective ambassadors for Christ to a world that is lost?  Do we want to be able to keep our lives filled with the righteousness of Christ?  Then, we need to open the book and look into its pages.
     Secondly, within the pages of God's Word, we see His character.  If we want to behold the face of God, we need to read His Word and let it dwell richly within us.  When Moses stood upon Mount Sinai and met with the Lord, he would return to the people with a face that was transformed from being in the presence of God.  The Bible describes his face as radiant.  Spending time with God does change us.  If we will take the time to read and study His Word, I guarantee it will change us.   As we delve into the Word and make it a part of our lives routinely (not just once in a while), we will begin to "think God's thoughts after Him".  This is the goal of our Christian walk that we be conformed to the image of Christ so that others might be drawn to Him.
     Finally the Word brings us spiritual food and drink.  Just as our body needs regular meals each day to fuel us with the energy we need to do our work, so our spiritual life needs regular food and drink.  Today, we have many congregations across our land filled with malnourished believers.  No wonder they cannot fight off the enemy of their souls!  They have no strength to do so.  Dr. R.C. Sproul said in a recent poll done on new believers, only 20% read the Bible.  While this study applied to new believers, I wonder how many seasoned believers ever read and re-read the Bible each day.  Jesus said,
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4b).  Our food is found in the Bible, and so is our drink.
     When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, He asked her for a drink.  During their discussion, He compared the temporary satisfaction of physical water with the eternal satisfaction of spiritual water:
The Word is like a sword.  These swords
were in "The Residence" in Munich, Germany
"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14).  Each time we open the Holy Bible to read it is like a refreshing drink on a hot, dusty day.  Our souls are washed and our minds are renewed.  Oh to drink the water and eat the bread of the Word daily!
     In our entertainment, electronic game playing, instant satisfaction society, the Bible might look like a boring book, and maybe, that is why so many Christians avoid reading it daily.  Yet, little do we realize that we neglect this book to our own peril.  This world with all its glittery distractions is passing away, but God's Word will never pass away.  Therefore, we owe it to ourselves and to our family to be a student of this book daily.  With prayer and faithful reading, we will grow into the likeness of our Lord whom we serve.  Don't judge this book by the cover because inside awaits the truth for which we hunger and thirst.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts today.  How has God's Word changed your life?  What helps you get into the Bible each day?

Monday, November 26, 2012

More Than an Heirloom

Thanksgiving 2012
     On the day following our Thanksgiving celebration, I lay down to take a nap tired from all the festivities.  Our house was deafeningly quiet after having eight adults and seven precious grandchildren (ages 5 on down) in our home.  Maybe this is why I had trouble falling asleep.  My mind wandered to days gone by and all the Thanksgiving celebrations of long ago.  I found myself teary eyed as I thought about my parents and my in-laws now long gone who made the holidays so special for our family.  Yet, through the blurry eyes, I found myself smiling as I remembered the precious times we shared together.  It is good to remember.  In fact, the Bible speaks often of remembering and never forgetting what God has done for His people or the commandments He gave to them.
     In Deuteronomy 6, the people were instructed to teach the Law of God to their children.  Verse 7 reads:  “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  God did not want His people to forget.  Later in this chapter, we read (verses10-12):  “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant – and when you eat and are full, then take care lest  you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
     Throughout this passage, the people were encouraged to remember that all they had was a result of God’s goodness to them.  They were to meditate on His Word, obey His Laws, and be a thankful people.  This is important for us to remember because sometimes we forget Jesus and all He has done for us to bring about our freedom from sin.  Somewhere amidst all the wrapping paper, shopping till we drop, and get-togethers, we forget the real reason for the season just as the Children of Israel did.  It is easy to do.
     As I was decorating today and setting up my manger scene, a song came drifting back in my memory.  It was a song I had sung many years ago for a Christmas celebration entitled “Heirlooms” written by Amy Grant, Brown Bannister, and Bob Farrell.  The words are as follows:
           “Up in the attic,
             Down on my knees,
             Lifetimes of boxes,
             Timeless to me,
             Letters and photographs,
             Yellowed with years,
             Some bringing laughter,
             Some bringing tears.

             Time never changes,
             The memories, the faces
             Of loved ones, who bring to me,
            All that I come from,
            And all that I live for,
            And all that I’m going to be.
            My precious family
            Is more than an heirloom to me.

            Wisemen and shepherds,
             Down on their knees,
             Bringing their treasures
             To lay at His feet.
             Who was this wonder,
             Baby yet King?
             Living and dying
             He gave life to me.

             Time never changes,
             The memory, the moment
             His love first pierced through me,
             Telling all that I come from,
             And all that I live for,
             And all that I’m going to be.
             My precious Savior
             Is more than an heirloom to me. “

     Our Lord should be more than an heirloom that we trot out at Christmas and Easter.  He is the Lord of life, and we must never forget that He was born into this world to die for our sins that we might live for Him.  Daily our lives should be a testimony to  His love and grace.  My prayer is that He will always be more than an heirloom in our lives!   To Him alone be the honor and the glory, Amen.                

Monday, November 19, 2012

Here Comes Martha!

Christmas display in Lakeland, FL
     Big meals don't just happen or fall out of the sky.  I wish they did.  Then,  it would not take so much effort to make them.  When you have family or friends come for Thanksgiving or any major occasion, preparation is a key to success.  I think Martha Stewart would agree.
     With that in mind, I ventured to the grocery store this past weekend to stock up on all the necessary items in order to create the various dishes I have planned for our family feast.  Trouble is everyone else was doing the same thing so the stores were crowded, shelves were empty of certain products, and some folks were not in a very jolly frame of mind.  Listening in on various conversations as people passed by me, I could tell that minds were thoroughly engrossed on the task at hand.  Discussions included who liked this or that particular item, when was uncle "so and so" arriving, and the usual concern of whether they would have enough to feed everyone.  As I pushed my cart along, I couldn't help but wonder if in all the preparation we were forgetting the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving.  If, somehow, we have ignored the many blessings of God amidst the hustle and bustle of preparation.  Then, I recalled the story of two women in the Bible whose approach to an important evening of eating and fellowship was completely different.
     In the book of Luke 10:38-42, we read:  "Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to Him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.'  But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'"  As we read this, it becomes evident that Martha was distracted with all the work of preparing and serving the meal while Mary sat listening to Jesus teach.  I am certain that Martha had her heart in the right place by demonstrating hospitality, but she forgot the most important element of the evening....fellowship with her Lord.
     Growing up, I can well remember the preparations in our household whenever it came to a big family get together such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.  My mother would fly into a frenzy of preparation.  She would clean the house and often it was late at night.  One time, I remember waking up at 2 a.m. to the sound of a vacuum cleaner running downstairs as she put the finishing touches on the house.  Everything had to be perfect.  By the end of the evening following our dinner, she would collapse exhausted in a chair.  I am not certain how much she really enjoyed the whole event because her sole emphasis was on the preparation and serving.  She definitely had a "Martha Syndrome".  In fact, many of us do have this approach unless we check ourselves by looking again at what the Lord told her.
     When Martha complained about Mary not helping her, I think she expected the Lord to rebuke Mary and encourage her to pitch in and do her part.  Imagine Martha's surprise when the Lord told her that she was worried and ruffled over many things, but she needed to really concentrate on only one.  She needed to do what Mary had done.  She needed to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His teaching.  Martha forgot that the greatest part of fellowship is being a good listener to your guest.  She had invited Him into her home to enjoy community but then, she departed to cook, serve and clean up.  Couldn't the dishes have waited a little while?  Did she have to have everything perfect?  These are questions we all need to ask ourselves as the holidays approach.
     Certainly, there are things we must do to prepare for a meal, but we need to remember what we are gathering for and why.  On the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims desired to thank God for bringing them through their first successful harvest in the autumn of 1621.  Their special guests were the Wampanoag native Americans who had taught them how to grow some of the crops they were blessed with that year.  The Pilgrims rightly gathered to thank God for ultimately He was the One who had provided for their needs in this new land.   In the same way, for generations, families have gathered to remember the blessings of God throughout the year or do they?
     Often, Thanksgiving becomes merely a big meal day with football games, drinking and lots of cleaning up to do when the crowd goes home.  There is little thought to keeping our eyes on Jesus as Mary did.  We have forgotten the central reason for our hospitality.  Instead of gorging ourselves on every tasty treat we can make, we need to reflect on all that God has given to us throughout the year:  life, health (no matter what condition that is in), homes, food, jobs, friends, neighbors, family, clothing. If we have any of these, we are blessed.  There are people in this world who would love to have even a tenth of what we have, yet, we are often ungrateful and complain not unlike Martha.
Thanksgiving 2009 at our home
     So what will it be this year?  Will family and friends say, "Here comes Martha" when they see us bustling around the kitchen or will they see a heart like Mary's that has time for fellowship and gives praise to God for His many blessings?  We need not be so distracted by things which didn't get done before everyone arrives, and if the meal is less than successful, this should not stop us from praising God for His blessings all the same.  Remember the words of Jesus when He told Martha, "Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."  Let us choose the "good portion" this holiday time and not get lost in all the busyness of the season.  May we never forget the "true founder of our feast" the Lord God Almighty our King.  Selah!

Friday, November 16, 2012

What Are Your Expectations?

     I was reflecting this morning on my expectations in life.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have had high expectations about people, the holidays and life in general.  I am certain many of you can relate.
     I would discover something outside that I thought was absolutely wonderful, and I would run inside all excited to tell my mother.  However, her response was always disappointing because she didn't get as excited as I was.  Or, I would anticipate a certain gift at Christmas time only to discover that no one had purchased that for me.  Finally, I might expect someone to do a certain thing for me only to be disheartened that they never thought about doing it.
     Our expectations can let us down, and the holidays can be a depressing time if our expectations are on the wrong things.  All we have to do is watch the T.V. ads which show the idyllic family gathering, happy faces all around and an abundance of food and gifts.  These ads paint an often false picture of real life.  It represents the world's concept of perfection not what God wants us to focus on.
     In Luke 2:25-38, we read about two faithful servants of the Lord who lived near the Temple and served Him all the time.  One named Simeon asked the Lord to allow him to live till He could see the Messiah.  The other servant was Anna who stayed in the Temple constantly worshipping the Lord.  These two saints were living to see God's salvation.  Their expectations were fastened to the right thing.  When Simeon saw Jesus, he said:  "Lord now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel."  Simeon went on to prophesy over Jesus.  Anna, a widow who lived near the Temple, blessed the baby Jesus when she saw Him.
     Oh, to be like both Anna and Simeon!  Their expectations were on the right things.  We know that Jesus will never disappoint us!  He is the best gift that God could ever bring into our lives, and the best friend we could ever have.
     As the holidays approach, we need to check out our expectations.  Are we setting ourselves up for disappointment by putting our expectations on the wrong things or are we looking to the Lord this year?  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  This Thanksgiving and Christmas, let us put Christ at the center of all we say and do.  Then, we will never be disappointed!  Selah!


I welcome your thoughts and insights.  May the Lord bless you for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Am I Serving God at Work?

     Have you ever thought about your vocation?  I don't think I have ever really given my life's work much attention in terms of how it relates to my spiritual life, but in a recent edition of "Modern Reformation" magazine, I read an excellent article by Gene Edward Veith entitled:  "The Doctrine of Vocation, How God Hides Himself in Human Work."  This article opened my eyes to the misconceptions that many of us carry concerning our every day work whether in the home or outside of it.
Grandson Aiden hard at work with his Daddy Aaron
     For the medieval church, the term vocation meant belonging to a religious order.  Only those in full-time ministry were considered to be on the inside track to heaven.  Their work was looked upon as being sacred and fulfilling.  All other work was mundane and unimportant.  However, Martin Luther broke through that understanding of vocation as well as interpretation of Scripture when he nailed his ninety-five theses on the cathedral door.  He believed that vocation included the office of husband and wife through whom God works to bring up children.  In fact, according to Gene Edward Veith, Luther believed that God gave gifts through His means thereby being able to meet the needs of His people in community.  We have daily bread because there are bakers, retailers and truck drivers who bring the baked goods to the store.  It is through our economic system that God provides for our daily bread.  Likewise, while a person can receive a miraculous healing, God has ordained the vocation of doctor, nurses and other health care providers who can bring about His healing work.  All of this is God's providential working to provide for our needs.  He is behind it all....soli deo gloria!
     God is graciously at work behind the scenes, as it were, to benefit both believers and unbelievers in this world.  His care for us extends through the work of other human beings to His great glory.  Behind the work of our parents who raised us, our teachers who have educated us, our spouses who provide care for us, our employers, and yes, even our government stands the Lord Himself who bestows His many blessings.  When we look at things this way, no job or vocation seems unimportant does it?
     Our purpose behind our vocation is in serving others and this is especially true for Christians.  Jesus told us in Matthew 20:26-28:  "It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."  He spoke these words to his disciples who were arguing about who would get the place of prominence next to Jesus when He came into His kingdom.    They had their thinking out of line with God's purposes.  For His disciples as well as for us today, we are meant to serve one another and not to be served.  Believers in Jesus Christ are not a part of our entitlement society.  We are born again to be servants of the most High God for the benefit of our fellow man whether they are part of the covenant community or not.  This is how we will attract and win people to the our love for one another and for those outside the household of faith.
     Furthermore, while we may think that we choose our own vocation, in reality, it is God who calls us to a certain work and equips us with the talents, skills and inclination to accomplish the work.  Again, God is behind the scenes working to direct us through others to the vocation for which He has made us.  The job interview, college scholarship, internship or job offer are all clues to the direction the Lord wants us to take in our lives.  Let me also state emphatically that we are called to multiple vocations in our lives....not just one.  Perhaps the most important calling we have is to our home and family.  Being a homemaker, parent and spouse are all offices that are sacred in the eyes of God.  Working outside the home is merely one avenue of fulfilling God's call on our life.  However, it is not the only one.
     Perhaps the most poignant comment that Mr. Veith makes in his article comes in his discussion of those menial jobs that people tend to think God could never call us to.  He writes:  "Essentially, one's vocation is to be found in the place one occupies in the present.  A person stuck in a dead-end job may have higher ambitions, but for the moment that job, however humble, is one's vocation.  Flipping hamburgers, cleaning hotel rooms, emptying bedpans all have dignity as vocations, spheres of expressing love of neighbor through selfless service in which God is masked.  Perhaps later, another vocation will present itself.  Vocation is to be found not simply in future career decisions, but in the here and now."  If only we could grasp how important this point is for us!  What a difference it would make in how we do our daily tasks!  No job is too small especially if we see it as an opportunity to serve others and share the good news of the Gospel.
     Our faulty thinking has often been the culprit in our poor attitude about our calling in this life.  We tend to think that unless we are preaching the Bible, writing a book or doing some other GREAT work of ministry we are "less than" when it comes to serving the Lord.  Yet, we forget that in our current vocation, whatever that may be, we are reaching people that our pastor cannot reach.  God's plans and way of thinking are far removed from ours.  His design for us is to bring us to maturity and conformity to Christ.  He will do all that He has said He will do and the good work which He has begun in us will be completed.  Isn't that wonderful to know?  Therefore, we do not need to stress about vocation.  We only need to know that the work we do and the talent we share should be done for the Lord's glory.  He is using us to serve others.  As Jesus clearly taught, the greatest commandment is this:  (Matthew 22:37-40) "And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'"
This is our goal as a believer when it comes to serving God through vocation.  May this inspire us to be all we can be on a daily basis and give us some new ways of looking at our vocation.  Selah!

Modern Reformation, Vol. 21, No. 6, November-December 2012, pgs 30-33, Gene Edward Veith, "The Doctrine of Vocation How God Hides Himself in Human Work."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Near to the Heart of God

     Thirty-three and a half years ago, my husband and I moved to the small rural town of Lake Placid, Florida.  Having grown up in the quiet farming community of Napoleon, Ohio, I loved the peace and friendliness that comes from a small town.  While my husband's hometown was larger (Defiance, Ohio), there was still the congenial atmosphere that comes from knowing your neighbors and sharing life together.  When he went off to professional school, we were both exposed to large city living.
     After spending four years in the  city of Columbus, Ohio,  where my husband attended the College of Optometry, we were both ready for a slower pace of living.  Large cities are great to visit or shop in, but this "country mouse" enjoys freedom from "rush hour" traffic, lower crime rates,
less noise, and the opportunity to know your neighbors.  As a result, our choice of small town Florida was a "no brainer" for us.  We had a chance to breathe, slow down, and enjoy family.
     Even in our spiritual lives, we have a deep need to find that quiet place where we can retreat with God.  The fast pace of every day living drains us of all our reserves both physically and spiritually.  No matter where we live, all of us need to be able to find that soul reviving spot where we can be near to the heart of God.
     Our first invitation to find rest comes from our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 11:28-30:  "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  At first glance, this appears to be a sweet call to lay down our burdens.  Indeed it is but we need to understand the context.  The religious Pharisees at the time our Lord walked the earth had made people believe that following the Law brought salvation.  However, because man is sinful and incapable of obedience to God's Law, this job was impossible.  All fall short in this area.  None of us is capable of keeping the Law.  Jesus' invitation to come to Him brought freedom from the bondage of sin.  His yoke brings rest.  Unfortunately, as believers, we can pick those nasty, heavy burdens up again when we begin to think that we can do this "Christian life" in our own strength.  This is when we need a prayer retreat right where we live.  Coming to Jesus, laying the burdens down (especially things we have no control over) and putting on His yoke through prayer brings rest to our soul and rejuvenation.
     A second place we need to visit is the valley where we find rest and where our "Good Shepherd" leads us beside the still waters.  Psalm 23, while short, offers us a picture of what it means to be a sheep of God's fold.  In verse 1 and 2, we see the Lord as our shepherd who makes a place for us to rest and drink deeply of His refreshing water.  We know from the conversation that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman that He is the living water that satisfies our thirst forever.   So where can we find this living water?  According to Ephesians 5:26-27, we find it in the Word of God:  "...that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish."  This is where we find "living" water daily.  It is to be our food.
     As the Psalm goes on, we see our Shepherd leading us in paths of righteousness and even guiding us through the "valley of the shadow of death".  He is there to comfort us, console us and protect us.  The concluding verses teach us that God has prepared a table for us and a cup of oil with which to anoint us.  This means we are set apart, chosen, elect.  However, the key thing to remember is that to be near to the heart of God is to be in His Word.  This is the valley of rest, the stream of "living" water, and the cup of anointing for us.  If we need refreshment, quiet and peace, we will find it in the Holy Bible.
     Finally, when we really want that feeling of drawing near to God's heart, we will find it in corporate worship with other believers.  While prayer and Bible reading can be done alone in retreat mode, fellowship provides rest from the assaults of the world upon our thinking.  Here we are surrounded by other saints of like mind who can encourage, exhort, lift up, and hold us accountable.  God wants us to draw near to Him, but He does not ask us to go to a monastery to accomplish this.  We were made for community because there is strength in numbers.  In addition, we have others to pray for us and hold us up when we think we cannot go on.  Hebrews 10:23-25 reads:  "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  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."  This is not unlike a small hometown.  We know each other, love each other and help one another.
     When we seek to draw near to God, He draws near to us.  We have a perfect formula for finding rest, peace and joy in this busy, hectic world.  Simply come to Jesus and lay down our burdens in prayer.  Then rest in the valley of our Shepherd and find "living" water in His Word which cleanses us and renews our mind and finally, we can enjoy the fellowship of the saints.  Worshipping together brings encouragement to go on through our busy weeks.   As the holidays approach, we have even more need to escape the hustle and bustle and find time to come near the heart of God.  So whether you live in a city or are a country mouse like me, we must remember to take time to draw near to God's heart.  As we do, we will find the rest and quiet that will calm our hearts and give us strength for tomorrow.  Selah!

I welcome, as always, your thoughts.  Where do you find pleasant refreshment in the Lord?