Saturday, March 31, 2012

His Amazing Grace Each Day

Behind the Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling, Scotland
     When my father died, I was all of 33 years old and the loss seemed unbearable.  He was much too young to die, but a rare brain virus, Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, took his life.  As I readied our family to make the flight to Ohio for the funeral, a friend assured me that God's grace would be there just when I needed it.  She was correct.  During the visitation time, I felt a peace come over me and a strength lift me up.  In fact, I had people tell me that I had comforted them while they had come to comfort me.  This was all of God's grace at the very time I needed it.
Outside the Governor's House at the Castle of Edinburgh
     In much the same way, God has carried both my husband and I through a journey over the last couple of months on the wings of His strength.  During a routine physical, the doctor thought something might be amiss with my husband's heart so she ordered an echocardiogram.  Following this test, she saw issues of concern and referred him to a cardiologist.  This doctor ordered two stress tests which again seemed to indicate that further investigation was required.  As a result, my husband underwent a heart catheterization
today.  I am happy to report that his test went well and no blockages were discovered.  It appears that his heart is healthy compared to the preliminary results of some of the other tests.  We were relieved, but we were never afraid.  Concerned, yes.  However, we felt the grace of God carrying us along every step.  It is a peace that undergirds and calms the soul in ways that are hard to explain.
     Today, as I entered the hospital waiting area, I saw a large picture on the wall that read:  "God is in control".  Below these words was this verse from Isaiah 43:10:  "...fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God;  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  What a blessing to read these words of encouragement from the Lord! For we know,  God does not promise that we will not face various trials or difficulties.  This is common to all men whether a believer or not.  However, His grace is more than sufficient for us as we walk through the valleys of life.
     My Grandfather Engel, who died when I was six years old, was a godly man.  He had a heart condition that doctors felt would take his life much sooner than it did.  However, he was a man of prayer who never failed to trust in the Lord each day.   By his couch, where he napped each day and knelt for prayer, he had a poem hanging on the wall.  It is entitled "God Hath Not Promised" by Annie Johnson Flint:
                                           God hath not promised skies always blue
                                           Flower strewn pathways, all our lives through;
                                           God hath not promised sun without rain,
                                           Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

                                           But God hath promised strength for the day,
                                           Rest for the labour, light for the way,
                                           Grace for the trials, help from above,
                                           Unfailing kindness, undying love.

                                           God hath not promised we shall not know
                                           Toils and temptations, trouble and woe;
                                           He hath not told us we shall not bear
                                           Many a burden, many a care.

                                           But God hath promised strength for the day,
                                           Rest for the labour, light for the way,
                                           Grace for the trials, help from above,
                                           Unfailing kindness, undying love.

                                            God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
                                            Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
                                            Never a mountain, rocky and steep,
                                            Never a river turbid and deep.

                                            But God hath promised strength for the day,
                                            Rest for the labour, light for the way,
                                            Grace for the trials, help from above,
                                            Unfailing kindness, undying love.

     This poem has always been a treasure to me knowing that my grandfather derived encouragement from the words which speak of God's daily grace.  Not only are we saved by His amazing grace, but we are kept as we walk through this life by this same grace.  As my friend so correctly told me when my father died, God's grace will always be there just when you need it most.  He can see us through the most difficult places in life.  This is our hope, our strength and encouragement until He calls us home!  Selah!

Inside Warwick Castle in Warwick, England
I want to thank many of you who prayed for my husband and I during all the testing that has gone on.  I pray that this devotion has encouraged you.  Please leave your comments.  I read and treasure them.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are We That Addicted?

     Trust me...I love my IPhone, IPAD, IPOD and MacBook.  I have been a techno Mom from the word go and now I am a techno Grandmother as well.  However, there are some issues that concern me about all our wonderful gadgetry.  As I was driving home the other day, I had a very close call.  Another driver began drifting into my lane causing me to nearly run off the road.  They corrected their vehicle just in time and guess what?  They were glued to their cell phone like their life depended on it.  I took a deep breath and thanked the Lord for His protection.  These types of incidents are not isolated.  Nearly every day, I see people driving their vehicles with a cell phone seemingly stuck to their face.  Can't calls wait until they arrive home?  Don't they have a voicemail that will allow them to return the call at a better time?  I understand emergencies and the need to connect when something has happened, but often, there is no urgency to the phone conversation.  It is something that could have waited for another time.  However, what was even more surprising to me was something I witnessed at a recent conference.
     When my husband and I attend any gathering of Christians for the purpose of fellowship around the Word of God, we turn our cell phone ringers off while the speakers  are presenting their talk.  This year at the Ligonier Conference, we were amazed at the number of people who came to the sessions with their cell phones on.  I observed a fellow texting during the entire presentation by a speaker.  Another person worked on his laptop.  I admit I had my IPAD, but I was doing some note taking on it so I could review what the speaker said following his talk.
     Quite frankly, I think I must be old school.  I grew up without cell phones, IPAD's, laptops, and even computers.  I actually learned how to sit through a talk and take lots of notes so I could remember what was said.  Now that I have and enjoy using the modern technology...I still take notes and listen carefully to a speaker.  I have to wonder, though, are we that addicted to technology that we cannot sit for an hour and listen to a speaker without checking our email, playing a game or texting a friend?  Will the world self-destruct during the time we are not on the "NET"?
     In Scripture, we see a similar scene being played out in the life of the disciples.  They may not have had electronic distractions, but they were not able to watch with their Lord and Master as He prayed in the garden.  Mark 14:32-41 describes the scene:  "And they went to a place called Gethsemane.  And He said to His disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.'  And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And He said to them 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.  Remain here and 'watch'" (vs. 32-34).  What transpires next is His heartfelt cry to the Father concerning what He was to face; yet in the end, He yielded in perfect obedience His will to the Father's.  Verse 37- 41 describes what happened next:  "And He came and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, 'Simon are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not come into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.  And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy, and they did not know what to answer Him.  And He came a third time and said to them, 'Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come.  The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners."
     Jesus had made a simple request for His disciples to watch and pray with Him.  He was in deep turmoil over what He would have to face.  However, three times in a row, He returned to find them asleep.  This occurred right after Peter had protested that he would never deny Jesus even if it meant he had to die with him.  Would we do any better than these disciples?  I do not think so.
     Some at the conference we attended could not even sit one hour to hear a speaker without clicking away on their cell phone to send text messages or "tweet".  It made me wonder why they had spent the time and money to come when they seemed so far removed mentally from what was being said.  I had to wonder if, indeed, technology and electronic gadgetry is displacing God?  Are we becoming so attached to it that we do not have time to concentrate on a church service, conference speaker or musician?
     Obviously, I love the internet and the ability to communicate with people all over this world.  It can be a marvelous tool for reaching others very quickly.  Nevertheless, it can also be an addiction and temptation that keeps us so preoccupied that we do not have time for God and His Word.  I am as guilty as the next person for wasting my time in fruitless game playing, or some other activity.
     Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray that they may not fall into temptation.  He further reminded them that the flesh was weak even though the spirit was willing.  This holds true for us as well.  We need to take some time to evaluate our use or over use of our electronic devices.  Certainly, this is especially true while we drive.  In addition, we also have to keep in mind that a face to face encounter with another human being is far more effective than just sending them a text message.  Our goal should be to spend quality time first with the Lord and second with our family and church family.  Nothing is as meaningful as that.  A text message cannot give a hug.  An email cannot replace a smile, and a phone call cannot connect as well as an eye to eye conversation.  Lets keep these things in mind the next time we attend church, a Bible study, or a Christian conference.  May we be watching for Jesus and praying for  His soon return.  Selah!

How do you handle the distractions of cell phones, laptops and other devices?  I welcome your thoughts on this important topic.

Monday, March 26, 2012

When Worldviews Collide

     A collision is not a pleasant experience.  The first time I was in an accident was in my parent's driveway.  My nephew was young and I was busy trying to get him to sit down and stop jabbering as I backed my mother's car up.  Unfortunately, I was so distracted that I backed across the large driveway into my father's car.  Needless to say, the crunching sound was the last thing I wanted to hear or tell my father about.  He couldn't believe that I had such skill in driving, but he did forgive me.
Armor displayed in the Tower
of London
     Besides car collisions which are never enjoyable, there is another type of collision happening every day all around us.  It is the collision of worldviews, and over the years, the intensity of these combats has increased.  This was the main theme of Dr. Del Tackett's presentation at the Ligonier Conference which my husband and I attended.  Dr. Tackett is the president of the Focus on the Family Institute and is known for advocating the importance of developing a Christian worldview in "The Truth Project" and other endeavors.  My husband and I had the privilege of leading "The Truth Project" at our church and it was a life changing series for us. 
     Of essential importance in Dr. Tackett's presentation is the notion that there is no area of life to which God has not spoken whether it is in science, education, labor, family etc.  This was the key premise in "The Truth Project".  The problem for Christians is that we have bought into the lies of the world and not clearly proclaimed our message that Christ is "the way, the truth and the life."  In Him, we are able to see how God does speak to us in every area of life.
     Currently, I am reading a book by Dr. Michael Horton entitled "Where in the World is the Church?".In his book, he quotes Abraham Kuyper, a pastor and eventually the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.  As he gave an address at the Free University of Amsterdam, he stated:  "There is not an inch in the entire domain of our human life of which Christ, who is sovereign of all, does not proclaim, 'Mine!'" This statement sounded very much like Dr. Tackett's.  We cannot ignore the fact that we are in a battle of worldviews.
     Our Pastor's sermon yesterday centered on the war of the worlds and the scripture he shared is found in 2 Corinthians 10:1-6.  However, I will be centering on verses 3-6:  "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, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete."  Certainly, as Paul expounded, we have "divine power" to destroy the strongholds or demonic opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
     As believers, we are in a battle and God has provided us with the armor to protect us (Ephesians 6:10-17).  One of the pieces of equipment He has given us is the Sword of His Word which will cast down all lofty opinions and arguments which are raised against the knowledge of God.  Dear ones, we cannot afford to be passive in a world system intent on wiping out the name of God in our schools, the public market place and in the political realm as well.  We have the truth to tell, and God has commissioned us as His ambassadors in this world.  We are in this world but we are not to be of it.  Our minds are to be transformed by renewing them in the Word of God.  This is our truth and strength.
     Dr. Tackett said that "the real conflict in our world is between contradictory truth claims."  Both cannot be true. Just as Satan convinced Eve that God was denying her a delicious fruit that would make her wise like God, so we are assaulted daily by the lies of this world making it seem as though we should be the masters of our own ship.  The world wants us to believe that God belongs in a box.  It is okay to bring Him out on Sunday for church or when we need Him, but otherwise, we can run things just fine.  This argument appeals to our flesh, but it is not the truth. 
     Jesus came and told us that He was the truth.  Truth is non-contradictory, universal, immutable, exclusive and ultimate reality.  In contrast, the world has lost touch with reality.  This system wishes for things to be as they want them to be not as they are.  We can see this in the unrealistic arguments made by some politicians.   We wonder if they have lost touch with reality.  However, they are representing the wisdom of this world not the truth of Christ.
     When we become wrapped up in the lies of this world, we believe that life is all about us and our self centered needs.  This leads to the death of relationships, isolation, rejection of authority and loneliness.  While we are the most connected generation in history through our electronic gadgets, we are also the loneliest.  What a sad picture of our society!  So what is the answer?
     For believers, we must realize that Jesus is the truth, and like Him, we must yield to the Father's will daily.  Dying to self and living for Christ is the answer.  Like any good solider, we also must know our weapon of the Word and how to use it in love as Christ did.  Armor, weapons, and boldness are nothing unless we put them on daily and realize that we have in Christ the divine power to destroy strongholds, destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.  Then, we must take every thought captive to obey Christ.  If we do these things, we will be able to go into war fully prepared.  God has already secured victory for us my friends.  He triumphs over sin and death, and we are His children the heirs of His Kingdom.  Therefore, today be filled with the absolute belief that God's Word is truth.  This will help us stand firm against the wiles of the devil and his many glittering worldviews!  Selah!

A statue of John Knox in the graveyard behind the Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling, Scotland
I welcome your comments and thoughts here.  I do read them all and am blessed.  I would ask all my readers to please pray for my husband Glenn as he is scheduled for a heart catheterization on Wednesday this week at 9:30 a.m.  I appreciate your intercession!  Thank you!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Does It Take to Be Creative?

     As a writer, I am always looking to improve my skill and hone the ability to communicate clearly so that I might encourage others in their walk of faith.  Writing, music, theater, and painting are all art forms that can be used for God's glory, but we must develop the kind of heart that Jesus possessed in order to succeed in our calling.  Michael Card, musician and minstrel of the Lord, gave not only a concert at the Ligonier Conference but also discussed Christ and Creativity.  Listening to his music has always been a rich blessing, but listening to his heart was even more so.
     In his discussion, Michael Card referred to Philippians 2:5-11 as the center of his message:  "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  He related that this text was shared with him and the lessons in it have long helped him in his journey with the Lord.
     Paul wrote these words in the text to encourage the Philippians to remember how the Lord lived among us.  In fact, this was written in hymn form.  The first three stanzas of the hymn relate to Christ's humiliation and servanthood and the last three to His exaltation.  Michael Card told us to write a large "X"
on our paper which stands for the Greek letter "Chi" (also representative of Christ).  He called this "Chi-ism" which someone shared with him at one point in his ministry.   On the top left point of the letter, we were to write the word "humility".  To the right, we were to write the word "servanthood".  In the middle of the "X", we were instructed to write "radical obedience".  On the left bottom point, we were told to write the word "Lordship" and on the right, we were to write "exaltation".  In this word picture, we could see that the chief lessons our Lord displayed to us in His time on earth was that of humility and servanthood as displayed by the words at the top of the letter "X".  Jesus was humble not haughty, proud or arrogant.  If we want to be creative in using our gifts for Christ, we must remember that our goal is not to be puffed up and self important.  We have Hollywood examples that do that very well.  However, as Christians, we must be humble for God is the giver of every good and perfect gift and He is to receive the glory not us.
     Secondly, Jesus demonstrated His servanthood by washing the feet of His disciples.  They protested that someone whom they had come to recognize as their Messiah should do such a thing.  Yet, Jesus came to serve and often reminded His disciples that if we want to be great in the kingdom of God we must first be as servants.   Using our creative gifts to serve others is the goal we must strive for in our walk on this earth.
     Michael Card pointed out that at the center of the "X" were the words "Radical Obedience".  Jesus came to demonstrate an utter dependency on God.  He yielded to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane even though He was about to endure the shame and agony of the cross.  At all times, Jesus obeyed the Father in perfect submission to do what we could never do for ourselves.  He became the perfect sacrifice through His radical obedience and calls us to this same walk.  In the end, the humility, servanthood and radical obedience of Christ resulted in His exaltation and Lordship.
     When we look at using creative gifts in our flesh, our tendency is to want to turn the "X" over and seek exaltation first.  But we need humility in order to really make an impact on our world.  We may never be published, become a famous singer or great star; however, God has a place for all who humbly come to Him.  In order to serve Him, we also have to know who we are and that comes from knowing Christ in the power of His resurrection.  Michael Card concluded his talk by offering three important things for those who seek to use our talents for Christ.
     1)  We are to serve knowing who we are in our Lord.  Christ defines this for us.  Our identity is not in what we do but in who we are.
     2)  We are called first to give ourselves not our ideas or gifts.  You are not your gift.  Jesus came to give Himself not His gifts, or miracles.  We have to remember that we must give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord.
     3)  Our thinking and our minds are to be in radical obedience to God.  He must be first.  He must increase while we decrease.
     As the talk concluded and Michael Card sat down to play his guitar and sing for us his "psalm like" songs, tears came to my eyes.  What beauty in the music he writes and sings was all I could think.  He is a humble artist singing for Christ and His glory.  I could not help but think of  Eric Liddell the Olympian (Chariots of Fire) when he said:  "I believe that God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel His pleasure."  Eric Liddell knew that He was designed to bring glory to God through the talents and gifts which the Lord had given to Him.  May we do the same!  Whether we write a small blog on the internet, write and compose songs, play an instrument, sing in the choir, or ring hand bells, we are to remember to whom we belong and to serve Him first in humility and radical obedience.  Serving others by using our gifts reflects the image of Jesus Christ to a dark and needy world.  We will feel God's pleasure as we do this.  Selah!

How is God using your creative gifts?  I welcome your thoughts today.  They mean a great deal to please feel free to leave them here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

"A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep"

     Having just come fresh from the Ligonier 2012 Conference in Orlando, FL, my husband and I are stuffed!  Not with food, but with spiritual food that has enriched our souls.  The topic of this year's conference was "The Christian Mind" and how humbling it was to learn at the feet of some great theologians of our day.  Not only were we encouraged but we were challenged to "think".
     One of our favorite speakers was Dr. Sinclair Ferguson who raised an issue near and dear to our hearts.  His topic was "Losing My Religion" based on Psalm 119:97-100 which reads:  "Oh how I love your Law!  It is my meditation all the day.  Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.  I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.  I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts."
     As he opened his talk, Dr. Ferguson pointed out that we tend to blame the world when things go wrong in our lives and often, the church is blamed.  Sadly, he noted that today Evangelical Christianity is "a mile wide and an inch deep" when it comes to depth of prayer, study, and meditation on the Word of God.  While the New Testament church devoted itself to prayer, and fellowship, our modern churches are often empty for prayer and many services.  Our passion for God has wained.  We are not willing to spend the time to grow in our faith.  "Half an hour on Sunday will do just fine" is the attitude of some, but it will not carry us through the hard places in life.  He then cited Hebrews 5:11-12:  "About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the Word of righteousness, since he is a child."  The whole purpose to which we are called is to grow, mature and develop a passion for God that comes from knowing Him.  This happens with study, prayer, fellowship and hearing the Word of God preached.
     These words stirred my soul deeply as I heard them.  Both my husband and I have a passion for teaching the doctrines of grace and seeing people grow.  However, even in our own fellowship, not many come to Sunday School class.  Only a small minority out of our 700 members attend these extra times of instruction.  We are content to press on for God's glory, and welcome all who come, but we pray for the many who do not make time.  Jesus told the scribe who asked Him what the greatest commandment was:
"....Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:29b-30).  The key emphasis of Dr. Ferguson's talk was that we need to love God with all our mind.  Our faith is not built on emotion.  Emotions come and go, but what is stored in the mind can then reach our heart and this is how we grow.
     What are we feeding our minds today?  Even at this wonderful conference, we witnessed people texting on their "smart" (?) phones or checking their email while one of the speakers was giving his address.  Could they not wait?  Some even talked on their cell phones during the meetings.  My heart is troubled that we are more devoted to our cell phones, computers, IPADS, and IPODS than we are to God.  As Dr. Ferguson said, if we are only willing to spend half an hour on Sunday to hear God's Word, we are selling ourselves short in terms of growth.  Our lives here are short compared to the eternity we will spend with our Father in heaven.  Shouldn't we get to know Him?  The knowledge of God is what has the transforming power to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ and set us on the path of holy living.
     Dr. Ferguson suggested some strategies for spiritual maturity.  First, we must place ourselves under a preaching, living ministry of the Word of God.  T.V. ministers do not fulfill this need we have for accountability.  He pointed out that in Acts 6:7 it was the Word of God that increased which led to the growth of the church not the other way around.  This is the central call of the church is to preach and teach the Word of God, and we need to be a part of that as students.  Secondly, we must be willing to dig into the Bible for ourselves.  There is no substitute for daily reading and meditating on God's Word.  Finally, we need to pray.  Corporate and private prayer over the needs of our community, the unsaved, and our church fellowship is a an important part of our worship.
     In order for us to have a renewed mind, we must study to show ourselves approved.  It takes effort, but we are called to love the Lord our God with ALL our mind.  We must take advantage of the freedom we have to worship in our country and to attend  opportunities like Sunday School and church worship to advance our knowledge of God.  If we do not develop a passion for God, I fear that what Sinclair Ferguson said will be true of us as well....that we are Evangelicals who are a mile wide but an inch deep.
For myself, I want to plumb the depth of the riches found in His Word and grow in the knowledge of my God.  I invite you to join me on this great adventure of knowing Him.  We are never too young or too old to sit as His feet and learn.  Selah!

Your thoughts and comments are precious to me.  Please leave them to encourage others and share in this conversation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Been in Any Fires Lately?

     Around Easter time, we joke around about forgetting something in the oven until its burned to a crisp.  I have done that more than a few times already.  I just laughingly respond that its my "burnt offering" unto the Lord!  However, we all know how dangerous fire can be and how badly we can be burned both physically and spiritually.
     Today's scripture deals with the subject of fire.  Read Daniel 3:19-28.  I know we have all read this story before, but it bears repeating.
     King Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego because they would not bow down to worship his statue.  Since they defied him, he heated up the fire seven times hotter than before in the furnace where he would throw them.  He bound these men and had his soldiers send them into the flames.  The men who threw them in were even killed by the fire.  Now that's hot!  When the king looked in to see them, he saw four men walking about in the fiery furnace.  "Look! he answered, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."  When the king released these men, he was a believer that their God could deliver them.
     This story illustrates something very practical in our lives as well.  Who was with these three in the fire? Jesus.  Who will be with us in our fiery trials of life?  Jesus.  Were these men doing something wrong that they deserved to be burned?  No.  In fact, they were serving the Most High God and honoring Him...yet, God allowed them to go into the fiery furnace.
     Sometimes, in our lives, we face some pretty difficult circumstances, heartaches and trials.  But who is there with us through them all?  Jesus.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  Furthermore, just because we go through the fire does not mean that we are being punished...rather we often are being refined in our trust.
     When Nebuchadnezzar asked the three young men who will deliver them from this furnace, I love the answer given by them:  "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King.  But if not, let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."  I don't know about you but that gives me goosebumps just reading this reply.  What faith in these men!  May our faith be as strong and determined.
     So today, and as we approach Easter, if you are facing any trials, remember that Jesus is there beside you all the way.  If you belong to Him, you are in good hands and He is able to deliver you!  Selah!

Has God delivered you from any trials?  I welcome your thoughts and comments.  They encourage me and others!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Gift Every Day

An Indigo Bunting at my feeder
     Recently, my husband and I were asked to babysit for our son and daughter-in-law so they could enjoy an evening out.  There is nothing I like better than such invitations as I love to spend time with our grandsons!  Upon arriving, our grandson Briggs looked up at me with his deep blue eyes and asked if I had brought him a present.  I told him "no" and he asked me why.  By this time, his mother told him that having Grammie and Papa come to visit was a present, and he didn't need anything else.  However, he asked once more if I had brought a surprise.  When I repeated that I had not, he simply shrugged and went off to play.  Certainly, this whole scenario was brought on by my habit of bringing little gifts for the boys to play with.  I love to "spoil" them with something special.  After all, my own Grandfather Hess used to take me to Murphy's 5 and 10 cent store nearly every week.  I was allowed to pick out one small item, and of course, he always bought some candy for my cousin and I to share.  It was always fun going with Grandpa because we always had something to look forward to when he finished with his errands.
     In the same way, our Heavenly Father provides for us a gift every day if we will keep our eyes open.  The problem for most of us, however, is that we tend to focus on all the negative things that go wrong during the course of a day rather than anticipating some treasure of the heart.  Apart from salvation which is the greatest gift He has given to us, there are so many little lessons, experiences, and moments that come from His hand.
     One such treasured gift came and sat on my bird feeder yesterday.  For the very first time, an Indigo Bunting came to feed, and I was blessed to get a picture of this beautiful bird.  His feathers are the richest indigo that one can ever imagine.  God's handiwork never ceases to take my breath away.  Then, again, today,  a female Bunting came to sit at the feeder followed by a Painted Bunting.  I could not catch a picture of the painted Bunting, but he was spectacular.  I felt blessed!  God had allowed me to see such beauty if only for a fleeting moment.  What an artist the Lord is and how inspired I am by His goodness.
A male and female Bunting at my feeder.  What a sight!
     Observing the birds at the feeder, I thought about what Jesus said as he admonished His disciples not to fear what others might say or do:  "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).  As beautiful as those birds were, God considered me of more value than any of them.  What a thought!  Each one of us is valuable in
His sight so why do we allow the troubles of the day to overwhelm us with fear and worry?  Can we change anything by stewing over it?  The answer is "no".
     If we would begin each day anticipating a gift from God and then taking a moment to jot  down those that we observe, we would find ourselves focused on praising Him instead of bemoaning our circumstances.  Maybe it is a phone call from a friend.  Perhaps it is a letter from a loved one, or even the sight of a rainbow (my personal favorite) that reminds us of God's promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood that makes us smile.  Seeing God's handiwork and blessing in our lives will change our outlook, stop the worry and eliminate the fear that rises up to put a damper on our day.
     Every new day is an adventure with God if we will open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to Him.  He has a gift each day with which to bless us.  Lets spend our time seeking Him knowing that He has given to us all that we need for life and godliness!  Selah!

What gifts has God given to you today?  Please feel free to leave your comments here.  I welcome them.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Trusting in Wealth Rather Than God

The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina
       So much has been made in the last few years of those who have wealth and riches.  A lot of class
warfare seems to run through society when, in fact, this is really not the issue.  There is no sin in having
money or making money.  The sin lies in making riches your idol, and using your power of the purse
to hurt others.  It is the "love of money" that causes man to fall into all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10).
The moralist and historian, Baron John Emerich Dalberg Acton, said it well:  "Power tends to corrupt and
absolute power corrupts absolutely."
     Whenever man makes himself the center of his own universe and forgets God, he opens the door to an empty life.  The Psalms make it clear how God deals with the wicked and those who trust in their wealth:
"Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me - those who trust in their wealth and boast in their great riches?  No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him - the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough - that he should live on forever and not see decay.  For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others.  Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.  But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.  This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers who approve their sayings" ( Psalm 49:5-13).  The picture painted with these words show those who trust in their wealth and ability but the Psalmist points out that none of these people can purchase eternity from God.  Thankfully, we know we have been ransomed by God through Jesus Christ.  He, alone, could do this for us, but those who trust in their own power, wealth and ability cannot buy heaven.
Gardens around the Estate
     Verse 16 and 20 in this Psalm reads:  "Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him.....A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish."  The key phrase is in verse 20.  The man who has wealth but no knowledge of God will not have the happy ending he believes he deserves.
     Years ago, we traveled to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was a magnificent estate designed and built by George Vanderbilt for his family.  The extravagance, beauty and cost were unparalleled and it remains a treasure to visit even now.  However, George Vanderbilt has died and left his estate behind.  The wealth and power he enjoyed in life is no more.  I think that we as Christians tend to forget that life is brief.  We are not to envy those who have been blessed with financial resources, but we are to be content with the things which God gives to us.
     As for those who deceive, use their riches for evil, or abuse power, we know, according to the Bible, the Lord will deal with them.  They will face Him in judgement.  Therefore, we are not to fret or stew over the wicked.  Instead, we are to remember that God sent His Son to redeem us from the curse of the Law and give to us the inheritance of a kingdom that will far surpass this world.  We may not see or understand it all right now, but one day we will be with Him in paradise.  King David comforted himself with this knowledge and we must do the same.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments.  I read them with delight.  Please feel free to share them here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sometimes I feel like Paul

Jars of clay
     There are days and then, there are "days".  When we serve in the work force, not every day runs smoothly.  Schedules can run amok, people can get cranky, and we often feel overwhelmed.  The same can be said for those whose work revolves around the home.  Children can be a challenge, meals can
become disasters, and the cleaning never ends!  However, I have found comfort as I read about the Apostle Paul's description of his life in the ministry.
     In 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 reads:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."  While Paul is speaking here of his experience as an Apostle, these verses also pertain to any of us who carry the name of Christ in our heart.  After all, we are all called to the ministry.  Perhaps not as a vocation but certainly in every field we represent.  We are jars of clay carrying the treasure and truth of Christ into the workplace or into our homes.  As a result, we, too, have our times of discouragement.  This is especially true if we have been trying to share our faith with others or uphold biblical values.  We will always face opposition from a world system running hard in the opposite direction away from God.  Nevertheless, as Paul realized, we must die to self so that the message of Christ can be seen in the way we respond to those attacks.  After all, our hope and encouragement is in Him.
     Never are the truths of Scripture so clear though as in the current events going on right now.  We are in the middle of another election cycle, and I always find myself upset over the turmoil it brings.  There are charges and counter charges.  People calling one another liars and making promises that only God could bring to pass.  Meanwhile as the economy sinks into oblivion, fingers point at everyone else while people are without work and gas prices soar.  This atmosphere of tension then creeps into our places of work as well as into our homes.  Added to the daily challenges already there, we want to throw up our hands and say:  "I am afflicted and crushed; I am perplexed and driven to despair; I feel persecuted and forsaken; struck down and destroyed".  However, if we do this, we are forgetting one important thing - God is sovereign over all the affairs of men.  Nothing happens without God knowing and allowing it.  He is working all things together for the good of those of us who know and love Him even if it doesn't look like it! (Romans 8:28).
     This morning I took comfort not only in what Paul had written but also in what Jesus proclaimed to His disciples as He described His return (Mark 13:32-37):  "No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.  It's like a man going away;  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back - whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone:  'Watch!'"  This is our appointed task.  We are to serve as His witnesses by our words and deeds.  Then, we are called to watch because He WILL return for us.  As Isaiah 9:7 reads: "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on
David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this."  This is something to look forward to.  Sin and death will be no more.  He has conquered all those things which trouble our hearts.
     Until that day, we are told to watch, and like Paul, we are called to be conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, Paul was perplexed but not driven to despair.  He was persecuted but he
knew he was not forsaken by the Lord.  Paul knew that as he died to self and selfish ambition, Christ would be seen more clearly in his life.  This is the call we have in both our work outside the home and our work in the home.  We are often the only Bible that people will read each day as they come in contact with us.  How well are we doing caring for the Master's house while He is away?  Are we fulfilling the tasks to which He has called us?  We need to be ready for His return, and in the meantime, we must not allow life's circumstances to get the upper hand in our thinking.  After all, we are God's jars of clay carrying about the treasure of the truth found in Jesus Christ.  He is our comfort and strength!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments here.  May you be encouraged this day in Him!

Jars of clay picture courtesy of

Monday, March 5, 2012

Foolishness is Bound Up in the Heart

     According to Scripture, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child" (Prov. 22:15a) but it can also be demonstrated in the hearts of adults as well.  We may be chronologically a certain age, but does that make us mature, able to handle life decisions with wisdom, and have healthy relationships?  From recent news items this past week, I sincerely wonder not only about the direction of our nation but also about how foolish some actions are in light of God's Word to us.
     This past week, a young woman who was a student at Georgetown School of Law went before Congress to ask for a subsidy which would give free birth control to students who routinely have many sexual encounters outside of marriage.  She felt it was a "right" to have this paid for by taxpayers since it cost nearly $3,000 over the three year period of law school to pay for birth control.  At first, I was shocked when I heard this.  How could a bright young woman come forward and openly ask for something like this.  Then, I later heard how our President called her to tell her how brave she was and that her parents must be very proud of her.  Upon hearing this, I recalled the verses from the letter to the Romans (chapter 1) that the Apostle Paul wrote:  "18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.   24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."   
     Personally, I felt sorrow for this young woman who is caught up in the "thinking" of our day.  Sex outside of marriage, living together, same sex marriage, and all other manner of sins have become routine in our society.  It is the fruit of the sin nature found in all men.  However, this same type of behavior ought not be found within the Body of believers.  As a redeemed people purchased by the blood of Christ, we are to live by the standards found in the Word of God, and we are to grow into maturity of our faith.  We are to bring glory to Christ daily.  Unfortunately, there are many believers who become caught up in adultery, fornication, lust, pornography, and other sins of the "old sin nature".  Why is that?
     Looking into the letter to the Corinthian Church, we see a group of believers who are struggling to overcome conflict and deal properly with sin.  There is pride on display with some exalting over their gifts which others did not have as well as a man caught in an incestuous relationship that was not disciplined.  In addition, these believers were taking one another to court as well instead of dealing with each other and working out the conflict.   All of this showed the foolishness and immaturity that was bound up in their hearts.  In his letter, Paul wrote: " I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready" (I Cor. 3:2).
     What Paul was driving at and what we must also learn is that in order to drive out foolishness and grow to maturity we must accept God's discipline.  Studying His Word and then, applying it helps to transform our minds and renew our hearts.  Through the Bible, God brings His correction to us, and by means of hearing the Word preached in fellowship with other believers, we are also submitting ourselves to accountability.  It takes commitment to grow in Christ.  
     In the opening of this devotion, I quoted a part of Proverbs 22:15.  The rest of the verse reads:  "The rod of discipline will remove it far from him".  This is what it takes to grow.  In order to drive out that foolishness that is found in the hearts of children as well as adults, we need the correction that comes from the Word of God.  We need discipline within our churches in order to address sin and the folly found in hearts unfaithful to Christ's call.  Our conduct, attitudes, words and deeds preach loudly to those around us.  Do they reflect God's wisdom and a changed life or do they reflect the foolishness of this world?  This is an important question we all must ponder every day.  We are meant to be light and salt in this world.  May we begin to live in such a manner that others may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.  Selah!   

I welcome your thoughts and look forward to reading them.  Leave a word of encouragement for others to see here.  Blessings!             

Friday, March 2, 2012

Those "Less than Perfect" Days

     I spent 21 years home educating our four children.  As I sat reflecting on those memories, I thought about the good days when we accomplished a lot and the "other" days which were simply challenging. On easy days, everyone had a good attitude, they were willing to work and they applied themselves without grumbling.  However, on the challenging days, my efforts were like trying to lead a horse to water when it doesn't want to drink!  In many ways, my current work alongside my husband in his professional practice can be much the same.  We have those "smooth as a breeze" times when our schedule flows and other times when everything becomes hectic.
     If I am not careful on those challenging days, I certainly can be tripped up by my attitude as well.  Then, tension builds and everyone can sense that the air is so thick we could cut it with a knife.  No one is a happy camper and progress slows to a halt.  This chain reaction is like watching a display of dominoes fall down in a line.  What can we do to prevent this from happening in our homes and work place?  How can we be an over comer in the middle of a less than perfect day?
     As I was reading the story of Abel and Cain, I came across several verses that really opened my eyes
concerning how sin creeps into our lives.  To get a complete picture, read the entire passage in Genesis 4:1-7.  Let us key in on verses 3-7:  "And in the process of time, it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord.  Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.  And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.  And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.  So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.'" (NKJV)
     In these verses, we see a picture of two young men bringing their offerings of tribute before the Lord.  Cain was a farmer so he brought grain or fruit.  Abel was a shepherd so he brought a firstborn lamb.  God accepted the offering of Abel but not the offering that Cain brought to him.  We often wonder why the Lord did not accept Cain's offering.  However, sometimes we forget that the Lord can see the heart (I Samuel 16:7) and we cannot.
     Abel brought the best he had to offer.  It was the firstborn, and it was a blood sacrifice.  However, some theologians believe that Cain did not bring his best fruit or his first fruit as well as a good attitude.  To substantiate this, all we have to do is look at Cain's reaction when the Lord did not accept his offering. He became angry when his worship was rejected.  He stood at a crossroad as we do when confronted with sinful pride.
Trafalgar Square in London, England - A lion sculpture
which reminds us of power and beauty and also the scripture
just quoted about Satan being like a roaring lion.
     God pointed out to Cain that sin was lying in wait outside his door much like the description given Satan as a "roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" in I Peter 5:8.  Cain could open the door and allow sin to rule his heart or he could repent and return to the Lord.  This simple choice had profound implications.  Of course, we know what Cain decided in his heart, and the result of his anger shattered the family peace with the murder of his brother.
     Each time we put our spiritual armor aside and allow ourselves to indulge in sin, we open ourselves to the enemy who is looking for a place to gain a foothold.  Then, we wonder how it happened that Satan slipped in never realizing our responsibility to bring all our "thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Cor. 10:5).  God gives us the victory over sin when we yield in our hearts to His Lordship and fill our minds with His Word.  Quite often, though, it is much easier to just vent our anger on one another.  When we do, the atmosphere of our homes and work place suffer not to mention our relationships.  Attitude really does reflect the condition of our hearts.
     Our Lord has given us all we need for "life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).  However, we must daily put on our armor and follow Him.  Keeping a "short account" with God and being willing to confess our sins quickly will keep the "crouching sin" which lies outside our heart's door from gaining entrance.  This is the key to being an over comer in Christ!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments here.  Please feel free to leave them.  May you be blessed!