Monday, April 30, 2012

Stick Close to the Guideline

     Many years ago, my husband became a certified underwater cave diver here in Florida.  He was an excellent scuba diver to begin with and really enjoyed underwater adventure.  He took a two year course with expert cave divers to learn this very specialized skill.
     Personally, I never considered this hobby that dangerous because when a person is properly trained and equipped, it can be a very satisfying experience.  Those that are killed in underwater caves are usually inexperienced and untrained divers who do not know what to do if something goes wrong.
     On one occasion, my husband was diving with a friend in a cave system.  The divers always use a buddy system and carry a line into the cave so they can find their way out.  They are also very careful not to stir up too much silt at the bottom of the cave so that they can see.  If the silt is stirred up, its like being in a blinding blizzard.  Likewise, they carry back-up lights as well.
You can see the guideline under the diver
     During the dive, my husband somehow got separated from his buddy and in the course of turning around, he bumped his head on a rock which protruded from the cave ceiling.  This served to knock his mask off, and he had to get reoriented.  However, when he got his mask cleared of water, he discovered that he had inadvertently stirred up a lot of silt.
     At that moment, he said he started wondering if he would ever make it out.  He had lost his buddy, his visibility was next to nothing and his head was throbbing.  He said his life flashed before his eyes.  He began to pray and ask the Lord for deliverance.  He knew there was only one way out of the cave system and he had to carefully follow the guideline in order to get out.
     By not losing his head in this difficult situation, sticking to the rules of safe cave diving and hanging on to the guideline, he was able to find his way out.  He said he was so relieved when he came out of the water.  He just praised the Lord the whole time.  Of course, I was blissfully unaware of the close call.  However, as I thought about this time, I was reminded of an important scripture our Lord gave to us.
     In Matthew 7:13-14, we read:  "Jesus said, 'Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction...But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.'"
     Following Jesus is like hanging on to that guideline in an underwater cave system.  As long as we cling to that guideline and follow carefully those things which we know bring glory to God, there is a reward and safety for us.  However, when we choose to walk our own way, we open up a world of danger.
     Our world system looks so attractive to so many.  When they look at the Christian life, many decide that it's too narrow or tough.  Even Christians at times feel that way.  But look at the outcome!  Just as inexperienced and untrained scuba divers can end up drowning when they enter a cave system, those without Jesus will not have eternal life in heaven but will spend it in Hell.
     The Lord clearly told us that there is only a narrow way, but He makes it possible for those whom He calls to come.  He said:  "I am the way, the Truth, and the Life.  no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
     My husband lived to tell about his adventure underwater and praise the Lord because he followed the narrow way....the rules laid down to protect his life.  As Christians, we need to stay the course on the narrow way and not get sidetracked in the broad way of the world.  It may appear to be more glamorous but it only leads to death.  Selah!

P.S.  My husband has been retired from diving for some time now, but we often talk about this story and remember to thank God!

I welcome your thoughts and comments.  How has God kept you on the narrow way?  What helps you stay close to His guideline?

The picture "Jesus is the Way" is courtesy of:

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Better Than I Deserve"

     Recently, we had an air conditioning repair and maintenance man come to our home to do some routine checking of our units.  This is vitally important in Florida with our upcoming hot weather.  As he was going in and out of our home, my husband arrived and greeted him.  The maintenance man asked him how he was and my husband replied as he always does:  "Better than I deserve."
     Now my husband will be quick to tell you that this phrase was not something he came up with.  It was a common response given by one of our dear Christian brothers.  Every time someone would ask him how he was, he replied "Better than I deserve."  These few words said a lot and so impressed my husband that he acquired the habit of telling others the same thing.  It is definitely a conversation starter.  People wonder what on earth we mean when we say that.
     For the Christian, we know that salvation is a gift given by God through the pain and suffering of His only Son upon the cross.  Over and over the scripture makes it clear that God first loved us before we ever loved Him (1 John 4:19).  We also know that there is no righteousness or merit in us.  We are all sinners, and we deserve God's wrath (Romans 3:10).  Ephesians 2:1-9 tells us that we were dead in our sins, but it was Christ, not any works which we have done, who made us whole by His righteousness imputed to us. He took our sins and gave us His righteousness in a great transaction that we can never repay.
     Do we understand how simple the message is to share with others?  There is really nothing difficult about telling someone this news, and a simple conversation starter often does the trick.    Jesus was a master at telling parables in order to get people thinking.  We just make things too complicated at times.
     When the workman was ready to leave, he told me how my husband had responded to his question about how he was.  He said he thought about that phrase "Better than I deserve" all afternoon while he worked.  He said, "You know, he is right.  I am better than I deserve."  I then had a chance to tell him about our Christian friend who always replied in this fashion and how we really are better off because of God's great mercy and love towards us.
     Maybe you can use this phrase when others greet you and inquire as to how you are as well.  Some interesting opportunities are out there for us to share the Good News of our Savior.  We just need to keep our eyes open and be ready!  Selah!

Do you have any favorite ways of greeting people that can start conversations about the Lord?  I welcome your thoughts and insights.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Comfort Food

The Cathedral of York in York, England

 When I think of comfort foods, I think of macaroni and cheese like my mother used to make.  It was rich with cheese and had a wonderful crunchy topping.  Then, there is chili, which is great on a cold night.  Once again, my mother’s recipe hits the spot with just enough “kick” to make it delicious.  Each one of us could probably come up with a list of favorites that somehow remind us of home and bring a deep satisfaction to our appetite.  
     As I was thinking about comfort foods the other day, I thought about the elements of worship that have brought me great comfort since the days of my youth.  Being raised in a Presbyterian Church, we sang the Gloria Patri (Glory Be to the Father) each Sunday, along with the Doxology.  I learned early to recite from memory the Apostle’s Creed and “The Lord’s Prayer”.  These were staples in our worship each week, and hence, became a warm comfort to me in my worship of God.
     During our 40th wedding anniversary trip to Europe, my husband and I found ourselves in the Cathedral of York, England during Evensong worship.  The service was already in progress so we could not go into certain areas of the cathedral.  The tour guides had us go, instead, into the crypts below the main floor to learn about the history of the church and the various bishops buried there.  As we were walking along, the faint smell of sweet incense reached us coming from the worship above.  Then, the ethereal music from the choir and organ echoed throughout every corner of the cathedral.  It was a moment that made us feel as though we were, indeed, in the presence of a holy God.  We ventured into several chapels that were open to spend a moment in quiet prayer.  We left with a sense of overwhelming peace and awe having seen such a great structure and heard praises being lifted up to God.   It became evident to me, at that time, that passing along to my children and grandchildren the key elements of the faith and worship were important, so that they also would find them a great comfort in their lives.
Inside the Cathedral at York, England
      In his letter to the young Pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote:  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writing, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).  We know from earlier in Paul’s writing that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him the basic elements of the faith.  Here Paul reminded him to continue to study and become wise in scripture and follow the teachings of the Apostles.  Scripture does not view tradition negatively.  Rather, scripture assumes that cultures, families and individuals will pass on the ideas, values and customs to one another.  Faithful men and women who have proclaimed the truth of the Gospel have handed down our faith from generation to generation.
       Recently, I read an interesting book review in “Modern Reformation” magazine published by “The White Horse Inn”.  The reviewer was Micah Everett an associate professor of music at the University of Louisiana in Monroe and also a member of the Calhoun Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Calhoun, Louisiana.  The book was entitled “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns:  How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal” by Dr. T. David Gordon.  This review was so interesting that I downloaded the book on my Kindle and have been challenged by it since beginning to read it.                                                                   Dr. Gordon served as a pastor for nine years and now presently teaches religion and Greek at Grove City College.  He also teaches humanities and media ecology.  He looks at what has changed and happened in our current worship of God and how modern culture has been reshaping our approach.   This book will challenge your thinking as it has challenged mine when it comes to our worship of God.  However, I now understand why I find such comfort in the elements of worship that have been handed down to me by my parents and grandparents.
     Just as I find comfort in a bowl of chili on a frosty night and remember my home of origin, so I also find great comfort in the worship of God among the fellowship of other believers on Sunday mornings.  May we never forsake the worship of God and the fellowship of the saints!  It is not only our heritage but also a reminder of our heavenly home and Father.  Selah!

What brings you comfort in your worship?  I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Do You See Only Scratches or Thorns?

     Several weeks ago, I was polishing my silver.  Most of us know that after time, tarnish builds up on silver so it must be taken care of on a regular basis.  We had been given a good deal of silver as wedding gifts some forty years ago, and it does take some elbow grease to keep it shined up.
     During the course of our marriage, I became upset because I had found a scratch on a silver piece I dearly loved.  I complained to my mother-in-law about it and how upset I was that it had a scratch on the surface.  She told me that I should really look at it differently.  She said it was a sign that I was using that piece and therefore, gave it character.  I had never thought about it that way before.  I only saw the scratch and got upset.  She saw the scratch and knew it had been used by someone she loved.
     When I inherited my grandmother's beautiful silver place settings, I looked at them through new eyes.  I was delighted to see the less than perfect forks, knives and spoons because I knew my grandmother had lovingly used them to serve her family on holidays and special occasions.
     In thinking about this from a biblical perspective, we need to read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.  Read the first six verses and then, we will key in on verses 7-10.  "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."
     Paul was given unimaginable revelations by the Spirit of God.  He had seen things which no one had seen.  He could have taken great pride in this and been puffed up.  So, whatever his thorn in the flesh was he looked at it through God's eyes.  There was a purpose for it...."lest he should be exalted".  That's how Paul saw it.
     He asked three times for it to be removed, but the Lord replied to him that His grace was sufficient and His strength made perfect in Paul's weakness.  So the Apostle looked at this whole thing from God's perspective and didn't complain.  Instead, he chose to see the fact that God would be glorified ultimately as he, Paul, depended on Him.
Florida sand spur...these thorns hurt!
     Now many of us could say that it must have been easy for Paul to put up with his "thorn in the flesh" because he was an apostle and had seen such great things from God.  However, we do not know that it was "easy" for Paul to cope.  We are so quick to assume things like that.  I am certain Paul struggled every bit as much as we do with physical problems.  We may have asked the Lord many times to take this or that away.  We may have trusted Him and sought after healing many times....yet like never left.
     That's when we need to see it in a different light just as I saw my silver piece in a different light.  We need to say, "Lord what do I need to learn from this?"  Then, we need to know that God's grace is sufficient for us.  In our infirmities, our persecutions, our reproaches, our needs and distresses, we can see the power of Christ.  His strength is more than sufficient to see us through.  When we can't do it alone, we can trust in Him.  We can turn to Him and He will hear us.  We can depend on Him and He wants us to do that very thing not depending on our own strength.
     Therefore, the next time we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves or get upset over a situation, let us think about that scratch in the silver.  We can either look at the scratch or we can think about the loved one who used it...our outlook defines our availability to be used by the Lord for His glory and purpose.  Selah!

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Soaring Above It All

     Out on our walk this morning, we saw numerous hawks, cranes and other birds soaring through the
sky without much effort.  They could easily spy the object of their destination without obstruction from trees and other foliage.   My husband and I had the same sort of experience when we flew to Europe last summer.  We were high above the cities and countryside effortlessly moving to our destination.   I thought to myself as I observed the birds, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could only see things from their perspective high above the circumstances in which we live?"  The truth is that while we are earthbound we can rise above the difficulties of life in the power of Jesus Christ.
     One of my favorite passages of the Bible speaks hope to those of us who do become wearied of life's daily assaults.  It is found in Isaiah 40:28-31:  "Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."  Reading this scripture always brings comfort to my soul.  Knowing that God does not grow weary or faint.  He knows the beginning and the end of our lives.
Winging our way to Scotland Summer of 2011
If we belong to Him, He will supply the strength, inner fortitude, and ability to rise above the fray.  
     Our problem is that we allow circumstances to dictate our attitude and outlook on life.  When that happens, our energy becomes depleted, our attitude stinks, and we become a circumstantial Christian.  By circumstantial Christian, I mean someone who is happy when everything is going okay, but when things fall apart, we do too.  This pattern of living is not unlike a roller coaster experience.  Up one day and down the next.  Not only does this stifle our witness for Christ, but it also makes everyone around us feel like they have to walk on egg shells because they do not know how we will respond.
     Some of you may be saying to yourself, "So what am I supposed to do when I have lost my job, I am about to lose my house, I am behind on car payments and my relationships have gone to pieces?  Am I supposed to smile and pretend it will be okay?"  The short answer is "no".  We are not to pretend we are happy.  Rather, we are to put our trust in the One who made us and holds our future in His hands.  He gives us strength when we don't think we can go on.  He enables us to mount up with the wings of an eagle and rise above the pain we face today.  However, He cannot do this if we refuse to let go and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.
     In one of the presentations given at the recent Ligonier Conference, the speaker said that the Puritans had an interesting way of dealing with the hard places in life.  If someone lost a loved one, the Puritans would remark that this person must be highly favored by God to be allowed to go through such a difficult time.  This is almost an alien concept in our world and even among Christians today.  How could we be favored by God when it seems the bottom is dropping out from under us, and yet, the Puritans had it right.  They were trusting God to work all things together for the good.  They acknowledged His sovereignty over life and death.  They believed in providence, and that nothing happens by accident.  If only we could grasp this approach to living.  It is a solid biblical approach.
Gliding to a perfect landing in Edinburgh, Scotland
     Personally, I do not think anyone likes a roller coaster existence.  We all want to live a stable life.  The Good News is that we can!  In Christ, all things are possible.  He is the wind beneath our wings that can lift us up like an eagle over the pain, suffering, and circumstances of life.  As others watch us soar, they will wonder what this power is that enables us to remain stable through the turmoil of life.  This is when we have a chance to tell them about Christ.  A circumstantial Christian has a hard time doing this because they are so up and down just like everyone else outside the faith.  This is why it is so important to put our trust in God the Father.  While our problems will not instantly disappear, our strength and perseverance through the trials will keep us on an even keel.  We won't crash land, but we will glide along until the Lord gives us a safe landing place.  May God grant us all this day the ability to mount up with wings as eagles; to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint.  As we do, we will bring glory to Him and be a testimony to others.  Selah!

Share your thoughts on how you have been able to mount up with wings as an eagle.  I welcome your thoughts here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Whom do you Fear?

     Have you ever been afraid or feared the disapproval of others?  It can be a paralyzing fear for some.  I think most of us care what others think about us...but it can so hamper our lives if we let it become more important than what God thinks about us.
     Jesus said that He came to give us life abundantly and to set us free from the law of sin and death.  We need to walk in that freedom...but first, we have to correct our faulty, worldly thinking.
     Look at Isaiah 51:7-16:  "Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, you people in whose heart is My law:  Do not fear the reproach of men, nor be afraid of their insults.  For the moth will eat them up like a garment and the worm will eat them like wool.  But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation."  Then look at vs 12 of this passage:  "I, even I, am He who comforts you.  Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass?  And you forget the Lord your Maker who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth..."  These are powerful words from God which should bring us comfort and strength.
     Yes, we need to care about the feelings of others, but not the extent that we forget that our lives are to be pleasing to God above all else.  The world and its ungodly peer pressure has driven many Christians to compromise their values and beliefs in order to fit in.  God says...My standards are what will last from generation to generation....My salvation and My creativity have made this world!  Man is here today and gone tomorrow and yet, we often are paralyzed by what our neighbor thinks of us.
     Proverbs 29:25 says:  "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe."  We cannot depend on this world that is passing away.  Our sure foundation which is the "same yesterday, today and forever" is found in our Lord, our God, our Rock!  Through the blood of Jesus, we have all that we need for this life.  So let us keep our eyes on Him and not be concerned about what people think.  Instead, let us ask God every day, "What do you think about this", and seek His answers in the Word and through prayer.  Then, we will have the peace which passes all understanding, and it will guard our hearts and minds in Christ!  Selah!

Isn't it comforting to know that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins?  I welcome your thoughts on this.  Please feel free to share them here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Don't You Wish You Could Shed Those Sins?

     It's that time of year again when our faithful hound dog Roscoe P. Coltrain is beginning to shed...not that he ever stops.  Basset hounds are known to shed their fur a lot but springtime is especially challenging.  I took him outside yesterday and brushed him and got enough fur to carpet a bathroom.  Then, I bathed him later in the day and got another large quantity.  Following the bath, I brushed him again only to get another big batch of the fur.   If only we could shed our sins as easily as Roscoe sheds his fur!  Certainly that is what we are supposed to do in our Christian walk.  We are to throw off our sins.
     In the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12 and verses 1-3, the author talks about throwing off those things which hold us back in our walk with Christ:  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted."  I love these verses because in them there is so much truth.
     Anyone who has ever run a race knows that you do not want to wear heavy shoes or bulky clothing.  It slows you down as you press on towards the goal.  Instead, a runner looks to find lightweight yet strong shoes for the race and cool, comfortable clothing that allows freedom of movement.  This makes sense to us when running.  So why, then, do we want to carry around our burdens, our sins, our shortcomings when Jesus has set us free from them?  We need to do what the author in this passage has suggested.  We need to throw off the weight of life and lay it at the feet of our Lord knowing that He is the author and perfecter of our faith.  As the verses tell us, Jesus endured open hostility from sinners that we who are chosen may not grow weary or fainthearted.
     Like our dog Roscoe, we need to shed our sins as easily as he sheds his fur.  Carrying them around only serves to beat us up, defeat us and bring our spirit low.  Jesus told us 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."  Since Christ broke the heavy yoke of sin, we no longer have that weight of guilt to carry around.
     Certainly as our temperature gets hotter here in Florida, our dog needs to lighten up with less fur.  So as we walk in the light of salvation, we also need to lighten up and lay our burdens at the feet of Christ.  He has the answers for living that we need!  Every day, let us take time to throw off the weight of sin, so that we might run with endurance the race of life to the glory of God!  Selah!

I welcome your comments and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Standing Firm Against the Enemy

     When I hung my bird feeder over a year ago, it was placed in a small oak tree near our home.  My intent was to attract the beautiful Florida birds that live in and around Serenity Acres.  I delight in watching the Indigo Bunting and his mate, the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red Winged Black Birds and other varieties that come for a visit.  Lately, however, my lovely feeding station has been invaded by the many squirrels who also inhabit our acreage.
     In an effort to drive them away and keep them from depleting my bird seed, my husband hung one of my flower pots upside down over the top of the feeder to serve as a baffle for the squirrels.  They just use it as a stepping stone to get to the feeder.  Then, I tried purchasing a holder and ears of dried corn to hang from a nearby tree to attract them to this area and away from my bird feeder.  Once again, they would eat some of the corn and then return to the scene of the crime.
     On my day off from work, I find myself going outside at least a million times during the day to scare them off my bird feeder.  Sometimes I stand at the door and hiss like a snake, and my husband merely chuckles at me.  He says I remind him of "Wiley Coyote" and the "Road Runner".  I try and try to get the squirrels to back off and nothing seems to work.  As we all know, poor "Wiley Coyote" has no luck either in catching up with the "Road Runner".  At least, I am making a good effort to stand against those sneaky squirrels, and in some respects this is not unlike what we are called to do as believers.
     Scripture teaches us to stand against the enemy of our souls.  In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes:  "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6:10-13).
     In this passage, Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord.  There is no expectation by the Apostle that we can be strong on our own accord.  We all know how easy it is to give in to temptation and our efforts alone are not enough to ward off the attack of the enemy.  We need God's power, wisdom and insight if we are to stand our ground.  Additionally, Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God.  There are two things we can learn from this admonition.  First, God has provided for us a means of protection.  Secondly, when we employ this spiritual armor, we are able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  This should be a comfort to us because life is filled with difficulties, pit falls, and temptations.  Furthermore, we are not battling people as we sometimes think we are.  Yes, we all meet those hard to get along with individuals, but the real battle comes from the spiritual powers of evil behind the darkness of this present age.  In fact, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8-9:  "...for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)...."  This is our purpose in standing to act as a contrast to the darkness which rules hearts and minds of unbelievers in this world system.
     Paul goes on in Ephesians 6 to describe the armor and weapons which God has supplied for us.  Of course, they are all important.  The helmet of salvation protects our mind.  This is the entry point where temptation can come knocking on our door.  The breastplate of righteousness protects the heart.  This is the seat of our will and emotions.  Taking a dart from the enemy in this area can leave us wounded which is why it is critical to keep this piece of protection in place.  Next comes the belt of truth for without truth we cannot combat the lies of the enemy.  Paul then goes on to tell us that we must put on shoes which protect our feet as they did the Roman soldiers.  They give us stability and protection in battle and are founded upon the peace of the Gospel which readies us for war.  Then, he tells us to take up the shield of faith which puts out the flaming darts of the enemy.  We know that we will be assaulted, challenged, attacked.  To be without this important defensive device is to leave ourselves exposed.  Finally, the most critical offensive device is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  We know that Jesus defeated the enemy in the wilderness by wielding the Word of God as a weapon against Satan.  What did Satan do?  He left Him.  If we carefully handle God's Word, we will also defeat the powers of darkness that wage war against our souls.
Armor displayed in the Tower
of London Museum
     Three times in the book of Ephesians chapter 6, Paul repeats the admonition for us to stand firm.  We can do this only if we are prepared, prayed up, and ready to handle God's Word with care and accuracy.  Unlike "Wiley Coyote", we are victorious in our efforts to combat the enemy of our souls, but only through the power of God's strength and might.
     Thus far, my efforts to fight off the squirrels with baffles, extra feeding stations, and my attempts at scaring them, haven't worked completely, but this doesn't mean I am giving up.  I will continue to plot my strategy to outwit them.  In the same way, we need to continue to stand firm in our faith and not give in to the enemy who wants to demoralize, depress and discourage us.  We are more than conquerors in Christ and this is what we must remember.  "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4) needs to be our motto in this battle.  Daily, lets remember to put on our armor trusting in God to give us strength, feeding our minds in His Word so we can refute the lies of the enemy and praying that we might have God's battle plan.  This is how we will be able to stand firm as vessels of light in this dark world.  Until He comes again, may we be found faithful.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts today.  Please leave your comments.  I enjoy reading them and I know others are blessed as well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A New Birth

     Here we are at Easter time, and our family is about to experience a new life.  On Thursday morning, our daughter and son-in-law will welcome their second child...a baby girl into our growing family.  I will be going to babysit our grandson Gavin while our daughter is in the hospital.  This is a chore I relish!  
     Our excitement has been growing as the time has finally arrived to unveil this little babe.  She will be our first granddaughter.  Can you imagine it?  One little cheerleader among five grandsons!  
     Then, on May 1st, we will have the blessing of meeting another little grandson when our oldest son and our daughter-in-law have their second child.  What a reminder of the joy of Easter in so many ways!
     Jesus rose from the dead.  The tomb was empty and He brought the resurrection hope of new life to all who believe in His name.  It was a new beginning!  The defeat of death, sin and shame!  Because He was victorious, we who trust in His name are also victorious.  So when I think of a new baby being born, I remember the words of our Lord to Nicodemus when He told him he must be born again.
     Of course, we do not enter again into our mother's womb, but we do experience a new birth in the Holy Spirit when He quickens our soul and makes us alive to believe in Christ.  Then, we truly begin to live for the first time, and like small children see all the wonder of life as if for the very first time.  This is what it means to be set free from the death sleep of sin.  We exchange our rags of empty dreams and deeds for a robe of righteousness and a crown of life.  This is the who and why we celebrate Easter because He lives; therefore we also live if we are found in Him.
Our daughter Jordan at her baby shower recently.
     I can hardly wait to hold this new baby in my arms and look upon her face.  It will bring back memories for me of when I first held our baby girl.  These times are precious to me, and we thank God for the gift of new life.
     For the next few days, I will be away for the unveiling of this priceless gift so I can assist our daughter and son-in-law.  However, I promise to share some pictures of this little girl when I have the opportunity.  Until then, may you have a Blessed Easter as together we all celebrate the greatest gift that God has ever given in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts as always.  They are a blessing to me and others who read here.  Happy Easter!
He is Risen!

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Where in the World is the Church" - A Review that Will Challenge Your Thinking

     For some time now, I have had a deep concern for the church at large and the direction it seems to be taking.  There has been a blurring of the spheres in many areas.  For example, how does a Christian relate to art, music, science, education, philosophy, labor, and government?  At one time, each of these areas of
influence was distinct and had its rightful place in the life of the believer.  However, this is not the case in our modern world.  Not only does "The Truth Project" address these issues, but also, an excellent book by Dr. Michael Horton entitled "Where in the World is the Church?".  Dr. Horton is best known for his
work on "The White Horse Inn" broadcasts carried by many radio stations as well as serving at Westminster Theological Seminary in California teaching apologetics and historical theology.
     When I picked up this book at the recent Ligonier Conference, I was immediately drawn by the question posed on the title.  Indeed, where in the world IS the church in dealing with many modern day issues?  His main thrust in this book is that the church has neglected the world to the detriment of all.  Christians have built a subculture and withdrawn from the arts, music and many other pursuits in which God has given them great talent.  It might be considered too "secular".  Instead of seeing the study of science as a divine ministry in which we are gifted, we hold back because of the secular philosophy so often found in this study.  Dr. Horton states:  "The pressure to justify art, science, and entertainment in terms of their spiritual value or evangelistic usefulness ends up damaging both the gift of creation and the gift of the Gospel.  The Reformation freed Christian men and women to pursue their divinely appointed callings in the world with dignity and respect, without having to justify the usefulness of those callings to the church or its missionary enterprise" (pg. 10).
     One area of this book that has spoken to me perhaps more than any other in terms of challenging my thinking is his chapter on "Christianity and the Arts".  He addresses music along with other art forms.  He states:  " Protestantism the great hymns that reflected a God-centered period are traded in for what can only be described as imitations of TV commercials.  And there is an arrogance about this, as if those who criticize this 'relevant' style for its content or composition suffer from a spiritual malady" (pg.76).  He goes on to say:  "My own conviction is that it is not the period of music that makes these hymns difficult; in most cases, the music is actually easier to sing.  Rather, it is (a) arrogance toward the past and (b) the unfamiliarity of the theology contained in these hymns" (pg.76).  I have to agree that much of what passes for contemporary worship services in some fellowships tends to be more of a sing along or rock concert than the worship of a holy God.
     Dr. Horton goes on to expound:  "The church wants to be relevant to the whole world, but it must not lose its own distinctiveness in the process.....Christians should feel free to enjoy and to create popular music, if that is their preference, but is this acceptable in worship?  Is the question not at least worth asking when we are talking about the worship of God?  After all, worshipping the correct God correctly falls under the judgment of the second commandment.  And why must our language in this service descend to the level of the Phil Donahue show?  Is the minister's decision to roam casually during a twenty-minute pep talk merely a matter of style, or does it violate God's pattern for preaching the Word?  The world must not be allowed to tell us how to sing or how to speak in the presence of God.  It is God, not the unchurched, who must give us our pattern for worship" (pgs. 83-84).  To these words, I say a resounding "Amen".  The author has made a very important point for us to consider as we approach worship.
     In yesterday's Tampa Tribune, the front page article read:  "Social Media Gets Religion".  The article dealt with a church in Tampa that uses Facebook, Twitter, and other means of connecting with the congregation.  Their goal is to reach the unchurched even through virtual sermons.  Then, I thought about what Dr. Horton had written.  Are they worshipping God as He directs or are they allowing the unchurched and the world system to dictate their approach?  I am not condemning them, but I think it is a fair question.  I love social media, but it cannot replace eye to eye contact, warm hugs, heartfelt prayer and praise that we find in a church gathering around the Word of God.  In addition, I have heard Dr. R.C. Sproul say on many occasions that the church tries to be "seeker" friendly to reach the unchurched, but he concludes that there are no seekers.  None seek after God.  Scripture clearly says that (Romans 3:11).  This doesn't mean we should not reach out to share the Good News with everyone we meet...but why change our worship services to accommodate those outside the body of Christ rather than to please God?
     Dr. Horton concluded his chapter on "Christianity and the Arts" by writing:  "In short, 'I keep Falling in Love with Him Over and Over and Over and Over Again,' is, once again, bad theology and bad art.  If Christians felt free to write secular love songs (focusing on the horizontal) for secular airplay, and to also write sacred church music of great musical and lyrical depth (focusing on the vertical), perhaps we could see the dawn of a new era of great music in both spheres produced by Christians" (pg. 95).  Once again, I have to agree with his assessment.  This book produces some serious meditation on where the church is in relation to our world.  Have we caved to our modern culture to such a degree that it has more influence on us than we do on them?  Jesus called us to be salt and light.  Are we losing our saltiness?  Is our light dimming?  I pray it is not.
     At the end of his book, Dr. Horton writes:  "...before we can change the culture, we must recover the purity of doctrine and life that has always had a transformative influence in the world.  We must stop accommodating to the very culture that we are opposing and attempting to transform.  To do that we must not only know our own theology, but we must also know the idols and understand the ways in which we ourselves are shaped more by the spirit of the age than by the Spirit of Christ.  As families and churches learn the 'whole counsel of God' all over again and recover the Law and the Gospel in the diet of preaching, teaching, and worship, there will be a fresh integrity to the church's witness before a cynical world that has forgotten the last time it took the church seriously" (pg. 203).  I challenge each of you to read this book.  It will make you think anew about how we as Christians interact with all the spheres of influence in our world and how best to glorify our Lord and Savior.  Selah!

I hope you have been encouraged as you read this and I welcome your thoughts and comments here.
May you be blessed as you serve the Lord and glorify Him!