Friday, August 31, 2012

One Act of Kindness Each Day

     With the economy hurting and many folks out of work, in need of health care, food and shelter, the problems seem insurmountable on the surface.  Then, as I talked with a co-worker about what action the average person could take, we discussed the act of giving ourselves away each day to someone new.  Think about this concept.  If each one of us could do one act of kindness to one person each day, what a difference we could make in someone's life.
      A television commercial for an insurance company (I am not certain which one) shows a person in the act of doing a kindness to their neighbor such as helping them rake the leaves in their yard.  A passer-by observes this and goes on to do an act of kindness for another stranger by wiping up spilled coffee at work without being asked to do this.  It is the multitude of little things that we can do for one another each day that don't cost us more than time or a little effort.  Even the poorest person can do this for another soul.
     Jesus believed this is how we show the love of God by doing for our neighbors what we would like them to do for us.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we find a man who has been robbed, beaten and left to lay on the side of the road.  Along came a priest, who immediately moved to the other side of the road.  The same was true for a Levite as neither of them wanted to be unclean or become involved.  Then, a "despised" Samaritan came along and found the man.  He bound up his wounds and took him to an inn.  He told the innkeeper to keep an account for any expenses and he would pay for it when he came back that way.  What a heart!  What a man!  This Samaritan did not have to stop and help this man, but he made a decision to reach out in brotherly kindness to a fellow human being to help someone in need.
     While we may not have the money to help someone, there are simple things we can do.  We can send a card to a sick person or give them a phone call.  Invite a new couple in our church over for dinner to get to know them.  Share our faith with someone who needs a hug and prayer.  Smile!!!!!!  It is free and it uses less muscles than a frown.  I try to do this at the office to bring someone a warm welcome.  Help someone in distress to change a tire or get a call in for mechanical help if their car is broken down.  Drive someone to a doctor's appointment if they need assistance getting there.  Bake cookies and take them to a neighbor.  Visit a nursing home or volunteer there.  Volunteer at a food bank or at a local hospital.  There are a thousand acts of kindness we can show throughout the year.
     I will never forget the act of kindness that a dear friend showed to me many years ago when my mother was in the nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's.  I had received word that my mother may not make it through the night.  She had an infection and was not doing well.  When I told my friend, she offered to go with me to the nursing home, and together, we sang hymns to my mother in her room for nearly half and hour or more.  All her favorite hymns seemed to calm her soul.  We prayed with her and it blessed not only my mother but her roommate as well who was far from her family.  My mother recovered from this infection but I never forgot how wonderful my friend was to come and help me minister at a time of deep concern.
     Romans 12:10 reads:  "Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor."  If only we could live like this every day, it would make an impact on our world.  Practice one act of kindness to a new person each day, and you will find a blessing beyond your wildest dreams.  The only limitation on how we can help others is our imagination.  Seek the Father and ask Him to direct your steps to just the right person.  When we die to self and live for Christ, we will love one another.  Selah!
The serene beauty of Anna Maria Island

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ever Feel Alone in a Crowd?

Photo courtesy of
My dear friend Pat Hunter!
     Do you ever feel alone even in the middle of a crowd?  I have had that experience at different times in my life.  There are people all around you, but somehow there is never a connection made which gives a sense that you belong.  Even in a wonderful church fellowship, I would venture to say that there are many lonely people sitting in the pews.  It is not that people are necessarily unfriendly.  Most everyone says hello, but it is a lack of relationship which is often the root of the problem.  The sense of isolation may also be exacerbated by the size of the church.  Large congregations make it difficult to get to know people unless an effort is made to reach out.  So how can we deal with this issue?
     First, if we are the one that feels all alone in the middle of the crowd, we can take some positive steps to deal with this.  We need to look at the "alone" time as an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God.  Even God's prophets felt all alone and abandoned at times.  I am thinking specifically of Elijah who felt as though he were the only one left in all Israel who was faithful to God.  He had just come from a great victory over the prophets of Baal, and then was threatened by Jezebel.  He fled some  130 miles south to Beersheba in order to escape the reach of King Ahab.  He was tired, discouraged, depressed and he felt alone.  Whenever someone puts their heart and soul into a project, ministry, or activity, they feel a let down if they do not get positive feedback.  Certainly, Ahab gave no positive feedback and Jezebel only cried for Elijah's blood (I Kings 18-19).  This made the prophet of God feel alone.  His famous words are found in I Kings 19: 10:  "He said, 'I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.  For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." Here is a picture of dejection.  However, Elijah was looking in the right place for answers by talking to God and telling him how he felt.  God, in his wisdom and mercy, provided Elijah with rest, food, and His insight.  As the Lord meets with Elijah, He tells him that He will appoint another to be prophet in Elijah's place and assures him that there are at least 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed their knees to Baal.  Running to God when he felt all alone was the best thing Elijah could have ever done.  It is also the best thing we can do.  As our relationship with God grows, our loneliness will be eased.
       Secondly, our alone times will cause us to deepen our prayer life.  When life is going smoothly, we often forget to pray.  However, when we feel all alone or dejected, this is the time for us to spend in deep prayer with our heavenly Father.  Jesus looked for occasions when He could slip away from the maddening pace of life to have quality time with His Father in prayer.  We need to embrace this idea if we are feeling lonely.  See it as an opportunity to draw closer to God, to pray for others, and seek answers for our direction.
      Finally, our lonely times are when we need to reach out and invest ourselves in others.  We do not need to wait for others to come to us.  Let us go to them.  Since we know we are not the only person who may be feeling alone in a crowd, we know there are others.  Seek out those in the church family who need a friend, a hug, a listening ear.  By giving ourselves away to others, we will find fulfillment and greater joy.  Having a purpose takes away a feeling of isolation on our part.
     As a church body, we need to be certain to make newcomers feel welcomed.  We need to thank those in ministry for their time and efforts because pastors, teachers, and yes, even blog writers can feel alone at times.  No one should ever feel alone or lonely in the family of Christ.  Therefore, let us seek ways to take what the enemy means for evil (that feeling of loneliness), and allow God to turn it for our good by first seeking Him, praying more deeply and reaching out to others.  As we do this, God will be glorified and the enemy will be defeated.  Selah!

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Be Careful What You Watch

     I remember the first T.V. that my parents purchased when I was little.  It had a small square screen and it was in black and white.  We had to sit close in order to get a good view and occasionally we had poor reception.
A stained glass window at the Church of the Holy Rood
     Those early model T.V.'s are so ancient in light of today's technology.  We now can watch shows in color and receive pictures in high definition on larger than life screens.  How times have changed!
     I wish, though, that I could say that times have changed for the better, but they have not.  With the continued moral decay in our country, the programs which are often featured on television are not positive programs, but merely a sad reflection of the condition of our hearts.  Immoral relationships, fornication, stealing, lying, cheating and all manner of sin are presented in shows like it is no big deal.  Children's programming is also in sad condition with many cartoons filled with violence.

     Colossians 2:8 reads:  "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of this world, rather than according to Christ."  Now when Paul wrote this, there were no T.V.'s, but there was always a threat of people being misled by others.
     It is easier today than ever before to be caught up in empty deception.  All we have to do is examine closely the advertising that we see on the tube.  We may be told that if we drive a certain car, wear a certain cologne, or have a certain look, we will succeed.  Likewise, viewing some of the shows can lead to unrealistic expectations in our relationships with others because they are not based on the truth of God's Word but upon worldly values....or lack thereof.
     Our Lord would have us be very careful in how much of our time and energy we spend sitting before the T.V. set or watching movies that make fun of Christian morals and values.  We can tell ourselves that it won't effect us, but we all know that over time these ideas which are radically at odds with God's can undermine our faith.
     Let us instead be diligent to follow David's example when he said this in Psalm 101:3:  "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away;  It shall not fasten its grip on me."  May we also walk away from the shows and programs which are the work of those who do not love the Lord but make fun of His Laws and His Word.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  They encourage me and all who come to read here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Using Christ or Being Used by Him

     Having served in the business world for a number of years, I have had the opportunity to meet many types of people.  It is most certainly a joy to work with and get to know Christians in the work place.  However, there is one trend that troubles me both with the business world as well as the political arena. Some people use the Christian faith to sell their products, win elected office or curry favor with the powers that be.   Rather than giving God the glory, they use Him as a tool to sell, recruit, or achieve a higher level of earning potential.  To be certain, this is not true of all who are faithful to the Lord, and it should not be true of us.
A busy business area in Lucerne, Switzerland
     Jesus encountered those who were taking advantage of others and making His Father's House a den of robbers.  They were business people as well, but they had taken things too far.  All three of the Synoptic Gospel include the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  Following the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus enters the Temple.  In Mark 11:15-17, the author writes:  "And they came to Jerusalem.  And He entered the Temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the Temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple.  And He was teaching them and saying to them, 'Is it not written, 'My father's house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?  But you have made it a den of robbers.'"  Little wonder the priests and scribes were set against Him for He boldly reminded all present that God's House was meant for worship not to be used as a marketplace.
     Those coming to the Court of the Gentiles where these sellers had set up their tables often needed to exchange their money so they could pay their tithe.  However some of the moneychangers were cheating the people.  Likewise, pigeons were used for sacrifice, but these merchants had set up shop inside a court meant for prayer.  Seeing how these business people were taking advantage of God's name to sell their wares, Jesus became angry and drove them out.
Courtyard restaurants and businesses in Munich, Germany
     Using faith in Jesus Christ as a means to sell a product or promote yourself to public office is not unlike what happened in the scripture passage above.  There is a difference between holding sincere convictions and values that come from the Bible and simply mouthing those principles for gain.  We need Christians in every walk of life to reflect God's glory.  Men and women of character who live their faith in Jesus Christ by honest dealings and truthful statements bring a light to an otherwise dreary, dark world.  Our Lord told us to let our light so shine that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.  This should be the goal of every Christian in politics as well as business.
     There is no shame in making a profit in business if it is done with integrity because God has called man to labor on this earth.  However, to name the name of Christ in one breath and steal, back stab, lie or cheat in another brings dishonor to our Lord.  It is time for all who serve in the work force to examine themselves before the Lord.  May we never be found to be a money changer using the name of the Lord and taking it in vain to promote ourselves or our work.  Instead, I pray that God will make us humble, honest, and truthful in all our dealings that we may bring true glory to His name.  Selah!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Simple Act of Caring

     It happens every year.  On our anniversary, we receive a sweet card from a lady who has been a friend and dear Christian sister.  She doesn't have to do it.  She is not a relative, but when I asked her why she sent us a card each year, she replied that anniversaries are special and need to be remembered. Often no one else ever remembers or wishes you a happy anniversary so she has made this her mission.
I cannot tell you how this has blessed us, and it is a simple thing.
Our Anniversary card
     When I hear people tell me that they are too old, too sick, too fearful, too young or too busy to minister to others, I think of this dear lady.  She is not young by any means, but she has found her calling of encouraging others with a card ministry.  Ecclesiastes 9:10 reads:  "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working, nor planning, nor knowledge, nor wisdom."  Solemn words indeed, but this verse tells us to deal with life as we find it.  Make the most of our opportunities on a daily basis because we will not always have the chance to minister.  Death is certain, but while we are here, no matter what our circumstances, we can find a way to bless others if we keep our ears and eyes open.
      One of my heroines has been Joni Erickson Tada.  I remember as a young Christian I read her story about the diving accident that left her paralyzed.  Yet, out of the ashes of this terrible disabling accident,  she has learned to draw the most beautiful pictures using her mouth to guide all the strokes.  I cannot even draw well using my hands!  What a talented beautiful soul!  Even more, she has developed a ministry to assist the disabled in obtaining wheel chairs, started camping experiences for children with disabilities and is a writer as well.
A gift from our grandson on my birthday...a simple gift
of love.
     Joni could have looked at the things she could not do and stopped living right there.  Instead, with God's grace and help, she found many things that she could do and ventured out to accomplish them for God's glory.  If she can do that, I think we can manage to make a phone call, send a card, pray for someone who has a need or even give someone a drink of water.  Galatians 6:9 reads:   "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."
     If our lives are meant to glorify God, we need to make a conscious effort to seek His guidance in the use of our time, talents, and abilities.  Not all of us are called to the vocation of ministry, but we are all called to serve one another for Christ's sake.  Today, take an inventory of your life.  Are you being the friend that you would like others to be to you?  Do you take time to send a card or make a phone call?  It doesn't have to take all day to offer encouragement.  Simple things like remembering some one's birthday, anniversary or other special occasion means the world to an acquaintance or family member.
     Just as we have to schedule doctor's appointments and set aside time to go there, we also have to set aside a time to do good while we have the opportunity.  In fact, with our smart phones, we can send a text message, an email or even make a simple phone call to bless that person.  This isn't rocket is the love of Christ reaching out to tell someone you care.
     There are many things that scream for our attention in life, but we do not have to be ruled by the tyranny of the urgent.  I promise that you will be blessed by doing something for someone each day.  It is life changing for both you and the person you touch.  I can vouch for that!  So go out and get busy today!  Call someone.  Invite someone to dinner that you haven't fellowshipped with for a long time.  Send a card of encouragement or make a phone call.  God wants to use you to bring glory to His name so you will receive a blessing in your heart!  Selah!

I personally want to thank Mrs. Berdene Johnson for never forgetting our wedding anniversary!  You bless us so much with that card each year!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Adventures of Beau

Beau ready to play
     Since his arrival nearly three weeks ago, Beau the puppy, has kept our house humming with activity.  Our son was unable to keep the puppy at the house he was renting so until his situation changes he asked us to look after Beau.  Having this cross between a Siberian Husky and Golden Retriever (a Goberian as they call them) has been both entertaining and exasperating all at the same time.  He is seven months old and like a toddler has lots to learn about our household.  Things like:  do not steal the laundry out of the laundry room and chew it; do not teethe on my furniture, couches or hand; do not tear up my carpets or try to dig a hole in them; and please quit barking so early in the morning!!!  At present,  the barking is the biggest issue.  He barks when locked up for the night in the company of our nearly twelve year old basset hound.  This lasts about eight minutes before he is silent for the night.  Then, around five or five thirty in the morning, he starts barking non-stop.  We usually arise at 6:00 and having an extra half hour of sleep is precious to us.  We have even resorted to ear plugs which still let in enough sound to waken us.  In fact, we even tried a nice mesh muzzle which was guaranteed to stop barking at night without hurting the dog...but five minutes after we put him to bed he had it off and chewed up.  So much for that!
     Our basset hound has taken all the changes into stride, however.  He is so laid back that we often think of him as a floor decoration that breathes.  Beau does not understand that an elder statesman like Roscoe has no desire to romp, run, bite and play.  Nevertheless, each evening Beau bites Roscoe's tail to incite him to play.  It only annoys Roscoe who will occasionally respond in mild play but mostly lets Beau know that he will soon be history if he doesn't stop bothering him.  I think for the most part they have reached an acceptance of one another for which I am grateful, and as I watch them, I thought about the simple lessons you can learn even about fellowship in the church.
Roscoe's favorite position
      Beau is like a new Christian who comes into the church with the need for growth, nurture and guidance.  Often a new believer arrives with the zeal of a mighty warrior filled with energy, ideas and excitement.  If channeled under the loving tutelage of the church family, this new saint will become a seasoned soldier of the Lord.  If left to his own devices with no interaction, teaching and training, he can be easy prey for "every wind of doctrine."  A good example of providing an environment for new believers can be found in the book of Acts.
     Peter had preached a mighty sermon on the day of Pentecost and nearly 3,000 became believers on that day.  It was imperative that they receive solid instruction in the faith so that they could grow.  In Acts 2:42 we read:  "And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and the fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  How important it is that the new believers be devoted to learning the important doctrines of their new faith.  They spent time together discussing, worshipping and learning.  In addition, they joined in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.  All these elements were crucial to their growth.  Kenneth Hemphill, in his article, "Kingdom-Centered Churches Teach Sound Doctrine" written for "The Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention (Summer 2012) writes the following:  "I will agree that you can draw a crowd without sound doctrine, but it is impossible to grow the church without doctrinal instruction.  Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, two sociologists, looked at denominational growth in America from 1776 to 1990.  They point to the phenomenal growth of religion in America but then conclude:  'Not all denominations share in this immense rise in membership rates, and to the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper.'  They discovered that when religious commitment was watered down, it actually lost its appeal"
     Most of us know that when we are dealing with a toddler, they need lots of watch care and guidance to keep them safe and on the right path.  We certainly have been doing our best with Beau the puppy.   Therefore, it is even more imperative that as the Body of believers we take the time to help instruct and work with new believers.  It is not the pastor's job alone.  We all must devote ourselves wherever we are in our walk to the sound teaching of the Word.
     Another thing I have noticed by watching the interaction of our two canines is that the younger dog has to learn to respect and accept the older dog's place in our home.  Roscoe, by canine standards, is an old guy who cannot move around with agility like he once did.  But.....he knows the rules of the house.  He has had experience in living and relating to the family that this new pup on the block has not had.  In considering our fellowship within the Body of Christ, we must treat not only the needs of the new Christian, but we must listen to and gain wisdom from older, seasoned Christians respecting their place in the church.  When they give a warning or share a concern, it is important to listen to them.  
     Paul wrote an instruction to the young pastor Timothy in his letter to him:  "Do not rebuke an older man but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity" ( I Timothy 5:1-2).  As a minister, Timothy was to encourage older men and women and treat them with respect.  This applies to all in a congregation of believers.  While the aging may or may not be spiritually mature, their physical maturity and life experience brings a wealth of blessing to a church that integrates young and old together in harmony.  Young people need the older generations in order to draw from them the stories of faith that will sustain them throughout their lives.  In fellowships where the youth do not come in contact with older members, there is often a disconnect and missed opportunities to learn from their elders.
       Watching God's creatures interact can teach us so many things as we study the Word of God.  Indeed, ministering to the needs of both the new believer and the older believer fall within the responsibility of the church fellowship.  We are all to participate in this ministry.  Like the sign on the back of many trucks, we need to ask:  "How's my driving" or in this case "How's our church doing in meeting the needs of fellow members?"  
     Certainly in our home, Roscoe is teaching Beau about obeying his caretakers.  There could be no more opposite type of dogs.  Roscoe the laid back hound and Beau the hyper puppy remind me of Oscar and Felix...."The Odd Couple".  However, I am grateful for Roscoe's calm response to most situations.  It balances Beau's excitability.  Now if we could only stop the early morning wake up call....we would be good here.  We are taking our time and effort to help these two creatures to learn the rules and get along.  The same is true in our churches.  We must all be willing to pitch in and help one another as we walk this earth together.  May we be committed to glorifying the Lord by building up the Body of Christ.  Soli Deo Gloria!

I welcome your thoughts as you consider this subject of church fellowship.  May this bring a blessing to you today!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Afraid to be Different

     While reading my Bible this morning, I came across one of the saddest passages in the book of John (chapter 12:42-43).  Here Jesus is preaching to the people of Jerusalem as well as His disciples after His triumphal entry.  John writes a description of some who heard Him speak.            " Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."  This passage made me think, "Not much has changed in the 2,000 years since our Lord walked upon the earth."  Men and women still make professions of faith today, but they are afraid to be different than their pagan friends.
     When we hear someone proclaim they are a Christian but live in a manner contrary to God's Word, they defile the testimony of our holy God.  It is hard to win an unbeliever over to the faith if a person is living with their boyfriend/girlfriend without being married.  Maybe they cheat on taxes or steal from their boss.  They may justify this to themselves, but it does not demonstrate the call of Christ and their commitment to live for Him.  We are, then, no better off than the pagans who live without the Lord.  Our Lord has given to us several callings that will make a difference in our witness.
     First, Christ calls us to holy living.  In I Peter 1:14-16, the Apostle writes:  "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"  We are to throw off old past behaviors and be a living contrast to the ways of this world.  That does not mean that we go off and become hermits, but we are to conduct ourselves according to the Bible.
     Secondly, Christ calls to us profess our faith before men.  Our Savior speaks these words in Matthew 10:32-33:  "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."  The men that John wrote about in his Gospel account believed in Jesus but were unwilling to proclaim it before others for the fear of men.  As that passage said, they were more interested in maintaining their relationship with the leaders of their day rather than honoring God with their lips.  We will face difficulties if we are living for Christ and professing His name.  The world and the sin nature do  not like to hear about God or the Bible.  Why?  Because it condemns their behavior and sinfulness.  It exposes them, and just as in the Garden, they want to hide from God.  So, when we proclaim the name of Christ, it brings conviction upon those outside of the faith.  In the case of the Jewish leaders who believed in the Lord, they could have been expelled from the synagogue.   However, Jesus calls upon believers to confess their faith in public.
     Third, Christ calls us to be salt and light.  He said:  "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.   You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).  These instructions to His disciples should set the tone for our lives.  This is our directive.  We are to be salt so we can preserve this world from further corruption.  Likewise, we are to be a light in the darkness of sin around us.  Our present culture needs both salt and light.  God has chosen us that we might bring these qualities to bear on our work place, our homes and communities.
     If we embrace the philosophy of the leaders that John spoke of in his Gospel, we are like salt that has become good for nothing.  They were afraid of men and not of God.  When we are called to accept God's gracious gift of salvation,  He does all the work in our lives so that we might live to bring Him glory.  His Kingdom, His fellowship is far more precious than the fleeting pleasures of this world. Therefore, we must, with God's help, live a different kind of lifestyle if we call ourselves Christian.
     Will this be an easy task to stand out from the unbelievers around us?  After 41 years of serving Christ, I can say a confident "no".  It may cost us relationships.  It may cost us a job, but it will be worth all we give up in this life to hear our Lord say to us one day, "Well, done thou good and faithful servant....enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:23a,c).  May we have the courage to let our light so shine that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven!  Selah!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Service that Makes a Difference

     For the last two Wednesdays, I have had the privilege of caring for Branson while his parents are working.  As many of you know, he is a special needs child with a very rare brain malformation.  His ability to communicate is somewhat inhibited although he can let me know when he needs something.  At times, it is very frustrating for him not to be able to tell me exactly what he wants, but if ever there was a happy child, it is Branson.
     Each morning as I pray for family, I ask the Lord to show us (as grandparents) how best to minister to Branson's needs whenever we are with him.  I do not ask the Lord to change him because the Lord gives good and perfect gifts.  Instead, I ask the Lord to help us learn best how to support his parents, build a good relationship with this precious child and teach him what we know.  I am most grateful for the family and friends on both sides that have been involved in giving love, support and care.  It is a big task, but one we happily embrace to the glory of God.
     Even today, our culture still has difficulty accepting and ministering to the needs of those with disabilities or special needs.  If a person is not "normal" (by the world's standards), they have a hard time navigating through life.  To this, I ask, who is "normal"?  And what are the guidelines that are used?  Oh, we have tests and other measurements to compare growth and development of the individual, but what really can it show us of the character of the person and their eternal soul?
     There are so many that have been given up as hopeless that have added so much to enriching the lives of others.  For example, Helen Keller was thought to be a lost cause.  Having lost her sight, hearing and the ability to speak at a very early age due to a high fever, no one knew how to communicate with her or teach her life skills.  By God's grace, a teacher, Anne Sullivan, came into her life and managed to help her find a voice at a time when others would have given up all hope.  Helen Keller went on to attend Radcliffe College and graduate cum laude.  She wrote an autobiography of her life and became socially active in fighting for the rights of the disabled.  Who would have ever dreamed that she could accomplish this, and yet, God had a plan for her life.
     Another story of someone who was born with challenges is Leslie Lemke.  He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 31, 1952.  As a premature baby, he developed glaucoma and blindness and had to have his eyes removed surgically.  In addition, he had cerebral palsy as well as brain damage.  His mother gave him up for adoption at six months of age and nurse, May Lemke, adopted him as her own.  She had raised five children, but considered it a privilege to take this child.
     May had to teach little Leslie how to swallow which took nearly a year.  He showed slow progress after seven years of faithful teaching.  She strapped Leslie to herself to teach him how to take steps one by one until he could walk on his own by the age of fifteen.  She taught him piano at a young age by putting his hands over her own while she played.  He responded to music and seemed to love it.  Her patience, caring and love all paid off in an amazing way one night.
     As she and her husband lay sleeping, they awoke to hear the sound of music on the piano.  Leslie was playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 which he had heard on television.  From this beginning, he went on to play not only classical but also ragtime and modern tunes.  All he had to do was hear a piece and he could reproduce it perfectly.  Doctors called him an autistic savant.  One part of his brain responded to music with incredible genius allowing him to play a wide range of music.  The story is legendary.  He has played concerts and is still playing for nursing homes and other facilities to this day.   His music was his language and he managed it very well.
     In these two examples, we see two women, Anne Sullivan and May Lemke, who gave of themselves to serve another.  While others might have given up on Helen Keller and Leslie Lemke, God put them in the care of someone who could bring out the talent that lay locked inside their physical bodies.  As Christians, this is what we are called to do.  Not only for the disabled, but for all who are in need or want.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
     Matthew 25:31-40 expresses these words of our Lord:  "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink,  I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me,  I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
     Whether in the work place, at home or in our communities, we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ.  How we treat others and serve them is seen by our heavenly Father.  It is for Him that we live, breathe and have our being.  Our actions, words and deeds are meant to reflect His glory.
      Even as I pray each day asking God to change me so I can understand and serve the needs of little Branson, we all must seek the Lord to work in us a heart of patience, love and self sacrifice so we can meet the needs of others.  May we have the diligence and perseverance of a May Lemke or Anne Sullivan that does not give up on anyone; for what God has created is precious in His sight.  As we serve the least of these, we are serving the Lord Himself.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights here as an encouragement to others.  Please feel free to leave them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Great Education Begins with Sound Doctrine

This display was found in the Church of the Holy Rood
in Stirling, Scotland
     Here in our area of Florida, teachers are gearing up for the return of students to our local schools.  There is a good deal of preparation taking place in order to provide the best possible instruction.  We often do not know all the hard work that occurs before the first bell is rung.
     During the time I home educated our four children, I spent several weeks working on lesson plans for the year, picking out curriculum and ordering any supplies we needed.  The main goal was to impart knowledge to our four children so they would be equipped to take their place in the work force.  Happily, all of them have succeeded.  Without sound teaching, whether at home or in the public schools, young people do not have the tools they need to move into a good job.
     In the same way, it is critical, in the framework of our faith, that we be grounded in the truth found in sound doctrine as revealed in Scripture.   The Apostle Paul emphasized this to the young pastor Timothy.  Several times, Paul warns against false teachers in his letters to Timothy and encourages him to hold fast to sound teaching:  "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).  Again, Paul reiterated his concern for Timothy in I Timothy 6:20:  "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.  Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith."  Over and over as a running theme throughout both letters Paul warns Timothy to stand fast for sound doctrine.
     Paul taught Timothy and guided him in his ministry.  He wanted him to do the same for the saints entrusted to his care.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is truth, but there were those at that time, as there are today, who twist God's Word for their own profit.  In I Timothy 6:3-5, Paul describes those false teachers and the result of their efforts:  "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."
     Knowledge is a good thing to have but it must be combined with wisdom.  Just giving people information without the training on how to apply it to their lives is like giving someone a car without teaching them how to drive.  It is useless!  Even more, it is dangerous.  The mission of every believer in Jesus Christ is to pass on our faith and the sound doctrine on which it is based.
Photo courtesy of 
     When a person is called by God to faith in Christ, he/she comes as one who has been deprived of truth in their past.  Therefore, the job of the church as a whole and individual believers as well is to teach the truth that is found in God's Word to us.  This can be accomplished through Bible study, regular church attendance, Sunday school classes, small groups, catechism or new member classes.  There are many avenues to help a person grow in the truth.
     Each of us has a responsibility to be excellent students of the Word so we can share it with others "in season or out of season".  It is not the pastor's job alone.  We have been chosen by God to take His truth into all the world....our jobs, our schools, our homes and yes, even into our government.  Wherever He has placed us, He has called us and equipped us to live as examples of our faith and to share the truth with others.
     Teachers, whether public, private or homeschool, want to prepare their students with the best information possible so they can face tomorrow's challenges.  The same should be true of the church and every member in it.  Our goal is to hold to sound doctrine avoiding all false teachers.  We can do that by being students of God's Word.  It is the only constant foundation in our ever changing world.  For in it's pages, we meet God and find salvation through Jesus Christ His Son.  Selah!

As the new school year is about to begin, let us pray for all teachers, administrators, and schools as well as our students.  May God bless them, keep them, and protect them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Putting Out Into the Deep

     We used to enjoy going fishing in Canada in the earlier days of our marriage when we still lived in Ohio.  My father-in-law went to a fishing camp in Ontario just about every summer and we would often go and join him up there in the beautiful woods.
Family trip to Canada one year
     One of his favorite lakes to fish was called Elephant Lake.  We would drive about 45 minutes to an hour on a log road (dirt, gravel and lots of bumps) in order to reach the area near the lake where we could use a boat.  Then, we had to walk down a winding and sometimes slippery path through the woods to a dock area.
     This lake was so long that it took a good deal of time to go to the various fishing spots that he enjoyed.  Of course, there were no cabins, people or landmarks clearly visible so you had to be certain to look carefully in order to find your way back.  My father-in-law learned every inch of that lake and could easily navigate it.
     When we went fishing with my husband's family, we also had to learn that it would be an all day affair.  If it rained, we took rain gear.  If it was cold, we brought extra clothes to wear on the boat.  In short, we were there for the day.  However, the day was extra long for everyone if the fish were not biting.  On more than one occasion, we would return with very little and this was always frustrating.
     The Apostle Peter had much the same type of experience, and he was an expert fisherman.  He had spent an entire night in a boat when the Lord came up and climbed in the boat with him.  Look at Luke 5:4:  "Jesus said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.'"
     Now I am certain that Peter was just thrilled with that suggestion after spending a long hard night with no results.  He was tired and most likely frustrated.  Why was Jesus  asking him to put out into the deep again?  As yet, Peter didn't have a deep relationship with the Lord that was to come.
     Nevertheless, Peter obeyed and did as the Lord had requested, and in verse 6 of this chapter, it becomes clear that they caught so many fish that their nets began to break.  In surprise at this miracle, he fell at the feet of Jesus.  God had done what he could not accomplish all night long.
     There are so many times when we have given something our very best effort whether at work, at home or even at church.  We may have labored for hours on a project to have it come to no use.  When I consider Peter in this passage, I can fully identify with him.
     Yet, the Lord often bids us to "put out into deep water".  He doesn't expect us to do this on our own strength but on His.  He knows that we are tired and weary but He calls us to walk in faith in His power.
     Naturally, all of us wish the path ahead was clear as a bell, and we could know exactly what is going to happen next.  Reality is that we do not have this foreknowledge, but we know the One who does.  This is when we must launch into the deep if we really want to see miracles.  Stepping out in faith and trusting in Jesus will bring in the harvest that we long for.
     If you are tired and weary, trust Jesus with the empty nets in your life.  He will provide you with all that you need to accomplish His purpose.  Selah!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts, insights and comments here.  I welcome them and the encouragement they bring.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Putting Aside Self

Scottish Heather....a beautiful plant to behold
     One of the greatest needs we all have in our lives is acceptance.  We want to be loved for who we are as a person...not for what we do for someone.
     This was driven home to me a long time ago when I was in grade school in Florida.  My parents used to come to Florida for about three months every winter as my father was a farmer and had this time off.  Of course, since I would be missing school, I had to take classes in Florida.
     At the particular grade school I attended one winter, I met a Jewish girl who was so sweet.  Yet, many of the other students would not even talk to her because she held different beliefs.  Each day, we
began our lunch period with the Lord's prayer (before the banning of prayer in schools).  This girl would bow her head too even though she did not recite this prayer.  She told me that she had a Hebrew blessing for her food.
     Even though our friendship was brief and only lasted one winter season, she told me that I was one of the few people that had accepted her as she was and didn't shun her.  I felt so good about that.  I also thought it was sad that others missed getting to know her as a person.
     Within the Christian community, it is even more discouraging to find some who do not accept one another but often act out of selfishness.  Paul admonished us that we are to put aside self as Christ did in order to minister to the needs and weaknesses of others.  Read Romans 15:1-7:  "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to his edification.  For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell upon me.'  For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God."
     Acceptance is like medicine for the soul.  In Christ, we are fully loved and accepted by God the Father.  Why then, can't we, in the Body of Christ, learn to love and accept one another?
     Often, we act out of an attitude of pleasing ourselves over pleasing the Lord by helping a weaker brother.  We cannot show unity and bring glory to God when selfishness rules our homes, our offices, and our churches.
     Human nature without Christ is basically selfish and demanding.  If Christians act in the same manner without putting aside the self, what difference will the world see?  Why should they desire to follow Christ when we act the same way?
     Instead of putting ourselves first in every situation, let us ask how we can help one another.  We need to ask ourselves not "What would Jesus do" but "How would Jesus have me act in a given situation?"  To love and accept others only when it is convenient to us is human but to love and accept others when it is hard comes from a changed heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.  May we live to serve and bring glory to Christ by our attitude and actions.  Selah!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Reforming the Reformed

     As many of my readers know, I have been reading the excellent book by Os Guinness entitled "The Last Christian on Earth: the Enemy's Plot to Undermine the Church".  One particular section stood out towards the conclusion of his work concerning the state of Evangelicals today.  His words of wisdom are worth noting and making a matter of prayer.

Inside St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland
     "We who time and again have stood for the renewal of tired forms, for the revival of dead churches, for the warming of cold hearts, for the reformation of corrupt practices and heretical beliefs and for the reform of gross injustices in society, are ourselves in dire need of reformation and renewal today.  Reformers, we ourselves need to be reformed.  Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made.
      We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior.  All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the Church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs and mission principles with marketing precepts.  In the process, we have become known for commercial, diluted and feelgood gospels of health, wealth, human potential and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world.
     All too often we have set out high clear statements of the authority of the Bible, but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience.
     All too often we have prided ourselves on our orthodoxy, but grown our churches through methods and techniques as worldly as the worldliest of Christian adaptations to passing expressions of the spirit of the age."

     Os Guinness is not so much condemning us for our failings but confronting us with the sober reality of the state of the Evangelical church today.  Unless someone sounds an alarm, no one will awake and heed the call to reform.  It begins with each one of us first in our own lives.  Then, it spreads to our family and into the church.  We are the bride of Christ and our wedding day to the King of Kings is at hand.  Are we ready for His return?  May we humbly do some serious self-examination of our own walk and seek the Lord so that we might be used by Him.  As Reformed believers, we must always be continuing to reform in light of God's Holy Word as we study it and apply to our lives and our church fellowships.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Granddogs and Grandbabies Need Lots of Love

     Our home has always been a place of endless activity.  We have raised four children, welcomed their friends, and now we have seven grandchildren from age 4 on down.  When we all get together, we have sixteen people in our home!  It is a blessing even if it gets a little chaotic at times.
     Over the years, we have also been dog sitters for our children welcoming our grand-dogs to our home for a week or two.  Yesterday, however, we had the blessing of welcoming 6 month old Beau to our home not for a week but for about nine months.  Our youngest son, Nathan, was not able to keep the dog in his current place as the landlord did not approve, so he brought him to us until he could make other arrangements after his lease is up.  He is an adorable husky mix and thus far, has adapted to our home life without much trouble.  Of course, he hasn't been here long enough to really get into any trouble.  Grandmother Thayer does not approve of chewed tables, torn furniture or using the house as a toilet.  However, at this point, he has acted like a little gentleman.
     In every situation, I always find some humor.  Our main dog 11 year old Roscoe P. Coltrain is being joined by Beau.  I instantly thought of "The Dukes of Hazzard".   Remember "Bo" Duke and "Luke"?  While my husband's car is red, it doesn't sound like the "General Lee" when the horn sounds, and I certainly am not Daisy; however, little Beau is from Kentucky!  :)
     Our main job the next nine months will be to teach Beau how to behave and socialize with guests who come to our home.  He needs to learn to alert us when to take him outside (at present, we are trained to take him out) and he needs to learn to quietly go to his cage at night to sleep.  He is a bright dog who seems eager to please.  I am taking advantage of all the positive reinforcement I can.  As I considered the job of teaching a puppy how to behave and thought about all our grandchildren and the lessons they need to learn, it crossed my mind that as the Body of Christ we have an important job to do as well.
     Into our fellowships, many new believers come.  They have made a commitment to Jesus Christ but many of them do not really understand the rudiments of the faith.  In fact, they are babies in the faith who need to be loved, nurtured, taught and cared for by more mature believers.  It is not just the pastor's job to instruct them.  Without serious discipleship, these new believers will remain on milk never developing a hunger for the real meat of God's Word.  The book of Hebrews addresses this in chapter 5:12:  "In fact, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's Word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food."  The consequences of stunted Christian growth include:  1) still living with one foot in the world and the other in Christ  2) inability to deal with the crises of life from the standpoint of a deep rooted faith 3) easily blown about by every wind of doctrine and 4) difficulty in resisting temptation.  So how can we help new believers or even long time believers who have never grown in their faith move on into maturity?
     Many years ago, a wonderful pastor Dr. Russell Jones, taught us about discipling those who are babes in Christ.  We had a special ministry set up which paired a more mature believer with someone who was a babe in Christ.  Following a basic Christian handbook along with the Bible, we went through the fundamentals of the faith.  This not only created fellowship but allowed time to ask questions without being embarrassed or intimidated.   This discipleship training produced good fruit in the body.
     Other churches offer new member classes where the basics of the faith are taught along with a history of the church.  Still others offer catechism classes to ensure that new believers understand the tenets of Christianity.  Underpinning all of this, though, is the preaching of the Word each Lord's Day.  As members of a fellowship, we can encourage new believers to attend church each week.  Perhaps we can offer them a ride or plan to make a lunch date after the service.    It is the responsibility of the entire Body to help a babe in Christ grow.  Of course, we cannot make anyone do so if they are unwilling, but our responsibility is to attempt ways to assist them as the Lord leads.
     Sunday school, small group Bible studies as well as one on one time are all means by which we can help individuals reach their full potential with God's help.  We would never think of abandoning a baby to care for itself nor would we leave a puppy untrained if we value our property and care for the animal.  It takes time, effort and patience, but we are called to help one another grow in the knowledge of Christ.
     In the next nine months, I am hoping to teach Beau how to walk by my side without dragging me, obediently go to his kennel at night time without barking, and avoid having accidents in the house.  He is a puppy and will require lots of love and patience.  We, as the Body of Christ, likewise have a responsibility to assist in discipling babes in the Lord.  This will not only bring glory to God but it will cause us to grow as well.  May God help us all to be faithful in this task!  Selah!

What does your church do to help new believers grow?  I welcome your thoughts.