Friday, September 28, 2012

Where is Your Sufficiency?

     Many years ago, one of my dearest friends moved away.  It was a heart wrenching experience for me as we had spent so many hours together talking, sharing and having Bible study.  How could this be God's will I wondered?
     Over time and after many tears, I began to see that God's ways are not always our ways.  I could see that perhaps I had depended on the friendship more than I had depended on the Lord which wasn't healthy for either of us.
     Scripture advises us not to put all our expectations and hopes in our leaders (church, government or even in friendships) but in the Lord.  Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-5:  "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?  You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.  And such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God."  What a beautiful passage of Scripture Paul has written!  He is so correct to give all the glory, credit and honor to the Lord who made him adequate for the task he was given.
      How sad that many Christians put their stock solely in their pastors, church leaders, or others rather than wholly in God.  Our human nature tends to class leadership with a lordship position, but Jesus said if we would lead, we must first be a servant.  We want to have strength from the Lord so that we can help Him with all His work here; however, God allows us to be weak so that our dependency is only upon Him and His power.  We share with others our pedigree of accomplishments (degrees, areas of study, titles) so they will accept us more readily.  Our Lord, instead, allows us to fall flat on our faces so that others can see that we can't do anything without Him.
     We are attracted by magnetic personalities, intellectualism, boldness of will and sometimes the education that someone has obtained.  But when we look to these things, all we are doing is making a human being the measure of all things which is humanism.  It is also a form of idolatry.  God will not tolerate this.
     So God, in His infinite wisdom, at times will allow a leader to fall.  It causes quite a shake up but both the leaders and followers alike need to learn that God alone is our sufficiency as the Apostle Paul so clearly points out.  Paul did not come with letters of recommendation.  Rather his credentials showed in the changed lives of the people at Corinth.  His servanthood to them was written in their hearts which was far more important than a title, list of honors, or any outstanding miracles.  They were a living testimony to his work among them.  Yet, he boasted not in his own strength but in God's.
     This is a lesson for all of us.  In my case, I had come to depend on my friend more than the Lord.  Are we still friends?  Yes, even though we live a distance apart.  Our hearts will always be joined in Christ.  God has stretched both of us and helped us to grow in Him.
     Where is your sense of adequacy placed?  Is it in a church leader, a pastor, a spouse, a friend?  May each of us take stock today and examine ourselves in this area for our true worship, adulation and sufficiency is found in God alone.  Selah!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Careless Words

     Many years ago while I was becoming acquainted with using a computer, I joined a group of individuals who had all experienced the scourge of polio.  I thought it would be helpful to exchange information and encourage one another.  The internet group was very large made up of people from all over the country.  I developed some wonderful friendships, but I also got myself into a lot of trouble.
     There were several of us who were Christians in the group and whenever we would try to encourage others about our faith, some would grumble and say unkind things about Christians.  At times, they would mock our comments about prayer and Bible study.  After several months of this type of abuse, I privately wrote to a Christian friend saying that these folks were not very kind in their remarks.  I also expressed a desire to form a Christian group for polio survivors so we could have a place of sweet fellowship not marked by dissension, hurt feelings and ugly comments.  Being new to the internet, I hit the send button not realizing that the email address I had used was the group email and not my friend's private email.  When I became aware of what I had done, I was mortified.  All my private thoughts now went screaming out to the group as a whole.  I felt ruined and totally undone.  I think I cried for about an hour.
     Once words are sent into cyberspace or spoken, they cannot be taken back.  I immediately wrote to the group as a whole and apologized for the message I accidentally sent out.  I told them all how sorry I was if I had hurt any feelings.  Some were forgiving and others were not.  After much thought, I decided to leave this group knowing that my credibility and trustworthiness had been damaged by my careless prose.
     In the book of Luke, Jesus told his disciples to be careful of the leaven (or influence) of the Pharisees.  These were a group of very religious people who made a great show of their righteousness but were full of hypocrisy.  In the day of judgment when all will come to light, the Lord proclaimed:  "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12:2-3).  With a warning like this, all who are called by the name of Christ should take notice.  Any one of us can easily fall into the sin of gossip, backbiting, tale bearing or complaining.  Whether it is verbal, written or emailed, the failure to guard our words can lead to division and hurt feelings.
     Though it may be difficult, our best choice if we have some issues with another is to talk to them directly.  In my case, I should have simply left this big internet group quietly.  As I discovered, emails, text messages, and social media can easily trip us up.  Therefore, as believers, we need to take heed and avoid negative messages filled with complaints.  Then, if the message is seen by others, we have nothing to fear.
     I firmly believe that most of us forget that whether others hear our secret whisperings or not...God still does, and we are accountable to Him.  Jesus said:  "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).  The footnote in my Reformation Study Bible says:  "Jesus indicates that words, even carelessly spoken words, are eternally important.  In the Bible verbal sins such as lies, gossip, or insults are condemned as severely as adultery and murder" (pg 1381 The Reformation Study Bible).
     This puts a whole new slant on things doesn't it?  As Christians, we must make the prayer of David our prayer:  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).  When we keep our words tender, it will not be so difficult if we have to eat them one day as I did.  I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had hurt others. God forgave me for my sin.  Some in the group also forgave me, but I blemished my witness to these people.  Let us remember that others are watching us and listening to us every day.  Are we modeling Jesus or the world?  Guard your words and you will also protect your heart from sin.  Selah!

Have you ever had a situation where your unkind words got back to someone?  What did you do?  How did you resolve it?  I would love to hear from you.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Becoming a Student Again

     Presently, I am reading an excellent book by Dr. Joel R. Beeke, author of fifty books, president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation and editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  His book is entitled, "Living for God's Glory, An Introduction to Calvinism".
     Although I have been a Christian for 41 years and was raised in a Presbyterian Church, there are many things which I have not delved into concerning the Reformed faith.  Dr. Beeke begins his book with a history of the Reformation and the confessions of faith that came out of this time in the church.  I never knew there were seven confessions of faith for example.  I knew about the Westminster Confession, but there are six others as well summarizing the faith of the various reformed people of that time.  These confessions set forth the basic beliefs and scriptural proofs upon which these believers stood.  Of course, the confessions never replace the Bible as the foundation of belief, but merely put forth the basic tenets of the faith.
     Most people have an inaccurate view of Calvinism (Reformed faith) and I liked what Dr. Beeke said in his book:  "Of course, most evangelical Christians and, sadly, even some Calvinists, lack a proper understanding of the real heartbeat of Calvinism.  'There is nothing upon which men need to be more instructed than upon the question of what Calvinism really is,' Charles H. Spurgeon once said.  Whether you are a Calvinist, a non-Calvinist, or an anti-Calvinist, you need to give this question a fair hearing:  What really is the marrow of Calvinism?" (pg. 38, Living for God's Glory").  I have to agree with this assessment.  We need to know what we believe and why we believe it.  To merely mouth that we agree with what our church teaches is inadequate.  We need to understand the faith that has been handed down to us.
     Of course, the first source for all life and godliness is found in the pages of the Bible.  This is our authority.  With this in mind, as I read books by various authors, I compare what they say with the Word of God.  As believers, we are encouraged to do this very thing checking to see if what is being put forth lines up with the Word.  Certainly Dr. Beeke and the eight other contributors who collaborated on this book have done their homework thoroughly as they cover the basic principles of the Reformed faith.
     Perhaps for me, the greatest satisfaction is in reading a book that is easy to understand (without heavy theological terms) and has increased my understanding of what Calvinism is all about.  The more I give myself to study of God's Word, listening to sound biblical preaching and reading solid resource materials (such as this book), the more inward joy I find at what God has done in my life.
     Becoming a life long learner is what I tried to teach our children as we home educated them.  The same holds true for us as adults and perhaps more so, as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is so easy to become passive in our faith waiting for others to dish out the wisdom to us.  But God challenges us to be students of the Bible.  In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul writes:  "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth."  This charge to Timothy also applied to all of us as Christians.  The Word of God is likened to a sword, and no one in their right mind would care to do battle without knowing how to use the sword.
     To this end, we need to study the Bible, learn about our faith from solid sources and pray over what we have studied.  I commend the reading of this book to each of you as it has helped me have a greater understanding of the Reformed faith.  Even if you personally do not embrace Calvinism, it will help you understand the tenets and erase the misconceptions.  My prayer is that we all become avid students to the end that we glorify God in our lives and witness.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts.  Thank you for visiting the blog...may you be blessed this day.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What Will Your Epitaph Read?

Burial site of Ebenezer Erskine in Stirling, Scotland
     While we were on our anniversary trip to Europe last year, we made a point of wandering through the graveyard behind The Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling, Scotland.  At one time, John Knox had preached in the church as well as Ebenezer Erskine, both strong Reformed preachers.  The headstones in the cemetery were very old and worn so it was difficult to read them, but the words on each one reflected the faith of the person at rest there.  Some epitaphs were very short and others more lengthy, but all reflected something about the individual buried there.
     In God's Word, we read in Psalm 103:15-16:  "As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; and its place acknowledges it no longer."   Our lives are truly very brief upon this earth in comparison to our Lord who is from everlasting to everlasting.  While our spirit goes on, our bodies will some day return to the ground.
     Whether we care to accept it or not, each day we are writing a little more of our epitaph.  By our words, actions, deeds and faith, we are either showing forth the glory of Christ in our lives or we are living for the world.  What will others remember about us when our life here is ended?  Will our children only remember how many hours we worked and all the activities we missed seeing them in?  Perhaps our neighbors will remember what a tremendous housekeeper we were even though we didn't ever show much hospitality in order to keep the place clean.  Others might remember what a hard church worker we were even though we neglected our family in the process.  Do we really want those epitaphs?
The graveyard behind The Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling, Scotland
     None of us knows the hour when the Lord will call us home; therefore, it is important to live each day to God's though it were our last.  Serving the Lord and seeking His face each day, cherishing the relationships He has given to us and making the most of each opportunity He directs us in will make for a beautiful epitaph to our lives...not written in stone but in the hearts of those we touched.  I have always admired the epitaph to the life and ministry of Joshua which came from his own lips (Joshua 24:15):  "And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve;  whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  May this epitaph be said of each one of us when our time comes to return to our heavenly home.  Selah!

What would you like people to remember about your life?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Character Counts More Than Comfort

     Not too long ago, I developed a serious cold that eventually went into my chest.  I was wheezing and did not even realize it until my co-workers suggested I better see my doctor.  At lunch that day, I took my temperature and discovered I was running a fever.  Fortunately, my physician was able to see me and provide me with medicine.  I don't think I have felt that bad in a long time.  I know I am not the only one who has suffered like this.  In fact, each of us face some challenges every day whether  it is a physical illness or emotional stress.  Sometimes, it is just a massive "to-do" list that never seems to quit growing.
     When it seems we are down and out, well-meaning people quote us Romans 8:28:  "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."  However, they do not go far enough with Scripture.  Look at the verse that follows it.  Verse 29 reads:  "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren."
     By looking at the verse that follows verse 28,  we will know WHY all things work together for our good.  This is important in order for us to be able to cooperate with God's plan for our lives.  I have often told our Wednesday night small group that God is not so concerned with our comfort as He is with our character.  He desires to conform us to the image of His Son that we might be holy even as He is holy.  This is a life long process which is not always easy or pleasant.
     We all have some things, I am certain, in our closets that perhaps we can no longer wear due to a shift in our weight.  Struggle as we might, we just cannot fit into that piece of clothing like we used to.  Our remedy is to change our eating habits and patterns so our weight will drop allowing us to fit into the clothes again.  This is not a simple task but it is worth the effort health wise.
     In the same manner, God is trying to conform us to His Son.  Our old flesh has been comfortable for a long time but its time to diet spiritually and take the food of heaven.  God wants a holy people with a character like Jesus.  Therefore, He will lead us through whatever circumstances, trials, challenges and testings we need in order to polish off those rough edges and refine us like gold.  It isn't always pleasant but the rewards are eternal!
     Knowing that God is at work to conform us to His Son allows us to gladly quote Romans 8:28 because we know He is using all the things that come our way to make us a righteous people for Himself.  Remember, God is more concerned with our character than our comfort.  Selah!

All pictures are courtesty of Cathy Hardesty from her facebook album entitled "Highlands Hammock"

P.S.  I am glad she can get these pictures!

Monday, September 17, 2012

You Can't Make Him Eat Asparagus

A bunch of fresh asparagus....mmm, mmm, good!
     My dear husband hates asparagus.  He never liked it as a little boy even though his mother insisted that he try it.  He said it makes him sick to even smell it.  I have tried everything.  I have put cheese on it, a cream sauce and even put it in casseroles.  However, he always knows it is there and he will not eat it.  I, too, have my aversions to certain foods, but asparagus is not one of them.  The old adage "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" fits here.  It also fits when it comes to the Christian faith as well.
     Having learned how to share my faith using the "Four Spiritual Laws" booklet of Campus Crusade for Christ and also having been trained in Evangelism Explosion, I am aware of how to tell someone the Good News of salvation in Christ.  However, I cannot make someone open their heart and eyes to salvation.  That, alone, is the work of the Holy Spirit of God.  He is able to regenerate the heart so a man/woman can hear the call of Christ.  Quite often at our Campus Crusade meetings, we were told to share our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and let the results up to God.  This was wisdom and sound advice.  We cannot change the heart, but God can.
     In the same way, we cannot make someone grow up in the Lord.  We can provide them with tools, love them and point the way, but we cannot speed up the process.  Again, it is not on our timetable.  What we can do is live before them in such a way that they will see our example and want to grow themselves.
     Many years ago, I sat through a number of classes at Dunklin Memorial Camp where Pastor Mickey Evans taught.  He shared an all important concept called "The Bombshell Theory".  It goes like this:
"I cannot change another person by any direct action on my part.  I can only change myself, by God's grace.  Others may have a tendency to change in reaction to my change."  The operative word is "may".  Others "may" change or they may not.  However, the results are up to God...not up to me.  How does this fit with the Christian life?  It simply means that we  (who are commanded by the Lord to share our faith and make disciples of all nations) cannot force someone to accept Christ as Savior.  Neither can we change their thinking, actions, or ideas by any direct action on our part.  We can, however, live before them in such a way that they will be able to see the difference in our lives.  This means we need to work on our own lives and deal with any sin which tarnishes our witness.
     Further, we can pray for those for whom we have concern.  This is perhaps the most important work when it comes to seeing change in both our life and the lives of those we have shared with.  Scripture teaches in Philippians 4:6-7:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  There is power in prayer as we lift up others and our concern for them.  God gives us peace as we roll our burdens on Him.
     Finally, if we want to be a shining light before others, we need to be a people who are in the Word of God.  As we fill our hearts with His Word, it will change our thinking, correct our behavior, and keep us on the right path.  Hebrews 4:12 tells us:  "For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  Daily study of God's Word as well as sitting under good expository preaching of the Bible will help us to be the type of salt and light that the Lord has called us to be.  This has a greater impact on others than all the arguments we can muster.
     Argumentation and debate may reveal our knowledge of God's Word, but this alone does not bring about salvation.  God is the one who calls, regenerates and gives us a new heart.  We have to realize that it is not our job to "fix" others or manipulate them into making a profession of faith or for that matter, making another Christian grow.  We are ambassadors whose job it is to represent, by our lives as well as our words, the Lord Jesus Christ.
     I am not certain I will ever convince by dear husband that asparagus is tasty and good for you, but I do know that I cannot force him to eat it.  By the same token, as believers, we need to remember that we are to be winsome faithful servants of Christ.  We are to share the Gospel in words and deeds and let the results up to God.  Selah!

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia by Muffet at Flickr.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Perfect Murder....Almost

     I confess....I am not into soap opera type shows but I do love to read books and watch shows that tell about true crime and how the police solve the case.  I guess it comes from having a grandfather who was a celebrated criminal defense attorney.  I heard more about cases growing up than the average person.  Of course, real crime has been around for a long time.  Ever since the "Garden", murder, lust and greed have led to all types of law breaking.  In fact, the other day, I read again the story of a man "after God's own heart" and how he thought he had committed the perfect crime.
The Residence in Munich, Germany...a crown worn by
the royal family of the area.
     In the book of 2 Samuel in chapter 11 (please read the entire chapter), we find King David who should have been off to war with his troops staying at home instead.  One afternoon, he rises from his couch and looks down upon the city.  There he spies a beautiful woman bathing on her roof top.  Unlike Joseph who fled when his master's wife tempted him, David inquired about who this woman was.  When he was told that she was the wife of one of his soldiers, he should have let the matter drop. She was a married woman after all.  But David sent for her and lay with her.
     Later word came to King David that Bathsheba was pregnant, and now things are beginning to get very complicated.  David has to cover his tracks quickly because adultery is punishable by death.  With this in mind, he calls upon Joab his general in charge of the troops and asks him to send Uriah, the unsuspecting husband, back home.  When he arrives back in Jerusalem, David hoped he would go home and enjoy his wife so that her pregnancy could be explained; but Uriah threw a road block to that idea.  Being an honorable man and a loyal soldier, he refused to enjoy his home and wife while his brothers were fighting on the battlefield.
     Time was of the essence so David tried another tack.  He tried to get Uriah drunk so he would go home to be with his wife.  Yet again, Uriah foiled his efforts and slept with the servants in the King's house that night.  What honor in the face of such treachery!
     When everything had failed to remedy the situation, David decided he would have to have Uriah killed so he could take Bathsheba as his wife.  He, therefore, sent Uriah back to the field with orders to Joab that would lead to Uriah's death.  Uriah carried his own death warrant!  How great a king has fallen to the depths of depravity in order to cover his sin!
Another royal crown at The Residence in Munich, Germany
     King David's plan was for Joab to place Uriah in the heaviest fighting and then withdraw the other soldiers around him so he would be killed.  Joab did as the king requested and sent word back about the fighting along with the death of Uriah.  Now David was free to take Bathsheba as his wife.  He thought he had solved his problem.  No one would be the wiser.  Only Joab knew about this plan.  David forgot that God saw all that he had done.  In verse 27b, we read:  "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."
     David had abused his power and authority.  He had taken another man's wife out of lust and caused the innocent and loyal soldier to be killed to cover up the sin.  But God saw and knew it all.  There were consequences for his actions.
     Chapter 12 of 2 Samuel relates the visit of the Prophet Nathan to King David.  He came to tell David the story of a man who has a precious lamb that a rich man took to feed a guest even though he had plenty of sheep of his own.  This was a perfect story for David to hear as a former shepherd boy.  He was angry when he heard the story and said that the rich man should die.  Then, Nathan told him that he was the one the story was about.  Instantly, David knew his sin had been exposed by God.  He confessed his sin before Nathan and God.  Though he repented, there were to be consequences.  The baby which Bathsheba bore would die.  The sword would never depart David's house and within his own home, God would raise up evil against him.  Later in scripture, we know that it was Absalom his son who would rebel against him and take his father's wives.  Nathan said these words from the Lord:  "For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun" ( chap. 12:12).
     Despite this wicked deed, God did forgive David.  He spared his life, but God did make David face the consequences of his sin.  All that Nathan prophesied came to pass, and all of this could have been avoided if David had not allowed temptation to have free reign in his life.  So what can we learn from this Bible story?
     I think the first thing we all are aware of is that there is no such thing as a perfect murder or a perfect sin in general.  David thought he was pretty clever, but he forgot that God saw everything.  There is no sin which we commit that is not known by God, and as sure as the sun rises and sets each day, this evil will come out and be known.  It may not happen right away...but it will become known.
     Another factor we must consider is that even when the sin is forgiven after we repent, there will be consequences of our actions.  Things are never quite the same because sin leaves ugly scars upon the soul.  David lost his baby and paid a heavy price in his family relationships for the remainder of his days.  However, his relationship with God was restored through the forgiveness and mercy of the Lord.
     Finally, we must remember that temptation to sin lies in wait for all believers.  We must be aware of this and flee from it as surely as Joseph fled from sin.  Some will say, "Yes, but look at where Joseph ended prison."  Ah, but in the end, Joseph rose to a position of prominence because he trusted himself to God's keeping rather than trying to run his life under his own power.  We must be careful to do likewise if we wish to remain in right relationship with God our heavenly Father.
     My true crime shows and books really do not offer more than what the Bible has already pictured for us.  Without Christ, we are lost, and even when Christ is our Savior, we are still prone to sin and temptation.  Therefore, we must always flee temptation and lean upon the Lord and His strength to avoid sinning against Him.  He sees and knows all that we are thinking, saying and doing on a daily basis.  Let us live to bring Him glory and fulfill the purpose for which He has created us.  Selah!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Most Important Call

     As I reflect back on the time we became believers in Jesus Christ, I remember the feeling of joy at having my eyes opened and my ears unstopped.  Our conversion was not dramatic.  My husband and I were engaged at the time, and had been searching to re-establish our spiritual roots as we had both drifted away from the church.  This is when we met a couple from Campus Crusade for Christ who was visiting a friend of ours.  We had gone to his house for another reason, but found this couple sharing Christ with he and his wife.  Both of us wanted to know more, so we made a date to get with him.
     On the evening of our appointment, he clearly shared the Gospel with us and told us how we could become believers.  We made that commitment confessing our sins and need of Christ.  This took place three months before we were married, and it has been life changing over the last 41 years.
     Through Campus Crusade, we plugged into discipleship Bible studies and also were encouraged to seek out sound biblical teaching in a local church so we could grow in our faith.  As we did this, we began to ask ourselves if we were called to be missionaries or go into ministry of some sort.  At the time, my husband was studying to be a doctor of optometry.  We prayed and sought the Lord on this matter and He directed us to continue with the professional training my husband had been undergoing.  After all, God uses all of us in different ways to minister to others right where we are planted.
     Having the peace of God concerning our call, we attended a huge gathering of college age believers called "Explo '72" in Dallas, Texas the following year.  Here we attended further Bible training, evangelism and heard addresses by the Reverend Billy Graham.  On the last evening of this event, Rev. Graham asked us to make a dedication of our lives to Christ.  We were told to stand if we were ready and willing to serve Christ with our whole heart.  Both of us stood, and we have never looked back.
     Little did I realize what this commitment would mean in our lives, and this is the crux of what I am sharing today.  Of all the callings that God has placed upon our hearts, the family is the most important mission field today.  If we do not get it right in our home, then we are missing the mark as believers.  In fact, the Bible explicitly lays out the conditions for ministry which revolve around the family.
     Paul's letter to Timothy (I Timothy 3:1-13) lists some conditions for leadership.  Speaking of overseers, Paul writes:  "Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife...." (vs. 2a).  He goes on to write in verses 4-5:  "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"  Further on in the chapter, he addresses the deacons and repeats the same concern in verse 12:  "Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well."  As we see by these passages, those who aspire to minister within the body of believers must first make certain that they have ministered to the needs of their family.
Our son Nathan's Graduation in 2006
     In our case, we were called by God to do something out of the ordinary in 1986.  He called us to homeschool.  It was new, different (weird to some folks) and somewhat on the edge.  Florida had not yet passed a homeschool law so each school board decided how they would deal with those of us who decided to instruct our children at home.  We did not have access to many books initially and public school book depositories along with some publishers were not interested in helping us.  So, like any pioneers, we managed to search out and find good books and curriculums for our children.   We did not have a computer initially so all my work was handwritten or typed.  I had to keep a daily log of all our studies for each of our children as well.
     Having been trained to be a secondary teacher, I knew how to put together lesson plans, but I had no idea how to teach our young children to read.  Therefore, I became a student myself and found various helps along the way.  In addition to my own work at home with the children, I started a homeschool group along with my dear friend who also had chosen this path so that we could have interaction with other children and plan field trips as the number of homeschool families began to grow in our county.  This was our mission field.  This was our call.
     Today, thankfully, home education is much easier than it was in the past.  There is a good homeschool law in the state of Florida, access to many fine curriculums and options for training children.  However, the sacrifice, time and energy are still required in order to do the job.  Many of my friends did not think my husband and I would continue this whole experiment for very long.  I told them that we would stop this endeavor only if the Lord released us from our commitment to see this through.  God never did.  All of our children graduated from our homeschool, and I am happy to report that we have three college grads and one licensed EMT.  Each of them is walking with the Lord, and this was the most important reason we invested our lives in them.  We wanted them to be solid in their relationship with Christ.
Aaron's college graduation in 2008
     Not everyone is called to home educating their children, but all of us are called to minister to the needs of our family.  We are responsible for teaching them God's Word, instructing them in the faith, and setting solid examples for them by faithfully attending a church fellowship.  Without this commitment, our children are facing a dangerous world without proper spiritual readiness or instruction.  God will hold us accountable for the training of our children.
     Even if you are someone who does not have any children, the Lord can and will use you to touch the lives of others within your extended family as well as the church family.  We all must remember that the Body of Christ is a family and in covenant, we agree to help children in the fellowship grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
     Of all the ministry endeavors we will ever have, the family remains the most important one we cannot afford to neglect.  Little did we know that God would call us to the unusual task of home educating our four children over a 21 year period.  However, He equipped us, led us, provided for us (we lived on one income) and allowed us to see the culmination of our efforts.  He receives all the glory for this, and I would not change a thing.   Whether you homeschool or not, remember to keep your priorities in line and keep family as your chief ministry.  By building a strong home in Christ, we are able to withstand the storms of life and temptations of this world.  Selah!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Just Give Him a Call

The Cathedral of St. Giles in Edinburgh, Scotland
     When I was first learning to cook, I would often start a project and find that I did not know what temperature to bake the dish at or for how long.  Once I had mixed the ingredients, I would give a call to my mother or my sister both of whom were excellent cooks.  They would fill me in on the details of time and temperature and offer other good tips.  It certainly made me feel more confident to know they were just a phone call away.
     Now the tables are turned and I receive the phone calls from our daughter, our sons and daughters-in-law.  It is a great feeling to be able to help them as they take on the task of cooking delicious recipes. I like being available to help them out as I was helped.
     What is even better than recipe assistance though is knowing that we can call on God at any time of the day and He will answer us.  There is never a busy signal, circuit busy, dead zone where cell phones don't work, or interference when it comes to our heavenly Father.  In fact, this verse is often referred to as God's phone number.  Jeremiah 33:3 reads:  "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know."
     God, our sovereign King, invites us to call to Him and He promises to not only listen but to answer us as well.  Even beyond that, He will provide us with information that we do not know.  How wonderful to know that our God wants to openly communicate with us.  In fact, He loves and desires our communion in prayer so that He can share His wisdom with us.
     Are you short on knowledge or wisdom concerning a problem you face?  We can either wander through the darkness on our own or we can take advantage of this heavenly "hotline" called prayer and talk with Abba, Father about it.  He will answer us and tell us what ingredient we are missing in the recipe of our lives!  Selah!

How does God speak to your heart when you call to Him?  I welcome your thoughts here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Shredder

A peaceful sleeping puppy
     My home is quiet right now.  The only thing I hear is the ticking of my clocks, the snoring of my old basset hound Roscoe and the soft breathing of our puppy Beau.  I enjoy these moments of silence as they seem far and few between.  Those of you who read this blog regularly know that we are keeping our son's puppy Beau for him until he is able to find a place that allows dogs.  I do not mind this job except that it is rather like going from an "empty nest" to having a toddler back in our home full-time.                              Roscoe is tried and true.  He sleeps most of the time and only gets up to find a new spot or eat his dinner.  Beau, on the other hand, is known as "the shredder"!  If something is not nailed down, he will eat it, chew it, or otherwise find a way to destroy it.  We have lots of toys for him but he prefers things that matter to us such as:  socks, shoes, underwear, and clothing of all types.
     On Monday, after our family had all gone home from the wonderful weekend we shared, Beau decided to take his shredding abilities one step further.  He attacked my perfectly good runner that helps to protect the wood floor as you enter our living room area.  The carpet wasn't that old, but somehow it must have had something good embedded in its fibers because he happily shredded a nice big hole in it.
I wanted to sit down and cry.  It is not that the carpet cannot be replaced or that it was expensive.  I just don't enjoy seeing my things destroyed.  I will not tell you what I wanted to do with this puppy when I discovered the mess he had made, but my thoughts were not sanctified in the least!
     Reflecting on this latest act of destruction, I couldn't help but compare the situation to what happens to each one of us at some point when the enemy of our souls comes in and shreds our dreams.  It seems that Satan loves to attack us in a variety of ways when we are most vulnerable.  His suggestions slip into our minds like a hand into a glove.  If we are unguarded in our thinking, we can easily pick up his lies and make them our own.  He can shred our confidence in our salvation by loading us with false guilt.  Then again, he can undermine our faith in Christ's sufficient work on the cross and cause us to feel as though we must "do" more to earn God's favor.  In all, his goal is to shred our witness tearing holes in it wherever he can so we become ineffective ambassadors for our Lord.
     In order to combat his assault on our minds, we have to recognize who this enemy is and how to stand against him.  Scripture tells us in John 8:44 who Satan is as Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and Jews assembled to hear him:  "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
Jesus was addressing the fact that the people listening to him wanted to kill him.  They could not abide what He was saying about Himself or God the Father.  They were totally under the domain of their father the devil.  Either we are God's children or we belong to the enemy.  There is no in between.  Likewise, Jesus is pointing out the difference in this passage between Himself as the truth and the life and Satan who is a murderer of life and a liar.  What a contrast we see!  Therefore, we know that Satan is the father of lies and very adept at this process.  He is a dream shredder.  His ways bring destruction. However, there are some things we can do to stop the assault of the enemy.
     First, we need to know the Bible.  Jesus used this defense when He spent time in the wilderness during the forty days and nights He fasted.  When Satan attacked, Jesus reminded him of the truth found in the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).  Keep in mind, this was not just one time, but three times that the enemy came at the Lord.  Satan even used the Word of God himself though he twisted it to suit his needs. Each time, Jesus rebuked him with God's Word.  Finally, Satan left him.  We have to learn to do the same thing when those nagging thoughts of guilt, inferiority, insecurity, or inadequacy come to our minds.  Quoting Scripture is good for our soul.  It reminds us of who God is and who we are in Him.
     Secondly, we need to dress for success in the full armor that God has provided for us.  The Apostle Paul describes each piece in Ephesians 6:10-20.  He begins by stating:  "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" (vs. 10-11).  Then, Paul goes on to remind us that we aren't fighting against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of this present darkness.  We are in a battle.  Yes, people (even Christians) can be used to attack one another...but behind it all are the powers of darkness.  Being prepared for combat with the appropriate weapons of our warfare is important.  If we stand in God's power fully trusting in His might, we will over come.  Paul ends by telling us to keep alert with perseverance.  It is a lifetime battle dear ones...not a one day struggle.
     Finally, we must pray at all times.  Paul reminds us of this in the passage mentioned above in Ephesians.  We are to lift up not only our needs but the needs of all the saints that we may be kept from temptation and delivered from evil.  Jesus emphasized this when He gave His disciples the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  Too often, we rattle off a quick prayer without much thought about it.  However, the key is to be engaged in talking with God, our power source for living.  He wants to hear from us about our struggles, weaknesses, and trials not because He does not already know them, but because it will change us as we lay them at His feet.  Prayer really does make a difference!
     Our enemy the devil is like a shredder of dreams and hopes, but he is a defeated foe.  We must learn to arrest him at every turn with God's Word, the weapons of our warfare and prayer.  Through Jesus Christ, we have the ultimate victory, but until He returns, we have been told to stand firm in the power of God's strength.  Satan will flee at the sound of God's truth.
Ready for action and playful as ever!
     Just as I am learning how to prevent destruction in my home by an over energized puppy, so I am learning to stand against the enemy of my soul.  Though he is like a prowling lion, I know THE LION TAMER and His name is Jesus...the way, the truth and the life.  We do not have to have to live at the mercy of the dream "shredder" any longer.  The blood of Christ has set us free.  Let us begin to practice and live out what God has shown us in His Word so that we live as more than conquerors in Christ.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  How have you been able to prevent Satan from shredding your dreams and hopes?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Berean Approach

     Since I was a little girl, I have loved reading.  I entered library reading contests, worked in my elementary school library and to this day, love to spend time strolling the aisles of a Barnes and Noble.  There are so many good books to read which challenge the mind, but none as solid or fulfilling as the Bible.  Unfortunately, while most homes contain several copies of God's Word, many people do not take the time to read it.  Instead, they grab the latest best seller off the shelf and spend hours with it allowing its ideas to settle in their minds.  Don't get me wrong.  I spend lots of time reading many different authors too.  There is nothing wrong with fresh new ideas especially when it comes from a solid Christian writer; however, we do have to take a Berean approach in our reading habits.
     Over the years, many pastors, teachers and laymen have written some excellent tomes that encourage us in the faith.  I, myself,  am a blog writer for the purpose of stimulating thought and encouraging believers.  Nevertheless, none of us is perfect in our understanding.  Therefore, caution is the word for the day.
     In our celebrity driven society, it is easy for people to build  a cult around a particular author, their book or ideas.  Unless we balance this with a healthy dose of looking into the Word of God each day, we can run off onto dangerous bunny trails elevating a fellow believer to star status and eclipsing the very Savior whom we serve.  The Berean approach to anything written or spoken is perhaps our best safeguard to keeping us on the right path.
     According to Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, Paul and Silas visited the city of Berea in Northern Greece during his second missionary journey between 50 and 54 A.D.  There they presented the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles of that city.  Acts 17:11-12 reads:  "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  Many of them believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men."  When we look at this passage, we see that these people were called "noble" referring more to their quality of mind and heart rather than their birth.  We can infer that these people were more disposed to inquire candidly into the truth of what Paul was preaching to them because they searched the Scriptures to check it out for themselves.  They looked at the Old Testament to see what it said about the Messiah.  Furthermore, this wasn't a momentary check of the Scriptures.  They studied it daily.  Jesus (in talking to the Pharisees) said this:  "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me" (John 5:39).  The Bereans looked into God's Word to confirm what they had heard from the preaching of Paul and Silas.
     As we approach any study, book or preaching of the Word, we need to be like these people of "noble" mind and do the following:  1) Receive the Word with readiness of mind  2) Search the Scriptures to see if what is being imparted lines up with God's Word 3) Read God's Word daily so that our minds are saturated with God's thoughts 4) Be discerning in what we hear, read and see.  The end result of searching the Scripture for the Bereans was to bring them to repentance and salvation in Christ.
According to Hebrews 4:12 we read:  "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  No other book can do this for us.  This is why it is imperative that we lean upon God's Word for understanding, wisdom and guidance in our every day life.
The Church of the Holy Ghost in Heidelberg, Germany
     Great preaching, teaching and books that are based upon the Word of God help us in our daily walk.  They can inspire us to greater heights in our Christian life, but we must be careful to keep the Bible before all other books as the foundation stone of our faith.  In the Word, we find life, truth and all that is needful to living a godly life.  Jesus in refuting the devil said in Matthew 4:4:  "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."  May we also live in this manner as the Bereans did.  Our lives will be more balanced and able to defend our faith when God's Word is the first course of every spiritual meal.  Selah!