Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

More Than an Heirloom

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Here Comes Martha!

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

What Are Your Expectations?

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


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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Am I Serving God at Work?

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Near to the Heart of God

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Recipe for a Happy Fellowship and Home

A fall day in Wisconsin
     This past August, my husband and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary.  We have been fortunate to know the Lord all the years of our marriage and have had many opportunities to serve in various church fellowships.  I wish I could say that every experience we had was a positive one.  However, not all fellowships are healthy and happy ones.  We have witnessed splits over minor issues, pastor bashing, and we, ourselves, have had personal attacks from fellow saints.
     It would have been very easy to leave the organized fellowship of believers and never return, but God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, restored us and allowed us to find a healthy place to worship Him.  Our fellowship of believers is not perfect (there are none that fall into this category this side of Heaven), but it is a place that follows the guidelines that Peter laid down for believers in his letter.
     I Peter 4: 7-10 gives us some glimpses of what it takes to make a healthy church fellowship especially in the times in which we live.  In his letter, he writes:  "The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.  Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaint.  As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
     These keys to good fellowship are important in our homes as well as our churches.   We need to be a people of prayer and sober judgment.  The world is full of pitfalls, pain and heartache.  There are many deceivers out there trying to grab the spotlight, so it behooves us to keep our thinking clear as we base it on the Word of God through prayer.
A view from our window in Kentucky
     Secondly, we need to act in love towards one another.  We have seen so many instances in our current fellowship where people who are going through difficult days have been brought back to spiritual health and restoration through the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ.  Bashing people over the head with the Bible or condemning them for their shortcomings is not what the Lord did as He walked among us.  This only causes people to put up their defenses.  The same can be said for our homes and families too.  Love does, indeed, "cover a multitude of sins."  It can keep both home and church together in the most challenging situations.
     Peter encouraged the early church to also show hospitality.  Often in our rat race society, we overlook the importance of taking time out to break bread with fellow believers.  It's even hard to do this in our own homes with our family.  Yet, the Lord wants us to open our homes and hearts to others without complaining.  We don't have to have a large fancy meal, nor do we have to have a home that looks like Martha Stewart's!  Instead, we can keep things as simple as a cup of coffee and a dessert.  What is most important here is the feeling of acceptance and the act of communication with those in the Body of Christ or in our families.  Some of the greatest ministry that is ever accomplished is often done around a table while breaking bread.
     One of the last things that Peter points out is that we are to use the gift or gifts that God has given to us to serve one another.  Both in the church and in our homes, we should be good stewards with these God-given abilities that the Lord has blessed us with.  For example, I know that the Lord has given me a gift of encouragement.  It is important that I seek Him daily to see how I may encourage my husband, my children and others in the Body of Christ.  If we do not know what our gift is, there are certainly many good books and Bible studies available that deal with this.  We need to seek this out and ask the Lord to show us.  Then, we need to use our gifts to bless one another.
      A healthy church fellowship and a healthy home can thrive when these guidelines are followed.  Peter is correct to remind believers that we must be sober in judgment for the purpose of prayer, fervent in our love for one another, hospitable even when its not convenient for us and that we must be good stewards with the gifts which God has given us.  If we seek to live this out in our church fellowships and homes, we will see positive growth in the Body of Christ.  It will bring glory and honor to the Lord as well.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights as always.  How has God led you to be hospitable?  How is He working to build your church fellowship and family?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How to be an Overcomer

The beauty of a Florida sunset
     For over 21 years, I had the privilege of teaching our children at home.  There were good days and some very challenging days as we studied together.  On those easier days, everyone had a positive attitude and was willing to work hard applying themselves to their studies without grumbling.  However, on the challenging days, I can only liken every one's outlook to trying to get a mule to drink water when it doesn't want to.
     At present, I am working in my husband's optometry practice and the same thing holds true in an office situation as well.  When attitudes go sour, the atmosphere of either home or office can head south quickly and tension rises.  Soon everyone is an unhappy camper and very little is accomplished that day.  It is almost like watching a display of dominoes fall down in a chain reaction.  What can we do to prevent this and be an overcomer even in the middle of a less than perfect day?
     In reading the story of Cain and Abel, I came across several verses that really opened my eyes concerning how sin creeps into our lives.  Read Genesis 4:1-7.  Let us key in on verses 3-7:
     "And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of
      the ground to the Lord.  Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.
      And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.
      And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.  So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you
      angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?
     And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule
     over it.'" (NKJV)
     In these verses, we see a picture of two young men bringing their offerings of tribute before the Lord.  Cain was a farmer so he brought grain or fruit.  Abel was a shepherd so he brought a firstborn
lamb.  God accepted the offering of Abel but not the offering that Cain brought to Him.  We often
wonder why the Lord did not accept Cain's offering.  However, sometimes we forget that the Lord can see the heart (I Samuel 16:7) and we often cannot.
     Abel brought the best he had to offer.  It was the firstborn and it was a blood sacrifice.  However, some theologians believe that Cain did not bring his best fruit or his first fruit as well as a good attitude. To substantiate this, all we have to do is look at Cain's reaction when the Lord did not accept his offering.  He became angry when when his worship was rejected.  He stood at a crossroad as we do when confronted with sinful pride.
     God pointed out to Cain that sin was lying in wait outside his door much like the description given Satan as a "roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" in I Peter 5:8.  Cain could open that door and allow sin to rule his heart or he could repent and return to the Lord.  This simple choice had profound implications.  Of course, we know what Cain decided in his heart, and the result of his anger shattered the family peace with the murder of his brother.
     Each time that we put our armor down and allow ourselves to indulge in sin, we open ourselves to the enemy who is looking for a place to gain a foothold.  Then, we wonder how it happened that Satan slipped in never realizing our responsibility to bring all our "thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Cor. 10:5).  God gives us the victory over sin when we yield in our hearts to His Lordship and fill our minds with His Word.
     Quite often though, it is much easier to just vent our anger on one another, and when we do, the atmosphere of our homes or work place suffer not to mention our relationships!  Attitude really does reflect the condition of our hearts.
     Our Lord has given us all we need for "life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).  However, we must daily put on our armor and follow Him.  Keeping a "short account" with God and being willing to confess our sins quickly will keep the "crouching sin" which lies outside our heart's door from gaining entrance.  This is the key to being an overcomer!  Selah!

How has God helped you to be an overcomer?  I welcome your thoughts and insights.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Blessing

The Church of the Holy Ghost in Heidelberg, Germany
     When I was in college, I remember well that in every letter or card which my mother wrote to me she concluded with the blessing found in Numbers 6.  To put it in context, we should read the verses before the blessing and after (Numbers 6:22-27):  "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel; you shall say to them,
     The Lord bless you and keep you;
     the Lord make His face to shine
        upon you and be gracious to you;
     the Lord lift up His countenance
        upon you and give you peace.
So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.'"
    These words have echoed throughout my life and have brought me much comfort knowing that my mother imparted a blessing to me each time she wrote to me.  It was a reflection not only of God's protecting and keeping power for my life, but also a demonstration of my mother's trust in the Lord.
     In the same way, when we come to the conclusion of a worship service, I look forward to the benediction (the good word of blessing) which the pastor gives to the congregation.  How sad that some people slip out before they hear this good word from God.  After all, we all need a blessing as we leave the community of believers to go, once again, into the busy work day world during the week.
     Throughout the Bible, we see many situations where believers receive God's blessings.  The benediction is given to embolden, encourage, instruct or remind a believer of the grace they have received because of Christ's work on their behalf.  Some examples include:  public worship and celebrations of the Lord's work in redeeming His people (Leviticus 9:22; Numbers 6:23-26; 2 Chronicles 30:27); on momentous occasions when the Lord is pleased or when a great works for the Lord are about to begin ( I Kings 5:8, Genesis 24:60 at the betrothal of Isacc and Rebekah, Ruth 4:11-12);  in the answering of prayer (I Samuel 1:17-18, 2:20); at the time of parting from one another (Deuteronomy 33 and Luke 24:50); and at the end of many of the epistles in the New Testament where instruction and communication has been given.  These are some examples of where we see the blessing being imparted.
     Perhaps one of the most often used benedictions comes from Paul's epistle to the Church at Corinth. It is found at the end of his second letter (2 Corinthians 13:14):  "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."  What a blessing we receive from the Trinitarian Godhead!  We are reminded of the grace of Christ which sets us free from the bondage of sin, the unconditional love of God which brought to us salvation and the abiding fellowship of the Holy Spirit to live within us guiding us daily.  This good word is a short sermon in itself.  In fact, we need to meditate on this during the week.
      Whether meal blessings, benedictions at the conclusion of a service or a blessing written at the end of a letter or card, God has provided a means for us to remind one another of His grace.  At coming worship services, take note of the benediction.  Receive this good word from God and consider it as you go out into your activities.  Pass the blessing on to others by living in the love of Christ.  Likewise, impart the blessing to your children even as my mother did for me.  It is life changing to hear the words of blessing imparted to us from God.  By the blood of Christ we have been redeemed and by the blood of Christ we have received all of God's blessings and benefits.  Let us live as children of blessing and pass on His blessing as we serve others.  Selah!

In a church garden on Anna Maria Island
I welcome your thoughts on this today.  How have your received God's blessing in your life?