Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolving to Trust

     Here we are once again at the threshold of a new year.  Many people begin making resolutions which usually last, on average, one or two weeks; so rather than fall into this pit myself, I decided to take a scripture principle and work on this during 2013.  Since our Sunday School class has been studying Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones', "The Sermon on the Mount", I selected the call of our Lord to "hunger and thirst after righteousness."  Daily it was my prayer that God would increase my appetite for His Word and for obedience.  Have I conquered this?  By no means, but I have made progress as I focused on this aspect of Christian living.  I would rather commit myself to the Lord and allow Him to work in my life than rely upon my own resolve which does not last long.  With this in mind, I desire to build a deeper trust in the Lord this coming year.  It is an area that many of us need work on.
     During our tour of "The Sermon on the Mount" this past week, we discussed "worry and anxiety". One of the key reasons we worry (which is sin) is because we do not trust God.  Even though He is our Creator, Redeemer, and mighty King, we somehow think we need to help Him out in situations.  Such was the case of the Israelites when the Lord was providing food for them in Exodus 16 starting in verse 16.  The people complained against Moses and Aaron because they did not have much food in the wilderness.  God instructed Moses and Aaron that He would provide a bread like substance to feed his people daily.  The Israelites were supposed to collect only enough for each person to eat that day. However on the sixth day they were to collect double the amount so they would have enough to eat on the Sabbath.  God was testing the people to see if they would follow His instructions and trust Him.  Exodus 16:19-21 describes what the people did:  "19 Moses said to them, “Don’t keep any of it until morning.” 20 But they didn’t listen to Moses. Some kept part of it until morning, but it became infested with worms and stank. Moses got angry with them. 21 Every morning they gathered it, as much as each person could eat. But when the sun grew hot, it melted away."  There were two issues here.  One is that the people obviously did not trust God for a daily provision.  They took matters into their own hands and gathered extra thinking to have more in the morning.  Secondly, they did not obey the instructions given to them.
     Those people of God who followed what the Lord told them to do had plenty of food each day as they went along.  The Lord was their provision as He is ours.  The Israelites who did not listen to God but gathered extra for the next day only discovered a wormy, stinking mess.  Nothing has changed much in the years since the Old and New Testament was written.  Man is still trying to "help" God because he does not trust Him.  We would rather worry or stew in our own stinky mess than to lean on God and rest in Him for our daily provision.  Personally, I do not want to live like that.  Instead, I want to learn to trust God with all my needs according to His riches in glory.  Won't you join me in this year long growing experience?
     One of the verses I want to pray every day comes from Proverbs 3:5-6:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."  What beautiful words of wisdom!  It is a declaration that we will not lean on our understanding of circumstances but will trust in the Lord.  This will help our faith to grow when we declare to ourselves daily that we will trust in the Lord with all our heart.  Pray it, declare it to yourself and others and live it.  As we do, our trust in God will grow as we watch Him provide for our needs.
      Whether you choose to join me in my desire to grow in trusting the Lord or not, I encourage you to pick a biblical principle and rely upon the Lord's strength to help you grow strong in an area of your Christian walk.  I guarantee that God honors His Word and will help you to grow in His daily grace.  This is far better than making resolutions in our own strength that we will quickly give up on.
If you desire to grow in trust this new year, let me hear from you.  We can pray for one another as we seek to glorify God together.  Selah!

From our home to yours:  May God bless you in the New Year ahead.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking at an Old Story With New Eyes

 "It was a dark and stormy night" is a phrase we often joke about when telling a scary story.  This sets a mood and atmosphere for what is about to be told.  Our audience is thus prepared.  When it comes to the Christmas story, we must listen with new ears to the description given by the Physician Luke.  There is as much not told to us as there is stated for our understanding.  Being a physician meant that Luke recorded details often neglected by other authors due to his vocation.  While he was not an eyewitness to the events that took place, nevertheless, he was studied in his details.
     Luke makes clear his desire to faithfully recount what took place in the life of his Lord Jesus Christ.  He writes to Theophilus these words of introduction:  "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." Here, Luke lets us know that he wants his reader to have confidence in the details surrounding our Savior.  He also makes clear that while he was not an eyewitness, he wrote his Gospel based upon reliable evidence provided by those who did see these things take place.
     Looking at the Christmas story, we are not told much about the weather only the general time of day.  We know it was growing close to evening as Joseph sought shelter for his pregnant wife Mary.  They had traveled a good distance for the census which was ordered by Caesar Augustus.  Luke does identify a time frame by naming a political leader which was a common way to pinpoint a time in history.  "This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:2).  Quirinius was involved in a census taken in A.D. 6.  It appears that a census was taken about every 14 years so there may have been an earlier one; however, we have an idea of the exact time frame.
     During this event of the census, Mary's time for delivery arrived.  While Joseph tried to get shelter in an inn, there was no room available.  As a result, our Savior was born in a stable and laid in a manger (food trough).  What a humble beginning for the King of Kings!  Luke describes simply the birth of this baby.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloths.  We are not given any further description.  While this does not seem in any way miraculous, what happens next, as described by Luke, does mark an unusual occurrence.
     There were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night in the same region as the birth of Christ.  Again, we know it is night time.  Without warning an angel appears to these men in the fields near Bethlehem.  They were frightened by this appearance, but the angel reassures them and announces the birth.  The words used by the angel have great significance.  This messenger of God tells the shepherds three things about this baby:  He is "Savior", "Christ" and "Lord".  The word Savior is only used twice in all four Gospels.  All the people of Israel had long waited for a  Savior who would deliver them.  The title "Christ" means "Messiah", and the term "Lord" is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to God.  The angels were declaring that God had come to earth to save His people from their sins.  This baby was God the Son.  This was amazing news given to a group of shepherds who were despised by the people.  Since they could not keep ceremonially clean due to the nature of their work with sheep used for sacrifice, the people wanted nothing to do with them.  However, their work was important when it came to the system of sacrifices which utilized sheep on a regular basis.  Now, however, that system would change.  Jesus Christ would be the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.
      Before the angel departed, the shepherds were given a sign of what to look for so they would not miss this Child...."you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12b).  Isn't God good?  When we need to know something, He tells us precisely so we don't miss anything.  The shepherds witnessed not one angel but a heavenly host (translated army) of angels who sang praise to God.
      Following this appearance, the shepherds went to see what the angel had foretold.  When they found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, they explained what the angel had said.  I love what Luke records:  "And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  Mary, herself, had seen an angel who told her what was going to happen.  This was another confirmation to her.  I can only imagine the joy she must have felt.  Not only had she delivered a baby boy, but He was the Messiah.
     Those shepherds left to return to their job but they left changed.  As they went, they praised and glorified God.  When we meet Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are changed just as those shepherds were.  This is a story worth telling over and over again.  Luke was faithful to record all the details that we might know with certainty that everything we have been taught is true.  God wants us to know, to worship, to receive the gift of His only Son who came to earth to die for our sins and rise again to give us eternal hope.  As He rose, so will we if we have trusted in Christ for our salvation.
     Dig deep today into the Christmas story.  Even if we have read it a million times, read it again with new eyes and see what a miracle took place because of God's love for us.  Let this celebration of Christmas bring new joy, peace, and meaning into your life as you ponder these things in your heart.  Selah!

The picture above is a composite of windows at St. John's Anglican Church in Darlinghurst Sydney created by Clayton and Bell, England entitled "The Nativity".  It is taken from a German engraving.  It is a public domain picture.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Child is Born

    Isaiah 9:6-7: "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this."

     These words of comfort were offered to the Children of Israel by the Prophet Isaiah and throughout the ages have echoed the triumph of our Lord and Messiah.  I can think of no better way to begin the week of Christmas than to read these words of joy over and over.  Jesus Christ has so many titles but these describe what we all long for.  He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
     As our Counselor, Jesus Christ offers to us the wisdom we need no matter where life finds us right now.  Like an attorney, He stands to plead our case before the Father and to offer His righteousness for our sins in the great exchange made at the cross.  This He offers to all who have confessed their sins and called upon His name.  He also guides us by the power of the Holy Spirit into all truth.  He comforts us in our losses, and provides for us in our needs.  There has never been nor will there ever be another who can so completely meet our needs as this Wonderful Counselor.
     Jesus Christ is also our Mighty God.  He is fully man and fully God come to proclaim to all mankind salvation.  From the beginning of man's story in Genesis, a promise came from God the Father that He would send a Savior who would set man free from sin and death which we have inherited from Adam and Eve.  Jesus the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit came to earth from the womb of Mary to walk among men and demonstrate the perfect obedience that Adam could not.  He is our example, our Savior, the perfect sacrifice for sin and the Mighty God.  How humbling to know that God the Father provided for His creation a means to restore our relationship to Him through the blood of His own Son.  Furthermore, we know that the story did not end at the cross for Jesus was resurrected and ever lives at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  He will return again to rule and reign!
     Our Savior being part of the Godhead is in complete unity with the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit.  There never was a beginning or an end to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  In this, as believers, we should find comfort knowing that we also are destined to live forever before the Face of God in heaven with Him.  Our lives are short upon this earth when we consider eternity.  When we find ourselves sick, in sorrow, or facing difficulties, we can take comfort in knowing that our Creator, who is everlasting, is with us.
     Perhaps the most wonderful title is "Prince of Peace".  Jesus came as a lowly servant, born in a manger, but He will return as the Prince of Peace.  Our world has not known much peace throughout history.  There have been wars and rumors of wars even now.  However, one day this will all cease.  Upon the shoulders of Jesus our Lord, the government will rest.  He, who is eternal and full of justice, will bring order to our chaotic world and His rule will be joyful and not burdensome.    He is and ever will be our Immanuel...."God with us".
     Until His return, He has left believers to be His ambassadors to a sin filled world.  We are to be His light and salt so that others will hear the "Good News" of salvation through Him.  What an honor to be considered worthy to serve Him as an ambassador!  How are we doing in this regard?  Are we living to serve our King who will one day split the sky and return for us?
     My prayer this Christmas is that we may think on the names given to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us exalt Him in worship, conduct and words.  If someone reading this has never met Christ, I encourage you to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ through repentance and prayer.  Turn from sin and turn to the Savior.  In Him, we have life abundantly.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  Feel free to write encouraging words.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Welcoming Heart

     She came to our choir room looking a little lost not certain what part she could sing or even if she should be there.  We encouraged her to try both parts (alto and soprano) and see where she felt comfortable.  She was very unsure, very timid, but we continued to reassure her that we wanted her in the choir.
      When our choir performed at the mall, she and I rode with another lady and had some time to talk both going and coming back home.  I learned a lot from her.  She had been a widow for six years but could not quite get over the loss of her husband.  Her children wanted her to start getting involved in things and to meet new people; so her first effort was to join the choir.  I am not certain who invited her to join us but I am so happy they did.  This woman has a precious heart that desires to be a part of the Body of Jesus Christ in service.  What does she need?  What we all need...a heart that says "Welcome, we are glad you are here."
      Jesus made it clear that we are to love one another.  John 13:34-35 reads:  …34"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  How important it is then, to demonstrate love and concern for those we meet and especially in the fellowship of believers.
      When we have traveled around and attended different fellowships, we found some places very friendly, welcoming in heart and spirit.  We were greeted with smiles, handshakes, and an encouraging word.  However, there were some places where no one spoke to us or attempted to greet us.  The question is why are they so unfriendly when Christ commanded us to demonstrate love for one another?  In fact,  this type of atmosphere is dead and empty.  John wrote in his first letter these words:  1 John 4:20:  "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen."  What a good point to make with clear application.  How do we treat our brothers and sisters?
Think about these questions seriously.  Do you take time to meet new people who come into church and make them feel welcome?  Do you reach out to people that you do not ordinarily spend time with in order to get to know them?  God wants us to be iron sharpening iron and this doesn't happen if you stay in your own little cocoon.  If you have offended someone, can you forget your pride and apologize to their face?  If you are the offended one, can you forgive and move on?  This is all part of being a family.  Likewise, we are a greater witness to those outside the church if we can love each other enough to move past our disagreements.
      This Christmas will be extra precious to me as I have made a new friend.  How blessed and enriched is my life and the life of our choir because we have welcomed someone new...made her feel a part.  She is a precious soul for whom Christ died and my desire is to see her blossom in our fellowship and grow.  Losing a mate is a sad proposition, but we in the body can restore joy in the hearts of widows, orphans, the sick, and any whom God calls to be His own if we demonstrate a welcoming heart.  Doing good deeds, giving gifts, and attending church are all wonderful things to do, but loving one another as Christ loved us is what our lives are meant to be to God's glory.  This is true not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.  Make a new friend, encourage someone to get involved, become a mentor or encourage another who is grieving.  We are the Body of Christ and if we do not love others the world will never see the power of Christ that overcomes the world.  Selah!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ready Or Not....Here It Comes!

Santa Claus who resembled Uncle Nathan came
to visit last year at Christmas
      Timing is everything isn't it?  It seems like only yesterday we were preparing for our church play and musical and today, it was here in what seemed like an express delivery!  God blessed our efforts, and we all rejoiced in what He did both in our performance and in the reality of His salvation.  We didn't feel like we were completely prepared, but then, are we ever really ready for a big event?
     With Christmas Day around the corner, I am asked nearly every day if I am ready for it.  I smile and reply that I am more "not" than "ready" for the celebration.  It is not unlike the preparations for childbirth.  We try to get everything together to welcome the new addition, but there is no way to be fully prepared for the changes a baby brings to the family.  In much the same way, we are not prepared to lose a loved one either.  When my father was ill, I knew there was no hope of recovery.  Even though we tried to be settled in our hearts, when the phone rang with the news that he was gone, our hearts grieved.
     Life comes at us whether we are ready or not.  There will always be circumstances that we could never anticipate and situations that we are not prepared for.  However, when we have Christ in our life, He is all we need.  One of the names given to Jesus is Immanuel which means "God with us."  What a precious thought to know that our Creator came down from heaven to walk among us, to teach us, comfort us, heal us, and most importantly, deliver us from our sins.  Amazing!  Yet, the shepherds weren't ready but surprised to hear that their Messiah was born.  Even Mary was surprised when she first heard the news from the angel that she would be the Mother of Jesus.  Then, there was no room for her and Joseph at the Inn in Bethlehem.  Humanly, we might question why God hadn't made provision for them...ah but God's timing is perfect.  Galatians 4:4 says:  "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law...."  Then in Romans 5:6, we read:  "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."  Isn't it wonderful?  From start to finish, God's timing is perfect.  He doesn't wait on us to get ready.  He interjects Himself into history and into our lives at "just the right time".
     Lets be honest.  We are the ones who think we have to have everything perfect in order for Christmas to come.  All the cookies have to be baked, the presents wrapped, the cards sent, the house cleaned.  Then, Christmas can come.  But God doesn't operate on our timetable.  His perfect, immutable character works in us ready or not according to His will and for His glory.  How glad I am that God is with us.  My salvation doesn't depend on my works or my readiness.  From start to finish, it is according to the work of God at just the right time in our lives.
      If you think, as I often do, that we have to have everything just so before we can enjoy Christmas, we will miss some great blessings through worry and anxiety.  Likewise, if we think we have to be perfect before we can grow in the Lord, again, we will miss the fullness of His salvation.  We must recognize that God is Sovereign.  He is to be trusted.  Therefore, let us ready our hearts to receive Him in a fresh new way this holiday.  If we are ready in the Spirit, this is all we need to have a blessed time of celebration.  Lord help us to remember that Your timing is perfect and our times are in Your hands this Christmas!  Selah!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
   While cleaning the other night, I stopped for a moment in sheer frustration of all that I need to accomplish before Christmas morning.  I have gifts to wrap, cards to write, floors to clean and food to purchase.  Plus, there is a play to rehearse for this weekend and a gathering to attend.  The more I looked at the big picture the more I felt overwhelmed.  My husband reminded me that I needed to do what I could and let the rest go.  After all, he told me that this was not a critical issue.
     Listening to his words of wisdom, I calmed down as I thought about the Dr. Suess story, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".  Was I going to allow circumstances to overwhelm the joy of this season?  Remember the people of the imaginary town of "Whoville"?  They loved and celebrated Christmas each year with lots of decorations and gift giving.  The Grinch, who despised these happy people decided he would ruin their joy by stealing all their decorations and gifts.  However, he never suspected that when Christmas Day came the people of the town would still sing and celebrate the day.  It changed his heart as he heard them sing and he realized that Christmas was more than decorations or gifts.  Indeed, Christmas is much more than all the superficial things.
     Consider how Mary celebrated the news that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah.  She was unmarried at the time, quite young and faced with a society that could easily stone her for what appeared to be infidelity to her betrothal to Joseph.  She would also face a long, uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem on a donkey's back and then, give birth in a barn  This is what awaited her.  Not very attractive is it?  She could have shrunk back from the news which the angel gave to her.  Instead, Mary, in faith, saw the bigger picture.
     In Luke 1:46-55, we read Mary's Song of Praise to God called "The Magnificat":
     46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
     With this praise to God, Mary affirmed her belief that God was doing something much larger than her circumstances.  She realized that she was privileged to be a part of God's greater plan which would touch generation after generation.
     As I read her song of praise, I came to realize that God's plan and purpose for us is more than gift wrapping, cleaning and cooking.  Christmas comes whether we are fully ready or not; so like Mary, we need to begin to sing songs of praise rather than end our day in frustration over all the things we did not finish.  Tomorrow is another day, and worry is a sin.  When we keep our eyes on God, as Mary did, nothing can steal the joy of Christmas not even the Grinch!
     If your days are too full, stop.  Take a deep breath and begin to praise the God of our salvation.  It is His birthday that we celebrate and His salvation for all who call upon His name.  Nothing can be more important than that!  Selah!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"It's Free".....Can You Imagine That?

     Have you ever received an invitation to a free dinner if you will listen to a pitch for a time share or an investment opportunity?  We have received dozens but have never taken advantage of this offer.  However, I do know some people who go and enjoy the dinner but never sign up for the opportunity.  They are really only interested in the food.  The bottom line is that there are probably more dinners given away than any sign-ups for a time share.  Such is human nature that we prefer something free without any commitment.
     Jesus experienced this response when He fed the five thousand (John 6:10-11).  The next day many were searching for Him not because He spoke the Words of life but because He fed them.  John 6:26 reads:  "You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled."  Obviously, they were more interested in the food than in everlasting life offered by our Lord. What is even more sad is that Jesus plainly told them in vs 33 that He was "the Bread of God....who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  Some believed in Him, but others only came for what they could get.  They did not believe His teaching and "walked with Him no more" (vs. 66).
     Sad isn't it?  People came to see the signs and wonders or have a bite of free food, but they missed the greatest gift of all - eternal life.  Food is only a momentary enjoyment.  It meets an immediate need for energy.  However, what everyone needs is life that will last forever in the presence of God, who alone, can satisfy us.  He is the Bread of Life, and when we feed on Him, our souls will hunger no more.
     Even today, people look for free hand-outs without any commitment on their part.  They are happy to come to an event, but we should not be surprised if they do not stick around when the food or fun stops.  Jesus knew the heart of man and never trusted Himself to them.  He knew that some came for what they could get.  We can have a great praise team, nice building, relaxed dress code in order to stimulate people to come to church.  Initially, this may bring people, but unless God opens their heart and eyes to the Gospel, they will be gone in the same way some of those seeking Jesus for food and signs left His side.  Seeker friendly churches can attract a crowd, but they will not remain unless and until God opens their eyes to see and their hearts to respond.
     Unfortunately, those who leave are missing the greatest free gift of all...salvation through Jesus Christ.  There is nothing we can do, pay, or offer in order to receive the gift of salvation.  God has done all the work.  When we hear His call, we must respond with sincere repentance for our sins and believe in the work of Christ upon the cross.  It is that simple.  I guarantee that no amount of food, toys, games, entertainment or other freebies hold the joy and satisfaction of a life changed by Christ.
I cannot imagine living without Him for even a moment.
     What many fail to recognize is that the Lord is not our personal butler or servant.  We don't call upon Him just when we need something or want something.  Rather, we call upon Him because He gives to us the bread of heaven which will feed us eternally.  The gift of eternal life is free to all who call upon His name to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.  Likewise, as believers, remember that our joy is found in serving Him in obedience.  As we lift Him up, He lifts us up as well.  While we still call it today, lets examine our motives for seeking the Lord.  Do we just want freebies or do we really want to feed on Him?  Feeding on Christ brings eternal satisfaction.  Selah!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Supporting Roles

A crown from "The Residence" in Munich, Germany
 Can you imagine Batman without Robin, the Lone Ranger without Tonto, or Superman without Lois Lane?  It wouldn't seem right if each of these heroes didn't have someone who supports the action.  Their role, while not the central one, is important to the unfolding events and drama.  Of course, if you are an actor in a supporting role, it is easy to feel like a second fiddle because you are not the center of attention.  However, we had a saying when I was in college theater, "There are no small parts.  Only small actors."  The meaning was obvious.  Every part in a play is critical to the whole picture which the author is trying to present.  Therefore, all actors need to do their best no matter the size of their role.  The same can be said for believers as well.
     Looking at the life of the Apostle Paul, we can see that a number of men came along side and offered support, encouragement, and assistance to him as he made his missionary journeys.  Barnabas was known as "the son of encouragement" and Timothy became like a son to Paul.  In these situations, these men provided support to this man called by God that was invaluable.  This is why they are mentioned in scripture because there are no small roles in the Kingdom of God.
     Paul gave us instructions about how to exercise our gifts as members of the Body of Christ in Romans 12:3-8, and in so doing, he affirmed the value of supporting roles.  He began by stating that we should have a realistic opinion of ourselves:  "For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (vs. 3).  Then, he concludes this section by calling us to unselfish and genuine love for one another:  "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (vs. 10).  Another version of the New Testament by J.B. Phillips translates this verse "...a willingness to let the other man have the credit."  That is so contrary to our nature isn't it?  We want to be first, best, recognized, awarded, chief, king, leader.  How many times have we cried out, "Nobody appreciates how hard I work or recognizes anything I do!"  However, we have to keep one thing in mind.  Our gifts and abilities are given to us by God's grace and according to His plan.  We are to use these gifts by faith (vs. 3 and 6) in service and love for Christ.  It is for HIS GLORY not our own that we live, move and have our being.
     Ever since the Garden, man, in his fallen state, has desired to sit upon the throne of his life displacing God the Father.  He has wanted to control his destiny and rule his own affairs.  When we come to Jesus Christ, God gives to us a new heart that desires to serve and please Him.  While the old flesh is crucified and the power of sin is cancelled, we will still struggle with the old desire to be in the spotlight setting the pace instead of allowing the Spirit to direct our steps.  This is the battle we face, and because we live in this world, we are daily tempted to pick up the old thought patterns of "me first".    Therefore, it is imperative that we put on the mind of Christ by reading His Word and allowing it to renew our minds.  We belong to Christ now.  We are no longer our own, so whatever role he gives to us whether major or minor, let us be content with that position.  Likewise, we must remember the words of our Savior when He was confronted by James and John who wanted the privilege of sitting on His left and right side in glory.  Of course, this made the other disciples indignant but Jesus replied to them:  "But 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 slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).
     May God grant us the ability to fully embrace the supporting roles He has chosen for us in this lifetime with enthusiasm.  When we do, we will be playing a crucial role in a  plan which God has designed.  We must remember that the ultimate goal of our lives and work is to bring glory to God and not to ourselves.  Selah!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Rewards Program That is Out of This World

 At this time of year, many businesses as well as credit card companies offer a reward system for buying things.  While it can be an incentive for a purchase, it also can lead to a free meal or movie when the points accumulate.  Choosing to spend our money with care using the rewards can make a lot of sense especially at Christmas.
     Did we ever consider that God also has a reward system?  Jesus spoke about this in "The Sermon on the Mount" when He discussed loyalty in serving Him.  In Matthew 5:12 he tells us "to rejoice...for great is your reward in heaven" when we suffer persecution for His sake.  At the time of our difficulty it does not seem to us to be pleasant, but God sees our heart.  For those who remain faithful, they will receive a reward in heaven.
     Contrast this type of attitude with that of the Pharisees.  They had a pious habit of giving, praying in public, fasting so all would know it and giving their alms that men may see them.  Their pride of life betrayed the fact that they were merely going through the motions.  Jesus called them whitewashed  sepulchers (graves) that looked good on the outside but were full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27).  These leaders ought to have know better since they studied the Word and tried to carefully observe the Law.  Yet, going through rituals, following laws, praying and doing your good deeds in public does not earn us salvation.  Only regeneration by the Holy Spirit can awaken our hearts and make us ready to hear truth.
     Jesus pointed out that we are to do our good works in private to be known by God.  He said, "your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly" (Matthew 6:4,6,18).  When we serve our Lord Jesus out of gratitude for what He did for us, we have a right heart motive.  We will find that faithfulness does not create any lack in our lives regardless of the cost to us.
     Keep in mind that we do not serve Jesus just for rewards.  Nor do our good deeds make us any more saved.  God has done it all for us.  Loyalty and good deeds, rather, are to be done as an act of worship that exemplifies our thankfulness for His sacrifice.  In return, Jesus delights to encourage us with the peace of knowing that His rewards will outweigh whatever we have given up for Him.
     This Christmas let us live for Jesus regardless of the cost to us.  As we give ourselves away to serve others in humility and love, we will find a joy like no other.  His rewards last forever but the things of earth will pass away.  Selah!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oh the Pain of It!

     God has many ways to get our attention and today, I got the message loud and clear:  "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (I Corinthians 12:26).  My foot is the part that is suffering or so I discovered halfway through our walk today.  For almost two weeks now, my right heel has been sore, but today it is screaming for attention which it will get tomorrow as I go to the podiatrist.  It could be a heel spur or plantar's fasciitis.  No matter what is causing the pain, I can hardly walk and my entire right leg hurts as a result of the heel pain.  So here I sit.  All my plans for cleaning and activity are sidelined out of necessity.  I am reduced to doing what I can while seated.
     When Paul wrote that verse to the Corinthians (above), he was describing the Body of Christ and how each part of that Body has a different task like the human body.  He goes on to describe how the foot cannot exclude itself from the body just because it is not a hand.  Every part of the body needs all the other parts in order to work effectively.  No part of the body can say they have no need of another part.  In verse 24b, Paul writes:  "But God has composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, and that there may be no division in the body, but that all members may have the same care for one another."  To put it another way, no part of the human body can be successfully independent of the other parts.  No "Lone Ranger" body parts.  In Christ you cannot successfully go it alone!   Likewise the entire human body hurts when one part of it is hurting...trust me, I know today!
However, when one part of the body is honored, all the parts rejoice together!
     Paul's whole analogy was written to a church divided.  People fighting with one another over the gifts.  Some claiming to be more spiritual because they had a certain gift that someone else did not have.  We see the same thing in church fellowships today.  People asserting their importance over others either because they hold a position or have a certain gifting from the Lord that others do not enjoy.  Whatever may be the root cause, God desires, as Paul affirms, no division in the Body of Jesus Christ.  We are to esteem others as more important than ourselves.  If one person in our fellowship hurts, God calls us all to be concerned for that person, and if someone is honored, all should rejoice.  There are no favorites in God's economy.  None are more important than the others.
     In Chapter 13 of this Book, Paul tells us the more excellent way we should be treating one another.  He describes what Christian relationship should be when we apply Christ's love to all situations.  Verses 4-8 reads:  "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away."  Paul makes it clear that some gifts will pass away, but love is the key to demonstrating God's glory in this lost world.  So why boast in gifts, talents, or position?  That is the world's way of doing things.    Instead, love others.  Defer to them.  Weep with them and rejoice with them.  We are all part of one body in Christ.
     Towards the end of Chapter 13, Paul writes a very significant verse (vs. 11):  "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways."  Implied here is a call to grow up and think as mature believers when it comes to the fellowship of believers.  Now, in our present time, we do not have the luxury of being children in our speech, thoughts or reasoning.  We live in difficult days.  If we divide the Body because we are filled with pride, we are behaving as an immature believer.  Instead, God is calling us to work together that He may be exalted and lifted up before our hurting world.
     At the present time, my entire body is suffering due to the pain in my foot.  What a practical lesson for me to learn.  My foot is important.  I cannot ignore it or its ability to carry me where I want to go.  Therefore, I have to take care of it.  In the same way, if we have a Christian brother or sister who is hurting, we need to minister to that person.  We need to lift them up so that they may enjoy once again the love of the Lord.  My prayer is not only that my foot will improve and heal, but I am also praying for fellowships all over our world that the love of Christ will prevail in all relationships so that God will receive the glory and Christ will be evident in the Body.  Won't you join me in this prayer as we grow together in the love of Christ?   Selah!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Black Friday Mentality or a Servant's Heart?

     Watching a YouTube video of various scenes around the country where people were waiting for stores to open on "Black Friday" deeply concerned me.  The mobs trampled one another, pushed, shoved and fought over items.  One woman was injured fighting over a toaster.  A toaster mind you!!!!  These people seemed more like ravenous wolves than like shoppers.  What happened to kindness, consideration, common courtesy?  I wish I could say that this only happens one day a year, but our newspapers and the internet are full of tales like this where greed is stirred up and man's sin nature demonstrates itself clearly.
     Unfortunately, this happens in the church as well.  Any time we put our needs ahead of a brother or sister, we can fall into sin.  Scripture teaches us:  "For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (Romans 12:3).  Paul is instructing us as believers to have a servant's heart towards those in our fellowship.  Pride is the killer of unity and the destroyer of relationships.  Matthew Henry's commentary on this verse says:  "Pride is a sin in us by nature; we need to be cautioned and armed against it."  He goes on to write:  "Whatever our gifts or situations may be, let us try to employ ourselves humbly, diligently, cheerfully, and in simplicity; not seeking our own credit or profit, but the good of many, for this world and that which is to come." (www.biblehub.com/romans/12-3.htm)
     In fact, the entire chapter 12 of the book of Romans continues to outline our behavior as believers in contrast with that of the world.  At the beginning of this chapter Paul writes:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect."  We are to be different and people should notice this in the way in which we treat one another.  In verses
9-18, Paul delineates the marks of a true Christian:  1) Let love be genuine  2) Abhor what is evil and hold on to what is good  3) Love one another with brotherly affection  4) Outdo one another in showing honor  5) Don't be slothful in zeal but be fervent in the spirit, serve the Lord  6) Rejoice in hope  7) Be patient in tribulation  8) Be constant in prayer  9)Contribute to the needs of the saints and show hospitality  10)Bless those who persecute you (and do not curse them)  11) Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep  12) Live in harmony with one another  13) Do not be haughty  14)  Never be wise in your own sight  15) Live peaceably with all so far as it depends on you.  Then, Paul goes on to warn us to not take revenge for any wrong we have received but to allow God to deal with it.  When we avenge ourselves, we only drop to the level of the person who hurt us.  There is no gain in this.  However, God will repay as the Word tells us.
     Now if we read through that list I believe we will see a tremendous difference in how the world deals with relationships and how we as Christians are to deal with one another.  In the world, it is "dog eat dog", "survival of the fittest", "the one with the most toys when he dies wins", but as believers, we are to be different both in our church relationships and in our businesses.
     As we enter into this season of Advent, let us consider how we can think of others more highly than ourselves putting their concerns ahead of ours.  This does not mean that we ignore our concerns, but rather that we take on the character of Christ who came to serve and not be served.  May we look for opportunities to be a blessing thus demonstrating that our talk and walk match when we proclaim that we are a Christian.  In so doing, God will be glorified and those around us will be blessed.  Selah!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Remembering with Thanksgiving

Virginia Engel Hess
     Yesterday, my husband and I were discussing the article I had written concerning prayer and just how much my mother had influenced my life.  I asked a simple question, "Why did I not recognize the depth of my mother's faith until now?"  Then, I answered my own question.  The difference was that when I was young I was seeing things through eyes dimmed by the sin nature.  Now I see with the eyes of faith and God has reminded me of all the seeds my mother planted in my heart for which I am grateful.
     Growing up in the small community of Holgate, Ohio, my mother was the daughter of a farmer/Reformed lay preacher who loved the Lord with all his heart.  I well remember my grandfather reading the Bible to me instead of story books, and I can still see him kneeling in prayer before he took his daily nap.  He died in a tragic car/train crash when I was six years old.  The devastating loss shook my mother to the core.  Only four years before, she suffered a breakdown at the loss of my baby sister Rebekah who died several hours after birth.  Now she was faced with yet another loss.  However, her faith sustained her even through this trial.
     Many times I would find her reading the Psalms as she told me she had a good deal of comfort from them.  She encouraged me to read them and pray them as she had done.  She was faithful to church attendance and made certain that both my sister and I were in Sunday School and confirmation classes.  The hours she spent just talking to me about things that troubled me or hurt me cannot be counted, and always, she suggested that I pray about those things.
     When I was stricken with Bulbar Polio at the age of seven, she and my father put their lives on hold to be with me while I was hospitalized.  They spent countless hours working with me when I came home to help rehabilitate me.  In fact, mother spent many hours grinding up food so I could eat since my throat muscles had been damaged.  Once again,  her faith carried her through and enabled her to manage the daily load.  We had frequent conversations when I was older about what it was like when I was so sick.  She always remarked about how God had brought me through this.
     While I recall all this so vividly now, it was like looking through a translucent glass at the time.  I heard my mother's call to faith.  I went to church with her.  I memorized portions of the catechism, and I sailed through confirmation class and the examination by the elders.  I prayed the Psalms in my room as she had suggested, and I loved singing hymns.  However, my heart had not yet awakened to the call of God through Christ.  In Reformed circles, we call it regeneration.  It is the moment when God calls that dead person from the grave of sin to a new life in Christ.  When my appointment time came to hear the Good News with unclogged ears, I heard Him call and accepted with joy.  Thus began my own "pilgrim's progress" as I journey towards my eternal home.
     Scripture describes my condition and the condition of all who do not know the Lord:
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
New International Version (NIV)
"3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."  However, God called me to Himself at just the right moment in my life and used all the seeds planted by my mother and father through the years.  For this, I am humbled and thankful.
     Now, as I stand looking back, I see where I was and how black my sin had become.  No I was not as bad as I could have been.  In fact, society would think I was quite moral, but my heart was coated with sin until the Lord replaced it with a new one.  Where once I was blind, I now see more clearly each day just how the Lord had been leading me, and how He had provided for me parents who loved me.  While my mother and father were not perfect (which they would readily admit even as I was not a perfect parent), yet they provided me with spiritual nurture and guidance.  My mother taught me many things about faith so that when the Lord called me to Himself, I responded.
     When we are dead in our trespasses and sins, we look through veiled eyes as I did.  We cannot see or appreciate those around us who share the "Good News".  However, when God calls us from our death slumber in sin, our eyes are opened.  We see not only who God is and rejoice in His salvation, but we come to realize as the years go by just how marvelous His work in us has been as He used parents, friends, neighbors and others to prepare us for that moment.  Ephesians 2:4-6 says:
"…4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,…"  How great a work He has done, and how much thanksgiving we owe to Him and those who sowed into our lives.
     Each day, God brings more rich memories to my heart, and I appreciate the way in which my mother, father, and others poured into my life.  I see now what an influence godly parents have on their children, and I am thankful.  Two thoughts as I close come to mind.  First, take time to say thank you to those who have sown in your life whether they are parents, pastors, friends, or neighbors.  If you are a Christian, it is because God has called you to Himself, and the seeds planted by those faithful people have come to fruition by the grace of God.  Secondly, we must also take time to sow in the lives of our children as well as those with whom we have contact.  We are commissioned to do this by the authority of Jesus Christ both in word and deed.  May God help us to be faithful ambassadors in the lives of others so we may bring glory to Him.  Selah!

From our house to yours....Happy Thanksgiving!  May the love of Christ richly bless you and those you love!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Without Ceasing

 "How on earth can I pray all the time?" I asked my mother.  We had been discussing the verses of I  Thessalonians 5:17-18 which reads:  "Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  She reminded me that all prayer does not have to be verbal.  We can pray quietly within our own minds.  This was a new concept for me.  I always thought you had to pray out loud or it didn't count.  In addition, I could not fathom how we could give thanks in all circumstances.  There are times when things were not going well, so was I supposed to be thankful to God for that?  Once again, mother patiently explained to me that we are to be thankful in all circumstances but not necessarily "for" the circumstances.  She helped me understand that prayer is an essential part of our daily lives.  This was just one of our many long conversations while I was studying the catechism around the age of twelve in preparation for church membership.
     As we continued our discussion, we turned our attention to "The Lord's Prayer" which we routinely said in our church service each week.  I wondered about why we had to memorize this prayer and why we said it each week.  My mother told me that it was the perfect prayer.  The Lord Jesus Christ gave it to His disciples as a model of how to come before the Father.  The first words of the prayer offer praise and recognition to God.  Then, it demonstrates our trust in God to meet our daily needs.  From there, we have opportunity to receive forgiveness as well as give it.  Finally, we are asking God to keep us from evil and temptation before ending with giving Him all glory and power.  When we recite this prayer, we are speaking the words given us by our Lord.  My mother explained that if we concentrate on what we are saying rather than merely reciting the prayer it will be fresh for us each time.  All of this made sense to me, and I am so grateful for a mother who took the time to talk with me concerning the things of the Lord.
     Since those early days of discussing prayer with my mother, I have learned to pray without ceasing by using my time wisely.  Instead of turning on the radio when I drive somewhere or talking on a cell phone, I pray for the needs of others.  I praise God for the beauty of the day.  When I go to work, I often run across people who need prayer.  Sitting at my desk, I often lift up a silent prayer for that person that God will meet them in their situation.  While I walk or exercise in the early part of the day, I pray as well.  Getting my exercise has been getting close to the Lord time too.  There are countless opportunities throughout every day to talk with God.
     If truth be told, I still struggle with giving thanks in all circumstances, but I have learned that God never wastes any trial.  He has much to teach us and what Satan means for evil the Lord turns for our good and growth.  With that in mind, I can thank Him.  After all, God is working to mold us into the likeness of His dear Son and that requires many different avenues to bring about change.  The only reason it is painful is because our old flesh wants to cling to sin.
     When it comes to "The Lord's Prayer", I find myself looking forward to it.  One of my favorite phrases is "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  In light of all that is happening in the world today, this is such an important petition.  We want God's Kingdom to come and for Him to set right our sin sick world.
     Prayer is a privilege.  The sovereign God and Creator allows us to commune with Him on a daily basis.  We have the opportunity to come before His throne with all our praises as well as our petitions.  Prayer is also a great blessing because it changes us as we spend time with God.  If only we would stop wasting time complaining and devote that time to talking with our Lord, we would find relief and answers.  Therefore, let us be a people of prayer and especially during this week of Thanksgiving, but we must not stop there.  Rather, let us be a people of unceasing prayer and watch what God will do as we lift our voices to Him.  Selah!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Simplicity of Thankfulness

Branson at his 6th birthday party
 Thanksgiving is fast approaching but I had it early today when I saw a video of our oldest grandson walking across a large room to the applause and cheers of well wishers at Special Stars.  As many of you know, our grandson was born with complicated and rare neurological issues.  Some thought he might never walk, but there it was in a short 14 second video - our grandson walking across a room.  How often we underestimate those with special needs and what God can do in their lives and in ours.
     I am a fervent believer that God does not make any mistakes.  His ways are perfect and even though some are born with bodies that don't function in the manner that we expect or follow a certain timetable for development yet they are precious in His sight.  Life, all life, from the unborn to the aged and in every place in between is to be cherished, loved and protected.  I wish I could say our world culture has done this but we have only to turn on the news to know otherwise.  Whether it is an aged person with Alzheimer's or a special needs child, their life is sacred in the eyes of God.
     Having walked ten years with my mother through the pain of Alzheimer's Disease, I know firsthand how much time and energy go into taking care of someone who is unable to do things for themselves; yet, through it all, I learned thankfulness.  God taught me love in the crucible of heartache.  Those of you who know or work with those who have dementia are aware that it is a slow downward spiral, but during this time, I came to love my mother more than ever before.  Her life was a blessing to me. God taught me to be thankful for the little moments that would come when she would recognize me or smile in a knowing way.  Her mind and body were slowing down, but her spirit was intact.  I rejoiced in singing hymns to her and praying with her and for her.
     While my mother's illness decreased her ability to function, our grandson's abilities are growing with the time and patience of his parents who have diligently sought to provide him with every means to grow and mature.  However, at the heart of all their efforts is their love for Jesus Christ which gives them persistence, love and amazing perseverance.  With them, our whole family rejoices in
every little victory because we see God behind every achievement no matter how big or small.
     When the world looks at a special needs child, they often say, "Oh, you poor dear family.  This must be so hard for you."  I know it was that way when I cared for my mother, but what they do not know is that Christ is glorified in and through their lives.  I was changed when I served my mother.  Going through the pain of loss while at the same time coming to love her more was the way in which God was at work in both of us.
     All too often, we are not thankful for the small victories of life.  We take so much for granted.  A heart of gratitude starts when we begin to look at how the Lord brings good out of what the enemy has meant for evil.  We must develop eyesight that looks beyond our circumstances and sees the many blessings we have through eyes of faith in Him who is Sovereign over all.
     Thanksgiving is coming, but I have had mine already in seeing our grandson walk!  In that accomplishment, I see God's handiwork all over it.  Begin today to look for the victories even in hardship and see that we have a great Lord and God at work.  Psalm 107:1 tells us:  "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"  May this be our theme song as we prepare for Thanksgiving.  Selah!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Stand Up and Be Counted

   A day or so ago, a friend posted on Facebook a tragic story about the execution in North Korea of  Christians along with others who had distributed any videos of South Korea.  Bibles in that country are considered pornography.  Anyone who possesses them is subject to prison or execution.
     Then, yesterday in the Sunday Tampa Tribune, I read an article about Coptic Christians in Egypt who no longer can celebrate a festival in Luxor that has been a large public event for a long time due to safety issues.  In that country, many churches have been burned, Christians kidnapped and held for ransom or murdered.  There is no safety as the country is in great turmoil.  These are only two examples of the persecution that occurs around the world.
     Thankfully, our country has not experienced such blatant discrimination, but we must not rest on our laurels.  Already, there are signs (actually for years now) of the slow erosion of Christ in the public arena here in our country.  Political correctness has ruled out prayer at graduations, football games or even mention of God in graduation speeches.  Communities have banned the display of the Nativity on public property, and here locally, a  town in our county almost prohibited any religious display by its merchants...that is until a large number of people arose to oppose this.  Then, the town backed down.  Yet, what is Christmas all about if not Jesus Christ and His birth?
     In our worship service yesterday, we sang a hymn I love entitled "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus written in 1858 by George Duffield.  There is a tragic story that accompanies this hymn.  An abolitionist and evangelist Dudley Atkins Tyng had just preached a wonderful message at a mission in Philadelphia.  Upon returning home, he visited a barn where his mule was working a machine that shelled corn.  He reached out to pat the mule and his sleeve became caught in the machine tearing off his arm.  Some time later his assistant George Duffield found him bleeding to death and Tyng's last words to him was a plea to tell the people to "stand up for Jesus" (This story is recounted in more detail in the book "Once More with Feeling:  A Classic Book of Hymns and Carols" by Rupert Christiansen and published by Short Books).
     Duffield wrote this hymn to commemorate the words this pastor had uttered and the first verse issues a challenge to us all:       Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
                                                 ye soldiers of the cross;
                                                 lift high his royal banner,
                                                 it must not suffer loss.
                                                 From victory unto victory
                                                 his army shall he lead,
                                                 till every foe is vanquished,
                                                 and Christ is Lord indeed.
Indeed, even our Lord issued this challenge to all who would follow Him in Matthew 10:32-33:  "So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."  Clearly Christ has made it known that we are to proclaim our faith verbally and by our actions.  We need to really think about this.
     While we may say we are a Christian, do we show it at the work place?  Do we live it in front of our family?  Words are cheap, and there are many out there who say they believe but James wrote
A Statue of John Knox in Stirling, Scotland.  Unafraid to stand
up for Jesus.
that even the demons in hell believe and tremble (James 2:19).  Unless we live out the faith we proclaim, we are not standing up for Jesus.  We deny Him when we fail to speak up as those citizens did as they fought a spurious ordinance that would have kept them from displaying their faith at Christmas.  We deny Him if we do not speak up in defense of life both the unborn and the aged.  We are called to be light and salt in this world that Christ may be glorified.  However here is the challenge.  We may not be welcomed by this world because the darkness (sinful men and women) do not like the light and salt stings the gaping wounds of immorality that run rampant in our society.  Therefore, we will experience persecution.  This should not come as a surprise to us for Jesus told us that in this world we will have trouble.  Nevertheless, He also reminded us that He has overcome this world (John 16:33).
      With all this in mind, the question remains.  Will we stand up for Jesus?  Will we oppose those who violate God's morality, His laws, and His holiness?  Or have we gone soft because we have not known the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world that have no freedom to worship? Unless we stand up for Jesus, we may find our freedoms gone as well.  We must remember that this world is not our home.  We are citizens of heaven and our King is Jesus Christ.  Therefore, let us not waver in proclaiming His name and living out in our actions our faith in Him but lets be bold to stand up, stand up for Jesus!  Selah!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Agreeing to Disagree

Two rams fighting by Hendrik Hondius Holland 1610
 There are times in relationships, families and in the church where we just have to agree to disagree on some issues especially those that do not relate to salvation.  For example, I remember being at a Christian conference in Orlando, FL where Dr. R.C. Sproul presented his case for infant baptism from a Reformed perspective.  At the same time, he had invited his dear friend Dr. John MacArthur to make his presentation on believer's baptism.  Both of them made excellent arguments for their position.  They parted company from this conference as friends neither of them having changed the other person's point of view on the matter.  However, there are other issues on which the church can stand or fall such as the means of salvation.  Obviously, Martin Luther took an important stand which led to the break in fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church.  This was not his intention, but one which the Lord used to bring much needed reformation to a faith which had been obscured by works.
     My mother used to remind me that it is often fruitless to argue with someone on an issue.  In fact, there is an old saying that goes along with this concept:  "You can't teach a pig to sing.  It only annoys the pig and frustrates you."  To put it another way, we need to avoid foolish controversies while at the same time upholding the truth of scripture.  It is a fine line requiring thought, prayer and Bible study.
     In two different letters authored by the Apostle Paul, he writes to Timothy and Titus about dealing with controversial issues.  2 Timothy 2:23-26 reads:  "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."  Then in Titus 3:9, we read:  "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless."  Both of these scriptures deal with the issue of having a prolonged disagreement over something that does not bring any value or encouragement to either believer.  Instead, it drives a wedge in the relationship.  Now, this does not mean that we 
stop being friends because someone does not see eye to eye with us.  However, it does mean we may have to avoid alienating the other person by insisting that our position is the correct one.
     Unfortunately, there have been church splits over the color of carpeting in the church, whether to expand a church building, and if the pastor visits shut-ins enough.  There are probably many more that could be named, but they are all foolish controversies in light of eternity.  Having sound theological discussions about different interpretations of scripture without animosity is always productive and can help people understand one another's point of view.  However, we can rarely change another person;s mind by anything we say or do on our own.  The only One who can change some one's thinking is God.  If we believe that a person needs to reconsider their perspective, then the best thing we can do for them is pray.
     Over and over again in my posts, I encourage all of us to become students of the Word.  This is how the Lord can speak to our heart and mind as the Holy Spirit applies scripture to our lives.  We need to stand for the truth of doctrine as revealed in God's Word, but we must avoid foolish controversies that do little to encourage one another.  Let us strive to keep the bond of peace and to love one another respecting differences of opinion.  Selah!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are You Easily Offended?

Beautiful flowering tree on Anna Maria Island
     I remember in the early days of our marriage I had a good friend who taught me many things.          Penny was a fantastically talented young homemaker.  She cooked well, kept a very tidy home, sewed clothing and coats for her family like a professional, could knit, crochet (she taught me how), embroider and even do ceramics well.  I marveled at how well she took care of her family.
     While I enjoyed her helpful suggestions and recipes, there came a time when she came into my home and took over in my kitchen one evening without me asking for any help.   Then, she made several off the cuff remarks about my cooking, and I could feel the hackles begin to rise.  I hadn't asked her for a critique or assistance.  I knew I was being overly sensitive, but I could never envision myself walking into to someone else's home and taking over.  However, that evening I told her I appreciated her help in the kitchen and her good ideas but I just had to learn how to do some things on my own.  We changed the subject and the rest of the evening went smoothly.  I wish I could honestly write that I have responded to intrusive actions or offensive remarks as well as I did this evening, but I am human with a sin nature.  Sometimes I let other people's insensitive remarks rub me the wrong way.  I become upset, insulted, irritated and wronged, and I cannot let the subject drop.
     Possibly, there are some of you out there that can relate to this.  Someone makes a suggestion to you innocently at the office and you think they are attacking your intelligence.  Why are you so sensitive?  Why do you take offense so easily?  Why do I?  Whenever these situations arise for us, we must turn to God's Word for the answer.
     In Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, Solomon writes:  "Do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others."  Ouch!  Truth hurts doesn't it?  It is so easy to take offense at what someone says to us forgetting that we may have offended them as well at one time or another.
     According to I Corinthians 13:5, we are to love others so that we are not easily provoked to anger by something they do or say.  Likewise, we are not to allow the small irritations of daily living and communication drive a wedge between ourselves and others.  We need to let it go for the sake of unity.  Otherwise, if we harbor negative emotions thinking others are picking on us, we will soon become an angry and bitter person.  The quickest way to ruin family relationships or workplace environments is to be overly sensitive and take offense at everything.
     Obviously, there are times when we need to confront another who has hurt our feelings, but we are to do so in love not with vengeance in our heart.  However, if we find ourselves confronting others day in and day out, we better check our motives and ask ourselves if we are looking for trouble.
     Certainly, the Lord told us that in this world we would have trouble and offenses are definitely a part of that.  It is okay to admit that we have been hurt by what someone said or did, but we can choose to not be offended.  Colossians 3:13 tells us that we should be "bearing with one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."  This is not always easy to do, but it is a command to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us.
     Here are some suggestions to help us avoid taking offense all the time:
     1)  Take Your Eyes Off "Self" - We can always tell when we think more of ourselves than of others when we start saying things like:  "She was short with me today"; "That person barely spoke to me"; "He never said 'Thank you' for all my hard work".  Instead of assuming what others are thinking, why don't we try to ask more questions.  Go start up a conversation with that person instead of feeling like they are ignoring you.  Allow others to be in the spotlight at times and if we still feel hurt because we didn't get our way or someone pointed out our shortcomings, we need to take it to God and ask Him to help us develop a humble attitude.  We may not like it that someone else may know more than we do in a certain area but we need to have an outlook that esteems others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
     2)  Look at Your Feelings -  Often those of us who are easily offended are over-sensitive on many other issues as well.  It could be that we have areas of unresolved scars, emotional issues that act like a "hot button" for us when someone says something out of turn.  We need to ask the Lord to help us sort out why we react the way we do and how to resolve the issue.
     3) Get Rid of Unfair Expectations - At times, we are expecting certain behaviors from other people and when they do not display this, we are disappointed or take offense.  We are not going to have perfect co-workers, family members or even friends.  So, when they do not perform as we expect, show them grace just as God has shown us grace.  We will be more tolerant of others if we remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:18:  "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find."  None of us has it all together.  Don't live with unrealistic expectations of others.
     4) Assume the best in others - We have to keep in mind that the person who offends us may really have our best interest at heart.  They may never have meant to hurt us at all.  Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Consider that maybe the person who has just stepped on our toes was distracted with something else when they said what they said or maybe they were not feeling well.  Often people don't think how their words are perceived.  Therefore, we need to try to avoid building an entire case against that person.  We cannot change others.  We can only change ourselves with God's help.  This is part of the "Bomb Shell theory" and I find it good advice for us all.  We have to remember that God is the only one who can change a heart.  We all have different personalities and sometimes we do rub one another the wrong way.  It is what we do with our feelings that makes a difference.
     Finally, consider how unlovely, unlovable, dead in sin and disagreeable we were before our holy, righteous God.  Yet, He sent His only Son to die for us that we might be redeemed.  If God can forgive us after all the offense of our sin and rebellion, we must learn to do likewise through the strength of the Holy Spirit working in us.  Remember, how we behave in front of others is often the way they will perceive all Christians.  Mickey Evans (Pastor and director of Dunklin Memorial Camp years ago) stated:  "It is better to be righteous than right."  When it comes to taking offense easily over what others do or say, we need to follow this wisdom.  Let our walk be righteous
before the Lord that we might glorify Him.  Selah!

Friday, November 8, 2013

What's In Your Heart?

God sees us with clarity like a hawk
      Frequently, in our office, someone will mention what they heard on the news that day.  Most of the time we find ourselves asking why or how someone could do the awful deed they carried out.  Frankly, I am glad I do not understand that mindset, yet over and over, we read about people abusing little children, murdering their family, shooting up a place of employment or an airport.  It seems to have escalated with time.  However, God is not surprised.
     Jeremiah the Prophet wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?  I, the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds" (Chapter 17:9-10).  The
se are solemn words my friends.  Without Christ, our hearts are blackened by sin.  Our minds are full of selfish thoughts.  Is there any wonder then that Jesus would not trust Himself to man?  In John's Gospel we read in Chapter 2:  "…23Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man."  Our Lord was not caught off guard by what lies in the heart of a man or woman.  He knew the sinfulness of our hearts.
     As we look at the verses in Jeremiah, we see that God knows our heart, mind and deeds. There will come a day when we will be judged by our deeds if we are not in relationship to His Son Jesus Christ.  When we consider the Ten Commandments, can anyone of us say we have kept them all perfectly?  However, outside of Christ, this is how we will be judged...by the Law of a holy and righteous God.  I tremble when I think of standing before a holy God based on my deeds alone.
     Just so we are clear on this, let us look at some of the deeds done by the heart.  The Apostle Paul lists a number of them in Galatians chapter 5:  "19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."  This is what is meant by the heart is desperately wicked as we look at this list.
     By contrast, if we repent and turn from our sins at the invitation of the Holy Spirit, God gives to us a new heart, a renewed mind through His Word and the deeds that follow are fruitful.  According to the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:  " 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."  What a dramatic change from the wicked heart filled with envy, hatred, and self serving.  Only God can do this work in us.  This is precisely why we need to tell others the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ.
      Unless and until a heart is changed by Christ, we will continue to see the horrible effects of sin in our cities and nation.  Bullying, school shootings, lies by those in authority are all symptomatic of the sin nature which Jeremiah points out so clearly.  We must pray for God to intervene in our communities, states, in the nation, and in the world that many will be called by His name.  He alone has the power to change the wicked heart.  May He use us as instruments in telling others the Good News.  Otherwise, they will be judged by their deeds before a holy God.  Lord, help us to let our light shine!  Selah!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Company We Keep

Three of our sweet grandsons
 I love babysitting our grandchildren.  It gives me time to play with them, hug and kiss them and in general, spoil them!  However, if they have a cold, it has been my experience that I usually catch it as has been the case this week.  I think God is building my immune system along with theirs.
     While catching a cold is not fun, there are many other things we can catch from those around us that are more detrimental to our well-being.  For example, if we spend a lot of time with a negative person, we can easily pick up a negative outlook on life.  Attitudes, moods and worldly thinking can be quickly caught if we are not on guard.
     Proverbs, the book of wisdom, speaks to this issue in 13:20:  "He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm."  We often read in the newspaper about some young person who has come from a good home but who happened to be in the company of others that committed a crime.  Because he was present, he is also charged.  This is a clear example of being a companion of fools.   Even in the church, this can happen as well.  It may not be a crime, but some aberrant teaching that a person catches from another begins to spread.
     In I Corinthians 15, Paul is addressing this church that had so many errors and problems.  This specific chapter dealt with this issue of the resurrection from the dead.  There were some in this congregation who claimed to have knowledge (I Cor. 8:1) but who denied the Resurrection showing their ignorance regarding the things of God.  Their ideas infected others just like a cold virus.  Paul warned in I Cor. 15:33:  "Do not be deceived:  'Bad company ruins good morals.'"  This is how false teachings get started and grow.  No matter how much we regard others (whether pastors, teachers, authors, philosophers etc.) we must always consider what they say in line with God's Word.  I have a healthy respect for the Bereans who carefully looked into the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was correct (Acts 17:11).  We also ought to do the same.
     Obviously, we live in a fallen world where we daily rub shoulders with all sorts of people and many ideas.  We are not meant to hide away, but we can be proactive in how we can avoid becoming infected with bad attitudes and worldly thinking.
     1)  The best vaccination in the world is reading and knowing your Bible.  Having the knowledge of God's truth allows the Spirit to bring to our remembrance God's own Words when we are confronted with wrong ideas.
     2) Daily put on God's full armor so we are ready for the battle of ideas that confront us.  God has given us all we need for life and godliness but we must be prepared. (Ephesians 6:10-18).
     3) Be prayed up!  Daily spend time in conversation with God that He might deliver us from evil.  Jesus is our example here as He spent large amounts of time alone with the Father.  He even gave us a pattern for prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
Two more of our sweet grandchildren
     4) Do spend quality time in fellowship with other believers in worship to God and instruction through preaching.  Other believers can stimulate us to grow and encourage us to correct errors in our thinking.
     5) Avoid spending long periods of time around those who are always negative, worldly in their thinking or foolish in their actions.  While we are to share the Gospel with those outside the faith, we
are not to spend more time with them than with the fellowship of believers.  We must remember that the company we keep is crucial to our outlook on life and how we grow as a Christian.
     I will eventually get over this cold.  It takes time, and I am doing all I can (vitamins, lots of water, rest) to get better.  In the same way, if we DO get infected with some wrong thinking, negative attitudes or sinful actions, we also have some remedies and the first is to repent (I John 1:9).  Then, we must start to make some changes by considering what happened that led to this.  Course corrections should be a way of life for Christians because we are not perfect yet.  Let us become proactive in our relationships rather than reactive remembering that those we spend time with will influence our lives either for good or for evil.  Keeping Christ the center of all we think, do and say will help us to glorify Him.  Selah!