Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Singing a New Song to the Lord

     Music has always been a part of my life.  In our home, we listened to classical, easy listening and yes, rock and roll as I was growing up.  However, the songs that have stayed with me are the great hymns of the church.  Through the years, these songs have brought me comfort and encouragement as I lift up my voice in praise to the Lord.
     Recently, I joined the choir in our church and a new world has once again opened up for me.  Each week, we are challenged to learn new music stretching our learning curve and vocal abilities.  In all of it though, I rejoice for God is giving us a new song each week.  The same should be true for believers each day.
     Over and over again in scripture, we read that we are to sing to the Lord a new song.  Psalm 96:1-2 reads:  "Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!  Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day."  Then in Psalm 98:1, we read:  "Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things!  His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him."  These are not isolated verses of Scripture but serve as a theme that runs throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  Each time there was a victory over the enemy, the people of Israel sang and celebrated.  They sang at their feast days, and during their worship in the Temple.
     Of all the mediums of worship, singing is one of the most influential, beautiful and expressive ways we connect in praise to our God.  So why should we spend time singing to the Lord a new song each day?  Here are some reasons.
     First, it is a wonderful way to meditate on God's Word.  Our denomination used to sing only the Psalms during their worship services.  While this is not the case today, we still do sing some of the Psalms as well as scriptural hymns.  I can think of no better way to memorize God's Word than to sing it to Him every day.  We should take a lesson from children who seem to retain information better when they sing it.  In fact, God's Word encourages us to do this regularly.  Colossians 4:16 says:  "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."  As we sing in choir, I consider this just another way to preach the Word of God and encourage one another.
     Secondly, we should practice singing to the Lord each day because He is so good to us.  Despite our failings either physically or spiritually, God never fails to be good to us daily.  He blesses us in so many ways and just when we are tempted to complain, we need to lift our voice in song to His greatness for His mercies are new every morning.  Psalm 13:6 says, "I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me."  David, who wrote many of the Psalms, did not always have an easy life.  As a boy, he fought lions and bears as a shepherd.  When he served King Saul, he was chased across the countryside due to the jealousy of the king.  Yet, throughout his life, he sang to the Lord despite his circumstances.  This is a good example for us to follow.
      Singing is also a testimony to others of our salvation and changed heart.  Psalm 40:3 reads:  "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."  Making melody to the Lord even during our greatest trials does, indeed, reveal a life that does not depend on outward situations.   For example, consider the Apostle Paul when he was in prison.  He and Silas had been jailed in the city of Thyatira for casting a demon out of a young girl and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Rather than bemoaning their circumstances, they did something we all need to do when we are in a tough spot.  Acts 16:25 says:  "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them."  God did a great miracle for them that night through an earthquake that ultimately concluded with the jailor and his family being saved and the two missionaries set free from jail the next day.  We do not know how many other prisoners who were listening to them pray and sing were also moved to open their hearts to Christ.  What a difference they made as they worshipped the Living God even at a moment when many would despair.
     For these and many other reasons, we need to sing unto the Lord a new song every day.  I guarantee that it will lift your thoughts above our worldly troubles as we join with the angels in praising God daily.  Furthermore, it serves to encourage others around us.  Our world is filled with negative news cycles night after night.  Therefore, let us raise our voices in praise to our King who is coming again for His bride the church.  We have so much to be thankful for and to sing about.  Let us make a joyful noise unto Him who is able to complete in us the work He has begun!  Selah!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God Gives the Increase

     In the Corinthian Church, there were many conflicts not unlike churches today.  People were divided over whom they felt was the best teacher.  Some followed Paul and some followed Apollos so there was not unity.  The letter, which Paul penned to the believers in Corinth, addressed the question of who it is that really gives the growth and increase.  I Corinthians 3:6-8 reads:  "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor."  Certainly there is a reward for those who labor in the fields of God but the glory belongs to the Lord of the harvest.
     My father was a farmer in northwestern Ohio.  So, I being a farmer's daughter, had a chance to ride on a tractor, combine, and in a grain wagon on the way to the mill as well as an opportunity to just smell the freshly turned dirt in a field.  My father used to tell me that he felt closest to God when he was working in his fields because it was the Lord that brought the harvest.
     Some years were good years for us and others...well, lets just say, they were lean.  However, my father never gave up planting and working the ground.  It was his blessing even though it was tough at times.  Nevertheless, when all was said and done, my father knew it was God that produced the increase.
     Within the Scripture passage, Paul said that some will water and some will plant, but rather than looking at those who serve as laborers, we are to look to the Lord.  Many Christians can get off track when they put their eyes on a pastor or other leader rather than on Christ.  Men are not the reason we are blessed but God is!  He is the One who can change the heart.  We are the tools He uses.
     In our lives, as in the work of farming the land, we may plant seed after seed in someone's life and not see any real results.  It would be easy to be discouraged and I confess, I have felt this way at times too.  However, this scripture should encourage us all.  Just because we do not see it happening at this moment does not mean it will not happen for it is God who gives the increase.  We are called to continue sowing seeds of love and truth.
     One day, I will see the results of my efforts at farming in the hearts of those I care about as long as I do not grow weary in well-doing.   If you have become discouraged about your heart-farming, take a lesson from the Apostle Paul and remember that it is the Lord that gives the increase.  May we remain faithful to His call in our lives.  Selah!

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

Picture of the tractor courtesy of Wikipedia Commons Massey Ferguson] 3660 by Jesster79

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wagging Tongues and Pointing Fingers

     No one likes a gossip, and many a good reputation has been destroyed by people spreading stories with no basis in fact.  Unfortunately, the flesh seems to relish this activity far too often.  However, when we think about gossip or finger pointing, I don't think we understand that it is really judging someone else.
     In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5)), Jesus says:  "Judge not, that thou be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."  How quick we are to judge someone and then spread the word to all our friends!  Clearly, Jesus is making the point that we need to get our own hearts right with him before we ever lift a finger to point at another.
     Jesus illustrated this when He was called upon by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law to pronounce judgment on a woman caught in adultery.  This incident is described in John 8:3-11:  "The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and placing her in the midst they said to Him, 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?'  This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him.  Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.'  And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heart it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?'  She said, 'No one, Lord.'  And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.'"
     Here in the passage, we have some hard core religious leaders pointing the finger and wagging their tongues at a woman caught in adultery.  They were correct that the Law under Moses called for the death penalty.  However the Israelites were under Roman rule and only the Romans could carry out a death penalty.  The Pharisees knew this and were seeking to trap Jesus as the scripture tells us.  Furthermore, there had been no trial or presentation of evidence but merely accusations.  Jesus challenged the accusers asking them to throw the first stone if they had never sinned.  They were not qualified to be this woman's judge, and as we see in the passage, one by one they walked away.  Keep in mind that Jesus was not condoning this woman's sin, but He came to bring life and forgiveness.  Instead of condemning her, He forgave her and admonished her to go and sin no more.  Our Lord is the Lord of second chances.  If He were not, none of us would stand acquitted of our sins.
     This is why we must be very careful as believers not to point our fingers and wag our tongues about the misdeeds of another.  In fact, Galatians 6:1 has some sound advice for us:  "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."  Paul gives us good wisdom here.  Anyone can be ensnared by sin.  If we get too busy pointing out someone else's faults, we might be the next one to fall.  Therefore, instead, we need to reach out in love and forgiveness to a fellow believer even as Jesus reached out to the woman caught in adultery.    We must pray for that person rather than wag our tongues.  It does not glorify God when we contribute to spreading accusations that may or may not be true.  May we live to be ambassadors of reconciliation rather than spreaders of gossip.  This will exalt the name of God in the earth!  Selah!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What a Wake Up Call

     This morning, a patient came in for a repair on their glasses.  She had just been to the grocery store and told me a story that could well serve as a wake-up call for Christians.  While she was shopping, she overheard a person berating one of the assistant managers for something which they had failed to do for her.  The encounter lasted just a brief moment, but she said she could see the crest fallen look in the young man's eyes as the angry customer departed.  At that moment, she went up to this young man and gave him a hug.  She told him his day would get better starting right now and that he should put this incident out of his mind for the rest of his day.  I remarked that I thought her action was kind and appropriate after witnessing such an embarrassing display in the store.
     As we continued to talk, she said she wondered whatever happened to manners and kindness in our country.  She said she sees many people in our area attend church every Sunday, but the moment they step out of their building they seem to forget what is taught to them.  She has witnessed the same people walking out of church that go into stores complaining, whining and becoming angry over the smallest item.  Likewise, she said that Jesus had taught the "Golden Rule" about treating others as they wished to be treated.  Admittedly, she told me that she doesn't go to church much at all, but she said those who do are a poor example in their community.
     When she had finished, I felt as though a bucket of ice water had been poured over me.  It was a wake up call for all believers.  How do we behave when we step outside our church buildings during the week?  Are we kind, thoughtful, helpful, mannerly or do we display the pride of life and the arrogance of the world?  Evidently, this lady has seen some who call themselves by the name of Christian behaving as though they were not believers at all.
     In our Sunday school class, we are studying "The Sermon on the Mount" as our focus using Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book on the subject.  Taking time to look in depth at the character of what a Christian is called to be is both challenging and eye-opening.  Each week, it becomes more evident that we need to fully depend on the Lord daily in order to reflect the Lord Jesus Christ to a world in need.  However, God has called us to give up self, serve others, reflect His glory, and be wholly different from the world in which we live.
     While thinking about the conversation I had this morning, several things stood out from what the woman said.  First, we need to be kind and courteous even when trying to make a point or correct a wrong.  There is no need for personal attacks.  A verse that came to mind was Philippians 2:3:  "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."  If we cannot be civil in our encounters, others will never be drawn to the Lord.  Secondly, we must live out the Golden Rule in all our dealings.  This requires thinking before we speak or act on a matter.  What will the potential fall-out be if I do this or say that?  It is good to step back and consider if we are treating others the way we would like to be treated.  Hair trigger tempers and prideful speech can do a lot of damage which may never be repaired.  James tells us in chapter 1 verses 19-20:  "Know this my beloved brothers:  let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."  We can walk in the Golden Rule when we allow this good wisdom from James to fill our minds.  Finally, the lady mentioned seeing people leave church and later show up in stores where she shopped often displaying bad tempers.  The lesson here is that people are watching our conduct to see if we live what we say we believe.  Fair or not, this is how the world looks at Christians.  However, even if people are not watching us, the Lord is observing our behavior.    I take very seriously what Jesus said when He admonished us in Matthew 12:36-37:  "I tell you, on that day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
       I am very thankful that this lady came into our office today.   It served to remind me of why God put us here in this world.  He called us to be salt and light to those who are perishing.  We have "Good News" to share.  Our momentary irritations with others are just that...short lived.  However, the impression we make when we are out and about last for a long time.  Let us be careful then to walk in the holiness of God as His ambassadors to this world.  Think about this before going out tomorrow.  Remember to whom you belong and carry Christ with you all day long.  To Him be all honor, glory and praise!  Selah!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Playing It Safe

     This morning as I was a reading Scripture, a verse seemed to jump out at me.  It is found in Luke 9:23:  "Jesus said, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'"  Now that is a simple and straightforward verse of scripture.  But think about for a moment.  What exactly does it cost to be a Christian?
     Let me share an example.  Our family loves to play games.  We have a large number of board games and card games in our home, and each time the family gathers we like to sit and play them.  However, during the game, one or more of our family will often say, "If I move there, I might not win or if I go there, I will be out!"  Of course, part of playing any game is taking some chances or risks.  There is a fifty/fifty chance of winning or losing.  In many ways, the Christian life is not so much different.  You can either stay safe in a little, warm cocoon or you can step out in faith and go where the Lord leads you.  Is there a cost or risk?  Yes, but the rewards are eternal in nature!
     When Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him...we have to do it daily in order to grow and move in the Lord.  We have to put aside "self" and our wants and desires; however, when we do, the Lord's paycheck is so much richer than even our fondest of dreams.  This verse greatly comforted me as we had a rough week last week.  Many of you could probably say the same, but without Christ our week would have been much harder to bear.
      There are times when we have to put aside our plans, our wishes and our desires in order to follow the path the Lord has laid before us.  Nevertheless, when we do this for the sake of God's glory, we will find a deep satisfaction in having obeyed Him.  This is why I love the verse found in Jeremiah 29:11:  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a good future."
     When we take up our cross daily and deny our self interest, we will find the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.  We can either play it safe or we can step out in faith trusting God to direct our steps.  May we be bold in Christ who died for our sins and follow Him no matter where we leads!  Selah!

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone to follow Christ?  What happened?  I welcome your thoughts here.

Picture courtesy of Kokoo at Wikipedia Commons (public domain picture).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Are You Doing?

     By now, many of the New Year's Resolutions made with all sincerity are slipping away as we enter the halfway point of January.  Amazing isn't it?  We promise ourselves that we will turn over a new leaf, lose some weight, exercise regularly and eat better.  These are worthy causes for certain, but we do not always stay the course.
     One area that my husband and I have succeeded in maintaining over the past few years is to start a regimen of walking at least four to five times a week for the sake of our health.  We have been faithful in this area and it has become a regular habit.  One of the benefits of these walks is time to pray and enjoy the beauty of God's creation, but there is an even more important exercise in the long run than this.
     In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote this concerning exercise:  "Bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things" (1 Timothy 4:8).  Paul, here, acknowledges that bodily exercise does profit a little.  I think all of our doctors would agree.  However, our bodies will eventually weaken and fade in strength.  Therefore, Paul encourages us to concentrate on exercising godliness because it holds a promise for this life and the life to come.  This is one thing we CAN take with us when we die!
     While the term godliness may sound dull, fearful or even unattainable, this is the goal we are called to live and develop.  In simple terms, godliness is simply self-giving love - the kind that cares more for others than we care for ourselves.  How do we learn to exercise godliness?  The answer is simple.  We must spend time in the presence of our Lord and sit at the feet of Jesus listening to Him through His Word.  As we allow His Word to sink deep within us, it will change us from the inside out and we will become more like Him.  This takes time, effort and regular commitment.  Yet, when we are faithful to this exercise, the blessings will be abundant in our lives.
     Secondly, we need to daily talk with the Lord.  Prayer is not meant to be a one time duty in the morning or evening.  Instead, it is a flowing conversation with our Lord throughout the day.  Praying on our way to work, as we hear about someone in need, while we prepare an evening meal or even driving along the highway allows us the privilege to come into the presence of our Creator.  I find this type of prayer life revitalizing.  If I hear a prayer request from a friend that I do not immediately pray for, I have a tendency to forget to lift this before the Lord.  Therefore, I talk with the Lord throughout my busy day.  This is an exercise that pays real dividends because it glorifies God, lifts the needs of our friends and loved ones and once again, changes our hearts.
     Finally, we exercise godliness when we demonstrate God's love to others both in fellowship with other believers and by sharing the good news with unbelievers that we come in contact with at work or in our neighborhood.  No Christian can be an island unto himself.  We are meant to mingle, connect, reach out, and touch the lives of those around us.  We dare not neglect our regular fellowship with other believers because this is where we draw spiritual nourishment and encouragement from.  Likewise, as we touch the lives of those around us in our daily routine, we have the privilege of passing on the truth about Jesus Christ.
     Exercising godliness improves our spiritual life in the same way that physical exercise helps our general health.  Both require commitment and discipline in order to see results.  Looking into God's Word daily, communing with Him throughout the day in prayer and surrounding ourselves with both other believers in worship and our neighbors we encounter in our daily work all provide us with a means of building our godly character.  We have been put on this earth to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  So the choice is clear...we can be  couch potato Christians with flabby spiritual muscles or we can be fit and ready to serve as He did by exercising godliness every day.
     Our other resolutions may have fallen by the wayside, but I pray that this is one commitment we will put ahead of all others because it counts for all eternity!  Selah!

Pictures above come from the public domain at Wikipedia Commons

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Every Morning

     Are you living in captivity?  Each one of us has certain areas that take hold of us whether it is chronic pain, illness, not enough money at the end of our bills, inability to find a good job, or some other complication of living.  Any one of these things can so get a grip on our lives that we can despair and lose our hope.  This is what happened to the Children of Israel when they were carried away to Babylonian captivity.  Jerusalem had been destroyed as the Prophet Jeremiah had foretold.  Now the people were living in a foreign land under the rule of a pagan king.  They had lost everything.  Their homes, possessions, and Temple were gone.  Life, for them, would never be the same.  Yet even in this darkness there was hope because they served the God of the Covenant.
     In the Book of Lamentations which some believe Jeremiah composed, there are words of encouragement for the people of God.  These words are as true for us today as they were for the people of Israel.  Chapter 3:21-25 reads:  "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.'  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him."  For the Israelites, these words of hope would be fulfilled as God did allow them to return to Judah and rebuild the temple under King Cyrus of the Persians who had defeated the Babylonians.  I am certain it was not on the timetable of those who had been taken to captivity, but in God's providence, the people were allowed to go home again.
Ancient stone showing the Children of Israel being led into captivity
     Like the Children of Israel, we are called, as believers, to remember God's steadfast love for us.  His covenant with us through the blood of Christ makes our inheritance sure and our salvation complete.  Therefore, no weapon formed against us can prevail.  With the Apostle Paul, we can say:  "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38).  Isn't this a comfort to know when circumstances do not favor us?
     What we must remember each day is that God is steadfast and unchangeable.  When He makes a promise, He keeps it.  This is not true of man whose heart is fickle at best.  God's love is also something we can count on as demonstrated so clearly by His Son who was sent to die for our sins.  Can there be any doubt that God loves us?  Even when we did not love Him, He first loved us.  This is a love which goes beyond is a committed love which God sealed with the blood of His Son.  If we belong to Christ, we are kept in His love each day.
     Secondly, God's mercies never come to an end.  If you do not believe me, read the Old Testament.  Over and over again, the people of Israel tried and tested the patience of God with their sin.  They are the picture of "every man".  Yet, God's mercies never came to an end.  In fact, as the Scripture tells us, they were new every morning.  He delivered His people from their enemies.  He disciplined His people when they fell into sin, but He always showed them mercy in the middle of their trials.  He will do the same for us.
     Finally, when our trust and hope are placed in God, we can be certain that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  The key for us all when faced with trials is to keep our focus on Christ.
By recalling God's goodness to us daily, we defeat the Enemy of our soul who tries to fill our minds and hearts with discouragement.  Practicing thankfulness for even the little things does so much for our outlook as we walk in this world.
     Copy this verse from Lamentations and put it on your mirror or some place where you will see it each day.  Remember that God loves us.  He is faithful, and He is merciful.  In Him, we find hope when other problems want to overwhelm us.  Let the Lord set us free from captivity every day and remember that His mercies are new every morning!  Selah!

Picture of a person in bondage is taken from Wikipedia Commons courtesy of
"© Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Pain of False Accusations

     Many years ago, I took a job at my father-in-law's radio station working in the continuity department where I scheduled various commercials in the daily log.  The job was time consuming because we did not have computers in those days but relied, instead, on manual typewriters and handwritten work.  I had been on the job for a number of months, but I had gotten behind on my filing.  I was in the process of reorganizing my work flow when I had an accident at lunch one day.
     Temperatures were hovering around freezing all morning and the light rain had produced sheets of ice.  I went out for my lunch not realizing how slippery the surface of the blacktopped driveway at the restaurant had become.  As I ran towards the building, my feet flew out from under me and I landed hard on my left side pinning my arm under me.  Being cold and somewhat in shock from the fall, I picked myself up and determined I would go ahead and get my lunch and return to my work to eat.
     Upon returning to the station, my left arm seemed to be working okay initially or so I thought.  Then, my hand began to swell and the pain started to overwhelm me.  As it turned out, I had a severe break in my left elbow which the doctor said would require surgery the next day if I ever wanted to use the arm again.  Being left handed, I had no choice in this matter.
     Following surgery, I was told to keep the arm immobile for five weeks and remain at home.  There was little I could do since all my writing depended on this arm and I certainly could not type either.  I informed work of my status.  Naturally, no one was happy to hear that I would be out for five weeks, but there was no alternative.
     My immediate supervisor, a bookkeeper, had her daughter come in to help keep things going in my office.  This is when the trouble began.  As it was discovered that I was behind in my filing, complaints began to be made.  Instead of calling me to ask where certain items were, the bookkeeper's daughter reorganized the office and made known to her mother that I had done a poor job.  There was no opportunity for me to give explanation that I was in the process of bringing things into better order in the office.
     Upon my return, I received a reprimand both from my supervisor and my father-in-law for the work I had left undone.  To my surprise, I was also informed that I had failed to let my supervisor know when I would return to work even though no one bothered to call me.  I was crushed by the accusations since I had let the office staff know I would be out for five weeks due to the injury.  I had given my best efforts to my job and where I had failed in keeping up with filing I apologized.  No one is perfect and when someone is absent for a time, people can pick the absent person to pieces.
     This whole incident put a strain on my relationship to my father-in-law who believed the bookkeeper over his own daughter-in-law.  However, I resolved to go on and do my best and begin a search for another job in the mean time.  I knew that as long as the bookkeeper remained the person to oversee the office, there would not be cordial relationships possible.   The only thing which sustained me during this time was my faith in the Lord.  
     As I looked in the Word each day, I read about others who were unjustly accused for things which they did not do.  Joseph popped out at me first.  He had been thrown into a pit because his brothers were jealous of him.  Then, he was sold into slavery.  Having found favor with his master, he was given great responsibility until his master's wife accused him of trying to assault her.  Ending up in prison, Joseph never gave up his hope in God.  This was exactly what I needed to read at this time.
(Genesis 37-39).
     Then, I read about King David whose father-in-law chased him all around the countryside trying to kill him as a result of jealousy over his popularity.  David had done no wrong but had been a faithful steward and warrior under King Saul.  In fact, he was not only a son-in-law but also best friends with the King's son.  This, however, made little difference.  David spent years on the run through no fault of his own.  Eventually, justice came to him in the death of Saul by the hand of enemies.  Even then, David did not rejoice in the death of this man who had pursued him.  He had always conducted himself properly even though his life had been in jeopardy.  What a witness he had been in terms of his conduct towards Saul.
     Finally, I considered Jesus who was falsely accused before the Sanhedrin.  Our Savior, who had committed no sin, was accused by witnesses of blasphemy.  Then, after the sham of a trial, our Lord went to the cross to pay for our sins even though He was faultless Himself.  Jesus never argued or called down fire from heaven as He stood accused.  He was the perfect sacrifice for us that we might be saved through His death.
     In all these cases from the Bible, I saw how men were accused unjustly, but God took what was meant for evil and turned it for good.  Joseph even said that to his brothers when he finally revealed his identity to them years later as he stood in the place of power in Egypt.  He said, "And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God.  He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Genesis 45:5-8).  If he could look at difficult days like that, who was I to complain?
     There were several lessons I learned from the situation I found myself in at my job.  First, it is often difficult to work for or with relatives.  Misunderstandings, and in my case, lack of communication caused some pain in the relationship.  Secondly, God works in and through our circumstances to help us grow.  Not one of us is promised an easy ride to heaven in this life.  We WILL face challenges.  As a result of my hurt, I ran to God's Word for answers which helped me grow in His grace.  Finally,  I learned how to forgive and move on.  That was a big one in this situation!  We all need this because bitterness can ruin your life.
     This story had a happy ending ultimately.  I found another job which was a good move for me as it gave me a chance to make new friends, allow myself to heal, and offered me some extra income until we started our family.  With time, prayer, and love, the relationship with my father-in-law was mended and we all moved on.  It is my firm belief that there is never a circumstance that happens in life that does not first pass through the Father's hands.  He allows the trials to come to increase our trust in Him and to work good into our lives.  With each passing day, I can look back and say "Thank you Father for the lessons I have learned."  Selah!

What lessons is God teaching you right now?  What has He taught you in the past?  I welcome your thoughts and comments.  May we always encourage one another.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Monday, January 7, 2013

Neat and Tidy

     Packing up my manger set this last week always gives me time to reflect.  My mother taught me to save all the boxes and special styrofoam containers that each porcelain piece fits into so they would be kept safe until the next year.  I had collected the set of figurines over the years one by one so they were special to me.  As I carefully placed each piece into its styrofoam cocoon, I noted how snugly they fit.  It was neat and tidy.  No mess or fuss unlike our lives at times.  I thought to myself, "Don't we all wish our lives could fit snugly into a safe place with no messiness where we could be certain to be kept safe?"  Ah, but reality is that we live in a fallen world filled with dangers, toils and snares as the old hymn writers say.  There is nothing like a perfect little cocoon into which we can crawl to be kept safe and free from temptations.  And even if there were, would we want to live in such a world?  What faith is required if our days are perfectly ordered?   Instead, God wants us to learn to trust in Him as we walk the rocky paths of life.
     Coming to Him does not mean that our lives will now be perfect without any challenges, sickness, pain, or loss.  In fact, Jesus tells us clearly that in this world we will have trouble.  John 16:33 is always a source of comfort to believers:   "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."   In Christ, we have all we need for life and godliness to make it through the hills and valleys of life.
     I will never forget the many conversations that I had with my father growing up.  I would come home all discouraged over something that didn't go my way and I would never fail to say, "It's not fair!".  My father always replied, "Who told you life was fair, Honey?"  He was right.  Our world system which is controlled by the Prince of the Power of the Air is a place of injustice, sorrow and hardship.  However, the Good News is that Jesus Christ has overcome the world, death, and Satan.  In Him, we have a hope and a future despite our current circumstances.  This is why it is so important to walk by faith each day rather than sight.  Our senses can deceive us, but our Lord is the same today, yesterday and forever.  He does not change.   He is our solid ground when all the earth is shaking beneath our feet.  He will not let us fall even when we stumble, but He will pick us up and hold us in the hollow of His hand.
     As I pondered these thoughts, I realized that in many ways, we do have a safe little cocoon of sorts not to keep us from the difficulties that everyone faces but to keep safe the most fragile, important part of our being....our souls.  When our souls are filled with Christ, He is able to save us from sin and death.  John 10:27-30 says:  "My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  I and the Father are one."   These are, indeed, words of comfort to the believer.  Because Christ arose from the dead, we will one day do the same.  We will live forever with Him where there will be no more injustice, sorrow, pain and loss.  For now, we walk in this world that buffets us, but we can have peace knowing He is with us guiding our steps.
     God does not want to put us away in a box somewhere like I do my manger set.  He wants, instead, to display our lives that we might be the salt and light to others who also need to trust in Him.  Our Father wants us to so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify God.  As we face the messiness of life, we have a resource that the world does not have...we have Jesus Christ living in us.  While we cannot avoid the heartaches, we can move through them on the wings of God's strength daily.  Not only do we grow stronger in faith, but we also are an example to a world looking for answers to the challenges of daily living.
     No, our lives are not neat and tidy without problems.  However, our souls are kept safe in the hands of God when our lives are committed to Him.  Only in His strength can we overcome the obstacles we face each day.  He is able to keep us and I agree with two verses which Paul shares in His letters that should encourage us as we daily face our messy lives.  2 Timothy 1:12 reads:  "For the which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."  The other verse is found in I Corinthians 1:8:  "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."    We must remember that He is able to keep us daily no matter what circumstances come our way.  May our lives reflect His light and bring taste as salt into our world for His glory!  Selah!                                                                                                                          

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Lesson At My Expense

Doctor's scale
     Little did I know, when I entered the podiatrist's office seeking a remedy to my foot pain,  that I would also learn a lesson about the importance of watching our words.  While waiting at the reception desk to get my insurance card back, a lady introduced herself to me and had recognized that two of my sons had worked at the church she currently attends.  She was so sweet and kind and I was delighted to see her again.  She explained that she had brought a friend with her who needed to see the doctor.
     Upon returning to her seat, she explained to her neighbor how she knew me and made several complimentary comments about me.  Her neighbor then proceeded to indicate that I was overweight and needed to lose a few pounds if I wanted to appear attractive.  I pretended that I had not heard their conversation since we were quite a distance apart in the waiting area.  However, I have to tell you that those words cut through me at the time.  In some ways, I was amused and thought this must be God's way of reminding me that Christmas was over and I needed to get more committed to my diet again.  Certainly the elderly lady making the loud remarks in the crowded room was oblivious to the fact that everyone could hear her including me.  Then, I wondered to myself if they treated "foot in mouth" disease at this office too because this lady had definitely done that.  The lady who had been so sweet to me said nothing while her friend rambled on, and I can only imagine she was silently hoping I had not heard her remarks.
     As I reflected on this incident, I wasn't so much hurt about the comments on my weight as I know I have been working on this area for some time now.  What concerned me was the fact that things like this happen every day in the work place, at home, and at social church.  Talking about someone in a manner that is derogatory or unhelpful is sin.  There isn't anyone reading this that hasn't at one time or another talked about another person behind his/her back...or in this case, a very public place.  I am as guilty as the next person.  The Bible has a lot to say about our speech, but two scriptures stand out in this area.
     Proverbs 16:23-24:   "The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."  Then, James 3:7-11 reads:  "For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?"  I can vouch for the admonition that James gives.  There have been ample times when I was corrected as a child for opening my mouth and speaking hurtful words.  Even as a Christian, I said something unkind to a brother in the Lord and my dear husband called me to account.  I called that brother and sincerely apologized for my fiery tongue.
     Sadly, people think that it doesn't matter what we say about someone else in secret as they will never find out.  Yet, I have seen it happen over and over again that what was said in secret later becomes public knowledge and damage is done to relationships.  God calls Christians to a higher standard of conduct when it comes to our speech.  As the Proverb above admonishes us, we need to be judicious in what we say and make our words sweet.  It brings health to the body when someone has a good word for their neighbor.
     My mother used to tell me that there is "criticism" and then, there is "constructive criticism".  One tends to tear someone else down because we see faults in them.  The other addresses them in a kind manner to seek a resolution to some issue.  I have to agree that being a peacemaker is in line with what James was driving at in chapter 3.  He concludes his address concerning the evil tongue and other sins by giving us a look at God's wisdom in verses 17 and 18:  "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."  This is the way we are to conduct ourselves.  We are to be holy as God is holy through the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit.
     Therefore, my lesson for the day is this:  Be careful what you say, in front of whom you say it and measure your words carefully before uttering them because even if the person you are talking about is not present....God is.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:36-37:  "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."  May our words be judicious, kind, full of mercy, tender, filled with the love of Christ, truthful and spoken to exhort a brother rather than judgmental, harsh or critical....because one day, we will be called into account.  Selah!