Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gleanings from the Field - A Look At Ligonier Part II

The statue of John Knox outside the Church of the Holy Rood
in Stirling, Scotland where he preached.
     In part one of my reflections on the Ligonier Conference we attended, I covered the need for prayer for our pastors and leaders, the truth as presented to our world in our Lord Jesus Christ and the inerrancy of the Scripture.  All of these are important encouragements to us as believers and help us take a stand of "No Compromise" to a world bent and twisted by sin.  To further carry on this theme, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C. and professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary made an outstanding presentation on doctrine.
     Dr. Ferguson opened with Romans 12:1-2:  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  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."  This powerful passage indicates that the road to our sanctification is paved with study of God's Word which alone makes us wise unto salvation and able to discern truth from error.  It changes our thinking.
     One of the key questions which Dr. Ferguson raised was how did Christians in general get to a place where they claim that doctrine divides?  Somehow, they place experience over doctrine leading to faulty theology.  He indicated that the problem began in a period of history called the Enlightenment when men became the measure of all things and God seemed a remote being that no one could really have relationship with.  A key German theologian of the time Friedrich Schleiermacher who tried to reconcile the Enlightenment with protestant orthodoxy only muddied the waters by suggesting that true religion does not live in doctrinal positions.  With this thought now unleashed, many in the church and in colleges founded by the church began to teach that experience was more important than doctrine. However, Dr. Ferguson pointed out that "If you think doctrine divides, you will end up on the road where you can't tell one experience from another."  What happens in today's praise and worship time is often more about "me" or "I" rather than focusing on the God of the universe we are there to lift up.  He clearly pointed out that our salvation does not lie in our experience but is fully dependent upon Christ.  Furthermore, he stated that many believers today know little history of the church or even doctrine.  What we need, he said, is to have a biblical viewpoint.  The doctrine of the Bible develops our experience not the other way around.  The Word of God is filled with doctrine and Christians need to know what they believe in order to have a right experience with Christ.  He concluded his talk with two very poignant statements:  1) "We don't know Christ by all the things we need to do.  We know Him when He reveals Himself through doctrine and the Word.  Our thoughts must be the thoughts of Christ."  2) "Today, we need not only systematic, expository preaching, but we also need catechizing in the church.  Catechizing allows truth to stick to our hearts.  The church that doesn't teach doctrine will not last (John Calvin)."
     Following this wonderful look at the value of sound doctrine, Dr. Alistair Begg brought a message on mercy.  He opened by stating that "God's goodness is expressed by God's mercy."  His key passage of scripture came from Luke 6:27-36 where Jesus speaks of loving our enemies and turning the other cheek.  Dr. Begg stated, "Failure to practice this will not be excused due to ignorance."  Then he asked a question, "How well do you think Christianity in America is doing alongside Jesus' commands and instructions?"  Instead of being a loving, merciful people he pointed out that there is a spirit of grumbling, complaining and slandering abroad in our country.  Then, he pointed out the example of the proud, pompous religious Pharisee who prayed in the Temple saying he was glad he was not like the sinful tax collector who was seen repenting of his sins (Luke 18:9-14).  However, the tax collector was aware of who God was and who he was.  As a result, he could see his sin before the Lord whereas the Pharisee was blinded to his own sinfulness.  Dr. Begg stated that a heart of mercy recognizes sin, repents of it and then lives accordingly also granting mercy to his fellow sinners.  In his final statements,  concerning mercy, he said that as believers we need good manners along with courtesy and humility.  These attributes are grounded in God's mercy towards all people.  This is what we are to extend to others not hating our enemies but praying for them instead.
Over 5,000 of us young and old came to hear God's Word
     Another exhortation that proved beneficial was entitled "A Good Offense" presented by Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr.  He pointed out in his message that when God says something He shouldn't have to repeat Himself.  However, He does so at times so we do not forget it.  Unfortunately, we are a forgetful people.  God also repeats things to keep us out of trouble.  For that I am very thankful!  One area which God repeats over and over again is that we will be hated by the world.  In His high priestly prayer before His crucifixion, Jesus prays for believers.  In John 17:14, He says:  "I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."
     Unfortunately, we tend to love the world and want to be accepted by it, but the world will hate us because we belong to Jesus Christ.  Dr. Sproul stated that today Christians are mocked and belittled.  This makes us want to jump up and defend ourselves, but we must remember that our strength is in Christ who has over come this world and Satan.  The Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church and all who are called by the name of Christ.  Dr. Sproul reminded us that Jesus promised us that we will triumph over the strongholds of the enemy and that "the best offense is a good offense."  Therefore, when the world strongly objects to us, this is where we need to go with the Gospel.  The world objects to judgment and people don't like the fact that the Word is true.  Perhaps their greatest objection, though, is that our faith calls them to put their sin behind them.  Nevertheless, we are to shine a light in the darkness wherever we find it and remember that in the end we will triumph in Jesus Christ.
     After listening to these messages, I was encouraged and challenged.  The truth about sound doctrine, having mercy, loving our enemies and knowing that the world will hate us all are key to our Christian maturity.  God has told us plainly in the Bible how we are to live in this world.  I pray that this has encouraged you today.  I will bring this series to a close in Part III with the talk given by Dr. Ravi Zacharius and some closing thoughts.
     My goal in sharing this with you is to encourage and bless you as I pass along the truths shared from God's Word.  Think on these things and take time to look up the Scriptures for yourself.  May the Lord bless you as you do.  Selah!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gleanings From the Field-A Look at Ligonier Part I

Over 5,000 believers from all over the country
attended Ligonier 2013
     If I were to describe myself to someone who did not know me, I would tell them that I am much like a cheerleader for God.  My gift is one of encouragement and exhortation though all of us are called to encourage one another.  As the writer of Hebrews says so well, "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today', that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."  How important it is for us to remind one another of God's great truths so that we may not slip into temptation and sin.  With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some truths which I gleaned from God's field at the Ligonier Conference I attended in Orlando, Florida this past weekend.  It would be impossible for me to share everything that three days of preaching and teaching covered, but I want to hit some high spots to encourage you in your walk with Christ.
     For this conference, the overall theme was "No Compromise" and pictured Daniel in the Lion's Den on the cover of our program.  In all honesty, I do believe that we as Christians are much like Daniel today.  Our culture is hostile to the Gospel as never before, and we are called upon by our Lord to stand for the truth as found in His Word.  Dr. Steven Lawson, Pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, pointed out the rejection of truth by Pilate during the trial of our Lord Jesus (John 18:33-38).  He mocked Jesus for saying that He came to bear witness to the truth by saying "What is truth?"  Today, in our world, Dr. Lawson said we are witnessing that "spirit of Pilate" in our colleges, the media, seminaries, pulpits and even in government as never before.  The truth is questioned or considered to be relative.  In fact, he stated that 84% of teenagers polled today do not believe in absolute truth.  This is a sad reflection of our current state in our culture.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).    There are no exceptions.                                                                                                                                  Dr. Lawson gave seven points concerning truth.  1) Truth is objective.  2) Truth is singular...there is only one body of truth and that is found in the Bible.  There is only one plan of salvation for man...not many roads.  3) Truth is immutable.  It never changes and it is always right.  4) Truth is absolute.  It is exclusive and not relative.  It discriminates.  Anything outside of truth is a lie.  5) Truth is divine.  God is the source of all truth which is revealed in his holy, inspired, God-breathed book called the Bible. 6) Truth is authoritative.  Truth is not an option and it demands something from us because we cannot be saved apart from the truth found in Jesus Christ alone.  7) Truth is powerful.  It convicts, it saves, it judges, it sanctifies and it is not about feelings or being blessed here on earth.  As believers, we are called to herald the truth of God's Word to bring light to the darkened world system.  Only as we know and grow through the study of the Bible are we able to know the truth.
     In a later teaching session, Dr. Lawson covered the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture as the final authority for our lives and for our godliness.  He indicated that we must all become students of theology and sound doctrine as revealed in the Bible.  Have we ever thought of ourselves as theologians?  Yet, we are called by Christ to handle the Word of God with care.  When we abandon the Word of God, we are abandoning the Lord Himself who has disclosed to us His character, glory and power in its pages.  It is a breathing, living Word which will never pass away (Matt. 24:25).  As Christians, we are called to stand uncompromisingly on the Bible as our rule of faith.  It is the foundation of our beliefs and it cannot be broken as Jesus said (John 10:35).  Therefore, anything which contradicts the full counsel of God as stated in the Bible, is a lie.  Dr. Lawson concluded his talk by indicating that reformation and revival comes about by the preaching of God's Word which contains the truth.  We are to take this truth and preach it unashamedly to refute error.  Yes, it may cost us relationships, but we are the light of the world called by Christ to take the Gospel to all the world.
     Another very important encouragement came from Dr. Alistair Begg, Pastor of Parkside Christian Church in Cleveland, Ohio.  He spoke on preaching the Word.  While this could have been aimed at pastors only, Dr. Begg included church leaders and laymen as well.  We are all called to speak to others the truths found in the Bible.  One of the elements often missing today is the teaching of sound doctrine.  Without this, believers will never mature and grow as the Lord has intended.  Keeping this in mind, Dr. Begg offered an insight that is so crucial.  When we attend conferences, we should never demand that our pastor be like one of the conference speakers.  Each man called by God to serve as a pastor has his own personality and gifts.  Therefore, we are called to pray for our pastor before, during and after his sermons.  In fact, we are to pray for all our church leaders on a regular basis.  The enemy of our souls is crafty and looking to find a way to tear apart a congregation or any of its leaders.  Our pastors and leaders are a gift to us.  Their task is mighty as they explain the Word of God to us.  However, they are sinners as we all are.  This is why prayer for our pastors and leaders is so very important.  Dr. Begg concluded with this insight:  "To preach salvation by good works will please people and they will be happy.  To preach salvation by grace will offend people intellectually and morally.  They won't like it because it is the truth.  You cannot be faithful and popular with the world as a pastor."  This applies to laymen as well.
     Rather than rush through many of the other good points of exhortation, I will close at this point and summarize what we have learned thus far.  First, Jesus Christ is the living Word of God.  He is the truth and all truth is found in Him.  Secondly, the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.  It is the foundation of our faith and we ought to be students of it.  We are called to be theologians to understand not only who God is but who we are in light of the scriptures.  Third and most importantly, we are to pray for our pastors, church leaders and church fellowships.  Prayer changes all things and moves mountains.  We, likewise, are to be able to preach the Gospel in our daily walk to those we encounter.  God has made us ambassadors of His grace.  These are some of the essential teachings we heard at Ligonier.
     Personally, I grow every time I attend a conference like this.  My prayer has been to hunger and thirst after righteousness this year and opportunities like this prove to be a blessing.  I also want to let my readers know that Ligonier offers an online set of courses which anyone can take advantage of by clicking on .  The program is called Ligonier Connect and for $9.00 a month anyone can sign up to take courses.  There are 44 offered.  You can go at your own pace and enter into discussion with other students from around the world.  You can also take a quiz or assessment of what you have learned.  This is offered for individuals or even small groups.  As long as we are here on earth, God has called us to be students of His Word and this is another way we can grow.
     In my next installment, I will share more encouragement from this conference that "none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" as the writer of Hebrews has admonished us.  May you be blessed as you think on these things and search God's Word for yourselves.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and insights.  Your comments are always appreciated.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Persistence Pays

The crucifixion of our Lord in a window in
the Cathedral of Lincoln, England
     One of the lessons I have learned in life is that persistence pays.  It is so easy to give up, give in, or become discouraged.  Confronting our difficulties is much more challenging than turning and walking away from them, and if truth be told, there have been many times when I have wanted to do just that.
     Facing tough relationships or circumstances not only refines our character but also give us an opportunity to witness God in action.  After all, we cannot handle life by ourselves.  We may think we can, but we usually exhaust ourselves trying to handle burdens we were never meant to carry alone.
     In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes these words of encouragement:  "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal. 6:9).  Of all people, Paul knew what it was to face daunting circumstances.  He had been shipwrecked twice, bitten by a deadly snake, stoned and nearly killed, and had a health condition that never seemed to leave him.  Yet in and through it all, Paul demonstrated persistence.  He knew that his purpose was higher than the transitory events currently surrounding him.  He could have walked away and said, "Forget it!"  However, he knew that God was bigger than whatever came his way.  He knew who he was in Christ and trusted in the promises which God had given for all who live for His glory.
     Discouragement and procrastination are two weapons that Satan happily uses against believers.  If he can deter us by either means, he will do so because he does not want us to continue to do good in the face of hard times.  Let me give some examples from the Bible of those who persisted.  First, there was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  He persisted in his forty day fast despite all the temptation to quit offered in various forms by Satan.  Secondly, we can look to the example of King David who could have easily given up following God when his life was in jeopardy as Saul pursued him.  Even when he was presented with the opportunity to kill Saul, David chose to wait upon the Lord and His timing rather than taking things into his own hands.  Finally, as I mentioned before, Paul, himself, was a great example of persistence.
     In the verse which follows Paul's admonishment to "keep on keeping on", he tells us something very important:  "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gals. 2:10).  Not only are we to persist, but we are also to practice doing good to all and especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Being a living example of persistence proves our faith in a God who holds all the circumstances of our lives in His hands. He knows the beginning form the end of all things.  Therefore, we must not quit or give in!  Discouragement will always try to eat away at our resolve, but we can take a stand in Christ.
Stained Glass windows at the Cathedral of Lincoln
in Lincolnshire England
     To see where you stand in relationship to persistence, ask yourself these questions:  Do I get angry or grumpy when things don't go my way?  Do I complain when the going gets tough?  Am I afraid of failure?  Do I finish what I start?  Am I easily frustrated at the circumstances of my life?  How do I rate in terms of persistence?  We need to be truthful with ourselves if we are struggling.  The place to run is to the Father's throne.  By prayer, fellowship with like-minded believers and study of His Word, we can find the strength we need to move on despite the bumps in the road of life.  Trust me.  There is not a soul who does not face trials of one sort or another.  However, unlike the world who has no hope, we, as believers, have the promise of life everlasting and the power of the Holy Spirit residing within us that can help us put one foot in front of another even when we do not think we can move forward.
     Take God at His Word today.  Remember that persistence will bring rewards when we are seeking to glorify God with our lives.  Others are watching to see if we will complete what we have begun with grace.  Let us seek to keep on doing good despite our hardships for God's harvest is sweet and refreshing.  Selah!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Where is Your Focus?

     Many of you know that my dear husband is an eye doctor.  We often get into discussions about the eye which is a very complex organ of the body.  For example, if you stare straight ahead at an object for a long time, your peripheral (side vision) will go blank.  You will be unaware of things in your side vision.  Have you ever wondered why?  It's because the eye needs constant (very slight) movement to stimulate the nerves which help us to see well.  So, even though we think we are looking directly at another person, we are actually scanning that person's face so rapidly that we don't realize it.  The constant slight movement helps us see the person.
     In the same way, we need to focus on ALL of God's Word....not just a portion of it.  Both Old and New Testaments are important and form a cohesive unit in describing who God is and who we are in relationship to Him.  Look with me at 2 Timothy 3:10-15:  "You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra - which persecutions I endured ; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
     As we consider the verses, we see in the first verse that Paul is recounting the persecution, afflictions and difficulties which he has had to endure.  However, he has had victory over them all through the Lord who delivered him.  He points this out to Timothy.  He urges Timothy to persevere in the example  that he has set for  him and also in the Word of God which he had been taught from childhood.
     Then, we come to two verses well-known to and loved by believers, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:  "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."  Paul did not say "some" Scripture is good for us.  He said ALL Scripture!  We can so easily get our focus on just one thing that we exclude other areas that we need to consider.  Some people just look at the love of God, or the wrath of God, evangelism, church growth, the endtimes, Satan or sin.  They do so to the exclusion of the rest of God's counsel.  That's when the vision begins to blur.
     We are called to see the whole picture and not just focus on some truths.  That is how a cult can be born.  Instead, we must be careful to consider the whole truth of God's Word.  So as we study the Bible and seek His face, let us keep our focus on the big picture as the Lord presents it to us so that we may be fit workmen in His kingdom.  Selah!

Note:  The picture of the eye is from the public domain of Wiki Commons.  Halani is the photographer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Bone Field

The graveyard behind the Church of the Holy Rood in
Stirling, Scotland
     At present, if I were to describe the appearance of our home, I would have to call it a bone field.  We have been taking care of our "grand dog" for our son since September.  Being a puppy (he has since turned 1), he loves to chew everything in sight.  So, we got him a large number of  beef bones that he can safely chew.  The problem is he has many of them and even though we put them away in his toy box at night, he drags every one of them out and chews a little on each one throughout the day.  It is better than chewing our shoes and other belongings but honestly, it looks as though a large cow died in our house.
     As I was talking with my husband about the large number of bones scattered about, I started recalling another bone field in my mind.  In the book of Ezekiel the prophet, we read in Chapter 37 verses 1-14 about a vision that Ezekiel had.  The prophet recounts that in the spirit the Lord led him to a valley of dry bones and asked him if these bones could live again.  Ezekiel said that only the Lord would know that.  God instructed him to prophesy over the bones and they would come together and live again.  Indeed, in this vision, as Ezekiel did what the Lord commanded, the bones rose up and came together a "vast army".  Then the Lord concludes with these words to the prophet:  "Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.'  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God:  Behold, 'I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And 'you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord;  I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord."  Indeed, God did just as He said He would.  He returned His people to the land from which they were taken.  However, there is a greater implication for this story.
     Just like the field of dead men's bones that Ezekiel saw in his vision, we are all dead in our trespasses and sins.  We are in exile from God because we are sinners from birth.  The Bible says, "There are none righteous, no not one." (Romans 3:10)  If we do not believe this, all we have to do is pick up the newspaper every day to see the acts of sinful men and women.  Like the Children of Israel we have no hope for a better future because even all the government programs, laws and leaders cannot fill the empty void in our life that only Christ can fill.
     In this passage of Scripture which shows us the continuity of the Bible from Old to New Testament, we have a picture of what happens when God breathes life into our old dry bones.  He calls us to Himself.  There is nothing we can do to save ourselves any more than those dead dry bones in the field could raise themselves up.  God spoke and the bones came to life.  When God draws us by His Spirit, we awaken from the death grip of sin.  Then, we can come to Him in sincere repentance as we see our filthy rags of sin and empty life.  He raises us from death to life...the new life in Christ who becomes our Lord and Savior.  As God returned Israel to their land, He returns us to a right relationship with Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ.
     Today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent for Christians.  It is a forty day time of reflection, prayer, fasting, and renewal as we prepare for holy week when Christ was betrayed, crucified and buried for our sins.  Then, on Easter, we celebrate His resurrection which is a promise to all who believe in Him.  Like Christ, we will be raised again from death...not just spiritually but physically.  We will have a new body that will never decay, become sick or die.  All the bondage of our current physical shortcomings will be gone.  This is good news!
     What Ezekiel saw in the Spirit not only foreshadowed the return of the Children of Israel to their land but also foreshadowed the resurrection to life in Christ.  Even as believers, we often return to the bone field where life is dry and hopeless, but we do not need to stay there.  God has given us His Spirit, His breath of life and we have only to call upon Him in repentance to return again to a fresh new start.  Praise God for His mercy and salvation!
A stained glass window in the Church of the Holy Rood
Stirling, Scotland
     If you are reading this and have never committed your life to Christ, I challenge you to leave that old bone field and come into real life that is abundant and grace filled.  You will never be the same.  If you are a believer reading this who has fallen and stumbled back into sin, you need not stay there.  God has given you the privilege of coming to Him in confession and He will forgive you.
     Picking up those dog bones every evening reminds me that I don't live in that bone field any more.  I am a new creation in Christ.  He isn't finished with me yet, but I rest in Him to complete that which He has begun in me.  You have that hope too if you belong to Him.  The best news is that we don't have to stay in a bone field any more!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and comments as always.  They are an encouragement to me and others.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Amazing Creation

A Florida Sandhill crane in our front yeard.
     Over the years, I have developed a love for the birds that are native to our area.   On our early morning walks, we hear the song of the Mockingbird and frankly, I am quite impressed by his range of melody.  Then there is the clear "do-wop" sound made by the cardinals.  However, there is one bird whose call is so distinctive that no one can ever forget it when they hear it.  A loud bugling sound comes from the majestic Florida Sandhill crane.  Occasionally we see a pair when we go on our walks but two weeks ago I had a surprise.
     Outside our front window maybe ten feet from our house was a pair of Sandhill cranes.  I counted this a gift from God because of their beauty.  Some folks do not like these birds because they can tear up lawns hunting for grubs, but they are also a natural solution to many pests which trouble Florida grasslands.  These birds stand four feet tall and roam around in pairs.  Amazingly, they mate for life and live around twenty years.
     As I observed this pair of birds, I thought of how great and infinite is God's creation.  Every marking, every detail is so precise.  A living, breathing creature to see and enjoy.  How I praised God for His wonderful creation.  Who can look at nature and not see God everywhere!?  Yet, sinful man does not see or appreciate the wondrous beauty of all that God has made.  In fact, he cannot because he is blind.
     In Paul's letter to the Romans, he writes:  "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:19-20).  When I read this verse, I am reminded of an interesting point made during the viewing of "The Truth Project" (by Focus on the Family).  Francis Crick, the gifted scientist who unlocked the mystery of the DNA strand along with Watson his partner, does not accept the fact that God created the universe.  Instead, he believed in "Transpermia".  This is the notion that  an alien spacecraft came to earth and implanted seeds which brought about creation. Can you believe this?  A Nobel prize winning scientist who has unlocked the secrets of DNA believes in alien space ships as the cause of creation?  Man can go to great extents to avoid facing the reality of God the author of all creation.
     Is it any wonder then that the sanctity of human life has been devalued?  If we are nothing more than  the stuff of primordial goo and we have no worth, then life is meaningless and all creation is also unimportant.  However, from the beginning, man has been made in the image of God and then, he was charged with overseeing this world and all the life which God has created.  The problem began when man fell into sin.  From that moment on, life became cheap  and all creation groaned for deliverance from the bondage of death.
     When I look at the beauty of God's infinite creation, I see life.  I see unbelievable design, color, beauty, grace and perfection.  There is no other explanation for the amazing creatures I observe aside from an almighty, perfect creator.  Only when Christ opens our eyes can we see reality and enjoy all that the Lord has made.
     Yes, I have always been an animal lover but never more since I have come to know the One who has made it all.  I worship Him for the creatures He has given me to observe, for the children He has allowed me to carry and for the grandchildren that He has graciously given to our children.  There is an abundance of proof all around us for the whole world to bow before the King of Kings.  Yet, man's heart is hardened unless the Holy Spirit draws Him.  If today, you feel that drawing of God's Spirit, I pray that you will open your heart, confess your sins and turn to God.
     If you are already a believer, then look with wonder at all which God has made.  It is but a poor imitation of the unbelievable glories of heaven which await us.  Nevertheless, the creatures which God has made will take your breath away.  Glory in the Lord who is our salvation.  Praise Him daily for the beauty He has made and know that He has even more in store for us as we walk with Him.  Selah !

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are You Part of the Solution?

Albert Einstein's chalk board in the Museum at Oxford
He solved some important problems!
     One of the  adages that became prominent during the turbulent 1960's went like this:  "If you are not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem."  There was wisdom in that statement even for those of us in the Body of believers called the church.  How often do we or others complain about things they would like to change in their community of faith?   And just as often, folks go home and have roast "pastor" or elder for lunch attacking them in their leadership role.  In both cases, no real glory is given to God and the advancement of the kingdom is neglected.  It is easy to be an arm chair quarterback but its another thing to roll up our sleeves and get busy being part of the solution to those things we are concerned about.
     In my own life, I had been desirous to see our church continue and expand the traditional worship service.  For me, singing Psalms, scriptural hymns and saying the Apostle's Creed are a part of what makes up a meaningful time in the presence of God.  How could I advance this?  What possible influence could I have as a layman?  Well, a friend gave me a rare nudge for which I am very grateful.  She invited me to sing in the choir at Christmas time.  I resisted this offer as I didn't believe I had the time for such involvement, but I eventually agreed.  Each time I went to rehearsal, something began to happen in my heart.  I found  great joy in singing as a means of sharing the Gospel in song.  Following Christmas, I decided I would stay in the choir.  Not only was my joy in the Lord increasing with each rehearsal, but I also found a way to encourage others in the congregation.  Music is an important ministry, and participating in the traditional service gave me a way to invest myself in something that is important to me.  I found a way to be part of the solution rather than a problem in the congregation.
     When it comes to church leadership, we all have our ideas as to what we want and expect.  However, the true measure of a Christian who desires to be a part of the solution is our prayer life.  Rather than criticize a decision made by a church leader or pastor, we need to pray for them daily.  We are commanded to pray without ceasing and especially for those in authority over us.  When we pray, two things happen.  First, God changes our heart attitude towards those we pray for and secondly, God moves in the lives of others much more easily than we could ever do.  He is sovereign and we are not.    He has access to the hearts of our leaders but we do not.  Therefore, prayer is the key to unlocking the power of His Spirit.
     Paul called for unity, harmony and brotherly love to be demonstrated in the body of believers.  If we live this way, others will listen to our "solution" to life's emptiness.  However, if we gossip, act divisively and create hard feelings, we do the devil's bidding.  Paul writes this to the believers in Thessalonica:  "Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one" (1 Thess. 4:9-12).
     If we want to glorify God and bring about positive change, then we need to take action.  Join the choir, become active in a committee of the church that visits nursing homes, join a Bible study, or start a
ministry to meet needs not now being met.  There is much we can do in a positive way that yields fruit rather than the bitter, complaining person who folds their arms and remains a part of the problem.  May God use us to be a blessing in our church and to our leaders.  He is sovereign and we can trust Him to lead us to be a part of the solution for His glory!  Selah!

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons and Decltype.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tomorrow is Not a Given

The magnificent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC
     More than one family has been divided over who gets the largest inheritance.   It happened in my family and sadly it has brought some relationships to a dead end.  That is not how families are supposed to work, and well meaning parents put certain terms in their will thinking their children will work it out in harmony.  Rarely is there any agreement when it comes to an inheritance,  but Jesus took time to explain what is really important for us all to live by.
     In Luke 12:13-14, a man asked the Lord to help him with the family inheritance:  "Someone in the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.'  But He said to him, 'Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?'"  When Jesus received the request of this fellow, He declined because He knew what was in the heart of this man.  The rule for inheritance according to Deuteronomy 21:17 was to take the matter to the rabbis to decide if there was a dispute.  In the case of this man in the crowd, he merely wanted a decision in his favor not necessarily a just arbitration.  As a result Jesus told a parable to the crowd as a warning to their hearts.
     Luke 12:15-21 reads:  "And He said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'  And he told them a parable saying, 'The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'  And he said, 'I will do this:  I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'  But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared whose will they be?'  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.'"
      This simple story told by our Lord has many implications for us today.  Most of us have seen the bumper sticker that reads, "The one with the most toys when he dies, wins!"  Yet, Jesus said that the opposite is really true.  On one hand, our Savior pointed out that covetousness was a sin because our lives consisted of more than mere possessions.  Having an accumulation of stuff that you cannot take with you after you die is really senseless.  This is why Jesus labeled the rich man a "fool".
     Instead of looking at the abundance he had and seeing that it was God who supplied it, the man in the parable only thought to build larger barns and sit back and relax.  His treasure was in earthly things. He was not rich towards God, nor did he praise Him for all he had been given.  This is the sad part of the story for God told him that his soul would be required of him that very night, and who would get all he had accumulated?
     No one is guaranteed tomorrow.  People put off salvation. " I will commit my life to Christ next time I hear an invitation."  Or they may work endless hours building up their portfolio while neglecting their family who is starving for their attention.  The question is, what if their soul is required of them tonight and there is no tomorrow?  All that time lost on work could have been spent drawing nearer to God and to our family.  Don't misunderstand.  It is good to work and to build a steady income to care for our loved ones, but never at the expense of relationship with God first and family second.
     What made the man foolish in the parable is that he left God out of the picture.  He failed to realize that his life was in God's hands not his own.  While he was planning his comfortable life on earth, he failed to plan for eternity and store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not consume them.  Furthermore, he could have shared what God had blessed him with to help those less fortunate than himself. Yet, this man did neither.
      We all need to remember that life is more than all the toys we can gather in a lifetime.  Jesus died for our souls not our material possessions.  When we leave this earth, we can take nothing with us.  Are we preparing our souls in light of eternity?  Are we longing for heaven and meeting God face to face?  If our future does not include the Lord over all creation, than we are as much a fool as the rich man in the parable.
     David said that our lives are like the grass that is here today and withers tomorrow.  Knowing this, we must keep our hearts from coveting what our neighbor has and spend time building our relationship with God and our fellow man.  Arguing over inheritance, fighting over goods and cutting off family members because we don't get what we want is not glorifying to God.  Let us be careful to hide our treasures in heaven where they will never fade away because tomorrow is not a given for any of us.  Selah!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Ministry of Smiles

     Many years ago while my mother was living in a nursing home, I had the privilege of meeting a lady who has left a mark on my heart.  Her name was Mrs. Whitney.  She had what I call the "Ministry of Smiles" because every time I came to check on my mother this dear lady would offer a kind word and a smile.
     When I first met Mrs. Whitney, my mother's Alzheimer's had progressed to the point that she could no longer feed herself or speak.  Most of her days were spent in bed, and the 45 minute trip to see her while I was homeschooling our four children was difficult to make, but we usually came once a week to spend time with her.
      Upon entering the room, Mrs. Whitney smiled and introduced herself as my mother's new roommate.  From the moment I met her, I knew she was a wonderful Christian lady.  She quickly memorized the names of our children so she could recite them each time we came.  She also told me how she prayed for my mother each day and talked to her all the time even though she knew she could not respond. In addition, she read the Bible to her each and every day.  While my mother's body was weak, she had plenty of spiritual food to feed her soul.   What a blessing to my heart and a relief to know that God had provided an angel to watch over my mother!
       I found out later that Mrs. Whitney was an eighty year old widow.  She had suffered a stroke which took the use of her left leg and arm.  Her husband was a pastor for many years and they faithfully served the Lord together for 53 years until his death.  Despite her disability which confined her to a wheel chair and nursing home, she never missed the opportunity to praise God in spite of her circumstances nor did she miss a chance to smile.  She would always tell me that God was so good to her...more than she ever deserved.  What a testimony!
      Mrs. Whitney humbled me in heart and showed me that no matter what your age or disability we can still have an effective ministry for Christ.  She is an example of Matthew 5:13-16:  "You are the salt  of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."  Mrs. Whitney was that salt and that light in the nursing home.
     I do not know what became of her after my mother passed away, but she left an indelible mark on my heart.  She is a shining example of the "Ministry of Smiles".  We all have a ministry God has called us to.  Not everyone is called to sing in a choir, preach a sermon, teach a Sunday school class, but we can all be good neighbors, steadfast friends, and offer a shoulder to cry on.  Each one of these is a ministry given by Christ for us to fulfill.  We are to be salt and light just like Mrs. Whitney.  Lets put on our Gospel shoes today and be about our Lord's business to bring someone the joy of the Lord in this dark world of ours.  You never know whom you will bless!  Selah!

Have you had a Mrs. Whitney in your life?  Someone who has blessed you?  I welcome your sharing here as it will encourage others.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A New Perspective on Work

     My son has taken a new job as an EMT in Kentucky.  He trained for this position and loved the classes.  Now he is getting to apply what he has learned and he is enjoying it.  As we talked the other night, he said there were some aspects that didn't seem real exciting.  I told him from my long experience that it doesn't matter what you do in life there will always be parts you do not enjoy or look forward to doing.  For example, I enjoy ironing but I do not like cleaning bathrooms.  Doing laundry is a breeze but I dislike folding.  Nevertheless whether at home or in the office where I work, there are aspects to what I do that are just not fun, but they are necessary.  It was not always like this for man.
     In the Garden of Eden, God created a perfect environment for man.  He placed Adam there to tend the garden.  Genesis 2:15 reads:  "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."  God's only directive to Adam was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for if he did, he would surely die.  We know what happened when Adam and Eve ate from that tree.  Sin entered the world for they had disobeyed God.  The result?  God told Eve that she would have pain in childbirth and that her husband would rule over her.  To Adam, God said:  "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it', cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:17-19).  Sounds to me as though Adam went from the perfect environment to one which promised  harder work than before.  This was a direct consequence of sin.  However, this was not the end of the story.
     When Jesus, our perfect second Adam, came into this world, He redeemed us from the curse of the Law that we were bound too setting us free from sin and death by His sacrifice for our sins on the cross.  While we still have to work to earn a living, we can go about our daily routine as a Christian with a new heart and perspective.  We still live in this world so we cannot escape the consequences of a fallen habitation.  There is no perfect job and there are no perfect people.  Therefore, we will have our daily trials with short tempered co-workers and people who have an attitude.  Yet, as believers, we also have a chance to shine the light of Christ to those around us.
     Paul's letter to the Colossians spells out for us our attitude about work:  "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the lord you will receive an inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ" (Cols. 3:23-24).  Now this puts a different perspective on the daily activity we call work.  Two points stand out in this passage.  We are to work heartily.  That means we are to give it all we have got each day whether we are doing housecleaning or working in an office.  Secondly, we are to work as if we are working for God not men.  Yes, we answer to a boss in our jobs, but ultimately, as Christians, we are working for the Lord because this is where He has placed us to bloom.  If we are to be salt and light in a fallen world so that some will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then it stands to reason that we are in the place where God wants us to be at this time in our lives.
     As I told my son, each job is a ministry of sorts.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to a world in need wherever He plants us.  In my son's situation, he has the opportunity to be with people at a critical time in their lives when they are sick, injured or even dying.  To comfort someone during a crisis, is, indeed, a ministry.
     A smile, a prayer, a hand of friendship, a kind word, an invitation to church or a Bible study, a listening ear are all things we can offer others in our job.  All these things open the door to sharing our faith with those who need to hear some Good News.  Jesus Christ is that "Good News" and we are His ambassadors wherever we the home and outside the home.
     Jobs are not always easy and in some cases, they are more than a challenge, but God has given us work in this world and how we do it will either draw men to Christ or turn them away.  Let us give God the glory by working heartily and remembering that He is our boss.  When we do, our reward will be far more than a mere paycheck.  Selah!

The picture is courtesy of Eyone at Wikipedia Commons.

I welcome your thoughts about work and how the Lord is using you where you are at.  Blessings to you all...may you be encouraged!