Monday, April 29, 2013

Our Heritage a Firm Foundation

At the conclusion of "The Sermon on the Mount", Jesus gave a very important parable.  This is one that we need to be reminded of frequently lest the world dilute our faith with godless approaches to worship, prayer, and teaching.  In Matthew 7:24-27, we read:  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it."   Jesus minces no words in this passage.  He plainly tells us that if we live in obedience to His Word we will be able to stand in the day of trouble.  If not, our "house" will collapse.  This is good advice not only for believers but also for the church in these turbulent times.
     Our heritage, then, is the foundation laid by the Lord and taught by the Apostles.  I personally believe that in our rush to be relevant, trendy and "seeker friendly" we often miss the important anchors of our faith which are found in God's Word and summarized for us in the various catechisms of the faith (i.e. The Heidelberg Catechism, The Westminster Long and Shorter Catechisms, The Belgic Confession).  Without teaching the doctrines essential to the Christian faith, we are shortchanging our children and young people who are unfortunately slipping away from church in their later years.  We also do a disservice to adults who have come to new found faith by not discipling them so that they are grounded and able to know what they believe and why they believe it.  I have been so grateful that our church recently has started to put Catechism questions and answers (Westminster Shorter Catechism) in our church bulletin to be read responsively.  Perhaps for some in our congregation, this may be the first time they have ever heard these summaries of our faith.  If so, then I am even more encouraged because we need a firm foundation.
     In my younger years, I remember thinking that traditional worship services were stuffy.  We needed to do away with all the old formalism and find new ways to express ourselves.  To that end, we joined a fellowship whose goal it was to seek out the Lord in new ways.  No more Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, or other facets of the "old" worship services.  However, what happened was a lack of foundational teaching, accountability, and a dependence, instead, on feelings and emotions.  It became a house built on the sand for us.  When the storms of life came, the house crumbled.  Fortunately, this was not the end of the story for us because God restored us to a fellowship where we could be nurtured, healed, loved and come to worship the Lord on His terms within the safety of a solid foundation.  How many people do you know who have walked away from church because the foundation was shaky having been built on emotion and feelings rather than God's Word?  We come to church to worship Him according to His principles of worship not according to the dictates of our taste.
He is the One whose pleasure we desire, and in finding His delight, we also receive an abiding joy that does not diminish no matter what comes our way.
      During the era of the Puritans from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we find their strength was built on foundational teaching of God's Word as well as family devotions and private devotion.  The Puritans believed that the Bible should influence every area of life, and prayer was the key to remaining obedient to the Lord.   These believers greatly influenced the founding of our nation as they looked to God to direct their steps daily.  Their faith, toil, blood and tears form a heritage from which we can draw great strength.  In his book "The Valley of Vision", the editor Arthur Bennett, Cannon of St. Albans Cathedral, England, seeks to reprint some of the private prayers and devotions found in Puritan writing.  When reading these prayers and devotions, we see that what undergirds their words is a faith built solidly on the doctrines found in the Bible.  Here is an example of one such prayer:
           O Thou Giving God, My heart is drawn out in thankfulness to thee,
           for thy amazing grace and condescension to me
           in influences and assistances of thy Spirit,
           for special help in prayer,
           for the sweetness of Christian service,
           for the thoughts of arriving in heaven,
           for always sending me needful supplies,
           for raising me to new life when I am like a one dead.
        I want not the favour of man to lean upon
           for thy favour is infinitely better.
        Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations towards me;
           and it matters not when, nor where, nor how I serve thee,
           nor what trials I am exercised with,
           if I might but be prepared for thy work and will.
        No poor creature stands in need of divine grace more than I do.
        And yet none abuses it more than I have done, and still do.
        How heartless and dull I am!
        Humble me in the dust for not loving thee more.
        Every time I exercise any grace renewedly
           I am renewedly indebted to thee,
           the God of all grace, for special assistance.
        I cannot boast when I think how dependent
           I am upon thee for the being and every act of grace;
        I never do anything else but depart from thee,
           and if ever I get to heaven it will be because thou willest it, and for no reason beside.
        I love, as a feeble, afflicted, despised creature,
           to cast myself on thy infinite grace and goodness,
           hoping for no happiness but from thee;
         Give me special grace to fit me for special services,
           and keep me calm and resigned at all times,
           humble, solemn, mortified, and conformed to thy will.
     There is such a simple beauty in this prayer which comes from a heart aware of great need for God's grace.  When we know who God is, we will understand much better who we are and how we fit into the plans our Lord has for us.  It begins with the foundation which was laid by our Savior Jesus Christ. It has been handed down by the Apostles as Paul stated in I Corinthians 11:23a:  "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you...."  Also Peter tells us in his letter (2 Peter 1:12-21) keying in on verse 16,19:  "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power of coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.....And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts...."  Again, we hear  from Peter that he has passed on the eyewitness account of our Savior along with the teaching of our Lord.
     Dear Ones, we have a heritage that is rich, full and carries God's grace.  As I have grown older,
 I find such comfort in singing the Psalms, partaking of God's sacraments, participating in fellowship to worship God and spending time in prayer and study.  Through the ages, many have fought and died for the faith which has been handed down to us.  God has told us that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church".  When our fellowships are built upon the foundation laid by Jesus Christ, taught by the Apostles and passed on to faithful men, we can know that the storms may come, but our house will stand.  Feelings, emotions, fads, and worldly approaches will come and go, but they are built upon the sand.  May we never forget our heritage and may we be faithful to teach it to our children, our grandchildren and those new in the faith so they know what they believe and why they believe it.  Selah!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nothing Lasts Forever

From Sunrise to Sunset God is the same Yesterday, today
and forever.
     A couple of weeks ago, we had a celebration of three April birthdays here at our home.  I ordered a 12 inch round cake for the occasion.  Now keep in mind that we had everyone home for this special time together which means 16 in the house.  I thought a 12 inch cake would be the right size.
     After our meal on Friday evening, everyone said, "Look how much cake is left.  You must have gotten one too large."  However, by Saturday only a small piece remained.  As that last piece was eaten, I smiled because I had gotten the right size cake.  Nothing lasts forever especially a delicious chocolate cake.
     As I write this, our 12 year old basset hound is sitting at my feet.  I know that we will not have him around for many more years and that will be a sad day for me.  He has been a special part of our family.  Whether it is a cake, a pet, a dear loved one, or even a friendship, we have to remember that nothing stays the same in life.  Change is the key word, and those of us who can handle the change by leaning on the everlasting arms of God will be able to weather the upheavals of life.
      In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us where we need to focus our energy in life.  Matthew 6:19-21 reads:  "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Investing our lives in things of this earth for the sake of helping and serving others is a good thing, but when we make possessions, pets and even relationships more important than God, we have indulged in idolatry.  Because nothing lasts forever, God calls us to lay up treasures in heaven.
     Practically, speaking, we begin to lay up treasures in heaven when we spend time with God in prayer.  I know that when I spend time with God it changes me...the way I think, the way I act, and the way I see other people.  I pray for the needs in my family, for our pastors, our church, our leaders and for others who are sick and in need.  I ask the Lord for "His kingdom to come" that others may see his glory.
     Investing time in God's Word also pays us rich dividends.  No bank or series of mutual funds can offer the returns that spending time in the Bible can offer.  Looking into the Word is like beholding the Face of God for we are learning about His character, His commands and His plan for our life.  God's Word is a living source that seeks out the sin in our lives to expose it and bring us to repentance.  Our treasure in heaven grows as we devote ourselves to learning God's Word for us.
     Partaking in church worship is another area of treasure for us.  There we hear the Word of God proclaimed and enjoy the sacraments of our Lord.  In this holy convocation each week, we partake anew the manna that God offers to feed our soul, bring encouragement and help us grow.
     Finally, investing our lives in the lives of others like our family is a precious way to lay up treasures in heaven.  Teaching our children the basic truths and doctrines of the Christian faith so that they may draw near to Christ is something which neither moth nor rust or thieves can steal.  Likewise, sharing the Gospel with those outside the Christian faith also brings rewards that last for eternity.
     Do not misunderstand me.  Working hard here on earth brings us pleasure.  Enjoying the fruit of our labors is also a gift from God.  However, if we make these things the center of our lives then we are attempting to stockpile treasures here on earth.  Luther once said, "What a man loves, that is his God."  If we love work, our animals, or anything else more than we love God, we are laying up treasures in the wrong place.  Remember, nothing lasts forever be it a cake or our health.  Yet God rules and reigns forever and He will never leave nor forsake us.  This is where our treasure lies for when we are found in Him, we will also live forever with Him.  The question we need to ask ourselves each day is:  "Where am I laying up my treasures?"  Heaven is our destination if we are Christians.  Therefore, let us be prepared to meet God by spending our time in bringing Him glory.  We will not regret this investment!  Selah!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Do You Enjoy Your Daily Work?

  God has given to each one of us work to do.  The question is:  Do we enjoy the work He has called us to?  In all honesty, I hate grocery shopping.  I don't mind going to the store to get the items we need for the week, but unpacking at home is anything but fun.  I feel the same way about cleaning toilets, scrubbing out bathtubs and polishing wood floors.  It isn't fun but someone has to do it.  Still, when I finish the chores, I do enjoy sitting back knowing that my home is clean.
          Working four days a week at my husband's office can also be a challenge for me.  Hearing the alarm at 5:51 in the morning is not a sound I look forward to, but I know that God has called me to walk alongside my spouse and demonstrate the love of Christ to all I meet.  It is what God has ordained for me at this time.  In fact, the Bible has something to say about enjoying our work whether in the home or outside of it.
           Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 tells us about our toil:  "What gain has the worker from his toil?  I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that He cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil -this is God's gift to man."  What a new way of looking at work!  We are to be joyful and take pleasure in what we do because God has given our work to us as a gift.
           When it comes to fleshing this out, I still do not see great enjoyment in cleaning toilets, but I do feel satisfaction when the bathroom is clean.  After cooking a good meal, I have the pleasure of consuming it.  There are always positives to the work that we do if we will look at it from God's perspective.  This passage makes us aware that we do not always understand God's purposes or plans for us, but we know this:  "He has made all things beautiful in its time."  He wants us to bloom where He has planted us for His glory.
            All of us would like to think that we know what tomorrow will bring, but as the writer of Ecclesiastes says:  "Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  There are many mysteries in life.  We don't always know why God has us doing the work we are currently involved in whether at home or outside the home.  Yet, we know this.  He holds our future in His hands.  He wants us to be content where He has us at this time whether it is flipping burgers at Mcdonald's or cleaning toilets at home.  After all, God's perspective on work is that it is a gift to us so that we may enjoy the fruit of our labors.
           I remember well how happy my father was to be a farmer.  He and I would often talk about his chosen profession.  He started to attend college and did very well at it with the goal of becoming an attorney like his father.  However, he left it behind not because it was too difficult for him but because he loved plowing a field and watching a crop come in.  This brought him joy and he felt closest to God when he worked on the farm.  This is what I believe the message of this passage points out.
           As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says in question one:  "What is the chief end of man?  Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (I Cor. 10:31, Psalm 73:24-26)."  Therefore, let us bring God the glory with a good attitude, a heart filled with joy and the satisfaction in a job well done at our work place, in our home or wherever God has called us to serve Him.  When we rejoice in the gift of work, we will do a better job as well as honor the Lord who gave us the work  to do.  Selah!

Pictures courtesy of Wiki Commons GeorgHH and Chuck Marean are the photographers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Calvin’s Liturgy

     This was such a good article posted to The Aquila Report and I had to pass along the link.  This deals with Calvin's thoughts on liturgy and is part of a book written by a Reformed Baptist pastor.  I hope it will be a blessing to you as you read the article and approach The Lord's Day tomorrow.

Calvin’s Liturgy

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learning to Live with Others

A flower at Highlands Hammock
   Many years ago, my husband and I had a dog and cat living in our household.  The cat stayed outside most of the time but occasionally he came in to be pampered and receive his share of love.  Our female Dalmatian, Duchess, tolerated the situation very well for a dog.  As a matter of fact, they often napped together on our couch in the family room.  How funny to see this as they lay side by side!  No one could believe this could be possible.  I even took pictures of it to prove they co-existed peacefully.
     As believers in Jesus Christ, we are supposed to get along with those who are different too...especially those who are also in the household of faith.  It is so easy to be critical of someone who is different or who worships in a different manner than we do.  However, God has made each of us unique.  We are not clones of one another, because God made us each to function in various ways to complete the Body of Christ.  We are "adopted" by God into His family as Christians, and He wants His children to get along.  This applies in our homes, our churches and in our businesses as well.
     In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote this admonition (Romans 10:10-13):  "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.  For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
     Then, in another letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote these words (Ephesians 4:2):  "Be always humble, gentle, and patient.  Show your love by being tolerant with one another."  This is such an important instruction that I think people overlook today.  If a dog and cat can peacefully co-exist, we also ought to remember that lesson and for the love of Christ, we should love others who are different than we are.
     God did not give us the right to judge others.  He has given us the ability to look at the fruit of someone's life, but even then, God wants us to do so with patience, humility and gentleness.  Furthermore, we need to remember that our Creator chose us before we ever loved Him.  We were not comely at the time but wore the filthy rags of sin.  As He called us to Himself, we awoke from the death sleep of sin to new life in Christ and thus, began our sanctification which is an ongoing process.  Perhaps that person that seems so different or who irritates us is just a babe newly awakened to life in Christ.  They need time to grow.  With instruction and tolerance, we might be a tool in the hand of God to help them deepen their walk with Christ if we do not bruise the fruit of righteousness in their life with
a harsh word.
     Today, as a prayer focus, think of someone whom you work with, or attend church with.  Make them the focus of your prayers and ask the Lord to keep them on the path He has intended for them to walk.  Ask Him to open your eyes to their unique skills and abilities.  Let us remember that God is glorified most when we demonstrate His love for one another.  We may not always agree on things, but we can still focus on the one thing that is most important for life and eternity - Jesus Christ.  Selah!

Please note:  both flowers are found at Highlands Hammock State Park and both are unique in their beauty.  I want to thank Cathy Hardesty, a family friend, for the beautiful pictures she has allowed me to use from her album "Highlands Hammock".

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Time to Laugh and a Time to Cry

     When it comes to my family and even my fur friends, I am a big softie at heart.
Nathan and Beau
 Beginning Friday, we welcomed our son Nathan home from Kentucky for a visit, our son Aaron and his family, our daughter Jordan and her family as well as Reid and his family.  In all, we had 16 wonderful souls under our roof.  It was noisy, busy, and exhausting at times but worth every minute.
     Nathan's visit was prompted by his promise to come and get his dog Beau which he left with us back in September last year when his landlord informed him he could not have a dog in the house he was renting.  Being tender hearted towards animals, I volunteered to take Beau in until April when Nathan would be moving to a house where he could have a pet.  Little did my husband and I know that Beau, who is half Siberian Husky and half Golden Retriever, would be such a hand full.  He single-handedly destroyed the screening on our porch and a few windows, chewed up numerous pairs of shoes, annihilated three throw rugs, put gouges in our wood floor by dropping his bones on the floor (as versus the carpet where he usually lays) and even chewed on a pair of my glasses.  He even brought me to tears at one point when he chewed up some new socks I had just gotten.  Nevertheless, we did all we could to tame the pup by taking him on walks and bribing him with treats.
     As promised Nathan returned this weekend to reclaim his dog and visit with family.  The sounds of babies giggling, children playing and adult conversation is always a welcome change in our daily routine.  We celebrated three birthdays as well, and then, by Saturday evening, everyone started to pack up and return home.  Nathan did not go until Sunday morning.
     Watching him strap Beau in the cab of his truck seat and climb in to return home, brought a lump to
Aunt Bonnie reading to the cousins and Uncle C.J. playing with the
my throat.  I fought the urge to cry then because we were headed to our daughter's home to witness the baptism of our granddaughter at church yesterday morning.  Upon our return, however, I was overcome by how silent and empty our house seemed to be.  Beau was not there to greet us with his wild barking and crazy antics.  Even our old basset hound Roscoe seemed to mope around more than usual because his playmate was gone.  Suddenly the tears I had been holding back began to fall one by one, and the words of a long ago song filled my mind:  "There are watercolor ponies / On my refrigerator door/ And the shape of something/ I don't really recognize/ Drawn by careful little fingers/ And put proudly on display/ A reminder to us all/ Of how time flies. / Seems an endless mound of laundry/ And a stairway laced with toys/ Gives a blow by blow/ Reminder of the war/ That we fight for their well-being/ For their greater understanding/ To impart a holy reverence/ For the Lord. (chorus) But, baby, what will we do/ When it comes back to me and you?/ They look a little less/ Like little boys every day/ Oh, the pleasure of watching/ The children growing/ Is mixed with a bitter cup/ Of knowing the watercolor ponies/ Will one day ride away" (Wayne Watson, Watercolour Ponies).
     Time has a way of slipping away from us all too quickly, and I believe God wants us to use it according to His good pleasure and will.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 says:  For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven."  The passage goes on to list the various times in our life, but the point of the scripture is to show the sovereignty of God who holds all things in His hands (Psalm 31:15).  He knows our beginning and our end as well as all the in between.  We should take comfort in knowing this.
Our daughter Jordan with her son Gavin and Rilyn in the baptism gown Jordan wore at her baptism
 Today, the Lord knew I would be happy on the inside having just enjoyed the fellowship of my family but at the same time, sad that once again the house is quiet.  And yes, I even miss the rascal dog Beau.  People and animals come and go in our lives.  What is most important is how we interact with them while we have the opportunity.  Do we show them godly love and point them to Christ?  Certainly, that was the goal of our parenting and home education.  Even now, we are here to serve as encouragers and cheerleaders for our children, their spouses and our grandchildren.  This brings glory to God and prayerfully helps them weather the mountains of laundry, the bills, the times when they cannot think in a complete sentence because little ones are calling for their help.  We have been there and done that.   We are seasoned stable hands for those "water color ponies" and have much to offer those who have little ones in their home.
     Being a parent is not an easy task but it is one of God's greatest gifts.  Those hard times are now sweet memories, and we look with joy on what the Lord is doing in the lives of our children and grandchildren.  God wants us to use our time wisely and to remember that He has numbered our days on this earth.  Therefore, we need to invest ourselves in the relationships He gives to us that we might glorify God and enjoy Him and the gifts He gives forever.  Selah!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Outside the Camp

A beautiful hawk at Highlands Hammock
 Recently, a very dear friend of our family and I engaged in conversation over an important issue - namely the definition of marriage.  We came at our discussion from two differing perspectives.  She held that society has changed and it is time for the laws to change as well.  God, after all, need not be considered when we make laws in this country since we have separation of church and state and Christianity is no longer the only religion in our nation. I, on the other hand, presented the biblical perspective that God created man and woman establishing marriage between them as the norm for society.  No matter what man may say, do, or legislate, God's Law and moral code remains the truth whether we accept it or not.  Further, I explained that the country whose foundation does not rest on God's moral code is adrift and will face judgment.  This was a difficult discussion for me to have not because I did not believe every word I had  spoken but because I could see the chasm which separated our belief systems.  Loving someone and yet realizing there is a gulf between you which only Christ can remedy can leave us feeling lonely.
     After our conversation, I opened the Bible to Hebrews 13:12-15 and read:  "So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood.  Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name."  It became clear to me that our Lord, who bore our sins, suffered alone outside the gates of Jerusalem.  Just as in the Day of Atonement the scape goat was taken outside the camp to carry away the sins of the people, so Jesus also took our sins and paid for them with His own life.  Furthermore, being outside the gate, represented the rejection of our Savior by the Jewish religious establishment of the day.  Then, it became clear to me.  For those of us who identify our lives as hidden in Christ, we also are called to live outside the gates.  We also will bear "the reproach He endured".  We are to be witness bearers of the truth and this is not a popular position.
     As believers, we are called to go outside the camp for our sanctification as Jesus prayed in John 17:14-15:  "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.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one."  Then,  Jesus asks the Father to "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."  While we walk in this world, we are not to be gobbled up by the system of thought and world views which soar around us like birds of prey.  Rather we are to be conformed to Christ in our thought lives.  Romans 12:2 reads:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of
your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  We are to be different, and often, that is a lonely walk.
     Charles Spurgeon wrote these comforting words:  "You cannot grow in grace to any high degree while you are conformed to the world.  The life of separation may be a path of sorrow, but it is the highway of safety; and though the separated life may be painful and make every day a battle, yet it is a happy life after all....The crown of glory follows the cross of separation." (Charles Spurgeon, "Truth for Life Daily Devotion").  We are called to be in the world but not of this world.  Being witnesses to the truth flies in the face of popular trends and the latest ideas, but if we remain faithful, we will reap the blessings of obedience.
     I pray that I planted a few seeds as I talked with my friend.  I know in my heart that I remained true to my heavenly Father by standing for His moral Laws which govern our world.  In fact, we are all commanded to do just this.  We are to love the sinner but hate the sin.  As our society moves further and further away from the foundations and morality which God has established in the Bible, it will be more lonely to stand for truth but remember,  "the crown of glory follows the cross of separation".  Let us be bold in standing against the sins which are sweeping across our nation just now whether in consideration of marriage or any other area.  We can do no less than to go "outside the camp" to be with our Lord.  Selah!

The beautiful photography is courtesy of Cathy Hardesty a family friend and excellent photographer.  The pictures were taken at Highlands Hammock State Park.  Thank you Cathy!

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Review of an "Unlikely" Read

 Recently, I just finished reading an excellent and very thought provoking book by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield entitled "The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert".  A friend had given me  a copy of this book to read and at first glance, it looked interesting but not immediately compelling until I opened to the first chapter.
     Dr. Butterfield was a tenured professor of women's studies at Syracuse University specializing in "Queer Theory".  She was in a committed lesbian relationship and she and her partner owned two homes which they frequently opened to the Gay community for gatherings.  Her unlikely conversion to the Christian faith is not just another testimony.  Instead, she described it as a "train wreck" because it meant giving up all she had come to know in her life.
     Being a tenured professor of English and serving in a field that she cared deeply about, Rosaria had the good life.  She entertained students and activists who wanted to change the world.  Her life was rolling along quite smoothly until she wrote an editorial piece for a local newspaper about the "Promise Keepers" and their gender bias.  Naturally, she received many letters in response to her article both good and bad.  However, one stood out for her.  It was written by a local Reformed Presbyterian Church pastor.  She wanted to dispose of this letter but she could never bring herself to do so.
     Since she was beginning to research material for a book criticizing the "religious right", she thought she might get some insight by talking with this pastor.  After all, he had raised some interesting points in his letter to her and sounded like someone she could use in her book.  Her view of Christians up to this point was negative.  She writes:  "Christians always seemed like bad thinkers to me.  It seemed that they could maintain their worldview only because they were sheltered from the world's real problems, like the material structures of poverty and violence and racism.  Christians always seemed like bad readers to me, too."  How interesting, then, to see what happens in her encounter with Rev. Ken Smith and his wife Floy who invited Rosaria into their home for dinner and conversation.
     Dr. Butterfield's conversion was not instantaneous but came in a slow but steady awakening as God worked in her heart.  She visited this church despite her very different appearance and began voraciously reading the Bible.  It was all in the name of research, but the Word of God does not return void and it began to work inside her heart.  For her, it meant giving up everything she had ever known to follow Christ and reading about the journey was at once refreshing and eye opening for me.
     There are several reasons why I would highly recommend reading this book.  First, it is a very honest and well written piece.  Dr. Butterfield is a consummate writer as an English professor, but more importantly, she opened my eyes to how the Gay community looks at Christians and how, unfortunately, Christians have failed to reach out in love to those caught up in this lifestyle.  We have a lot to learn from Pastor Ken Smith and his wife who saw Rosaria as a person not as a "blank slate".  They did not push her or cajole her but instead, offered her friendship and hospitality.
     Secondly, this book shows that conversion can be a messy process as a life turns around 180 degrees.  In Rosaria's case, it shattered her career, her network of friends, and her reputation among those she cared about.  It was chaotic at best and lonely.  Too often, people look at conversion through rose colored glasses making it sound idyllic.  For her, it was costly.
     Third, the book deals with sexual sin and gender politics in a sophisticated and fascinating way.  There are no trite answers given here.  Dr. Butterfield makes it clear the sexual dysfunction in society is a symptom of much deeper problems as is consistent with Romans chapter 1.
     Finally, this autobiography serves up reflections on the nature of life, faith, sexuality, worship, education and other matters.  Dr. Butterfield is now married to a pastor and together they have adopted
four children whom they are homeschooling.  No one could ever have predicted this outcome in her life, but the story is an honest evaluation of how God drew her to Himself.
     Once I began reading this book, I could not put it down.  I was encouraged and stimulated in my thinking.  There is also an excellent interview with Rosaria Butterfield done at Patrick Henry University on YouTube by Dr. Marvin Olasky.  The link to follow is: .
     As we think about sharing our faith, we need to consider the great role that hospitality played in bringing this person to an encounter with Christ.  I encourage you to get a copy of this book and read it as it will be a blessing.  May we become more sensitive to the people around us and the opportunities we have to touch their lives.  Selah!

Pictures taken at Highlands Hammock State Park courtesy of Cathy Hardesty.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When God Has Other Plans

 There have been many occasions in my life when I have had definite plans, expectations and goals.  However, God had other ideas for me, and some of those things went by the wayside.  At times, it was painful to face the fact that God didn’t choose to do things my way, but eventually, I saw His perfect wisdom displayed in the out workings of my life.  He used both the good and bad times to build in me a deeper walk with Him.

     I was reminded of this when I spoke with a friend several days ago who told me about her daughter who had an ordinarily fatal disease when she was born.  The doctors told her that her little girl would probably only live to be seventeen years old.  However, she had an abiding faith in God.  No, things were not easy, but today this little girl has grown to be 35 years old with two children of her own.  She beat all the odds and the doctors were amazed.  This friend attributed this miraculous life to God’s complete sovereignty over things.  I was encouraged by her story and always amazed at what the Lord does in our lives.

     Many of you reading this are polio survivors as I am.  We were told we probably wouldn’t live or ever walk again.  Yet, we are here for God’s glory and His purpose.  I am so glad that my own parents never gave up on me or on the hope that I would survive.  They believed that God had other plans for me.

     Life is never simple or easy to understand.  Many things take place that hurt, are unjust or even mysterious.  Nevertheless, God is still the ruler of all things, and each day, He unwraps a new portion of the gift of life for us so we might better marvel at His power and glory.  His purpose and ways are often hard for us to see or understand, but His direction for us is sure as found in His Word.  Read Titus 2:11-14:  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.”

     Through the circumstances of our lives, God is perfecting His people and teaching us to trust in Him with heart, soul and mind.  As Rick Warren says in his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life”, “It is not about you…it is all about God.”  We can further conclude that it isn’t about OUR plans…it IS about His story and the role He has for us.  I confess that at times I do not understand the things that have come my way, but I know that all which has come has passed first through the Heavenly Father’s Hands before it has come to me.

     No matter what things happen to us today, we need to remember that God’s plan is perfect.  His judgments are just.  He is all knowing, all loving, and He sees the big picture.  He calls upon us to live in a trust relationship with Him day to day so that fear has no place in our lives.  May we strive to glorify Him even when He has other plans that do not match up with ours!  Selah!

Has God ever changed your plans in some way through sickness, trial or circumstance?  If so, how did you find God's purpose in it?  I would love for you to share.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Be Careful What You Read

 Yesterday in the mail, we received a catalog of current Christian books for sale.  I looked through the magazine today to see what was new.  It is amazing to see the large variety of topics, age categories and genres represented.  In addition, many of these tomes can be downloaded onto a Kindle, Nook or some other device to be enjoyed.  The Christian book market seems to be growing day by day, but how do we know what books are good for us to chew on and which are not?
     According to I John 4:1, the Apostle tells us:  "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."  John's call here is for us to test the words that others speak or write.  The term prophet here refers to an instructor or preacher.  I would add writer to this as well.  We all must be discerning about what we soak up into our minds.
     In an explanation of this verse, "Barnes' Notes on the Bible" says:  "If they taught (meaning the current teacher) what God had taught in His Word, and if their lives corresponded to His requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who admitted to be true apostles, they were to receive them as what they professed to be.  If not, they were to reject them as impostors.  It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then."  This insight is important for us to remember.  Information, today, travels at the speed of light and there are so many voices crying out for our attention and some of them sound so enticing.  Oprah would be one of those voices that appeals to many people.  With her many interviews, book offerings, and spiritual Sunday programs, she has amassed a large following, but do her ideas line up with the Bible?
     Remember what "Barnes' Notes on the Bible" said about staying close to the teaching of the true apostles?  I John 4:6 reads:  "We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error."  John was writing as a true apostle of Christ who witnessed His life, death and resurrection.  What he and others saw are written down for us in the Bible.  This is our foundation for truth and sound doctrine.  If a teacher, preacher or writer departs from sound biblical doctrine, they are to be rejected.  Our ultimate source for truth and teaching must be God's Word in its entirety.
     Along with many others, I enjoy reading a wide range of books, and I listen to a fair number of teachers who expound God's Word, but I also try to listen as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).  They tested all that they heard by examining the Scriptures to see if what was being said lined up God's Word.  This may seem to some to be overly cautious; yet it is far better to be prepared so we will not be deceived.
     Unfortunately, today, I hear of people who are enthralled by a new book and instantly, a Bible study grows up around it.  However, we have to remember that only the scripture is God breathed and profitable for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.  All other books are the thoughts of man, and as long as we keep the right perspective and continue to compare the teaching presented to
God's Word, we will be less likely to go astray.
     My prayer for us all is that we would become good investigators always examining what is being taught, written or preached.  After all, we are imperfect but God has left us with one true book that details all we need for life and godliness.  In its pages we will find life, joy, hope and wisdom.  Other books are good for entertainment and furthering our understanding when they are built upon biblical truth, but they will never replace the Bible as our rule of faith.  Let us proceed into this information world of ours with due caution as the Apostle John has warned us.  Then, we will not be led astray by those who "preach another gospel".  Selah!

Monday, April 1, 2013

In the Afterglow of Easter

     This past week has been especially poignant for me, and perhaps more so because I am singing with
Branson walking on his own
the choir.  Whenever we are involved in a ministry of any type, the experience of worship deepens because we are giving ourselves away to encourage others in their faith.  This was especially true on Saturday when we visited an assisted living facility here in our community.  There were only eight or so of us including our choir director and a violinist.  We went to sing hymns of the faith for these dear people who do not often get out.  Our program lasted about half an hour or so, but I wish I could have captured the looks on the faces of those in the audience.  Many of them smiled, some clapped, and a few sang along with us.  What many do not realize is that even those with dementia can often recall the old hymns they grew up singing better than they can remember what they did five minutes ago.  In fact, we really do not know what they can and cannot remember as science hasn't been able to unlock all the secrets of the mind.
     Following our presentation, a few of us took time to go around and greet all of the wonderful residents who had come to hear us sing.  Many of them asked us to come back and tell others to come as well.  I came to bless them but they blessed me far more.  In fact, one lady shared a story with me that is worth telling.  She had worked with mentally challenged people for some time.  Many of these men she assisted could not speak or perhaps could only say a word or two.  She sang with a group that often shared hymns with these men.  One day, one of the men came up to her and motioned for the microphone.  He had not spoken at all, but she gave him the mic.  He and three other men she had been working with got up and sang from start to finish the song "He Lives".  They did not miss a note or a word and yet these men had not spoken.  She said it was something like a miracle.  This is why I say we do not know anyone's capability and often, we underestimate what God can do that we cannot.
     As I reflect on this Saturday of blessing before Easter,  I was touched with unspeakable joy when I saw of picture on Facebook of our first grandchild who is now able to walk on his own.  Why is this surprising?  He is a special needs child with a rare brain anomaly.  Doctors don't really know all he will be capable of doing.  However, as a family, we see him as a special, priceless gift of God.  He is a gift that we unwrap a little more each day.  His laughter, his few words he can speak, his playfulness with us and his brothers are all a blessing from God.  His parents and therapists have worked long and hard to help him reach this moment of achievement, and in his face, it was evident that he was happy that he could move around on his own.  If this isn't Easter what is?
     Jesus rose from the grave on Easter not only to set us free from the bondage of sin and death, but also, to make us Easter people.  A people that will go out and proclaim the Good News of our Savior to everyone we meet.  We are His hands and feet to people in assisted living facilities, to the handicapped, to the orphan and to those in need in our community.  James 1:27 says it well:  "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  'to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."  That is a tall order isn't it?  Especially the portion of the verse that tells us to keep ourselves unstained from the world.
     In Matthew 25 :31-46, Jesus tells the story of the day of judgment when the sheep and the goats will be separated.  Verse 40 gives a clear picture of the results of Christian conduct (I encourage you to read this whole passage):  "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"  Each time we give ourselves away to bless others with no thought of reward, we are serving Christ and acting as His hands and feet.  God sees the intent of our hearts and our true motives in all we think, say and do.  Therefore, our challenge is to live out Easter all the time.
     Carrying songs to the assisted living facility did not take much time, but it brought much joy.  Likewise, I cannot thank enough all those who have spent countless hours helping our Branson to reach this time in his life when he can walk.  It is a process we take for granted.  Perhaps, we can be that special person, who in love, can touch a life, hold someones hand when they are down, pray with another, or most importantly, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For me, Easter was richer this year than ever before.  More than ever, I want to carry on that victory message we received yesterday.  He has overcome the world and sends us out in His power to do the same!  May we be Easter people every day throughout the year!  Selah!