Friday, August 30, 2013

Forever Friends - An Eternal Connection

Time never changes a Christian friendship
 Glenn and I have been Christians for 42 years now.  Our journey began, in earnest, on the campus of The Ohio State University where we had an appointment with God through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.  Three months later, we were married.  Not only has this been an adventure in growing in the Lord, but along the way, we have made forever friends.  Though we are miles apart and years removed from daily contact, we are not at all strangers because we share a common bond - the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
     With the advent of Facebook, I eagerly signed up to keep in touch with our children and be able to see pictures of our grandchildren.  The bonus has come with the ability to connect with high school friends, find out what is happening in my home town, connect with family I have not seen in a while and once again, to fellowship long distance with those we met in various churches whom we have not seen for a long time.  I am amazed that neither time nor distance has diminished our friendship in any way.  Instead, we can encourage one another in the ministries and places where God has led us to be.  I see Facebook as a place to encourage others, share our faith, and pray for one another.  However, at the time when God moved us away from so many of our friends, family and church fellowship, I wondered why Lord?
     In the Book of Acts, the Apostle Peter boldly proclaimed the Gospel to the assembled Jews who had come from other countries to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2).  As a result of his emboldened preaching, 3,000 were added to the church that day.  Those people were to return home changed by the message of salvation they heard.  In turn, they shared their faith.  Then, when Saul of Tarsus began to persecute believers in Jerusalem (Acts 8), many more were scattered.  We read in chapter 8:4:  "Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word."  Among those who left Jerusalem was Phillip who went into Samaria and shared God's Gospel message there.  From there, the Lord led him to Gaza to share the Good News with an Ethopian Eunich.  This man, also, came to the knowledge of his Savior and Lord.
     Of course, we are all familiar with what happened to Saul of Tarsus.  He met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a mighty encounter with Jesus Christ which turned his life upside down.  This life changing event would lead Paul to become a missionary to the Gentile world and his travels are recorded throughout the book of Acts.
     All of this has been stated to point to one conclusion:  God's plans for our lives may lead us in many different directions but the bond of the Holy Spirit which we share in Christ is eternal.  Therefore, we are what I call "Forever Friends in Christ".  Time, distance, location cannot separate us from the love of Christ nor can it separate us from loving one another in Him.
     I have a dear friend whose family moved away many years ago.  However, we are still in touch and pray for one another.  God is using her mightily in her community as she serves the Lord.  She is a writer, photographer and a blessing.  A couple we met in our church in Ohio now live in Colorado ministering before the Lord and blessing the lives of others as he conducts funeral services and comforts families there.  Our music director and his wife from our church in Ohio now live in another state where he continues to lift the Lord  through music.  The list goes on and on.
     God's purposes are not always known to us and we grieve when a friend moves away.  However, I can say from experience and recent contact with these friends that nothing has changed.  God scattered them for His glory to take His Word to other areas of the world and nation.  Nevertheless, our eternal bond in Christ is the same and we pick up where we left off each time we connect.  Genuine faith in Jesus Christ rises above all obstacles, and one day, we will all be reunited again in heaven before the Face of God.  What a great reunion we will share there!
     Social media often gets a bad rap for being a place to share trivial information.  However, I have found it a place to minister the Gospel, encourage my Christian friends whom I have been able to connect with again and to meet new Christian friends from around the nation and world whom I share common values with that we may glorify the Lord together.
     Perhaps you have had to move away from friends and family as I did.  Or maybe some of your closest Christian friends have moved away.  Take heart.  Remember the Scripture is filled with God relocating His children that others might be reached with the message of the Gospel.  Likewise, do not fear that your friends will forget you.  We are forever friends when Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives and nothing will ever change that.  Be comforted in knowing this!  Selah!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Glitz and Glamor or Quiet and faithful?

     Unless you have been out of the country for a few weeks or do not own a television, it would be hard to miss the news concerning the performance of Miley Cyrus on a music awards program.  Her dance can only be described as lurid and vulgar representing the same kind of lustful moves of a sensual Salome as she performed before Herod Antipas (Mark 6:21-26) which culminated in the execution of John the Baptist.   
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC
     Not only does this type of performance demean women and make them into sexual objects, but it also defiles the beauty of the sexual act designed for the marriage bed alone.  How did we come to this type of inappropriate public display of hedonism?  What took a young woman from Hannah Montana at Disney that drew in so many young children to a person who would shamelessly act out on stage?
     Part of the problem is the lure of fame.  Power, popularity, performance, and money have a magnetic attraction which is hard to resist in our sin nature.  We want to be the best, the top in any field of endeavor.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve success.  However, if our motives are wrong, we displace God for the idol of our ambitions.  It all "started in the Garden" as my husband is so fond of saying.
     When Satan came to Eve in the Garden, he did not ask her to rebel against God openly.  Instead,   he merely made suggestions which appealed to her senses and experience.  Of course she objected at first saying that she and Adam were forbidden to eat or they would die.  However, Satan told her with certainty that she would not die but be like God in knowledge.  Now the bait was set.  Who would not want to be like God?  Don't we all want to run our own ship, make our mark, rule our own little kingdom?  This is exactly what the sin nature does, and advertisers and programmers know very well how we respond to the lure of having more and more things.  We want the new car, the big home, the glamor and the glitz and we want to be able to sing at the end of our life as Frank Sinatra did, "I did it my way".  What we fail to comprehend is that all that glitters in this world will one day turn to dust.  There is no happiness in having material success if we do not have inner peace and fulfillment which is found only in Jesus Christ.
     Paul, the Apostle, wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians how we should live as believers in contrast to the picture which the world paints of success.  I Thessalonians 4:1-8,10b-12  reads:  "Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you.....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."
     As we think about this passage, it should become obvious how this type of lifestyle lives in stark contrast to the glitz and glamor that the world touts as the ultimate experience.  Living a quiet life and honoring God both in our bodies and our conduct brings eternal rewards that are not destroyed by moth or rust.  Jesus calls it "laying up treasures in heaven."  
     This world cannot offer us the joy which Christ alone can give us.  When I see a Miley Cyrus acting out on stage, I pray for her that her eyes will be opened.  There are many like her who are caught up in themselves bound by the chains of sin and the lust of this world.  However, we are given clear guidance from the Bible on how we are to live.  Let us walk closely to the Lord so we, as believers, don't get caught up in the performance mentality of this world and let us humbly pray for those who are caught up in this mindset that God will open their eyes.  May we be instruments in leading others to the throne of grace so they can learn their true worth in Christ.  Selah!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Hard Look at Relevance

 Typically, I do not write book reviews, but I recently read an outstanding, short tome by Os Guinness entitled "Prophetic Untimeliness:  A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance."  This brief 119 page book written in 2003 and published by Baker Books is still available and a worthwhile read for all who love the church.
     For those unacquainted with Os Guinness, he has received his doctorate in sociology from Oxford University in England.  He is the author of numerous books on the culture and the church as well as being a well-known speaker.  He has also written a dead-on critique of the church growth/seeker sensitive movement in his book "Dining with the Devil".  In his own words, he says that he has "interpreted the world for the church and the church for the world."  He is an intellectual for the cause of Christ not unlike William Wilberforce.
     In his book "Prophetic Untimeliness", Os Guinness explores the question, "How on earth have we Christians become so irrelevant when we have tried so hard to be relevant?.....Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant" (pgs. 11,12).  After asking this question, he goes on to explain relevance as "the quality of relating to a matter in hand with pertinence and appropriateness" (pg. 12).  He argues that relevance is at the heart of the Gospel.  There is no message more relevant than sin and salvation.  However, the evangelical church has sought relevance in many other ways instead of focussing on faithfulness to the message of God's Word.  This is where the modern church today is missing out.  We live in a time of the megachurch where methods of growth triumph over the message, and unfortunately, the church is losing its saltiness in our world.
     On page 15, Os Guinness states his thesis:  "By our uncritical pursuit of relevance, we have actually courted irrelevance; by our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful, but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance.  Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant."  With this grand theme to guide us, he breaks his book into three sections.
     In his first section, he explores our obsession with time and being timely.  The watch we wear or the clock on the wall seem to become "the tool that turned into a tyrant" (pg. 25) shaping our lives and our thinking to become more precise, coordinated and pressurized.  The author goes on to say that with our emphasis on time we tend to look at contemporary things as better than things from the past.  We regard the future as even better than the present.  What he ultimately means is that the newest ideas and trends are better than the old traditions.  Here Guinness makes a good case that true progress does not come from accommodating the culture, but through resisting the culture as C.S. Lewis was often known to say.  In our rush for relevance, we often forfeit wisdom and fail to learn from our past.  Somehow, we think being progressive is far better than being traditional.  As we discard our past, we become prey to the passing fads of culture and become unfit to face the future with faithfulness.
     Part two of his book deals with relevance and he outlines four steps to irrelevance:  Assumption, Abandonment, Adaptation and Assimilation.  He states that the faith-world of great believers John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Hudson Taylor, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers and John Stott are fast disappearing.  He writes:  "In its place a new evangelicalism is arriving in which therapeutic self-concern overshadows knowing God, spirituality displaces theology, end-times escapism crowds out day-to-day discipleship, marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls outweigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfulness, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and the characteristic evangelical passion for missionary enterprise is overpowered by the all-consuming drive to sustain the multiple business empires of the booming evangelical subculture.  Many evangelicals are blind to the sea change because they know only the present and have little sense of history, even their own" (pg. 54).  Powerful words that should awaken us to what is happening in the quest for relevance in our modern time.  Evangelicals have lost the most relevant message we have and instead, bowed down to popularity, conformity to culture and being fashionable.
     Finally, in his third section, Os Guinness calls for a people who will stand for the Gospel message and its relevance rather than bowing to what the culture calls relevant.  It is costly, but God has called us out to be a peculiar people in the world but not of the world.  The author tells us that we need to stop worrying about what others think of us and the legacy we will leave.  Guinness warns us:  "Signs are that, unless some drastic rethinking takes place soon, the corruptions in evangelicalism will worsen and show through in theology, not just in practice.  Evangelicals have followed the broader cultural shift from 'religion to spirituality' and in the process have become 'do-it-yourself' in their preferences rather than living under authority; they are increasingly syncretistic rather than exclusive and discriminating" (pg. 98).  To remedy this, the author calls for radical obedience and faithfulness to the message of the Gospel if we truly want to be relevant.  We have the answers for which the world hungers.
     In summary, I cannot recommend this book enough.  It will challenge the thinking of anyone who desires to see the church recapture its relevance through faithfulness to the message we have.  Preaching the truth of God's Word is far more important than trying to be trendy to draw people in.  All too often we let the tail wag the dog by allowing the world to shape the church instead of the church shaping the world.  Let us be a people who will tear down the idol of relevance wherever we see it and speak the truth in love no matter what the cost.  This is our call to prophetic untimeliness for God's glory.  Selah!

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Should I Say?

The old cemetery behind The Church of the Holy Rood in
Stirling, Scotland
     One of the most difficult situations we can ever be in is going to a funeral home or funeral service and facing the family.  What are the right words to say at such a time as this?  Having been through many funerals of family members over the years, I think I can safely say that no one can really say anything wrong.  Just by being present, we can bring a blessing to those who have experienced loss.
     There are so many difficult situations in life where we feel so inadequate to say something to someone.  So, quite often, we say absolutely nothing.  However, the Lord wants us to be ready "in season and out of season" to speak for Him words of comfort and words of truth.
     Jeremiah 1:4-9 gives us a picture of God's provision for what to say:  "Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:  'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.'  Then said I:  'Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak for I am a youth.'  But the Lord said to me:  'Do not say, I am a youth, for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,' says the Lord.  Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:  'Behold I have put My words in your mouth.'"
     Powerful scripture isn't it?  God put the words into the mouth of Jeremiah and told him not to worry about being too young to go in His name.  What does this mean for us?
     Quite simply, we don't have to worry about being too old, too young, too eloquent.  All we have to do is be obedient.  After all, the Lord told Jeremiah that He would fill his mouth with the right words to say.
     We know that Moses struggled with the excuse of not being a good speaker.  So God provided a mouthpiece for him in his brother Aaron.  Later, we see Moses actually speaking to the people himself.
     Jesus also promised us that we didn't need to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit would speak through us if we would just open our mouths in faith (Matthew 10:19).  Just witness Peter speaking to the crowds at Pentecost.  Everyone marveled that he could speak so convincingly since he was merely a fisherman and not well educated.
     Therefore, we need not be concerned about what to say in difficult circumstances.  Our Lord knows what we need to say so we need to wait upon Him.  The greatest fault is not in speaking the wrong thing as much as not speaking at all.  We have words of comfort we can offer others and words of encouragement that they need to hear.  Lets open our mouths in faith to share God's grace with those around us.  Selah!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It Starts in the Heart

     For the last several days, a cream colored cat has hung around our office building.  Someone had put  food out for this feline on the sidewalk leading to our door.  Twice we found the food there which we had to move.  No one in the surrounding businesses knew whose cat this was, but she looked scraped up.  Then, today, the cat came to our front door of the office and cried and cried.  The food was no longer next to our building and she was hungry.  Our hearts were broken for this animal that someone had apparently dumped in the woods behind our business.
     We called around to see if we could get help.  Borrowing a cat carrier from a local vet's office, we tried to lure the cat into the carrier.  Lo and behold, the cat was friendly and immediately ran into the carrier confirming our suspicions that she had been someone's pet that had been discarded.  Once the feline was shut up in the carrier, we took her to a local vet that spays feral cats.  He promised to find a home for her after she had healed up.
     Later as some of us in the office were talking about this, we wondered how could anyone just discard a pet and yet, this happens on a regular basis.  It is not only pets who are discarded though.
Think of man's inhumanity to man that we read about every day.
     On the news, I heard about an Australian student who had come to this country to play sports.  Three bored teens decided to go out and shoot someone to have something to do.  When they saw this man out jogging, they shot him dead.  Four lives shattered in one senseless act.
     Then, today on Facebook, I read about a letter sent to a mother of an autistic son complaining that he was a nuisance in the neighborhood because of the sounds he made while outside.  This woman wrote in her letter that the child should be euthanized and his non-retarded body parts should be sold to help others.  How cruel and cold to pass judgment on a soul made in the image of God.
     What can we say in the face of discarded animals, unfettered abortions even into late term, murder for fun to avoid boredom and a thoughtless letter condemning a child with autism and wishing him dead?  The Bible tells us where the problem lies.  It is found in the condition of the human heart.
     According to Jeremiah 17:9, we read:  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"  Furthermore, one day we will be judged by a holy God unless we hear His call to our hearts, repent and turn to Him.  Jeremiah 17:10 says, "I the Lord search the heart and test the m
ind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."  This is, indeed, a scary thought for those who have never entered into relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
     Our hearts are bound up in sin from birth.  We are captives to every whim, lust, impulse, and manner of sinful deeds.  There is no good within us.  Romans tells us more about our nature:  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...."  No where in that verse is there any exception given.  The word "all" is inclusive.  Additionally, Paul writes in Romans 3:10b-12:  "None is righteous, no, not one;  no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."  So there we have it.  This is the state of men's hearts without Christ.
     When we wonder why people say and do the things we hear about on the news, we now have a better understanding.  It comes from a darkened heart that cannot hear or see anything which does not benefit the selfish desires born of sin.  This is why it is so important for those of us who have been called to salvation in Christ to share the Good News that sets men and women free.  Unless we speak up, how will they hear?
     If we really care about others and stemming the tide of evil we see in this fallen world, we need to live our faith and tell others about it.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus to others in this world.  Thankfully, someone shared the Gospel with us, now it is our turn to pass it on.  Selah!

Monday, August 19, 2013

All In God's Timing

Big Ben in London - reminding us that we
live in God's time
 On Wednesday of this week (August 21st), my husband and I will celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary.  It doesn't seem possible that time could have gone by so quickly.  On the other hand, there were times when certain chores and activities didn't seem to move very fast such as changing stinky diapers.  Then, time seemed to crawl, but God's timetable for our lives is perfect.  We cannot rush life.
     A perfect example of this was given yesterday in our Pastor's sermon on 2 Samuel 5.  Verses 1-5 reads:  "Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, 'Behold, we are your bone and flesh.  In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel.  And the Lord said to you, 'You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.'  So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.  David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.  At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years."
     What is so amazing about this passage is that David is finally anointed King over all Israel, but it did not happen overnight.  In fact, as our pastor explained, David waited 15 years after he was first anointed king before he actually assumed authority over all Israel.  That is a long time for people in our society who like to move into power at the speed of light.  However, David waited for the Lord's timing.  He had a number of opportunities to kill Saul on several occasions, but he held back because he did not want to disobey God by striking the current anointed king.
     In I Samuel 16, Samuel, the prophet, first anointed David, a shepherd boy, as the next king of Israel.  As we know, King Saul had disobeyed God's instructions many times and taken matters into his own hands by offering a sacrifice among many misdeeds.  Saul could not wait on God.  He could not even wait on Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice.  Therefore, God rejected Saul and instructed Samuel to anoint a new king.  However, David did not immediately take over the throne.  Instead, God's timing had him waiting for 15 years.  During that time, David defeated Goliath, he became a great military leader, and spent many years on the run from Saul who was bent on destroying him out of pure jealousy.  Why on earth would God allow this?  I am certain David asked himself why he had to spend his time on the run.  Why God?  Why am I in this situation?  Haven't we all asked ourselves these questions at different times in our lives?
     As I think of David, I am reminded of Joseph and all that he had to face over many years (Genesis 37-50).  He was sold into slavery by his brothers.  He was falsely accused by Potiphar of attacking his wife and unjustly thrown into prison.  There he interpreted some dreams for two prisoners.  He asked them to mention him to Pharaoh that he might be released from prison but they forgot.  Finally, when Pharaoh had a series of dreams, one of the ex-prisoners remembered Joseph.  Not only did Joseph interpret the dreams by God's timing and purpose but he was also made second to Pharaoh in power.  Did all of this happen overnight?  No, it happened in God's timing.  What was Joseph's attitude?  He said to his brothers in Genesis 45:7-8:  "And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God."  Joseph trusted God through all the trials he endured.  He waited for God's timing, and the Lord was not late.
     In David's case, he was anointed three times.  He was anointed to be king by Samuel.  Then, Judah (following the death of Saul) anointed him king at Hebron and finally after the death of Saul's son Ish-bosheth, he was anointed king over Israel uniting the kingdom.  During those fifteen long years of waiting, God taught David how to be a warrior, how to shepherd his people, and how to wait on His timing for all things.  I know it must have seemed like an eternity during those days of running and hiding from Saul, but David remained faithful to God.  This is what He calls us to do as well.
     Both David and Joseph trusted themselves to God and His care.  They believed in the Lord's timing.  This does not mean that they didn't have those moments when they wondered if things would ever get better, but they remained faithful.
     Our forty-two years of marriage didn't happen in a blink of the eye.  We lived them.  We changed smelly diapers, went through various challenges at times with work, homeschooled our children, but through it all, we trusted God to bless our marriage and home.  He has, and we are grateful.
     Whatever challenges you are facing at this time in your life whether at work, in your home or with your health, remember to wait on God's timing and entrust yourself to Him.  I love the verse that appeared on the front of our church bulletin this week:  "For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord.  'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11).  God sees you just where you are at this moment.  He has a plan and He will work it out in His own perfect timing.  Don't run ahead of Him.  As the Bible tells us, "Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14).  This is what David and Joseph did and we can see that the outcome brought glory to God and lifted both of them to positions of leadership because they remained faithful.  We must do the same!  Selah!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Only Constant in a World of Change

Rock near Newgale in Pembrokeshire
Steadfast and immovable like God.
 There is nothing more certain in this life than change.  For some of us (myself included), it can be very unsettling.
     In the first few years of our marriage, it seemed that all we did was move.  We lived in Columbus, Ohio while my husband was in the College of Optometry.  Following the completion of my husband's degree, we moved back to his hometown to set up his practice.  What a change for us!  We left all of the friends we had grown so close to in Columbus and had to start over again in finding a church home as well as a home for us to live in.
     Then, five years later, my husband felt a desire to move to Florida so he would be able to pursue his hobby of scuba diving as well as escape the icy northern weather.  At this point, I told him that this would be our last move as I was not enjoying the constant packing and unpacking of moving.  In addition, I disliked the personal upheaval of leaving family and friends.
     We moved to Florida in 1979 and have remained in the same community here since that time.  However, we have moved twice since living here from one home to another.  At least we remained in the same town.
     Now I have given you all this as a background to today's scripture.  Look at Psalm 90 and read it in its entirety. This Psalm is attributed to Moses and really points out God's eternal being as versus man's mortality.
     Life, for us, is in a constant state of flux.  We face changes on an almost daily basis.  Most of us want security, but there is only one source for that security...our Lord and our God.  He is constant when we are changeable.  He is faithful while we are often unfaithful.  He is steady while we are unsteady.  The list goes on and on.
     Look at verse 1-2:  "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
     These words of truth and faith on the part of Moses who saw more change in his lifetime than we will ever see.  From day to day, Moses had to cope with the fickle Children of Israel and their wanderings in the desert.  So what did he do?  He looked to the only constant in life - God.
     I don't know about you, but that speaks volumes to me.  When life is topsy turvy and constantly in a state of change, the one thing we can depend on is our Lord.  Hebrews 13:8 says:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever."  Likewise, in Malachi 3:6-7, we get a glimpse of who remains the same and who changes:  "For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.  Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them.  'Return to Me, and I will return to you', says the Lord of hosts.  But you said, 'In what way shall we return?'"
     We all know the saying, "If you feel far away from God, who moved?"  Well, Malachi has a good answer.  We are the ones who often change but the Lord remains the same.  He is our hiding place, our stability in times of uncertainty and our place of shelter.
     If we depend on others, they can let us down.  If we put our trust in the stock market, houses, wealth, family or friends, we are open to disappointment at some time.  However, if we put our trust in Him, we have found a refuge that will not change, disappoint, or leave.
     No one, including me, can predict what tomorrow may bring but we who know Jesus Christ know who holds tomorrow in His hands.  Therefore, we can be confident that whether we move to a new town or have new health issues or suffer disappointment, we have an unchangeable God who loves us and will never leave nor forsake us.  Selah!

Picture courtesy of Wiki Commons Andy F]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Pursuit of Pleasure

The treasures of "The Residence" in Munich, Germany
were a sight to behold and something the world wants to have.
     One of the things we tried to teach our children when they were growing up was not to make thrill seeking and pleasure the center of their lives.  This is not an easy task because our world is so caught up in materialism.  The movies, T.V., and magazines all have guaranteed things which, if purchased, will make you a happy person.
     Even we as adults are easily seduced by the the pursuit of pleasure and peer pressure.  The pressure to conform to our neighbors only grows stronger every day when we hear slogans like:  "You only go around once in life" or "The one with the most toys when he dies wins."  These phrases, sadly, miss the very heart of where real and lasting pleasure are to be found.
     Psalm 16 verses 5-6 and 11 read:  "O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot.  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance....You will show me the path of life;  In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  To these words, I can only say "Amen."  I have tasted in my own life the sweetness of God's portion.  His blessings are rich and deep to those who follow after Him in faith.
     When God is our inheritance, we have more pleasure than any the world can offer for He satisfies our hearts and our longings.  Material possessions can never do that for us.  I have personally known so many friends and even family members who live to "get" and "do" certain things, but it really doesn't make them happy.
     Please do not misunderstand what I am writing.  Jesus said that He came to bring us life and more abundantly.  Our Lord is not asking us to live barren, aesthetic lives.  Rather, He warns us to keep our focus of our hearts right.  I Timothy 6:17 says that God has given us "richly all things to enjoy."  On the other hand, we only have to look at the writer of Ecclesiastes (especially 2:1).  The writer concludes, despite his wealth and pleasure, saying that everything is vanity.  His heart was truly in the wrong place earlier in his life.
     Moderation and balance are the key for us as believers in whatever we do.  Likewise keeping our eyes on the Giver and not the gifts is the most essential task we have.
     In my own life, I have found that no amount of electronic gadgetry, books or other wonderful possessions can ever fill the empty spot in my soul the way the Lord can and does!  Even when we think that a chocolate chip cookie will do the trick, it cannot match the glorious fellowship and inheritance of our God and King.  Having Him at the center of all we do is the key to a blessed, fulfilling life.
     Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21:  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  So if we wish to check our heart condition, let us ask ourselves where our treasure really lies.  Is it in the world or in our Lord?  May we seek first God and His kingdom and He will provide for us the things that we have need of.  Selah!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Just Wait

Just part of our party with family
 This past weekend, we celebrated our oldest son's birthday with a family meal together here in our home.  As always, the grandchildren look forward to the best part of the meal - the cake!  They labored through the meat, potatoes, and green beans that the rest of us savored.  Following the meal, they immediately began to ask for their cake to which the reply from their mothers was "Just wait until everyone is finished."  Oh, it is so hard to wait!
     I remember those days of waiting, when I was small, for my birthday, waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for Easter, waiting to arrive at our destination.  It all seemed to take so long.  Then, as a teen, there were things like waiting till you were old enough to drive or go to the Junior/Senior Prom.  In college, it was waiting in line at the book store to get your college materials, waiting in line at the cafeteria for food and waiting for the big day when you would graduate.  Life is full of many opportunities to wait.  We may not like it, but the end result brings us joy.  If we try to skip or short circuit the process in any way in order to get to our desired end, the results can be disastrous.  God has a time table for our lives from start to finish.
     A good example of someone who could not wait is found in the parable Jesus told of "The Prodigal Son" (Luke 15:11-32).  (If you have not read this parable, take a moment to read it in its entirety.)  The youngest son in this story could not wait for his father to die in order to inherit his portion of his father's wealth.  Therefore, he demanded that his father give him what was his due.  Upon receiving it, he went to a far country and spent it in what the Bible calls "reckless living".  This is rather an understatement but our imaginations can paint us the picture.  When all the money was gone, this young man found himself in need as there was a famine in the land.  He ended up feeding pigs to survive.
     At some point, this young man came to himself and realized that he had made a grave error in what he had done.  He decided to return to his father, ask his forgiveness for his sin, and be allowed to be a servant in his household rather than a son.
     When this son was yet a long way off, the father saw him and ran to him.  Not only did he forgive his son but he restored him to his rightful place in the household.  He celebrated with a feast.  However, the older brother who had not rebelled was not pleased with this restoration of his younger brother just as the Pharisees were not happy with Jesus for reaching out to sinners.  This story has many good insights, but the contrast between the young man who could not wait for his inheritance and the long-suffering of the father who waited with love for his return tell us a lot about the character of God and our relationship to Him.
     In the story, the father represents God who has opened His arms to forgive those who repent and commit themselves to Him.  God's patience is infinite.  As 2 Peter 3:9 tells us:  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."  The young man who demanded his share of the inheritance is like those of us who cannot wait on the Lord.  We want what we want NOW!  Our society has taught us instant gratification, and we tend to pray to our "McGod" to give us immediate results.  If we do not get what we want, we try to find a way or make a way on our own steam.  Yet, the circumstances may not turn out as we had hoped because we did not "wait on the Lord".   Just as the Prodigal son found himself feeding the pigs, we may find ourselves wallowing in the same slop because we failed to take the time to wait.
     One of my favorite scripture verses reads:  "...but they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk
and not faint."  This is clearly one of the virtues of waiting for the Lord.  When we pray, we need to commit ourselves and our concerns into God's hands.  His timing is perfect because He knows the beginning and the end of all things.  Often God tarries to see if we will trust Him with the matter completely.  He may even test us and try us, but if we truly want the best answers, we will wait upon the Lord.
More fun at the gathering
     Think for a moment how the story of the Prodigal Son would have ended if the young man had been patient to wait upon God's timing.  He would not have had to suffer the consequences of his impulsive sin nature that rebelled against his father's care.  God patiently waits for us as sinners to return to Him when He calls us.  Then, when we come to Him, He asks us to be holy as He is holy and display the fruit of the Spirit which is patience.  We are to wait upon His wisdom, His guidance and His timing in our lives.  When we do, we will find our lives fruitful, blessed and rich in Christ.  We must never depend upon emotion, impulsive desires, or our own deceitful hearts when considering important matters as believers.  Rather, we must lean fully upon God's grace and wait for Him.  If we do, we, too, will mount up with wings as eagles and run and not be weary.  Selah!

Friday, August 2, 2013

In the Eye of the Beholder

   While I was cleaning out a cupboard yesterday evening, I ran across what I consider to be a very valuable possession.  Now to others visiting my home, they would not consider these items valuable, but they mean a lot to me.  What are these items?  They are old, brown custard cups made out of ceramic.  Their value lies not in their appearance, but in what they symbolize to me.
     When I had polio, my grandmother used to make me homemade custard since I had difficulty in swallowing.  I can honestly say it was the best custard anyone ever made! After I fully recovered from polio, I had many bouts with bronchitis, so I had many more opportunities to taste my grandmother's homemade custard.  I do believe she thought this would cure anything.
     When my grandmother died, the family asked me what I would like to have from her home.  I asked for those old, brown custard cups because they held more than custard as far as I was concerned.  They represented the memories of love and effort spent on my behalf.  I know everyone in the family thought I was crazy, but I know they just didn't understand how valuable these items were to me.
     In the same way, we are of great value and importance to our heavenly Father as well.  Read Romans 5:7-8:  "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
     God didn't ask us to clean up our lives before He would reach out to us.  No, instead, He sent His beloved Son to die for us while we were still sinners in rebellion.  He looked beyond the crusty, dirty exterior of our lives and saw in us a soul worth saving.  This is the greatest kind of love.  Before we loved Him, He loved us.  When we stop and think about that, we can only marvel.
     There have been many times when most of us have felt less than adequate for a task or less than attractive by the world's standards.  However, God saw beauty and value in our lives.  He made us by His hands and then, even when we rebelled against Him, He loved us.
     None of us are judged by the world's standards in the end.  Satan would like us to think we are; but Jesus broke through that curtain of deceit and ripped it from top to bottom opening the throne room of God Himself for us.  He did it because He loved us.
     So today, if we are feeling down or like a failure, we need to remember this scripture and embrace it.  Let us take this Word of the Lord to our hearts and let it heal our feelings of inadequacy.  We are complete and whole by the power and love that raised Jesus from the dead.  May that love penetrate every area of our lives so we may fully worship the Lord who did this for us!  Selah!