Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Sweet Hour of Prayer"

A quiet side chapel in the Cathedral of York
Yorkshire England - a place of prayer
 In the later years of my father's life, I remember coming home for a visit and listening to my father play the organ in our living room.  While my dad had studied music at one time in his life, he never learned to play an organ or piano.  Instead, he relied on a color system to guide his fingers over the keys.  One of his favorite hymns he played each evening was "Sweet Hour of Prayer".  Somehow this beautiful hymn written in 1845 brought comfort to his soul, and the words of the first verse to this hymn express what many of us feel as we come to the Lord in prayer:
     " Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
      That calls me from a world of care,
      And bids me at my Father’s throne
      Make all my wants and wishes known.
      In seasons of distress and grief,
      My soul has often found relief
      And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
      By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!"
     Taking time to pray on a regular basis is a scriptural injunction with rich blessings.  I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us simply:  "...pray without ceasing..."  Setting aside time for God has to become a way of life for us - a spiritual discipline if you will.  In my own life, I find that quiet place while I exercise or go for a daily walk.  My mind is free to enjoy the presence of the Lord and commune with Him before my day begins.  Then, throughout the day, as things occur at the office or in our home, I lift up prayers to the Lord as well.  Knowing that God is with me all day long makes it easy to talk with Him concerning every circumstance in life.  We need not confine our prayers to a church service or for so many minutes during the day.  We are to pray without ceasing...this means all day long at various times and places.  When we realize this, it should free us up in our ongoing conversation with the Lord.
     In addition, the Bible gives us many reasons why we should want to pray.  For example, we are to pray for wisdom if we lack it in any manner and the Lord will give it if we ask in faith (James 1:5).  Then we are encouraged to pray if we are suffering (James 5:13-15), or if we are sick.  Likewise, we are to call upon the elders of our fellowship to pray for us and with us for healing.  God makes provision for all our needs by allowing us to come before Him in prayer.
     God also calls upon us to pray for our leaders both in the church and in our government.  Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Romans.  Our governmental leaders are placed there by God's direction, and by lifting them up, we can put them in the Lord's hands daily for wisdom and direction.
     Finally, we have so many examples of our Lord Jesus Christ taking time out for fellowship with the Father.  He was our perfect example of how to live before the face of God.  He taught us how to pray in the Lord's prayer.  He also demonstrated His love for both God and His fellow man when Jesus prayed in the Garden for us before His sacrifice on our behalf.  Prayer is no small thing!  It was the backbone of our Savior's ministry, and therefore, it should be for us as well.
     In my own family, I had the privilege of watching my Grandfather Engel kneel in prayer each day before he took a nap.  I saw my father and mother pray and meal time was always commenced with prayer.  These examples have stayed close to my heart, and I am so blessed to see our children teaching this to their own children.
     Prayer is the key that moves the hands of God, relieves an aching heart, brings peace when all else fails, provides strength for the day, and a place to leave our burdens at the feet of the only One who can deal with them.  Spending time in God's presence also changes us and molds us into the likeness of His Son.  May we discover today how the "Sweet Hour of Prayer" can change our hearts and lives into conformity with God's will.  He awaits us to call upon Him.  Selah!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Even in the Small Things

Tiny white flowers in our grass
 When we think of praying to God, we tend to believe that He cares only about the big things in our lives.  At least, this was what my mother thought.  She was having trouble finding her keys one day and I suggested that she ask God for help.  For a moment, she paused and looked at me then asked:  "Why should I ask the Lord for a small thing like that?"  Then, I told her that God cares about those things which concern us even in finding something we have lost.  There have been many occasions when I have misplaced something so I stop my frantic searching, take a calming breath, and ask the Lord to help me find it.  Time after time, He has helped me locate the missing item.  Now some might think that is stretching it, but I look back to the Lord's instructions in the Book of Matthew.
      In Chapter 10, Jesus is instructing His disciples concerning the persecution they will face in the future.  He tells them not to fear because God is watching over them.  He uses this illustration in verses 29-31:  "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs on your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore;  you are of more value than many sparrows."  Each time I read this verse, I am amazed.  The sparrow is a tiny bird and yet, God knows when it falls to the ground.  He even knows the number of hairs on our head.  Therefore, why would He not care about all the issues of life that concern us both big and little?  If He is Sovereign (and I know He is), then there is nothing out of His control, His view, or His ability to act.
     Another passage which encourages us to take all things to our heavenly Father is found in Chapter 7:25-34.  In this portion of Scripture, Jesus tells us plainly not to worry about what we shall eat, drink or what we should wear.  Then, He tells us why:  "Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?" (vs. 26)  God manages all His creation and is the source and provider for all.  So why do we get in such a panic mode over things in our lives?  Then, Jesus ends this passage by saying in verse 34:  "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  We borrow so much trouble by worrying about the future.  "What if this"  or "What if that" when none of it may happen.  Instead, we are to rely on God for all our needs.
Tiny lizard on our driveway
     Whenever I had a fear, a worry or a heartache, my mother would point me to these two Scriptures to help me.  This is why I trust Him to help me find a set of car keys or some other item.  I know He cares about me because He is a God with whom I have a relationship.  He is not some far off Being that stands back and allows us to flounder in life.  From the foundation of the world, He made us for His glory and has desired to fellowship with us.  For this reason, I have complete confidence in Him as my sustainer, protector, defender and Lord.
     As I was enjoying the outside today, I found the tiniest little white flowers in the grass.  The bees were getting the nectar from these little flowers.  Then, when I walked across the driveway, I saw a small lizard maybe 3 inches at most.  I couldn't help but get a picture of these two small things for both were God's handiwork.  He cares about even these small things.  Therefore, do not shrink back from talking with Him about all that concerns you.  He is able to do far more than we are able to think or accomplish, and He will NEVER leave nor forsake us.  On Him, we can depend.  Selah!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Be Thou My Vision

     One of my favorite hymns is "Be Thou My Vision" written in the 8th century by Dallan Forgail.  The words speak of keeping our eyes on the Lord and the melody is hauntingly beautiful:
 " Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
The serenity of Manatee Springs
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."
     Singing this hymn reminds me of the instruction that Jesus gave on "The Sermon on the Mount".  In talking with believers about where they are to set their affections, whether on earth or in heaven, He says in verses 22-23:  "The eye is the lamp of the Body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"  In a previous verse, the Lord just told those who were listening that where their treasure was their heart would also be.  However, it starts with the eyes for this is where we see things and can come to lust after them.
     In the footnote to these verses the authors of "The Reformation Study Bible" write these words of instruction:  "The good eye looks to God as its 'master' and fills the person with the 'light' of God's will.  The bad eye looks to 'treasures on earth' and admits only the 'darkness' of greed and self-interest.  The person's whole life will be determined by the kind of 'light' the 'eye' lets in. "  When our focus is on God and His kingdom, our life is filled with light and guidance.  However, if we look with covetousness on the treasures of this life only, our outlook is filled only with this world that is full of darkness.
     My husband is an eye doctor.  He routinely examines eyes for the development of cataracts which is the loss of transparency in the lens of the eye.  When a cataract is fully matured, you cannot see well.  I can vouch for that with our dog Roscoe who has full-blown cataracts and can no longer see.  This is the reason he fell in the pool and nearly drowned a few weeks ago.   If those cataracts were removed and an implant put in its place, he would be able to see again.  In humans, we routinely see this done to improve their ability to see clearly.
     With a focus on God and His Word, we keep our eyes clear so we can behold His glory through the truth of His Word.  This is our goal as believers.  The more He is our vision in life we need never worry about stumbling in the darkness.  Are your eyes focused on God as your master?  Are you seeking His will in all you do?  If so, your vision will allow the light of His truth to fill you.  As the hymn says, "Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart"!  May this be our prayer day and night so we do not stumble in the darkness of sin and greed.  Selah!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


An osprey guarding his nest
   When I look in the mirror each morning, I am reminded of how rambunctious my childhood really was and how terrifying it must have been for my mother.  I don't think I was accident prone as much as I was undaunted by trying risky things or just not thinking about the consequences.  The three scars next to my left eye were a result of falling on outside steps, the inside stairway steps and last but not least the metal frame of a roll away bed.  The first two I do not really remember but the last one I do.  My mother had told me not to jump on the roll away bed, but I did anyway.  Unfortunately, I lost my balance and hit my head on the metal frame leaving a gash next to my left eye.  I remember sobbing from the pain, the ride to find the doctor on the golf course (ice pack against my head) and the trip to the emergency room where the kind doctor said it wouldn't hurt...but it did!  I could feel every stitch he put in, and the lecture I received after it was all over.  I never jumped on a roll away bed again.
     Then, there is the ever present scar on my left elbow, but this came later in my life.  On a lunch break from the office where I worked, I went to a local restaurant to pick up some food.  It had been raining that day and quickly freezing in our Ohio winter.  The parking area of the restaurant was blacktop so I was not able to see where the ice began.  I ran from my car to get inside from the cold which resulted in a spectacular fall.  I landed on my left side with my arm pinned under me.  I thought nothing of it initially other than my arm hurt quite a bit.  Back at the office, my left hand began to swell and suddenly pain set in.  I had a badly broken arm which required surgery to put in a pin.  Then, after the healing, they had to remove the pin.  Lesson learned....don't run on a blacktop drive up north when the rain is freezing!
     While these scars no longer hurt, I can remember quite well what caused them.  The same is also true of spiritual scars.  Wounds from broken relationships, loss of a loved one, emotional or physical abuse as well as church hurts can leave us with a scar.  Hearts heal with the love of Jesus Christ, the passing of time, the giving of forgiveness and a decision to put things behind us, but the scar is there nevertheless.
     This past week as I listened to "The Strange Fire" conference (live streamed from his church and some of which is available through Preterist Global on YouTube - eventually at Grace to You on the web)  led by Dr. John MacArthur, I was reminded of the spiritual scars my husband and I carried from a painful experience in our past.  It gave us time to remember what we had been through as well as where God has now guided us and we were grateful at how the Lord had worked all things together for good in our lives.
     Paul wrote to the believers in Rome these words of encouragement found in Romans 8:28:  "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."  This is a verse well known to most of us, but I love Matthew Henry's commentary on this particular verse.  He writes:  "That is good for the saints which does their souls good. Every providence tends to the spiritual good of those that love God; in breaking them off from sin, bringing them nearer to God, weaning them from the world, and fitting them for heaven. When the saints act out of character, corrections will be employed to bring them back again. And here is the order of the causes of our salvation, a golden chain, one which cannot be broken."  Indeed, God was at work even during and after the spiritual pain we had endured.  He bound up our broken hearts.  He set our feet on solid ground once again and led us to a pasture where we, His sheep, could be fed.
     When I look at scars today, I am reminded of those painful circumstances, but even more, I am reminded of the grace of God which has brought healing into my life again.  We must never let those scars intrude upon our thinking so much that we prevent God from working His good in our lives.  In fact, we need to resolve to learn from the lessons which we have received that caused the scar in the first place.  I know I never jumped on another roll away bed again after my experience.  Likewise, my husband and I grew in our understanding of God's Word rather than run from the church altogether.  We drew nearer to God and the study of the Bible.  We examined doctrine making it a priority to know what we believed and why we believed it.  This is how God brought good out of the hurt.  Our Lord built us up again from the inside out.
     No one is ever promised an easy life that skips over difficulties like a child at play.  Nor are we always treated fairly by the world system or at times, other Christians.  In fact, Jesus reminds us in John 16:33:  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  It is only through Christ that we can overcome the wounds we have faced.  We must never let scars hold us back from trusting in the Lord but instead, see them as a point of God's redemption.  He takes what is meant for evil by the enemy of our souls and turns it for our good and His purpose.  May we rejoice in this truth and give Him the glory!  Selah!

Have you experienced scars in your life that God has healed?  I welcome your thoughts.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Have You Ever Said Thank You?

First Presbyterian Church (ARP) Lake Placid, FL
     There is a story in the Bible of Jesus healing ten lepers.  It is found in Luke 17:11-19:  "On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, 'Jesus Master, have mercy on us.'  When He saw them He said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.'  And as they went they were cleansed.   Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus answered, 'Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?'  And He said to him, 'Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."  What struck me as I read this passage of Scripture was that so often we take God's mercy, grace and goodness so for granted.  Here were ten men that were very sick with a deadly disease.  They were outcasts from the community.  When they called to Jesus, He brought them all healing, but only one returned to say "Thank you."  The Lord called attention to that fact.  God is aware when we fail to give Him the glory and thank those servants who have helped us along life's way.
     With this in mind, I want to honor and highlight three dedicated servants of the Lord that God has used in our life to help us grow in maturity.  As many of you know, October is pastor appreciation month.  This is the time to let your shepherd know that you are thankful for their ministry.  However, October is not the only time we can let them know our gratitude for their efforts on our behalf.
     As many of you know from previous posts on this blog, my husband and I came to Christ through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1971.  We had both been raised in a Presbyterian Church and even become members but we had never really had our appointment with God until this time at Ohio State University.  Then, the Lord brought all the previous seeds sown into our lives to fruition.
     Our Campus Crusade director encouraged us to plug into a good Bible believing church where we could begin to learn God's Word and grow in our understanding.  He took us on a Sunday to a Grace Brethren Church where Pastor Jim Custer preached the Bible faithfully.   For nearly four years, we sat under this man's faithful teaching and we grew in the Lord.  It seemed we could not get enough.  Pastor Jim's gift was in teaching about heaven and the Second Coming of Christ.  We left each Sunday filled with excitement about our relationship to Christ.  It was hard to leave when my husband completed his degree, but we knew God would bring us into another wonderful sheepfold when we moved.
     Having returned to Defiance, Ohio to commence his practice of optometry, my husband and I prayed to find another good church home where we could hear the Word of God faithfully expounded. It did not take us long to find First Baptist Church under the leadership of Dr. Russell Jones.  He is now with the Lord but we will never forget his excellent presentation of the Gospel.  He was direct, faithful, prayerful and above all a real Bible scholar.  He involved us in Evangelism Explosion, helped us develop a youth ministry there where we assisted in leading the teens in the study of the Word, but most importantly, he tended our souls with great care.   The impact of his ministry was tremendous.  He served up a banquet based on the truth of God's Word.  He stepped on our toes each Sunday by pointing out sin in his messages, but we loved him for his faithfulness.  When we decided to move to Florida,  it was very hard to say good-bye to this church family whom we loved.  However,  God would ultimately lead us to a new home to be fed.
     We came to our current church home after experiencing some deep spiritual wounding.  We had left another church, and in casual conversation, our pastor, Ray Cameron invited us to come to his church when we were ready.  This invitation opened a door for us to find rich fellowship in our Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  Pastor Ray has not only been a personal friend but a mentor to our children as they grew up.  He introduced us to rich resources such as the Ligonier Conference where we learned more about our Reformed faith and in this church family, we found healing and restoration. It was good to sing the hymns we both had come to know as we were growing up, but more importantly, we were blessed to sit under the faithful preaching of God's Word.   For many years, Pastor Ray's home was open to many of the teens in our church and our son Reid often spent nights there.  How grateful we have been that for the last 23 years we have had the privilege of sitting under this minister of God's Word.
     Many times we forget to say thank you to the men that have taught us, prayed with us, cried with us, laughed with us and cared for our souls.  Not only have they prepared through study and hard work for the call that God has placed on their lives, but they also sacrifice much of their personal time to minister to the needs of others.  We must pray for them daily and ask God's protection on their ministry, their family and their time.  The enemy targets those who serve the Lord.  Likewise, we must realize that they suffer the same issues that many of us go through.  They are not immune from temptation, heartache or disappointment.  This is why it is so important to encourage them on a regular basis.  They are the under shepherds of our soul who are accountable to God for how they tend the sheep.  Therefore, lets remember to say thank you and to praise God for the man He has placed in the role of Pastor.  God is glorified when we honor those who have care over our souls.  Selah!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Our Hope in Him

 Living in this small Central Florida community we have a large number of retirees that have come to enjoy their sunset years here with us.  Some live to be in their eighties and nineties and remain very active in our town as well as in church.  As I reflected on this today, I was reminded of a story I read concerning John Adams, the second president of the United States.  He lived to be 90 years old and one morning as he took a morning stroll, another walker greeted him by asking, "And how is Mr. Adams today?"  John Adams replied, "This old tenement I live in may be falling down, but John Adams, sir, is quite well indeed."
     When we look at John Adams' words, we note that he had a keen sense that life was much more than the condition of our physical bodies.  Certainly the Apostle Paul would agree with this for he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16:  "Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day."  Aging brings inevitable changes to us all because our bodies are imperfect and will die one day, but Paul points out that even though our bodies decay, we are renewed in our spirit daily by the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ.
     We must remember that Jesus came to offer us life that does not depend on our age or physical bodies.  He told us that He had come to "bring life, and that...more abundantly" (John 10:10).  Our Lord did not come to just refurbish our old bodies and spruce us up.  Rather He offered us life that comes from an eternal source established in our repentance and turning to Him in complete commitment.  This life will never die but will live in His presence forever.    It is a divine life which defies physical death, and one day we will have a new body that will never decay, be sick or die.
     This is the hope we have in Jesus Christ.  He came and took upon Himself our sins to set us free from spiritual death; so no matter how our physical body is today, our spirit is being renewed daily.
     When life seems gone, Christ offers us life.  When our hope is drained from us, Jesus reminds us of the abundant life He has come to give us.  This is not a hope that we can work up or do for ourselves.  Instead, it is hope based on the irrepressible and undying life of Jesus Christ being lived in us.
     There will be days when we feel overwhelmed by grief, depression, weariness or sadness, but we must remember that the cross of Christ is our promise that suffering and death do not have the final word.  The Psalmist named our source of hope in Psalm 71:5 which reads:  "You O Lord, are my hope."  This is a hope we can also pass on to others around us who feel overwhelmed by life.  We have the greatest story to offer not based on how we feel but based upon the truth of God's Word.
     John Adams knew that while his old body was not in great repair he had hope in the Lord who made him.  We, too, can have the same outcome when we look not at circumstances but look, instead, into the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ who offers us eternal life through His shed blood.  All we must do is repent and call upon Him, and He will renew our hearts daily.  Be renewed in the Lord this day and let Him encourage you no matter what you are facing for He has over come the world!  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts and invite you to leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When Faced With Conflict

Fall in Florida
     Some days in the office run as smooth as silk, but there are other days where it seems as though there is one challenge after another.  Our challenges run the gambit too from computer issues to difficult people to deal with.  In either case, I find myself wanting to escape to a quiet place where I can gather my thoughts and breathe again.
     After I got home, I snatched up my laptop to peruse my emails and visit some of the blogs I so enjoy.  One site that I like to read is called "The Aquila Report".  There are many interesting articles there and one in particular piqued my interest, "Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict."  This article is written in three sections and can be found at a wonderful blog "God in the Wasteland" by Michael L Johnson (  The timing could not be more perfect at this hour of conflict within our own country over economics.
     Perhaps the greatest reason I was drawn to read this, however,  was that God knew my heart needed some humbling wisdom.  My ruffled feathers needed smoothing and my jangled nerves needed calming.  The article accomplished this in short order.
Beautiful blooms of October
     In the blog post, the author pointed to a book entitled "The Christian Directory" written by Richard Baxter, a Puritan writer in the 1600's.  One section of this book deals with how to cultivate peace and deal with conflict.  Perhaps this is why it was so meaningful to me because we as Christians need to keep in mind how we are to react when our day turns out to be stormy.
     Some of the practical wisdom includes things like:  humble yourself, be gentle and meek, love your neighbor.  While we may know these things, it is the description that Richard Baxter gives which really touches the heart of the matter.  One such example is the description of not coveting but being content:

"Be not covetous lovers of the world, but be contented with your daily bread.
Ambitious and covetous persons must have so much room, that the world is not wide enough for many of them…[they are like] boys in the winter nights, when the bedclothes are too narrow to cover them; one pulls, and another pulls, and all complain."
     What an accurate description here of what it means when we covet and how it destroys contentment and promotes conflict.  I could not help but think of the Lord's "Sermon on the Mount".  There are so many things we are called to "BE" in Christ that only with His aid can we accomplish them.
     We forego God's peace which passes all understanding when we easily take offense with others, when we covet what someone else has or want things our way.  We are to have the humility of heart that our Savior demonstrated as He walked in this world.  He knows our frailties and is more than able to minister to us.  Hebrews 4:15-16 reads:  "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Our Trees have color too!
     My friends it is when we draw near to the throne of grace that we find not only mercy but also the strength to live as Richard Baxter has suggested in his book.  Our Savior understands how easy it is for us to fall into conflict over many areas of life including government.  However, He will help us to live in peace even in a world that seems to be filled with turmoil.
     I hope you will take the time to visit Michael L. Johnson's blog and read the entire three part series.  It doesn't take much time and I promise you will be blessed.  If you wish to obtain a copy of Richard Baxter's complete book "The Christian Directory", you can find it on Kindle for free at Amazon.  I pray that each one of us can learn to live with contentment, peace and joy in Christ so the world may see the work of Christ in us and glorify God in heaven.  Selah!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Who Are You Doing it For?

West Baden Springs, Indiana Hotel and Resort grounds
     Each week in our Sunday School class as we unpack another portion of "The Sermon on the Mount", I find myself more humbled before the Lord than the week before.  Our series by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has taken us on a long journey, but his teaching on this portion of Scripture has opened up our eyes to new understanding and application.
     Yesterday, for example, we studied three verses in Matthew 6:19-21:  "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."  I have always loved this passage but never really examined the depth of the Lord's meaning.  What are our treasures?
     In his book, Dr. Jones writes that "treasures" do not necessarily mean just money.  Our treasures can consist of other possessions or relationships.  The problem comes when they become idols that displace our relationship with God.  This can include, a spouse, children, work, video games, a house or any number of material things.  Having nice possessions, a good home, and family are wonderful gifts, but are not to be worshipped.  It is our attitude towards these things which determines if we are storing up treasures in heaven or on earth.  Dr. Jones goes on to write that when we pursue personal piety, the enemy of our souls is looking for a place he can snare us.  Often it is our possessions (or lack of them) that can easily and quietly trip us up.
     During class, I shared my own personal experience in dealing with this issue. Over twenty years ago, I began writing devotions to encourage my friends who had survived polio as I have.  This expanded to include church members, our pastors and friends.  My love for God motivated me to do this, but I confess, there have been times when I wondered to my husband if it was helping anyone as I had little feedback.  In talking with fellow bloggers and writers, they often experience much the same thing.  However, when I get in the "poor me" frame of mind, my husband lovingly reminds me, "Who are you doing this for?  God or yourself."  He is right.  If I am writing for God's glory, I may or may not see the impact of my words in this lifetime.  On the other hand, if I am trying to impress people or call attention to myself in some way, then my motive is wrong.
     We are called to use our talents, gifts, wealth and time for the glory of God.  As we serve others in obedience to God, we will be laying up treasures in heaven.  After all, our possessions, family and homes are on loan to us by God's grace.  He has made us stewards of all that He owns.  The question is how are we using what God has given to us?  Are we building our kingdom here on earth so we can become popular, well-known, a celebrity of sorts?  Or are we laying up treasures in heaven by scattering the seeds which God has given to us?  We may not know the results of our seed sowing until the day we step into His presence, but He calls us to be content to sow.
     Dr. Jones concluded this portion of his scripture teaching by reminding us that the world looks very attractive.  It is easy to be lured by the song of the mermaids of money, power and success.  Yet these very goals are putting our treasures on the things of earth where moth and rust can corrupt and thieves can steal.  Therefore, we need to be prepared daily to do battle with this world system that wants so very much for us to fall away from our task of sowing to God's glory.  Whether we are a writer, photographer, artist, investor, politician, lawyer, doctor, teacher, pastor, or administrator (to name but a few), we must daily ask ourselves the question my husband posed to me, "Who are you doing it for?  Yourself or God?"  This question gets at our motives and helps us see where we are laying up our treasures.  May we be found faithful to do all for the glory of God for He alone is worthy of our best efforts in serving Him.  Selah!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Failure is not the End

Apart From Me You Can Do Nothing...
     Years ago, a family friend and computer guru, helped us set up our first desk top computer with Windows.  We knew virtually nothing about making this new piece of equipment work so he gave us some quick rundowns.  He told us, "Above all, do not be afraid of this machine and don't worry about trying things."  With that bit of encouragement, I plunged in as I planned to use this wonderful device in our homeschooling endeavors.
     According to my husband, I was an absentee wife on many occasions spending a lot of time learning by trial and error how to work the computer.  I admit that it fascinated me, and after a while, I was able to do the basics with no problem.  Of course, I probably could have made faster progress if I had read the directions, but many times, booklets on how to operate a computer can be more confusing than just trying something.
     While I tried my best to learn all the safety rules to keep things running smoothly, one evening I failed to do something basic.  I did not back up a lengthy paper I was in the process of writing.  I had been warned by friends to always back up my work and save as I went.  This night, though, I did not heed their warnings.  After typing a number of pages in Word, we had some sort of glitch in the program and I lost the entire paper.  I felt sick.  I tried everything I could think of to recover the lost document but to no avail.  I called our computer guru and talked with him.  After trying a number of things with no results, he concluded as I did that I would have to start over again.  I felt like a failure.  I told my husband that I might as well drop the project and forget about it, but he encouraged me to take my time and try to reconstruct my ideas.
     On the following day, with a nudge from the Lord and remembering the words of my husband, I began to reconstruct the paper.  I was amazed as the entire thing came together.  In fact, I felt like it was an improvement.  Only this time, I was careful to back up my work all along the way.  God had taught me a valuable lesson in this whole process.  This was confirmed in Scripture.
     James 1:2-3 reads:  "My friends, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials, come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure" (English Version).  If we never had failures, troubles or difficulties, we would miss some of the most precious lessons which build our character and enable us to face the storms of life.  For we know that smooth sailing on a daily basis often leads to neglect of our relationship with God.  We have it all together so we feel we can handle it.  However, when failure comes our way, we realize our need of God and His grace to see us through.  Remember what Jesus admonished us?  "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5b).
     Our society fears failure, but the man/woman of God welcomes the lessons that come from our momentary trials which build our endurance.  We learn from our mistakes when we bring the Lord into focus and ask for His wisdom.  What we must always keep in mind is that we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37).  Therefore, we do not quit in the face of trials or failures.  Instead, we trust and listen to God so that we may grow through this difficulty.
     As for me and the computer, we have a great working relationship now.  I still have my moments and make my mistakes, but I have learned to persist.  I know that even if I stumble, the Lord is there to help me work through my problems.  May we look at failure as merely a stepping stone to the awesome possibilities that God has waiting for us on the other side of a trial.  Selah!

Photo courtesy of Jill Clardy on Flickr using

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Longing for a Good Word

     How often do we take the time to share a good word of encouragement with the people we meet each day?  Most frequently, we just say "Hello, how are you today?"  The usual reply is "Fine".  Yet this is merely a kind of pleasantry that never reaches beyond skin deep.  To be honest, we simply do not take the time to listen and speak a "good word" to those around us.  God has more than equipped each one of us to be able to share encouragement, love and concern for those in our lives.
Time talking with one another and sharing together is time
well spent.  Drue, Glenn and I in Milwaukee.
     For example, we had an old gentleman (89 years old) come into our office the other day.  His hat proudly proclaimed that he was a World War II veteran and his T-shirt was emblazoned with the words "Honor Flight".  Here in front of me stood a man of honor, integrity and courage - one of the "greatest generation".  I told him how we appreciated his service to our country.  It was a simple statement, but one that caused him to open up and share some of his stories from the war.  That he returned at all was a miracle as most of his squad had been killed following the invasion of Normandy.  He must have talked non-stop for twenty minutes, but it seemed like only a moment as I love history.  When it came time for him to go, he looked at those of us sitting at the front desk and said with all the sincerity in his heart, "I did this for you so you could be free."  Those words blessed me and I was grateful for this time of communication.  We thanked him for sharing his story with us and again told him how much his service meant to this country.  
      Scripture teaches us in Proverbs 12:25:  "An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up."  There is always time for a "kind word".  There is always time to listen to someone tell their story.  This is what biblical encouragement is all about.  As I listened to the old gentleman the other day, I could see the sparkle in his eye as he recalled what he had experienced.  He had an audience....a person to interact with.  How many of our older Christian brothers and sisters are alone and need a good word or someone to talk to?
     Another excellent instruction comes from Ephesians 4:29: " Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."  Corrupt communication (off color jokes, unkind words, name calling) does nothing to build up any person with whom we are talking.  In the Body of Christ as well as in front of those who do not know the Lord, we are to build others up so we can benefit those who hear us.  This is especially true when we are around children.  If there is anyone who grabs words and phrases more rapidly, it is children.  Therefore, we must be careful to benefit, bless and build children up avoiding statements like:  "That was dumb"; "How could you be so stupid?"; "You are so clumsy" to name a few.  Words like these are really not helpful.  Instead, we need to address them in ways that will lead to a positive change.  Tell them what they are doing right and how God loves them and made them to glorify Him.  Do you see the difference?
     Of course, the list of those who need a good word spoken at the right moment could go on and on in addition to children and the elderly.  However, the point is that we need to redeem what time we have and bring joy to others by sharing a Scripture, giving a sincere compliment, telling someone how much we appreciate them.  How long has it been since you have taken time to talk to a friend?  When have you last told your family that you value and appreciate them?  We become so focused on just making it through the day that we often do not take time to reconnect with those in the Body of Christ by sharing a good word of encouragement.
     There are two Scriptures which I daily pray for myself before I go out to work.  The first is found in James 1:19-20: " My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires."  Part of conversation is listening.  We need time to think before we speak.  Also the Lord wants us to avoid speaking out in anger.  The second verse I pray is Psalm 19:14 which reads:  "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." 
This is serious business for God is the unseen listener in every conversation.
     Who can you bless today?  Whose story can you listen to?  God has first called us into relationship with Himself; then, He wants us to build relationships both within the Body of Christ and those without.  May our lips be full of the good fruit of God's love so that His grace overflows to reach others with good news and encouragement.  This will bring glory to God and build up others who are made in His image.  Selah!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"The Shut Down"

 What started out as an ordinary day in the office, quickly became a bad dream in terms of our technical abilities.  Duke Energy had a power outage that affected a number of businesses in our immediate area.  Of course, when a medical office is involved, it doesn't just mean lights out.  All of our equipment and computers are rendered useless, but what made things worse was the fact that we had low voltage still coming into our office with brown outs and flickering lights.  It reminded me of a cheap haunted house experience.  We were all concerned when we heard popping and then the smell of burned plastic.
     After the power came on, we had an electrician check out outlets and we discovered that four surge protectors had been blown.  Thankfully they acted as protection for our electronic equipment.  It took nearly four hours just to get everything up and running once again so we were fully functional.  Even with all our new gadgetry, we are still so vulnerable when someone knocks out the power.  Isn't it good to know that we have a power source in Christ that never wavers or changes?
     As I have been reading through the book of Ezekiel, there is such clear evidence presented not only in this book but throughout the Old Testament that God holds all things in His firm control.  He rules over all the nations of this world.  There is nothing in terms of world affairs or our own personal life that He does not see and care about.
     When I read today's passage found in Ezekiel 34:1-24, I found a lot of comfort knowing that God is watching out for our souls daily.  This entire chapter deals with the false leaders and shepherds who did not care for God's people but allowed them to stray resulting in His judgment and exile.  However, even in exile, God cares about His people.  Verses 15-16 read:  "I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them in justice."
     This blessed promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Shepherd, our Lord, and our Savior.  God never lets us be cut off from His power source when we belong to Him.  Even though we stumble and fall, we will not be utterly cast down the Psalms promise us (Psalm 37:23-26).  He will be there to catch us, and for me, that is Good News.
     We live in an increasingly wicked world system with wars and rumor of wars.  The daily news is rarely filled with positive information, but my Bible tells me that we have a God who is sovereign over nations, rulers, Congress, Presidents, Prime Ministers and all manner of sickness or ill will that one man has towards another.  He has said that He will be our shepherd, our power source, and our provision when we belong to Him through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.  Though our world is passing away, His Word will never pass away.  Therefore, we should be encouraged today.  He will complete the work He has begun according to His will and plan.  There will be no power interruption.  All we are called to do is to stand and trust in Him.  Therefore, our daily prayer should be:  "Thy kingdom come Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven".  May you feel His power and presence today!  Selah!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My How Times Have Changed!

     Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, my parents believed in hard work and good manners.  My mother was the one who spent the most time teaching my sister and I some of the basics such as:  "thank you", "please", "you are welcome".  She instructed us on writing thank you notes for gifts which we received, and insisted that we never cut in front of someone in line.  These were just the basics that we were expected to live by, and she always pointed out that living with the view of others in mind before considering ourselves was a godly character quality.  In fact, she was correct.
     Philippians 2:1-11 explains the humility of Christ and how we are to live and walk in His example as believers.  Verses 3-4 clearly point to godly behavior:  "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others"  Then Paul goes on to write about the lowliness of our Lord Jesus Christ who put aside the glories of heaven in order to suffer on our behalf.  He paid with His life so we could be free from sin and death.  What an example we have in Him.
     When we contrast this passage of Scripture with the current culture in which we live, we see a large gap between the way people treat one another and the example of Christ.  I cannot count how many times I have been rammed by a shopping cart because another person was in a hurry in line and just could not wait.  Then, there was another time when I almost had a car collision with a person bent on taking an open parking spot.  I have heard angry words, people being rude and watched others cutting in line with no thought for those who had been waiting.  The message was clear:  "I am more important than you are."  This is precisely what Paul is telling believers to avoid at all costs.
     Jesus was a servant-Savior.  He came not to be served but to serve, and He calls us to do the same.  Good manners are merely an outward evidence that we value other people around us.  Showing kindness, being courteous, and thinking of others before ourselves are a reflection of our faith and character.  We may be last in line, or we may miss that prime parking spot, but if we humble ourselves and serve others we will bring glory to God.  He has placed us here to be a light in a dark place, so let us preach the love of Christ in our words, kind actions and good manners.  In this, Christ will be made known to those around us.  Selah!