Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Remembering with Thanksgiving

Virginia Engel Hess
     Yesterday, my husband and I were discussing the article I had written concerning prayer and just how much my mother had influenced my life.  I asked a simple question, "Why did I not recognize the depth of my mother's faith until now?"  Then, I answered my own question.  The difference was that when I was young I was seeing things through eyes dimmed by the sin nature.  Now I see with the eyes of faith and God has reminded me of all the seeds my mother planted in my heart for which I am grateful.
     Growing up in the small community of Holgate, Ohio, my mother was the daughter of a farmer/Reformed lay preacher who loved the Lord with all his heart.  I well remember my grandfather reading the Bible to me instead of story books, and I can still see him kneeling in prayer before he took his daily nap.  He died in a tragic car/train crash when I was six years old.  The devastating loss shook my mother to the core.  Only four years before, she suffered a breakdown at the loss of my baby sister Rebekah who died several hours after birth.  Now she was faced with yet another loss.  However, her faith sustained her even through this trial.
     Many times I would find her reading the Psalms as she told me she had a good deal of comfort from them.  She encouraged me to read them and pray them as she had done.  She was faithful to church attendance and made certain that both my sister and I were in Sunday School and confirmation classes.  The hours she spent just talking to me about things that troubled me or hurt me cannot be counted, and always, she suggested that I pray about those things.
     When I was stricken with Bulbar Polio at the age of seven, she and my father put their lives on hold to be with me while I was hospitalized.  They spent countless hours working with me when I came home to help rehabilitate me.  In fact, mother spent many hours grinding up food so I could eat since my throat muscles had been damaged.  Once again,  her faith carried her through and enabled her to manage the daily load.  We had frequent conversations when I was older about what it was like when I was so sick.  She always remarked about how God had brought me through this.
     While I recall all this so vividly now, it was like looking through a translucent glass at the time.  I heard my mother's call to faith.  I went to church with her.  I memorized portions of the catechism, and I sailed through confirmation class and the examination by the elders.  I prayed the Psalms in my room as she had suggested, and I loved singing hymns.  However, my heart had not yet awakened to the call of God through Christ.  In Reformed circles, we call it regeneration.  It is the moment when God calls that dead person from the grave of sin to a new life in Christ.  When my appointment time came to hear the Good News with unclogged ears, I heard Him call and accepted with joy.  Thus began my own "pilgrim's progress" as I journey towards my eternal home.
     Scripture describes my condition and the condition of all who do not know the Lord:
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
New International Version (NIV)
"3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."  However, God called me to Himself at just the right moment in my life and used all the seeds planted by my mother and father through the years.  For this, I am humbled and thankful.
     Now, as I stand looking back, I see where I was and how black my sin had become.  No I was not as bad as I could have been.  In fact, society would think I was quite moral, but my heart was coated with sin until the Lord replaced it with a new one.  Where once I was blind, I now see more clearly each day just how the Lord had been leading me, and how He had provided for me parents who loved me.  While my mother and father were not perfect (which they would readily admit even as I was not a perfect parent), yet they provided me with spiritual nurture and guidance.  My mother taught me many things about faith so that when the Lord called me to Himself, I responded.
     When we are dead in our trespasses and sins, we look through veiled eyes as I did.  We cannot see or appreciate those around us who share the "Good News".  However, when God calls us from our death slumber in sin, our eyes are opened.  We see not only who God is and rejoice in His salvation, but we come to realize as the years go by just how marvelous His work in us has been as He used parents, friends, neighbors and others to prepare us for that moment.  Ephesians 2:4-6 says:
"…4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,…"  How great a work He has done, and how much thanksgiving we owe to Him and those who sowed into our lives.
     Each day, God brings more rich memories to my heart, and I appreciate the way in which my mother, father, and others poured into my life.  I see now what an influence godly parents have on their children, and I am thankful.  Two thoughts as I close come to mind.  First, take time to say thank you to those who have sown in your life whether they are parents, pastors, friends, or neighbors.  If you are a Christian, it is because God has called you to Himself, and the seeds planted by those faithful people have come to fruition by the grace of God.  Secondly, we must also take time to sow in the lives of our children as well as those with whom we have contact.  We are commissioned to do this by the authority of Jesus Christ both in word and deed.  May God help us to be faithful ambassadors in the lives of others so we may bring glory to Him.  Selah!

From our house to yours....Happy Thanksgiving!  May the love of Christ richly bless you and those you love!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Without Ceasing

 "How on earth can I pray all the time?" I asked my mother.  We had been discussing the verses of I  Thessalonians 5:17-18 which reads:  "Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  She reminded me that all prayer does not have to be verbal.  We can pray quietly within our own minds.  This was a new concept for me.  I always thought you had to pray out loud or it didn't count.  In addition, I could not fathom how we could give thanks in all circumstances.  There are times when things were not going well, so was I supposed to be thankful to God for that?  Once again, mother patiently explained to me that we are to be thankful in all circumstances but not necessarily "for" the circumstances.  She helped me understand that prayer is an essential part of our daily lives.  This was just one of our many long conversations while I was studying the catechism around the age of twelve in preparation for church membership.
     As we continued our discussion, we turned our attention to "The Lord's Prayer" which we routinely said in our church service each week.  I wondered about why we had to memorize this prayer and why we said it each week.  My mother told me that it was the perfect prayer.  The Lord Jesus Christ gave it to His disciples as a model of how to come before the Father.  The first words of the prayer offer praise and recognition to God.  Then, it demonstrates our trust in God to meet our daily needs.  From there, we have opportunity to receive forgiveness as well as give it.  Finally, we are asking God to keep us from evil and temptation before ending with giving Him all glory and power.  When we recite this prayer, we are speaking the words given us by our Lord.  My mother explained that if we concentrate on what we are saying rather than merely reciting the prayer it will be fresh for us each time.  All of this made sense to me, and I am so grateful for a mother who took the time to talk with me concerning the things of the Lord.
     Since those early days of discussing prayer with my mother, I have learned to pray without ceasing by using my time wisely.  Instead of turning on the radio when I drive somewhere or talking on a cell phone, I pray for the needs of others.  I praise God for the beauty of the day.  When I go to work, I often run across people who need prayer.  Sitting at my desk, I often lift up a silent prayer for that person that God will meet them in their situation.  While I walk or exercise in the early part of the day, I pray as well.  Getting my exercise has been getting close to the Lord time too.  There are countless opportunities throughout every day to talk with God.
     If truth be told, I still struggle with giving thanks in all circumstances, but I have learned that God never wastes any trial.  He has much to teach us and what Satan means for evil the Lord turns for our good and growth.  With that in mind, I can thank Him.  After all, God is working to mold us into the likeness of His dear Son and that requires many different avenues to bring about change.  The only reason it is painful is because our old flesh wants to cling to sin.
     When it comes to "The Lord's Prayer", I find myself looking forward to it.  One of my favorite phrases is "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  In light of all that is happening in the world today, this is such an important petition.  We want God's Kingdom to come and for Him to set right our sin sick world.
     Prayer is a privilege.  The sovereign God and Creator allows us to commune with Him on a daily basis.  We have the opportunity to come before His throne with all our praises as well as our petitions.  Prayer is also a great blessing because it changes us as we spend time with God.  If only we would stop wasting time complaining and devote that time to talking with our Lord, we would find relief and answers.  Therefore, let us be a people of prayer and especially during this week of Thanksgiving, but we must not stop there.  Rather, let us be a people of unceasing prayer and watch what God will do as we lift our voices to Him.  Selah!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Simplicity of Thankfulness

Branson at his 6th birthday party
 Thanksgiving is fast approaching but I had it early today when I saw a video of our oldest grandson walking across a large room to the applause and cheers of well wishers at Special Stars.  As many of you know, our grandson was born with complicated and rare neurological issues.  Some thought he might never walk, but there it was in a short 14 second video - our grandson walking across a room.  How often we underestimate those with special needs and what God can do in their lives and in ours.
     I am a fervent believer that God does not make any mistakes.  His ways are perfect and even though some are born with bodies that don't function in the manner that we expect or follow a certain timetable for development yet they are precious in His sight.  Life, all life, from the unborn to the aged and in every place in between is to be cherished, loved and protected.  I wish I could say our world culture has done this but we have only to turn on the news to know otherwise.  Whether it is an aged person with Alzheimer's or a special needs child, their life is sacred in the eyes of God.
     Having walked ten years with my mother through the pain of Alzheimer's Disease, I know firsthand how much time and energy go into taking care of someone who is unable to do things for themselves; yet, through it all, I learned thankfulness.  God taught me love in the crucible of heartache.  Those of you who know or work with those who have dementia are aware that it is a slow downward spiral, but during this time, I came to love my mother more than ever before.  Her life was a blessing to me. God taught me to be thankful for the little moments that would come when she would recognize me or smile in a knowing way.  Her mind and body were slowing down, but her spirit was intact.  I rejoiced in singing hymns to her and praying with her and for her.
     While my mother's illness decreased her ability to function, our grandson's abilities are growing with the time and patience of his parents who have diligently sought to provide him with every means to grow and mature.  However, at the heart of all their efforts is their love for Jesus Christ which gives them persistence, love and amazing perseverance.  With them, our whole family rejoices in
every little victory because we see God behind every achievement no matter how big or small.
     When the world looks at a special needs child, they often say, "Oh, you poor dear family.  This must be so hard for you."  I know it was that way when I cared for my mother, but what they do not know is that Christ is glorified in and through their lives.  I was changed when I served my mother.  Going through the pain of loss while at the same time coming to love her more was the way in which God was at work in both of us.
     All too often, we are not thankful for the small victories of life.  We take so much for granted.  A heart of gratitude starts when we begin to look at how the Lord brings good out of what the enemy has meant for evil.  We must develop eyesight that looks beyond our circumstances and sees the many blessings we have through eyes of faith in Him who is Sovereign over all.
     Thanksgiving is coming, but I have had mine already in seeing our grandson walk!  In that accomplishment, I see God's handiwork all over it.  Begin today to look for the victories even in hardship and see that we have a great Lord and God at work.  Psalm 107:1 tells us:  "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"  May this be our theme song as we prepare for Thanksgiving.  Selah!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Stand Up and Be Counted

   A day or so ago, a friend posted on Facebook a tragic story about the execution in North Korea of  Christians along with others who had distributed any videos of South Korea.  Bibles in that country are considered pornography.  Anyone who possesses them is subject to prison or execution.
     Then, yesterday in the Sunday Tampa Tribune, I read an article about Coptic Christians in Egypt who no longer can celebrate a festival in Luxor that has been a large public event for a long time due to safety issues.  In that country, many churches have been burned, Christians kidnapped and held for ransom or murdered.  There is no safety as the country is in great turmoil.  These are only two examples of the persecution that occurs around the world.
     Thankfully, our country has not experienced such blatant discrimination, but we must not rest on our laurels.  Already, there are signs (actually for years now) of the slow erosion of Christ in the public arena here in our country.  Political correctness has ruled out prayer at graduations, football games or even mention of God in graduation speeches.  Communities have banned the display of the Nativity on public property, and here locally, a  town in our county almost prohibited any religious display by its merchants...that is until a large number of people arose to oppose this.  Then, the town backed down.  Yet, what is Christmas all about if not Jesus Christ and His birth?
     In our worship service yesterday, we sang a hymn I love entitled "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus written in 1858 by George Duffield.  There is a tragic story that accompanies this hymn.  An abolitionist and evangelist Dudley Atkins Tyng had just preached a wonderful message at a mission in Philadelphia.  Upon returning home, he visited a barn where his mule was working a machine that shelled corn.  He reached out to pat the mule and his sleeve became caught in the machine tearing off his arm.  Some time later his assistant George Duffield found him bleeding to death and Tyng's last words to him was a plea to tell the people to "stand up for Jesus" (This story is recounted in more detail in the book "Once More with Feeling:  A Classic Book of Hymns and Carols" by Rupert Christiansen and published by Short Books).
     Duffield wrote this hymn to commemorate the words this pastor had uttered and the first verse issues a challenge to us all:       Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
                                                 ye soldiers of the cross;
                                                 lift high his royal banner,
                                                 it must not suffer loss.
                                                 From victory unto victory
                                                 his army shall he lead,
                                                 till every foe is vanquished,
                                                 and Christ is Lord indeed.
Indeed, even our Lord issued this challenge to all who would follow Him in Matthew 10:32-33:  "So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."  Clearly Christ has made it known that we are to proclaim our faith verbally and by our actions.  We need to really think about this.
     While we may say we are a Christian, do we show it at the work place?  Do we live it in front of our family?  Words are cheap, and there are many out there who say they believe but James wrote
A Statue of John Knox in Stirling, Scotland.  Unafraid to stand
up for Jesus.
that even the demons in hell believe and tremble (James 2:19).  Unless we live out the faith we proclaim, we are not standing up for Jesus.  We deny Him when we fail to speak up as those citizens did as they fought a spurious ordinance that would have kept them from displaying their faith at Christmas.  We deny Him if we do not speak up in defense of life both the unborn and the aged.  We are called to be light and salt in this world that Christ may be glorified.  However here is the challenge.  We may not be welcomed by this world because the darkness (sinful men and women) do not like the light and salt stings the gaping wounds of immorality that run rampant in our society.  Therefore, we will experience persecution.  This should not come as a surprise to us for Jesus told us that in this world we will have trouble.  Nevertheless, He also reminded us that He has overcome this world (John 16:33).
      With all this in mind, the question remains.  Will we stand up for Jesus?  Will we oppose those who violate God's morality, His laws, and His holiness?  Or have we gone soft because we have not known the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world that have no freedom to worship? Unless we stand up for Jesus, we may find our freedoms gone as well.  We must remember that this world is not our home.  We are citizens of heaven and our King is Jesus Christ.  Therefore, let us not waver in proclaiming His name and living out in our actions our faith in Him but lets be bold to stand up, stand up for Jesus!  Selah!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Agreeing to Disagree

Two rams fighting by Hendrik Hondius Holland 1610
 There are times in relationships, families and in the church where we just have to agree to disagree on some issues especially those that do not relate to salvation.  For example, I remember being at a Christian conference in Orlando, FL where Dr. R.C. Sproul presented his case for infant baptism from a Reformed perspective.  At the same time, he had invited his dear friend Dr. John MacArthur to make his presentation on believer's baptism.  Both of them made excellent arguments for their position.  They parted company from this conference as friends neither of them having changed the other person's point of view on the matter.  However, there are other issues on which the church can stand or fall such as the means of salvation.  Obviously, Martin Luther took an important stand which led to the break in fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church.  This was not his intention, but one which the Lord used to bring much needed reformation to a faith which had been obscured by works.
     My mother used to remind me that it is often fruitless to argue with someone on an issue.  In fact, there is an old saying that goes along with this concept:  "You can't teach a pig to sing.  It only annoys the pig and frustrates you."  To put it another way, we need to avoid foolish controversies while at the same time upholding the truth of scripture.  It is a fine line requiring thought, prayer and Bible study.
     In two different letters authored by the Apostle Paul, he writes to Timothy and Titus about dealing with controversial issues.  2 Timothy 2:23-26 reads:  "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."  Then in Titus 3:9, we read:  "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless."  Both of these scriptures deal with the issue of having a prolonged disagreement over something that does not bring any value or encouragement to either believer.  Instead, it drives a wedge in the relationship.  Now, this does not mean that we 
stop being friends because someone does not see eye to eye with us.  However, it does mean we may have to avoid alienating the other person by insisting that our position is the correct one.
     Unfortunately, there have been church splits over the color of carpeting in the church, whether to expand a church building, and if the pastor visits shut-ins enough.  There are probably many more that could be named, but they are all foolish controversies in light of eternity.  Having sound theological discussions about different interpretations of scripture without animosity is always productive and can help people understand one another's point of view.  However, we can rarely change another person;s mind by anything we say or do on our own.  The only One who can change some one's thinking is God.  If we believe that a person needs to reconsider their perspective, then the best thing we can do for them is pray.
     Over and over again in my posts, I encourage all of us to become students of the Word.  This is how the Lord can speak to our heart and mind as the Holy Spirit applies scripture to our lives.  We need to stand for the truth of doctrine as revealed in God's Word, but we must avoid foolish controversies that do little to encourage one another.  Let us strive to keep the bond of peace and to love one another respecting differences of opinion.  Selah!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are You Easily Offended?

Beautiful flowering tree on Anna Maria Island
     I remember in the early days of our marriage I had a good friend who taught me many things.          Penny was a fantastically talented young homemaker.  She cooked well, kept a very tidy home, sewed clothing and coats for her family like a professional, could knit, crochet (she taught me how), embroider and even do ceramics well.  I marveled at how well she took care of her family.
     While I enjoyed her helpful suggestions and recipes, there came a time when she came into my home and took over in my kitchen one evening without me asking for any help.   Then, she made several off the cuff remarks about my cooking, and I could feel the hackles begin to rise.  I hadn't asked her for a critique or assistance.  I knew I was being overly sensitive, but I could never envision myself walking into to someone else's home and taking over.  However, that evening I told her I appreciated her help in the kitchen and her good ideas but I just had to learn how to do some things on my own.  We changed the subject and the rest of the evening went smoothly.  I wish I could honestly write that I have responded to intrusive actions or offensive remarks as well as I did this evening, but I am human with a sin nature.  Sometimes I let other people's insensitive remarks rub me the wrong way.  I become upset, insulted, irritated and wronged, and I cannot let the subject drop.
     Possibly, there are some of you out there that can relate to this.  Someone makes a suggestion to you innocently at the office and you think they are attacking your intelligence.  Why are you so sensitive?  Why do you take offense so easily?  Why do I?  Whenever these situations arise for us, we must turn to God's Word for the answer.
     In Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, Solomon writes:  "Do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others."  Ouch!  Truth hurts doesn't it?  It is so easy to take offense at what someone says to us forgetting that we may have offended them as well at one time or another.
     According to I Corinthians 13:5, we are to love others so that we are not easily provoked to anger by something they do or say.  Likewise, we are not to allow the small irritations of daily living and communication drive a wedge between ourselves and others.  We need to let it go for the sake of unity.  Otherwise, if we harbor negative emotions thinking others are picking on us, we will soon become an angry and bitter person.  The quickest way to ruin family relationships or workplace environments is to be overly sensitive and take offense at everything.
     Obviously, there are times when we need to confront another who has hurt our feelings, but we are to do so in love not with vengeance in our heart.  However, if we find ourselves confronting others day in and day out, we better check our motives and ask ourselves if we are looking for trouble.
     Certainly, the Lord told us that in this world we would have trouble and offenses are definitely a part of that.  It is okay to admit that we have been hurt by what someone said or did, but we can choose to not be offended.  Colossians 3:13 tells us that we should be "bearing with one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."  This is not always easy to do, but it is a command to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us.
     Here are some suggestions to help us avoid taking offense all the time:
     1)  Take Your Eyes Off "Self" - We can always tell when we think more of ourselves than of others when we start saying things like:  "She was short with me today"; "That person barely spoke to me"; "He never said 'Thank you' for all my hard work".  Instead of assuming what others are thinking, why don't we try to ask more questions.  Go start up a conversation with that person instead of feeling like they are ignoring you.  Allow others to be in the spotlight at times and if we still feel hurt because we didn't get our way or someone pointed out our shortcomings, we need to take it to God and ask Him to help us develop a humble attitude.  We may not like it that someone else may know more than we do in a certain area but we need to have an outlook that esteems others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
     2)  Look at Your Feelings -  Often those of us who are easily offended are over-sensitive on many other issues as well.  It could be that we have areas of unresolved scars, emotional issues that act like a "hot button" for us when someone says something out of turn.  We need to ask the Lord to help us sort out why we react the way we do and how to resolve the issue.
     3) Get Rid of Unfair Expectations - At times, we are expecting certain behaviors from other people and when they do not display this, we are disappointed or take offense.  We are not going to have perfect co-workers, family members or even friends.  So, when they do not perform as we expect, show them grace just as God has shown us grace.  We will be more tolerant of others if we remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:18:  "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find."  None of us has it all together.  Don't live with unrealistic expectations of others.
     4) Assume the best in others - We have to keep in mind that the person who offends us may really have our best interest at heart.  They may never have meant to hurt us at all.  Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Consider that maybe the person who has just stepped on our toes was distracted with something else when they said what they said or maybe they were not feeling well.  Often people don't think how their words are perceived.  Therefore, we need to try to avoid building an entire case against that person.  We cannot change others.  We can only change ourselves with God's help.  This is part of the "Bomb Shell theory" and I find it good advice for us all.  We have to remember that God is the only one who can change a heart.  We all have different personalities and sometimes we do rub one another the wrong way.  It is what we do with our feelings that makes a difference.
     Finally, consider how unlovely, unlovable, dead in sin and disagreeable we were before our holy, righteous God.  Yet, He sent His only Son to die for us that we might be redeemed.  If God can forgive us after all the offense of our sin and rebellion, we must learn to do likewise through the strength of the Holy Spirit working in us.  Remember, how we behave in front of others is often the way they will perceive all Christians.  Mickey Evans (Pastor and director of Dunklin Memorial Camp years ago) stated:  "It is better to be righteous than right."  When it comes to taking offense easily over what others do or say, we need to follow this wisdom.  Let our walk be righteous
before the Lord that we might glorify Him.  Selah!

Friday, November 8, 2013

What's In Your Heart?

God sees us with clarity like a hawk
      Frequently, in our office, someone will mention what they heard on the news that day.  Most of the time we find ourselves asking why or how someone could do the awful deed they carried out.  Frankly, I am glad I do not understand that mindset, yet over and over, we read about people abusing little children, murdering their family, shooting up a place of employment or an airport.  It seems to have escalated with time.  However, God is not surprised.
     Jeremiah the Prophet wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?  I, the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds" (Chapter 17:9-10).  The
se are solemn words my friends.  Without Christ, our hearts are blackened by sin.  Our minds are full of selfish thoughts.  Is there any wonder then that Jesus would not trust Himself to man?  In John's Gospel we read in Chapter 2:  "…23Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man."  Our Lord was not caught off guard by what lies in the heart of a man or woman.  He knew the sinfulness of our hearts.
     As we look at the verses in Jeremiah, we see that God knows our heart, mind and deeds. There will come a day when we will be judged by our deeds if we are not in relationship to His Son Jesus Christ.  When we consider the Ten Commandments, can anyone of us say we have kept them all perfectly?  However, outside of Christ, this is how we will be the Law of a holy and righteous God.  I tremble when I think of standing before a holy God based on my deeds alone.
     Just so we are clear on this, let us look at some of the deeds done by the heart.  The Apostle Paul lists a number of them in Galatians chapter 5:  "19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."  This is what is meant by the heart is desperately wicked as we look at this list.
     By contrast, if we repent and turn from our sins at the invitation of the Holy Spirit, God gives to us a new heart, a renewed mind through His Word and the deeds that follow are fruitful.  According to the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:  " 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."  What a dramatic change from the wicked heart filled with envy, hatred, and self serving.  Only God can do this work in us.  This is precisely why we need to tell others the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ.
      Unless and until a heart is changed by Christ, we will continue to see the horrible effects of sin in our cities and nation.  Bullying, school shootings, lies by those in authority are all symptomatic of the sin nature which Jeremiah points out so clearly.  We must pray for God to intervene in our communities, states, in the nation, and in the world that many will be called by His name.  He alone has the power to change the wicked heart.  May He use us as instruments in telling others the Good News.  Otherwise, they will be judged by their deeds before a holy God.  Lord, help us to let our light shine!  Selah!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Company We Keep

Three of our sweet grandsons
 I love babysitting our grandchildren.  It gives me time to play with them, hug and kiss them and in general, spoil them!  However, if they have a cold, it has been my experience that I usually catch it as has been the case this week.  I think God is building my immune system along with theirs.
     While catching a cold is not fun, there are many other things we can catch from those around us that are more detrimental to our well-being.  For example, if we spend a lot of time with a negative person, we can easily pick up a negative outlook on life.  Attitudes, moods and worldly thinking can be quickly caught if we are not on guard.
     Proverbs, the book of wisdom, speaks to this issue in 13:20:  "He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm."  We often read in the newspaper about some young person who has come from a good home but who happened to be in the company of others that committed a crime.  Because he was present, he is also charged.  This is a clear example of being a companion of fools.   Even in the church, this can happen as well.  It may not be a crime, but some aberrant teaching that a person catches from another begins to spread.
     In I Corinthians 15, Paul is addressing this church that had so many errors and problems.  This specific chapter dealt with this issue of the resurrection from the dead.  There were some in this congregation who claimed to have knowledge (I Cor. 8:1) but who denied the Resurrection showing their ignorance regarding the things of God.  Their ideas infected others just like a cold virus.  Paul warned in I Cor. 15:33:  "Do not be deceived:  'Bad company ruins good morals.'"  This is how false teachings get started and grow.  No matter how much we regard others (whether pastors, teachers, authors, philosophers etc.) we must always consider what they say in line with God's Word.  I have a healthy respect for the Bereans who carefully looked into the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was correct (Acts 17:11).  We also ought to do the same.
     Obviously, we live in a fallen world where we daily rub shoulders with all sorts of people and many ideas.  We are not meant to hide away, but we can be proactive in how we can avoid becoming infected with bad attitudes and worldly thinking.
     1)  The best vaccination in the world is reading and knowing your Bible.  Having the knowledge of God's truth allows the Spirit to bring to our remembrance God's own Words when we are confronted with wrong ideas.
     2) Daily put on God's full armor so we are ready for the battle of ideas that confront us.  God has given us all we need for life and godliness but we must be prepared. (Ephesians 6:10-18).
     3) Be prayed up!  Daily spend time in conversation with God that He might deliver us from evil.  Jesus is our example here as He spent large amounts of time alone with the Father.  He even gave us a pattern for prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
Two more of our sweet grandchildren
     4) Do spend quality time in fellowship with other believers in worship to God and instruction through preaching.  Other believers can stimulate us to grow and encourage us to correct errors in our thinking.
     5) Avoid spending long periods of time around those who are always negative, worldly in their thinking or foolish in their actions.  While we are to share the Gospel with those outside the faith, we
are not to spend more time with them than with the fellowship of believers.  We must remember that the company we keep is crucial to our outlook on life and how we grow as a Christian.
     I will eventually get over this cold.  It takes time, and I am doing all I can (vitamins, lots of water, rest) to get better.  In the same way, if we DO get infected with some wrong thinking, negative attitudes or sinful actions, we also have some remedies and the first is to repent (I John 1:9).  Then, we must start to make some changes by considering what happened that led to this.  Course corrections should be a way of life for Christians because we are not perfect yet.  Let us become proactive in our relationships rather than reactive remembering that those we spend time with will influence our lives either for good or for evil.  Keeping Christ the center of all we think, do and say will help us to glorify Him.  Selah!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Contending for the Faith

My dear husband standing in front
of the statue of Ebenezer Erskine in
Stirling, Scotland
      From the earliest days of the Christian church to the present, there have always been those outside the faith who have set themselves against believers.  However, we often forget that there are also enemies from within the church, and it takes strong men and women to contend for the faith and stand for truth.  Jude addressed the issue of false teachers in his letter to believers (vs 3-4):  "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."  Since human nature has not changed except by the grace and blood of Christ, we still face these struggles today.  The question is, "Will Christians step up and contend for the faith once for all delivered to us or will we allow worldly ideas and techniques to slowly decay the faith?"
     In the history of the church, there are two preachers (among the many that can be named) who contended for the truth at some expense to them.  One example comes from the history of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the person of Ebenezer Erskine.  Having been to Scotland two years ago, we walked in the church in which he preached as well as visiting his grave.  Ebenezer and his brother Ralph, both pastors in the Church of Scotland became involved in what was called the "Marrow Man" controversy.  Edward Fisher, a layman theologian, had written a book entitled "The Marrow of Modern Divinity" in which he tried to write about the atonement in such a way as to guide believers away from Neonomianism (a belief that the Gospel is a "new law" replacing the Old Testament laws and that faith and repentance must come before a person could have salvation).  When this book became popular with a pastor Thomas Boston, it was introduced to believers thus stirring up the members of the Presbytery who claimed it was an antinomian work (meaning it was against the law).  Thus the controversy began.  The "Marrow Men" contended that grace comes before salvation and that a man cannot forsake sin until he comes to salvation.
     Over a period of time and various contentious debates with the Church of Scotland, Ebenezer Erskine and others who objected to this neonomian perspective of the ruling body took a stand and broke with the church forming "The Associate Reformed Church".  The entire controversy boiled down to this:  The Neonomians believed in conditional grace and that a man must forsake sin before he can come to salvation while the "Marrow Men" believed in the free grace of God to those whom He calls.  Because the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that of free grace, was being held captive through a type of legalism, these twelve men stood against this teaching and contended for the faith.
     Another example of a man who stood for truth is found in "The Prince of Preachers", Charles H. Spurgeon.  In March of 1887, Charles Spurgeon published the first of two articles entitled "The Down  Grade" in his monthly newsletter "The Sword and the Trowel".  The articles were published anonymously but it was Pastor Robert Shindler along with Spurgeon that had input in the writing.  Basically, the theme was that church was going "down hill at breakneck speed."   The author noted
The Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling
where Erskine preached
that after a period of sound teaching and growth in evangelicalism, there came a time of falling away from sound doctrine.  Indeed in the churches of their day, there were those who introduced heretical preachers, associates and assistants into their churches even though they seemed to be orthodox in thought.  The rise of Arianism (a belief that Christ was a man and not divine) and Socinianism (they did not believe in the Trinity)  in Exeter led to many Presbyterian churches there being infected with this teaching.  Thus the influence of the Puritans, holy living, sound Bible teaching was waning and giving way to dry, listless apostate teaching.  Churches began to give church membership to the unregenerate and even allowed them to take leadership positions.  Likewise these people chose pastors like themselves who did not stay faithful to the Gospel.
     In a second article, Spurgeon himself wrote with strong conviction that the church was quickly going on the down grade and his pleas for clarity and faithful teaching were unheeded.  Ultimately, he broke with The Baptist Union over this disagreement after trying in every way possible to turn things around.  The Union censored him and ignored his warnings.  "No Creed but Christ" was their battle cry ignoring the sound creeds developed in the church to guide her teaching.  The Baptist Union tried to compromise with the modernists in their theology which only accelerated their down hill slide as Spurgeon had predicted.
     Charles Spurgeon never got over the sorrow for the break with the Baptist Union but he indicated he would have done it again for the sake of the truth of the Gospel.  As Shindler wrote about the "Down Grade",  he stated:  "[At the end of the Puritan age] by some means or other, first the ministers, then the Churches, got on "the down grade" and in some cases, the descent was rapid and in all, very disastrous.  In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation.  Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless.  Corresponding results in the character and life, first of the preachers and then of the people, were only too plainly apparent."
     Both Spurgeon and Erskine paid a high price by standing up for the truth.  Lost relationships, heavy hearts, and much prayer over matters was their daily struggle, but neither of them could stand idly by while truths from God's Word were being trampled in favor of the popular ideas of the day.  So deceitful is the heart of man that it is easy to fall into some aberrant philosophy or worldly concept introduced by a teacher who loves to tickle the ear.
     When we look back at the verses in Jude, we notice that he indicated that the false teachers had crept into the church.  They didn't come trumpeting their false ideas.  They came quietly in and gained a foothold.  Jude called the believers to contend for the faith and not lose the moorings on which the foundation of the church was built.  The same is true in our churches today.  We must be on guard, in the Word, and in prayer that God will give us wisdom to discern between what is false teaching and the solid rock of Jesus Christ.  Likewise, pray for pastors, church leaders and teachers that they may not slip into a "down grade" as happened in Spurgeon's day.  As long as we walk in this world, there will be those who will lead others astray.  This is why God calls us to be "contenders" for the faith once delivered.  May we do so to His glory even as Erskine and Spurgeon did.  Selah!

I encourage you to read more on these controversies as there is not enough time or space to dig deeply into them here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Challenged to Search the Word

Fall in FL
     If life were easy, would we ever depend on God?  Sometimes it takes someone to stimulate our thinking, push us to make a move or confront us with Scripture before we are ready to make some changes.   In my own life, God used various people to challenge my thinking that ultimately worked for the good of my husband and I as well as for God's glory.
     When we went to a friend's house 42 years ago to run an errand, we heard a fellow talking about the return of Jesus Christ to our friends.  He had come to talk to them, but we heard what he was saying and wanted to know more.  We made an appointment with him, and he shared the Gospel with us.  God opened our hearts to the Word and we responded in repentance to the message of Christ.  It changed our thinking and our lives.
     Then, in 1986, I began to homeschool our children because a friend challenged me to think about this important avenue for educating them.  She had planned to do this for her children and told me to think outside the box.  My husband and I prayed earnestly, looked into the Word and talked with others before making a commitment to this.  Many, at the time, thought I was crazy and I would not last, but God had changed my heart.  We lasted 21 years and saw all our children through high school.  It took a friend to challenge me so we went to the Word and sought God's wisdom.  I have no regrets for the time I devoted to them, and I am ever grateful for the messenger (my life long friend) who  brought me fresh insights that drove me to the Bible to see what God would do.
     In recent days, there has been a good deal of controversy in the Body of Christ over "The Strange Fire" conference held at John MacArthur's church in California.  Some have taken offense at his teaching and what the other speakers shared.  I listened to this conference but did not take away some of the perceptions that others had.  However, I can understand how easy it is to be concerned when ideas are challenged that we accept and believe.  Yet, how can we grow unless at times we are challenged in our thinking.  Let me suggest two responses we can glean from all the turmoil that has been swirling around on the internet.
     First, Jesus told us to love others even if they persecute or despitefully use us.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48), Jesus said:  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  (vs. 43-46).    There will always be people in this world with whom we disagree and quite often they belong to our family.  The Christian family is made up of many parts and not all see eye to eye on issues.  If we are to be like our heavenly Father, we are to love even those who say things that may upset us.
     Secondly, all of us must remember that it is God's Word that changes hearts and minds.  His Word was preached at the conference, and God promises that His Word will not return void but will accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11).    We do not know how many people needed to hear those messages that were given.  We cannot know all of God's will and His plan.  Therefore, we have to trust in His sovereignty over all things.  If any of those messages offended us, then, we must dig into the Word and find out why.  Is God trying to tell us something?  If not, can we not trust Him to apply His Word as He sees fit?  Our confidence and our foundation must be His Word - Sola Scriptura.  Apart from His Word, we can drift into dangerous territory so we all need to learn to be Bereans when we hear anything preached.  This is how the Bereans behaved after hearing Paul deliver his message of the Gospel to them.  They were mentioned in the Bible because of their faithfulness to look into the Word to see if what he said was so.
     Finally, we have to remember the original premise of this piece.   When I was challenged by hearing that Christ might return, I was intrigued.  However, I wasn't
Yellow flowers blooming in Fall
searching for God that night.  He was searching for me to open my heart to receive Him.  Likewise, I had no intention of homeschooling our four children, but it was the challenge of a friend who encouraged me to look into the Word and seek God's wisdom that ultimately led my husband and I to teach our children.  We do not know because we cannot see all that God is doing or has planned.  This is why it is so important to take a deep breath, get into God's Word, and take time to respond in love rather than react in anger when someone presents a perspective for us that is different than ours.
     I close with this thought.  Right after the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, discusses the gifts and how we are one body (especially since this church was very divided over this), he follows with I Corinthians 13 verses 8-13:  "Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."   Let us live in the love of Christ and accept the challenges that come our way for God is in control,  Selah!