Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolving to Trust

     Here we are once again at the threshold of a new year.  Many people begin making resolutions which usually last, on average, one or two weeks; so rather than fall into this pit myself, I decided to take a scripture principle and work on this during 2013.  Since our Sunday School class has been studying Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones', "The Sermon on the Mount", I selected the call of our Lord to "hunger and thirst after righteousness."  Daily it was my prayer that God would increase my appetite for His Word and for obedience.  Have I conquered this?  By no means, but I have made progress as I focused on this aspect of Christian living.  I would rather commit myself to the Lord and allow Him to work in my life than rely upon my own resolve which does not last long.  With this in mind, I desire to build a deeper trust in the Lord this coming year.  It is an area that many of us need work on.
     During our tour of "The Sermon on the Mount" this past week, we discussed "worry and anxiety". One of the key reasons we worry (which is sin) is because we do not trust God.  Even though He is our Creator, Redeemer, and mighty King, we somehow think we need to help Him out in situations.  Such was the case of the Israelites when the Lord was providing food for them in Exodus 16 starting in verse 16.  The people complained against Moses and Aaron because they did not have much food in the wilderness.  God instructed Moses and Aaron that He would provide a bread like substance to feed his people daily.  The Israelites were supposed to collect only enough for each person to eat that day. However on the sixth day they were to collect double the amount so they would have enough to eat on the Sabbath.  God was testing the people to see if they would follow His instructions and trust Him.  Exodus 16:19-21 describes what the people did:  "19 Moses said to them, “Don’t keep any of it until morning.” 20 But they didn’t listen to Moses. Some kept part of it until morning, but it became infested with worms and stank. Moses got angry with them. 21 Every morning they gathered it, as much as each person could eat. But when the sun grew hot, it melted away."  There were two issues here.  One is that the people obviously did not trust God for a daily provision.  They took matters into their own hands and gathered extra thinking to have more in the morning.  Secondly, they did not obey the instructions given to them.
     Those people of God who followed what the Lord told them to do had plenty of food each day as they went along.  The Lord was their provision as He is ours.  The Israelites who did not listen to God but gathered extra for the next day only discovered a wormy, stinking mess.  Nothing has changed much in the years since the Old and New Testament was written.  Man is still trying to "help" God because he does not trust Him.  We would rather worry or stew in our own stinky mess than to lean on God and rest in Him for our daily provision.  Personally, I do not want to live like that.  Instead, I want to learn to trust God with all my needs according to His riches in glory.  Won't you join me in this year long growing experience?
     One of the verses I want to pray every day comes from Proverbs 3:5-6:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."  What beautiful words of wisdom!  It is a declaration that we will not lean on our understanding of circumstances but will trust in the Lord.  This will help our faith to grow when we declare to ourselves daily that we will trust in the Lord with all our heart.  Pray it, declare it to yourself and others and live it.  As we do, our trust in God will grow as we watch Him provide for our needs.
      Whether you choose to join me in my desire to grow in trusting the Lord or not, I encourage you to pick a biblical principle and rely upon the Lord's strength to help you grow strong in an area of your Christian walk.  I guarantee that God honors His Word and will help you to grow in His daily grace.  This is far better than making resolutions in our own strength that we will quickly give up on.
If you desire to grow in trust this new year, let me hear from you.  We can pray for one another as we seek to glorify God together.  Selah!

From our home to yours:  May God bless you in the New Year ahead.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking at an Old Story With New Eyes

 "It was a dark and stormy night" is a phrase we often joke about when telling a scary story.  This sets a mood and atmosphere for what is about to be told.  Our audience is thus prepared.  When it comes to the Christmas story, we must listen with new ears to the description given by the Physician Luke.  There is as much not told to us as there is stated for our understanding.  Being a physician meant that Luke recorded details often neglected by other authors due to his vocation.  While he was not an eyewitness to the events that took place, nevertheless, he was studied in his details.
     Luke makes clear his desire to faithfully recount what took place in the life of his Lord Jesus Christ.  He writes to Theophilus these words of introduction:  "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." Here, Luke lets us know that he wants his reader to have confidence in the details surrounding our Savior.  He also makes clear that while he was not an eyewitness, he wrote his Gospel based upon reliable evidence provided by those who did see these things take place.
     Looking at the Christmas story, we are not told much about the weather only the general time of day.  We know it was growing close to evening as Joseph sought shelter for his pregnant wife Mary.  They had traveled a good distance for the census which was ordered by Caesar Augustus.  Luke does identify a time frame by naming a political leader which was a common way to pinpoint a time in history.  "This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:2).  Quirinius was involved in a census taken in A.D. 6.  It appears that a census was taken about every 14 years so there may have been an earlier one; however, we have an idea of the exact time frame.
     During this event of the census, Mary's time for delivery arrived.  While Joseph tried to get shelter in an inn, there was no room available.  As a result, our Savior was born in a stable and laid in a manger (food trough).  What a humble beginning for the King of Kings!  Luke describes simply the birth of this baby.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloths.  We are not given any further description.  While this does not seem in any way miraculous, what happens next, as described by Luke, does mark an unusual occurrence.
     There were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night in the same region as the birth of Christ.  Again, we know it is night time.  Without warning an angel appears to these men in the fields near Bethlehem.  They were frightened by this appearance, but the angel reassures them and announces the birth.  The words used by the angel have great significance.  This messenger of God tells the shepherds three things about this baby:  He is "Savior", "Christ" and "Lord".  The word Savior is only used twice in all four Gospels.  All the people of Israel had long waited for a  Savior who would deliver them.  The title "Christ" means "Messiah", and the term "Lord" is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to God.  The angels were declaring that God had come to earth to save His people from their sins.  This baby was God the Son.  This was amazing news given to a group of shepherds who were despised by the people.  Since they could not keep ceremonially clean due to the nature of their work with sheep used for sacrifice, the people wanted nothing to do with them.  However, their work was important when it came to the system of sacrifices which utilized sheep on a regular basis.  Now, however, that system would change.  Jesus Christ would be the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.
      Before the angel departed, the shepherds were given a sign of what to look for so they would not miss this Child...."you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12b).  Isn't God good?  When we need to know something, He tells us precisely so we don't miss anything.  The shepherds witnessed not one angel but a heavenly host (translated army) of angels who sang praise to God.
      Following this appearance, the shepherds went to see what the angel had foretold.  When they found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, they explained what the angel had said.  I love what Luke records:  "And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  Mary, herself, had seen an angel who told her what was going to happen.  This was another confirmation to her.  I can only imagine the joy she must have felt.  Not only had she delivered a baby boy, but He was the Messiah.
     Those shepherds left to return to their job but they left changed.  As they went, they praised and glorified God.  When we meet Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are changed just as those shepherds were.  This is a story worth telling over and over again.  Luke was faithful to record all the details that we might know with certainty that everything we have been taught is true.  God wants us to know, to worship, to receive the gift of His only Son who came to earth to die for our sins and rise again to give us eternal hope.  As He rose, so will we if we have trusted in Christ for our salvation.
     Dig deep today into the Christmas story.  Even if we have read it a million times, read it again with new eyes and see what a miracle took place because of God's love for us.  Let this celebration of Christmas bring new joy, peace, and meaning into your life as you ponder these things in your heart.  Selah!

The picture above is a composite of windows at St. John's Anglican Church in Darlinghurst Sydney created by Clayton and Bell, England entitled "The Nativity".  It is taken from a German engraving.  It is a public domain picture.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Child is Born

    Isaiah 9:6-7: "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this."

     These words of comfort were offered to the Children of Israel by the Prophet Isaiah and throughout the ages have echoed the triumph of our Lord and Messiah.  I can think of no better way to begin the week of Christmas than to read these words of joy over and over.  Jesus Christ has so many titles but these describe what we all long for.  He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
     As our Counselor, Jesus Christ offers to us the wisdom we need no matter where life finds us right now.  Like an attorney, He stands to plead our case before the Father and to offer His righteousness for our sins in the great exchange made at the cross.  This He offers to all who have confessed their sins and called upon His name.  He also guides us by the power of the Holy Spirit into all truth.  He comforts us in our losses, and provides for us in our needs.  There has never been nor will there ever be another who can so completely meet our needs as this Wonderful Counselor.
     Jesus Christ is also our Mighty God.  He is fully man and fully God come to proclaim to all mankind salvation.  From the beginning of man's story in Genesis, a promise came from God the Father that He would send a Savior who would set man free from sin and death which we have inherited from Adam and Eve.  Jesus the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit came to earth from the womb of Mary to walk among men and demonstrate the perfect obedience that Adam could not.  He is our example, our Savior, the perfect sacrifice for sin and the Mighty God.  How humbling to know that God the Father provided for His creation a means to restore our relationship to Him through the blood of His own Son.  Furthermore, we know that the story did not end at the cross for Jesus was resurrected and ever lives at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  He will return again to rule and reign!
     Our Savior being part of the Godhead is in complete unity with the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit.  There never was a beginning or an end to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  In this, as believers, we should find comfort knowing that we also are destined to live forever before the Face of God in heaven with Him.  Our lives are short upon this earth when we consider eternity.  When we find ourselves sick, in sorrow, or facing difficulties, we can take comfort in knowing that our Creator, who is everlasting, is with us.
     Perhaps the most wonderful title is "Prince of Peace".  Jesus came as a lowly servant, born in a manger, but He will return as the Prince of Peace.  Our world has not known much peace throughout history.  There have been wars and rumors of wars even now.  However, one day this will all cease.  Upon the shoulders of Jesus our Lord, the government will rest.  He, who is eternal and full of justice, will bring order to our chaotic world and His rule will be joyful and not burdensome.    He is and ever will be our Immanuel...."God with us".
     Until His return, He has left believers to be His ambassadors to a sin filled world.  We are to be His light and salt so that others will hear the "Good News" of salvation through Him.  What an honor to be considered worthy to serve Him as an ambassador!  How are we doing in this regard?  Are we living to serve our King who will one day split the sky and return for us?
     My prayer this Christmas is that we may think on the names given to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us exalt Him in worship, conduct and words.  If someone reading this has never met Christ, I encourage you to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ through repentance and prayer.  Turn from sin and turn to the Savior.  In Him, we have life abundantly.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  Feel free to write encouraging words.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Welcoming Heart

     She came to our choir room looking a little lost not certain what part she could sing or even if she should be there.  We encouraged her to try both parts (alto and soprano) and see where she felt comfortable.  She was very unsure, very timid, but we continued to reassure her that we wanted her in the choir.
      When our choir performed at the mall, she and I rode with another lady and had some time to talk both going and coming back home.  I learned a lot from her.  She had been a widow for six years but could not quite get over the loss of her husband.  Her children wanted her to start getting involved in things and to meet new people; so her first effort was to join the choir.  I am not certain who invited her to join us but I am so happy they did.  This woman has a precious heart that desires to be a part of the Body of Jesus Christ in service.  What does she need?  What we all need...a heart that says "Welcome, we are glad you are here."
      Jesus made it clear that we are to love one another.  John 13:34-35 reads:  …34"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  How important it is then, to demonstrate love and concern for those we meet and especially in the fellowship of believers.
      When we have traveled around and attended different fellowships, we found some places very friendly, welcoming in heart and spirit.  We were greeted with smiles, handshakes, and an encouraging word.  However, there were some places where no one spoke to us or attempted to greet us.  The question is why are they so unfriendly when Christ commanded us to demonstrate love for one another?  In fact,  this type of atmosphere is dead and empty.  John wrote in his first letter these words:  1 John 4:20:  "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen."  What a good point to make with clear application.  How do we treat our brothers and sisters?
Think about these questions seriously.  Do you take time to meet new people who come into church and make them feel welcome?  Do you reach out to people that you do not ordinarily spend time with in order to get to know them?  God wants us to be iron sharpening iron and this doesn't happen if you stay in your own little cocoon.  If you have offended someone, can you forget your pride and apologize to their face?  If you are the offended one, can you forgive and move on?  This is all part of being a family.  Likewise, we are a greater witness to those outside the church if we can love each other enough to move past our disagreements.
      This Christmas will be extra precious to me as I have made a new friend.  How blessed and enriched is my life and the life of our choir because we have welcomed someone new...made her feel a part.  She is a precious soul for whom Christ died and my desire is to see her blossom in our fellowship and grow.  Losing a mate is a sad proposition, but we in the body can restore joy in the hearts of widows, orphans, the sick, and any whom God calls to be His own if we demonstrate a welcoming heart.  Doing good deeds, giving gifts, and attending church are all wonderful things to do, but loving one another as Christ loved us is what our lives are meant to be to God's glory.  This is true not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.  Make a new friend, encourage someone to get involved, become a mentor or encourage another who is grieving.  We are the Body of Christ and if we do not love others the world will never see the power of Christ that overcomes the world.  Selah!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ready Or Not....Here It Comes!

Santa Claus who resembled Uncle Nathan came
to visit last year at Christmas
      Timing is everything isn't it?  It seems like only yesterday we were preparing for our church play and musical and today, it was here in what seemed like an express delivery!  God blessed our efforts, and we all rejoiced in what He did both in our performance and in the reality of His salvation.  We didn't feel like we were completely prepared, but then, are we ever really ready for a big event?
     With Christmas Day around the corner, I am asked nearly every day if I am ready for it.  I smile and reply that I am more "not" than "ready" for the celebration.  It is not unlike the preparations for childbirth.  We try to get everything together to welcome the new addition, but there is no way to be fully prepared for the changes a baby brings to the family.  In much the same way, we are not prepared to lose a loved one either.  When my father was ill, I knew there was no hope of recovery.  Even though we tried to be settled in our hearts, when the phone rang with the news that he was gone, our hearts grieved.
     Life comes at us whether we are ready or not.  There will always be circumstances that we could never anticipate and situations that we are not prepared for.  However, when we have Christ in our life, He is all we need.  One of the names given to Jesus is Immanuel which means "God with us."  What a precious thought to know that our Creator came down from heaven to walk among us, to teach us, comfort us, heal us, and most importantly, deliver us from our sins.  Amazing!  Yet, the shepherds weren't ready but surprised to hear that their Messiah was born.  Even Mary was surprised when she first heard the news from the angel that she would be the Mother of Jesus.  Then, there was no room for her and Joseph at the Inn in Bethlehem.  Humanly, we might question why God hadn't made provision for them...ah but God's timing is perfect.  Galatians 4:4 says:  "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law...."  Then in Romans 5:6, we read:  "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."  Isn't it wonderful?  From start to finish, God's timing is perfect.  He doesn't wait on us to get ready.  He interjects Himself into history and into our lives at "just the right time".
     Lets be honest.  We are the ones who think we have to have everything perfect in order for Christmas to come.  All the cookies have to be baked, the presents wrapped, the cards sent, the house cleaned.  Then, Christmas can come.  But God doesn't operate on our timetable.  His perfect, immutable character works in us ready or not according to His will and for His glory.  How glad I am that God is with us.  My salvation doesn't depend on my works or my readiness.  From start to finish, it is according to the work of God at just the right time in our lives.
      If you think, as I often do, that we have to have everything just so before we can enjoy Christmas, we will miss some great blessings through worry and anxiety.  Likewise, if we think we have to be perfect before we can grow in the Lord, again, we will miss the fullness of His salvation.  We must recognize that God is Sovereign.  He is to be trusted.  Therefore, let us ready our hearts to receive Him in a fresh new way this holiday.  If we are ready in the Spirit, this is all we need to have a blessed time of celebration.  Lord help us to remember that Your timing is perfect and our times are in Your hands this Christmas!  Selah!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
   While cleaning the other night, I stopped for a moment in sheer frustration of all that I need to accomplish before Christmas morning.  I have gifts to wrap, cards to write, floors to clean and food to purchase.  Plus, there is a play to rehearse for this weekend and a gathering to attend.  The more I looked at the big picture the more I felt overwhelmed.  My husband reminded me that I needed to do what I could and let the rest go.  After all, he told me that this was not a critical issue.
     Listening to his words of wisdom, I calmed down as I thought about the Dr. Suess story, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".  Was I going to allow circumstances to overwhelm the joy of this season?  Remember the people of the imaginary town of "Whoville"?  They loved and celebrated Christmas each year with lots of decorations and gift giving.  The Grinch, who despised these happy people decided he would ruin their joy by stealing all their decorations and gifts.  However, he never suspected that when Christmas Day came the people of the town would still sing and celebrate the day.  It changed his heart as he heard them sing and he realized that Christmas was more than decorations or gifts.  Indeed, Christmas is much more than all the superficial things.
     Consider how Mary celebrated the news that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah.  She was unmarried at the time, quite young and faced with a society that could easily stone her for what appeared to be infidelity to her betrothal to Joseph.  She would also face a long, uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem on a donkey's back and then, give birth in a barn  This is what awaited her.  Not very attractive is it?  She could have shrunk back from the news which the angel gave to her.  Instead, Mary, in faith, saw the bigger picture.
     In Luke 1:46-55, we read Mary's Song of Praise to God called "The Magnificat":
     46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
     With this praise to God, Mary affirmed her belief that God was doing something much larger than her circumstances.  She realized that she was privileged to be a part of God's greater plan which would touch generation after generation.
     As I read her song of praise, I came to realize that God's plan and purpose for us is more than gift wrapping, cleaning and cooking.  Christmas comes whether we are fully ready or not; so like Mary, we need to begin to sing songs of praise rather than end our day in frustration over all the things we did not finish.  Tomorrow is another day, and worry is a sin.  When we keep our eyes on God, as Mary did, nothing can steal the joy of Christmas not even the Grinch!
     If your days are too full, stop.  Take a deep breath and begin to praise the God of our salvation.  It is His birthday that we celebrate and His salvation for all who call upon His name.  Nothing can be more important than that!  Selah!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"It's Free".....Can You Imagine That?

     Have you ever received an invitation to a free dinner if you will listen to a pitch for a time share or an investment opportunity?  We have received dozens but have never taken advantage of this offer.  However, I do know some people who go and enjoy the dinner but never sign up for the opportunity.  They are really only interested in the food.  The bottom line is that there are probably more dinners given away than any sign-ups for a time share.  Such is human nature that we prefer something free without any commitment.
     Jesus experienced this response when He fed the five thousand (John 6:10-11).  The next day many were searching for Him not because He spoke the Words of life but because He fed them.  John 6:26 reads:  "You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled."  Obviously, they were more interested in the food than in everlasting life offered by our Lord. What is even more sad is that Jesus plainly told them in vs 33 that He was "the Bread of God....who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  Some believed in Him, but others only came for what they could get.  They did not believe His teaching and "walked with Him no more" (vs. 66).
     Sad isn't it?  People came to see the signs and wonders or have a bite of free food, but they missed the greatest gift of all - eternal life.  Food is only a momentary enjoyment.  It meets an immediate need for energy.  However, what everyone needs is life that will last forever in the presence of God, who alone, can satisfy us.  He is the Bread of Life, and when we feed on Him, our souls will hunger no more.
     Even today, people look for free hand-outs without any commitment on their part.  They are happy to come to an event, but we should not be surprised if they do not stick around when the food or fun stops.  Jesus knew the heart of man and never trusted Himself to them.  He knew that some came for what they could get.  We can have a great praise team, nice building, relaxed dress code in order to stimulate people to come to church.  Initially, this may bring people, but unless God opens their heart and eyes to the Gospel, they will be gone in the same way some of those seeking Jesus for food and signs left His side.  Seeker friendly churches can attract a crowd, but they will not remain unless and until God opens their eyes to see and their hearts to respond.
     Unfortunately, those who leave are missing the greatest free gift of all...salvation through Jesus Christ.  There is nothing we can do, pay, or offer in order to receive the gift of salvation.  God has done all the work.  When we hear His call, we must respond with sincere repentance for our sins and believe in the work of Christ upon the cross.  It is that simple.  I guarantee that no amount of food, toys, games, entertainment or other freebies hold the joy and satisfaction of a life changed by Christ.
I cannot imagine living without Him for even a moment.
     What many fail to recognize is that the Lord is not our personal butler or servant.  We don't call upon Him just when we need something or want something.  Rather, we call upon Him because He gives to us the bread of heaven which will feed us eternally.  The gift of eternal life is free to all who call upon His name to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.  Likewise, as believers, remember that our joy is found in serving Him in obedience.  As we lift Him up, He lifts us up as well.  While we still call it today, lets examine our motives for seeking the Lord.  Do we just want freebies or do we really want to feed on Him?  Feeding on Christ brings eternal satisfaction.  Selah!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Supporting Roles

A crown from "The Residence" in Munich, Germany
 Can you imagine Batman without Robin, the Lone Ranger without Tonto, or Superman without Lois Lane?  It wouldn't seem right if each of these heroes didn't have someone who supports the action.  Their role, while not the central one, is important to the unfolding events and drama.  Of course, if you are an actor in a supporting role, it is easy to feel like a second fiddle because you are not the center of attention.  However, we had a saying when I was in college theater, "There are no small parts.  Only small actors."  The meaning was obvious.  Every part in a play is critical to the whole picture which the author is trying to present.  Therefore, all actors need to do their best no matter the size of their role.  The same can be said for believers as well.
     Looking at the life of the Apostle Paul, we can see that a number of men came along side and offered support, encouragement, and assistance to him as he made his missionary journeys.  Barnabas was known as "the son of encouragement" and Timothy became like a son to Paul.  In these situations, these men provided support to this man called by God that was invaluable.  This is why they are mentioned in scripture because there are no small roles in the Kingdom of God.
     Paul gave us instructions about how to exercise our gifts as members of the Body of Christ in Romans 12:3-8, and in so doing, he affirmed the value of supporting roles.  He began by stating that we should have a realistic opinion of ourselves:  "For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (vs. 3).  Then, he concludes this section by calling us to unselfish and genuine love for one another:  "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (vs. 10).  Another version of the New Testament by J.B. Phillips translates this verse "...a willingness to let the other man have the credit."  That is so contrary to our nature isn't it?  We want to be first, best, recognized, awarded, chief, king, leader.  How many times have we cried out, "Nobody appreciates how hard I work or recognizes anything I do!"  However, we have to keep one thing in mind.  Our gifts and abilities are given to us by God's grace and according to His plan.  We are to use these gifts by faith (vs. 3 and 6) in service and love for Christ.  It is for HIS GLORY not our own that we live, move and have our being.
     Ever since the Garden, man, in his fallen state, has desired to sit upon the throne of his life displacing God the Father.  He has wanted to control his destiny and rule his own affairs.  When we come to Jesus Christ, God gives to us a new heart that desires to serve and please Him.  While the old flesh is crucified and the power of sin is cancelled, we will still struggle with the old desire to be in the spotlight setting the pace instead of allowing the Spirit to direct our steps.  This is the battle we face, and because we live in this world, we are daily tempted to pick up the old thought patterns of "me first".    Therefore, it is imperative that we put on the mind of Christ by reading His Word and allowing it to renew our minds.  We belong to Christ now.  We are no longer our own, so whatever role he gives to us whether major or minor, let us be content with that position.  Likewise, we must remember the words of our Savior when He was confronted by James and John who wanted the privilege of sitting on His left and right side in glory.  Of course, this made the other disciples indignant but Jesus replied to them:  "But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).
     May God grant us the ability to fully embrace the supporting roles He has chosen for us in this lifetime with enthusiasm.  When we do, we will be playing a crucial role in a  plan which God has designed.  We must remember that the ultimate goal of our lives and work is to bring glory to God and not to ourselves.  Selah!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Rewards Program That is Out of This World

 At this time of year, many businesses as well as credit card companies offer a reward system for buying things.  While it can be an incentive for a purchase, it also can lead to a free meal or movie when the points accumulate.  Choosing to spend our money with care using the rewards can make a lot of sense especially at Christmas.
     Did we ever consider that God also has a reward system?  Jesus spoke about this in "The Sermon on the Mount" when He discussed loyalty in serving Him.  In Matthew 5:12 he tells us "to rejoice...for great is your reward in heaven" when we suffer persecution for His sake.  At the time of our difficulty it does not seem to us to be pleasant, but God sees our heart.  For those who remain faithful, they will receive a reward in heaven.
     Contrast this type of attitude with that of the Pharisees.  They had a pious habit of giving, praying in public, fasting so all would know it and giving their alms that men may see them.  Their pride of life betrayed the fact that they were merely going through the motions.  Jesus called them whitewashed  sepulchers (graves) that looked good on the outside but were full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27).  These leaders ought to have know better since they studied the Word and tried to carefully observe the Law.  Yet, going through rituals, following laws, praying and doing your good deeds in public does not earn us salvation.  Only regeneration by the Holy Spirit can awaken our hearts and make us ready to hear truth.
     Jesus pointed out that we are to do our good works in private to be known by God.  He said, "your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly" (Matthew 6:4,6,18).  When we serve our Lord Jesus out of gratitude for what He did for us, we have a right heart motive.  We will find that faithfulness does not create any lack in our lives regardless of the cost to us.
     Keep in mind that we do not serve Jesus just for rewards.  Nor do our good deeds make us any more saved.  God has done it all for us.  Loyalty and good deeds, rather, are to be done as an act of worship that exemplifies our thankfulness for His sacrifice.  In return, Jesus delights to encourage us with the peace of knowing that His rewards will outweigh whatever we have given up for Him.
     This Christmas let us live for Jesus regardless of the cost to us.  As we give ourselves away to serve others in humility and love, we will find a joy like no other.  His rewards last forever but the things of earth will pass away.  Selah!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oh the Pain of It!

     God has many ways to get our attention and today, I got the message loud and clear:  "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (I Corinthians 12:26).  My foot is the part that is suffering or so I discovered halfway through our walk today.  For almost two weeks now, my right heel has been sore, but today it is screaming for attention which it will get tomorrow as I go to the podiatrist.  It could be a heel spur or plantar's fasciitis.  No matter what is causing the pain, I can hardly walk and my entire right leg hurts as a result of the heel pain.  So here I sit.  All my plans for cleaning and activity are sidelined out of necessity.  I am reduced to doing what I can while seated.
     When Paul wrote that verse to the Corinthians (above), he was describing the Body of Christ and how each part of that Body has a different task like the human body.  He goes on to describe how the foot cannot exclude itself from the body just because it is not a hand.  Every part of the body needs all the other parts in order to work effectively.  No part of the body can say they have no need of another part.  In verse 24b, Paul writes:  "But God has composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, and that there may be no division in the body, but that all members may have the same care for one another."  To put it another way, no part of the human body can be successfully independent of the other parts.  No "Lone Ranger" body parts.  In Christ you cannot successfully go it alone!   Likewise the entire human body hurts when one part of it is hurting...trust me, I know today!
However, when one part of the body is honored, all the parts rejoice together!
     Paul's whole analogy was written to a church divided.  People fighting with one another over the gifts.  Some claiming to be more spiritual because they had a certain gift that someone else did not have.  We see the same thing in church fellowships today.  People asserting their importance over others either because they hold a position or have a certain gifting from the Lord that others do not enjoy.  Whatever may be the root cause, God desires, as Paul affirms, no division in the Body of Jesus Christ.  We are to esteem others as more important than ourselves.  If one person in our fellowship hurts, God calls us all to be concerned for that person, and if someone is honored, all should rejoice.  There are no favorites in God's economy.  None are more important than the others.
     In Chapter 13 of this Book, Paul tells us the more excellent way we should be treating one another.  He describes what Christian relationship should be when we apply Christ's love to all situations.  Verses 4-8 reads:  "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away."  Paul makes it clear that some gifts will pass away, but love is the key to demonstrating God's glory in this lost world.  So why boast in gifts, talents, or position?  That is the world's way of doing things.    Instead, love others.  Defer to them.  Weep with them and rejoice with them.  We are all part of one body in Christ.
     Towards the end of Chapter 13, Paul writes a very significant verse (vs. 11):  "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."  Implied here is a call to grow up and think as mature believers when it comes to the fellowship of believers.  Now, in our present time, we do not have the luxury of being children in our speech, thoughts or reasoning.  We live in difficult days.  If we divide the Body because we are filled with pride, we are behaving as an immature believer.  Instead, God is calling us to work together that He may be exalted and lifted up before our hurting world.
     At the present time, my entire body is suffering due to the pain in my foot.  What a practical lesson for me to learn.  My foot is important.  I cannot ignore it or its ability to carry me where I want to go.  Therefore, I have to take care of it.  In the same way, if we have a Christian brother or sister who is hurting, we need to minister to that person.  We need to lift them up so that they may enjoy once again the love of the Lord.  My prayer is not only that my foot will improve and heal, but I am also praying for fellowships all over our world that the love of Christ will prevail in all relationships so that God will receive the glory and Christ will be evident in the Body.  Won't you join me in this prayer as we grow together in the love of Christ?   Selah!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Black Friday Mentality or a Servant's Heart?

     Watching a YouTube video of various scenes around the country where people were waiting for stores to open on "Black Friday" deeply concerned me.  The mobs trampled one another, pushed, shoved and fought over items.  One woman was injured fighting over a toaster.  A toaster mind you!!!!  These people seemed more like ravenous wolves than like shoppers.  What happened to kindness, consideration, common courtesy?  I wish I could say that this only happens one day a year, but our newspapers and the internet are full of tales like this where greed is stirred up and man's sin nature demonstrates itself clearly.
     Unfortunately, this happens in the church as well.  Any time we put our needs ahead of a brother or sister, we can fall into sin.  Scripture teaches us:  "For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (Romans 12:3).  Paul is instructing us as believers to have a servant's heart towards those in our fellowship.  Pride is the killer of unity and the destroyer of relationships.  Matthew Henry's commentary on this verse says:  "Pride is a sin in us by nature; we need to be cautioned and armed against it."  He goes on to write:  "Whatever our gifts or situations may be, let us try to employ ourselves humbly, diligently, cheerfully, and in simplicity; not seeking our own credit or profit, but the good of many, for this world and that which is to come." (www.biblehub.com/romans/12-3.htm)
     In fact, the entire chapter 12 of the book of Romans continues to outline our behavior as believers in contrast with that of the world.  At the beginning of this chapter Paul writes:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect."  We are to be different and people should notice this in the way in which we treat one another.  In verses
9-18, Paul delineates the marks of a true Christian:  1) Let love be genuine  2) Abhor what is evil and hold on to what is good  3) Love one another with brotherly affection  4) Outdo one another in showing honor  5) Don't be slothful in zeal but be fervent in the spirit, serve the Lord  6) Rejoice in hope  7) Be patient in tribulation  8) Be constant in prayer  9)Contribute to the needs of the saints and show hospitality  10)Bless those who persecute you (and do not curse them)  11) Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep  12) Live in harmony with one another  13) Do not be haughty  14)  Never be wise in your own sight  15) Live peaceably with all so far as it depends on you.  Then, Paul goes on to warn us to not take revenge for any wrong we have received but to allow God to deal with it.  When we avenge ourselves, we only drop to the level of the person who hurt us.  There is no gain in this.  However, God will repay as the Word tells us.
     Now if we read through that list I believe we will see a tremendous difference in how the world deals with relationships and how we as Christians are to deal with one another.  In the world, it is "dog eat dog", "survival of the fittest", "the one with the most toys when he dies wins", but as believers, we are to be different both in our church relationships and in our businesses.
     As we enter into this season of Advent, let us consider how we can think of others more highly than ourselves putting their concerns ahead of ours.  This does not mean that we ignore our concerns, but rather that we take on the character of Christ who came to serve and not be served.  May we look for opportunities to be a blessing thus demonstrating that our talk and walk match when we proclaim that we are a Christian.  In so doing, God will be glorified and those around us will be blessed.  Selah!