Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Don't Put Jesus Away

          Our house is very quiet now after the busyness that comes with 15 precious family members coming to celebrate Christmas with us.  How quickly the time flies by!  It seems like only yesterday that I unpacked all the decorations and my manger set.  Now it is time to start putting it away again.  However, I never want it to be just a routine I have to go through each year.  Have you ever wondered how many people look at it that way?  They get out their decorations without ever stopping to consider why they are celebrating or whom they are celebrating.  It is just something they do out of habit, and they may even look at church attendance in that light.  Certainly, most churches are filled to the brim on Christmas Eve and on Easter, but then, those same places of worship see fewer of those folks in the ensuing weeks.  Why is that?  Is it because they take Jesus out of His box once in a while and then put Him back in it like putting away the manger set?  Some people believe they only have to attend church once in a while, and somehow that inoculates them against sin and pleases God for a while before they have to do it again.  This is not a new approach.  Relying on church attendance and rule keeping to please God was a fre
quent tactic of the Pharisees.
     In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees concerning his disciples who had not properly washed their hands before eating.  Jesus is quick to reply in Mark 7: 6-7:  "And He said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"  What Jesus pointed out here is that the Pharisees were very good at keeping rules...especially their own rules designed to keep them from breaking the Ten Commandments.  However, they went through the motions.  Their hearts were not in what they did; rather they wanted to impress others with their religious activities.
     Matthew's Gospel account further explains the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in chapter 23.  Jesus called them out for not practicing what they preach (vs. 3-4).  They would lay upon others the heavy burdens of the Law, but they, themselves, found ways around them.  Jesus rightly said in verse 5a:  "They do all their deeds to be seen by others..."  This was their primary motivation.  Throughout this chapter, Jesus pointed to the hollowness of their faith, and this is precisely why the Pharisees wanted to destroy Him.  He saw through their empty actions done more for show than for God's glory.
     As followers of Jesus Christ, this should cause us to do some serious evaluation of our own walk with the Lord before the dawn of the New Year.  We need to ask ourselves if we are just going through the motions to look good to others or are we sincere in our efforts to live for the Lord?  Are we spending quality time in prayer asking for God's wisdom, guidance and forgiveness for our sins?  Do we have a plan for reading the Bible, and are we faithful in following it?  This is not meant to be a checklist for us to merely mark off each day.  Instead, it is meant to be a guideline for evaluation.
     Going through the motions is exactly what the Pharisees were good at doing.  Yet Jesus said that their hearts were far from Him.   They are like the people that unpack the decorations, go to church out of  habit or tradition, and then, when Christmas is over, they wrap up their manger set and put Jesus away again.  Christians are meant to walk with the Lord each day living for Him and bringing glory to His name.  We will be known by our fruits not by empty deeds.
     As we pack up our Christmas decorations, lets not pack away our faith in Christ, but let us seek to stir it up daily that what Jesus said about the Pharisees may not be true of us:  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness"  (Matthew 23:27-28).  May we live, instead, for His glory each day!  Selah!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Standard of Truth

     Recently, a discussion took place where the question of a certain "Christian" author came up.  This writer has been a pastor who has since left the church in pursuit of a T.V. career and whose writing is nothing less than controversial in terms of his position on issues that touch Christian doctrine.  Have his critics been too harsh in their examination of his work?  Perhaps.  However, whenever we put ourselves out there in the marketplace of ideas, we are open to scrutiny.  It comes with the territory of leadership, and being a pastor makes
words and actions even more critical.  James (3:1) shares these words of caution:  "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."  So how are we to look at the many books, teachers, pastors and blogs out there today?  
     First, we must have a frame of reference.  We cannot compare what someone has written or spoken unless we have a standard by which to evaluate it.  For the Christian, our foundation is no less than the Word of God in its entirety.  It is the truth written for our instruction.  As 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...."  Because God is the author who is immutable (unchanging), holy, and righteous, we can trust what is written in the pages of the Bible.  The Reformers found this to be the center of their complaint against Rome.  They held that this is the only rule for life and faith not Papal authority or tradition.  Therefore, we need to weigh anything we read, hear or see according to the truths contained in God's Word.
     In His high priestly prayer for the disciples, Jesus said in John 17:17:  "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."  Jesus came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill it.  With this in mind, we can rest knowing that we have the best resource at our fingertips.  Unfortunately, many believers fail to dig into the Word of God on a regular basis.  This leaves them vulnerable to every "wind of doctrine" that comes along including the ideas of "popular" authors or speakers.  We have been warned repeatedly to be on guard, and we have the example of the Bereans in the book of Acts 17:11 which says:  "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."  Even though it was the Apostle Paul, himself, and Silas that came preaching to them, they still took the time and effort to check Scripture to see if what they were saying was correct.  This is an important example of how we need to take our faith seriously so as not to be misled.
     At this time in our history, there are many ideas swirling around in our culture:  homosexual marriage, the emergent church, goddess worship, and other "New Age" concepts.  How will we be able to keep our balance unless we are grounded in the Bible?  We need to know what we believe and why we believe it.  As Acts 20:27 reminds us, we must be able to know and share the "whole counsel of God" as revealed in both the Old and New Testament.
     Our weakness in this time is the tendency to be drawn by celebrity preachers, mega churches, contemporary styles that eclipse the true meaning of worship, and feel good books/messages.  Let us, therefore, be proactive and take the time to examine books, sermons, and activities to make certain they line up with God's Word.  If they do not, we must put them aside in favor of the Bible.  May God help us to be faithful!  Selah!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In the Holiday Rush

     This is a busy time of year for all of us especially if we have family coming to join us for the holidays.  In our haste, we often times can say or do things which might not have a positive impact on another person.  For example, last year at this time, our family read through a list of text messages where autocorrect had totally changed the meaning of a text message sent in a hurry.  Obviously the person sending the message did not check it out before hitting send.  We laughed so hard at some of the examples because it has happened to most of us one time or another.  Then, on the other side of the coin are messages that are derogatory in nature which accidentally get sent to the person who is being criticized.  Not only is it embarrassing, but it is also very hurtful.  Whether done in haste or done out of carelessness, we can certainly find ourselves in a bind.
     In the Book of James, we read these words of wisdom (James 3:9-10):  "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not be so."  This passage refers to the problem we all have with our tongues.  Long before Smart phones, texting and email, people communicated verbally, and not all their words are kind.  That is the problem with having a sin nature.  As James describes the tongue, he calls it a fire in verse six and refers to as a world of evil.  If this were not enough, the Apostle goes on to say that the tongue is set on fire by hell itself.  Those are strong words, but they ring true.  There are very few of us who have not let something fly out of our mouths at least once or twice that we wish we could have recaptured before it hit the ears of the person we were speaking to.  However, once spoken, words can not be taken back.
Our sweet granddaughter Everleigh and
her cute little tongue!
     Jesus also spoke to the issue of our mouth and the words we speak when He said this in Luke 6:45:  "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."  Quite often, our mouth testifies against us to show us and others what is in our heart.  As believers in Christ, we should feel convicted when we let a careless word fly from our lips.  In fact, Jesus also told us in Matthew 12:36-37:  "36"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37"For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
     When we stop and think about it, who has not made an unkind remark, a cutting comment, a sarcastic joke or some other verbal bomb that has left devastation in its wake?  This is how relationships and marriages are destroyed by the little things that are said which tear down one another.  However, there is a remedy for this.  Unlike smart phones that have the unpredictable autocorrect, Christians have the Holy Spirit living and dwelling within us.  He is able to guide and guard us in our speech with one another.  Our job is to listen to Him and ask for Him to give us the right words at the right time said in the right manner.  The Spirit can teach us what to say (Luke 12:12), but we must be willing to listen to Him and not respond to others out of anger or emotion.
     In those times when we do mess up and speak hurtful words, our remedy is to confess it to God and seek His forgiveness and then, ask forgiveness from the one we have offended.  For myself, I love the prayer of David in the Psalms when he wrote:  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."  If we strive to please and bless the Lord, we will not only guard our lips but we will also seek not to speak in haste.  Yes, autocorrect can be a shortcoming for the smart phone, but we need not walk in a careless manner when it comes to our tongues.  James reminds us again of how we should approach communication (James 1:19):  "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;..."  If we live this way, we have nothing to fear on the day of judgment. Selah!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Picture of Praise in the Womb

    Reading a recent article on Webmd.com, author Denise Mann along with Laura Martin, M.D. pointed out that babies in the womb can hear voices, loud sounds and begin to learn by age 10 weeks.  What an amazing discovery and yet, the Bible tells us a story of the interaction between two as yet unborn children.
     In Luke's Gospel account. he tells the story of Mary's visit  to her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.  Upon her greeting, the child that Elizabeth carried jumped within her  womb:  "In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb...( Elizabeth speaks these words to Mary) 'For behold when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped with joy.'" (Luke 1:38-40;44).  Even in the womb, John the Baptist knew his Savior and Lord.   Yet, our current culture of "death" often refers to babies in the womb as a clump of cells or a fetus in an effort to depersonalize this tiny life which God has created.  By doing this, society devalues human life making it easier to kill a baby in the womb.  Nevertheless, God clearly points out through the pages of His inspired Word that even unborn babies are capable of so much more interaction than some care to admit.
     There are several other places in God's Word where He declares the purpose of those who serve Him before they are born.  The book of Isaiah proclaims in Chapter 49:1: "Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name."  Isaiah spoke this about the long awaited Messiah.   Not to be overlooked, the prophet Jeremiah recorded these words (chapter 1:4-5):  "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'"  Isn't it amazing how the God of all creation has a plan for each life He calls into being even in the womb?
     When we look at Psalm 139, we again see how God knows us as He knits us together in verses 14-16:  "I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book was written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."  From beginning to end, our lives matter to God.  Yet the enemy still seeks to destroy life today even as he attempted to take the life of Jesus when He was a small child.  Satan used Herod as an instrument to strike the Messiah by having the king put to the sword all two year old males in Bethlehem.  Today, we use abortion to strike at God's creation before a child is born.
     What we must remember each day is that God has a plan for each one of us just as He did for John the Baptist and His Son Jesus Christ.  Even in the womb, these tiny lives recognized that calling as Elizabeth stated in Luke's Gospel.  We also have a unique purpose which we find when we come to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  By examining the Word, prayer and fellowship, we come to grow in the Lord and find His direction for our lives.  It is a journey we should embrace with joy.
     No life is unimportant from the special needs child to the elderly adult suffering with dementia.  God gives life and when He chooses, He calls a person home.  It is not our prerogative to make this decision.  Therefore, let us rejoice in the life which we have glorifying God daily and enjoying Him forever.  May our view of the sanctity of human life be changed as we remember Elizabeth's baby jumping at the sound of Mary's voice.  John the Baptist knew Jesus Christ even in the womb!  Selah!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

One Thing Hasn't Changed

     A friend and I were discussing how times have changed since we were growing up.  Back in earlier times, life was much simpler.  There was no Internet to distract us nor were there cell phones.  We were lucky if we had the chance to have a few minutes on our standard land line.  In addition, it seemed as if moral foundations were deeper,  More people attended church and had a greater respect for authority than today.  However, this problem of change is not something new.
     There was a time in Israel's history when the people faithfully followed the Lord and obeyed His commands.  They built God a great Temple, but after the death of David, the kingdom was torn in two.  Many of the kings were wicked and led the people to worship idols; so God dealt with their disobedience by allowing the Kingdom of Judah to be taken into captivity.  The Prophet Isaiah
delivered God's words of judgement to the people.  Chapter five covers six woes to an unresponsive "chosen" people of God.  In verse 20, he speaks to what happens to a nation when they leave the foundation of God's truth:  "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."  What a timely message for us as well!
     Many of us have seen the downward spiral of our country.  Its been going on for years, and we have seen people call evil things good and good things evil.  Lack of accountability, the worship of pleasure and the lust for power have become the central focus for many.  Isaiah might well have been preaching to us because nothing has changed.  Why is that?  Let me suggest that it is due to the sin nature found in man.  We are all born into sin and dead in our trespasses.  In fact, the Bible says we are children of the devil.  I John 3:10 says:  "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother."  
     As we look around us, should we be surprised that people would rather believe a lie than face the truth?  Until the Lord regenerates the heart and calls us to Himself, the cycle continues.  Unfortunately, many in our day and age are quick to blame the environment someone grows up in for their lawless behavior, but the heart of the matter is that there is something wrong with the heart.
     While we desire, as believers, to see morality once again restored, it cannot happen until hearts are changed.  We can pass all the laws we want, we can demonstrate in the street, but only God can set souls free.  The Good News is that the Lord has commissioned us to go out into this world and share our faith so that men and women can be restored through the blood of Jesus Christ.  No longer will they call evil good and good evil.  Their eyes will be opened to the truth, and they will put aside fantasy and embrace the truth found in the Bible.
     Yes, times have radically changed in terms of instant communication and travel, but one thing has never changed - man's need for a Savior.  Without the clear vision that only Christ can give, we all walk in darkness.  We cannot go back to the time which is past but we can boldly step out in faith and share what God has done for us in Christ today.  May we never grow weary in well doing for the glory of God and the sake of His kingdom.  Now is the day of salvation.  Selah!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Grief Strikes Suddenly

     Yesterday, I was saddened to learn that another couple we love dearly in our fellowship has joined the club of grandparents who have lost a grandchild.  No one wants to be in that club, but life in this fallen world brings sudden loss into our lives.  Certainly most parents expect to die before their children.  However, it is an even greater shock when grandparents outlive their grandchild.  We know that feeling all too well.
     In the case of our friends, their grandson was only 26.  He went for a bike ride, but his life was cut short as a result of an accident.  It was sudden and shocking.  How do you wrap your thoughts around something like that?  In human ability it is impossible, but with Christ, all things are possible.  He alone is the anchor and foundation of our faith.
Jesus is the light in the midst of
     What we often forget during times of trials and heartache is that the Lord weeps with us.  Perhaps the most comforting verse in all scripture is found in John 11:35:  "Jesus wept".  Our Savior who was fully human and fully divine, "God in the flesh" expressed sorrow at the loss of his friend Lazarus.  He knows how we hurt when tragedy strikes.  Another passage that demonstrates the Lord's understanding of our plight comes from Isaiah 53:3-4:  "3He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted."  Because the Lord fully identifies with us, He, more than anyone else, can understand the sorrows that come from living in this world.  Not only does He understand us, but He also came to carry our grief and sorrow if we allow Him to.  He is the Redeemer that brings joy out of sorrow and beauty out of ashes.
     Next month, it will be a year since we said our good-byes to our beloved Branson who was only six when he entered the presence of the Lord.  I wish I could say I understood the Lord's purpose in taking him when He did but I do not.  I may never comprehend it until I am in the Lord's presence myself.  I just know that I serve a God who is loving, faithful and will never leave nor forsake me or our family.  Without the assurance of salvation and knowing I will see our grandson again, I would be a hopeless person indeed.
     Perhaps nothing comforts the heart more than the hymn, "It is Well With my Soul" written by Horatio Spafford in 1873.  His story behind the hymn is dramatic.  He lost his first son to Scarlet Fever in 1870.  Then, in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed his business holdings.  He planned a trip to Europe for the family but at the last minute, he was delayed by business and sent his four daughters on ahead.  Sadly, as the ship was crossing the ocean, a collision with another ship occurred and the four girls were lost at sea.  When Spafford traveled to comfort his grieving wife,  he penned the words to this popular hymn.  Through his tears and heartaches, He was able to overcome by God's great grace.  Here are the words to this wonderful hymn:                                                              
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul."
     My prayer for my dear friends is that they will be able to say along with our family:  "It is Well With my Soul"  May God comfort them and all who are grieving knowing that He will accomplish His purpose in our lives!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hope in Loss

     In a recent podcast by Dr. R.C. Sproul, he shared the story of how his mother left this life and entered into the eternal presence of God.  He and his wife had just had their first child, and R.C.'s mother was elated.  When R.C. took her home, her last words to him were, "This is the happiest day of my life."  She went to bed that night and woke up in eternity.  Can you imagine that?  The joy of having a child is mixed with the grief that comes from losing a loved one.  However, think with me for a moment on how she left this world.  She said that it was the happiest day of her life.  God took her home with Him when she was filled with joy.  I cannot imagine a sweeter exit from the toils of this world.
     We often forget that this world is not our home.  We are passing through by God's design, and one day, we will enter eternal rest with Him for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  With this
The Cathedral at Lincolnshire, England
perspective in mind, we need to keep a few things in mind.
     When we lose a loved one, we grieve.  We miss their companionship, their smile, their warm embrace.  This is only natural, but we also must remember the admonition that Paul gives in his letter to the Thessalonians.  Chapter 4:13 reads:  "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."  Matthew Henry Commentary explains this portion of Scripture in this manner:  "Here is comfort for the relations and friends of those who die in the Lord. Grief for the death of friends is lawful; we may weep for our own loss, though it may be their gain. Christianity does not forbid, and grace does not do away, our natural affections. Yet we must not be excessive in our sorrows; this is too much like those who have no hope of a better life. Death is an unknown thing, and we know little about the state after death; yet the doctrines of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ, are a remedy against the fear of death, and undue sorrow for the death of our Christian friends; and of these doctrines we have full assurance. It will be some happiness that all the saints shall meet, and remain together for ever; but the principal happiness of heaven is to be with the Lord, to see him, live with him, and enjoy him for ever."  This is a great explanation we need to take to heart.
     According to psychologists (www.psychcentral.com), there are five stages of grief.  Not everyone goes through each stage, but this is often seen.  First comes denial and isolation.  This is a stage where we buffer the shock of loss.  It seems like a surreal experience.  When we lost our grandson, I told my husband that none of it seemed to be possible.  It was as though we were going through the motions, but nothing was real.  The second stage is often anger.  Our pain is intense as the reality of our loss is evident to us, and we often take out this anger on objects, friends or family.  We may not even realize we are doing this, but we tend to wall ourselves off from others.  Unfortunately, we often become angry with God.  We want to know "why" this person was taken and "why" now?   Then, comes the stage of bargaining.  In our vulnerability, we think that perhaps if we had done this or that the person would still be living.   Guilt raises its ugly head in this stage.  We can blame ourselves, a doctor or any other number of factors, but we often forget that God is Sovereign and knows the plans He has for us.  We cannot bargain ourselves out of the reality that He chose this time and place to bring a precious one home.
     Within the fourth stage of grief, we find depression.  It is a sadness and deep regret.  Likewise, I have heard it described as anger turned inward.  We do not enjoy life as we should and often the best remedy for this is understanding, hugs and allowing ourselves to open up and share our emotions with those we love.  Too often, we withdraw from the very people that can bring us comfort, but our healing begins when we open up and tell God exactly how we feel allowing Him to hold us close.
Finally, the fifth stage of grief is acceptance.  We come to this place where we focus on the hope and truth of the resurrection.  We are able to let go of our loved one knowing they are in the happiest, best place they could ever be.  This is what Paul indicated in his letter to the Thessalonians.  Those without Christ have no hope of ever seeing their loved ones again.  We, who are in Christ, have a sure promise even though now we grieve for a time.  We WILL be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ.
     Before my father died at the age of 63, he told my mother that he saw this beautiful city and the streets were gold.  He said it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  I believe he was describing heaven (found in Revelation 21).  This was a comforting thought for me.  I know I will see him again one day, and that has given me joy in the times when I miss him.  I still cry on occasion even though it has been years since his death.  However, I have hope in Christ.
     Since we do not know the hour or day when God will take us or a loved one home, we must make the most of every moment we have.  Certainly, Dr. Sproul never expected his mother to die when she did; yet, I cannot imagine a better time for her to leave than after the joy of a grandchild being born into this world.  Death is a reality we all have to face.  Therefore, we need to enjoy every contact we have with family and friends.  If we make the most of every gathering, we will not feel guilt when they are gone.  Likewise, we need to know that God in His complete sovereignty over life and death knows the best time to take a saint home.  Do we trust Him?  Can we bow to His infinite wisdom?  Often our reaction to His sovereign action in taking a loved one will reveal to us just how firm our faith in Him really is.  His plans are often a mystery to us which we cannot know by any means.  Thus, we must seek Him and His Word for comfort.  As we do, the peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Lets not waste a moment in loving on family and friends while we have the opportunity.  Tomorrow might be too late for this life, but we know and have hope that we will be together again in Christ for eternity.  The Word of God promises this.  Selah!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Forgotten Fire

     At a recent mission conference, we heard from a young family planning to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to work with a church there.  They reported that nearly 7,000 churches have closed their doors in this beautiful country and only a small portion of the population consider themselves believers.  It is mind boggling to consider these facts since Scotland was a country that took the lead in expounding the Word of God during the Reformation.  However, I do recall that when we visited Edinburgh we stopped in the Cathedral of St. Giles.  In this glorious building, we found a document of enormous importance tucked away in a side corner of the church.  On a stand covered in glass was the document of the original Covenanters (1638) many of whom gave up their lives for their beliefs in the tenants of the Reformed faith.  They held that the Bible was the very foundation of their faith and that Christ was the head of the church not a monarch.  Nearly 18,000 died in the struggle to win their freedom to worship God as they felt called to do.  Today, though, much of the fire is forgotten not unlike that important document stuck out of the way in the church.  There is a lesson we all need to take away from this historical event.
      Scotland is not the only nation who has churches closing, and a growing disinterest in the Christian faith.  It is easy to see in our own culture how many have turned to secular humanism as their religion of choice.  Relativism rules the day where what is true for you may not be true for me.  In the book of Revelation, we see this in the Church at Laodicea (Chapter 3:14-22):  "14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following:

National Covenant of 1638
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! 17 Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! 19 All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! 20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. 21 I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
     Our Lord Jesus Christ rightly pointed out that this church was only lukewarm.  There was no fire to be found in their hearts; instead, they were satisfied with where they were and with what they had. They didn't need anything or so they thought.  The sad part was that this church had lost its love for Jesus Christ.  They had taken their faith, put it under a glass frame and tucked it on the side of the church building so it would not be in the way.  Yet, according to the Lord, they were wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked in their ignorance.  Are we not the same when we neglect the elemental study of God's Word to seek out His wisdom, search His doctrine and find His truth?  Trusting in ourselves will gain us nothing but hungering and thirsting after His righteousness will enrich our lives and stoke the fire of faith.
     Never has there been a more important time in our history than now to revive our souls through repentance, study of His Word, and prayer.  Revival, renewal and restoration come when we begin in our own lives first and then carry the fire of God's truth to others.  This is how we change hearts and lives through the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we want more effective churches, more genuine preaching and a change in our culture, we need to be willing to begin in our lives.  Then, like the covenanters, we must be willing to take a stand for truth despite the consequences.  Our churches are not meant to be a museum for saints where we remember great times in the past.  They are to be, instead, a place where the fire of faith burns brightly based upon God's Word.  Jesus said to the Laodicean Church that He stands at the door and knocks.  The question is, "Will we be willing to open it quickly and allow His presence to fill us up?"  Let us pray for our churches everywhere that the fire of God's truth will be kindled in hearts anew.  Selah!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Have Become My Grandmother!

     This past week, in search of a new bedspread, I discovered the old fashioned hobnail cotton bedspread with fringe that I grew up with in my home.  Both my mother and grandmother had these on their beds.  I loved it at first sight, and so, with a click of the mouse, I ordered one.  When it arrived,  I was excited.  Now, if you had ask me during my teenage years, I would have told you that this is so old fashioned.  It's funny how the progression of life goes along.  First, we do not want to be like our mother or father.  "We will do things differently when we have our own family or are on our own."  However, we find out that mother was right about many things as we mature.  Then, we tell ourselves that we will never be locked into tradition like our grandmothers or grandfathers until the day we enter into that period of our lives.  Perspectives do change, though, as we travel the path of life.  What once we were so eager to discard in search of the new and better way of doing things, we now see as a safe and secure harbor in which we can rest and grow.
     When we were brand new Christians, we were excited about our faith and wanted to go and change the world.  This energy is good if we can harness it for His glory, but we learned quickly that we cannot push, shove or pull people into the kingdom.  Building relationship with others is the key to success.  
     In time, we also came to believe that we needed to leave the old way of doing church behind.  Traditions were stuffy and so we went to an independent fellowship that did just that.  However, we found ourselves in disagreement over what we considered to be bedrock doctrines of the faith as time went on leading to our departure from this fellowship.  It was a painful time in our lives.
     With time and healing, we returned to church and began attending the Presbyterian Church in our community.  I will never forget that first Sunday we worshipped there.  Saying the Lord's Prayer, repeating the Apostle's Creed, hearing the organ play, the choir sing and the pastor preach God's Word made me feel like I had come home again.  Having been raised in a Presbyterian Church, I was acquainted with the order of worship and found a deep peace through this.  The world batters us during the week, and we need a place where we can retreat to worship and grow.  I love the green pasture, and the still waters I find in what I once thought was "stuffy, traditional" worship.
     One of Paul's admonitions and pleas with believers was to be rooted and grounded in Christ so that we are not misled by false teachers or get caught up in the ideas of the world.  In his letter to the Colossians (2:6-8), he writes:  "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."  What wonderful words of truth Paul writes here.  It is so easy to follow bunny trails, to try to help God by doing things that are trendy in order to attract numbers, but what we really need is to be rooted and grounded in Christ.  We need to be established in the faith.  This is what I discovered after we had wandered a bit in the wilderness of "trying all things new".  Like the Prodigal Son, I was glad to be home again.
     Quite often, we as Christians take for granted the safety of the sheepfold that we belong to and want to change things or accommodate others.  This is when we need to be reminded of Paul's words.  The most important thing in terms of our faith is to be rooted and grounded in Christ.
     Some folks may not care for my old-fashioned hobnail bedspread, but I love it.  It keeps me warm when I am cold and cool on hot days.  The same is true for the faith once passed on to us.  We are to hold fast to it and seek the face of God daily.    Let us pray for our churches that they stay in the center of God's will.  Selah!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Light That Cannot Be Quenched

     Within the opening verses of the Gospel according to John, we read some wonderful descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ:  “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  These comforting words should encourage us as we meditate upon them.  Not only is there life in Christ, but He also gives us light for our way which no darkness can overcome.  We know that this secular culture in which we live brings a great deal of darkness and confusion to our lives each day, but if we are found in Christ, He will direct our steps.
     As I considered these verses, I was reminded of a trip our family took to Mammoth Cave in
Kentucky.  We were led down steps deep into the earth.  The caverns were cool and beautiful.  At one point, the guide told us we were 300 feet below the surface.  When we entered the cave, we left the natural sunlight,  but we had a well lighted path to follow.  In order for us to get the true feel of what it was like to be in a cave, the guide told us to stand perfectly still while he turned off the lights.  The darkness that enveloped us was thick.  There was not a hint of light anywhere and it was overwhelming.  Nothing was visible.  Then, the guide struck a match.  What a dramatic effect that tiny light had!  When the lights were once again turned on, the darkness was banished and we could go on with the cave tour.
     In the same way, Christ is our light in this dark world.  He is the one in whom we find real life and light.  There are several ways in which His light offers us peace.  First, with Christ as our light, confusion is sent packing.  He puts things in order because we can see with clarity what needs to be done.  This idea is put forth in the Book of Genesis.  When God created our world, it was first a formless void.  Then He spoke:  “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3b).  The light which God brought forth not only dispelled the darkness but also brought forth life and order.  This is what Christ does as the light in our lives.  We do not need to live in the confusion of darkness in our life.  We have His light to bring order to our lives.
     Secondly, the light of Christ is revealing.  His light shows us what has always been there inside us and around us.  It awakens us to the need for salvation initially, and then, reveals daily those things which we need to change as we grow in our sanctification.  Praise God for this light of revelation.  The prophets in the Old Testament knew this.  When Isaiah was confronted by the holiness and light of God, he cried:  “Woe to me!....I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).  As God reveals to us our sinful nature, we are able to repent and seek His forgiveness.  This brings real freedom.
     Finally, as Christ is the light of our life, we are able to find daily guidance.  Certainly, we could never have easily exited that cave in Kentucky if they hadn’t turned the lights back on.  We would have stumbled and become disoriented in the darkness.  However, those lights provided safety, so we knew which way led to the exit.  This is the same way with Christ.  Our world is filled with confusion.  We get mixed messages daily, but Christ through His Word to us directs our steps if we seek His face.  We do not have to wander around aimlessly.  In addition, Christ has called us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be “lights” to others in this world.  We are not the light, but we are to be reflectors of His light in our lives so that those around us will come to know Him by our witness.  God is so gracious in allowing us this privilege.
     Perhaps the greatest thought we need to carry with us each day is that Christ lights a path for us that no one can ever extinguish.  The darkness is no match for Him.  May we live in His light and reflect it to others as we walk daily.  In Him is life and He is the light of men!  Selah!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not Time But Christ

     This past week, a fellow pilgrim who posted a good deal on Facebook was suddenly taken home by the Lord.  I had just replied to one of his great Christian quotations the day before.  While I did not know him in person, I knew his heart belonged to our Savior, and it was always a blessing to read the things he took time to write.  One never knows the hour when Christ will call him home.  For the one who goes home to the celestial city, it is great joy, but for those left behind, it is often a difficult path to walk.
     As I discussed this with a friend, she reminded me that it is not time which heals a broken heart but Christ is the only one who can do this.  What good words of wisdom!  Certainly, time dims the shock and utter despair we feel when we lose someone or face painful circumstances, but the true peace which passes all understanding only comes when we give our hurt to the Lord and leave it there.
     My mother, during her deepest and darkest days after losing my baby sister Rebecca, often turned to the Psalms for comfort.  She taught me to do the same and to pray them at times when no other words would come.  When we look into the Psalms, we see where King David and others gathered their strength during the trials of life.  After all, who knew better than David the disappointments and pain of life.
     While we do not know specifically what Psalms he wrote when his own son Absalom rose up in rebellion and sought his life, there has been speculation that Psalm 63 or 141 might have been penned at this time.  However, David also had to flee King Saul for many years though he had done him no wrong.  Whether it was King Saul or his son Absalom, David turned to God for hope, healing and help.  In Psalm 63:1-8, we read:  "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory.  Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You.  So I will bless You as long as I live; in Your name I will lift up my hands.  My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise You with joyful lips, when I remember You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night; for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy."
     When we look at this passage of Scripture, we see David seeking and thirsting after God.  He runs into His shelter when life is less than perfect.  How often do we do this?  Many times we try to cover our pain with work or a busy schedule.  Then, we think we won't have time to think about our situation.  David, in contrast, runs to the Lord.  He lifts up praise to Him instead of wallowing in sorrow.  For David, God is his refuge, his strength, his defender and his redeemer.  Despite his failures, sins and weaknesses, God called him a man after His own heart.
     Like David, we often come to dry and weary times in our lives.  There is no mystery in this for we live in a fallen world.  Yet, we need to find, as David did, the joy of the Lord so that we can go on living.  If we fail to give our burdens to the Lord and allow Christ to heal us, our relationships suffer along with all else we attempt.  David knew this and set down in the Psalms, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, words of comfort for us to meditate on by God's design.
     As I reflect on the words of my friend, I have to agree that it is not time but Christ alone that brings healing to the hurting.  He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, and as Psalm 23 reminds us "even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for He is with us" (my paraphrase).  May we be quick to run to our heavenly Father in all the challenges of life and may God grant peace to those with a broken heart.  Selah!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trouble in the Sheep Pen

     Recently, I had the opportunity to read two articles published by "The Aquila Report" online.  One dealt with Mark Driscoll ("Yes, Restore Mark Driscoll, But to What?") and the other discussed "Young, Reckless, and Reformed".  Both of these articles are worth the time to read and think about because in many respects they are related.
Windows in the Cathedral at Lincolnshire 
     In the first article, the author discusses the fact that Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church fame has resigned from that ministry.  Over the past couple of years there have been charges by former members of being treated unfairly.  There were also charges of plagiarism by Driscoll in a book published under his name.  Of course, it is always sad to see a pastor leave a ministry he began, but this is not a new phenomenon.  There have been any number of leaders in the past who have resigned in the midst of scandal, but in this case, the author of the article asks a good question.  He says that Mark Driscoll should be restored to fellowship.  However, he questions if he should be restored to the pastorate.  There are some, he argues, that would be better off pursuing other callings.  Not everyone is meant to be a pastor especially if there are relationship problems that occur that results in a number of the sheep leaving the flock.  While I am not privy to all that transpired, I have read a number of accounts by former members who were themselves involved in leadership that reminded me how important it is to have a servant's heart if a person is in the position of pastor, elder or even a Sunday School teacher.
     In the second article (Young, Reckless, and Reformed), the author Mark Singleton points out the fact that the Reformed faith (of which Mark Driscoll was a part) has grown by leaps and bounds in the last several years.  With this growth, there is also great enthusiasm, but there are also some dangers.  He writes:  "There are churches and pastors who can testify about a difficult situation that arises from this large movement. The problem is the trend of young, reformed but heady college students who can talk theological circles around most layman, and even many pastors. Because of this theological depth they may request or receive authoritative positions they are completely unqualified for. This trend produces young people who are reformed and ready to have a microphone. The problem is that, because of their age, many of these guys—myself included—can be lacking in some serious wisdom."  Mark Singleton goes on to propose three important considerations that would help bring maturity to these believers.  Without understanding how to apply what we believe in a manner that is glorifying to God, we can wound others.  We may have great education, Bible college or even a seminary degree but are we ready to lead?  I wondered if this is what happened to Mark Driscoll.  Did he start to believe his own press?  Was he caught up in the success of the church?
     In Paul's letter to Timothy (3:1-7), he lays out the qualifications for teaching and ruling elders in the church:  "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."  
     Within the passage, there are several things which stand out for leaders.  First, Paul mentions some character qualities.  The person must be self-controlled.  No hair trigger tempers here that result in conflict.  The individual should be respectable and hospitable.  That word "hospitable" describes the ability to be welcoming to everyone in the body of Christ both young and old alike.  Furthermore, Paul describes a man who is gentle and not quarrelsome or a lover of money.  This indicates the heart of a servant not someone thinking only of his own welfare.  Paul also rules out recent converts who may not be mature enough in the faith to effectively lead as well as someone who is well thought of by those outside the church body.  It is a picture of a humble servant with a tender heart not a bully, or someone who demands his own way.
      I remember when I was in college that there were some who went into teaching for all the wrong reasons.  They wanted the benefits, three months off and a retirement plan, but they confided in me that they really were not crazy about working with students.  It made me sad because that meant shortchanging the students.  They would be the ones to suffer.  The same is true if a person undertakes leadership as a pastor, teacher or elder when they really only want the title, benefits, or the spotlight.  The sheep will ultimately be shortchanged.
     A pastor/counselor wisely told me some years ago that when someone ministers out of a desire to be recognized and to have his needs met, he will ultimately end up wounding others.  I believe this is a valid point.  James 3:1 tells us:  "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment."  Our motives are always on display before God.  He alone knows the heart.
     It is my prayer that in the situation with Mark Driscoll as with anyone else in similar circumstances there can be repentance and sincere restoration to fellowship.  I also pray there will be greater accountability to other believers.  May God grant us all grace as we walk daily that our motives and hearts can be humble, righteous and holy before the Lord so that He ALONE can receive the glory.  We are all called to have a servant's heart.  Selah!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"I Can See Clearly Now"

     This past weekend, I did a job I do not enjoy, but the weather was so beautiful I knew I had to use the time.  I washed windows outside and in the house.  Now we can see clearly through sparkling clean windows.  It gives me a good feeling when I have worked hard and can actually view the results.  I also now realize just how dirty those windows were!  Isn't it funny how easy it is to let our vision become clouded much like those dirty windows?  That is why reading God's Word and letting it be the measure of all we say, think, and do should be a priority.
     An often quoted verse from Romans 12:2 reminds us that we need to keep our spiritual windows clean:  "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."  When Paul wrote these words, he was trying to remind the Roman believers that it is easy to fall into conformity with the world's style, fashion, music and thought process.  After all, we live in this world 24/7.  We are bombarded by media through our smart phones, computers, electronic tablets and T.V.'s.  All day
A view from Neuschawnstein Castle near Munich, Germany
long we hear the world view as presented by the Prince of this world - satan.  However, we know his end will come, and so will his lies, perversions and injustice.  Therefore shouldn't we bathe our minds in the Word of God so that we more consistently hold to a Christian worldview?
     In my study Bible, there is a footnote with this verse that explains this verse in even more depth.
"...this world is better translated 'age', which refers to the system of beliefs, values - or the spirit of the age - at any time current in the world.  The sum of contemporary thinking and values forms the moral atmosphere of our world and is always dominated by Satan."  We all know that daily we see changes in the values that are acceptable in the world culture.  At one time, life was considered precious and now we see babies being aborted at a record rate and assisted suicide being promoted.  As we float along the river of life, even Christians can get caught up in the rapids of worldly thinking.  The only sure foundation for our faith and life is the Word of God.  His truth is everlasting and does not change even as God Himself does not change.
     When my husband and I were privileged to watch and study Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project", our eyes were opened to all the subtle lies being sold in our world.  It is amazing how dim the windows of our spirit had become.  This is the reason that we began to share it in our church, Sunday School and in our home group.  If we allow ourselves to be indoctrinated by the ideas of this present age, we will be unable to present a defense for the faith we hold dear.  We must understand the Word of God and what He says about life, our relationship to Him, our need for a Savior, and what He sets as the moral standard for our conduct.  After all, He made us and knows us better than we know ourselves.
     As we continue to look at the verse in Romans, we see the word "transformed" which has its origin in the Greek, and in English, it means "metamorphosis" or a change in outward appearance.  The same word is used in Matthew (Matthew 17:2) to describe the Transfiguration.  Jesus was changed outwardly, and we, as believers, are to show outwardly what has happened in our life on a daily basis.  This means that we are to be different than the world.  How do we accomplish this?  We do so by the power of the Holy Spirit as we are renewed in our minds.  Only through consistent study of God's Word can we live a life that is good, acceptable and perfect.  This is the kind of holy living which God desires.
     Bible study, prayer and regular fellowship with other believers is crucial to our spiritual health.  These are the things which keep the windows of our heart clean and clear as we travel through this life.  Sitting under the solid preaching of God's Word will also keep our feet grounded.  God has provided so many opportunities for us to grow that we are without excuse.  If you have not ever seen "The Truth Project", I would encourage you to go through this series.  It helps us to understand what it means to have a Christian worldview.  Lets all keep the windows of our spirit clean and clear so we can see what is the "good and acceptable and perfect" will of God.  Selah!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Doing Good While We Have the Opportunity

The Church of the Holy Rood
 Several years ago my husband and I had the privilege of traveling to Scotland as well as several other countries.  It was not only a once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate our anniversary in a special way, but also a chance to travel to places where history was made.  One such location was the city of Stirling, Scotland which not only had a monument to William Wallace ("Brave Heart") but also The Church of the Holy Rood where both John Knox and Ebenezer Erskine had preached the Gospel of Salvation.
     As we toured this old church, I noted in several places both on the wall as well as in the graveyard behind the church, inscriptions in stone commemorating the lives of various individuals who had died in the faith.  One such writing touched my heart.  It described a woman who had been the wife of a pastor, a faithful mother, someone much loved by others and a caring person who demonstrated the love of the Lord.  What a testimony to a life well lived that brought glory to God!  In fact, all of us should have this type of epitaph when we leave this world.
     In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul wrote some encouraging words for all believers to walk out.  Chapter 6, verses 9-10 read:  "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."  I believe that this is how the good lady written about on that stone wall had lived her life, and this is how we should live ours.  We are told, by the Apostle, to not grow weary in doing good.  This is not always easy is it?  There are days at work when our fellow man may say or do something that arouses a desire in us to strike back with a harsh word.  Likewise, for those who are young mothers, it can be difficult to continue on when the weight of family demands may be at an all time high.  Yet, Paul tells us not to become weary in doing good.  Realistically, only the Holy Spirit can help us be successful in this endeavor.
     Furthermore, Paul encourages us to do good to everyone and especially to fellow believers.  This should not be hard, but we also struggle with the old flesh that at times would rather do things our way and ignore the needs of others.  Keeping this in mind, the first place we need to start is in prayer before our heavenly Father.  We need to ask God to open our eyes and show us where we might be a blessing to people we encounter.  Today, for example, a gentleman came into our office distressed over a situation concerning his eyes.  I sought the counsel of my husband and took time to explain the best approach to this gentleman.  He needed someone to help him sort out what he should do, and after our brief discussion, he felt reassured.  All I did was listen and try to answer his questions.  This is what he needed.  It is that simple.  We do good to others when we listen to them, visit the sick, help someone grocery shop, call a friend who needs encouragement or give someone a ride to an appointment.  We demonstrate the love of Christ in many simple ways, but we need to look for the daily opportunities.
     Not only are we to do good to others, but we are to especially look for ways to bless our fellow believers.  In the book of Corinthians, Paul talked about how we are all part of the body and each one of us cannot do without the other part.    Therefore, by serving one another, we are glorifying God.  Life is short here on this earth so we must make use of every opportunity to do good.  One small act of kindness can change the course of someone's life.  Selah1

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two Kinds of Funerals

     Over the last several days, I have been thinking about the passing of some folks that I know.  It is always sad to say good-bye to someone with whom you have been acquainted, but it is even more difficult if you do not know where they stood with Christ.  I have personally been to many funerals during my life, and they come down to two types.  There is one type of funeral which is the celebration of a life that was committed to Jesus Christ.  This is a bittersweet service where all present know they will miss the person but will one day see him/her again in heaven.  Then, the other type of funeral is one that is far more difficult both for the pastor and the people.  At this funeral, no one really knows for certain that the person who has died was a believer.  What do you say to comfort the family?  Based on the Word of God, we know their destination was not heaven if they had never made Christ their Savior.  Yes, this is a difficult thing to think about, but I believe the Lord
wants us to wake up and take the opportunity to tell others about His saving love and grace while there is still time.

     Jesus gave a command to his disciples and all believers that would come after them to go out and tell others about His life, death and resurrection.  Matthew 28:18b-20 reads:  "...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age."  We know these verses as the "Great Commission".  It is a directive given to us by the Lord Himself to tell others about Him and offer them the opportunity to commit their life to Christ.  Then, we are to teach them what we have learned from God's Word so they can grow in faith.  This sounds simple, but we often avoid doing this very thing.  Our excuses range from "I don't like to be rejected" to "It's the Pastor's job to tell people about Jesus."  Yet, there is nothing so final as when the coffin lid closes on someone we could have shared Christ with and now it is too late.

     Perhaps, the thing which spurred my thoughts on the two types of funerals was a conversation I had with someone this past week.  A mutual friend had passed away and they remarked that this individual was now at rest in heaven.  I thought to myself, "How do they know that?"  I had talked with the person who had died many times and never once did that person show any interest in spiritual things.  They may have been baptized and confirmed but does that make you a believer?  In my own life, I was baptized as an infant and confirmed in my church, but it was not until I was 23 that I had a divine appointment where I met the Savior as my Lord.  If people had thought that based on my church attendance and confirmation I was a Christian, they would have been wrong.  I had a "head" knowledge about Christ.  I could recite verses, but He was not in my heart.  I was not a new creation in Him.

     According to the Apostle Paul in his letter to believers in Rome, this is what it takes to become a child of God:  "....if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Romans 10:9b-10).  There is an element of vocal and public affirmation stated in this verse.  We are to confess with our mouth that Christ is our Lord and then believe in our heart.  This is what happened to me and to my dear husband three months before we were married.  We gave our lives to Christ and made it public both to our families and to our friends.  Since we made that commitment, it dramatically changed our lives for the better.  We became new creations in Him, and when we are called home by the Lord, we will be alive in Him in heaven.  This is the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

     I readily confess that I, like many of you reading this, have not done all I can to share the message of Jesus Christ with others.  For this reason, my heart was heavy over the death of this acquaintance.  I am not certain where this person is.  Only God knows if there was repentance before this person left this life.  What we cannot depend on to save us is church membership, confirmation, baptism or any of these good works.  The only thing that can redeem us from our sins is the blood of Jesus Christ.  When we call upon Him, repent and make Him the Lord over our life, then, we can know that we will spend eternity in His presence in Heaven.

     Sadly, there are people dying every day who have never heard the news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  They will go into eternity without God's presence.  Their funeral will truly be a sad one.  However, we can make a difference if we accept the call which Christ has put in His Word and tell others.....family and friends....about the wonderful news of salvation.  Then, when their time to leave this earth comes, we can rejoice knowing they will enjoy the Lord forever even though we will miss them in life.  May we take seriously this call to share the Good News with those around us.  Selah!

Friday, October 17, 2014


I remember my days growing up in small town America where we had full service gas stations.  We would pull in and my father would roll down the window when the attendant came out and he would simply say “Fill ‘ER up.”  They washed our windshield, checked the oil and tire pressure and took good care of us.  Plus the cost of gas was next to nothing at that time.  But as we all know, times have changed!
The cost of gasoline has skyrocketed with no end in sight, and we have to do the pumping, windshield cleaning and checking all on our own.
     Despite how bad the prices are right now, no one can do without gas.  We need to get to work, shop and take our family to various events.  As a result, we take good care of our cars by making certain the tank is full.
     Today, however, I got a fill-up that was free and I have been delighted ever since then.  The fill-up I am talking about  comes from going to church.  This is where I have an opportunity to find encouragement and accountability from other believers.   It is a place where I can learn by sitting at the feet of Jesus as Scripture is read and discussed and it is a place where I can worship the Lord.
     My father always used to say that he could worship God riding his tractor while working in the field.  This is true.  We can worship God anywhere and at any time.  However, something unique happens when we come together in shared faith to lift our voices to God.  The writer of Hebrews knew how important this was and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he penned these words:  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
     In this passage, the author mentions holding fast to our confession of hope without wavering.  Let me suggest that this is easier to do when we are in regular fellowship.  I liken this to attending classes in college.  I had the freedom then to attend class or not.  However, if I did not go, I missed material that often ended up on a final test.  Plus, I was wasting my investment in my education.  Therefore, I made it to my classes even when there were times I would rather have stayed in bed.
      Several months ago on a Sunday, for example, I was not particularly motivated to attend church.  My husband was away and I hate to go alone.  Nevertheless, I knew that my heart needed inspiration…a fill-up if you will.  I was not at all disappointed.  God never disappoints!  When we go to meet Him, He will always touch us.  In addition, I got to sit next to a wonderful young woman whose husband was also away.  We had the chance to visit after church and share about our respective family’s.  I left with renewed joy, encouragement, fresh teaching from God’s Word that stimulated me and a sense of great peace.  Now I ask you….where can you get all that for free in this day and age?
     In his letter to the Ephesian believers, the Apostle Paul wrote these words of exhortation:  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart….”(Ephesians 5:15-19).  Where better can we do this than in the body of believers?  It serves as a spiritual filling station where we can meet the Lord to make certain our lives stay on track.
     Just as I take my car in for regular tune-ups, I want my life to be in tune with God’s will.  As I study and share with other believers, my faith grows, and I am better prepared to face the new week.  We all need a “safe house” from the storms of life and that is what church  fellowship can do.  It helps us refocus our lives on Jesus Christ.  May we all search out a fellowship to be a part of if we do not have one so we can say as David did in Psalm 84:10:  “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”  Selah!

    Father, You delight in our worship and coming together.  You admonish us not to miss assembling together.  Let us never forsake the privilege we have in gathering together to study Your Word.  Implant in our hearts a desire to encourage each other and all the more as the Day of Your return draws closer.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sowing the Seeds of Prayer

 When my father became disabled and was no longer able to farm his land due to heart disease, he found great comfort in playing hymns on the organ in our home.  He was not a great musician, but this did not matter to any of us.  We knew that he found solace in the words and notes of the hymns.  One of his favorites was “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  I think he played that one more than any other because for him, prayer is what kept him going day by day.  This should be true not only in our individual lives but also in the church as well.
     Since I grew up on an Ohio farm, I know about planting season and harvest time.  There was a lot of work in preparing the ground and planting the crop.  The rest was in God’s hands.  My father worked hard to keep the weeds down, and the plants fertilized.  His labor is not unlike that of a Christian.  As we labor in prayer, we are planting seeds that will one day come to fruition just as my father’s crop came to harvest time.  The question is will our harvest be plentiful because we sowed many seeds to the Lord or will we reap only a small harvest because we did not spend much time in His presence?  How then, do we begin to sow the seeds of prayer?
     Coming into His presence with reverence, worship and thanksgiving opens our heart before the Lord.  Psalm 50:14-15 says:  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  We honor God by coming to Him and offering ourselves in an attitude of thanksgiving.  Yes, sometimes it is a sacrifice on our part.  Life is hard, and at times, it is all we can do to find much to thank God for.  Yet, when we come thanking Him, we open our own hearts to His healing touch.  He rejoices more in this sacrifice than anything else we could bring to Him.
     Once the soil of thanksgiving has been tilled, we are ready to plant the seeds of prayer not only for our concerns but also for the needs of others.  I Timothy 2:1-2 reads:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Rather than spend our time complaining about things we cannot change, let us go to the only One who has the authority and power to change the things that concern us.  God already knows our thoughts and our hearts, but He waits to hear from our lips the words of our concern.  What a release we experience when we can carry our burdens, our cares and our family before the Lord.  He is able to do what we cannot.  As we pray, we sow these seeds into His soil.  Likewise, these verses tell us to pray for our leaders, our church and our brothers and sisters in the faith.  More is accomplished in prayer than can ever be done through our own efforts.
     Now, at this point, I have to caution that prayer does not mean instant answers any more than when my father sowed seeds in the ground.  It is God’s perfect timing for all things that brings results.  My father could not make those plants grow.  He did what he could but only God could bring the harvest.  The same is true in prayer.  Be patient but persistent in prayer.
The harvest will come if we remain faithful.
     What should we carry to God?  All that troubles our heart as well as all the praise for what He has done.  Once we have spent time communing with Him, we will never be the same.  Corrie Ten Boom once said:  “Don’t pray when you feel like it.  Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.  A man is powerful on his knees.”  What a privilege we have to carry everything to God in prayer.  The more we sow to His glory the more we will find joy in our daily living.  Do we want to see souls saved?  Then, we need to pray daily for those around us.  Do we want to see God at work in our church and our homes?  Then, we need to bathe all this in prayer.
     My father always had a great harvest each year.  It did not come about by chance but by effort in working his ground and trusting in God.  We must, likewise, labor in prayer sowing the seeds of faith and see what great things God will do for His glory and our growth.  His harvest never fails.  Selah!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chicken Yard Living

       Growing up in farm country (Ohio), I experienced being around a lot of livestock and poultry.  One of my great uncles had a chicken yard.  As a child, I thought it was funny to go in the chicken yard and watch them scratch the ground for food.  When my uncle threw some feed on the ground, the chickens ran to quickly grab their share.  My mother was not too happy with me walking around in the chicken yard because it was smelly and there was a lot a little girl could step in!  In addition, there was a bully rooster who liked to chase me around and try to peck me.  I guess that old rooster knew I didn’t belong in that yard.  It is the same in our daily lives too.  We were not created to live a chicken yard life.

     As Christians, we tend to settle for far less than what our Heavenly Father has provided for us.  After all, we are now children of the King through our relationship with Jesus Christ.  He paid for us and brought us out of slavery to sin.  However, we do not live like it.  Quite often, we travel through life content to just scratch for food.  We allow the “bully” roosters to scare us away from what little there is for us to find.  Somehow, we come to accept a mediocre existence when we could be soaring with the eagles.

     Much of this is our faulty thinking which can only be changed by reading God’s Word.  After all, it is the manual for living.  In the pages of the Bible we read this in Isaiah 40:31:  “Those who wait for the Lord shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.”

     First, we need to think about what it means to be an eagle.  Here in Florida, we have a good share of hawks, osprey and eagles.  It is marvelous to see them glide on the wind currents high above the ground as they search for food.  Their eyesight is extremely sharp, and they have tremendous strength.  Eagles do not scratch for their food on the ground like chickens but rather, they search for fresh game to feast upon from on high. In addition, few birds are bothersome to an eagle because when he is attacked he just rises higher and higher where the smaller creature cannot fly.  What an analogy Isaiah has created for us by using the term eagle in the verse above!

     Secondly, we must consider the word “wait” which the prophet tells us to do.  What does it mean to wait on the Lord?  I personally believe it means to pray, meditate on the Word and study it.  Instead of just scratching around for answers to life’s problems like the chickens, we need to wait for the air current like the eagle.  Then, we can mount up with God’s power and soar high above the difficulties we face.  Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word “Ruwach” refers to wind or the Holy Spirit.  When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit rather than self, we can mount up like eagles and soar on the breath of God.

     Unfortunately, many of us waste our time scratching on the ground of life.  We become content just picking up crumbs.  Don’t get me wrong here.  God is NOT our meal ticket to riches and fame.  He does not wait upon us.  We are to wait upon Him.  When we do, He will be the “wind beneath our wings.”  He will satisfy our souls more than anything we can accomplish in this life.

     What often happens to us is that we get stuck in “chicken thinking”.
The world and our sin nature have so thoroughly permeated every ounce of our being that we look for quick fixes.  We tell ourselves that we will find fulfillment when we reach a certain business level, get married, have children or a new house.  Yet, those things will NEVER fill up the empty spot in our hearts.  No, we were meant for even greater things.  Our life is not a series of goals to be achieved.  Each one of us was meant to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  If we are busy scratching for the world’s approval, we are missing the heights for which we were created.  The world offers cheap imitations of love and acceptance, but God offers us the real thing!

     I don’t know about you but I am done being chased around by bully roosters and scratching in the chicken yard.  I want to soar with the eagles and find strength in God.  To do that, we need to immerse ourselves in His Word and prayer daily.  We cannot experience all we are meant to be by living in the chicken yard.  Our calling in Christ is for a higher purpose.  Today, look into the Word and allow God to be the wind beneath your wings.  Selah!

     Father, we desire to wait upon You that we may find our satisfaction and fulfillment in You alone.  This world has nothing to offer us compared with Your eternal riches in glory.  Teach us to think differently and to fly higher by the power of Your Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The picture is courtesy of Jorg Hempel at Wiki Commons.