Friday, February 28, 2014

Living By Faith Not Feelings

     April 27, 1971 was the date that my husband and I committed our lives to Jesus Christ.  I will never forget that evening as John Romano, campus director of Campus Crusade for Christ at The Ohio State University presented "The Four Spiritual Laws" to us.  There were no fireworks or dramatic feelings that came when we prayed - only a calm assurance that we had repented of our sins and received the gift of salvation.  
     One of the most important elements in what John shared that evening was the diagram of a train.  
 In the diagram, he explained that the engine represented the "fact" of God's Word which is truth.  Then, the fuel comes from faith that God imparts to our hearts when we believe.  The caboose represents our feelings.  He said that the feelings do not pull the train.  We can live without or without the caboose.  However, it is the engine (God's Word) that moves our faith and feelings along the tracks of life.  As we study the Word, our faith grows and our feelings of love and excitement grow as well.
     Unfortunately, many people try to live by feelings instead of by faith which can lead to disaster or a roller coaster ride in our Christian walk.  If they feel up, God is with them.  By the same token, if they feel down, God has moved far away.  Yet God does not move.  Hebrews 13:8 reads:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  He is always with us and never leaves nor forsakes us.  This is a promise from God's Word which is fact.  Feelings change but God's Word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35).  So if we are trying to walk in the faith of God's Word, what do we do when we go through difficult times?
     According to the letter that James wrote to the church, he encourages us to count it all joy.  In James 1:2, he writes:  "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials."  At first glance, we might think that we would have to pretend to be joyful during hard times; yet this is not what James means. Just as we can choose to frown or smile, we can choose to express joy or sorrow as well.  Many of our responses are a matter of choice.  James never said anything about "feel it all joy".  Rather he told us to "count it all joy"  When we praise God and express our hope and joy in Him, our feelings will follow.  It is a matter of trusting His Word.  The world system waits for feelings before they act but the Christian is to act in faith and the feelings will follow.  Let me illustrate.
     Someone asked me how I could smile since we recently lost our grandson.  I replied that I know our grandson is with Jesus safe and sound.  I also know I will see him again one day because I trust in Christ.  Do I have moments that I am sad?  Yes.  However, my faith is not built on feelings which are going to fluctuate when there is a loss.  Instead, I am depending on God to heal, comfort and restore me and my entire family.  Spending time in God's Word since this loss has built up my faith which in turn is bringing restoration to my emotions.  It will take time, but we serve a mighty God.
     From time to time, our faith will be tested by the trials of life.  If we are putting the fact of God's truth (His Word) first, we will be able to pull the train of our life.  We just need to remember that feelings come and go, but they do not form the basis for our faith...God's Word does.  May God help us remember this simple train diagram as we travel the track of this life.  He will bring us home safely!  Selah!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Ever Say "Never"

 I remember our daughter's baby shower quite well.  She had instructed me and others that she did not want any pink items or lots of ruffles for her little girl.  We followed those instructions, but something happened as time went on.  After her daughter Rilyn was born, we began to see her wearing pink with lots of ruffles, bows, and adorable shoes to match.  This little girl was quite feminine.  What happened to all the anti-pink, ruffles and bows talk we heard?  I think it went the way so many things do when we make an absolute statement about what we will NEVER do.
     When I consider my own life, I remember a number of statements I made with an air of certainty like:  "I never want to marry someone from Defiance, Ohio "(they were our football rivals in high school).   "I never want to move away from my hometown of Napoleon, Ohio" or "I will never eat tomatoes and enjoy it."  To make a long story short - I married a wonderful man from Defiance, Ohio, we moved to Florida 35 years ago, and I enjoy eating tomatoes!  See what I mean?  We put ourselves out on a limb every time we make a vow that we will never do this thing or that.  This is one reason the Bible tells us not to swear by heaven or earth concerning any matter in James 5:12:  "But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation."  This verse tells us what the danger is in making absolute statements.  If we violate what we make an oath on, we are being hypocritical and possibly even sinning.
     Unfortunately Peter fell into this trap.  Of course, Peter was always saying something dramatic, and often missing the mark.  However, on this one occasion, he really over estimated his ability to avoid temptation and fell into a trap of his own making.
     Following the "Last Supper" with his disciples, Jesus told them what would happen.  In Matthew 26:31, Jesus said:  "...You will all fall away because of me this night.  For it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'"  Then, in verse 33, we read Peter's absolute statement:  "Peter answered Him, 'Though they all fall away because of You, I will never fall away.'"  To this pronouncement, Jesus answered:  "....Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times" (verse 34b).  Still, Peter continued to push his statement of loyalty by saying once more:  "'...Even if I must die with You, I will not deny you!' And all the disciples said the same" (verse 35).
     Without a doubt, Peter and the other disciples desired to stay loyal to their Lord.  However, they
did not realize the weakness of their flesh.  Indeed, they scattered after the arrest of Jesus.  Peter went to the courtyard to follow the Lord and see what would happen.  When some recognized him as one of the disciples, they asked him if he had been with Jesus.  Three times he denied knowing Jesus.  Then, he remembered what the Lord had told him and in verse 75b, we read:  "And he went out and wept bitterly."  Peter realized his sin.  At a later time, we know that the Lord restored him as He can also restore us when we fall into sin.  However, the lesson for us is that we must be careful what kinds of statements we make in life.  Will we be prideful like Peter and promise something we cannot deliver or will we be humble and acknowledge  that we will remain faithful with God's help?
     Certainly vowing that we are never going to eat something or dress in a certain way do not rise to the level of Peter's denial, but looking at this story serves an important purpose to warn us against making an absolute statement that we, in our own strength, cannot keep.  Instead of making a rash vow, we would be better off to say we prefer one thing over another and leave it at that.  Or as James says  "let your yes be yes and your no be no".
     Our daughter now delights in all the pretty dresses and frills that come with being the mother of a pretty little girl even as I did when she was little.  Lets face it, we all can change our minds given time and experience.  Likewise, we live under God's sovereign purpose and will for our lives.  We live to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.  That's why we need to simply say "yes" or "no" rather than making those "I will never".... statements.   Today, my prayer is that God will help us follow His lead wherever it may take us.  Selah!

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Kiss From Heaven

     Now you can call me crazy for even thinking this, but I believe God can touch us in so many ways to comfort our hearts and encourage us.  So, when I stepped outside with the dog this past week, I looked up and saw a huge "X" in the sky.  It was made by two jet contrails over our house.  Until this past week, I have never seen this ever happen.  Then, Saturday, while we were at a wedding, there was another big "X" in the sky over the site of the ceremony, and once again, today, I saw two double "X's" over the house.  These are like kisses from heaven....a reminder of God's abiding love.  I know. I know.  There is a danger in looking for signs but these simply served as symbols of comfort and blessing.
     I wonder how many of us miss the small details every day that reveal God's love for us and His abiding presence?  A friendly smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, a card for a birthday or even a simple compliment can be vehicles the Lord can use to bless our lives.  However, in our rush to meet the demands of our every day routine, we often overlook the grace and mercy which the Lord provides.  Psalm 19:1 reads:  "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."  We just need eyes to see and a heart ready to receive all that the Lord has in store for us each day.
     Our first source, of course, is in His Word.  This is where we begin to recognize who God is, His character and His attributes.  He opens our hearts to know Him as we read through the pages of the Bible.  It is the truth that makes us aware of who we are and for what purpose the Lord has made us.  The more I read His Word each day the more I know of His abiding love for me, and the great price He paid for my salvation.  This is what opens our eyes to the beauty of creation, and makes us aware of His presence with us daily.
     A second source is found in prayer.  If we really want to draw near to God, we need to talk to Him.
James tells us "....You do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2b).  He goes on to say that we do not ask rightly for the things we really need which is to grow closer to the Lord and seek to glorify Him.  Instead, we often ask amiss for things which we do not need to have in our lives.  However, when we ask Him for wisdom, to see the small details of His grace in our lives each day, to help us grow in thankfulness for every day blessings, He will give us the desire of our heart.  Prayer is a precious conversation between us and our Almighty Creator made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ.  How could we not want to talk with the One who made us and knows us better than ourselves?
     Finally, if we want to really see God in the details of life, we need fellowship on a consistent regular basis.  Going to church has become such a great joy in my life.  Being with other believers stimulates, encourages and knocks off the rough edges of life.  We are iron sharpening iron as we meet to worship God and study His Word together.  Hearing the testimonies of others and rejoicing in answered prayer makes me more aware than ever of how God cares about every little detail of our lives.                                                                                                                                                  
     Without the elements of reading His Word, spending time in prayer and fellowshipping with other believers, we will miss seeing all that God has done and is doing for us.  The wonder of creation, and the beauty we find in our daily life comes from a relationship with God our Father in heaven.  Maybe those "X's" in the sky just happened to be there, but I know that our Lord and Savior can use many means in this world to bring us encouragement and blessing.  For now, I choose to think of them as "kisses from heaven".  Allow Him to open your eyes to His wonders, joys, and small details each day as you spend time with Him.  Selah!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Caught in the Roundabout

      A little over two years ago, my husband and I took a 40th wedding anniversary trip to Europe.  Both of us had dreamed of visiting Scotland, England, Germany and Switzerland, but I never thought there would really be such a possibility.  When my husband declared his intention to take me, I was surprised and blessed.   
     Our daughter had secretly been conspiring with my husband and made all the travel arrangements.  When it came to Scotland and England, it was my husband's idea to rent a car and take a "drive through" tour during the first week of our trip.  This was quite a step as they drive on the left side of the road, and we were somewhat unfamiliar with what to expect.  However, we plunged in and looked up traffic rules for the United Kingdom so we could acquaint ourselves with their signs.
     Once we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, we picked up a lovely SUV.  We also secured a GPS to assist us in getting around.  We assumed that the GPS in the United Kingdom would function as ours do in the States.  However, we were wrong which led to several adventures and a day filled with nervous tension.  
     The plan was to drive to Stirling for the day and see the large castle there as well as The Church of the Holy Rood.   We started out by typing in Stirling into our GPS, but we did not get very far until we came to our very first roundabout.  These are circles in the highway where you enter cautiously and where you need to know where to get off.  Unfortunately, we did not know where to get off so we went around about five times until we figured it out.  Once we got on the highway, it was smooth sailing to Stirling.  We followed the signs that led us up to "The Church of the Holy Rood" where we parked and walked.  The castle was nearby so we felt it would be better to leave our vehicle where it was.
Inside the courtyard of Stirling Castle
     After our tour was over, we planned to head back to Edinburgh and find the town of Bonnyrig where our accommodations were located.  This proved to be the most frustrating part of our entire trip.  Again, we programmed the GPS to lead us to Dalhousie Castle, but instead, we started off in the wrong direction and had to turn around several times.  At this point, I did a lot of praying while my husband white knuckled the drive back towards Edinburgh.  By God's grace, we managed to find our exit to Bonnyrig and eventually to our housing for the night.
     By the time we arrived at our destination, we were exhausted from jet lag, driving on the left side of the road, not understanding our GPS, and having spent the day walking up steep hills and steps to which we were not accustomed.  Before leaving the next day, we asked the clerk at the desk how the GPS system worked in the United Kingdom...a question we should have asked earlier.  He told us that you simply put in the exact postal code of the house or location you wish to reach and it will take you there.  Lo and behold!  It worked!  In fact, it was far more accurate than our GPS systems here and from that time on, we did not have half the trouble we had experienced at first.
     Life is very much like that first day of our trip.  It is easy to get off the path, miss the turns and stumble along.  Our nerves were frayed and we were both concerned at being in a strange place without adequate direction.  Once we learned how to use the GPS, we had little trouble navigating our way around. In this life,  God is our best navigational system, and He has provided us with His Word to show us how to operate.  Even more, He sent His Son to deliver us from the bondage of sin and darkness.  We don't need to go round and round the roundabouts of life as we did on our trip.  He will guide us to where we are to go if we pray and ask His wisdom in all things.
     Isaiah 58:11 reads:  "The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail."  Indeed, these words spoken by Isaiah should bring comfort to us.  We do not need to get lost in life's confusing highways.  If we seek God, He will guide us and show us the way to go.  By trusting in Him, though difficulties may arise, we will never walk alone for He will go with us.  No GPS can guarantee accuracy like the Lord can who will safely bring us home to heaven one day.
     If we ever return to the United Kingdom, I am not certain we will rent a vehicle again.  We had a wonderful time, but we need someone else to do the driving for us.  Then, we can rest assured we will reach our destination.  With God guiding our lives, we can also know He will lead us on the right path.  If He is not in the driver's seat, we may find ourselves caught up in many of life's roundabouts without a solid exit.  Selah!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reflections On Suffering

      Over the last several hours, I have poured over pictures of our grandson Branson.  Somehow I had a deep need to just see his happy, smiling face again.   I also dug deep into the archives of my blog and found how many times I had written about him and his many trials.  Over and over again, I wrote about some new lesson we were learning as another difficulty confronted this little guy who always seemed to be smiling.  Then I remembered a series that my husband and I have been listening to from Ligonier Ministries.
     In the series entitled "The Sovereignty of God and Suffering" by Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr., he said something outstanding about his special needs daughter whom he had recently lost.  He said that she had not come for them to teach her, but she came to teach them many things about themselves.  As some of you may know, Dr. Sproul, Jr.  lost his wife to cancer not long ago, and he has also battled cancer which is currently in remission.  I cannot think of anyone better to speak on the subject of suffering than this man.  That statement about his special needs daughter jumped out at me.  Indeed, I can identify with what he stated.  As a family, we learned more from Branson than we ever taught him.
     God's plan for us is to grow us into the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ.  When we become a Christian, we do not have an instantaneous transformation into a mature, stable, godly believer.  I wish that were true, but it is not the way in which God works.  I confess I do not always understand God's ways and scripture backs me up on that point: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).  So, if someone told you that coming to Christ would take all your troubles away, they were sorely mistaken.
      Jesus Christ clearly told us that this life would be full of trials and tribulations, but He also told us to take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Rather than looking at our difficulties we need to look, instead, at the lessons God is using to refine us.  He is, after all, the potter and we are the clay.
     As I spend time talking to others in our congregation who have lost children, grandchildren, spouses and other relatives, I have found a common thread.  While the loss is heart rending at the time, God has used it to deepen their faith, move them out of their comfort zone to reach out to others who are also grieving, and to pour their energies into serving the Lord.  Certainly, the loss of a loved one means we have all the more reason to look forward to heaven.
     Yesterday, I encountered a brother in the Lord at the grocery store.  He and his wife are caring for special needs children which they have adopted and as we shared about Branson's life, he said something I think is so wise.  He said that we focus too much on this brief life that we have here and now and do not think about heaven with the anticipation we should have in Christ.  That is true.  When we focus on our loss, it keeps us from looking forward to all that God has in store for those who love Him.  So what can we learn when we go through suffering and loss?
     First, we learn to pray.  Dr. Sproul, Jr. said that he and his family spent a good deal of time in prayer talking to God about the circumstances they faced.  Our family has done the same.  For every crisis that Branson encountered, we developed a deeper prayer life.  
     Secondly, we come to acknowledge that we may never know the "why" of things that happen, but we know that God is sovereign in all situations.  From the beginning, Dr. Sproul, Jr. and his wife knew that their daughter Shannon could die at any time.  Yet God made her unique and precious by His design as He did Branson.  These special children brought special joy and happiness.  As Dr. Sproul, Jr.  said so well they come to teach us how to live and how to love.
     Finally and most importantly, we learn to praise God in the storms of life.  In fact, we are drawn closer to Him and to one another as we huddle together to weather the loss.  We turn to the Word, to our church fellowship and find great relief in worshipping Him.  He has the answers we seek, so we lean upon His everlasting arms and praise Him even though we do not fully comprehend His ways.  Again it comes down to trust in Him, and we are learning this more every day.
      At this point, we take every day one step of faith at a time.  I highly encourage you to go to Ligonier Ministry and download the free podcasts on "The Sovereignty of God and Suffering".  There is so much wisdom and encouragement in this series for any going through the trials of living.  We must remember that God brings good out of all that Satan means for evil.  Look to Him for the answers and the lessons we need to learn in every situation.  Selah!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering to Forget

The Cathedral of York in Yorkshire, England
     Some things are worth remembering always like the smile of a loved one gone to heaven.  However, there are other things we need to forget and put behind us like the hurtful things that can happen to us in life.  When we get locked in the past, we can make no forward progress.  The Apostle Paul made this clear in Philippians 3:13-14:  "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
     When I survey the stories told in Genesis, the one that jumps out at me is the story of Joseph.  If anyone had reason to complain, it would have been this young man.  His own brothers plotted to kill him and then, decided instead to throw him into a pit.  Later, they sold him to a caravan traveling to Egypt where he was sold into slavery.  He prospered for a time in the house of Potiphar but his lascivious wife slandered Joseph with a false tale, and he was thrown into prison.  Even there, God blessed him, and he did not dwell on the past.  Eventually, his ability to interpret dreams with God's divine help allowed him to experience freedom and rise to second in command over all Egypt.
     Rising to this important political position, Joseph married and he named his first son Manasseh which means "God has caused me to forget" (Gen. 41:51).  This was the secret to his ability to put the past behind him.  He trusted in God, and it was the Lord that enabled him to move forward.  Certainly, if anyone had a reason to seek revenge or payback others, it would have been Joseph, but God wrote his story for us to see so we might follow his example as we journey heavenward.
     I admit that it is a blessing that the sharp edges come off of our memories as time passes.  Things like loneliness, the grieving heart, the shock of a betrayal God helps us to forget if we allow Him to minister to us.  I call this a blessing because one of the worst things we can do is nurse old wounds, remember insults or plan some way to get even.  We become consumed with unforgiveness, and we are the ones that end up prisoners to this state of mind....not the one who hurt us.
     Living in the past holds us back from the goal of ever moving towards the prize of our calling heavenward.  This life is a journey through which God is molding and shaping us into the image of His dear Son.  As Christians, we cannot afford to get stuck in the mire and quick sand of hatred, revenge or despair.  We cannot change what has happened to us, but we can move forward just like Joseph trusting that God will use all things together for good.
     A time came for Joseph when he was able to reveal himself to his brothers who had come to him for help during a famine.  His brothers were afraid he would seek revenge, but Joseph kept moving forward when he said:  "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).  Joseph recognized God's sovereignty in all the affairs of men.  His brothers had meant him evil, but God used all the circumstances for His glory and Joseph's good.
     As we pray, God can help us put behind us what we need to forget.  All the hurts, insults, grief, and injuries of the past do not need to hold us captive.  Through Christ, we are free to move forward as the Apostle Paul tells us towards that goal of the heavenward call.  Joseph shows us that this is possible by the testimony of his life.  May we be as trusting in our God as he was!  Selah!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Drawing Near to God

      Listening to the news or reading a paper can be depressing.  We are often bombarded with stories of loss, crisis, or conflict somewhere in the world.  However, as we read, we need to consider that over time nothing much has changed.  The names of leaders may change and the circumstances change but at the heart of it all is man's sin nature which has not changed since the Garden of Eden.  Lust for power, money, fame, and sex still drive the natural man who tries to find satisfaction in life through these means.  Of course, that is what sells magazines and newspapers, and creates chaos in our world.  However, if we want a clear picture of what man and woman are meant to be, we need to spend time reading our Bible.
    Throughout the Old Testament, we see the disintegration of man's relationship to a holy God as a result of Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden.  Yet, we also see those who have trusted in God such as Noah, Abraham and Jacob.  Their trust and faith, though imperfect, drew them close to the Lord, and He drew close to them.  In fact, reading the Old Testament is not unlike reading a newspaper.  There are good kings and bad kings, faithful and faithless people with every shade in between.  Today, however, I found comfort in reading the story of Asa a good king of Judah.
     In 2 Chronicles chapters 14 and 15, we read the story about Asa who rose to the throne of Judah.  Following the death of Solomon, Rehoboam reigned as king followed by his son Abijah.  During this time, the kingdom had split between Israel who refused to follow Rehoboam and Judah who chose to follow him.  The fortunes of Judah rose and fell depending upon whether the king followed the Lord or abandoned Him for idol worship.  When Asa came on the scene, he restored the worship of God and 2 Chronicles 14:2 reads:  "And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." He tore down the foreign altars and high places, destroyed the idols, and commanded the people to worship God alone.  Here was a leader who put God first and sought His counsel even in going to war.  Because of his faithfulness, God gave him success in his battles even against great odds.
     Then in Chapter 15, we see Asa receiving guidance from the Lord.  A man named Azariah, full of the Holy Spirit, spoke to him saying:  "Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin:  The Lord is with you while you are with Him.  If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you" (verse 2b).  This is a clear cut instruction not only for Asa but for each one of us today.  If we seek Him, He will be found by us.
     Asa sought the Lord and removed the sin in the camp by destroying all false worship.  Furthermore, he restored the altar of the Lord and gathered all the people for a time of worship.  By this time, some of those in Israel had heard of Asa's success and knew that God was with him.  They also came to Judah to live and worship.  The King led in a renewing of the covenant to be faithful to God and in verse 15c, we read that God gave them rest all around.  Asa didn't stop with this renewal celebration of worship though.  He went and tore down his mother's false idol as well.  I am certain it took some courage to do this, but this King was not half hearted in his commitment.
     There are several take aways we can learn from this passage in the Old Testament.  First, godly leadership is a blessing.  As a leader, Asa led the way back to God.  The Lord blessed the people as a result. We need to pray for this in our nation and for the world.  Secondly, the witness of Judah to Israel and the other tribes was clear enough that many abandoned their allegiance and joined with Judah.  Shouldn't our witness be that clear too?  We don't need entertainment and raz-ma-taz in the church.  We need sound, biblical preaching.  This is what brings men and women to the Lord.  Finally, the truth is clear that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  We will find Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts.  I know this from personal experience.  As our family has drawn near to God seeking his comfort in our loss, He has been found by us.  His comfort, His love, and His answers to our hearts have been evident.
     If we want to live in God's blessing, we need to be faithful to worship Him alone.  Following Asa's example in the Bible is far more productive than spending time reading a newspaper full of man's attempts to find meaning in all the wrong places.  Remember, as we draw near to God in His Word, He will draw near to us.  It's a promise with many blessings!  Selah!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Ministry of Touch

     When I was growing up, I cannot remember a time when I didn't get a hug or pat on the back.  I loved cuddling next to my dad watching T.V. together and I will never forget all the time he spent with me when I had polio.  Because of the stiffness in my lower extremities, my father often massaged my legs and feet at night to help me sleep better.  This was a part of the therapy recommended by the doctor and it really helped.  All these examples of touch made me feel loved and secure in my home.
     Quite often, we forget how important it is to minister the love of Christ to one another through touch. We may do it in our homes with our family, but we forget that there are many others who need a friendly handshake, a kind hug, or a simple pat on the back.  Perhaps this has become more clear to me after the loss of our grandson.  At the visitation, so many came and gave us a hug, or a handshake which served to reassure our hearts of God's grace and love.  Those of you reading this who came will never know how much it brought healing.  There is something about reaching out and touching another person which brings a sense of acceptance that cannot come any other way.
     Throughout His ministry, Jesus often used touch as a means to heal and demonstrate God's love.  In the City of Galilee, Jesus encountered a leper.  Matthew 8:2-3 reads:  "And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed." Other instances included the healing of Jairus' daughter who had died, a blind man outside Bethsaida, Peter's mother-in-law to name a few.  We do not know how many times Jesus used touch to heal because not all the miracles He did were recorded.  However, we know that those whom He touched were never the same.
     Too often, we don't realize the ministry of touch we can have in our church, nursing homes, assisted care centers, children's ministry, but especially to those we encounter on a daily basis.  A kind word coupled with a sincere pat on the hand can do a lot to lift a person up.   A number of months ago, our choir members went to an assisted living home where we sang for the residents.  Following our presentation, we went around saying hello to the assembled residents and shaking their hands.  I was blessed and so were they.  Having contact with others is essential to our well being.  Unfortunately, our world has become so oriented to building relationships online that we often forget how important it is to actually touch and interact with those around us.
     Maybe we do not possess great skill in speaking, teaching, or even singing, but we all can touch someone and tell them we are praying for them.  As believers in Christ, we are called to be ambassadors for the Lord.  This means representing Him to people we encounter.  We can do that through the medium of caring concern for that person as well as touch.  Let us demonstrate the love of Christ by praying for them and offering them a warm handshake or a kind hug.  In that, God is glorified and a soul is ministered to.  Selah!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

God Is Near the Brokenhearted

 Nearly a month has gone by since our grandson has gone to be with the Lord.  Almost every day, people kindly ask how we are doing, and I answer them honestly.  Some days seem to go smoothly and other days not so much.  As my husband always reminds me, it is a process and it will take time. There is no instant healing.  However, God is teaching us and touching us in ways that are remarkable.  I am learning that grieving is not a bad thing, but rather, something which will draw us nearer to God if we allow it.
     Psalm 34:17-19 reads:  "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."  What precious words to read for this is just what we as a family have done on a daily basis.  We have cried out to God and He has heard us.  He is slowly mending our broken hearts and saving our crushed spirits.
     Among the "mercy drops" (I wrote about this in an earlier post on this blog) which God has given to us are the many who have stopped and shared their stories with us.  A retired fire fighter stopped by our office the other day.  He had lost his wife a few years ago, and he was sorry to hear about our grandson.  He shook my hand and told me that now Branson and his wife can play together in heaven and enjoy freedom from any problems.  What kind words that seemed to soothe my soul!  Then, there have been dear friends who have told me stories of their losses and how the Lord helped them through the difficult days.  Still another friend gives me a hug every Sunday and never fails to encourage me with her smile.  Are these not the rich blessings from God that let us know He is near?
As scripture tells us, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17).  God is good, He is faithful, and He does not change.  This is what all grieving hearts need to know, and while we do not see God, we encounter His love through other believers that bathe us in prayer and encouragement.
     Of all the places that I have found the greatest comfort is in reading His Word more fervently than ever before.  Daily, I come hungry to feed on His Word and find strength for the day.  His Word is truth and I need a lot of that just now.  The Bible teaches us that if we draw near to God He will draw near to us and that is just what we need at times like these.
     Not only have we had the privilege of learning the stories that others share in our community but today, we also had the privilege of listening to a Bible series taught by Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr.  who works alongside his father at Ligonier Ministries.  He has begun a series entitled "Suffering and the Sovereignty of God".  A couple of years ago, Dr. Sproul, Jr. lost his wife of twenty some years.  She had fought the battle of cancer three times, but the last time the Lord took her home with Him.  Then, just 9 months ago, one of his eight children was taken home to be with the Lord as well.  She was a fifteen year old special needs child with Lissencephaly.  Dr. Sproul, Jr. indicated that they knew from the start that her life expectancy would not be great, but every day they had with her was joy.  Now he had lost two loves in his life, but he found the most meaningful help in God's Word and encouraged all who have experienced loss to find their strength in the Bible which is the foundation for our faith.  He said that we can live in our emotions or we can learn to trust more deeply in God.  I found his words profound and comforting.  It was just what we needed at this time.  Another "mercy drop" from God the Father for our day. ( Anyone can go to Ligonier Ministries to download this podcast series).
     Finally, on this faith walk our family is taking, I am learning that we need to receive God's healing for our broken hearts.  We can resist His efforts to heal us by never allowing the comfort He sends to penetrate our thinking.  God's Word tells us in Philippians 4:8:  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  When I meditate on all the happy moments, achievements, smiles and joy that our grandson brought to us, my heart is lifted knowing I will see him again.  However, if I dwell on the loss and the pain and shut out the encouragement of those around me, I am choking off the means by which God can save my crushed spirit.  I guess the question is the same as Jesus asked the man by the Pool of Bethsaida.  Do you want to be healed? (John 5:16).   So we have to ask ourselves this question.  God is able and willing if we let go of our pain.  It may not be overnight, but it will come in steps.  When the process of healing is complete, we will be able to offer comfort to others with the comfort with which God has brought us comfort (2 Corinthians 4:2).
     Life is a journey and when we walk with the Lord close by our side, we can face the troubles of this world.  We need to look for His "mercy drops" daily, cling to His Word, and allow Him to heal us.  Then, we will be restored and strengthened to help others in need and bring glory to His name.  Selah!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pruning to be Fruitful

 Growing up, we had an apple orchard behind our house in Ohio.  Those apples were as sweet as honey and I quickly fell in love with my mother's homemade apple crisp.  It was a treat for us.  However, what I never realized was just how much work is involved in producing a good harvest of apples.
     From time to time, my father would have to prune those apple trees in order to increase their productivity.  He would lop off whole limbs trimming here and there until the remainder of the tree looked like a stub.  I thought he had killed the tree for certain, but in time, those trees developed new growth and produced wonderful fruit.
     Our lives are not unlike those apple trees.  We have some branches that are too leafy and need a little trimming while we have other branches that need to be removed completely.  Jesus mentioned this pruning process in John 15:1-2:  "Jesus said, 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."  I do not know about you, but I do get somewhat uneasy when God begins the pruning process.  This is where trust comes in.  Do we trust Him enough to allow the process to go forward?
     Personally, I have never heard a tree go "Ouch" when my father trimmed it, but in my own life, I know when God has pruned away an area that needed correction it was painful.  A familiar sin, a bad habit, lack of self-control are just a few of the limbs God may choose to lop off as He seeks to conform us to the likeness of His dear Son.  Then again, God wants to trim off jealousy, pride, self-reliance and impatience so that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control can grow in abundance.  He wants us to be fruitful in our lives so that we may glorify Him and nourish others with the fruit of His Gospel.  We can not sustain, encourage or bless others if we ourselves are a sick branch on the vine.
     Pruning is a necessary function for our growth.  Even now, in the time when our family is grieving a loss, God is behind the scenes working in our lives to strengthen us and draw us closer to Himself.  We cannot always understand the methods which our Heavenly Father uses or His timing, but we know that He loves us with an everlasting love.  As we allow Him to prune our lives, we will become more fruitful and rest in His providence.
     When I think back on my mother's sweet homemade apple crisp, I know that all the pruning my father did was worth it.  Likewise, when we come to the end of our lives, we want to hear God say of us "Well, done, you good and faithful servant".  All the pruning, hurt and pain will quickly be forgotten as we enter into God's great rest knowing we have lived a fruitful life to His glory.  Selah!

Picture is done by MarkusHagenlocher through Wiki Commons