Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This World Is Not My Home

    When our grandson Branson died in January, I found myself spending more time reading God's Word to find comfort.  I also picked up a number of books on heaven to gain a better understanding of what lies ahead for believers in Jesus Christ.  Recently, I have been reading an excellent book written by Dr. John McArthur entitled "The Glory of Heaven".  In the pages of this work, he points us to Scripture which describes the place we will live for eternity with our Lord and Savior.  I appreciate that he does not go on feelings but rather on the fact of God's Word.  He doesn't speculate, rely on personal opinion but instead points to the glory that awaits us.
     As I have reflected on the Bible passages concerning heaven, I have to confess that often I have been so preoccupied with worldly matters that I have not really loved my future home as much as the present one.  The Apostle James tells us in chapter 4 verse 4:  " You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."  James does not mince words here in this passage.  We have a choice to make.  Either we will pledge our friendship to the world or we will ally ourselves with the Lord.  Dr. McArthur makes it clear in this passage from his book:  "And that is the essence of worldliness: it is a love for earthly things, an esteem for earthly values, and a preoccupation with earthly cares.  Scripture plainly labels it sin - and it is sin of the worst stripe.  It is a spiritual form of adultery that sets one against God Himself" (Kindle edition, "The Glory of Heaven" location 935).
     In his letter, the Apostle John pens a similar message to the one that James wrote:  "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15).  Then, he explains why we should not love the world in verse 16:  "For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world."  The problem is that loving the world system means we follow the desires of the flesh rather than God's will for us.  We cannot have two mindsets as Jesus told us in Matthew 6:24:  "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."  So, how then can we become more focused on our eternal home of Heaven?  Where can we learn more about it?
     Over the last ten years or so, there have been many books written about people who have had a near death experience and claimed to have visited heaven.  These have sold in large numbers, but we must always be careful about anything we read because only the Bible contains the full truth about God, His character and our eternal destination.  There are some things we will not know until we cross over and return home to the Lord.  As Scripture teaches us: "But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Therefore, be wary of what others say.  We are fallible people who often miss the mark, but God's Word is changeless and filled with truth.   All those other books will pass away, but God's Word will remain.
     With this being said, our best source for learning more about heaven and being renewed in our minds is the Bible.  After all, the Apostle Paul wrote this very clear statement to believers in Romans 12:2:  "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."  As we study God's Word, our thinking is changed.  Our hearts are renewed and our love for God grows as well.  The Bible is alive and is a powerful weapon which is able to discern our very thoughts (Hebrews 4:12).  Our purpose in living in this world is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever as the Westminster Catechism teaches us.  If we live with a worldly mindset, we will never accomplish this.
     Cultivating a love for our heavenly home does not mean that we cannot enjoy the beauty of God's creation here or our relationships.  However, our citizenship is in heaven.  We are just passing through this earth, and this must be at the forefront of our thinking.  Therefore, let us study God's Word and let go of an adulterous love affair with the world.  We belong to our heavenly Father who redeemed us by the blood of His Son.  May we strive to serve Him and live for Him in such a way that "the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."  Selah!

The picture above is courtesy of Aaron Thayer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"O Foolish Galatians!"

 When I hear about brothers and sisters in Christ who follow after a particular movement, teaching or leader, I feel a sense of caution in my heart.  It is so easy to be swept up in something that can side track us in our walk with Christ.  Recently, the leader of the Vision Forum, Doug Phillips, had to step down as a result of an improper relationship with another woman not his wife.  This type of failure had to impact those families who closely followed his ministry.  However, I think it was more than that.  We can become so caught up in certain viewpoints and perspectives that we can lose track of the center of our worship.  This is why it is imperative that we pray for those in leadership, and for our churches.  Besides prayer, perhaps it is time for us all to take a look closely at movements to see if they are really from God or built on human efforts to get closer to God.  I believe that like the Galatians we can go off on tangents and return again to works.  This can lead to confusion and sin.
     As I read an article written by Chelsea Schilling for WND (http://www.wnd.com/2014/04/pastor-accused-of-using-nanny-as-sex-object-2/), she quoted the head of the Home School Legal Defense Association Michael Farris who worked alongside Doug Phillips for six years.  He stated:  "“The reason Doug left HSLDA is because [President] Mike Smith and I, who were his bosses, were growing more and more uncomfortable as he started developing his patriarchy theory. We started limiting his ability to speak on those things while traveling on our behalf. We basically made it clear that he could not pursue those things with his HSLDA hat on. So he eventually chose to leave us so he could do those things because we were not comfortable with where he was headed.”  After I read this statement, I recalled my days as a home school mother of four.  During my 21 years of educating our children, I saw many movements come and go among families involved in home education.  There was the "Quiverfull" movement popularized by Mary Pride which encouraged families to have as many children as God wanted you to have doing nothing to prevent them.  Then came the "head covering" movement which advocates that women cover their heads at all times to show their submission to their husbands, and of course, the patriarchy movement which was a tenant of the Vision Forum (you can research any of these movements to learn more).  My point is not to put down anyone who has a sincere belief in some of these teachings, but to call attention to a danger here.
     In my own experience, I witnessed some families becoming involved in these movements as a means to draw closer to God.  It became a "work" to earn His favor.  I do not think they consciously thought about it that way.  However, like the Galatians, people can be swayed by popular opinion that following a certain teaching, a certain leader, or even using certain materials can bring them closer to God.                                                                                                                                                                      
     For the Galatians, it was the Judaizers that tried to convince the Gentile believers that they needed circumcision in order to be a true Christian.  They stirred the people up and brought confusion.  Paul put it very clearly in Galatians 3:1-6:  "O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this:  Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain?  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith - just as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness?"  I have to love Paul's straightforward approach.  The Bible is clear that salvation comes by faith in Christ.  It is not a result of any works we can do.  We cannot make ourselves more holy by wearing or not wearing a head covering.  Having unlimited children is a decision between a husband, wife and God.  While children are a rich blessing, having many does not make you more holy.
     Unfortunately, we human beings have this built in "we have to contribute something" mentality  that makes us feel as though we must add something to salvation in order to be acceptable.  This comes from the flesh.  Once again, we need to remind ourselves that God, by His perfect love, accomplished our salvation.  He did it all.  We were dead in our trespasses and sins until He regenerated us and called us to Himself.  Now that we know Him, why are we falling into the same pit as the Galatians?  Adding things to what is already perfect whether its dietary, physical, or otherwise does not and cannot make us more saved.  Instead, it causes pride to rise to the top, and we know this can lead to downfall.
     Before we follow any movement, trend, or teaching, we need to take a good long look at it from the perspective of God's Word which is the only rule of our faith and practice.  We need to pray about it and seek godly counsel within our fellowship of believers.  All of us are subject to being led astray if we let our guard down.  We must be certain we are following God and not a manmade idea which makes us feel more righteous or holy.
     I will never put down those who feel called to have a large family as I hope they would not judge us for not having more than we did.  Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I did not issue a concern and warning.  If the Galatians can be fooled, so can we.  The spirit is willing but our flesh is weak when it comes to following men, and movements.  Let us make certain our eyes are fastened on Christ and our hearts are grounded in His Word.  Selah!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Heart of a Child

Our precious grandson Briggs
   Yesterday, being Easter, my son and daughter-in-law were on their way to church with their two boys Briggs (4) and Beckett (2).  My daughter in law had been thinking about Branson who left our family for heaven on January 9th.  She became teary eyed as she thought about his great celebration in heaven, but also, how much she missed him.  Briggs asked her why she was crying, and she replied that she missed Branson.  Four year old Briggs responded, "I don't.  I'm happy for him."  Shocked, our daughter in law asked, "Why are you happy for him?" and Briggs said, "He's in heaven!  He gets to be with Jesus!"  No truer words of comfort were ever spoken.  Oh that God might increase my faith to be more like that!
     Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus interacted with children blessing them and pointing out to the disciples "of such is the kingdom of heaven".  At one point when the disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus answered them with an example.  Matthew 18:2-6 says:  "And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."  This is quite a statement about the heart of a child.  Jesus is, here, pointing to the humility that a child has.  We cannot enter into heaven with pride, self-importance and a party spirit.  Then, Jesus goes on to say that when we receive a little child in His name we are receiving Him.  Let there be no mistake - God loves children.  Also, Jesus gives a very solemn warning to adults in these verses.  If we lead a child to sin, our judgment will be certain.  When I think of our current culture, I shudder to think of the coming wrath over the abuse, abortion, and destruction of children's lives.  Our nation needs to repent in this area.
      In addition to humility, children have a simple, untainted faith.  Briggs simply believes because both his father and mother have taught him about Jesus Christ.  For him, it is a done deal that when his brother died he went to be with the Lord, and heaven is a happy place to be.  Childlike faith is NOT childish.  It is a trusting faith that says, "I believe in You God and what You say."
     I remember when I was in the hospital fighting my battle with polio at the age of seven.  I wanted to go home.  I simply asked God to make me well so I could go home again.  There was no long theological discussion or complicated prayer.  It was short and sweet.  I trusted God to hear me and He did.  I went home, and by God's mercy, I recovered.  I wish I could tell you that I always trust God like that, but that is not the case.  It is too easy for us, as adults, to get caught up in worldly thinking.  This is why it is so important to be in God's Word to drive out the doubts, fears, and thinking of the world and fill our minds with God's thoughts after Him.
     Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from the simple faith and humility of a child.  Briggs certainly ministered to his mother, and to all of us in the family.  Out of loss, God brings such redeeming and comforting words.  In fact, I am learning that the more we gather together in family events the more healing there is for each of us.  The same is true for church fellowship as well because they are also our family who never fail to pray for us.
     Our Gospel message is a simple one to be embraced with simple faith and humility as a child would do.  Let us cultivate this childlike trust in God that we may glorify the Lord.  May God grant us the heart of a child.  Selah!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Walking in Integrity

     My father was a man that believed in honesty and integrity.  If there is any quality that stood out to me more than any other it was this one.  When he shook another man's hand and reached agreement, he meant to keep his part of the deal because that is what he thought was right before God.  I admired that trait more than any other because I knew I could count on him, and by God's grace, I married a man just like that as well.  This is a character quality that Christians should display in all their relationships and business dealings.
     King David wrote about this in Psalm 101:  "I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.  I will ponder the way that is blameless.  Oh, when will you come to me?  I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.  I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.  A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil" (vs.1-4).  David, in these verses, sets forth a desire to walk with integrity keeping his heart and mind from evil things within his own house.  He is aware of God's ever abiding presence with him and he desires to avoid anything which will cause him to stumble before the Lord.  This is the pursuit of holiness that we see David pledging himself to.
     When I consider these words of King David and then I look at our current society, I see how far we have fallen from the moral principles that once undergirded our nation.  T.V. programming focuses on violence, sex, and drugs to sell many programs and movies.  Likewise, there is easy access to pornography on the internet.  David said he would set no worthless thing before his eyes, yet, today, we have many Christians (even pastors) who have succumbed to pornography.  Others may not watch pornography but instead, watch violent movies, and play violent video games.  The question we need to ask ourselves is "Would we do this if Jesus was sitting next to us?"  Is this really pleasing to God that we are filling our minds with evil scenes?
     David goes on in the Psalm to say that he will not endure anyone with a haughty look or arrogant heart (vs 6).  Instead, He wants to keep company with those who are faithful and walk in a blameless manner before God.  There is wisdom in this.  Those who keep company with people who do not honor the Lord will find themselves falling into worldly patterns.  In addition, David says that no one who practices deceit or is a liar can remain in his presence (vs.7).  Once again, this is good advice.  The associates we spend time with do influence us either for good or for ill.  David hungered for righteousness before the Lord and wanted to live differently than the world.  The question is was he successful?
     We know from reading 2 Samuel 11 that David was not perfect.  He fell into adultery with Bathsheba and then, murdered her husband.  His lies to cover his tracks were not hidden from God.  When Nathan the Prophet uncovered his deceit, David repented and recognized that he had sinned against God.  We, too, shall fall from time to time and our integrity will be sullied just as David's was, but our hope is in the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  He can pick us up and restore us again to a life of integrity.
     On our own, we cannot hope to live an honest life.  It is only as we abide in the vine of our Savior that we are able to walk in holiness.  Nevertheless, we can stay true to the narrow path when we avoid watching things on T.V. or the internet which pull us away from God.  Likewise keeping accountable to Christian brothers and sisters and staying away from those who practice deceit goes a long way in keeping our feet on the road to sanctification.  We need to take a moral inventory of our lives and see if we are walking in integrity as my father did.  He had a powerful impact on my life because he lived what he believed.  We, too, can have a powerful impact on the lives of those around us by walking in honesty before both God and man.  Selah!

Monday, April 14, 2014

This I Know

John Triton Harvard
 Recently, a dear pastor and friend shared the sad news that a family with whom he is acquainted lost their five year old son in a pit bull dog attack.  The older brother (7 or 8) tried valiantly to save his brother but needed help.  When he returned with his father, it was too late to save his brother.  When I read this news, my heart went out to all concerned and I began to pray for them.  There can be no harder place to be than losing a loved one especially a child.  Our family knows this all too well.
     Years ago, when I was going through a difficult time in my life, a friend shared a wonderful scripture verse that has become a favorite of mine.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Corinth.  As we know, this church had many difficulties which Paul addressed with firmness and love.   2 Corinthians 1:3-5 reads:  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."  The words of the Scripture verse are pregnant with blessing for our hearts.  Paul calls God the Father of mercies, and indeed, He is that. He is also the God of all comfort for in Him we have a high priest who knows all about our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15) and temptations.  Furthermore, Paul makes it clear in this verse that as we share in Christ's sufferings, we will also share in His comfort.  Lets be honest here.  No one that I know of likes suffering and yet, as Christians, we are told that we will face this.
     Jesus clearly instructed His disciples and said this in John 16:33:  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  Our Savior never candy coated the life of being His disciple.  We will face affliction, loss, and suffering.  However, our peace is found in Christ who has overcome the world, sin and death.  Because the Lord made it clear that we would face hard times in this world, I believe this is why both Peter and James mentioned in their letters the need to remain strong during trials.  Peter writes (I Peter 1:6-7):  "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praises and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  Then James writes in James 1:3-4:  "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." In all these verses, we can glean two truths.  Trials make us stronger and Christ is our source of comfort since He has overcome the world.
     We live in a fallen world where it rains on the just and the unjust alike.  Therefore we should not be surprised when heartache comes.  However, we have a God of all comfort and I found that to be true when we lost our grandson.  During the days and hours after he died, I ran to God's Word to find solace.  I cried out to God to hold me, and He gave me His peace.  This is a resource that we as Christians have that the world does not possess.
     I cannot begin to understand or know the mind of God as to why he takes certain people from this world, but I know that He is sovereign and sees the bigger picture.  My "Reformation Study Bible" footnote on page 1672 reads:  "God has a sovereign purpose both in our troubles and in the comfort that He gives us in them.  If we have experienced God's comfort in suffering, we may be able to support others whose sufferings are like ours."  This is true.  We are able to pay forward the wonderful comfort of God to others facing the same painful trials.  Additionally, for those who have lost a child as this family in Alabama has, there is the hope of seeing that child again in heaven.  Jesus tells us in John 14:1-3:  "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in Me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also."  This is a promise from our Redeemer.  Our days of trouble and grief will end, and if we believe in Him, we, too, shall spend eternity in His presence with our loved ones who have placed their trust in Him.  This is what I know.  This is what I believe and this is what sustains me day by day.  Let us take the comfort which God gives to us and begin to share it with others who are hurting.  As we do this, we will know His peace and joy.  Selah!

Please be praying for the Jeff Harvard family as they laid their little boy to rest yesterday.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Repetition is the Key

     During my training in college to be a teacher, our old professor Dr. McCloud often told us that one of the keys to successful teaching is repetition.  If there is some major point we want to make, we need to go over it many times in order to make certain the students grasped the importance of this point.  He is right!  I know that because I had teachers work with me who taught me useful things like:  "i before e except after c".  When it comes to spelling, this helps a good deal.  Then, there was the old calendar rhyme to help us remember how many days were in each month:  "Thirty days hath September, April, June and November...."  I still use that rhyme when I cannot remember how many days there are in a certain month.  Teaching is not the only profession that uses repetition though.
     Our son is a firefighter/EMT and he is constantly training and going over his skills.  Why?  The department may not have a fire every day, but they need to be ready when they do.  If you know your skills backwards and forwards, you are less likely to be injured.  Safety is crucial and repetition of skill sets keeps them prepared.  The same is true in our Christian faith.
     In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:15:  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."  If we want to be a workman for the Lord, we must learn how to handle the Word of truth.  The best way to do this is by reading it over and over again.  God's Word is living and inspired.  Its truths are timeless and each time we pick it up to read it, the Holy Spirit applies some new understanding that we might not have seen the last time we read it.
     Believe it or not, I have had people tell me that they have read the Bible through once and that is enough.  If they need to review something, they will look it up but they do not see a need to continue reading it from cover to cover.  Sadly, they will miss some of the important details that deepen our faith and prepare us for the challenges that come from the world.  They will also miss some important repetitions in the Bible and that help us grow closer to the Lord.
     First, there are repetitions in the account of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The four Gospels give us a picture of our Savior and each one does so from a unique perspective even though some of the details are repeated in all four.  Matthew, the former tax collector, writes his account of the Lord's life to a Jewish audience.  Mark wrote his account for a Roman audience and as a young man, he was influenced by Peter.  Then, Luke, a physician, wrote a very detailed account for a Greek audience.  He interviewed eyewitnesses to provide a complete picture.  Finally, John wrote more about the discourses and teachings of our Lord.  This gives us a more rounded view of the Lord.  So why were there four specific accounts given with some repetition?  Jesus said in John 5:31:  "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true."  In other words, the Lord pointed out to us that a single person's witness was not enough to verify the truth.  However, when many testify to the miracles, healings and teaching of Jesus, it provides credible testimony to the events.  All the Gospels carry the one message that Jesus Christ came to die for our sins and rose to break the power of death.
     Another series of repetitions in the Bible come in the form of stories.  These can be single events that are contained and recorded in several places.  An example is the story of King Hezekiah and his reign.  This appears in II Kings 18-20, II Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36-39.  The repetition provides a way of tying books together but also, we must remember that each book of the Bible is a complete story in itself.  God provides the emphasis on the lives and events which He wants His people to know and repetition is an effective way of bringing home this information.
     Finally, the Bible contains repeated statements, ideas and words.  Again, all of this is done for emphasis.  Jesus often used the words "Truly, truly" many times when He wanted to emphasize what He was saying.  In some translations, these words are substituted with the words "most assuredly" which lacks some of the punch that "truly, truly" gives.  When we see this used by Jesus, we know it is very important.  
     When it comes to repetition of ideas, we have only to look to the Apostle Paul who wrote many letters to the churches.  His letter to the churches of Ephesus and Colosse while addressed to different congregations covered similar topics even though their themes were different.  When we read these two letters, we can see the same ideas presented in a new light in each one.  This helps us to understand what Paul is saying.
     As we continue to read the Word of God with all due diligence, we will retain the truth.  The repetition we find helps us to better know God's character, His holiness and His plan for our redemption and salvation.  We cannot handle a Word we do not know, and we cannot do battle against the ideas of this world unless we are prepared.  Just as a firefighter/EMT needs to repeat his training and skills over and over to remain ready, we also must sharpen our skills by continually studying God's Word.  After all, we have the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us into all truth.  However, we have to be in the God's Word for the Holy Spirit to do this.  Let us not be satisfied to read through the Bible once in our lifetime.  Instead let us read it over and over that the repetition provided will soak deep into our hearts.  Then, when the challenges of life come, we will be ready.  Selah!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Blind Leading the Blind

 Our old dog Roscoe P. Coltrain the basset hound is thirteen years old.  He is an amazing animal and one that is determined to survive.  He survived the bloat (serious twisting of the stomach that cuts off circulation) with emergency surgery, he had a cancerous tumor on his spleen which required removal, and he had to be rescued from drowning  (by yours truly) when he fell into our pool due to poor eyesight.  At times, I think he must have inherited some cat genes since he has had so many lives!  However, since all of these traumatic experiences, we no longer allow him to roam in our backyard or near the pool.  Instead, we put a leash on him and carefully lead him to a safe place to do his business.  We serve as his eyes and without us, he could get into a lot of trouble.  In fact, if we had bad eyesight, we would not be useful at all to our dear old dog or to ourselves when it comes to leading him to safety.
     Jesus spoke about the danger of the blind leading the blind in Matthew 15.  In fact, he often referred to the Pharisees as blind guides.  Their teaching centered on obeying rules rather than understanding the spirit of the Law and loving God.  They complained to Jesus about his disciples not washing their hands which broke the tradition of the elders (Matt. 15:2).  However, Jesus answered them back by pointing out their way around the commandment to honor their father and their mother.  The Pharisees cared more for their tradition than the Law of God (Matt.15:6).
     As Jesus sought to teach the people the truth by clarifying how the Pharisees had twisted God's Word concerning the washing of hands before eating, He pointed out that it is not what a man eats which defiles him but what comes out of his mouth (Matt. 15:10).  This comment offended the Pharisees according to His disciples, and to this,  Jesus replied in Matt. 15:13-14:  "...Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.  Let them alone, they are blind guides.  And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."  All the Pharisees knew how to do was to cling to their tradition and lead the people to do the same.  Their rules were burdensome to the people because they were manmade rather than God's truth as found in His Word.  Therefore, they were blind guides to a people kept in the darkness.
     Jesus Christ came into this world for one purpose.  John 14:37 reads:  "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."  Christ came to tear down the false teachings, vain imaginations, and all things which raise themselves up against the true knowledge of God.  He came to guide us into all truth and to reveal to us God's love for us and to set the captives of sin free.  Just as He said, those who are on the side of truth listen to Him.  This is just as true today as it was then.
     Our Savior came down from heaven to shepherd His flock; to lead us out of temptation; to deliver us from evil; to open our eyes and our ears so we might hear His voice and follow Him.  The danger for us as God's sheep is to get off the path and away from the only One who can safely guide us through this life to our heavenly home.  He has sight and insight.  We are the ones who cannot see or know what tomorrow will bring.  This is why we must depend on Him even as our old dog depends on me to feed him, lead him, and care for his needs each day.
     When we look into the pages of the Bible, we will find food for our soul, guidance for our way, and rest.  Likewise, if we sit under sound preaching of God's Word, we will be led by God's Spirit into paths of righteousness.  The scales on our eyes will fall away when we remain in Christ and He in us.  This is how we can avoid falling into the ditches of life.  There are no other guides who can lead us into truth the way the Lord can.  It is important that we stay close to His side and allow Him to shepherd our souls for He is the "Via, Veritas, Vita" as He said:  "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  Let us never settle for a blind guide!  Selah!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cyclone Action

One of the pulpits at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh
     Several Christmases ago, my dear husband bought me a new Dyson Pet Hair vacuum cleaner.  With a constantly shedding basset hound, we needed it!  It has a cyclone motion as it picks up hair and dirt kind of similar to a small tornado in a tube.  Certainly does the job!
     As I was sweeping the floors the other day, I thought about that cyclone action, and I pictured in my mind how much it resembles the world we live in.  There are ideas, philosophies, world views, information and religions swirling around our heads every day as we walk through this world.  We cannot avoid being confronted by this since we live in the age of electronic gadgets where information is disseminated at the speed of light.  So how can we successfully navigate in our environment without being taken in by world views that run contrary to the Bible?
     Perhaps the best place to answer that question is the start with our daily routine.  On average, how much time do we spend reading and thinking about God's Word?  Is it a regularly established time set aside or is it haphazard?  The answers to these questions will help us evaluate how prepared we are on a daily basis to face the onslaught of worldly ideas and values.  I firmly believe that without preparation we will be vulnerable to the misguided philosophies spun by the Enemy rather than the clear truth as spoken by God.  This is evident in some of the churches today that have compromised their stand on matters which God clearly spells out in His Word.  This results in a weak witness to the world.  Either we believe what God has said or we do not.  Unfortunately, there are many who have not spent the time mining the depths of the Bible to know both God's character and His Laws.  With this in mind, let us look at several reasons why we need to make time for study of God's Word.
     2 Timothy 3:16 tells us why Scripture is valuable to believers:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..."  Certainly, if we are to face the ideas presented to us daily, we have to know what God thinks about things so we can think His thoughts after Him and be able to communicate them to others.  Likewise, His Word trains us, rebukes us, corrects us and helps us grow into righteousness as the Holy Spirit applies it to our life.
     Secondly, God's Word is referred to as "the Sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17).  Not only is it capable of providing a sure defense against all the vain imaginations and false ideas swirling around us, but it is also able to discern our own thoughts and heart.  Hebrews 4:12 says:  "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  This is one reason that the Reformers stressed that the Word is the only rule of faith and practice for the believer.
No traditions of men, business models, New Age concepts, or other ideas can replace the Bible as our sure foundation for faith.  Jesus clearly said in Matthew 24:35:  "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  What our Lord has spoken remains long after all other philosophies have disappeared.  Therefore, it benefits us to meditate on God's Word since His truths are eternal.
     Finally, the Word of God is what renews our thinking, tears down vain imaginations and brings peace to our soul.  The Apostle Paul wrote this about renewing our minds:  "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."  The only way we can renew our minds is by studying the Bible.  God wants us to have the mind of Christ, and this only happens when we put His Word into our thinking throughout the day.  In addition, Paul wrote these words of encouragement to the Corinthians and to us as well:  "5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;" (2 Cor.10:5).  We cannot cast down vain imaginations or ideas unless we know what the Bible says.  As we know a Scripture verse, we can come against faulty thinking at just the right time.  In my own life, when I am tempted to feel down about the loss of our grandson, I remind myself of the words that Jesus spoke in John 14:1-2 about not letting our hearts be troubled.  Instantly, I can stop the downward spiral by knowing God's Word.
     The Psalmist who wrote these words in Psalm 119:11 gives us sound instruction:  "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."  This should be our prayer daily.  Our walk, our worldview and our sanctification depend upon the depth of our study of God's Word.  As we immerse ourselves in His truth, we will better be able to avoid absorbing the faulty reasoning and ideas offered by our world. We must remember that only God's Word will last forever.  Lets be faithful students on a daily basis so we don't get sucked up into the vacuum of the world's system.  Selah!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Passing the Buck

     When our children were growing up, we had an invisible person living in our home.  He would create all kinds of messes, be destructive and cause extra work.  We heard about him all the time though especially when our children were afraid they would be in trouble.  His name was "Mr. Nobody".  Each time we would ask who had broken something, we heard the reply, "I don't know."  Therefore, we knew it had to be "Mr. Nobody".  Isn't it funny how from children to adults we like to pass the buck?  No one wants to accept responsibility for bad decisions or for hurtful actions.  Thus, we have developed a culture that points their finger at everyone else but themselves.  It is never their fault.  So how has our country gone so far afield from honesty, the God ordained work ethic, and accepting responsibility for poor choices?  The answer is quite simple.  It started in the Garden.
     Adam and Eve were in a perfect environment with all of their needs met and the Lord Himself communed with them daily.  His only command was that they not eat from the tree of good and evil (Genesis 2:4-3:24).  As we may remember, Satan came in the form of a serpent and questioned God's command about not eating of the fruit making Eve doubt God.  She succumbed to temptation first and then Adam ate the fruit as well.  Their disobedience led to the fall of all mankind who has ever since inherited the sin nature.  Satan had lured them with the promise that they would be like God.  From that moment to this, man has by his inherited sin nature, desired to control his own life and do as he/she wants to do with no constraints.
     Throughout the Bible we see example after example of those who sinned and made excuses for their actions.  One of the better stories comes from the book of Exodus.  Moses has led his people out of captivity in Egypt.  He is assisted by his brother Aaron who serves as his spokesman and later who becomes the first high priest to God.  Moses has anointed him and set him, along with his sons, apart as ministers before the Lord.  Not only has he been given a special office before the Lord, but Aaron has also witnessed all the miracles which God did in Egypt.  This should cement his faith and belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  However, Aaron, like us, has a tug of war going on inside.  His sin nature, though defeated, can still rear its ugly head when he is tempted.
     In chapter 32 of Exodus, Moses has been gone from the people for a long time receiving The Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai.  The people grew restless waiting and came to Aaron desiring him to make them a golden calf so they could worship it as the god who delivered them.  Aaron did not seem to hesitate when he was asked to do this, and called for everyone to give their jewelry to him.  With the melted gold, a calf was fashioned and the people rose up to play and feast.
     Nothing was hidden from God and He told Moses that the people were sinning.  When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the people playing before a golden idol, he threw the tablets containing God's commands down in anger.  Moses asked a very pointed question of Aaron his brother and high priest:  "What did this people do to you that thou have brought such a great sin upon them?" (vs.21).  Of course, Aaron tried to calm Moses by telling him that the people were set on evil. Once again the "buck is passed."
     As he continues his explanation about the people wanting gods who would go before them since they didn't know if Moses would return, he merely obliged them.  He concludes his explanation by stating in verse 24:  "So I said to them, 'Let any who have gold take it off.'  So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf."  When I read that verse, I had to laugh.  What an explanation!  Obviously, Aaron had a poor answer.  Sin never has a good answer for the destruction it brings.  It merely passes the buck and puts the responsibility on someone or something else.
     Moses did what we all need to do.  He recognized sin for what it is and called it out.  He asked the people in vs. 26 "Who is on the Lord's side?  Come to me."  We have to decide when confronted with temptation whose side are we on.  Will we take the easy road and go with the crowd as Aaron did or will we boldly stand for Christ?  Following the Lord means allowing Him daily to put more and more of our sin nature to death so that holiness and righteousness flow out of our lives.
     God desires for us to be formed into the image of His dear Son whom He sent to pay for our sins.  Accepting God's gift of salvation is the first step, but it is a journey.  Being a Christian means denying self, taking up our cross and following Him rather than making excuses, blaming others, and avoiding the consequences that come with sin.  We are not "buck passers" but ambassadors for Christ who are here to lead others into the truth of God's redemption.  Therefore, we are called to live in direct opposition to the world system all around us.  We are citizens of heaven and are aliens here.  As believers, let us be certain to live in such a way that others will see Jesus Christ living in us.  Let our yes be yes and our no be no as the Lord said.  Then others will want to know why we aren't passing the buck or chasing after all the baubles in this world.  With all this in mind, we have to examine ourselves and ask the question which Moses posed so well, "Who is on the Lord's side?"  If we are, we must live like it every day.  Selah!