Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Looking into a Different Mirror

     Each morning when I rise, I walk into our bathroom and observe, bleary-eyed my appearance in the mirror.  As I begin to get ready for work, I find this looking glass helpful as I fix my hair, put on make-up and get myself dressed.  It is the only way I can see what I look like.  However, when I complete my preparations and walk away, I soon forget how I looked that day until I once again look at my reflection.  This is helpful because we never know if we have smudged something on our face, our clothing or if our hair is out of place until we look at ourselves in a mirror.  The same is true of a mirror that looks far deeper than our outward appearance only.
     Hebrews 4:12-13 reads: " 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. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."  This is the mirror of God's Word at work looking deep into our hearts.  Each time we open its pages to read, we find not only who God is but we also find ourselves.  The Bible serves to show us our sin that we might repent, and teach us God's Laws that we might live in obedience.  Its precision at reaching deep within us is amazing.
     As believers, we find the Bible a light to our path and strength during the storms of life.  Psalm 119: 104 and 105 tell us:  "Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  When we peer into the Word, it acts like a mirror showing us our sin.  We gain understanding and learn to hate what is evil, but it also serves as a light for our path.  When life grows dark through death, depression, or illness, God's Word sheds light and comfort on our way.
     Furthermore, in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 13:5), the Apostle Paul challenges believers to examine ourselves.  "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"  How can we really look at ourselves apart from the mirror of God's Word? What are God's standards?  Do we meet the test?  Only the Holy Spirit can show us this as we look deeply into the Bible.
     Our very foundation for our faith is the Bible.  We, as Christians, believe it is the inerrant Word of God passed down to us.  Paul tells Timothy:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.." (2 Tim. 3:16).  If we want to see how we look before our heavenly Father, this is the place to get the clearest reflection.
     Now think with me for a moment, what would you or I look like if we decided not to use a mirror or any reflective device to prepare for work or some event?  I think it would be  a challenge for men to shave and for women to put on make-up with any great success.  We might be able to do a passable job, but don't we want to look our very best?  The same applies to our spiritual life.  Do we really want to grow, have the mind of Christ and glorify God?  It is very hard to do any of this without looking into God's Word on a regular basis.  As we pray, read the Bible and hear the preaching of His Word, we will be preparing our hearts daily to serve Him.  Let us be found faithful in this area that we might glorify the Lord.  Selah!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Let It Go....Let it Go

     Recently, while traveling to a birthday celebration with our son Aaron, daughter in law Bonnie,  and grandsons Bennett and Aiden, I had a chance to watch the movie "Frozen".  Great movie and lots of fun.  I think Aiden had everything memorized as he shared his small screen with me.  I loved the song "Let it Go".  What a great voice!
     Aside from this entertaining movie, I began to think about the title of the song "Let it Go" the other day when I was stewing over some things that I could not change.  It is funny how we manage to get ourselves all worked up when only the Lord has sovereign control.  I guess that is why I love the Serenity Prayer:  God grant me the serenity
                                  to accept the things I cannot change;
                                  courage to change the things I can;
                                  and wisdom to know the difference.

                                  Living one day at a time;
                                  Enjoying one moment at a time;
Aiden enjoying a snack
                                  Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
                                  Taking, as He did, this sinful world
                                  as it is, not as I would have it;
                                  Trusting that He will make all things right
                                  if I surrender to His Will;
                                  That I may be reasonably happy in this life
                                  and supremely happy with Him
                                  Forever in the next.

                                   --Reinhold Niebuhr

        As I mentioned in earlier posts, I have taken as my life verses for this year Proverbs 3:5-6:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths."  This means we need to rely upon His wisdom, His insight and His sovereignty in all things.  If I trust in Him, I will not worry and stew over things which I cannot change.  I can take things to God in prayer that trouble my heart.       However, the key is to leave those troubling things with the Lord who alone has the power to do something about it.  Too often, we snatch back our prayer requests right off the altar and once again, begin to fuss over things.  That is not trust!
     In addition, the verses tell us that we cannot lean on our own understanding.  There is the heart of the problem.  We cannot see from the perspective that God has over events and circumstances.  Isaiah 55:8-9 tells
 us clearly that God's thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not ours.  His thoughts are higher than ours, so is it any wonder that we cannot fathom what God is doing?  This is where trust comes in.  We must learn to trust Him who created us and realize that He is working all things together for good as He says through the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28:  "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
     Rather than leaning on our own understanding of things, we need to acknowledge God as sovereign in all ways as the verses tell us from Proverbs.  He will make straight our path when we yield to Him.  As I considered these verses again, I picked up my Bible to study it and found myself praying scripture and asking God to reveal to me how to trust Him more.  What a peace came to my heart as I looked into His Word.  Self-examination by reading God's Word, praying it and seeking His face brings joy to the heart.  It is like looking into a mirror where we can see ourselves with greater clarity and understand better our relationship to our heavenly Father.  If He gave us His only Son to die in our place that we might be redeemed to live with God forever, why should we ever doubt Him and His ability to work in matters that concern us?  This is a question we all need to ponder.
     Living in a sin filled, fallen world as we do means that there will be many challenges, and as a child of God, we are swimming upstream against a culture whose ideas are foreign to us (or should be).  Therefore, we must learn to trust in our heavenly Father who knows all the plans He has for us.
One of my favorite verses along these lines is found in Jeremiah 29:11:  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."  This God spoke to Jeremiah to encourage the people of Israel who had been in Babylonian captivity for seventy years.  Even though they were carried off for their sin, God had great plans for them.  He also has plans for our welfare as well.  No matter our circumstances, or worries, the Lord is sovereign and we can "let it go" into His hands.  Then, we need to trust Him and pray.  He will make straight our paths.  Selah!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seeing Things From a Different Perspective

 Perspective is everything in relationships, art and even in writing.  How we see something affects the way we react to any given situation.  For example, this morning, I looked out our window and saw in a distance some trees in full bloom.  Every year at this time, we enjoy this view.  Because our home sits a little higher than the location of the trees and due to the distance our house is from them, we can see those blooms clearly.  Now if we change the situation by standing under the tree, we will not be able to view all the blossoms as easily as we did when we were at a distance.  We have changed perspective by changing location.
     Years ago, when we took a cruise to Alaska, we had to fly from Houston, Texas to Seattle, Washington.  The day was beautiful and clear.  Far below us, a sight came up that was breathtaking.  We saw the Rocky Mountains in all their grandeur.  Seeing them from above gave us a clear picture of how big the mountain range was.  Had we been standing on the ground, we would have been in awe of the mountains but we could not have seen the larger picture of the mountain range.  Again, our location gave us a different perspective.  The same is true in life.
     When we are up against a wall, we cannot see with much perspective.  All we can see around us are the swirling circumstances in our life many of which we have no control over.  It is a helpless feeling, but it is one that man is well acquainted with.  Certainly King David knew the feelings of despair and recorded his thoughts in many of his Psalms.  In Psalm 42 verse 5, David writes:  "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."  As he continues in the Psalm, he repeats this question and always ends with encouragement in God.  In verses 9-11, David writes:  "I say to God, 'my rock:  Why have you forgotten me?  Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?'  As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, 'Where is your God?'  Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."
     Throughout this passage, David expresses his discouragement as others mock him.  He feels as though God has forgotten him.  Yet, David goes on to say with his lips that his hope is in God who will deliver him.  He reassured himself and set for us an example of how to change our perspective on life.  Yes, David was downcast.  Circumstances made him feel as though God had forgotten about him, but he never failed to remind himself that God offered hope and salvation.  He had trust in the Lord who had delivered him many times.  This is the trust and confidence we must develop in the Lord as well.
     What we must remember is that God sees the big picture.  He is above all circumstances and knows our beginning from our end.  He works all things together for our good.  Just as we flew over the Rocky Mountains and could see so much more from the air than we could if we had been on the ground in terms of the immensity of this mountain range, so God is able to see all things pertaining to us.  If we trust in Him, He will guide us through our difficulties safely according to His timing and purpose for us.  All we can see is that big wall in front of us, but God sees beyond the wall.  Psalm 139 tells us that all our days are written in His book before we were born.  Is anything too difficult for a God who knows and sees all?
     Furthermore, we need to pray and ask God to let us view our daily situation with His eyes.  As David said so well, "Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."  He reassured himself of God's grace and mercy, and we must do the same.  As we lean on Him, He will carry us through the storms and change our perspective.  This is really our deepest need.  We don't really need a change of circumstances as much as we need a different perspective and a deeper trust in God's ability.
     For us, it may not be until we walk into the presence of the Lord that we will fully know why things have happened as they have in our lives.  At present, we need to trust that our Sovereign God is in control of every detail.  After all, Isaiah told us in 55:8:  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD."  This side of heaven there are mysteries we may not understand, but we know that God is sovereign.  He is able when we are not.  Let Him change the perspective we have of life and our circumstances.  We are called to "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding..." (Proverbs 3:5).  Selah!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Learning to Say "No" Even to Good Things

     A few days ago, I ran across a random article in a magazine that asked what advice would you want to pass on to your family and friends that you wish you had been better at yourself.  I had to stop and think about that for a minute, and then, I knew.  I have always had trouble saying "No" to activities even though I was currently stretched to the max.  What was I afraid of?  Would the earth crumble and disappear if I was honest with myself and others?  Fortunately with time and maturity, I learned that I needed to say "no" to some things that appeared to be so good.  I also have learned my limits physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Not everything we are presented with in life is necessarily the best choice for us, and we cannot do it all.  Something always suffers like our health or even our relationships with others when we over extend ourselves.
     Paul wrote  a short letter to Titus to offer him guidance as he continued missionary work in Crete. One area that Paul stressed to him was the need for sound doctrine and careful behavior in the Christian walk.  Chapter 2:11-13 reads:  "For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..."  In these verses, renounce means to deny or say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions.  Another translation of this verse reads:  "Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;"( King James Version).  I love the word "soberly" because it is a word that means we think things through before making a commitment.  If life gave me some do overs, it would be in this area. Often, I would commit myself to something before I really thought through the ramifications.  Ultimately, out of a sense of duty, I would fulfill my commitment, but deep inside, I felt upset at myself for saying "yes" too easily.
     Good things can become ungodly things when they take us away from worshipping and serving our Lord.  In fact, good things can become an idol in our life.  There are many good men who worship their job more than the Lord.  We call it workaholism, but even an important thing such as our work can become ungodly when it steals our time with God, our family and destroys our health.  Likewise, worldly passions can get us off track as well.  Our desire to please others, perform so we will be rewarded or liked and a hunger for fame can all be signs of worldly passions.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to please others, but our first priority is to please God.  Living to please others or perform so they will think highly of us is also out of balance.  Again, we are to do all things as unto the Lord for His glory.  We were not sent here to impress others or even to work towards fame. Our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  This is why the verse in Titus tells us to live a self-controlled, upright and godly life because our focus should be on Him and His second coming which is our blessed hope.
     This world offers us many glittering opportunities for a busy life, and even in church, there are many activities with which we can become involved.  However, we must ask for God's wisdom and discernment as we approach each one.  Satan would love to sidetrack us with busyness...even good busyness so that we will lose our effectiveness or our health.  We must learn to say "no" for the sake of God's glory and the Gospel.
     Growing older has helped me say "no" much more firmly since my "earth suit" is getting frayed around the edges with some aches I didn't have before.  However, I wish I had learned to say "no" earlier in my life.  This is what I would want to pass along.  Being stretched too thin takes away our time to be refreshed in prayer with God and read His Word.  It also takes a toll on our family as well. Our goal is to live "soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" as Titus tells us.  Maybe it's time to evaluate and examine our lives to see if we are doing just that.  After all, good things can sometimes turn out to be bad when they keep us from looking to the Lord.  Selah!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Enjoying the Fruits of Their Labors

 Several days ago, our daughter posted some pictures of her family picking blueberries which I used in my last devotion.  It was a hot day, but they were blessed by their time together.  Then, yesterday, I saw pictures of our grandchildren eating the fruit of their labors.  There they were enjoying a homemade blueberry pie.  I couldn't help but smile because this is exactly what God made us for.  We glorify Him by working and we have the privilege of enjoying Him forever by tasting the fruits of our labor.
     In the book of Genesis 2:15, we read:  "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."  The footnote which explains this verse says:  "Work was an important and dignified part of representing the image of God and serving Him, even before the Fall" (The MacArthur Study Bible ESV pg. 20).  From the beginning, God made man in His image and gave him work to do.  A short time later when Adam and Eve fall into sin, God still expected man to work, but now, it will be more complicated.  God told man (Genesis 3:17b-19a)"....cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread..."  We learn from this passage that man will continue to make his living by working the ground which would produce for him all that he needed; however, the work would be harder.  Nevertheless, we have been created to work.
     Unfortunately, one of the things I see in our society today are those who do not want to work.  There has been a rise in people claiming disability and drawing their income from the government.  It is true that there are individuals who are unable to hold a full time job as a result of injury or illness but I am speaking here of those who feign disability for the sake of being able to draw an unearned income.  A good example came across our T.V. set a while back when a boy scout leader and his friend had gone out to Goblin Valley State Park in Utah and filmed themselves pushing over a boulder in a protected sandstone formation.  They said they thought the boulder looked dangerous so they were going to push it down for safety reasons.  Sadly for them, the video went viral, they were dismissed as Boy Scout leaders and they face charges.  Yet, the part that really got to me was the fact that the man pushing the boulder had claimed disability.  If you are disabled, how can you push a boulder over?
     On the flip side, I know an individual who worked hard most of his life.  He was a polio survivor who could have claimed disability due to his crippling, but he chose not to.  Instead, he worked successfully for many years as a police dispatcher.  He enjoyed it and was much appreciated for his efforts.  The point here is that God made us for work.  We find joy when we have an opportunity to serve God and others by finding labor that is God honoring.
     Scripture makes it clear that if we do not work, we should not eat.  2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 reads: "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command; if anyone is not willing to
work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."  Paul's words here were not suggestions.  This was a command. Certainly, the Puritans believed strongly in the work ethic and when our nation was founded, this was a bedrock of belief.  Today, however, this is not what we see in our pleasure seeking, leisure time focussed society.  A nation where more and more people are living off of someone else's hard work will not long survive.
     Teaching the work ethic to our children both at home and in school is important.  Their growth, satisfaction in life and their service to God and others not only helps them put food on the table for their family but also gives them dignity as one who is made in the image of God.
     Our daughter and son-in-law taught a very valuable lesson to their children.  If you work at picking the berries, then, you can enjoy the fruit of your labor by eating the pie.   Work may take effort and may not always be enjoyable, but the rewards, whether in a paycheck or a pie, are worth it. Let us live in obedience to the Lord in this area of our lives and embrace the call to work before the Lord.  Selah!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Passing It On

Our Grandson Gavin picking blueberries
 Opening my Facebook page the other day, I was delighted to find pictures from our daughter of her children out picking blueberries.  This is something I did with all four of mine during our homeschooling years.  The berries were delicious, and it was a great experience.  Of course, not all the blueberries made it home but that is the fun of this family activity.  I was blessed to know that she was passing this along to her children.  Hopefully, they will share this with their families when they grow up.
     Basically, this is what a Christian family is to do when it comes to our faith as well.  We are called by God to teach our children the hope we have within us on a daily basis.  One of my favorite Scriptures comes from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 reads:  "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."  It is not the primary responsibility of the church to do all the teaching.  Instruction begins at home and the church then comes alongside to confirm these truths through preaching and teaching of God's Word.  Without a parental foundation, children can often walk away from church down the road.
     Recently, The White Horse Inn radio program has been doing a series on Youth Ministry ( ).  They have been asking the question of why we are losing young people when they leave for college and how do we reverse this trend.  There are several resources there that would be helpful to look at, but one point stood out in their discussion on the program.  Parents need to teach (catechize) their children at home about their faith.  This was an emphasis we made when we home educated our children.  Along with academic studies, we spent time in the Bible.  We read it, talked about it and made it a part of all we did.  We wanted them to see how all the subjects we studied were tied together in a Christian worldview.
Rilyn and Daddy picking blueberries too
     Knowing, then, that God wants us to teach our children the way to salvation and how to live for Him, what are some ways we can accomplish this?  First, I believe we need to model for our children and our grandchildren our own faith by living it in front of them.  They need to see us read the Bible, pray, and go to church.  We cannot just drop off a child for church or VBS (Vacation Bible School) and expect them to come out a Christian.  It takes reinforcement at home and living by example.  I remember very well my grandfather Engel reading to me from the Bible.  We did not read story books at his house.  Instead, he would let me sit on his lap as he read the Bible out loud.  I confess that at my tender age I did not get all the big words but what an example it was for me.  I also saw him kneel in prayer before he took a nap.  These images are ingrained in my heart.
     Secondly, we need to make time to have family devotions that are age appropriate.  Reading a
Bible story and discussing it for young children helps them begin to form their thoughts about God.  As children become older, we can begin to tackle more in-depth study of God's Word.  I know we all have busy schedules, but this is an area of instruction, prayer and encouragement for the whole family with eternity in view.  There are far too many adults, even today, who do not know the Bible or what their church believes.  We do not want to raise children who will some day fall into this category.
     Third, we can share with our children a summary of basic Christian beliefs by using a Catechism.  There are simple children's versions out there of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Have them memorize a question a week and discuss it.  In addition, there are Scripture references that can be looked up as well. Knowing what we believe and why we believe it is crucial to passing on the faith we have in Christ.  I remember going over catechism questions with my mother in preparation for our confirmation in the church.  When something is learned at an earlier age, it does stick with us.
      When it comes to parents of teens who attend a youth group, it would be wonderful to volunteer or help out from time to time.  Not only would help be appreciated but it would allow parents an opportunity to hear what is being taught.  Family dialogue is much richer if we are plugged in to what our teens are learning.
     Finally, we need to be actively sharing with our children, family members, neighbors and others how God is working in our lives.  If God has taught you something, share it with others.  It will encourage them in their faith.  The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 3:13:  "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."  Likewise, in Hebrews 10:23-25 we read: "…23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.…"  These verses do not apply only to church fellowship but any time we gather as a family as well.  Christianity is 24/7 not one day a week.
     Jesus commanded us to pass on our faith and make disciples of all nations.  However, He also meant for us not to neglect our own households.  It has to begin in our homes first if we desire to raise a godly generation of believers who are strong in their faith.  Let us be faithful in passing on the hope that is within us to our children and grandchildren.  It is an investment that brings glory to God.  Selah!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Whatever Happened to Discipline?

 I love children which should not be a surprise since we had four of them.  Now I love grandchildren!  However,  the other day when I was out shopping, I witnessed a mother with several children running wild in the grocery store.  Yes, mine did too at one time, but these children were being destructive.  One child (unseen by the check out girl) picked up a lollipop and put it in his mouth.  The mother said, "Don't do that!" and the child placed the gooey sucker back on the shelf.  YUCK!  Why didn't the mother pay for the lollipop?  Why did she allow her children to run around pulling things off shelves, open items up, and totally ignore them?  There was absolutely no instruction being given to these children or discipline for that matter.
     As I said, our children would get carried away too, but we always dealt with the issue of disobedience.  We tried our best to discipline in love so they would grow up to respect others, their property and to behave with kindness and courtesy.  Certainly, we were not perfect parents, but today, it seems as if many folks do not even attempt to train their children.  This is often seen not only in grocery stores but doctor's offices as well.  A "No, no, Johnny" will not do when a child is being destructive or hurting another.  Unfortunately, lack of discipline is not only happening in families but it is also absent in many churches today.
     There was a time when church discipline was taken seriously and those caught in unrepentant sin were admonished in order to bring them back into fellowship with the Lord and also to protect the congregation.  Today, we see very little correction taking place when conflict arises or a sin is committed.  Jesus laid out a process for us to follow when someone has committed a sin.  It is found in Matthew 18: 15-17:  "15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector."  As noted in these instructions, Jesus encourages the person who has been sinned against to go to his brother privately so that the matter does not inflame the entire congregation.  Then, if the brother does not listen, we are told to bring two to three others to serve as witnesses and again, we try to address the issue.  If this fails, we finally bring the matter to the church as a whole and remove the offending party if he will not repent.  The entire goal here is to reclaim the person who has fallen into sin and to restore relationships with others and with God.  However, if the individual chooses to remain in his sin and all attempts have failed, then, for his good and the good of the church, he must be removed from fellowship.
     Certainly church discipline, like family discipline in the home, is not to be done for every little infraction.  If that were the case, it would seem unloving and lose its effectiveness.   Dr. John MacArthur writes:  "Church discipline is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and then to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother" (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, pg. 1,158).  John Calvin in "The Institutes of the Christian Religion" Chapter 12:1 comments this way on church discipline:  "For what will happen if each is allowed to do what he pleases?  Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle.  Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ; or like a spur to arouse those of little inclination; and also sometimes like a father's rod to chastise mildly and with the gentleness of Christ's Spirit those who have more seriously lapsed. "  The entire purpose, then, of applying discipline is to reclaim a person for whom Christ died not to shame them.
     When a church does nothing to correct errant members from serious sins, it serves to say to other members that their actions are okay within the context of fellowship.  This is no different then what happens in family relationships when one child is allowed to get away with things that violate the family rules.  Our rule of faith in the church is the Bible and our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Therefore, it falls upon church leaders to keep careful watch over the flock to protect them and also to bring discipline when necessary.
     I remember my husband saying to our children when they needed discipline that it brought him no joy to have to correct them.  However, he loved them so much that he needed to make certain they were obedient not just to us but to God.  Let us pray for our churches across this nation that they may take seriously the importance of church discipline.  Without it, the sheep will go astray and the Lord will not be glorified.  Selah!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Shall Lift Up My Eyes

     Life is filled with good times and times of trouble.  Quite often, when something was getting me down, my mother took time to talk with me while she was cooking, and she patiently listened as I bemoaned some problem during my high school years.  One of her remedies for difficulties in life was the Psalms.  She encouraged me through the years to read the Psalms to find comfort and assurance there.  As a result, I often went into my room to read and pray the Psalms.  This never failed to bring me peace of mind.
     One of my favorite Psalms is 121.  It is short but a very powerful assurance of God's abiding love and presence:  "I lift up my eyes to the hills from where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper;  the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore."
     The Psalm is comprised of eight short verses of powerful truth about our God.  Looking at verse 1, it becomes clear to us that God is our help.  After all, He is the Creator of heaven and earth.  Can anything be too difficult for Him?  Why is it that we try everything else under the sun before we turn to God in prayer?  I think it goes back to our old flesh that tells us we have to be in control.  However, God should always be the first One we run to when our lives are in turmoil or even at times of great joy!
     God will also not allow our foot to be moved.  In other words, He gives us the ability to stand in the face of trials.  We don't have to worry about a slippery relationship with God.  He is our Rock and a mighty fortress for us. In fact, God never slumbers.  Unlike real life body guards who can fall asleep on the job, God is watching over us 24/7.  This should give our hearts security.  Knowing He is awake, allows us to sleep well at night and to know that He is with us always guarding His own.
     Another comfort comes in verse 5 where it is stated that God is our keeper.  Just as our shadow is always with us everywhere we go, so our Lord is always with us.  This is verified by the writer of Deuteronomy 6  who tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  This allows us to be strong and bold in Christ on a day to day basis.  Why should I fear when I know that nothing will happen to me today that has not already passed through the hands of my heavenly Father who loves me?
     Verses 7 and 8 conclude this Psalm with a promise of deliverance from evil.  Our lives are held in God's Hands.  He knows our beginning and end for all our days are appointed by Him (Psalm 139:16).  He keeps us in all our goings and comings.  Do we not find comfort in knowing that?
     Now, someone could read this Psalm and say that this appears to promise complete protection from all the bad things that can cross our paths in life.  However, this Psalm does not exempt us from death, sickness, tribulation any more than it keeps us from joy, blessings and peace.  This Psalm, instead, expresses the confidence we have in knowing that God is there walking with us every step
through both the happy moments as well as the sad ones.  He has created us for His glory and desires for us to enjoy Him forever.  Therefore, we can face anything as we walk through this world knowing He is sovereign over all things.  We do not need to worry, fear or tremble for we serve a risen Savior who will come again to rule and reign.  As His children, let us lift up our eyes today for our God can be trusted to do all He says He will do.  Selah!

Photograph courtesy of Aaron Thayer taken at the Naples, FL Botanical Gardens

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Big Black Thumb

 I love to have beautiful plants around my home, but I have one problem.  I have a big black thumb when it comes to growing plants.  If something could grow in a crawl space with little water, chances are good it would survive my care.  It isn't that I do not water my plants or give them plant food.  I do not know what it is, but most plants I purchase or are given die within a month.  So, when I go plant shopping, I look for hearty, Florida weather resistant plants to put in my gardens.  Thus far this year, they are doing well.  The key, I am told, is keeping them watered and fed until their root system gets established once they are placed in the ground.  In fact, this is also important to the Christian's life.  If we do not have deep roots,  our growth is stunted not unlike the plants.
     As I was reading in Isaiah yesterday, I came across a verse that made me think about the importance of a strong root system.  In speaking to the King Hezekiah, Isaiah foretold the defeat of Sennacherib and the Assyrians and the growth of the remnant of faithful believers in Judah.  Chapter 37 verse 31 and 32 read:  "And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.  For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."  I loved the imagery in verse 31 of the roots going downward and the fruit coming upward.  This is what we are meant to do.  Those whom the Lord calls to salvation are like green plants whose roots need to be established.  God is the ultimate in black thumbs for Him!  Once God has planted us in His vineyard, how is it that we can grow?
     Psalm 1:1-4 has some answers:  "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers."  Here is a picture of a man who puts the Word of God first in his life.  He does not allow those outside the faith to counsel him.  He does not hang around with bad company.  Instead, he meditates on the truths he reads in the Bible.  He fills his mind and thoughts with wisdom from the Lord.  That is why this man has roots like a tree planted by a stream.  There is a constant water source when we are planted in Christ.  Remember the words of Christ as He spoke to the woman at the well?  "13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” This is a joyful picture to think that we will not thirst again.  However, there is a condition.
     In John 15:5, Jesus tells us:  "I am the vine; you are the branches; Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."  The secret to bearing much fruit is to abide in Christ.  We do that through prayer and daily Bible study.  This is our plant food dear friends.  Jesus causes us to grow because we cannot grow on our own.  Just as we could not save ourselves, we also cannot cause fruit to burst forth in our lives without an intimate relationship to our Lord.  What happens if we do not abide in Christ?  He tells us in verse 6 of the same chapter in John:  "If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned."  These are people who have heard the Word, but have walked away from Christ having never been brought to salvation.  We do not want to live like them for the Lord has planted us to bring glory to His name.  In verse 8 of this chapter, we read:  "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."
     My mother had a favorite saying:  "The proof is in the pudding" meaning that when a life bears evidence that we are doing what we say we are going to do we make an impact on those around us.  As we bear fruit, we demonstrate that we have deep roots, well watered and cared for by the Lord.  This is the sign of a healthy life in Christ.  Of course, we must not forget that God will also prune us from time to time removing things in our lives that ought not be there.  It is not pleasant at the moment, but it also helps us to produce better fruit down the road.  As I said, He is the ultimate gardener.
     While I may never be a "green thumb" when it comes to growing plants, I want to be a watered plant bearing much fruit in the house of my God.  Don't you?  The key is seeking Him in His Word and through prayer on a daily basis.  This is the water that will keep us from thirsting again and in dry seasons, our leaves will not wither.  Selah!

Photo compliments of Aaron Thayer at the Naples Botanical Garden.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Biblical Literate or Illiterate?

 Last night, my husband and I watched a very good movie entitled "The Book Thief".  The story revolves around a young girl in 1939 Germany who comes to live with foster parents.  She had been taken from her mother who was a communist and had lost her young brother to illness.  Alone in a strange town with parents she does not yet know, she makes friends with a young neighbor boy named Rudy.  When they attend school together, it becomes apparent that she does not know how to read.  Of course, the children make fun of her, but her foster father shows much compassion when he learns about her inability to read.  Together they study words, spelling and read books.  Before long, she is adept at reading.  However, since the Nazis desire to control what is read, they have a huge book burning event to destroy anything not produced by a German or that does not demonstrate the German outlook.  After this event, the young girl steals a smoldering book not consumed by the fire so strong is her desire to read.
     As the story progresses, she is befriended by the burgermeister's wife who allows her to come and read in her library once a week when she delivers laundry her mother has prepared for them.  Without giving all the story away, I will simply say that eventually she becomes a book thief in the burgermeister's home to help a Jewish hideaway by reading to him daily.  The story is full of intrigue, suspense and reveals what WWII looked like inside a German town.  However, there is a larger point here.
     Reading is the gateway to knowledge.  This concept was instilled in me by my parents and teachers all the way through school.  The idea was that if we can read, we can be educated.  Yet, as time goes on, it is becoming clear that within the church, we have fewer and fewer who are knowledgeable about the Bible.
     In an article by Dr. Albert Mohler, "The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy:  It's Our Problem" (, he writes:  "Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: "Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates." How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it's worse than most could imagine."  The article goes on to point out that many cannot name the four Gospels, and 60 percent of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments.  What's worse is the fact that the Bible cannot be brought into the public schools and groups like the A.C.L.U. are fighting to strip any Christian symbols from our nation as well as any expression of our faith including reading the Bible in public places.  We don't expect secular people to know the Bible but we do expect Christians to know their faith.  Dr. Mohler continues:  "Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation's time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study."  Then he goes on to say this about youth ministry:
"Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?"  So how do we fix these issues and increase biblical literacy?
     First and foremost, it begins in the home.  We are admonished to train up our children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6).  God expects parents to model and teach the Bible and sound doctrine to their children (Deut. 6:4-9)  A good place to start is with the basic beliefs of the faith as found in the Westminster Catechism.  Have children memorize Bible verses and spend time explaining what they mean.  We cannot lay all the responsibility on the church to do this.
     Secondly, sit under solid preaching of God's Word.  Each week, attend church and go with the intent of taking notes, listening carefully to the preaching, and then, go home and look at the message in light of God's Word.  We must become Bereans (those who listened to Paul preach and then went home to study God's Word to see if it was so...Acts 17:11).
     Another way to become more biblically literate is to join a solid Sunday School class that teaches from God's Word.  Unfortunately, some churches have dropped this time of study, but if the church has a good class, then, we should be there to mine the riches of the Bible together.  In addition, if we belong to a home group, we need to look for material that is based on God's Word and make it a time of deep study...not just a social gathering or fellowship hour.
     Finally (and really this goes without saying), we must be Bible students ourselves.  We need to read the Word daily and study it.  There are many good commentaries out there that we can access online or purchase for our use either on our Kindle or other device.  We live in the information age so we have a good deal at our fingertips.  To further increase our knowledge, we also can sign up for a minimal charge ($9.00 a month) for courses through ministry.  These are excellent Bible study classes where we can interact with others from around the world online.  It is not unlike a seminary for laymen.
     Whatever we do, we must strive to ensure biblically literate children, youth and adults.  No more should Christians ever think that Sodom and Gomorrah are married or that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc as mentioned in Dr. Mohler's article.  A Christian who does not know or understand God's Word is a sitting duck for false teachers, cults, and any other strange doctrine that comes across their path.  The only way that change begins is with each one of us first, individually and then, in our home at large with our children and grandchildren.  Let us begin to reverse this trend for we know as 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."  We have a powerful, unbeatable weapon in God's Word.  Lets use it!  Selah!