Monday, June 30, 2014

Will the Next Generation Follow God?

     Each generation is known by certain designations today.  There are the Baby "Boomers"....those born after World War II from 1946 to 1964.  Then there are the Gen X'ers born between 1965 and 1980, and they are followed by the Millennials or Gen Y born between 1981 and 1996.  While each generation is known for certain characteristics, one question remains.  Will the next generation rising up know the Lord?  Looking to the Bible reveals some good lessons for us.
     Following the great victories, miracles and conquests which God provided for the Israelites, Joshua, the son of Nun, died.  All the tribes had their apportioned land that God had given in promise to them.  While the Lord was faithful in His covenant, the children of Israel were not.  We read this sad commentary in Judges 2:10-12:  "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.  They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt.  They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them."  What happened to this generation?
Our son Aaron with his firstborn son Aiden
     One of the things we can learn from this passage is that the generation which followed Joshua had not been taught by their fathers about the works of the Lord.  This made them easy prey for the surrounding culture with its foreign gods.  They were seduced because they lacked the knowledge of God and His laws.  This was in violation of what the Lord had specifically told the Children of Israel to do as recorded in Deuteronomy 11:19 concerning the Law:  "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."  Each generation was called upon to make certain their children knew about the LORD, His commands and precepts.  Yet over and over again in Israel's history, we see evidence of neglect in this area.  The result was a generation that did not know the Lord.
      What we see happening today in our culture is not unlike this picture painted for us in Scripture.
God intends for His people to be salt and light in this world to transform the culture but it seems that the culture is doing more to transform the church.  In some denominations, there is little distinction between their governing bodies actions and the culture around them.  When this happens, Jesus tells us the result in His Sermon on the Mount:  "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot" (Matthew 5:13).
     When we consider what happened in the Old Testament, it was not merely the allure of the pagan nations around them that turned them from the Lord.  Rather, it happened because the believers no longer knew the Lord, His character, and His Laws.  We are seeing much the same today with the rise of abortion, euthanasia, and sexual immorality of all sorts.  There are fewer church members today who have sufficient understanding of the doctrines of the faith taken from Scripture.  As a result, they do not know the Lord and all He has done for them through Christ.  So how do we begin to combat this?
     Our first order of business is to make certain that we teach our children and grandchildren the truth of God's Word.  Read the Bible to them.  My grandfather did this with me.  No storybooks for me.  He read me the Bible.  I did not understand all of it, but I knew it was important to him and I never forgot that.  Then, we must take our children to church...not drop them off but attend with them.  We must pray with them and for them and model our faith before them.  More behavior is caught than taught.  If they see us living for Christ, it sets an example for them.
     Recently, one of our grandsons was having a tough time starting his day.  I could tell he was upset so I asked him if he wanted to pray about it.  He agreed and led in prayer.  I finished it off all while we were traveling together in a car (he is five years old).  His parents are teaching him to turn to God, and I wanted to reinforce that in his life.  God has the answers for us in little and big problems and this is what we want our children and grandchildren to know.
     Within the church itself, we need to be prayer warriors.  Pray for the leadership, the pastors, and for God's Word to penetrate the darkness of the human heart.  If we want to see our churches stand
Our daughter Jordan on the day of Rilyn's baptism with Gavin
for truth despite the assaults of culture that would make it look like the world, then we also need to be willing to roll up our shirt sleeves and be involved.  For example, we can offer a Sunday School Class or Bible study on basic Christian beliefs.  Currently in our church, the pastors and elders are teaching a solid course going over the doctrines of the faith.  It has been a rich blessing to attend this.  As believers we can never get enough of God's Word and truth into our minds.  This is the only way we can stand when the enemy attacks us.
     God has called us to be His ambassadors in this world.  We are called to glorify God, and we do this best when we prepare the next generation to know Him, love Him and serve Him.  However, they will never know Christ if we do not tell them, train them and help them to grow.  We must not fail in our mission to evangelize at home first and then to our neighbors and beyond.  The Lord has called us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.  Therefore, let us consider how we can begin to teach, train and prepare the next generation that they might know the Lord and live for Him.  Selah!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Swimming Against the Current

      Recently, we had a great visit with our son Aaron, daughter in law Bonnie and their two beautiful children Aiden and Bennett.  We spent the sunny afternoon going to a water park with them and enjoying the refreshing pools.  There were many to choose from with the intention of providing lots of different water experiences.  My favorite was the "Lazy River".
     We hopped on our inner tubes and floated along with the current.  It was cool, relaxing and fun just drifting along.  As we got to a certain point, my daughter in law told me that a short distance up ahead were the waterfalls.  While we could possibly navigate through the center space between the water streams without getting totally soaked, it would be better to take the tube back to the drop off point unless I wanted to be completely soaked.  So, I decided I would take the cut off and return the tube to the starting point.  What I didn't realize is that I would have to go against the current in order to get out of the main stream heading for the water falls.  It was hard work paddling with my hands
Salmon swimming upstream
and attempting to steer my way back.  By the time I reached the small lagoon area where I could hop off, I was happy to catch my breath.  I couldn't help but think how much harder it would be if I was in a strong current like a rip current often present in the ocean.  Swimming against a current is hard work and requires a lot of effort.  The same is true in the Christian life.
     Those of us who have been Christians for any length of time know what this feeling is like.  We are going against the current of this world in its rebellion toward God.  There are pressures on us to compromise in order to keep peace or to give in to some temptation of the flesh.  However, we know the importance of continuing to swim against the flow.
      In I John 2:15-17, we learn:  "Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the word the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."  The Apostle John here clearly delineates the difference in how the world thinks and how a Christian views things.  The world system wants gratification now.  The cry, "We are entitled to this" is rampant in society.  By contrast, the Christian has a long term perspective and awaits the coming of the Lord's Kingdom.  We are swimming against the current.
     Jesus used a perfect example of going against the current in "The Sermon on the Mount."  Matthew 7:13-14 reads:  ""Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14"For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."  Picture this in your mind.  There are many people headed for that wide gate just going with the flow.  Then, there is a small group trying to get through this crowd into the narrow gate.  They are going against the current, the popular, the acceptable, the politically correct in order to follow the Lord.  It is hard John tells us.  However, believers are called to be salt and light, and as we swim against the current, there will be others called by God who will turn around and join us in our walk on the narrow way.
     Every day, we face new challenges to our faith.  However, we have God's Word to guide us, prayer to aid us in our walk and fellowship with other believers to keep us accountable.  Through these elements of God's grace, we will find the strength to overcome the swirling tide of world views that try to overtake us.  In fact the Apostle John confirms our strength in I John 4:4:  "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world."
We have overcome through Christ's death and resurrection and have His Spirit who helps us in our weakness.  Let us be encouraged as we go against the currents of this world for God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light to bring glory to His name.  Selah!

Picture courtesy of Wiki Commons done by Robert Hines of the Fish and Wildlife Agency

Monday, June 23, 2014

Caring for God's Creation

     From the beginning of creation, God assigned to man the task of caring for His creation.  He was to work the ground and have dominion over every living creature.  Genesis 1:26-28 tells us:  "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'  So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
     What a great responsibility and privilege was given to man and woman.  They were created to bear the image of God and to tend all the good things He had created.  However, we know from the story told in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve sinned against and broke fellowship with Him.  The harmony which the Lord had created was now broken.  No longer would man be able to easily work the ground, and even the relationship to all creation was disrupted including the care for and treatment of animals.  To see how the perfect creation which God has made has fallen into disrepair since the Fall of Man, we have only to look at the news.  Disappearing species of animals, pollution,
and disease has taken its toll on both creatures and man alike.  Paul wrote these words in Romans 8:21-22: "21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."  With the fall, we have all seen the corruption of sin and its effects upon this world.  Recently, some terrible examples have been prominent in the headlines.
     A man in Arcadia, FL poured gasoline over his dog and set him on fire.  The animal was not killed but suffered serious burns.  He was rescued and underwent weeks of intensive treatment to save his life and his vision.  A team of veterinarians in the Tampa Bay area worked very hard to save his life.  Seeing recent pictures of this dog demonstrates his return to health.  We can only shake our head in wonder as to how someone could do such a thing.
     In another case, as yet unresolved, the police found a dog drowned with a cinder block tied to it.  No one knows who did this deed but again, why would someone want to harm an innocent animal?  There are rescue shelters, ads that can be placed in the newspaper, and even neighbors who might want this dog.  However, it all goes back to the heart of the problem.  Man is fallen.  His heart is darkened by sin and he only thinks of himself.  This spreads to every relationship and to the treatment of animals.
When God regenerates a heart and man turns from his sin to Christ, we see a different picture.  No longer is man cruel to his neighbor or to the beasts which God has given to his care.
     Proverbs 12:10 reads:  "Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel."  The footnote in my Reformation Study Bible says:  "God takes account of our treatment of animals.  This is consistent with concern for the right order of things in the world.  The wicked person is incapable of kindness even towards his livestock."  There is the difference between those who have a new heart from God through Christ and those who do not.
     A friend of mine told me that we can tell a lot about a man's character by how he treats his animals, and I have to agree.  Cruelty to animals, disregard for God's creation, and animosity towards others all point to a fallen nature.  As my husband would say, "It all goes back to the Garden."
     Through Christ, we have the privilege of having our sins forgiven through His sacrifice on the cross.  We receive a new heart and see all that God has created through His eyes.  With that new outlook,  we are meant to love one another and fulfill the mandate which God gave to man from the beginning.  Having dominion over this earth and creation means we are to take care of it for the glory of God.  As believers, let us look with new wonder at all that God has made.  Then, may we be found faithful to care for God's creation as He has called us to do.  Selah!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Making Time for Truth

     Our lives are so busy on a daily basis that it is no wonder people suffer from exhaustion and stress.  The pace of life has gone from the slow steady days of the horse and buggy to the rapid acceleration of this electronic era.  However, one thing has never changed.  We all have a need for the truth of God's Word and time with Him in prayer.  
     Routinely, I hear people tell me that they cannot be a part of a Bible study, small group, Sunday School or other event because they belong to a group that meets at the same time or they engage in some other activity which they feel takes precedence.  Others say that their life is so busy with family, work and housekeeping chores that they cannot squeeze another ounce out of their day.
     When I hear these things, my mind goes to the schedule that our Savior kept.  During his lifetime, Jesus would have traveled to Jerusalem from Nazareth three times a year for feasts.  This would be a round trip of about 240 miles by foot.  By the age of 30, this would be around 18,000 miles.  Then, during his ministry, He made around nine trips to Jerusalem as a devout Jew to fulfill all the feast days.  His teaching and healing ministry was taken to Samaria, Galilee and Nazareth.  Therefore a rough estimate of his travel each day would roughly be 15 to 25 miles.  Many of His travels from place to place are listed in Scripture and some are probably not recorded, but the point I am making is that when we think we are busy we must consider the Lord Jesus Christ.  There were numerous times when Jesus was exhausted so what did He do?
     Our Savior made time to get away and spend time with His Father.  He was refreshed by the time of prayer He enjoyed.  Luke 5:15-16 tells us:  "15But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray."  We can assume that He grew weary after long days of meeting the needs of so many.  After all, He was fully man as well as fully God.  
     Another example comes from  Matthew 14:23:  "After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,"  Again, Jesus sought refreshment by spending time alone with His Father.  Not only was He taking time to rest His physical body but He also was setting an example for us to follow in spending time with God.   Other verses in the Gospels echo this same practice of Jesus getting alone with his Father in heaven.  Somehow, during the hours He spent walking, healing, teaching, Jesus found time to be refreshed in the presence of God.  How much more than should we take the time to be at places where the Word will be preached so that our souls will be nourished?  Don't we need spiritual food to keep us going?
     When we say "yes" to something we want to do, we are also saying "no" to other things at the same time.  The problem is that we are saying "no" to the very reason we were put here on earth.  God wants us to be conformed to the image of His Son which will bring glory to His name, but this is hard to do when we are off fishing, golfing, or attending other events.  To put it another way, we have to deliberately set aside time to spend with God and fellow believers in the pursuit of His truth at Bible study or in small groups.
     One of the biggest fallacies we often tell ourselves is that we have plenty of time for that later.  Right now, we need to relax, kick back and take it easy doing other things.  But no one is promised tomorrow.  We may live for many years or we may be gone tomorrow.  Only the Lord knows the length of our days.  At best, our time here is short, and we need the food of life that will provide the strength we need for the busy lives we lead.  Instead of looking for excuses as to why we cannot come aside with the Lord as Jesus did, we need to make a way in our schedules to sit under the teaching of God's Word.  This is what will produce the fruit of righteousness in our life when we make time for the truth.  Remember:  "Only one life twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last" (from a poem by C.T. Studd).  Selah!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Treasures From the Past

 In Hebrews 12:1, we are told:  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...."  Never was I more aware of this than when I went through some boxes I had in a bedroom closet the other night.  I was looking diligently for some precious pictures of my father to share with friends and family on Facebook in honor of Father's Day.
What I came across blessed me to the core.
     Buried deep in the two boxes of pictures were items my mother had held on to throughout her life.  There was a beautiful baptismal certificate showing when my mother was presented for baptism.  I came across her confirmation picture and certificate as well as her Bible.  Then, I found my great, great grandfather's catechism book written in German for he came from Germany as a boy.  It was the Heidelberg Catechism that he had studied.  There it was for me to see.  My mother, her mother (my grandmother) and my father's great grandfather all had studied the same catechism and been raised in homes where it was taught and believed.  They are a part of this great crowd of witnesses who have gone on before.  How blessed I was as I looked at these treasures knowing that because they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ I will see them again in heaven when the Lord calls me home.
     As I have thought about this rich heritage, I am reminded that the Lord has called us to likewise pass on to our children and grandchildren the faith that was once delivered to us.  The greatest treasure we can give those we love is to tell them what we believe and why we believe it.  In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord called upon families to teach their children the truths about Him.  Deuteronomy 11:19 tells us:  "You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."  This covers nearly the entire day, but what riches there are in God's Word and His laws.  God's admonition in these verses are for the church today not just for time past.
     Unfortunately, many today think of catechisms as old relics rather than viewing them as aids and summaries of important doctrine and beliefs in the Christian faith.  Certainly they do not replace the Bible which is our one true foundation for life and practice, but they add to our understanding.  However, it is important that instruction begins in the home and then, is augmented by the church.  This is how we pass on the truth about Jesus Christ by instruction and living it before them.
     When it comes to acting on our faith, we are further instructed in Hebrews 12:1 to throw off everything which hinders us and the sin that can entangle us.  We are told to persevere.  In the second verse of the chapter, we are likewise instructed to keep our eyes on Jesus and follow His example of selfless love.  This is how we can leave a legacy for our children.
      As my mother was taught the Heidelberg Catechism in her home, so she assisted me in learning the Westminster Catechism.  Little did I realize in my teen years what a great treasure had been passed on to me.  Now, I can look back in joy knowing their lives are hidden with Christ in heaven.  What legacy will you leave your children?  Will they look through your papers one day and find you faithful to the call of Christ in your life?  I pray for all who are reading this that we may rise to the occasion and teach our children the truth of God's Word for His glory and their salvation.   Selah!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect

     My mother had a favorite saying.  If you want to be good at something then "practice makes perfect."  I think her mother drilled that into her thinking.  Wherever the phrase originated it does make good sense.  If we want to become good at something, we need to practice and apply what we have learned.
     One of the things I have learned from our youngest son who is a firefighter/EMT is that they never stop learning or rehearsing for the day a large fire or other accident happens.  He attended the Lexington Fire Academy in preparation for becoming a firefighter.  However, as he has learned, this is just the beginning of a life long process of learning and
practicing his skills.  I admire that because firefighters always have to be ready.  In the same way, we, as Christians, need to follow this same pattern if we want to be salt and light in this world.
     All too often we attend church, small group, or have private devotions but never put into practice God's Word.  Why is that?  If we want to retain a math fact, it requires practice; so why would we think that we do not have to practice what we are taught in the Bible through preaching and teaching?
     James, the Apostle who never minced words, says plainly how important it is to be a doer of God's Word.  In James 1:22-25 says:  "But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.  This is the key to a strong Christian life.  When we listen to a sermon, it has been my observation that if we would take notes it would help us learn better what was said.  Then, we can review, read the Word and meditate on what we learned.  The next step should be to put it into practice.  If we do not live out the Bible, what good has it done us to merely hear it?
     Jesus came into this world that we might have life in Him and life in abundance as a result of His sacrifice for us on the cross.  However, this new life requires us to "take up our cross and follow Him" (Matthew 16:24).  In this same verse, Jesus also said we would have to deny ourselves in the process.  This means we cannot be lazy in the Christian walk.  Like firefighters, we need to study, prepare and be ready all the time to take action.  We have to learn how to put into practice what we have learned so that when the enemy of our soul attacks, we are ready.  Being faithful in this will bring blessings as well as a good witness.
Our son Nathan and his fiancee Becca
     Think about the many people who watch us and listen to us each day.  They hear us talk about the Lord and what He means to us.  Yet, if they never see us put into practice those things which we say we believe, they will be led to question if we are really followers of Christ.  The Christian life is not meant to be passive but active.  As we are doers of the Word, we will bring glory to God as well as blessing to others.
     When we think about the admonition of the Apostle James, let us also remember the firefighters and EMT's who practice their skills in the event of emergency.  Would any of us want someone to come to our rescue if they had not been on a call for months and did not keep current with their skills?  I don't think so.  Likewise, if we do not put into practice all that we have learned, we will lose our saltiness in this world and will be good for nothing.  May God give us the ability to be doers of His Word so that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.  Selah!

Monday, June 9, 2014

For the Praise of Men or God

   As a long time devotional writer, it is easy to get into a slump where you wonder if anyone is reading what you write.  That's when my dear husband reminds me, "Are you doing it to please men or God?"  For me, that is easy to answer.  Twenty some years I have been writing that I might encourage others and stimulate their thinking.  I do it because I felt led by God to do it.  However, my husband makes a very good point and one that all who serve God in some capacity need to ask themselves.
     Long ago, I counseled with a pastor during a difficult point in my life.  He said something that has stayed with me all these years.  He said that when anyone ministers to others out of their need to be accepted or applauded they will end up hurting others.  He went on to say that he knew of ministers who crashed and burned because they were more interested in advancing their agenda rather than God's.  What they needed, he indicated, was to deal with old wounds and acknowledge the sin of pride in their lives that kept them from truly serving others without the need for recognition.   This does not apply only to those in ministry but to all of us as Christians in whatever capacity we serve.
After all, how can we point out the speck in our brother's eye when we have a log in our own? (Matthew 7:4-5).
     When it comes to performance, the Pharisees were the best.  They prayed on street corners, wore longer tassels on their robes, chose the best seats in the synagogues, gave alms to the poor and were well acquainted with the scriptures.  In short, they looked good in public and people were impressed.  Yet throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about what really matters.  Matthew 6:3-4 says:  "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  This was a direct contrast to what the Pharisees were doing.  They wanted men to praise them and notice what kind things they were doing.  Jesus goes on talking about prayer in verse 6 of Matthew 6:  "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."  Again, the Lord tells us not to stand up on the street corner as the Pharisees did so everyone can see us pray, but we are to go into our private prayer closet as we come to God.  Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasts the life of performance for the benefit and adulation of others with a life of service lived out for God.
     In His teaching of the disciples, Jesus made it clear that if they wanted to be great they must first be a servant of all.  Mark 9:35 reads:  "And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.'"  He also instructed them concerning their witness and ministry.  Matthew 5:16 says:  "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Notice that Jesus says that our good works will give glory to God.  No where does He state that our good works should gain us praise, recognition and fame.  No, we were created for God's glory not for our own.
     Our world is so performance oriented that it is easy to get caught up in wanting to be famous, recognized, and patted on the back.  There are many award shows that do just this for outstanding music artists as well as actors, and it is easy to get caught up in this mentality.  However,  the Lord has called us to live, instead, for His glory for He sees all we do on this earth and is a rewarder of those found faithful.
     Naturally, we all need encouragement and kind words from one another.  This helps all of us keep on doing our job, our ministry or persevering during hard times.  I know I love hearing from those who have been touched by something I write.  It helps me know that in some small way the Lord has used my offering to bless another.  Our goal should not be to become famous, but to make God famous through whatever ministry and service we offer to others.  Do we see the difference?  May we never be like the Pharisees that Jesus warned us about seeking the praise of men, but rather, let us be humble in our hearts and servants to all for the Lord who sees what we do in secret will reward us.  Selah!

Friday, June 6, 2014

According to His Will

     Following choir rehearsal the other night, I was asked to close in a word of prayer and lift up the requests voiced that evening.  It is always a blessing and a privilege to come before our Lord and lift up the needs of others because we know that He hears us.  How do we know that?  The Bible tells us so in James 5:16 says:  "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."  When we share our prayer concerns, confess our sins one to another and our need for healing,  God will hear us if we come with a humble heart before His throne.  There is one caveat in all this.  The Lord answers according to His sovereign will for us.
     Because Jesus Christ died for our sins and imputed to us His righteousness, we are now able to come before God the Father and make our requests known to Him.  In my prayer closet, I hold nothing back when I pray.  I tell the Lord exactly how I feel and what I would like to see happen in certain situations.  After all, God tells us to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:16).  Jesus also told us that we are to come to Him when we are weary and He will give us rest (Matthew 11:28).  This is what prayer does for a heavy heart.  We can lay our burdens at the feet of God in prayer.  However, we have to keep in mind that we may ask the Lord to do things a certain way, and His answer may not be what we expected.  Nevertheless, because He loves us, He hears us and considers what is the best for us and all involved.  This is where trust comes in.  God knows our frame, our weakness, and the old sin nature that we still struggle with.  His ways are not our ways.  So when we pray, and God answers in a different manner, we need to know that He sees the bigger picture.  We also need to remember that He loves us.  Giving His Son as a ransom for us has proven that beyond all doubt.  
     When our grandson Branson was alive, my husband and I prayed daily for his seizures to stop.  His parents were doing all the right things to help him, but still his seizures persisted.  God did answer our prayer, yet not in the way we had expected.  The Lord saw fit to take Branson home to heaven.  Now he has no more seizures or limitations such as he experienced here.  I will not lie.  It was a shock.  Did we somehow lack faith that God could heal him?  Had we somehow not prayed in the right manner?  No, I do not believe that for a moment.  While we do not know why his life had to be so short, we know that we can trust God even in something like this.
     What our family has learned through this experience is that God loves us and comforts us.  He is sovereign and works all things together for good.  He has our back in all situations whether we feel like it or not.  Emotions come and go but God and His Word can be trusted.  We have learned that some mysteries of life are not for us to know  here and now.  God is our Father and He will always do for us what is necessary to conform us to His Son.  
     One thing which we always must remember about prayer is that God is not our butler ready to give us whatever our hearts desire.  We cannot name it and claim it as some teach and believe.  Rather, the Lord is looking for a humble heart ready to obey His commands and bow to His will for our lives.  James 4:3 says:  "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."  Heart motives make all the difference when we come before the Lord.  Remember our purpose here on earth is to glorify God and enjoy HIM forever...not glorify us and get what we want when we want it.  
     As we pray, let us remember that God knows what we need before we do.  He will answer us at just the right time according to His will for us.  Therefore, let us commune with Him daily laying our burdens down.  He will not fail us nor forsake us.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Should We Be Surprised

     Almost every day, news comes across the T.V. of some new injustice or atrocity that has been committed.  We ask ourselves the question,  "How could someone do something like that?"
Increasingly, our world is diving deeper into the garbage dump of human behavior.  According to 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul describes how people will behave in the time before our Lord Jesus Christ returns:  "But understand this, that in the last days, there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness but denying its power.  Avoid such people."  This sums it up quite well.
     This letter was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the Apostle Paul between 64 and 68 A.D.  So how did he know how people would behave in the 21st Century?  The answer to this is easy.  We are all afflicted with a sin nature which has been passed down to us from Adam.  Any one of us is capable of all the terrible descriptions given by Paul in the verses above.   Romans 3:23 tells us:  "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Only by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ are we able to have a new nature and heart when we give our lives to Him.  This is reason to praise and thank God that we have been delivered.  However, we do walk in this world and Paul's final words of this passage ring true today:  "Avoid such people."  To put it a different way, the Apostle is telling us to avoid keeping regular company with those who practice this kind of lifestyle.  Still, we are to be a witness to all around us by living a godly life pleasing to the Lord.  That is a difficult task isn't it?
     In fact, Paul goes on in verse 12 of chapter 3 to write this instruction:  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."  Seems unfair to us that those who practice a life contrary to God's Word seem to have all the money, good luck, and power.  Still, we must think about our brief life here on earth's stage compared to eternity with our Lord.  The evil will not always prosper.  There will come a day when the Lord will judge the hearts of all men and the fulfillment of Psalm 37:9-11 will come to pass:  "For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.  In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;  though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.  But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace."  We might ask, until that day, what should we do?
     Our Lord called us to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16).  Even though it may seem we are swimming upstream against the culture,  we must persevere in sharing the Good News and living it before all men.  We will not win all, but God has called us to be His ambassadors.  Persecution will come when we refuse to bow to the whims of the worldly culture, but our rewards in heaven far outweigh anything this world can offer.
     Instead of bemoaning the decline we see and asking how people could act like they do, we need to be willing to share the truth of Christ both in season and out of season as Paul instructs us to do (2 Timothy 4:2).  Our job is to serve Christ by serving others.  Being counter culture is not an easy job, but the benefits of living our faith will last for eternity.  Therefore we should not be surprised by the things we see or read about.  Instead, let us take up the Lord's banner and proclaim His death and resurrection until He returns.  This is the only thing that will bring real change into the hearts of men.  Selah!

Photograph courtesy of Aaron Thayer

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Power of a Good Word

     Several days ago when I was in need of a little encouragement, a friend of mine made such a sweet comment to me.  I knew she meant it and the good word she gave me brought a smile to my face.  We all need a reason to rejoice every day.  After all, this world is filled with many negative encounters, and we all know that life can hand us some difficult situations.  This is all the more reason why we need to share a good word with those around us.
     According to Proverbs 12:25, we read:  "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad."  Is it any wonder many of us are filled with anxiety on a daily basis?  Consider the newspaper we see each day.  How many good news stories are printed there?  I venture to say it is a rare day when we read something like that.  However, when we do, we find ourselves more upbeat.
     For Christians, the ministry of encouragement is something that everyone can participate in no matter your age.  A simple kind word spoken to someone can make their day so much better.  Ephesians 4:29 reminds us:  "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."  If we take time to build up others rather than tear them or others down, think how much of God's grace we are able to share.  Certainly my friend did not have to take time to write me a note when she did, but her words gave me a peace in my heart.  They were good words not corrupting words that only bring more anxiety.
     Not long ago, a salesman came into our office to see if we had made a decision on a product he offered.  He told us confidentially that he really did not need to stop by, but he was trying to break up his schedule since he had a really rough day.  As we talked with him, he alluded to the fact that some on his work team were undercutting his work and taking his customers.  He could hardly believe they would stoop to that.  We spoke a few words of encouragement to him and told him that we appreciated his honesty in dealing with us.  He told us upon departing that he always felt good about coming into our office because we were always so kind and upbeat.  I am sincerely happy that we were able to be a short respite in his otherwise unhappy day.  It doesn't take much to lift someone else up.  A kind word goes a long way.
     Other verses from Proverbs also tell us what a kind word can do.  Proverbs 12:18 says:  "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."  Then in Proverbs 16:24, we read
Kind words written in love make a heart glad!
:  "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."  I love the way that good words are likened to sweetness that brings a healing to the soul and heart of another.  Rash words cannot do that, but gracious words can.
     In order to speak a good word to others, we must be rooted and grounded in Christ.  The fruit of our lips come from a heart set right by the Lord.  This is why David prayed to the Lord these words in Psalm 19:14:  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."  We need to ask God, as David did, to allow us to speak and think acceptable things so that we may produce good words that come from a right heart.
     We also need to look for right opportunities to speak those things which will lift up a brother or sister.  In other words, we need to be ready in season and out of season to speak those things which will edify others.  Colossians 4:6 reminds us:  "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."  Oh, if only we could stop and think before we speak so that our words are always gracious.
     There are several things in life that we can give in abundance and it doesn't cost us a thing:  1) we can give away our smile to others and 2) we can speak a kind word of encouragement to make someone's day brighter and better.  Consider the many we can offer this too:  shut-ins, our pastors, our church leaders, our fellow employees, our spouses, our family members, and our friends.  The list is endless, but for those of us who are called to be ambassadors for Christ, we can and must make a difference in the lives of others.  Let us start by speaking a good word to another in sincerity.  It can relieve his anxiety, soothe a broken heart, and bring healing to a soul.  May we glorify God with our lips today by graciously speaking kind words to those around us.  Selah!