Thursday, August 28, 2014

Suffering Well

     Lately, in our Sunday School Class, the topic of the persecuted church has come up in discussion.  We have spent time praying for those who have to hide their faith or live in fear that they might lose their lives.  The question often comes to mind as to why these believers are called to suffer.  I wish I had a ready answer for that question, but we know that God sees a much bigger picture than we do.
     Throughout Scripture, we are aware that various churches and individuals faced the tribulations which Jesus told His disciples would come in John 16:33:  "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  We know from the book of Acts that the early church and many of the Apostles were beaten, stoned, and ultimately, killed by the authorities.  Hebrews 11 tells of their faith but also their difficulties as well.
     In Peter's letter to believers who had been scattered, he encourages them not to lose hope or faith during the persecution that they were experiencing.  His letter was written some time after Nero burned Rome.  Nero pointed to Christians as the cause of the fire which destroyed a good deal of property; therefore, believers felt their wrath.  Peter's words written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave sound wisdom as to how to face these trials:  "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.  Be sober-minded, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore,confirm, strengthen, and establish you" ( I Peter 5:6-10).
     Nowhere in his letter does Peter come out and say why these saints were facing tribulations.  Instead, he wrote how we are to live as we walk through hard places.  We know, from what our Lord said, that we will face tribulations.  We will experience loss in this life, but Peter indicated that we need to rejoice when we share in the sufferings of Christ and for His name.  It is further proof that we belong to Him.  The comfort is in knowing that God will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us again.  This we can depend upon.
     Peter further instructs us to be humble in the face of suffering.  We are to commit ourselves to the Lord's keeping.  Our humility coupled with our steadfast faith will serve as a witness to others.  In addition, we are to pray and give our anxieties to God.  He is able when we are not.
     Finally, Peter encourages the believers to be sober-minded.  They should not panic but be on guard watching for the enemy who is looking for areas of weakness to attack.  It is so easy when we are going through hard times to let our guard down.  However, we are called to be vigilant and resist Satan.
     Speaking from my own experience, I have found the difficult valleys have increased my faithfulness in prayer and caused me to rely upon God.  Too often, we lean on our own understanding, and when we do, we are vulnerable to the attack of the enemy.  I may never know "why" God allows certain things to happen in my life, but I know Him.  He is good all the time and righteous in all His ways.  Furthermore, God cares about the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15).  He is not far from us or indifferent to our needs.  Instead, He desires us to be conformed to the image of His dear Son as we walk in this fallen world.
     Suffering comes to all people both believers and nonbelievers alike.  Our world is broken and fallen.  However, when we are in Christ, we have the hope of heaven.  God's purposes in allowing trials may not be clear to us, but we know that He is able to work all things together for good, and we can depend on Him.  Let us rejoice in Him that we have so great a salvation through Christ.  He is our defender and the lifter of our head!  Selah!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

     One of my favorite hymns is "Great Is Thy Faithfulness".  The words speak to the character of God which is unchanging, and in our ever changing day to day life, this is so reassuring.  To know that we have a God who will never leave us nor forsake us has been the hope of many during times of suffering and loss.  Certainly, this was the situation for the writer of this hymn.
     Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866.  He had a difficult adult life due to fragile health.  He was often unable to work as he was confined to bed from time to time; thus he had to push himself to work extra hours in order to make enough to live on.
     When he was 27 years old, he gave his life to Christ and found tremendous comfort in the Scriptures.  He knew God was faithful to provide for his needs, and one of his favorite verses came from Lamentations 3:22-24 which reads:  "Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!”
     At the age of thirty six, Chisholm became a pastor.  Sadly, he could only serve in this capacity for a year as his health again became an issue.  He took another job as a life insurance salesman, but his devotion to the Lord grew as he wrote 1,200 poems which included several published hymns.
     While Thomas was away on a missions trip, he happened to write to a friend of his, William Runyan who was a little known musician at the time.  Several of the poems that Thomas Chisholm wrote were exchanged in the letters while he was away and one stood out to Runyan.  He was so moved by the poem that he wrote a musical score to accompany it.  As a result, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was published in 1923.
     This hymn was not an instant success, but eventually became popular when George Beverly Shea  began singing it during Billy Graham Crusades in 1945.  Little did Thomas Chisholm know that even though he had to give up the pulpit ministry he was still able to minister through the words he had written to encourage others.  Mr. Chisholm died in 1960 at the age of 94 and left the world a testimony to the faithfulness of God.
     Reading stories about hymn writers puts life into the songs that we share in worship.  This man did not have an easy life and could easily have lapsed into depression or self-pity.  However, the key to his joy was found in a relationship to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  This should speak volumes to us because none of us is immune from loss, sorrow, sickness or other troubles in this world.  We can either wallow in sadness or find comfort in God's Word as Thomas Chisholm did.  As we read the words to this hymn, let us rejoice in the faithfulness of God who daily meets our needs and gives us great hope for tomorrow.  Selah!
                           Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Thomas Chisholm – 1925

Great Is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Though changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great Is Thy faithfulness,
Great Is Thy faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.


Pardon for Sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!


Monday, August 18, 2014

When All Else Fails....Read the Directions

     I hate reading directions.  Mostly this is because they are poorly translated from another language into English and make very little sense.  I do much better with someone showing me how to work a new gadget than I do with reading about it.  Of course, my dear husband has reminded me more than once to read the directions and I would not have trouble with the item I was trying to use.  However, there was one occasion when even he failed to read the directions carefully.
     I was out for an evening, and I left a frozen pizza for he and the boys to eat.  He set the oven correctly and thought he had followed all the directions.  When it came time to eat, the boys complained to their father about the doughiness of the pizza.  It was then that he realized he was supposed to have removed the cardboard from under the pizza before baking it.  No wonder it was doughy!  We joked about his incident afterwards but the story I am about to tell was not a laughing matter.
     Near east Tawas, Michigan, there is a small zoo housing exotic animals.  The park had ample signs warning people not to touch or get too close to the animals.  However, one woman, Renae Ferguson chose to ignore the signs and put her hand through a chain link fence to pet a male African Lion.  The lion bit off a good portion of her middle finger and now she is suing the park for not protecting people from the dangerous animals.  A guide had warned her along with all the signs, but she claims they did not actually physically stop her from doing what she did.  What part of failing to follow directions did this lady not get?  I used to laugh at some of the ridiculous directions I found printed on items like:  "Do not use the iron on clothing you are wearing".  Well...."duh" as they say, who would iron something they are currently wearing?  But obviously, there are people who would.  Hopefully this lawsuit will be thrown out since clearly there was plenty of warning signs.
     We may laugh when we read some of the foolish things that people do when they fail to read the directions, but are we any less foolish when we neglect reading the Bible?  In its pages are words of truth and instructions that lead to knowing the God of our creation.  It is written for us to guide us, teach us and lead us into righteous living.  According to II Timothy 3:16-17, the Word does this for us:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
God's Word does all this in the life of any believer who will take the time to mine its riches.  Do we want to be equipped for every good work?  Do we want to be competent when it comes to sharing truth with our neighbors?  Then, we need to read the Bible.
     In addition, the Bible also acts as an effective weapon in terms of spiritual warfare.  Hebrews 4:12 tells us:  "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."  When we read the Word, we are changed by it for it is living.  It exposes our own faults and thoughts, so if there is any sin in us, we will be confronted by God's truth.  Likewise, it exposes the lies of the enemy as we discuss the truth of Christ with others.  What a powerful weapon in the hands of believers!
     Furthermore this Word of God will not pass away.  People have tried to stamp it out, burn it up and toss it in the garbage, but always this Word will stand.  In Matthew 24:35, Jesus said:  "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  Voltaire the French infidel, who died in 1778,  predicted that a hundred years from now the Bible and Christianity will be swept away.  Fifty years after his death, his home and printing press was used by the Geneva Bible Society to produce large quantities of Bibles.  He is gone, but God's Word stands just as the Lord said.
     Why is it that this precious resource is often the last thing that people turn to when they face difficulties and decisions?  It should be the first book we open on a daily basis.  In its pages, we will meet God for He reveals Himself to us.  The Bible is our source of spiritual nourishment.  However, the choice is ours.  Will we, like Renae Ferguson, choose to ignore all the warnings and march ahead with our plans?  If we do, we won't be able to sue God and tell Him that He never warned us or protected us.  It is all there in His Word.  Let us become students of the Bible that we might study to show ourselves approved by God and avoid the foolish actions that come from ignorance of what God requires of us.  Selah!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Light of a Tragedy

     With news on Monday of Robin Williams apparent suicide, the media has been swarming all over this story.  It is a tragedy that anyone should feel their life so hopeless that they decide to end it, and often a death like this leaves more questions than answers.  No one knows what goes on in someone's mind except that person and God.  Furthermore, we do not know if Robin Williams put faith in Christ as His Savior.  Certainly our prayers go out to his family in this time of grief and shock.  Yet there are some important take aways from this sad event.
      First and foremost, the church as a whole and Christians individually need to be aware of depression.  The signs and symptoms can be easily identified.  Several days ago, I wrote about my own struggle with this illness and the help that is available out there in the form of counseling,
medication and support.  We need to watch out for those who are bereaved or who have been through some traumatic situation so that we can help them through their time of need.  If we see signs of depression, we should offer support and above all, pray for that person.
      Secondly, if we find ourselves afflicted with depression, we need to be able to ask for help.  There is no shame in admitting mental illness of any sort.  Our society has stigmatized this to the point that people are fearful of being labeled.  However, depression is no less an illness than diabetes and like diabetes, it is treatable.  We do no favors to others or ourselves, if we try to cover up our pain.  Admitting our need, calling out to God and seeking help does lead to finding the answers rather than pretending it does not exist.
     Finally, and most importantly, the death of this creative actor points to a crucial question that all need to consider.  Do we know that if we died tonight and stood before God that He would let us into His heaven?  On what basis would He do so?  On good works?  On our merit?  According to the Bible, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) so my merits will not get me into heaven for I have none.  Then, when it comes to good works, Isaiah 64:6 tells me:  "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."  This verse makes it clear that in God's eyes, all my good deeds are like filthy rags; therefore my good works will not earn me heaven. On what, then, can we turn that will open the gates of eternal life in God's presence for us when we die?  Jesus told us clearly, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  Jesus Christ is the only means by which we can be delivered from the bondage of sin.  His sinless life, His position as the Son of God, His perfect sacrifice on the cross in our place alone satisfies the justice of our holy God.  When God calls us to Christ, and we repent of our sins and believe on Jesus Christ, we are delivered from not only sin but eternal Hell which was prepared for Satan and the demons.
     There are no second chances after death as some believe.  Neither is there any reincarnation into another body.  The Bible clearly tells us in Hebrews 9:27:  "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment..."  We have one opportunity in this life to receive the gift of salvation which God offers.  There are only two destinations after this life.  For believers, they will go to be with the Lord and live in His presence forever.  Those who reject the claims of Christ will experience eternal Hell.  This is why it is so important for us to share the Gospel message with friends and family.
     On numerous occasions, I have heard people speak that "so and so" is now resting in peace and is an angel in heaven.  However, we must ask ourselves on what basis do they make that claim?  Do they know for certain that this person made a profession of faith in Christ
?  The world assumes that no one will ever experience eternal punishment, but the Bible tells us otherwise.  This is why it is critical that we take every opportunity to share the grace of God with others and come alongside them when they are hurting.  God has the answers for the pain in life.  It cannot be found in drugs, alcohol or some other area.  What we all need is to fill the empty part of our lives with the love of God.  He, alone, can sustain us, keep us, heal us, and deliver us from the demon of depression.
     I cannot speak for Robin Williams as to his eternal destination.  We can only pray for his family, and recognize our need to help those who struggle as he did.  We also need to make it our goal as Christians to point to Jesus Christ as the only One who can help us find meaning in our lives.  May we be found faithful in this task.  Selah!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why Do You Do What You Do?

     One of the hardest decisions we ever make in life is deciding on an occupation.  For some, it is easy because they have felt a calling to their chosen profession.  However, many struggle with knowing what they should do in life.  In addition, there is often a misconception that tells us we must do something significant or related to ministry if we are a Christian never suspecting that the ordinary job can be calling too.  It all depends on our attitude and outlook.
     To my thinking, there is no job that does not carry with it an aspect of ministry for the Christian.  We are called to be Ambassadors for Christ wherever we are and in whatever position we have.  In our family, we have several in the field of education, and they work to help others learn.  No one can convince me that this area is not full of opportunities to be salt and light for Christ.  
Our son Nathan serves as a Lexington firefighter/EMT
     Although I was trained in college to teach high school communication skills with an English minor, I found my calling was to teach our children at home.  For me, this meant putting aside many other activities in order to devote myself to working with our children.  It was not the easiest calling but it was the most fulfilling.  Certainly this job was a type of ministry to our children.
     Philippians 2:3 tells us:  "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."  This should be a guiding principle as we think about the work we currently do.  The first question we need to ask ourselves is why am I working at my present job?  Is it to gain a big income?  Are we looking for prestige or power?  If so, we need to stop and consider what the verse above means.
     Throughout the New Testament, our Lord reminded us on many occasions that we are serve as He did without thinking about repayment.  A good example is found in Luke 10:25-37 in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Here the Lord clearly spoke of our duty to our fellow man to help and assist someone in need.  Many passed by the beaten man, including a priest, but no one wanted to get involved in helping him except the "despised" Samaritan.  He took time to minister to this man.  This story illustrates to believers that in whatever job we find ourselves there is always a chance to demonstrate the love of Christ to others.
     At the present time, I am working as a secretary/receptionist/insurance biller for my husband's professional office.  There is nothing glamorous about this work, but I see in it a chance to bless others with a smile, kind word and know that I am working with others as a member of a team to deliver care to them.  It is a ministry if we see it in that light.  During my years there, I have comforted people who are upset, prayed with some and had a chance to invite others to church. 
     When I was in college theater productions, our director would always remind us, "There are no small parts.  Only small actors."  The same could be said when it comes to work and jobs.  "There are no small or unimportant jobs.  Only small people who do not appreciate them."  Work is a privilege given by God.  We are not meant to use work as a means of self-gratification for our glory, but for His glory alone.  This means we need to stop grumbling, complaining and whining about things and look at it instead, as a means to touch the lives of others in actions as well as in words for Christ.  Like the Good Samaritan, we also need to look for ways to help others in need along the way rather than the "dog eat dog" mentality of the world.  We are put here to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  We can do this by seeing the work He gives us as a means for touching other lives.  Let us think this week about "why we are doing what we are doing".  Then, let us rejoice in the work God has given us and bloom where He has planted us.  Selah!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Changing Our Ways

     One of the hardest things to do is to change bad habits.  I fully admit that I have had my share of them, but after my recent heart procedure, I know that I have to change in order to remain healthy.  It was like a wake up call for me.  Eating high fat, sugar laden, gravy dipped foods is no longer an option unless I wish to shorten my days here on earth.  I need to learn a new way of eating, exercising and conducting my life in order to take better care of the body which the Lord has given to me.  I also hold no illusions that it will be easy.  Change does take time and effort.
     As I considered this new way of thinking, I was reminded of the parable which the Lord told in Matthew 22:1-14 about the "wedding feast" which the king had prepared for his son.  He had made the food ready along with elaborate preparations, and when he called the guests to come in, they all refused or had excuses.  In fact, some of the guests even mistreated the king's servants who came with the invitation to come in to the feast.  With this clear refusal, the king turned to his servants and told them to go into the highways and bring in all the people both good and bad to the feast.  Certainly every day people did not come wearing wedding garments so the king provided these as well.  However, when the hall was full, the king noticed that one person did not wear a wedding garment.  When he asked him why, the man had no reply.  Therefore, the king ordered his servants to bind him and cast him into the outer darkness.  Jesus ended the parable by stating in verse 14:  "For many are called, but few are chosen."
Gavin decided what to change about his sand creation
     This wedding feast parable is a picture of God's call to His chosen people Israel to come and celebrate His Son.  When the guests refuse to come in, God's servants call to all on the highways and byways of life.  In fact, the king in the parable must have provided everyone coming in with a wedding garment so they would be dressed appropriately.  However, one guest, not unlike many of us, wants to come to the party, but he doesn't want to change.  He refuses the wedding garment.  This is the kind of thinking that goes something like this:  "Lord make me rich, but don't make me have to share it with anyone else;  Father make me skinny, but please let me eat whatever I want to; or God keep me sober, but let me drink whatever I want to drink."  These represent the words of those who do not want to change.  They want the benefits without the commitment.
     God's call goes out to all men and women, but some will not answer that call.  This is what prompted our Lord to say that many are called but few are chosen.  As we see in the parable, the man entered the party, but not in to true fellowship.  He refused to change, and put on the garment of salvation offered to him.  The result is that he was cast out into darkness.  Even in our churches and fellowship today, there are those who refuse to wear the robe of righteousness.  They want the benefits of a life in Christ without the commitment.  This is no different than if I tell my doctor that I want good heart health, but I am unwilling to change my habits.  There is only so much repair that can be done if we continue to ignore the call to change.
     If we desire to live in the joy of the Lord, then we must be willing to heed His call and come prepared to live for Him according to His commands.  Jesus made it clear to us that "His yoke is easy and His burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).  Therefore, if He calls us today, we must be ready to respond as obedient children.  I guarantee that His robe of righteousness is more precious than the rags we wear each day.  Selah!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Getting Your Joy Back Again

 Having traveled the road of despair more than one time in my life, I know how it feels to lose the sense of joy that comes from walking with the Lord.  It was not that the Lord ever left me for an instant, but rather, it was the "dark night of the soul" that plagued me for a while.  Some call it depression, but I referred to it as a deep, dark pit from which I felt I might never escape.  For me, it was a combination of life altering events that all seemed to converge at one time leaving me emotionally drained.  Along with this unwelcome visitor came anxiety and panic attacks as well.  When these all came along, it was hard to carry on my normal life.  I wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head, but at the time, our four children were still young, I was homeschooling and trying to care for my mother who had Alzheimer's.  I had to keep going.  However, there came a time when I realized I needed help in reclaiming the joy of the Lord.
      Certainly, the first placed I turned to was God's Word.  Psalms have always been my retreat when
I have needed solace.  There David and the other authors shared their hearts before the Lord.  Two Psalms especially come to mind that were a blessing to me Psalm 42 and 43.  Psalm 42:5-6a  asks a question that anyone struggling with their emotions might relate to:  "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."  Later in the same Psalm, the writer asks the question again.  When we are in the midst of pain, it is not unusual to ask ourselves this question.  It is almost as if the writer is reassuring himself that life will once again shine with God's light and joy.  He points to that in the verse by saying "I shall again praise Him".
     In turning to Psalm 43, we read in verse 5 these words:  "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."  Here the writer states a positive:  "hope in God; for I shall again praise Him..."  We may not feel like praising God when walking through the shadows of depression, but we know that in the end, God is our salvation.  For me, this became my "sacrifice of praise" to God each day as I walked along.
     Along with scripture and prayer, I also sought out some godly counsel.  I think this is important when we are facing the "dark night of the soul".  Some people think counseling is a waste of time or a sign of weakness, but I found it a blessing.  Having another Christian help you sort out and face the painful circumstances of life from the perspective of God's Word helps us see things from another point of view.  We are badly in need of this remedy when we are entombed in the darkness of depression.  The enemy of our soul wants us to remain isolated and feeling all alone.
     Finally, we may need medical treatment with medication.  I share this because many Christians hate the thought of taking any medication.  There are those who view it as weakness or a crutch.  I came from a family that thought this way.  However, God has provided doctors with the means to treat depression, anxiety and panic.  Along with counseling, medication may be necessary in order to bring things back into balance.  There is no shame in this.  The shame lies in the fact that many who could benefit from treatment often do not seek it as a result of this thinking.
     Depression is often described as anger turned inward on ourselves.  It can result in physical symptoms as well as emotional ones.  We feel powerless to change our situation or perhaps disappointed that we could not have prevented it.  However, we serve a God who has and will never leave us nor forsake us, and in order to get back to that place of deep joy we may need to exercise all of the things I have suggested.
     Life in a broken world with all the pressures, expectations, and deadlines is hard on a daily basis.  However, throw in a crisis, loss, or painful situation and we, too, can fall into the pit of despair.  Churches and fellow Christians need to be aware of this and come alongside those who suffer in this way.  There is no quick fix or overnight remedy, but the joy does return, and I can tell you that walking through it helps us to grow in our trust in the Lord.  We are then able to sympathize and assist others also facing this.  At one time, I had a sign above our computer that read:  "Joy isn't the absence of sorrow.  It is the presence of God."  He is there all the time, and along with the Psalmist we must remind ourselves to "hope in the Lord for we will again praise Him."  May you be comforted today in what I have shared and if you know someone who has suffered in this way, please feel free to share this.