Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking Ahead with Purpose

     Christmas has passed.  The company has gone home, and all that remains is to take down the decorations.  As we put away our nativity set, we need to remember not to pack up our sense of joy and wonder that we experience as we hear the Gospel story of our Savior's birth again.  Instead, we need to nurture our love for the Lord as we prepare to enter a new year.
     How easy it is for us to think that Christmas is the end game forgetting that we are about to celebrate the dawn of 2016 with the opportunity to grow in Christ and walk daily with Him as He leads us.  Believers, we need to be among those who celebrate with praise our heavenly Father who is about to open a new chapter in our lives.  Think about it.  None of us has ever experienced 2016 before.  What has God planned for us that we might glorify Him?  There are several ways we can prepare for the adventure that lies ahead.
     First, consider a Bible reading plan for the New Year.  Ligonier Ministries has several different plans listed that can assist us to read the Bible.  These plans are free and available online.  The more we find ourselves looking into God's Word the more we will get to know His character and come to trust Him more deeply.  Likewise, the Bible is profitable for correction, training, reproof and instruction in righteousness, it is a valuable tool in the hands of a man/woman of God (2 Timothy 3:16).  In fact Ephesians calls the Bible the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17).  With this sword, we can demolish the strongholds and vain imaginations that set themselves up against the true knowledge of God  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  Who among us would ever go to battle without a powerful weapon for our defense?  This is why it is so important to start the New Year on the right foot.
     Secondly, we need to be men and women of prayer as we come to the new opportunities that lie ahead of us.  Only the Lord knows the plans He has for us.  Therefore, it would seem wise to seek His guidance and blessing.  Jesus set a blessed example for us to follow throughout His days of ministry.  He took the time to get alone with the Father, and in that time, He was refreshed and ready again to carry out His mission to us.  I like to think of prayer as a refueling process.  Coming into the Father's presence recharges our thinking as well as our souls.  There is no greater privilege that we can enjoy than to spend time with our heavenly Father.
     As we prepare to welcome the New year, we need to also ask the Lord to fill us with His Spirit.  Ephesians tells us in 5:18:  "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,"  The Holy Spirit is our comforter, teacher, and works in us to sanctify our lives.  He convicts us of sin, leads us into righteousness and produces fruit in our lives.  Could there be any greater joy or fulfillment?  The Spirit comes into our lives when we become believers in Christ.  However, daily we need to pray for God to fill us to overflowing so that streams of living water pour out of us and touch others.
     Finally, in Ephesians 5:19, we read that we are to speak to one another in Psalms and sing hymns and spiritual songs.  This speaks of encouragement, praise to God and lifting up one another.  Entering a New Year with a thankful heart is so much better than a hangover.  Self-medicating is so empty compared to building one another up by meditating on what God says about us.
     New Year's can be even more exciting when we consider how we approach this time of new beginnings.  Just as Jesus did not remain a baby in a manger but grew in favor with God and man so we grow up in Him this coming year through Bible study, prayer, being filled with the Holy Spirit and praising God.  We can make a difference by putting on a servant's heart and embracing all the opportunities that another year brings.  On New Year's Eve let us enter God's courts with thanksgiving in our heart!  In doing this, we are storing up treasures in heaven where none can take them from us.  Selah!

           HAPPY NEW YEAR IN CHRIST!                                                                    

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Truth of Christmas

     As I was reading my Bible yesterday, I came across a wonderful, clear sermon which Paul spoke to men of Israel as well as Gentiles who worshipped God.  It was such a clear message that it bears reproducing it here.  The passage comes from the book of Acts 13:16-41  in the NIV version.
     "...Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!  The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; He made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power He led them out of that country, He endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, He overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to His people as their inheritance.  All this took about 450 years.
     After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.  Then the people asked for a king, and He gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years.  After removing Saul, He made David their king.  He testified concerning him: ' I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'
     From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised.  Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.  As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am?  I am not the one.  No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'
     Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.  The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.  Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have Him executed.  When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem.  They are now His witnesses to our people.
     We tell you the good news; What God promised our fathers He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.  As it is written in the second Psalm:  'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' ......
     "Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses. Take care of what the prophets have said does not happen to you:  'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe"  ( Acts 13:16-41).
     Paul speaks clearly to those assembled by relating their own history of God's intervention on their behalf.  He does it so succinctly that it is hard to miss.  Reminding people about the glory and provision of our heavenly Father is like giving a cold cup of water to a thirsty man on a hot day.  We are a forgetful people.  We need a strong reminder.
     As the Apostle traces the story from the Old Testament, we see how God's plan has been woven into history all along.  This is the beauty of the Bible.    It is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
     God's plan was for both the Children of Israel and the Gentiles to come into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the message of Christmas that we are forgiven of our sins when we believe in Christ.  He came that we might have eternal life.
     My prayer at Christmas is that many who are reading this will come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, for believers I pray that we can tell others this good news as simply as the Apostle Paul did in this short passage.  May God give us the boldness to proclaim this message of salvation.  It is the best Christmas gift we can give another.  Selah!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Things Don't Often Come Easy

     When we read the Christmas story in our Bible, there are many things we are not told.  We do not know, for example, if Mary walked along with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem or if she rode a donkey.  The Bible is silent on this detail.  However, speaking from my own experience with pregnancy, I can say that a long walk or a bumpy ride on a donkey would not be an easy or comfortable  for an expectant mother depending on how far along Mary might have been.  The journey was nearly 70 miles one way.  If we consider possible morning sickness, fatigue and carrying extra weight as we make the journey, we have a whole new perspective on this trip.
     In reality, Mary and Joseph had no choice in the matter.  The Roman government was interested in taking a census and required everyone to return to their hometown in order to register.  This, in itself, was difficult, but adding a pregnancy to the picture only complicated things further.
     On top of all this, when they arrived, there was no room in the inn.  Although the Bible does not specifically say the child was born in a stable, we do know that his mother laid him in a manger (see the story in Luke 2:1-20).  This is what leads us to believe that perhaps Jesus was born in an area occupied by animals.  No matter the location, I am certain this is not what either Joseph or Mary had in mind when they set out on this journey.  Yet, as we know, life rarely gives us a smooth path to our destination.  If it did, would we ever need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts?      
     How many times have we set out on a trip with every intention of arriving on time, unruffled and ready to go?  Certainly our family has had more than our share of mishaps while traveling.    The good news is that when we arrived all the difficulties along the way disappeared from our thinking.  Our reward for persevering was the rich fellowship of friends and family.
     I am certain that when Mary gave birth to our Savior the hardships from the journey slipped into the background as she looked into the face of Jesus.  Her focus was where it should be and we must follow her example.  None of us has been promised a life without hardship, difficulty or pain.  Jesus told us we would face tribulation, but He told us that we should be of good courage because He has overcome this world.  He is the reason for this season that we celebrate, and we should not stop with Christmas.
     Because He came, we can face tiring journeys, difficult circumstances and the challenges of tomorrow.  We are secure in His love and when we focus on Him, all else fades into the background.  He is our strength, our significance, and the very breath we take each day.  I am certain Mary and Joseph felt this way when they looked into the face of the King of Kings.  Good things do not come easy, but the treasure that awaits us as we seek to follow Christ is worth everything we have to offer Him.  Selah!                                              

Monday, November 30, 2015

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

     As of this past weekend, we lost our internet connection.  Calling our provider produced little help because they felt the issue was our modem.  Of course, the new modem we need will have to be ordered and may arrive on Wednesday.  Until then, I am limited to my smartphone.  Needless to say, this makes typing a devotion a little more challenging.  Having grown up in the early TV era, we would refer to this as having technical difficulties as programs frequently lost their signal.  For a brief time we would see a sign informing us of problems.  Sure enough, it was not long till the program came back on the air.  I found myself grateful for the work of the technicians behind the scenes.
     Fortunately, God has provided a Helper for us who dwells and lives in the life of every believer
not  just when we experience trouble but at all times.  The blessed Holy Spirit was sent to teach us, guide us into all truth and comfort us in times of need.  Furthermore, He is the one who points out and convicts us of our sin.  Throughout the book of John, Jesus refers the work of the Holy Spirit:  "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, who will abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17).   Now that is better than any repair technician!
     Later in this same passage, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will not only reveal truth to us but will also help us remember it as well.  Verse 26 reads:  "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."  What comforting words to hear!  Even in the most difficult situations the Holy Spirit comes through to us.
      A great example comes to mind in a recent visitation to a nursing home patient.  This gentleman spent his life on the mission field and faithfully served the Lord.  Now he is advanced in age and suffering with dementia.  My visitation partner and I found him sitting at a table in the lounge area.  We asked him if we could pray with him and he seemed delighted.  He bowed his head as we offered up prayers on his behalf.  When we had finished, we asked if we could return and pray with him again in the future to which he heartily said "Amen!"  The visit was such a blessing.  We may have technical difficulties when it comes to our memory in later years but the Holy Spirit can bring to our remembrance the things of the Lord.
      In addition to being our truth giver, teacher and guide, the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin also comforts us when we repent.  Most of us are familiar with I John 1:9:  " If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness."  When we acknowledge our wrong doing, the Holy Spirit comforts and keeps us in His path.  Likewise, He provides us with the strength to carry on during hard times as well.  I have lost many loved ones over the years and probably none harder than our grandson.  Yet through it all, God the Holy Spirit was there to hold us and wipe away the tears.  He truly is a Comforter to our hearts.
     Quite often, I believe we forget the precious ministry of the Holy Spirit or take for granted His work in our lives to conform us to Christ likeness.  It is He who gives the gifts and produces the fruit in our lives.  If it were not for His presence, we would falter in our walk each day.  By His power, we can overcome the temptations, pitfalls and technical difficulties we face.  Let us not forget to praise and thank the Lord who gave us the gift of His Spirit that we might live each day for Him.  My internet may be down, but for the believer, we will never lose our connection because of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Selah!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blurring the Lines

     More than any other thing, I hate injustice.  In fact, I do not know another soul who feels good about all the wrongs in this world.  Yet, the reality is that we live in a fallen world filled with murder, cruelty, abuse, neglect and almost every other unimaginable horror that can be named.  This is why God gave to us His commandments and instituted government that we might be protected.
     Unfortunately, today, the lines are being blurred between different spheres of influence.  There are those who try to apply the principles given to believers in Christ (e.g. Sermon on the Mount) to decisions which rightly belong to government authorities.  Conversely, government has begun to insert itself into the spiritual realm by trying to dictate to Christians a politically correct outlook towards abortion, homosexuality and other issues.  However, there has to be appropriate balance between the spheres of influence in our society.  This is brought out very clearly in Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project".  According to Del Tackett (the instructor in this series), the blurring of spheres often leads to intrusion into areas not meant to be controlled by government as an example.
     Currently, there has been a lot of debate in social media on whether we should take in refugees who are fleeing Syria.  The plight of women and children is especially heartrending for us to see.  As Christians, our desire is to minister to the least of these and reach out with compassion.  We know that Christ instructed us:  "“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27).   Our desire is to follow this, but we also must take into account the full counsel of God's Word.  The Bible also says in Matthew 10:16:  "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. "  Before sending out His disciples, Jesus warned them how to conduct themselves in this world.  Therefore, we also need to be wise when it comes to taking action in our current world situation.  This is where government comes into the picture.
     In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul addresses the role of government:  "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience" (Romans 13:1-5).  From this passage, we learn that God has established government for our good as well as our protection.
     Presently many states have ruled to prevent any Syrian refugees from coming into their area.  Those in leadership positions believe there should be more vetting to make certain a person truly wants asylum in our country for the right reasons and not for the purpose of terror.  Their perspective follows what a government is designed to do - to protect us.  Once these refugees are thoroughly vetted, then, we are free to assist them as believers, thus fulfilling our call to minister to the least of these.  What we must realize is that we cannot  impose our moral mandates on government.  We are to respect their leadership in matters like this because God is sovereign and He will take care of us.
     Let us remember that we must embrace the whole counsel of God's Word  whenever a circumstance arises.  Ultimately, our purpose and joy is to bring glory to God rather than please men.   Allow the government to exercise its scope of authority and trust in God to handle all the rest.  Selah!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Doctrine Does Matter

     On this "Throw Back Thursday", I am republishing a post that I wrote a number of years ago because I believe this is a growing problem among Christians today.  I hope you are blessed and encouraged as you read this.  Feel free to share this with others.
Barbara Thayer

     I had a long and interesting talk with a friend the other day.  We frequently get into discussions over spiritual issues, and I wish i could say I agree with her position.  However, there are times when I am troubled by the comments she makes.  The other day she told me that it didn't matter if she went to church or not.  She had a relationship with God and that is all she needed.  She could go to any church and feel right at home.  For her, doctrine did not matter because if we believe in Jesus Christ that is all that is necessary.  She was tired of the disputing over various ideas put forth by denominations.
     When we parted company, I was saddened by her position which I have encountered many times over the years.  People so easily say, "It doesn't matter what you believe so long as you believe in Jesus." But the question that comes to my mind is what DO you believe about Jesus?  This is what doctrine teaches us, and understanding the foundations of our faith are critical to growth in Christ.  It DOES matter what you believe.
     In Webster's "American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), we find this definition of doctrine:  "In a general sense, whatever is taught.  Hence a principle or position in any science; whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master. The doctrines of the gospel are the principles or truths taught by Christ and His apostles.....Instruction and confirmation in the truths of the gospel" (pg 65).  Based on this definition, I wonder, then, how can we be instructed in the things which Christ and the Apostles taught if we are not affiliated with a body of believers?  For it is within the body, that we find Pastor/teachers who preach the Gospel to us, Sunday school classes and Bible studies where we can gain insight and find stimulation and fellow believers who will hold us accountable for our actions.  Being isolated from the fellowship of other believers and trying to hear God on our own puts us at a disadvantage.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Romans:  "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How then will they believe in Him in whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14 - New Am. Standard)
      Within the pages of the Bible, we have the fullness of God's counsel.  The words of truth form the doctrine of our faith which is critical knowledge for the Christian.  To say, "It doesn't matter what people believe as long as they believe in Jesus" is naive at best and at worst, makes us a target for Satan.  According to another letter which Paul wrote to Timothy, we read:  "Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" ( 2 Timothy 2:15).  In the same letter Paul goes on to write this about the Bible and hence the doctrine found in the Bible:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for gaining in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16).
Paul makes it clear that we are to study the Word of God and handle it carefully, but we also need to recognize that it is powerful in our lives.  While studying the Bible on our own is important, we also must gather together in corporate worship which will help us stay the course and keep on the right track.
     Unfortunately, today there are a number of churches that no longer spend time teaching both children and adults the doctrines of the faith.  Instead, they have replaced sound teaching with "feel good" philosophy".  Some have put aside the great Confessions of the faith as well as the catechisms which help to organize the basic doctrines of the faith as found in the Bible.  Is it any wonder that many believers today do not have a clear understanding of what their church teaches or believes?  So how can we remedy this problem?
     Of course, sound preaching and teaching in our fellowships is key.  This is where our faith can clearly be expounded.  We may also wish to return to some of the practices of early believers who used a two year period of discipling new believers before they were allowed to join the church.  When they came into fellowship, these Christians understood and knew what they believed.  Church membership was more important to them and they looked forward to their time of fellowship with others.  Finally, we, as believers, need to take time to be students of God's Word absorbing the doctrines of Christ.
     There is no greater reward than the study of our faith (doctrines).  When we do this in the context of fellowship, we will come to understand more quickly the grace of our Lord that saved us.  Doctrine (our belief system) does matter and so does church fellowship.  May we be found faithful in both.  Selah!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Hard Lesson to Learn

     Our five and a half month old puppy "Murphy" has been learning some things the hard way and in the process, he has demonstrated a biblical truth.  Due to his beautiful soft long hair, he is a walking magnet for every sand burr to be found by the side of the road.  When we go for walks, it is not unusual for him to bring several of these prickly hitchhikers home with him.  As a result, I have to spend time trying to get them out of his hair so he is comfortable again.  It is not a fun job, but a necessary one.
     Then, over a week ago, Murphy came face to face with the biggest scare of his short life.  He loves to snoop around the dishwasher when it is open.  Licking dirty dishes, if he can, is a sport for him.  This night, however, he got one of the tags on his collar caught in the bottom rack and when he pulled away, he took the entire bottom rack with him clattering and banging to the floor.  Pots and pans banged and all the wheels flew off the rack as Murphy dragged the rack halfway across the kitchen.  Poor baby, he was frightened and managed to get away from that scary dishwasher rack.  I found him hiding under the end table.  Needless to say, he has not gone near the bottom rack of the dishwasher since that time.  We had a good laugh as nothing was broken and our puppy was just fine.
       When I thought about these two incidents, it made me think about sin and how it wants to stick to us just like a sand burr.  All we have to do is be near enough to a sin for it to latch on to us.  Our old flesh wants to rise up at the sight of temptation; so we fly too near the flame of desire and often get caught up just like Murphy.  Hebrews 12:1 reminds us:  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"  We can only throw off sin with God's help and assistance.  All we have to do is repent and the Lord Himself will remove the sting that comes from a fall.  He is the Good Shepherd who binds up the wounds that sin leaves when we repent.
     In the second instance, Murphy got in trouble with the dishwasher because he got too close to the rack and got caught by it.  Isn't this the same thing we do from time to time?  Sin looks inviting.  At times, we want to investigate it and get a little closer.  However, when we start to contemplate it and get too close, we also will be caught like Murphy.  Then, when we try to pull away, we end up carrying some pretty heavy baggage with us, and sin is not quiet.  There is no easy way to escape as Murphy discovered.  Yet, God has given to us the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter, Teacher, and Guide into all truth.  If we lean on Him and heed the Word of God to us, we will not fall into the sin
to begin with.
     As believers, we have freedom of choice.  We can either entertain sin or refuse to go near it.  This was true for Cain.  After God rejected Cain's offering, Cain went away angry because his brother's offering was accepted.  The Lord spoke these words to him in Genesis 4:7:  "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."  Cain chose not to listen to the Lord, and he killed his brother.  For the rest of his life, he was a marked man never able to avoid looking over his shoulder and wondering if someone was coming for revenge.
     Another example comes when David fell into sin with Bathsheba.  He could have gone to war as other kings did, but he chose to stay behind.  When he saw this beautiful woman, he again did not have to let it lead him to sin.  We know, though, that David committed adultery and eventually murder.  Yes, David repented but the sword never again would depart from his house.  There were consequences for his actions.
     Dear Ones, we do not have to choose a path filled with burr
type sins that can cling to us and make it tough to be rid of them.  Likewise, God does not want us to snoop around sin like Murphy checked out the dishwasher rack.  We can avoid both of these by putting ourselves under the Shepherd's care.  If we do fall, He will pick us up when we repent and call upon Him.  May we be comforted knowing that we need not walk in these paths.  Certainly, Murphy learned his lesson and is careful to avoid the dishwasher at all costs.  Let us follow his example and flee sin.  Selah!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Neglecting an Important Day

     In August, we begin to see the stores fill up with Halloween candy and items.  It is low key at first, but then, suddenly it is in full bloom in September.  Once this day has passed, it seems that all eyes turn instantly to Christmas totally ignoring a day set aside to give thanks to God.  I love Christmas, don't get me wrong, but I also believe we need to enjoy the moments of family fellowship that come without presents, pageants and a huge flurry of activity.
     Thanksgiving was instituted by the Pilgrims to thank God for His benefits and blessings.  These people had traveled a long distance to make this land their home free from religious oppression.  Many died on the journey and many more after they arrived; yet, their hearts were filled with gratitude.  They took seriously the Scriptures that told them to thank God in all things, and thus was born this time of fellowship, prayer and worship.
     Without a doubt, the greatest source of thanksgiving is often found in the Psalms which the Pilgrim's frequently sang during their times of worship.  One such example is found in Psalm 145 where David offers praise to God.  Verses 1-3 read:  "I will extol You, my God and King, and bless Your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless You and praise Your name forever and ever.  Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable."  While David certainly experienced difficulties throughout his reign, he always found a way to bring thanks to God.  He recognized Him as sovereign Lord over all the earth.
     As the Psalm continues, we see something very important in verses 4-7:  "One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works, I will meditate.  They shall speak of the might of Your awesome deeds, and I will declare Your greatness.  They shall pour forth the fame of Your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness."  When we recount before our children and grandchildren the mighty deeds of God for which we give thanks, they will remember them.  We are charged with passing on our faith to the next generation.  What an awesome responsibility we have been given by God!  If for no other reason, this, in itself, is a reason we need to stop and give thanks.
     David goes on to give further reasons for praising God in verses 10-13:  "All your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless You!  They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,  and your dominion
endures throughout all generations."  It is a privilege to give testimony and make known the mighty works of God.  We do this every time we praise and thank God both in our worship as well as our every day work.  So what are the benefits of having a grateful heart before the Lord?
     In the remainder of the Psalm, David lists the attributes of our God and His provisions for us:  He is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works (vs. 13b);  God upholds those who are falling (vs 14);  He provides food (vs. 15);  He satisfies the desire of every living thing (vs. 16);  He is near all who call on Him (vs. 18);  He saves those who cry out to Him (vs. 19); and He preserves those who love Him (vs. 20).  Are these not enough reasons for us to celebrate a time of Thanksgiving?
     This holiday is more than the prelude to "Black Friday" sales and the Christmas rush.  It seems we hurry the calendar more each year.  Instead, we need to make time to tell our children all that God has done for us as a family and set an example of taking time to praise Him.  Put away the cell phones, electronic games and other distractions, and when it comes time to gather for the meal, simply thank God for His many blessings as the Pilgrims did.  We are a blessed people if we belong to God.  Let us not neglect this time of thanksgiving.  Selah!

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons Jan Janssen photographer...church in Germany.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The God of Life

     When I take my morning walk with Murphy, I never fail to be amazed at all the beauty of God's creation.  The variety, color, intricacy and design I see around me makes me stand in awe of a Creator who has made Himself known to us.  From the very beginning of the Bible, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing.  He spoke it into being.  Therefore, He is the God of life not of death.  Death came into this world when the crown of His creation (man) openly rebelled against the only instruction that God gave to Adam and Eve.  They were the ones that introduced death into this world.  Before that, everything was perfect, beautiful and untouched by decay.  Can you picture this environment?  It was unscathed by pollution of any sort, and man had the privilege of walking and talking with God every day.  Then sin entered the picture, and with it came death.
     Our daily newspapers and T.V. reports are filled with the consequences of living in a fallen world. The Bible tells us in John 10:10:  "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  Here is the contrast between Satan and God.  Satan was given dominion over the earth when man chose to rebel and follow his path rather than obeying God.  With Satan came slavery to sin which comes to steal, kill and destroy.
      In the news the other day, I saw an example of the evil that comes with sin.  A father murdered his nine week old baby boy and buried his body in a field.  Why would anyone do that?  Or why would a father beat a nineteen year old son to death in the name of God in order to make him confess sins?  Both cases represent that thief that comes to kill, steal and destroy.
     Jesus, on the other hand, came to bring life.  He came to set us free once again so that we might walk with God on a daily basis as Adam and Eve did in the garden.  God is in favor of life!  All life is  sacred to Him:  the aged, the child in the womb, the special needs person, the poor, the sick, and on and on.  Even more than just physical life, God wants us to be alive again in our spirit not bound by sin. The Lord expressed this in Ezekiel 36:26-27:  "26"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27"I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.…"  Through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for our sins on the cross, God has done just this.  He has made a way where there was no way that we, on our own, could accomplish this.
     When we read the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testament, we can clearly see that God is the Lord of life, light, peace, joy, holiness and righteousness.  In Him, there is no darkness.  This is why Christians often find themselves persecuted because we live in a culture bound by death and sin.
A decaying world does not like to be reminded that its pattern of living leads to destruction.  John 3:19 tells us:  "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."  I know it is hard to believe but some prefer the darkness.
     Just the other day, I was having a discussion with a person in our office and we were discussing a meat market that had some good deals.  A co-worker told the gentleman that I would not be interested in this market since I have adopted a plant based diet.  When questioned,  I told the fellow that I no longer eat meat or dairy since I have been diagnosed with heart disease.  I want to live a healthier lifestyle so that I might take better care of my body.  This fellow went on to say that he had received a new heart valve, had bypass surgery and now had COPD, but he still enjoy eating meat and smoking. He had no intention of quitting either.  Here is an example of someone who, despite the facts on how to improve his health, had no plan to change.  He enjoyed his lifestyle.   There are many in this world just like this fellow.  Lost in self pleasure and unwilling to view the consequences of their actions.  In fact, all of us were like this at one time.  If, however, we confess our sins and call upon the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved.  It is a promise.  We pass out of the culture of death and into the light.
More than that, we will forever live in the presence of the Lord of life.
     When I consider all that God has said in His Word and all that He has created, I find it hard to understand those who choose to terminate a life either by abortion or euthanasia.  God, alone, is sovereign over life and death.  He has not made a mouth He cannot feed nor suffering that He cannot alleviate.  In addition, He has called us to be bearers of the light and life that are found in Christ.
What we must realize is that we will be opposed because we live in contrast to the culture of sin and death.  Therefore, we must put on the full armor of God daily (Ephesians 6:10-18).  Likewise, we must remember that Jesus said He will come again to rule and reign  When He does, paradise lost will become paradise again for those who trust in Him. We will see a new heaven and a new earth. May we live and dwell on this thought!  Selah!  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

As a Man Thinketh

     A dear friend of mine and my son's mother-in-law (Joy Davidson) passed along a great story the other day.  It goes something like this.  A professor came into class one day and said he was giving a surprise quiz.  He passed out the papers to all the students and to their surprise there was nothing on the paper but a black dot in the center.  The professor requested them to write about what they saw on the paper and gave them some time to complete the task.  He collected the papers from the students to look over what they had written and told them that he would not grade these papers.  He proceeded to read the papers out loud and all the students without exception wrote about the black dot.  The professor pointed out that no one had looked at all the white on the paper which was larger than the little black dot.  Of course, the moral of this story is obvious.  When we focus on just the black dot (relationship problems, health issues, money troubles), we forget to thank God for all the blessings He gives us daily represented by the white on the paper.  I loved this little story because it really is so true.
     In Proverbs 23:7, we get a picture of a man who invites someone to eat as a guest but his heart and mind are not in agreement.  He begrudges his guest the food he eats.  The verses read:  "7For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, "Eat and drink!" But his heart is not with you."  Here is a person who is looking at the black dot...what his friend is consuming rather than enjoying true fellowship (looking at the larger picture represented by the white of the paper).  How sad!
     How many times do we do the same thing?  Instead of trusting God with the issues of life that trouble us, we tend to major in the minor things worrying ourselves over things which we often have no control over.  Are we not God's creation?  Is He no longer sovereign over all life?  I think we know the answer to those questions.
     Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to worry over what we shall eat, drink or wear.  He made it clear that God knows just what we need and is able to supply it if we will put Him first.  If we spent more time laying up treasures in heaven (looking at the white part of the paper), we would find a deeper joy in the life we live here and now.  There are some simple steps that can help us evaluate if we are placing our time and energy looking at the bigger picture.  Here are a few:
     1.  Remember that no matter how difficult your situation is (that black dot), there is always someone going through something much more challenging.  Rejoice in your blessings!
     2.  Keep in mind that God is sovereign over all the affairs of men.  Nothing happens to us that does not first pass through His hands.
     3.  All things...I repeat....ALL THINGS work together for good to those that love the Lord.  This is where we must trust God.
     4.  Proverbs 17:22:  "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."  What we choose to focus on, determines our outlook each day.
     5.  Take your troubles to the Lord in prayer and leave them there.  Then, go and enjoy the day the Lord has given to you.
     Taking a few minutes each day to ask ourselves these questions will help us to avoid spending our lives focused on the little black dot
.  Because we are in Christ, we are overcomers who do not need to fear what this world may bring our way.  May God help us to see the big picture rather than the problems.  Selah!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


     Have you ever made a wrong assessment of an individual that you met but do not know too well?  It is so easy to do.  Most of us have done this at one time or another.  We react to a glance in our direction at a gathering and read into it a negative connotation.  Then again, we may hear part of a conversation and make assumptions without having all the facts.  When we jump to conclusions about another person, we may decide to eliminate them as a potential friend before we have ever really had a good talk with them.  Unfortunately, we do not see others as God sees them. This happened to the Children of Israel as well.

A crown worn by the Wittlesbach family of Bavaria
     When the Israelites demanded a king of their own, God granted them their request warning them of the  demands a king would make on them.  However, they wanted to be like all the nations around them and were not satisfied with God alone being the head of their nation.  As a result, God sent the Prophet Samuel to anoint the first king of Israel.  God instructed him to set apart Saul for this position.  In I Samuel 9:2, we read this description of Saul:  "And he had a son named Saul, a handsome young man.  There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he.  From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people."  The writer here describes the appearance of this man chosen to lead the people.  No doubt his height and good looks made him appear to be the perfect man for the job, but not many chapters later in this book, we read of his jealousy of David, his sin against God by offering a sacrifice and his disobedience in consulting with a medium.  All of this was against God's Law.  Saul may have looked good on the outside but inside, he was sinful.
     Inevitably, God rejected Saul as King of Israel.  Samuel genuinely grieved over this, but God told him to go to Jesse the Bethlehemite and find a new king among his sons (I Samuel 16:1b).  The prophet came with a sacrifice to offer and invited Jesse and his sons.  When Samuel saw Eliab, he thought surely this was the one which God had chosen.  Then the Lord reminded him:  "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as a man sees;  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" ( I Samuel 16:7).  One by one, each of Jesse's sons came before Samuel and the Lord rejected them all.  Then, Samuel asked if there were any other sons and Jesse told him that the youngest, David, was out tending sheep.  Samuel asked his father to call him back.  When he came, the Lord made it known to Samuel that this was His chosen one.  So Samuel anointed David king although he would not reign until years later.
     This story in Scripture has a lot to say to us when we are tempted to make judgment calls on those around us.  First, appearances can be very deceiving.  Look at Saul.  He was handsome and seemed on the outside to have what it takes to be a leader.  Indeed, he did win some battles, but ultimately, he fell prey to following his own way of doing things rather than obeying the Lord.  Just because someone has charisma when they talk, or appear to be one of the "beautiful people" does not mean they will necessarily be a good leader, a friend, or someone we can trust.
     When it came to choosing a second king, God was very specific in what He was looking for when He spoke to Samuel.  He said that He looked on a man's heart not on his appearance.  As the sons passed by one by one, the Prophet kept expecting this one to be chosen, but chose the least of the brothers.  David is described as being the youngest with ruddy cheeks.  He was good looking but God saw into his heart.  It is through the line of Jesse that God would bring the long awaited Messiah.  It was His plan.  Good thing Samuel wasn't in charge, and it is also a good thing we were not in charge.
     How many times have we misjudged a friend, relative or co-worker?  Sadly, we often sound worse than children as we tell another, "Did you see the way he/she looked at me?  I know they are out to get me!"  In fact, it could be that other person is having a bad day and you didn't have anything to do with it.
     At other times, we may take a simple statement someone makes and build an entire case against that person when it is not at all what they meant.  We would all do well to look at the heart rather than appearance, facial expressions or words.  It takes time to get to know someone, and the important thing to remember is that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  If God did this for us, how can we then exclude others on the basis of comparing them to our own standards of conduct?  We have to see others through the eyes of Jesus.
     Granted, there are and will be people with whom we may not come to develop a deep relationship with.  We are not all alike.  However, God calls us first to a relationship with Him and then, to develops relationships with one another.  We need His discernment rather than for us to lean on our own understanding when it comes to this task.
      Think of how many family feuds could be avoided and how many hurt feelings could be spared if we would look at the heart and not outward appearances.  Satan loves to plant vain imaginations in the minds of the willing, so we need to be on our guard.  Instead, let us take up the mantle of Samuel and call upon the Lord to help us see someone's intentions and heart as He does.  We will find that new avenues of friendship and relationship are available to those who are not easily offended by others and who are willing to go the extra mile to get to know someone.  May we glorify God in our relationships and not be carried away by outward appearances.  Selah!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

There Is Never Enough Time

     Have you ever noticed how time just keeps slipping away?  It seems like only yesterday when I was changing diapers, teaching our children at home and spending time at soccer games.  Now they are all grown, and we have been blessed with grandchildren.  Trust me, the years have gone far more quickly than I care to admit.  However, we often find ourselves complaining that we never have enough time or that things are not happening fast enough.  This is when we need to stop and take stock of God's timing in all matters.
     In a couple of Paul's letters, he alludes to the fact that Jesus Christ came into this world at the precise moment the Father had ordained for Him to come, and died for us.  Romans 5:6 tells us:  "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."  We know that our Savior had an active ministry for a period of three years.  Why only so little time?  God's timetable is not ours; yet we know it is perfect even as He is perfect.
Big Ben in London reminding us of the time.
     Then, in Galatians 4:4-5, we read:  "4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."  God determined the right moment in history to send His Son.  It was not due to man's will but according to the Lord's purpose.  Since His first advent, it has been 2,000 years that we have waited for His return, and many scoff saying He will not come again.  Yet Scripture is clear that He will come to rule and reign at the end of days.  When will that be?  We do not know, but we are certain for God keeps His Word which will never pass away.
     One of the problems we all seem to have is that of perspective.  We do not see things as God does for we are finite while he is infinite.  He is not bound by time as we are.  According to Peter we read in 2 Peter 3:8-9:  " 8But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."  Because our Lord is merciful, He is patient.  He desires for those He has called to come to Him.  We serve a sovereign God who works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  However, we have to remember that He does it in HIS time.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us:  "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
     For those of us here on earth, we often cannot understand why certain things do not happen according to our expectations.  Why does God delay in healing a person?  Why does He not hurry and answer my prayer?  Doesn't He care that certain things are not getting done?  That is "Martha" thinking when we tend to stew over everything being done on time.  Isaiah 55:9 states:  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  God's purposes will never be thwarted nor will His Word return void.  He will accomplish all He has said He will do, but we might never understand the delays.  How can mortal man whose days are like the dust of the earth (here today and gone tomorrow) tell His Creator how to do things and when to do them?
     Therefore, we must trust in God's plan for our life, our family, our church fellowship as well as our nation.  He is the God who is Sovereign over all His creation.  We need to quit worrying and stressing over time.  The key thing to remember is as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1:  "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..."  We have only to wait upon the Lord.  Nothing else matters.  Selah!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Put Words and Belief into Action

          When I was a little girl, I wanted to learn to play the piano.  I believed I could be very good at this so my mother arranged for a wonderful lady, Mrs. Hahn, to be my teacher.  She was very precise in her methods and in addition to learning a piece on the piano, we also had to memorize a paragraph about the composer.  Most of the music was classical, and I lost interest.  After just two years, I quit my lessons.  I had learned to read music and could play a tune or two, but I had little desire to practice on a daily basis.  I believed I could do it, but I failed to practice and this was my downfall.  Belief plus practice leads to success in both musical studies as well as our Christian walk.
     Recently, I attended an event where I talked with a number of people.  The conversation came around to whether a certain person had faith in Christ.  Someone spoke up and said, "Of course, they are a believer."  I pondered over that remark.  Just saying you believe is not enough.  Life evidence goes along with the belief.  We must practice what we believe or we are just uttering platitudes.  For example, my husband is a practicing optometric physician.  This means he is putting into effect all he was trained to do when diagnosing and treating vision problems.  He also continues to study on a yearly basis so he can grow in knowledge and improve his "practice".  I feel that this is also the way Christians need to think of their walk with Christ.  We need to be practicing followers of the Lord not just "believers".
     James writes these words in his letter to the Church in Jerusalem:  "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.'  Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe - and shudder!" (James 2:18-19).  James then goes on to point out that Abraham was justified by works when he obeyed God to offer up his son Isaac.  Verses 22-24 read:  "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness' - and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
     While these verses in James have created some controversy and misunderstanding, I find in them a balance.  James makes it clear that faith motivates us to good works.  Abraham put feet to his faith by obeying God and doing what the Lord instructed him to do with his son Isaac.  Today, "easy believe-ism" would have us think that putting our faith into practice by doing good works is not necessary.  However, that leads to an empty faith.  As James wrote, "even the demons believe - and shudder!"  It is one thing to say, "I am a believer".  It is another thing to live it out on a daily basis.
     My mother's favorite advice to me was "Actions speak louder than words."  She was right.  What
we believe in our heart should be put into practical application in our daily activities.  If we never attend church, do not read our Bible or pray, we ought to ask ourselves if we have given our lives in commitment to Christ.  If we see a friend or family member who says they believe but never demonstrates their faith, then, in love, we need to sit down and talk with them.  Belief in Christ plus good works done as a result of grateful obedience for what Christ has done for us equals a powerful witness that others can see.  We are, after all, to glorify God by our good deeds.
     Words are cheap.  it is easy to say we believe something, but so do the demons.  If we claim to be a part of Christ's household, let our actions also demonstrate our changed heart.  Let us practice what we preach!  Selah - Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Walking with Integrity

     One of the things I cherish most in my memories of my father is his abiding integrity.  He was a man who could be trusted with a handshake to seal a deal.  He felt it was the duty of a man to keep his word, and he never disappointed me.  Integrity is one of the hallmarks of the Christian character.
     As we face another election cycle, I always find it interesting to not only follow the candidates but also the fact checker sites to see if what they said was correct or a major departure from the truth.  We do not need people to tickle our ears with sweet sounding promises, but instead, we need men and women of integrity to lead out of a desire to serve others.  Of course, I have no illusions to the fact that we all have a sin nature.  Perfection is not yet attained for Christians on this side of heaven.  However, I believe the Lord wants our words and our walk to match, and He indicates this in His Word.
     When Solomon wrote Proverbs, he displayed God's great wisdom.  Look, with me, at four
verses which speak of integrity.  Proverbs 10:9 says:  "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."  If we are an honest person, we don't have to cover our tracks, make up stories and then try to remember what we said so we won't be found out.  There is wisdom and security in that path.  Yet,  the other part of this picture shows us a person whose ways are crooked, and God says he will be found out.  Our sins will ALWAYS come to light.  Maybe it will not be immediately, but nothing is hidden before God.  Eventually, people learn the truth as well.
     A second reference to integrity comes from Proverbs 11:3 which reads:  "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them."  Again, we see a great contrast between to philosophies of living.  The person who is honest receives guidance from God, but the individual who is treacherous in their dealings finds destruction.  Sin may look glamorous for a season, but in the end, it destroys the person who plays with it.
     In Proverbs 19:1, Solomon writes:  "Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool."  This is quite a statement from a King who reigned in wealth and riches.  He says clearly in this verse that integrity is far better than wealth.  The person who is crooked in speech is a fool.  He may gain the whole world, but as Scripture tells us, he might lose his soul in the process (Mark 8:36).
     A final verse in Proverbs comes from chapter 20:7 which says:  "The righteous who walks in his integrity - blessed are his children after him!"  Do you want your children to be blessed?  Then, walk in integrity.  What a great promise from God!  Certainly, my father influenced my life as I watched him walk in his integrity.  This character quality was something I also looked for in a husband when the time came for that momentous decision.  I am blessed to say that I married a man who values honesty as did my father, and both of us strive to follow the greatest example which is the Lord.
     We know from Scripture that Jesus came to bring the truth and open the eyes of those blinded by sin.  His honesty nailed Him to the cross for those in sin cannot stand the light of truth; yet He willingly gave His life that we might be free from sin and death.  As He clearly told us, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  It is our Savior who beckons us to live holy lives and walk in integrity before the Father.  May we take seriously this calling that as others see honesty in us they may glorify our Father in heaven and be drawn to Him.  Selah!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Living Corem Deo (Before the Face of God)

     We live in an age of communication.  Cell phones, text messaging, "tweets", Instagram, "Facebook", "Kindle" readers and other devices make reaching out an easy thing to do.  Public networking sites  make it simple to keep in touch with family and friends by exchanging pictures and sharing stories or videos.  Sometimes we enjoy reading what is happening in the life of a friend and sometimes it is "too much information".  While all of this seems like fun and a great way to keep up to date, there are several things that we need to keep in mind as believers.

     In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul penned solid instructions for the church in terms of keeping the unity of the body and in dealing one with another.  He instructs them to put away falsehood (Ephesians 4:25) and then in verses 29-32 he expands on the area of communication:  "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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."  This is how we will show the world that we belong to Christ!  When we put off the old self, we are to wear these new garments of change that should affect every area of our lives...especially how we communicate with one another.

     I have seen on blogs, news groups and other Internet places some pretty nasty things being written by people at times.  Of course, the hard part about the written word is that you do not have the person there in front of you to see the expression on their face or hear the tone in their voice.  Many times, people take the written word the wrong way as well.  That is one area my mother frequently warned me about when I was growing up.  She always encouraged me to talk face to face with another person rather than write a note which could be taken the wrong way.  It has proven to be good advice.  Therefore, as believers, I think we have to look at all the public avenues of communication and make a decision to reflect God's grace in the things we say.  We need to ask ourselves if what we are about to share on "Facebook" or in a tweet will build others up or tear them down.  Is our language appropriate so that if Jesus were to read it, He would approve?    Remember the Scripture above.  We are to put away falsehood, slander, wrath and malice.  We are to give grace through our words whether spoken or written.  So, whether we like it or not, all the public ways we communicate are part of our total witness for Christ.

     Perhaps the greatest concern we should have as followers of Christ is the amount of time we spend in these public forms of communicating as versus the time we spend talking to God.  We do not need a wireless connection, cell phone or other assistance to reach out and touch God.  He is there all the time waiting to hear our cries and concerns.  He desires to have sweet communion with us, but I often think we neglect talking to Him and spend more time asking the opinions of our peers.  He should be the first One we talk to in the morning and the last One we say good-night to in the evening.  I personally believe that the time we spend on the "net" or on the cell phone far outweigh the time we spend in prayer before Him.  The sad part is that our friends, family or co-workers cannot solve our problems.  They can listen for certain, but they do not have the wisdom that God has.  He has planned our lives and knows the best course of action for us.  Therefore, it would seem to make sense to pray and tell Him our hurts, worries, concerns and pain.  David certainly did this in the Psalms.  He poured out his heart to God...both good and bad.  David revealed his heart to the only One who could change it.  Likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ took time out of his daily schedule to get away and pray.  His example is plain for us to see.

     I know I certainly enjoy keeping in touch with family and friends on Facebook myself.  It is great to be able to see pictures of those I do not get to see very often.  Yet, I must remember two crucial things as we all need to do:  Watch what we say that it may reflect Christ and His love and secondly, remember that God needs to be the person we talk to first.  He should not get our left over time.  If we keep our lives in balance, we will be a blessing to others and a glory to God.  Let us begin living out loud in a way that will lead others to Jesus Christ!  Selah!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Run As Fast As You Can

     Recently, the name of a pastor/teacher was linked to the Ashley Madison site where people go to find someone with whom they can have an adulterous relationship.  I was very surprised to read about his name.  He admitted signing up out of an unhealthy curiosity and fantasy but never carried out any further contact.  Still, he has been removed from active ministry for a year.  Isn't it sad how little it takes to derail us in moments of weakness.  However, this is the inevitable result of man's fall.
     Even before the first murder had occurred, God warned Cain with these words in Genesis 4:7:  "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  Yet, Cain did not heed the voice of God and killed his brother.  He made a bad choice based upon his jealousy and allowed sin to overtake him.
     As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the bondage to sin, but we are never fully free from the old sin nature that would lure us back into behavior that does not glorify God.  This is one reason why we are told repeatedly to flee sin.  Paul writes in Romans 6:12:  "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."  Before we knew Christ, we had no freedom of choice.  All we chose and desired was to sin.  After our conversion, however, we were given the freedom to choose right or wrong.  We would do well to follow the example of Joseph as told in Genesis Chapter 39.  There we read that Joseph was sold as a slave to an official in the Egyptian court named Potiphar.  Joseph, being blessed by God, prospered in all he did so Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household.  Then, trouble began to brew.  Because Joseph was a handsome young man, Potiphar's wife took notice of him and invited him to come to bed with her.  Joseph refused to violate his master's trust.  Yet, she was persistent day after day.  On one occasion, she grabbed Joseph's cloak begging him to come to bed with her, but he turned and fled leaving his cloak behind.  Potiphar's wife then lied to her husband and the other servants in the house saying that Joseph had tried to violate her.  Certainly, this story stands out as a beacon of encouragement to all those who love the Lord.  Joseph did the right thing.  He ran from sin.  It cost him dearly as he went to prison for an assault he never committed.  As a result of Joseph's obedience to God's laws, the Lord delivered him from prison and placed him in a position of authority.  He made a choice and ran from sin.
     If we contrast that with the life of King David who also had a heart after God's own heart, we see a different story.  In David's confrontation with sin, he gave in to his lust and took another man's wife and sinned with her.  This sin led to a pregnancy that David could not cover over.  As a result, this sin blossomed and took David down the path of murder to eliminate Bathsheba's husband.  He did not run from sin, but gave in to it.  The consequences of his momentary pleasure with another man's wife resulted in the death of his baby, internal strife in his family, and an attempted coup by his own son.
James 1:15 summarizes the process of sin for us:  "Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
      We must flee from sin and all unrighteousness because it is clear what destruction follows when we do not.  Joseph made the right choice even though for a time it seems he paid a price.  In the end, he reaped the blessings that come from faithfulness to God.   No one can wink at sin or flirt with it any more than we can play with fire.  The results are that we will get burned and hurt others in the process.  Therefore, we must be prayed up, alert, students of the Bible and accountable to other Christians.  It is not easy to walk in this temptation filled world, but as Christians, we are not our own.  We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and our purpose is to glorify His name and serve as a witness to a lost and dying world.  May God give us the wisdom to know when to run away and the strength to do so that we might not sin against Him.  Selah!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Put on the Virtue of Modesty

Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich, Germany
 One of the virtues most sorely lacking in society today is modesty.  From those who openly brag about their greatness to the person who is scantily clad on most occasions, we see an overwhelming concern with self.  Some folks might as well wear a sign that says "Look at me and see how wonderful I am."  If it were only those outside the body of believers who live this way, we might understand that their world view is vastly different than ours, but when it happens in the church, we need to pause and take a look at our own lives.
     According to the Bible, our actions, our comportment, our attitudes and our dress are to reflect modesty in order to attract others to Christ.  By contrast, the world tells us that it doesn't matter what we wear, how we behave or walk in society.  It is all relative to what makes you feel good.  Unfortunately, this mindset has crept into the church.  The Apostle Paul gave some sound encouragement to Timothy as a young pastor facing challenges as many Gentiles came into the church out of a pagan background.  He wrote in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:  "Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness -with good works."  Certainly, I do not believe that Paul had anything against women's hairdos or their clothing.  I believe his main point was that women should be mindful of what they wear so it does not distract or cause others to stumble.  Dressing in nice clothing is not a sin.  However, when we wear something which causes others to focus on us rather than the Lord, we are not demonstrating the virtue of modesty.
     Another area where immodesty can be seen is in our speech.  We have all heard a friend brag about an accomplishment at one time or another.  Sharing our good fortune is fine, but going beyond this crosses a line especially for a Christian.  In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote this admonition:  "For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."    If we boast at all, we are to boast in the Lord and of His goodness and mercy.  In ourselves, we do not possess goodness nor the ability to save ourselves.  Instead, it is in God's domain to do for us what we can never do for ourself.  The Word promises that as we lift up Christ, He will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).  We can only do this by honoring Christ with our speech as well as our dress.  However there is one other area, we need to be concerned about as believers.
     When we come together to worship, we need to check our hearts to make certain we have dressed them in modesty.  The Pharisees were concerned with show.  They wanted people to see them and honor them so they used both their dress as well as their speech to persuade others of their holiness.  This, too, is a caricature of righteous behavior.  Jesus said:  "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).    Our lives are to reflect the glory of the Lord not take glory for ourselves.  We are God's living, holy temples as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian believers:  "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body" ( I Cor. 6:19-20).
     Wearing the virtue of modesty is becoming a lost practice in many churches today.  We are becoming too much influenced by our society and doing little to influence them as we ought.  We can be trendy in our clothing without going overboard or causing others to stumble.  Likewise, we can be excited over our achievements without sounding as though we are the greatest thing since sliced cheese.  This is how we put on modesty by remembering that salvation comes from the Lord.  He calls us to Himself and any blessings we receive come as a result of His grace and goodness to us.  Therefore, we are called to put on Christ and wear Him modestly in our attitude, actions and dress so that attention is given to Him and not to us.  Our goal in this life should be like that of John the Baptist when he said:  "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  May this be our prayer and our purpose in Christ.  Selah!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Painful Lessons

     Through the years, I have repeatedly had run-ins with knives and other sharp objects.  It started in childhood when I was stitched up three times near my left eye for various falls - twice on steps and once on a roll away bed.  Then, there was the time when my mother was running the vacuum cleaner and could not hear me knocking on the door.  So I decided to pound with my open hand on the glass panel.  Guess what?  My hand went through the glass requiring more bandages.
       If my parents had thought I would outgrow this careless streak, they were  wrong.  Over the years of our marriage, I have managed to cut myself numerous times on knives as I was chopping up food for an evening meal.  Then, this past week, I was in a hurry to shave my legs with a new razor only to remove considerable skin on my right ankle.  Finally, yesterday while looking for an item in my refrigerator, I knocked a glass jar off a shelf  and onto the floor where it broke in a million pieces cutting my foot.  Need I say more?  I merely asked my dear husband for a bandaid as I always do.  Some might call me accident prone, but I think many of my mishaps happen because I am in a hurry and do not take the time to exercise caution.  Lack of care in the Christian life can also lead to some painful consequences.
       In Judges 13-16, we read the story of a Judge named Sampson.  From birth, he was dedicated to the Lord as a Nazarite.  He was not to drink wine and could not cut his hair for
the rest of his life.  Unfortunately, Sampson did not always listen to the voice of the Lord.  He went after a Philistine wife making his parents unhappy with such a choice.  This relationship was not God honoring but the Lord used it to stir up anger in Sampson whereby he would kill many Philistines.  His final downfall, though, came when he met the Philistine woman named Delilah.  She pleaded with Sampson to tell her the secret of his strength.  Little did he know that she was in league with the Philistines who wanted to destroy his strength.
       After much coaxing, Sampson told Delilah the secret of his strength.  While he was asleep, she cut his hair and allowed the Philistine soldiers to take him captive.  Without his long hair, he was as helpless as any other man.  The Philistines blinded him and put him to work grinding grain.  However, Sampson's strength was returning as his hair grew long again.  Isn't it amazing how God gives us a second chance?
        When the Philistines took Sampson to a celebration at their Temple to Dagon, he prayed that God would allow his strength to rise up again so that he might destroy this Temple and die with these people.  The Lord heard and answered that request.  Many Philistines died that day, but so did Sampson.  So what can we glean from this story of his life?
         First, we need to think about Sampson's willfulness.  If he had followed God's direction for holy living, he might have been able to avoid the heartache of a broken marriage as well as his many bloody encounters with the Philistines. Yes, God worked in spite of Sampson's willful attitude, but things could have been dealt with much differently and with less loss of life.
         Secondly, Sampson should have been more cautious in whom he confided.  He trusted a Philistine woman named Delilah with the secret of his strength.  Just like me rushing through my evening meal preparation while using a sharp knife, Sampson hurried into this relationship with Delilah.  He did not exercise restraint or wisdom.  This led to his downfall.  Sampson paid a heavy price for his lack of caution.
         Despite his less than stellar character,  God was able to use Sampson one final time.  In an act of grace, God restored his strength so that Sampson was able to kill many Philistines and save the people of Israel.  How much easier it could have been if he had been careful to obey God.
         I have to admit that I would not cut myself nearly as often if I would take time to exercise caution and watch what I am doing.  People like me keep Johnson and Johnson in business making bandaids, steri strips and ointments.  Trust me the lessons I learn in lack of care with a knife are painful.  Sampson learned the hard way too, but God has a way planned for all who trust in Him.  If we will follow Him in obedience, we will reap blessings without the pain that comes from doing things our way.  Selah!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

We Are All Special Needs

     I read an article today about a beautiful little girl who was labeled as a special needs child because she had a cleft palette.  Her father felt she did not need to be classified in this manner because her condition could be remedied.  This is not always the case in the lives of others who are born with physical and mental handicaps that cannot easily be remedied.  However, as I thought about this, I realized that all of us are really born as special needs individuals.  We may not have an obvious disability, but we all have a spiritual one.  Every one of us is born with a sin nature inherited from our father Adam.  When he fell, his sin infected all who would follow after him.
     Scripture tells us in Romans 3:23:  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..." In the Old Testament, we read in Ecclesiastes 7:20:  "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does
good and never sins."  This is echoed in Romans 3:10 when Paul writes:  "10as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;…"
     God's Word is clear that we all suffer from a sin nature which keeps us from fellowship with God. Talk about a handicap...a disability...a special need!  We, who were created to reflect the very image of God, are born tarnished.  Our thinking does not conform to God's desire for us to live a holy life.  Just like those who suffer from a physical problem that cannot be remedied, we cannot help ourselves.  We are slaves to sin.   Yet, for us, there is deliverance just as the Apostle Paul wrote in
Romans 7:24-25a:  "What a wretched man I am!  Who will deliver me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord...."  We are all wretched and trapped in a body of death until the Lord calls to us and awakens our hearts through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  When we put our life in His hands, confessing our sins and turning away from them, we become a new creation.  Truly the old life has lost its power over us, but we will spend the rest of our days in this world with a conflict between the new life in Christ and our old flesh that wants to pull us back.   Like Paul, we must thank God that through Jesus Christ we are more than conquerors who can and will over come all obstacles set before us with the power of His Holy Spirit.
      All too often, I think society as a whole looks with pity on those who have special challenges; yet in my own experience as a grandparent of a child who faced some complicated issues, I can honestly say our Branson was a happy child, greatly loved by his parents and extended family and someone who had a heart to persevere.  Lately, I have been thinking of him a good deal and I still marvel at all he faced with great grace and how in his short six years, he impacted so many.  I wish I could say I had the same strength that he demonstrated every day of his life.  Truly, he was used by God to teach us so many rich lessons.
     Before, we label someone as special needs, we need to step back and look at our own lives for each one of us is in the same boat spiritually.  We have a deep need which only God can satisfy.  I John 1:8 reminds us:  "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."  We cannot ignore our situation because our eternal destination hangs in the balance.  Who then, really has special needs?  The child with an extra chromosome?  A person who is deaf or blind?  No, we all are handicapped without the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we never forget this, and may we be quick to run to Him for forgiveness of our sins.  In Him, we are whole and complete once again.  Selah!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

They May Look Similar But Beware

     There were evenings, when I was growing up, that my mother would prepare a breakfast menu for dinner such as waffles and bacon.  My father had no objection as he enjoyed her cooking after a long day of work.  On one particular evening, she made her homemade syrup recipe and put it in a coffee cup which she set on the table in front of my father.  Then, she put his coffee, which he usually drank black, on the table beside him as well.  I will never forget his irritation when he realized he had poured his coffee over his waffles and taken a sip from the syrup cup.  His comment was, "Virginia, why did you set the two cups so close together?  I couldn't tell them apart."  Needless to say, we all had a good laugh that night.
     While confusing a dark syrup with a cup of coffee is not surprising, we are told, as believers, to be
on guard against people who appear to speak the truth when in reality they are saying something different.  This is a growing concern as more and more people within the church do not read or study their Bibles.  This is why the cults can make so many inroads.  For example read the following excerpt from Sandy Tanner on the utim.org site concerning the teaching on Lucifer:  "In order to understand the LDS doctrine regarding Lucifer one must also understand its doctrine of man. The LDS Church teaches that everyone, Jesus and Lucifer included, had a pre-mortal existence where we were born as spirit children of God and his wife. In the LDS teaching manual Gospel Principles we read:
God is not only our ruler and creator; he is also our Heavenly Father. . . . Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ (see D&C 93:21), so he is literally our elder brother (see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 26). Because we are the spiritual children of our heavenly parents, we have inherited the potential to develop their divine qualities. (Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 11 [link])"  She goes on to say that Lucifer and Jesus were brothers and that both contended for the right to save mankind.  So when a Mormon says he believes in Jesus, it is not the same Jesus that orthodox Christians worship.  In Mormonism, there is no Trinity.
     Another example of a religious group that claims they believe in Jesus is the Jehovah's Witnesses. However, when we look closely at their teachings, they indicate that Jesus is not God in the flesh but the first born of God's creation.  They deny the Trinity as well.  On their website (jw.org), they write the following:  "Yes. We believe in Jesus, who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) We have faith that Jesus came to earth from heaven and gave his perfect human life as a ransom sacrifice. (Matthew 20:28) His death and resurrection make it possible for those exercising faith in him to gain everlasting life. (John 3:16) We also believe that Jesus is now ruling as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom, which will soon bring peace to the entire earth. (Revelation 11:15) However, we take Jesus at his word when he said: “The Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28) So we do not worship Jesus, as we do not believe that he is Almighty God."  If we do not know the Bible and what Jesus said of Himself, we can be easily led astray.  It all sounds the same doesn't it?  They believe in Jesus, but what Jesus?
     As we have seen in both of these examples, the terminology sounds very similar to orthodox Christian beliefs; yet there are some serious differences.  Just like the two dark liquids on the table in front of my father confused him, so we can see how easy it can be to conclude that a teaching indicates a group is Christian when it is not.  What, then, should we do to be better prepared to meet all the many ideas floating around in our society?
     First and foremost, we need to be students of God's Word.  Whenever we hear preaching or teaching, we need to examine the Bible to see if what is being said lines up.  The Bereans did this and were commended for their diligence.  Secondly, we need to make certain we are plugged into a church that preaches God's Word.  We also need to be there to hear the message each week.  It is a means of God's grace to us.  Finally, we need to pray over every thing we read and hear.  Confusion is the weapon that Satan uses most effectively.  However, we disarm him when we seek God's wisdom.
     My father found out that coffee soaked waffles did not taste very good.  Drinking the pancake syrup was not enjoyable either.  If we are so particular about our food, let us also be particular about what teachings we receive into our hearts.  Now think about that!  Selah!