Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Do They See When They Look at Us?

     Having worked in a number of job positions during my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to observe people as they interact with others.  There have been many bright spots through the years where I have witnessed acts of kindness as well as people willing to go the second mile to help another.  However, I have also seen the flip side, and this is what concerns me the most.  This should make all of us pause and reflect on our daily behavior because whether we like it or not we are painting a picture of Jesus Christ by our actions.  Those outside the Christian faith are watching.
So what are some examples that we can consider?
     While looking for a parking spot near the grocery store the other day, I saw someone with Jesus stickers all over the back of their vehicle hurriedly zip into a parking spot that someone else had signaled for.  It does not appear to be a big deal unless you are the person who had your turn signal on who was waiting for the spot.  Maybe we should be careful where we put our Jesus stickers if we are going to rush to the head of the line skipping others who have bided their time.  It isn't a criminal act, but what sort of witness was that?
     I am not certain if it is just grocery stores that tend to bring out the bad side in folks, but I have also seen people become irate over the price of something that was advertised.  The poor cashier must listen patiently to the person carry on when they have nothing to do with the pricing of an item.  Sadly, some of the people who do the loudest complaining are "good" church folks.  When we see this, we tell ourselves they are just having a bad day, but it is also a bad witness.  Demanding our way, using our friendships to try to get what we want, speaking ill of a brother or sister, demonstrating lack of respect for others are all symptoms of spiritual immaturity.  Whenever the flesh is in control, damage can be done to a relationship with a friend in Christ and can also keep those outside the faith from wanting to draw nearer.  What a frightful responsibility we have been given!  Christ lives in us so that we may be light in this dark world.  But our light grows very dim when we behave like everyone else in this dog eat dog world.
     Jesus told us in John 13:34-35:  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  How we treat one another in every day contact, business relationships and church fellowship tells a lot about how well we are keeping this commandment of our Lord.  Even when we think no one is looking or cares, God is observing our behavior.  We cannot hide from His eyes.
     In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul admonishes believers to avoid the sins of the flesh and be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-17).  We are not to be involved in sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, no foolish talk, crude joking or filthy language.  Instead, Paul urges us "walk as children of the light" and to "discern what is pleasing to the Lord" (vs 8-10).  In fact, we are to expose darkness for what it is.  As Paul concludes his encouragement, he writes in verses 15-16:  "Look carefully then how you walk, not
as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."  As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to live a higher standard.
     How we behave in our every day life at work, at play and in our homes says a lot about the condition of our heart.  We may go to church every Sunday, but if we live like a heathen all week, what does this do to our testimony?  Certainly none of us is perfect and daily, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to guide and help us.
     Let us do some self examination.  Do we demand our rights?  Do we speak ill of someone else or their business?  Are we courteous and kind when dealing with those around us?  We need to remember that others are watching us to see if our actions line up with what we say we believe about Christ.  Yet, the most important observer of all our interactions is God Himself.  May we live to bring glory to His name and shine brightly in this dark world rather than merely blending in.  Selah!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Our Divine Appointment

     Many of you have asked how my husband and I came to know Christ as our Lord and Savior.  So on this throwback Thursday, I am reposting our story that I originally published in April of 2011 with a few updates.  I pray you are blessed as you look back with us at our beginning appointment with God.

          Story telling is an art, but I believe that when you have lived the story it becomes even more powerful.  Our story (my husband's and mine) started on April 20, 1971.  This was the night that both of us had a divine appointment with the Lord.
     We had been raised attending Presbyterian churches in our respective communities.  Both of us had gone through catechism and confirmation as well, but neither of us were really believers.  We had head knowledge about Christ, but a full awakening to His call had not yet come into our lives.
     When we met, we were college students.  I was studying communications and English at a small college and he was studying engineering at a well known school.  In both of our lives, individually, we sensed an emptiness.  I tried different churches to find the answers and even went so far as to dabble with the occult never realizing any danger.  By God's grace, He protected me from all the
things I could have fallen into.
     For my husband's part, he found during his scientific studies that there was wonderful order in the universe.  He felt that God had to have put it all together, but he also found himself wishing that God would come back to earth to stop the injustice, crime and pain.  Both of us were looking for answers.
     We became engaged in 1970, and went on with our education.  He began professional studies and I started post graduate work at Ohio State University.  During that time, we had met a married couple that we developed a friendship with.  On one visit to their home, we came in on a conversation they were having with a fellow from Campus Crusade for Christ.  He was telling them about Jesus Christ and how one day He would return again to the earth.  This captured our attention.  We listened until he was finished, and wanting to hear more, we set up a date to meet with him.
     Knowing we were planning to be married, we had visited several area churches, but found no real answers there.  Now, we would have an opportunity to meet with someone who had intrigued us.  He had a real relationship with Christ which we found attractive.
     On the appointed evening, he shared his testimony with us.  Then, he went through "The Four Spiritual Laws" booklet with us as well.  Along the way, he explained to us what sin was and how we were separated from God.  He, then, told us how Christ had been the perfect sacrifice that took away our sins.  We both heard that inner voice in our hearts that called us to repent and receive the gift of salvation.  God had awakened us from our death sleep and quickened our hearts to know Him in full relationship.  As we prayed, there was no emotional jolt or giddy high.  It was a solemn commitment of our lives to the only One who could really give us both peace.
     As our new brother in Christ got ready to leave, he gave us Bibles with the date and time of our commitment written on the front page.  He also invited us to a college Bible study for new believers.  We agreed to attend because we did want to learn more, and thus, began our 43 year adventure with Jesus Christ.
     We were married three months after our commitment to the Lord.  With this foundation, our marriage is about to enjoy a 44th anniversary in a few more months.  God has brought us through good times, bad times, and all the in between.  We have home educated our four children and taught them to follow hard after the Lord in their lives.  Now, He has allowed us to be blessed with eight grandchildren, and we could not be more content to walk with Him.
     My husband and I were living examples of two people who were church members, had been through catechism classes and attended on a regular basis, but we were not Christians.  There are many out there like us just waiting for someone to introduce them to the Lord.  We never know when someone has a divine appointment with the Lord, but we are commanded to go and tell and leave the rest to God.
     Coming to a place in your life where you realize you have a need that nothing or no one can meet could be the turning point for you.  I encourage you to seek the Lord while He may be found, and He will never disappoint you.  Confession of your sins, sincere repentance of them and complete commitment of your life to Him will open the door to a whole new life.  You will be a new creation as my husband and I were on that night in April.  Do not tarry.  Make that decision to hear His voice when He calls to you.  We are so glad that we answered Him when He knocked on the door of our hearts.  Selah!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Excuses, Excuses

     Many years ago, a singing group came to our small town and offered some wonderful music and a great testimony for Christ.  I will never forget one of the songs they sang that has stayed in my mind through the years called "Excuses".  The chorus goes like this:  "Excuses, excuses, you'll hear them every day.  And the Devil he'll supply them, if from church you stay away.  When people come to know the Lord, the Devil always loses.  So to keep them folks away from church, he offers them excuses."  Its a catchy tune too which will stay in your head for a long time.  Of course, the point of this song is to show us how often we hide behind excuses when it comes to attending church, reading the Bible, or even obeying the Lord.
     Perhaps the best example comes from the book of Exodus.  Moses has ascended Mt. Sinai to receive from God His commandments.  The people had promised to obey God and remain faithful to Him, but this soon changed as Moses was gone for a period of 40 days.  Restless and impatient, the people came to Aaron (the brother of Moses and high priest of God).  They
St Giles Cathedral
did not know what had become of Moses so they asked Aaron to make gods for them (Exodus 32:1).  Aaron obliged them by calling for all the gold jewelry which the Israelites had taken from the Egyptians.  He melted the gold and formed a calf which he proclaimed was their god.  They built an altar and planned a feast for the next day (read the entire chapter for a detailed account).
     While the people played and danced around this idol of gold, God told Moses what was going on below.  The Lord burned with anger, but Moses interceded for them.  When he came down the mountain, he witnessed the children of Israel sinning against God.  He came to Aaron and this is the conversation they had in verses 21-24:  "And Moses said to Aaron, 'What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?'  And Aaron said, 'Let not the anger of my lord burn hot.  You know the people, that they are set on evil.  For they said to me, 'Make us gods who shall go before us.  As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'  So I said to them, 'Let any who have gold take it off.  So they gave it to me, and I threw it in the fire, and out came the calf.'"  What a conversation!  I am amazed that God allowed Aaron to continue in the priesthood after such poor leadership in the absence of Moses.  However, God worked all things together for good as He always does.
     If we look closely at this excuse that Aaron offered up, we can note several characteristics which we need to watch for in our own lives lest we also fall into sin.  First, Aaron laid the blame on others rather than owning up to his part in the act of rebellion.  He called the people evil, but wasn't he also one of those who participated?  Instead of putting the blame on the people, he should have acknowledged his failure to obey God and repent.  The Bible tells us clearly that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
     Secondly, he side stepped his responsibility to lead the people in the absence of Moses.  He was left in charge and served as the mouthpiece of Moses.  It is hard to know if he was afraid of the people or if he, himself, doubted God, but he definitely did not exercise good leadership.  A leader does not blame the people he cares for, but helps to guide them away from the danger of sin.
     Finally, the greatest excuse of all was given when Aaron tried to explain where the golden idol came from.  Instead of admitting his full, guilty partnership in these actions, Aaron said that he threw the gold jewelry into the fire and out came the calf.  This is beyond absurd to make such a claim!  Obviously, someone had to fashion this gold animal and proclaim a feast.  Since Aaron was set as the authority over the people, it is apparent that he was involved.
     From this story, we learn that nothing is ever hidden from God.  Our sins will always find us out.  We also see that there are consequences to our actions.  Many of the people (3,000 men) died by the sword.  Our excuses do not remove God's judgment for sin.
     One of the great blessings from reading the Word is that it serves as a mirror for us to look into daily.  God has placed these stories in the Bible to instruct us and turn us away from falling into the same temptation and feeble excuses.  Aaron tried to get around the issue that he fashioned that golden calf, but he made himself look silly...as though jewelry could jump into a fire and come out a calf.  This is how silly we appear before the Lord of heaven when we use excuses for disobedience to our duty to God as well as our duty to our neighbor.  We must remember that God delights in our obedience much more than any thing we can offer to Him.  Let us, therefore, strive to avoid excuses and live a life of holiness that will bring glory to God.  Selah!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Richness of Fellowship

     Growing up in farm country, I always looked forward to Sunday gatherings.  After attending church service, we would go out to lunch with my grandparents to a local restaurant to enjoy family
fellowship. At other times, we would travel to the small community of Holgate, Ohio where my mother had grown up to visit relatives.  Of course, the most happy times were family reunions when many of the cousins would come and visit.  These were times of warm fellowship.
     Unfortunately, today, most families live separated from one another by many miles.  The Internet, television, cell phones and other electronic gadgets make the world seem smaller, but they are not the same as being together.  There is something special about sitting around a table and discussing the Lord or having a chance to pray for one another.  Not only is it stimulating, but it also is biblical.
     In talking about the church and believers, the Lord, Himself, stated "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."  When we think of church, we think of a building, a large congregation, and perhaps the worship service itself.  Yet, in the context of this verse, Jesus is saying that even when two or three are together gathered for fellowship and prayer, He is there among them.  This is the value of relationships in Christ.  We were never meant to be off by ourselves in isolation.  We not only need to be in Christ, but we also need one another.
     Hebrews 10:24-25 admonishes believers to come together for the purpose of edification:  "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."  Looking at the times in which we live, can any of us say we don't need to stick together or encourage one another?  Truly, the Day of the Lord is drawing near.  We do not know when, but we need to find ways to build each other up in Christ.
     When my husband and I came to the Lord through Campus Crusade for Christ, we went to a Bible study at the student union so we could learn more about the decision we had made.  During one of the meetings the leader gave the illustration of a camp fire in relation to our growth.  He said that when all the logs were together the fire burned brightly.  However, if a log was removed and put over to one side, it eventually went out.  He pointed out that in order to grow in our faith we needed regular fellowship to keep the fire of the Spirit burning.  There was strength, blessing and power when we met around the Word of God.  I have never forgotten that example, and our family has always sought ways to find time to worship both in church as well as with other Christians even in relaxed settings.
     A friend of ours gave us a sign once that said "Christ is the head of this home, the unseen Host at every meal".  It is good to remember this because fellowship is something that takes place every day both in the work place and in our homes.  Wouldn't it make a difference if we remembered that where two or three believers are gathered the Lord is there?  It might change our conversation and how we behave.
     There is deep warmth in Christian fellowship and in corporate worship.  To miss out on it is to deny ourselves the blessings that only the Body of Christ can provide.  As Paul pointed out in his letter to the Corinthian Church, one part of the body cannot say it does not need another.  We need all the parts in order to have the ability to function as Christ has commanded (I Cor. 12:19-26).  In the context of fellowship we find people who can cry with us or laugh with us.  We sharpen each other and encourage one another.  All of these things happen when believers come together.

     People today do not spend time together like they used to do.  No more Sunday afternoon drives to visit relatives and play games.  Instead, most of us boot up the computer and talk to friends on Facebook.  However, there is no substitute for the real thing.  Jesus knew that and encouraged us to spend time with one another.  He promised to be there in the middle of it when we prayed and studied His Word together.  How could we want to miss out on that?  Therefore, if we get an invitation to join in a small group, a church service or a home fellowship time, we should be quick to say yes!  It is our opportunity to keep our hearts burning for Christ just like the log on a campfire. Even more, we can encourage others in their growth as well.  Selah!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Robe Like No Other

     After many years of absence from singing, I put on a choir robe again two years ago.  I really do not know why I had not volunteered for this ministry sooner, but I believe it has to do with timing...God's timing.  All I know for certain is that putting on that robe reminded me that I am a servant of Christ whose call is to help lead in meaningful worship in song.  Don't get me wrong.  The robe is not magic.  However, it does symbolize something much deeper in the lives of all believers; for we know that when we came to Jesus Christ, He took our filthy rags of sin and gave to us a robe of righteousness in exchange.
     Isaiah foretells the time when God will supply His people with a robe of righteousness (61:10):  I
will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."  The garments which God covers us in will never rot, tear or be destroyed by the enemy.  His provision is perfect, so what should our response be?
     First, we need to rejoice in God our salvation.  He sent His perfect Son who knew no sin to become sin for us and take our punishment.  It was His blood that washed away our sin and cleansed us.  Putting on that robe of righteousness is a cause to celebrate and rejoice daily because when God looks at us, He sees Jesus.
     Secondly, when we wear the robe of righteousness, we are called to be servants for the sake of His glory.  What a privilege it is to be adopted into the family of God!  Therefore, out of a heart of gratitude, we must follow Paul's admonition to "not think more highly" of ourselves than we ought to for we have been bought with a price (Romans 12:3).  Our purpose in this life should be to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to serve others even as Christ did.
      Not only are we called to rejoice in what God has done and to serve others, but we are also to treat with respect and take care of the "robe of righteousness" which the Lord has given us.  I think most of us can remember as children how our mothers would remind us not to mess up a new outfit.  We were warned with consequences if we did not follow orders.  The same is true with the robe of righteousness.  Our conduct will either dirty that robe or bring glory to God, and whether we like it or not, there are people watching to see what we will do.  Will our walk match our talk?
     Finally, are we willing to tell others how they can also obtain a robe of righteousness?  We have a painful, hurting world robed in filthy rages.  Those without Christ will spend eternity separated from Him, and God has called us to be His witnesses even unto the ends of the earth.  As we visit the sick, comfort those who are grieving, encourage the young and old, we are fulfilling the Lord's call to serve  and love one another.  This is not an easy walk, but it is a fulfilling one.
     Perhaps none of us has really stopped to think that the King of glory has clothed us with His royal robe of righteousness.  With this privilege, comes the joy of living for Him each day.  Today, let us begin looking for ways to honor and glorify the Lord.  His blood has made possible our new wardrobe, and such a cost demands our humility, obedience and holy living.  Selah!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

He Has a Plan for Us

     Singing in the choir has given me the opportunity to retain the words to hymns and remember Scripture better than any other exercise.  All week long, now, I have been hearing the music and thinking about the words to the anthem "If You Search with All Your Heart" written by Craig Courtney.  Not only is the melody lovely, but the words come from Scripture found in Jeremiah 29:11-13.  God's Word contains rich and full promises to His children.  These words offer encouragement and blessing.
     Jeremiah 29:11-13 reads:  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you.  You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart."  While this passage is specifically tied to Israel who is facing 70 years of captivity, we can glean hope for our own lives as well.  God does not want His people to think He will forget them.  He is working all things together for their good and His glory.  I am certain it does not seem like this is true as they faced exile.  However God did bring them back to their land as He said He would. 
     In the same way when we face difficulties in this life such as an unexpected illness, a loss of a job, not enough money to live on, or a family dispute, we can feel alienated from God and alone.  However, just as with the Children of Israel, God is working behind the scenes that we might grow as 
we face hardships.  This is why it is so critical to read the Bible on a regular, daily basis.
     As we open God's Word, we can see His faithfulness and character more clearly.  He has pulled aside the curtain, as it were, so that we can see what happened in the lives of those who have gone before us.  We see their weaknesses and strengths but most importantly, we see how God works all things together that they may reach maturity in faith. He is doing the same thing for each one of us too.  We may not see the results immediately, but we can be certain that He is at work in all areas of our lives.  His plan for us is perfect, cannot be thwarted by any power or sidetracked.  Even more, God wants to give us a future and a hope.  This is precisely why Jesus came to earth.  He is our HOPE and our future!
     Furthermore, this verse makes clear that if we are searching for God with all our heart we will find Him.  Prayer is the key to finding God and remaining in communication with Him throughout our busy days.  There are times when words do not come to us as we pray.  At moments like this, we can speak God's Word back to Him.  I used to do this with the Psalms, and it left me with a peaceful heart.
     Not only should we read the Word and pray daily, but we should also teach our children and grandchildren to do the same.  We can never start too early with them either.   Helping them see God's plans for them unfold in His Word will give them confidence to move forward in boldness when difficulties come.
     Like the Children of Israel, we serve a covenant God who is faithful to all His promises and nothing or no one can ever separate us from His love.  He will not hide from us but can easily be found in the pages of His holy Word.  Today, do not let despair overcome you.  Instead, read His Word, pray His Word and chew upon it all day long.  You will be satisfied and blessed knowing that He has a future and a hope for you in Christ.  Selah!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Words Are Powerful

    For many years now, I have enjoyed visiting various websites, blogs and groups on the Internet to participate in or observe conversations on various topics.  It has always been fun and informative.  However within the last few years, I noticed a trend that concerns me.  In the past, secular websites would often get into a disagreement on an issue and comments would fly like fur during a cat fight.  People's feelings would be wounded and a number would leave never to return.  How sad!  However, blogs and the Internet are not the only places this is happening.  Even in our civil discourse over political issues, we find people throwing vitriolic barbs at one another as though they had been life long enemies rather than representing their views in a constructive manner.  Little is accomplished when this happens.  Instead, people are separated one from another.
     Unfortunately, I have begun to see this happen even on Christian websites and blogs.  Instead of presenting arguments and ideas in a respectful manner, some folks attack without warning leaving the conversations in a tatter.  It happens, as well, in church meetings, national congregational meetings, and
at times, within the home of a believer.  The old joke goes, "What did you have for lunch on Sunday, roasted Pastor?"  These really are not laughing matters but something we all ought to take to the Lord in prayer.  It is hard enough to deal with those in the world who attack the faith.  When Christian brothers and sisters turn the guns on one another, there are many casualties.
     Jesus taught His disciples how we need to relate to one another and to God.  In the Gospel of John chapter 13 verses 34-35, Jesus said:  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another."  This is one of the most critical statements Jesus made.  Our love for each other is to mirror the love that Christ has for us.  What kind of love does He demonstrate?  The word agape best describes it.  This word refers to an unconditional love.  Nothing can be done to earn that love...it literally says, "I love you in spite of your imperfections."  Secular society does not operate in this kind of love.  The world's love is more "I will love you if you perform according to my standards.  It is self-centered and self-serving.  Our Lord wanted us to stand out and be different in the way we relate to one another so it would be evident to those outside the faith that we possess a love that builds up, edifies and does not tear down.  This is what makes the Christian faith attractive.
     In addition to uttering this command, Jesus carried the concept further.  John 14:15 reads:  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."  Beyond professing with our lips that we love the Lord, our lives should reflect obedience to Him and to His commandments.  With regard to our words and deeds, Scripture is clear.  We are not to kill, lie, steal, slander, or envy one another.  Likewise, we are to honor our parents and not commit the sin of adultery (Exodus 20: 9-17).  Jesus summed up all the Law and prophets by reminding His disciples that we were to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and our neighbors as our self.   By walking in obedience, we prove that we have had a heart change towards God and man alike.
     Paul, in his epistles, echoes these commands from the Lord.  I Thessalonians 5:11 reads:  "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."  In his letter to the Romans, Paul again writes in 14:15:  "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."  These passages point to the importance of encouraging one another.  This shows love and commitment as brothers and sisters in Christ.  This does not mean that we can never disagree.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this.  Beating someone over the head with your Bible (figuratively speaking)  in public is certainly not the way to glorify the Lord.  Rather, Christ exhorted us to go to a brother or sister privately if we have an issue with them.  We are to make every effort to show love in what we say and do.  This is God honoring.
     When we read a public blog or website where Christians are engaged in derogatory comments, it is no different than being in a public meeting.  Non-Christians who come to read think that if this is the way Christians respond to one another they would rather not become a believer.  Our witness is seen everywhere we go for we carry Christ in these vessels of clay.  Whether we write, speak in a public gathering or in some other forum, we need to exemplify love for one another, respect, courtesy, and measure our words before we say them.  Reputations can be damaged, fellowship can be broken, and irreparable harm to a ministry can occur when we become a judge and jury of another brother or sister.
     Responding to a person in love means showing restraint, humility, and careful thought.  If there is some error we are trying to address, we should do so remembering, first, how Christ loved us unconditionally.  No one can win another back into the fold by attacking him.  Our job is to pray, weigh our words carefully and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their life.
     Words and actions are powerful.  They preach to others what we have in our heart.  We can either have a positive impact on others or create turmoil which leads to confusion.  Satan loves to see the Body of Christ at war with itself.  Therefore, let us be the peacemakers as much as possible.  Let our love for one another be the key characteristic that people see in our lives, and let us behave as ambassadors in this world for Christ.  There are too many people perishing without the knowledge of our Savior every day for us to spend our time battling one another over things which one day we may realize were not that important in light of eternity.  Selah!