Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Week of Sorrow...the Morning of Joy

          And so it begins.  This week of sorrows and the greatest triumph of all.  Two days ago, we waved the palm branches and heard the children sing hosannas just as they did when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  At that time, the disciples had no concept of what lay ahead for their Lord though Jesus had tried to tell them many times.  Think with me for a moment what that day was like from Luke 19:28-44 .
     Jesus had told his disciples to go and bring back a young colt for Him to ride upon.  Everything happened just as the Lord had told them it would.  They returned with the colt and threw their cloaks on it for the Lord to sit upon.  Then, the disciples and crowd began to place their cloaks on the road
that He might ride into the beloved City of David.  Amid cheers and shouts of rejoicing which would have made most of us feel confident, Jesus wept for Jerusalem.  He wept for the people who did not believe.  He knew the cheering would soon turn to jeering.  Instead of a golden crown worn by a king, He would wear the crown of thorns.  And in His sorrow He spoke what would happen to this city.  In verse 44b, He said:  "And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  This prophetic word was carried out when the Romans utterly destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
      Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him, and as He later told Pontius Pilate (recorded in John 18:37b), "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."  But many would reject that truth and call for His destruction.  What emotions must have been stirred in His heart seeing the children and crowds welcoming Him in triumph.  Yet, Jesus knew the fickleness of the human heart.
     At an earlier Passover celebration after Jesus had done many signs, people also believed in Him but the scripture teaches us in John 2:24-25 that man was not to be trusted:  "But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man."  He knew our sin nature.  He knew that one minute we would sing hosanna and the next minute call for His death.  From the foundation of the world, man's innate wickedness had proven itself over and over again.  For this, Christ had come to set us free.  He came to remove the sin that Adam had brought upon the human race.  Those whom the Father would call would come and receive this amazing gift of salvation.  First, however, He would be offered up as a sacrifice.  This is what He knew would come to pass as He rode on the donkey into the gates of Jerusalem.  So what can we learn from this story in scripture?
     First, we must realize, as our Lord did, that momentary fame passes quickly as we walk in this world. We cannot entrust ourselves to the whims of man, but we can trust in the Lord who has a plan for our lives.  Our primary goal should be to find out what God's plan is for our life.  Serving Him and seeking His approval is what we must focus on.  He will never disappoint us, but people and society as a whole will let us down.
     Secondly, we must come to grips with the reality that the Christian life is not a smooth paved highway.  There will be bumps, dips, and yes, even sink holes that will permeate our lives from time to time.  If our Lord and Master had to face tribulation, we, His servants, will also have to walk through times of trial.  The difference is that we have Christ living within us who will give us the strength to face whatever comes our way.
     Finally, we know the end of this story that began with palm branches and hosannas.  It did not end on the cross.  The story continues with the resurrection and the defeat of death.  Our Lord is alive!  He is alive!  And we who believe will live with Him forever!  This is what our hosannas should be all about.  Now, we must tell the story to others who have not heard or do not know this Jesus our Messiah.
     And so it begins.  This week of reflection, repentance, and rejoicing.  Let us take each moment to thank God for the gift of His Son who died in our place to pay for our sins.  He has broken the chains of sin and death.  We are free to live for Him.  Selah!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

But What Does God Think?

      With all the hotly debated topics both in the media and even in Christian circles, we hear many ideas bandied about.  People have strong opinions on every side of a question.  However, the only question we need to ask ourselves when discussing any critical topic is "What does God think?"  It isn't hard to know the Lord's position on any important topic.  We only have to look into the Bible to find it.  
        For example, one of the principle teachings of the Bible is that actions have consequences.  We have only to read Genesis to learn this.  Man was given the opportunity to obey God in a perfect environment where no sin existed.  Yet we know that man and woman fell into sin in the Garden.  They would have lived forever in an unspoiled creation, but their act of rebellion brought in death, sin and sickness to the world, and we are inheritors of this fallen nature.  Knowing that this is God's position, let us contrast this with the opinions of the secular world in which we live.  
        Many today believe that there should not be any consequences for violating a specific law, legal agreement or even the marriage covenant.  We see evidence of that when people walk away from their mortgage, become involved in adultery, or knowingly break the law.  Lack of accountability and responsibility has escalated.  People make excuses for their actions, but in the end, it does not change the fact that God sees everything we do.  We will be held accountable when we stand before Him if we are not brought to face our wrongdoing here.  
       In the Christian faith, we know that we have God's forgiveness for our sins if we confess them.  We will have to face any consequences that come with our sin; however, we are not going to face God's ultimate judgment and loss of fellowship with Him forever in Hell.  This is another truth found in God's Word.  Jesus said in John 3:36:  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."  It is a promise, and we can know that this is what God thinks on the topic.
       Furthermore, we know what God thinks about murder, stealing, worshipping other gods, lying, coveting and keeping the Sabbath.  It is all found in "The Ten Commandments".  When we open the pages of God's Word, we are reading God's thoughts after Him.  His character is fully revealed in the Bible from Old Testament to New Testament.  He is not hidden from us.  Likewise, He reveals who we are and why He made us.  We may not understand why He works the way He does, but the Bible even makes us aware of why in Isaiah 55:8:  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD."  
       No matter what decision we are trying to make shouldn't we seek first God and His wisdom?  So often, we want to run to others for their opinion or step out on our own strength.  We feel we can come to the conclusion without God's help.  As most of us know, however, when we do this, we are shortchanging ourselves and we often face the consequences of our folly.  Through the exercise of daily prayer and Bible study, we can begin to understand what God has to say to us.  Keep in mind, it is not wrong to seek godly counsel from Christian friends, but no decision should be made based on opinion only.
      In the pages of the Bible, we learn that God is holy, perfect, faithful, loving, just, merciful, wise, strong, almighty, all powerful, everywhere present, patient and on and on.  Would we not want His opinion first?  His truth? His insight?  I cannot think of a better resource when it comes to taking a stand in our lives.  Popular books, well-known people, politicians, and trendy ideas are great, but they lack the sovereignty of God who rules and reigns over all of life.  His perspective is the only one that counts.  May we remember this the next time we are faced with a crucial decision.  "What does God think?"  Selah!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Our Very Best Gift

     Several years ago, when I would arrive home from work, Roscoe P. Coltrain, our basset hound extraordinaire, greeted me with his very best toy in mouth.  Then, he proceeded to carry it all the way to our back door so I could let him out in the yard.  Before I opened the door, I took his toy out of his mouth, patted him on the head and told him what a good dog he was.  This seemed to satisfy his desire to please me so he trotted outside to take care of his business.  I am amazed at this repeated behavior day after day.  Roscoe had an entire basket of toys, but he chose one that was his most favorite to present to me.  I chuckled at this routine, but deep down I felt honored that he wanted to bring me his best. However, this daily activity made me think about our relationship to God.  If my dog wants to please me and bring to me the best gift he has to offer, shouldn't I be doing the same on a daily basis with the Lord?
      Paul, the Apostle, wrote in his letter to the Roman believers that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1) which is our spiritual worship.  We are to devote ourselves to Him using our talents, abilities and the gifts which He graciously gives to us.  Each one of us has something we can offer.  This is one reason I started writing nearly twenty-two years ago.  I wanted to encourage others in their walk with Christ.  It is my offering unto the Father.  Some are gifted musicians who can play the most beautiful music for God.  Others can preach, sing, or render service to bless their neighbors.  It does not matter what the gift is as long as it is brought to our Lord with the right heart motive.
     Certainly, we cannot add to our salvation by offering our works to God.  Salvation, after all, is a gift and comes not as a result of anything which we do (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Our good works are to be done out of love as acts of worship to our heavenly Father.  Even our labor during the day is an opportunity to offer God our very best gifts.  When we stop and look at things from this vantage point, it makes everything we do seem much more important than we might think.
     I know I am delighted to be greeted every day by our faithful basset hound.  Unfortunately due to advanced age and blindness, Roscoe cannot offer me a toy but he still faithfully offers me his best love.   How much more then is God delighted when we seek Him out each day and bring to Him our very best gifts of time, talent, and resources?  No matter who we are or where we live, we all have something we can bring to God as our very best gift.  As unique individuals, no two gifts will be quite the same.  The chief end of our lives is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  We do this when we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.  May we seek out avenues every day where we can serve the Lord by bringing Him our best.  Selah!

This picture is courtesy of Wiki Commons and can be found at:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/72153088@N08/6510934443

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Dark Night of the Soul

     On this Throw back Thursday, I wanted to share something I shared a number of years ago.  I have recently talked with a number of people who have been facing hard times.  I know about hard places, but I also know a Great Savior.  I hope this repeat will be a blessing to someone out there who needs to know there is an answer for their pain.  Blessings!

     I ran into a friend the other day who shared with me that she has been experiencing some physical and emotional struggles lately.  Her face showed the strain of trying to move forward in a normal fashion as her voice quivered while we talked.  The physical symptoms she was having seemed to ambush her out of no where, and it shook her to the core.  She had even made a trip to the ER recently thinking she might be having a heart attack.  How well I could identify with what she was saying because I, too, had walked through the dark valley of anxiety which eventually led me to the deep pit of depression.  I wanted her to know that she was not alone.  I wanted her to know that I
cared about her and that she would get through this place of trial.
     As I prayed for her and remembered the anguished look on her face, I recalled how my own feet stumbled trying to find solid ground not so many years ago.  A series of events came together like a cataclysmic earthquake in my life.  A dear friend that I had shared so many Bible studies with moved away.  My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and came to Florida so I could care for her needs, and I was trying to care for our four young children whom I was home schooling.  The stress, the change, the heartache was more than I could handle.  Heart palpitations, panic attacks and a total feeling of darkness seemed to overwhelm me.  I cannot recall any physical pain as great as the pain of depression.
     Through the love of my family, a sound counselor and a wonderful family doctor, I was able to over come this dark night of the soul which I had experienced.  It took time, but glimmers of light broke through the shadows more and more every day as I studied the Bible looking for the answers I needed.  There was no instant cure for the fractures I had in my heart.  Only time and the love of Christ helped to bring light into that dark cave I was in.
     Perhaps the greatest scripture shared with me during this time comes from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."  These words ministered to my soul as nothing else in scripture.  To know, that my pain would be comforted by God and that He would use it to one day help others gave me back the hope I had lost.
       When I pondered on this passage, I thought about the dark night of the soul that our Lord experienced in the garden before His arrest.  So great was His agony that he shed great drops of blood as he prayed.  He knew what lay ahead physically, but greater still was the crushing weight of carrying our sins in His sinless body.  Yet, our Lord Jesus yielded Himself to the Father's will.  He endured the cross for us, and no one can forget how He cried out in despair, "My God, My God why hast though forsaken me?"(Matt. 27:46).  As I thought about his, I knew in my own heart that what Hebrews says is true:  "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."  It was at that moment that light bulbs illuminated the darkness for me!  Jesus knew how I felt, and He had over come all things.  Therefore, I could too.
      With new found understanding, and my feet once again firmly under me, I promised the Lord that I would take the comfort He had given to me and I would share it with others.  I knew there were many Christians out there that had suffered from depression/anxiety and felt like a failure.  They blamed themselves for not having enough faith to rise above the darkness; however, God does not waste any suffering we endure.  He takes what is meant for evil and turns it for good if we allow Him.
     As believers, we need to be ready to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  We need to be honest with one another instead of robotically saying, "I am fine" when life is NOT fine.  How can we pray for one another unless we do open up?  The fellowship of Christ's body along with the healing comfort of God the Father  will help to bring healing to those hurting hearts out there.  I would not share my own journey if this were not true.
     My prayer for my friend is that she will know that she will be all right.  She can open up.  Depression and anxiety are foes created by the Fall as surely as heart disease and cancer.  More importantly, God brings comfort when we seek His face.  Then, He allows us to pass the comfort along to one another.  If you or someone you love has been or is facing the dark night of the soul, they need to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  That light is Jesus Christ and He will lead them out as surely as He has guided me.  Take His comfort and share it with others!  Selah!

Father, I pray for all who have traveled the dark path of depression and anxiety.  Bring comfort to their souls and set them on solid ground again.  Let them know that they are not alone and that You fully understand where they are at.  Help them to find and place their hope in You once more.  For we ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons the photographer is:  w:bn:Balaram Mahalder

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Developing a Taste for Truth

     When I was a little girl, there were certain foods I just did not care for.  I disliked tomatoes, pizza, and cauliflower.  I even avoided ketchup if at all possible.  Gradually, I developed a love for all these things over time as I was exposed to various recipes.  In high school, nothing tasted more delicious than a pizza or french fries and ketchup.  Isn't it funny how we have to develop a taste for some items while we instantly love others?
     Unfortunately in the spiritual realm, we are all born with a sin nature.  We are much more comfortable with our flesh than being obedient to God.  When the Holy Spirit awakens us and we come to know Christ as our Savior and Lord, we take on an entirely new set of tastes.  No longer do the sins of the flesh taste delicious to us as they once did.  Oh, there is still temptation, but we are now free to choose the best spiritual nourishment.
     In the Book of Psalms, we read this in Psalm 119:103:  "How sweet are Your Words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"  As a new babe in Christ, we had to learn how to eat and digest the Words of God.  It was not instantaneous, but slowly we developed a hunger for God's Word.  The 
more we read it on a daily basis the sweeter the taste of His instruction to us becomes.
     I compare this whole process to what happened in a big diet change I made over the last six months.  Having discovered that I had a blockage in a major artery of my heart which needed to be remedied, I knew that some changes had to take place in my daily diet.  Trust me, this was not easy to do as I had grown up eating what I thought was a healthy diet.  I took a food program led by a doctor and his wife which looked at research concerning diet.  Along with the classes, they provided healthy food for those of us taking the class so we could learn how to prepare it and grow accustomed to some new tastes.  After completion, I went through my cupboards and my refrigerator removing items that were not healthy for me.  I replaced them with the healthier vegetables and fruits.  I had to learn to cook differently and I had to change my tastes.  After years of bad habits, this was not easy.  However, I have been determined to improve my overall health so I can enjoy my family for as along as the Lord allows.  Since beginning this program in September, I have remained on course, and I am enjoying a whole new way of eating.
     In the same way, we need to develop new habits so we fully acquire the taste for God's Word.  When Jesus prayed for the disciples and all who would come after them in His high priestly prayer, He asked the Father to sanctify us in the truth because God's Word is truth (John 17:17, my paraphrase).  So we have to stop and ask ourselves, "How much time do we spend in the Word of God?"  Do we try to read daily?  Certainly there are many good books out there about God that can encourage us in our walk but they can never replace the Bible when it comes to truth telling.
     One of the dangers I see today is that believers often spend more time reading what someone else's experience with God has been rather than spending time in the Word.  Man is fallible while God is infallible.  What a man writes out of his/her own experience may miss the mark as we are not perfect.  However, we know that "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Therefore, knowing that God's Word can instruct us, we need to develop our taste buds for more not less of His Word each day.  It is like taking a medicine critical for our health.  We dare not miss a dose!
     There are many fine Christian writers out there, but we need to look upon their work in light of what Scriptures teach us.  As we do this, we can be certain to maintain balance in our walk.  Digesting the Word of God first will guide us into all truth for His Word is truth.  Be thankful that we have the Holy Spirit living within us to teach us as we read, pray and contemplate the Bible.  Remember, His Word is a light unto our path.  Selah!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

During Lent Consider: Are We That Addicted?

     Trust me...I love my IPhone, IPAD, IPOD and MacBook.  I have been a techno Mom from the word go and now I am a techno Grandmother as well.  However, there are some issues that concern me about all our wonderful gadgetry.  As I was driving home the other day, I had a very close call.  Another driver began drifting into my lane causing me to nearly run off the road.  They corrected their vehicle just in time and guess what?  They were glued to their cell phone like their life depended on it.  I took a deep breath and thanked the Lord for His protection.  These types of incidents are not isolated.  Nearly every day, I see people driving their vehicles with a cell phone seemingly stuck to their face.  Can't calls wait until they arrive home?  Don't they have a voicemail that will allow them to return the call at a better time?  I understand emergencies and the need to connect when something has happened, but often, there is no urgency to the phone conversation.  It is something that could have waited for another time.  However, what was even more surprising to me was something I witnessed at a recent conference.
     When my husband and I attend any gathering of Christians for the purpose of fellowship around the Word of God, we turn our cell phone ringers off while the speakers  are presenting their talk.  A
couple of years ago at the Ligonier Conference, we were amazed at the number of people who came to the sessions with their cell phones on.  I observed a fellow texting during the entire presentation by a speaker.  Another person worked on his laptop.  I admit I had my IPAD, but I was doing some note taking on it so I could review what the speaker said following his talk.
     Quite frankly, I think I must be old school.  I grew up without cell phones, IPAD's, laptops, and even computers.  I actually learned how to sit through a talk and take lots of notes so I could remember what was said.  Now that I have and enjoy using the modern technology...I still take notes and listen carefully to a speaker.  I have to wonder, though, are we that addicted to technology that we cannot sit for an hour and listen to a speaker without checking our email, playing a game or texting a friend?  Will the world self-destruct during the time we are not on the "NET"? 

     In Scripture, we see a similar scene being played out in the life of the disciples.  They may not have had electronic distractions, but they were not able to watch with their Lord and Master as He prayed in the garden.  Mark 14:32-41 describes the scene:  "And they went to a place called Gethsemane.  And He said to His disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.'  And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And He said to them 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.  Remain here and 'watch'" (vs. 32-34).  What transpires next is His heartfelt cry to the Father concerning what He was to face; yet in the end, He yielded in perfect obedience His will to the Father's.  Verse 37- 41 describes what happened next:  "And He came and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, 'Simon are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not come into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.  And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy, and they did not know what to answer Him.  And He came a third time and said to them, 'Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come.  The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners."
     Jesus had made a simple request for His disciples to watch and pray with Him.  He was in deep turmoil over what He would have to face.  However, three times in a row, He returned to find them asleep.  This occurred right after Peter had protested that he would never deny Jesus even if it meant he had to die with him.  Would we do any better than these disciples?  I do not think so.
     Some at the conference we attended could not even sit one hour to hear a speaker without clicking away on their cell phone to send text messages or "tweet".  It made me wonder why they had spent the time and money to come when they seemed so far removed mentally from what was being said.  I had to wonder if, indeed, technology and electronic gadgetry is displacing God?  Are we becoming so attached to it that we do not have time to concentrate on a church service, conference speaker or musician?
     Obviously, I love the internet and the ability to communicate with people all over this world.  It can be a marvelous tool for reaching others very quickly.  Nevertheless, it can also be an addiction and temptation that keeps us so preoccupied that we do not have time for God and His Word.  I am as guilty as the next person for wasting my time in fruitless game playing, or some other activity.
     Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray that they may not fall into temptation.  He further reminded them that the flesh was weak even though the spirit was willing.  This holds true for us as well.  We need to take some time to evaluate our use or over use of our electronic devices.  Certainly, this is especially true while we drive.  In addition, we also have to keep in mind that a face to face encounter with another human being is far more effective than just sending them a text message.  Our goal should be to spend quality time first with the Lord and second with our family and church family.  Nothing is as meaningful as that.  A text message cannot give a hug.  An email cannot replace a smile, and a phone call cannot connect as well as an eye to eye conversation.  Lets keep these things in mind the next time we attend church, a Bible study, or a Christian conference.  May we be watching for Jesus and praying for  His soon return.  Selah!

Picture courtesy of  K Ballard on Wiki Commons

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It's All in How You Say It

         For many of us, communication is a hard thing to do well.  Yet it is vitally important in healthy relationships, business and our church fellowships.  If we are going to live in the love of Christ, we must be able to communicate with clarity to others.  Unfortunately, our schools today have cut many of the speech, and debate classes which were once a staple in a well-rounded education.  As a result, we find that many people have trouble being able to clearly ask for what they want or need.  In addition, lack of communication can lead to misunderstanding, hurt feelings and as the Bible warns us "vain imaginations".  It is not only idle hands that are the devil's workshop.  An overactive imagination fueled by lack of communication is also a leading cause for broken relationships, church splits, and emotional wounds.
     When we look in God's Word, we find many verses that pertain to communication.  James writes a good deal about the tongue and what a world of trouble it can cause (read James 3).  He rightly says that with our mouth we can bless someone in one breath and curse them in the next.  Of course, this is the height of hypocrisy and further proof of our sin nature.  As Christians, however, we are to be growing in sanctification daily and guarding our conversations so it they may be edifying.   Paul told us to speak with one another using words of encouragement and to sing Psalms, hymns and make music to the Lord in our hearts (Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19).  Obviously, when we are speaking Scripture to one another, we cannot be engaged in unkind conversation or gossip.
     Another feature of good communication comes when we are honest with others.  We are told in Proverbs 26:28:  "A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin."  What God desires is that our conversation consist of truth spoken in love.  A great example is what Jesus taught about how to deal with a brother who is caught in sin.  Jesus taught that if someone sins against us, we are to go and speak with this brother.  If he listens, the conversation was a success and the brother is restored.  However, the person may refuse to listen.  Therefore, the next step would be to take two or three witnesses with us.  At times, this can clarify communication on the issues at hand.  If the brother still will not listen, then the matter is to go before the church.  Ultimately. the goal is to communicate in love so that a brother or sister can be won back (Matthew 18:15-17).  Notice as you read this passage of Scripture that our Lord never said we are to talk about the person behind their back but only to their face.  Restoration cannot occur without communication and understanding.
     Because we are Christ's ambassadors in this world, our conduct and especially our speech should be seasoned with grace.  There should not be slander, gossip, lies, off color jokes, or filthy language present among us (Ephesians 5:4).  Can we do this perfectly?  I wish I could say we could but it is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, the more we saturate our mind with the things of God as found in His Word the greater our success will be in communicating with others the true character of our Lord as well as His love.
     When I consider the importance of what I say, I think of two verses which I want to leave you with to think on.  The first is found in Matthew 12:34 where Jesus is addressing the Pharisees.  He says:  "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."  It is frightening to think that the words we speak come from our heart.  They reveal who we really are.  The second set of verses are found in Matthew 12:36-37:  "36"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37"For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."  This is why communication matters!  Let us strive to watch our words and the way in which we speak to one another that we can build each other up for God's glory!  Selah!