Friday, December 30, 2016

A New Year, A New You!

     If you have spent any time watching T.V. commercials over the past week, I guarantee that they have been filled with promises for the new year ahead of us.  Promises of weight loss, a new cream to make us look our best or that "must have" new car so we can drive in style are just some of the many things we hear this time of the year.  We all want a new start each year and we often make resolutions to do some of the things the commercials suggest.  However, within days or weeks, we find that we have already quit on a number of our self-made promises.  For Christians, this includes trying to read the Bible through in a year.  Sadly, we just never seem to get this done, but that doesn't mean we should not try.
Butterflies offer us a symbol of change that is beautiful!
     Weight loss, a new car, a new look are all wonderful goals to shoot for, but nothing will change you as much as a concerted effort to read God's Word on a daily basis.  Listen to what Hebrews says about the Bible in chapter 4 verse 12:  "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  Here the author is telling us that God's Word is both active and living.  To me, this means that I can read it over and over again and the Holy Spirit will bring out something I had missed before to apply to my life.  Furthermore, God's Word is so sharp that it pierces deeply into my being discerning my thoughts and heart intentions.  As a result, it can show me my sin that I may repent.  I love to read but I know of no other book with that type of power and ability.  This is truly a God given, God breathed instrument of change to those who seriously study it.
     In his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16), the Apostle Paul tells this young pastor how valuable the Bible is to us:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,...."  If we yearn to mature in our faith, then we have the perfect tool for that.  The Bible will teach us and correct us in our thinking as well as in our actions.
     According to the New York Times of June 30, 2016, the average person watches about five hours of T.V. a day.  Certainly that is a good deal of time when we could be doing something more constructive.  Yet, the greatest danger from spending all that time watching programs is that they all have a worldview.  The shows all expound a philosophy even if it is not clearly stated.  What we watch affects how we think about life and those around us.  Recently, we have been hearing stories about "fake news" being put out to confuse people and increase their unhappiness with individuals or groups.  We also know that some news outlets are very one-sided in their presentation of news.  With this in mind, we need a foundation of truth that will keep our thinking Christ-minded not worldly minded.  The Bible will do that for us if we will open its pages prayerfully and diligently day after day.  Romans 12:2 tells us:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  When we spend countless hours on social media and television, we are absorbing ideas from many different sources.  Some may be true, but we will never be able to recognize that unless we are students of God's Word.
      Psalms rightly tells us:  "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). We are less likely to stumble and fall in darkness if we have the light of truth to show us the way.  In addition, Jesus, Himself, in His high priestly prayer, asked the Father this:  "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17).  We could go on and on showing the value of God's Word, but the key is to read it daily with the intention of heart to learn from it.  So, how do we go about this?
     There are a number of sites such as that offer free Bible study reading plans for the coming year.  Likewise has numerous devotional books which will help you read through the Bible.  The key is to find what suits your schedule and set a time each day to spend with the Lord both in prayer and reading His Word.  If we ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us, He will do that as we read.
     If we are serious about making some good changes in the coming New Year, we need to make this a top priority.  Whether we study alone, with our spouse or friends, or as a family, we will reap the rewards that come from time before our Heavenly Father in His Word.  May you enjoy a blessed and happy New Year sitting at the feet of our Lord.  Selah!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fractured Relationships

     When we were still living in the frozen north of Ohio, I worked for my father-in-law's radio station. The weather was very cold with a bit of snow and freezing rain, so I was cautious when I went to lunch as the roads were slick.  Arriving at Karl's Diner, I decided to get out of the rain so I trotted across their clean and clear blacktop driveway to get in and pick up my lunch.  The problem was that the driveway was not clear.
     As I ran across the surface, I hit an area of ice and went flying into the air with my left arm pinned under my left side of my body.  Initially, I was shocked and embarrassed.  When I got up my arm hurt, but it was not that bad.  I went in and purchased  my lunch and returned to the station.  While sitting at my desk, I noticed my wedding band getting very tight and my hand starting to swell.  I got my rings off and looked at my arm.  Then, the throbbing began followed by excruciating pain.
Doc McStuffins is ready to fix broken toys!
     When a staff member drove me to a doctor's office, he looked at the results of my x-ray and said that was the worst possible location for a break and I would need surgery the next day if I wanted to use my left arm again.  Since I am left-handed, there was no question of the necessity of this operation.  I went ahead with this and spent about five weeks recuperating.  Naturally, life was not easy during that time since it is hard to fix your hair, take a shower or even dress when one arm is immobilized.  I did manage, though, and learned a lot about the value of my left arm during that time.
I resolved to be much more careful in the future.
     Looking back on that time in my life reminds me that all of us suffered a fracture at birth (Romans 3:23).  We have a broken relationship with God due to sin.  We are born with that condition.  Unless we come to acknowledge our need for a Savior, we live with that broken relationship for years.  In my case, it took 22 years before that breach was healed through repenting of my sin and asking Christ to be Lord of my life.  What a difference this made not only in my relationship with God but also the relationships I had with others.  When we are right with God, then, we can really begin to love others as ourselves.
     Now consider what would have happened if I had not had the surgery on my elbow.  The doctor told me that I could either have it in a bent condition for the rest of my life or I could hold it straight and never bend it again.  In either case, I would have lost full use of my arm.  When we consider spiritual issues, the same is true for our fractured soul.  We can try to patch it up by good deeds.  We can attend church in order to feel better, or we can give money to help others.  Yet, we will never repair that deep fracture through our own efforts.  It requires spiritual surgery done by the work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate us.  He gives us a new heart that is able to come in humility confessing our sins and our need for a Savior.  Jesus gave His all by becoming a man, laying aside the glory of heaven and coming to live a perfect life before us.  Then, He died in our place for our sins.  He completed all that so that we might be healed and whole again.  This is the Good News that we celebrate at Christmas.
      Jesus Christ came to give us life more abundantly (John 10:10).  We can either walk around as a cripple in this life or allow the Holy Spirit to bring healing to our fractured soul.  The Apostle Paul writes that "today is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).  Do not neglect the call that God is making in your life.  Let this Christmas be the most joyful, abundant time as you come to know Christ the Savior as never before.  Selah!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Taking the "Bah, Humbug" Out of Christmas

     Sitting at my computer desk the other day, I glanced up at a colorful poster above the screen.  It lists the nine character qualities that we as Christians are meant to display:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.  Now that is a boatload of good qualities that we are to possess isn't it?  However, think how much more productive, joy-filled and blessed our Christmas time would be if we would demonstrate such expressions of God's love. Contrast that picture with the realities most of us see each day as the holiday approaches.
       While going to the grocery store the other day, a parking space opened up near the store.  I put on my turn signal indicating my intent to take the spot.  As I pulled in, another car honked at me and the driver shook his fist as if to say, "I saw that spot first and I should have had it."    I meant no harm to the other person and in fact, I never saw them indicating his desire for the spot.  Ah, but such is the pressure that often surrounds the build up to Christmas.  People lose their tempers with one another as well as the employees in stores.  Lack of manners, unkind words, and even pushing to get something before someone else does is commonplace.
      When we read the newspaper, there are many tales of folks injured during a "black Friday" sale.   Fist fights and violence can easily erupt all in the name of getting an item for purchase.  If anything, we often see the sin nature emerge when the pressure is on to have the best, the biggest, and the most outstanding Christmas ever.
      Now, step back with me and look at the manger scene in the Bible.  Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, was born in an animal stable.  He did not have the best of everything in terms of accommodations but He was the best gift ever given to us!  This tiny child came to serve, to live and to die for us in our place.  He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  The quiet and peace of that silent night stands miles apart from the raucous noise of shopping malls and the bright holiday lights.
     What's more, when we give our heart to Christ and confess Him as Lord and Savior, there is a radical change within us as well.  We receive a new heart, and as we pour ourselves into His Word, our minds are renewed and change being transformed by the power of His Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 1:13 tells us:  "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit...."  This precious deposit of the Holy Spirit begins the teaching, guiding, comforting work that leads us to that day when we shall see Him face to face.
     In addition to all this, the Holy Spirit brings forth fruit in our life:  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,...." (Galatians 5:22).  When we bear this fruit, people can see it in our lives.  They will know we are different.  Because sin no longer has a hold on us, we are freed from the opposite things that put the "bah humbug" in Christmas:  "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God...." (Galatians 5:10-21).
     Our redemption has fully delivered us from the ill-tempered, self-serving, rebellious person we used to be and placed us in the righteousness of Christ through no effort on our part.  God has done this by the counsel of His Own Will.  How glorious then it is to live f
or Him not just at Christmas but all the time.  When we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we are testifying to the great work God has done in and through us.  We are meant to be a light in this dark world and live differently so that all may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
      Since we have been set free from junkyard dog living, let us put on a smile that radiates the change in our heart.  The world needs to see that we no longer live in the "bah humbug" mindset but have been made a fruitful vine in the house of our God.  This is the true meaning of for Him.  Selah!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Living What We Believe

     I happened upon an article the other day on the internet of an interview with a Christian/secular singer.  She was telling about her new Christmas album in the piece, and saying that she respected the decision of a large Christian book seller not to carry her album.  The company had simply stated that they did not feel the album was "Christian enough" to warrant space in their stores.  Of course this brings about disagreement among some who feel this is not fair.  Yet at the same time there were several statements in the article that led me to have concern over what the artist really believes.
      Her overall tone in the interview was that God is love and He loves all people.  She should never judge anyone no matter how they live.  She also went on to say that her faith was very personal and while she sings some Christian songs, she also has a passion to explore secular music as well.  She does not feel that it is necessary to mention Jesus in all that she does.  Personally, I was surprised to read this and concerned at the same time. I have always believed that when we commit our lives to Christ our work is a reflection of our devotion to is a ministry and should glorify Him.
     A flood of Scripture came to mind like the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21:  "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Then in his letter to the Colossians in chapter 3:23-24, Paul wrote:  "23Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."
     If we are slaves to Christ and given our all to Him, then, doesn't this mean that we declare him by all that we say and do?  I Corinthians 6:19-20 reads:  "…19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body."  Then in the Letter to the Ephesians Paul writes:  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."  The theme running throughout Scripture indicates to me that we have a choice to make in how we live.  We either serve God with all our heart or man.  Jesus said:  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).  Throughout the Scripture, those who are called by God to be His own and who receive the gift of salvation offered through Christ's sacrifice for our sins are then set apart and called to be holy.  This does not mean that we withdraw from all things in the world by any means, but as we walk through life, we are to be the light and salt that points to Jesus Christ as savior and Lord.
     In the article, the comments the singer made indicated a more shallow view of God and man.  The philosophy of "God is love" and loves all of us is true in the sense that He sent His Son into the world to die for our sins.  However, not all men are believers which means that they are not God's children.  They were created by Him but have chosen to live in sin.  Either this singer does not know the doctrines of the faith very well or has succumbed to a very easy believe-ism where we just all want to get along, sing pretty songs, hear easy messages that tickle the ears and be satisfied with that.
     Becoming a Christian is more than a prayer of confession and accepting Christ as Savior.  It involves a real heart change that leads to a hunger for God's Word and a desire to commune with Him in prayer.  To be a disciple is to study the doctrines of the faith and understand what we believe.  Then, we must live it out daily in all that we do.  We are called to be His witnesses in this world, to walk in faith, to teach others the truths found in the Bible and live it out in whatever occupation we have in this world.
     Certainly, I do not know the inner workings of this woman's heart.  She sounds very conflicted in her views nevertheless.  My hope and prayer for her is that she would come to know the depth of Christ so that she could better use her talent to bring others to the Lord she says she believes in.  Fame is fleeting and life is short.  We all would do well to remember that no matter what type of work we are involved in.  Let us make the most of each day and not neglect to learn the doctrines of the faith as revealed in the Bible.  Others are watching, listening, and following us whether on social media or on the job.  Therefore, let us live the faith we profess with sincere devotion so there will never be a question about where we stand when it comes to Jesus Christ.  May His name receive the glory always!  Selah!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Whatsoever Things Are Good

     During this long election season we have gone through, it is hard to keep a positive outlook.  People are tense, out of sorts, and often rude, and a lot of it can be related to the atmosphere created by the contentious times in which we live.  In fact, today I read a story about a woman who wore her
candidates button into a doctor's office.  A fellow sitting across from her in the waiting room got into a disagreement with her over her choice of candidate and went over and struck her on the side of the face with his newspaper.  He indicated he was very sorry for such action but will face legal consequences for his behavior.
     While we may look at that incident and consider it extreme, I do believe it is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment.  So, as believers, how do we get through times like these without losing our peace and perspective?  The Apostle Paul has a clear answer for us in the letter to the Philippians.
A lighthouse in Peninsula Park Wisconsin
Christ is our lighthouse!
     At the time Paul was imprisoned, he wrote to the church to encourage them and thank them for their support.  In chapter 4 verse 8, we read:  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Paul's concern for his brothers and sisters in the faith was that their minds dwell on things uplifting rather than on earthly circumstances.  I believe he had a twofold purpose in writing this.
     First, Paul knew man's propensity for sin.  We have the Holy Spirit living and dwelling in us when we committed our life to Jesus Christ as our Lord.  However, the old man with bad habits and thoughts is there to try to pull us back into the path of sin. An old saying goes, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop and our hands his tools."  When we do not spend time in God's Word, we have put down the sword of the Spirit as our defense.  If we do not talk with God daily, we are missing out on His comfort and guidance.  In addition, we are to be "transformed" by the renewing of our minds, but this only comes as we are immersed in fellowship with the Lord both through His Word and prayer.
     Secondly, I believe that Paul wants our witness to be different than that of the world.  Many in our culture look at only the circumstances and have no peace of mind and heart.  They come across as negative, discouraged and hopeless.  By contrast, as Christians praise the Lord and recount in our own minds all that God has done for us, we are thinking good, pure and lovely thoughts.  After all, we are citizens of heaven not of earth.  We are pilgrims passing through, and God does not want us so caught up in worldly affairs that we lose our witness to a dying world.
     By keeping our minds focused on the pure, lovely and commendable, we are far less likely to gossip, judge one another or meddle in the affairs of others.  It was Jesus who told us in Matthew 12:26: " I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak..."  Idle words come from idle minds that are too immersed in the matters of this world.  Let us strive to live this verse  so that our light may shine before men who can see our steadfast trust in the Lord who works all things together for good to those who love Him.  Be encouraged and think on all He has done for us!  Selah!                                                                            

Monday, October 24, 2016

Just a Reminder....

     A week ago, I received a postcard in the mail reminding me that I had an upcoming dental checkup.  Since I had completely forgotten about this, I was happy to get this helpful note.  I put dates in my smart phone to remind me as well, but there are times when I forget where I laid my phone!  In truth, we all need reminders of appointments as well as other obligations that we have.  We are a forgetful people.
Peninsula State Park Door County, Wisconsin
     Throughout the book of Joshua, God tells the people to leave memorials so that they will remember His deliverance of them into the Promised land.  We read about one such memorial in Joshua 4:19-24:  "19Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. 20Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their
fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23“For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; 24that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”  God did not want His people to forget what He had done so that they would worship and fear Him all their days.
     In the Psalms, we find many occasions where the mighty deeds of God are remembered.  Psalm 105:5-7 reads: " 5Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, 6you his servants, the descendants of Abraham, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
7He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth."  As we continue to read the Psalm there is a call to remember the bondage in Egypt and how the Lord delivered His people.  Recounting the blessings that the Lord gives helps us to remember His presence in our daily lives.  He never forgets His people, and He is always at work on our behalf even when we cannot see it.
     Perhaps the greatest reminders to us of His tremendous grace in our lives is found in the sacraments of baptism and communion.  Both are symbols of the covenant which God has made with us through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  Every time we witness a baptism or partake of the Lord's Supper, we are reminded of the new life we have in Him and His return.  He will come again to receive His bride, and this will be a day of great rejoicing.  Until then, we take part in remembering His precious sacrifice for us.
     When we are discouraged, sick, depressed, tired or otherwise overwhelmed, this is the time to begin enumerating the many ways in which God has touched our lives and blessed us.  He inhabits the praises of His people.  In my own life, I find that singing songs of praise to the Lord help to get my mind off the difficulties and focused back on God.  Likewise, I turn to God in prayer and begin praising Him for who He is.  Again, I feel such a relief when I remember Him who is the helper of my soul.
     This is what David did when He wrote the Psalms and sang to the Lord.  Indeed, he had many troubles, but he learned to look to God.  Some wonderful Psalms of comfort are Psalm 23, Psalm 91 and Psalm 139.  There are others, but these focus on the Lord's care for His own.
     Lets face it, we all need reminders on a daily basis for the things we need to do, but even more importantly, we need reminders each day of all that God has done for us that we cannot do for ourselves.  Look in God's Word, seek fellowship with other believers and pray without ceasing recalling His miracles in your life.  As we do these things, we will rise above this world and the trials that can weigh us down.  Selah!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Time for Prayer

     More and more as this election season drags on, I have found myself in prayer over the condition of our nation and the choices that are before us as voters.  I have lived during the administrations of 12 presidents and I have seen tremendous change in the morals and values of our country.  A drifting away from biblical principles which made this nation strong along with a diminished understanding of our founding documents has weakened the foundation upon which we were built.  The very things which 40 years ago would never have been discussed in polite company are now practiced openly in our culture.  Abortion on demand, disrespect for authority, murder, homosexuality, the break up of the family have all become symptoms of the deeper problem we all have - sin.
     In looking back in God's Word (the only GOLD standard for truth, behavior and life) to the book of Judges, one Scripture stands out clearly to me.  Judges 2:11-12:  "And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals.  And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They went after other gods and among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them.  And they provoked the Lord to anger."  Since His people abandoned Him, God allowed plunderers and enemies to arise against them.  This brought cries of mercy from their lips, and in His graciousness, God raised up judges to save the people.  Unfortunately, once things got better, the people again did evil in God's sight.  This cycle was repeated over and over.  Why?  Sin is the culprit.
      Ever since the Garden of Eden, man and woman have been infected with the sin nature of Adam.  Jeremiah declared:  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"  Jesus said:  "18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander" (Matthew 15:18-19).  Indeed, our Lord never trusted Himself to man for He knew the heart of man.  Instead, He trusted Himself only to the Father and spent many hours in prayer as He walked this earth.
      While our situation in current history is different from ancient Israel, the root cause of our problems then and now comes from the fallen nature of man.  We can and should vote for those seeking office, but we must realize that they cannot save us from all our woes in this world.  There is no guarantee that they can deliver on the promises they make no matter how sincerely they assert their intent.  The only power that can redeem us and bring us peace and satisfaction is found in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  He made the perfect sacrifice through His blood and the offering of His life that we might be delivered from the bondage of sin.  Therefore, as the book of Hebrews tells us:
"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 (Hebrews 4:15).   He, alone, can be trusted to never leave nor forsake us.  God is sovereign, and we can depend on His guidance and protection.
     While I do not presume to know how this election will turn out, I do know that prayer is the key to peace.  It is His peace which passes all understanding when we come to Him in humble intercession for our nation.  He is able to turn hearts and lead many to come to Him for salvation. This is how our nation will be heart at a time as we pray and share our faith.
     As believers and citizens, we have a responsibility to cry out to God for those who lead us and for the present election to come.  Then, we must exercise our right to vote and leave the results up to God.  However, it does not end with this or any election.  Jesus Christ is our King who will come again in glory to rule, reign and bring justice to this earth.  Our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, but while we are here, we must storm the gates of heaven and pray for our nation that many will come to know and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  This is a time to pray. Selah!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

An Encouraging Word

SPECIAL NOTE:  I wrote this devotion in 2013 but I felt it is important for us to think on how we can encourage one another especially during these dismal times in our country.  We need to encourage each other daily or we can be overwhelmed by our political situations at present.  Be encouraged as you read this today.

     One thing that I enjoy doing more than anything else in this world is to encourage someone.  I have always loved people, but when I became a Christian, the Lord enlarged my heart and vision to reach out and encourage others.  It fulfills my calling and gives me joy.
     We all have different gifts from the Holy Spirit it is true.  However, each of us is called to encourage, build up and edify one another in the Lord.  The Bible tells us that times will get harder and that we should  encourage one another.
     Paul, the Apostle, wrote a second letter to the Corinthians after he had chastised them in his first letter for all the dissension and problems they had allowed.  In this second letter, it is easy to see his love for these people and his concern for them.  He even opens his own heart and allows us to see how God used someone in his life to encourage him.
     2 Corinthians 7:5-7 reads:  "For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side:  conflicts without, fears within.  But God who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in  you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more."
     These are words of encouragement that Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  He wanted them to know that it wasn't just the coming of Titus that helped him through depression, and difficulties.  It was the words which Titus encouraged him with...that the Corinthians truly wanted to see Paul again.  What good news to this man who had taken them to task for their behavior in Christian matters!
     Encouragement has a ripple effect almost like throwing a stone into a quiet pond.  When we tell someone encouraging things, they in turn will spread this to others.
     To give you a personal example, I was talking with a friend recently, and she mentioned the name of another lady whom I had not seen in a while.  I told her how much I respected and admired this woman.  Some time later, she had a chance to see this lady and she passed on my words of encouragement.  I received a note in the mail a week later from this woman who thanked me for my kind words to our mutual friend.  What a pleasant surprise I had!
     By the same token, we can also pass along negative statements, gossip, or other things which I assure you will inevitably find its way back to a person being discussed.  The choice of either encouraging or discouraging others is always ours.  However, the results of each are quite different.
     In the Scripture, the Corinthians told Titus how much they loved Paul which encouraged Titus as he saw their changed heart.  Then, Titus told this good news to Paul which carried the encouragement on. The letter Paul wrote to them sent that encouragement and love right back to them to bless them.  It was a circle of blessing.
     Whom can you encourage today?  We have people all around us in our homes, neighborhoods, communities and churches.  We need to remember to lift them up with words that bring encouragement to their spirit and build their faith.  As we do this, encouragement will return to us as well.  Selah!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Sound of Silence

     Somewhere in my busy day with telephones ringing and people talking, I find myself thinking of the many times when I would sit in the pasture behind our barn on a large root-bench of a huge oak tree.  The only sound was the babbling of the Little Turkeyfoot Creek that ran through our property and the soft breeze blowing through the trees.  Even as a child, I cherished these times where I could sit and contemplate the beauty around me in silence.  No words.  Just the quiet rhythm of life and a time of refreshing quiet where I could actually hear myself think.  This is something very rare in our noisy world today.  Yet, I believe that God wants us to be able to have these moments where we cease talking and simply listen to Him.
     Psalm 46 talks about God being our refuge and our strength (vs 1) and ends with this powerful injunction from the mouth of God in verse ten:  "Be still and know that I am God...."  Throughout the short Psalm, the sovereignty of God is seen over all the affairs of men.  He holds the power of the Universe and we can find shelter under His wings.  There is nothing more to say or do.
      How wonderful it is to steal away if only for a few moments each day to sit silently in God's presence looking into His Word and allowing this to speak to our hearts.  Taking time to do this on a regular basis is far more refreshing than spending hours on our Facebook page or watching some empty TV drama.  Jesus made certain to take time away from the crowds to sit and commune with His Father.  In this way, He set an example for us to follow.
     Between our work world and the election campaigns, most of us are overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices all vying for our attention.  Even reading a newspaper can disturb our souls.  With so many different ideas pulling at us from every angle, it is easy to despair.  I often feel that the media enjoys stirring up controversy in order to sell their paper, but we must remember that our peace comes from God alone.  Why?  Because He clearly establishes His rule and reign over us we can trust and rest in:  "Be still and know that I am God."
     An all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present Creator is our refuge in this noisy, busy world in which we live.  He alone has the answers we seek, and He calms us with His tender touch.  The best picture of this is seen in Psalm 23 which tells us that God leads us beside the "still" waters and restores our soul in the green pastures.  Reminds me of our pasture area.
     Remember to take time out of every busy, noisy day and get alone with God.  Simply rest in His presence and enjoy the beauty of His holiness.  Confusion leaves our thoughts when we let God sort out all the details.  Reading the paper informs us but reading His Word transforms us into the likeness of His dear Son.  Selah!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Does It Really Matter?

     At our office the other day, an acquaintance came by and as we were chatting, he made some astounding statements.  He said that he does not understand why we have all these different churches around town.  After all, he continued, we all believe in Jesus and are saved so why do we have to have to be concerned about doctrines?  They don't matter in the scheme of things.  I was somewhat taken aback by his comments.  Didn't he know that the Bible is the foundation for our belief in Jesus Christ?  Didn't he realize that to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that salvation in Him alone is doctrine? defines doctrine in this manner:  "Doctrine means a belief or set of beliefs. The idea that a man named Jesus was the son of God is part of the Christian doctrine."  Doctrine, then, is a critical component of our faith.  It is a set of beliefs and establishes for us our worldview.
     In his sermon series on the book of Ephesians, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke about how the new testament letters were written to correct errors and false teaching even at the beginning days of the church.  He quotes from I Corinthians 15:33 and goes on to elaborate.  "'Evil communications corrupt good manners,' by which he means that if we go astray in our doctrine, eventually our life will go astray as well.  You cannot separate what a man believes from what he is.  For this reason doctrine is vitally important....We are to guard ourselves against being 'tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine', for if doctrine goes astray your life will soon suffer as well" ("God's Ultimate Purpose, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pg 118).  He goes on to encourage us to be students of doctrine so we can keep ourselves free from erroneous teachings.  So how do we go about learning correct doctrine?
     For believers, the answer to that question is the Holy Bible.  It is the foundation of our faith and the only true and infallible rule of faith.  Reading, studying and making God's Word a part of each day strengthens us to do combat with worldly ideas and temptations.  Leaning on our own opinions proves nothing.  The Holy Spirit inspired writer of Hebrews had this to say about it: " For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).  If we really want to have a powerful weapon that can get to the heart of truth, then, we must embrace God's Word.  This book reveals who God is and who we are and how we are to live.
     In another passage, the Apostle Paul penned these words:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness"  (2 Timothy 3:16).  The Bible gives us the words of life, and yes, it is filled with doctrine.
     Likewise, the Westminster Shorter Catechism offers us a summation of the teachings of the Christian faith.  Question 2 says:  "What rule hath God given us to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?"  Answer:  "The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him."  The Scripture proof for this question is 2 Timothy 3:16 among others.  Then, if we move on the question 3, we read:  "What do the Scriptures principally teach?"  Answer:  "The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man."  The proof verse for this is found in 2 Timothy 1:13:  "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
     By reading, first, the Bible and studying The Westminster Shorter Catechism, we can learn the important teachings of our faith (also known as doctrine).  We cannot say that doctrine is unimportant.  As Dr. Lloyd-Jones clearly states, we open ourselves to erroneous teaching if we do not know what we believe and why we believe it.  This is how a cult is started when men lose sight of God's Word.  We are not to add nor subtract from it.
     Unfortunately, there are many today just as there were in the early church who will not abide sound doctrine.  They are biblically illiterate and prefer the soft, feel good messages that are abundant in many places today.  These feel good messages, however, will not guide you into truth or keep you from stumbling when life becomes difficult.  We cannot build on any other foundation other than that laid by our Lord, and this is found in the finished book called the Bible.  Let us be good students of our faith so we are not tripped up by all the false ideas in our world today.  This is how we grow and how we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Selah!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Teach Them Diligently

     Children catch many things as they are growing up:  the flu, a cold, butterflies, balls and yes, even a worldview.  What little ones see in their home forms the basis for many of their perceptions as they are growing up.  This is why it is so important for parents to teach their children the truths of the Bible at an early age.  Praying together at meals and studying God's Word  as a family is just as important for children as doing homework.
     One of the reasons my husband and I felt called to homeschool our four children for 21 years was our desire to instill in them not only a love for learning but also how God is an integral part of every subject.  It took time and sacrifice to stay at home and devote ourselves to this endeavor but we knew it was our parental responsibility to train up our children to be well educated members of society and more importantly, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thankfully, all of our children committed themselves to Christ and have gone on to serve the Lord in various vocations.
     Not everyone is called to home educate their children as far as academic pursuits are concerned.  For those who have their children in private, charter or public schools, the influence and participation as a parent is key to their success.  In addition, instruction at home concerning the Christian faith is crucial because our children and grandchildren are facing an increasingly antagonistic society who have lost their moral foundation.  Going to church once or twice a week is not enough to provide them with all they need.  Certainly it reinforces their faith, but nothing replaces the instruction of parents.

Glenn and I with some of our grandchildren 
     In the Old Testament, God spoke clearly to His people in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 concerning the duty of all men and the responsibility given to parents:  "Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and  they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."  Is there any doubt about the importance of passing on our faith to our children as well as demonstrating it to them in our own lives?    We are not talking about something casual here or every once in a while.  This is an immersion style of teaching which brings our faith into every aspect of life, and it is meant to be daily.
     R.C. Sproul in Tabletalk Magazine for September writes:  "I don't think there's a mandate to be found in sacred Scripture that is more solemn than this one.  That we are to teach our children the truth of God's Word is a sacred, holy responsibility that God gives to his people" (Pg. 5).  One tool which we can use with our children at an early age is the Westminster Shorter Catechism which is a simple question and answer format.  While some may say that this leans on boring tradition, we need to point out that according to Dr. Sproul Scripture teaches that the word "tradition" refers to the passing on of a gift.  We have a gift to share with our children and grandchildren.  We have the gift of salvation and the Good News of Jesus Christ.  How could we not want to pass this along to those we love?
     Indeed, whether we choose to home educate or send our children to public school, the need to teach them the truth of God's Word is imperative to their well-being and eternal destination.  Let us not miss any opportunity to pass along the faith that has been delivered to us .  This is a call incumbent on all parents.  May we be found faithful!  Selah!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Rumor of the Church's Demise is Premature

     Mark Twain, storyteller and author, was reportedly thought to be in poor health.  A newspaper reporter inquired about him and a rumor began to spread that he had died.  Nothing was ever published about this but when Mark Twain heard the rumor, he quipped, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."  In fact, it was his cousin who was very ill.  This happened one other time after this to Mark Twain who must have wondered if people really wanted him dead and buried.  However, he was able to make light of this mistaken information.
     In a similar fashion, I read an article in the Tampa Bay Times (Sunday, August 28, 2016) concerning the dying of white Christian America.  A book written by Robert P. Jones entitled, "The End of White Christian America" was the subject of this article which was an interview with this author.  With numbers declining in many mainline protestant churches (Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian USA), the author points to the dwindling number of white Christians in churches.  Part of this is due to the demographic changes in our country and the increasing number of immigrants who now make up our population.  Other influences include liberalism which has taken these denominations far from their conservative roots.  Likewise, there are many young millennials who do not identify with any faith today and frequently drift in and out of church.
     Culture is another factor according to the author.  The rise of militant LBGT influence on marriage as well as other issues have also served to create division within church bodies.  The author concludes his interview by saying this of his book:  "I begin the book with an obituary for White Christian America and I conclude the book with a eulogy."  Now, if everything ended here, we might want to join in the mourning along with this author.  However, we have a much different picture painted for us in Scripture.
     According to Matthew, the Lord was questioning his disciples and asking them what people were saying about Him.  They answered Him, and then, Peter spoke up clearly declaring that Jesus was the Christ...the Son of the Living God.  Our Lord answered and said:  "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18). Jesus made it clear that upon this truthful confession He would build His church.  He went even further when He said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church.  Despite the view of this author or even society at large, the rumors of the church's demise are premature.
     Yes, I understand that the author was pointing to statistics as well as the aging "Boomer" population that has attended church with regularity.  However, Jesus said that heaven and earth may pass away but His Words will never pass away (Matthew 24:35).  When He says that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church, we can rest assured of its permanence.  We also have to keep in mind that church may take
different forms from what we have known in the past.  For example, in China and other nations where the Christian faith is not acceptable, many house churches have sprung up.  Reports say that the church is growing more rapidly under persecution in these countries than in nations that have "freedom of religion."
     What we must remember in these days where it seems that culture is moving farther away from the values of the Christian faith is that God is still at work to do His good will and pleasure.  He will accomplish all that His Word has said He will do.  He has sent a Savior to redeem those whom He has called to be His own, and He is MORE than able to keep all who are committed to Him.  Therefore, let Satan shake his fist while authors write of the church's demise.  But remember, the Enemy never expected Jesus to rise from the dead breaking the curse of sin and death.  When we read the end of the Bible, we know who wins...even our Lord and His bride the church.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Only Thing We Can Count on is Change

    There is nothing more certain in this life than change.  For some of us (myself included), it can be very unsettling. 

     In the first few years of our marriage, it seemed that all we did was move.  We lived in Columbus, Ohio while my husband was in the College of Optometry.  Following the completion of my husband's degree, we moved back to his hometown to set up his practice.  What a change for us!  We left all of the friends we had grown so close to in Columbus and had to start over again in finding a church home as well as a home for us to live in.
     Then, five years later, my husband felt a desire to move to Florida so he would be able to pursue his hobby of scuba diving as well as escape the icy northern weather.  At this point, I told him that this would be our last move as I was not enjoying the constant packing and unpacking of moving.  In addition, I disliked the personal upheaval of leaving family and friends.
     We moved to Florida in 1979 and have remained in the same community here since that time.  However, we have moved twice since living here from one home to another.  At least we remained in the same town.
     Now I have given you all this as a background to today's scripture.  Look at Psalm 90 and read it in its entirety. This Psalm is attributed to Moses and really points out God's eternal being as versus man's mortality.
     Life, for us, is in a constant state of flux.  We face changes on an almost daily basis.  Most of us want security, but there is only one source for that security...our Lord and our God.  He is constant when we are changeable.  He is faithful while we are often unfaithful.  He is steady while we are unsteady.  The list goes on and on.
     Look at verse 1-2:  "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
     These words of truth and faith on the part of Moses who saw more change in his lifetime than we will ever see.  From day to day, Moses had to cope with the fickle Children of Israel and their wanderings in the desert.  So what did he do?  He looked to the only constant in life - God.
     I don't know about you, but that speaks volumes to me.  When life is topsy turvy and constantly in a state of change, the one thing we can depend on is our Lord.  Hebrews 13:8 says:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever."  Likewise, in Malachi 3:6-7, we get a glimpse of who remains the same and who changes:  "For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.  Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them.  'Return to Me, and I will return to you', says the Lord of hosts.  But you said, 'In what way shall we return?'"
     We all know the saying, "If you feel far away from God, who moved?"  Well, Malachi has a good answer.  We are the ones who often change but the Lord remains the same.  He is our hiding place, our stability in times of uncertainty and our place of shelter.
     If we depend on others, they can let us down.  If we put our trust in the stock market, houses, wealth, family or friends, we are open to disappointment at some time.  However, if we put our trust in Him, we have found a refuge that will not change, disappoint, or leave.
     No one, including me, can predict what tomorrow may bring but we who know Jesus Christ know who holds tomorrow in His hands.  Therefore, we can be confident that whether we move to a new town or have new health issues or suffer disappointment, we have an unchangeable God who loves us and will never leave nor forsake us.  Selah!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What We Cannot See

     I listened to a podcast by one of my favorite preachers Alistair Begg.  He was discussing the book of Habakuk and how it appeared to him that God was not listening to his plea for justice and deliverance for the people of Judah.  The book opens with a cry from the prophet:  "O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?  Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save?" (Habakuk 1:2).  This could well be said even today with all the sin running rampant in our world.  Who among us has not wondered in our hearts why God doesn't instantaneously swoop down and destroy the wicked and restore order.  Like the Prophet Habakuk who questioned what seemed to him to be God's delay, we feel as though God is merely sitting idly by while wickedness seems to win the day.  However, God is never idle.  He was at work then, and is at work now.
     In answer to Habakuk, God says in verse 5:  "Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told."  God had a plan quite different from what Habakuk had hoped for.  The Prophet wanted the people to be brought back to righteousness and revival, but God was planning justice and judgment on this wayward people.  God's ways are much higher than ours and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  We cannot see the whole picture, but we do know that our Lord is good and brings things to pass for the welfare of His people.
     As I considered Habakuk's complaint and God's reply, I could not help but think of other men of the Bible who could not understand how God worked behind the scenes until He showed them.  First, we remember the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8.  He was a man called upon by God to defeat the Midianites who had held power over Israel for seven years as a judgment from the Lord.  When the people cried out to God, He chose Gideon to be the champion who would lead them to victory.
     Upon reading the story, we know that Gideon was anything but a bold man.  However, he was obedient and called together men from various tribes to fight the enemy.  He was seriously outnumbered but God told him to limit his army to 300 men.  They were to carry a trumpet and a torch hidden in a pot.  At the right moment, they were to break the pots so the light shone brightly and blow the trumpets.  God did the rest.  When the trumpets blared and the pots were broken, the enemy was surprised and the Lord caused them to turn on one another with the sword.  As the army fled, more of the tribes of Israel attacked them to won the victory.  I cannot imagine any general using this type of strategy to win against the enemy.  However, God worked behind the scenes doing what Gideon and his men could not see.  Their job was to trust in the Lord to win the battle for them.
     A second Bible hero and Prophet Elisha comes to mind when we consider not being able to see what God is doing behind the scenes.  In this instance, the people of Israel had been raided by the Syrians who were warring against them.  Elisha warned the King of Israel which infuriated the King of Syria.  He wanted to seize Elisha so he sent a large army to surround Dothan.  The Bible tells us that when Elisha's servant stepped outside there was a large army surrounding the place.  He asked Elisha what they should do and the prophet replied:  "....Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16b).  Elisha asked God to open his servant's eyes to see the reality of the situation.  When the Lord did this, the servant saw on the mountain chariots of fire and horses.  This heavenly army was there to defend Elisha.  Then, Elisha asked the Lord to strike the enemy with blindness and when they could not see, the prophet led them to the king of Israel in Samaria.  No battle occurred.  Instead, there was a feast held and after this, the Syrians left.
Certainly this was not the end of the story and more can be read concerning the Syrians.  However, in these two cases of Gideon and Elisha, God was at work behind the scenes.
     What we must take away from these true stories is that God is constantly at work on behalf of His children.  It may not be evident to us or follow our timetable, but we can rest assured that God is unfolding His plan in this world.  He is sovereign over ALL the affairs of men.  Therefore, no matter how things may look or what circumstances we may face, the ongoing story of God's grace and provision for His people continues.  He never ceases, is not weary, never slumbers and always is the rock upon which we can depend.  Take encouragement from Habakuk, Gideon and Elisha.  Our God is a mighty God and He will do all according to His good pleasure.  To Him be the glory!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Worried What Others Will Think

          While reading my Bible this morning, I came across one of the saddest passages in the book of John (chapter 12:42-43).  Here Jesus is preaching to the people of Jerusalem as well as His disciples after His triumphal entry.  John writes a description of some who heard Him speak.            " Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."  This passage made me think, "Not much has changed in the 2,000 years since our Lord walked upon the earth."  Men and women still make professions of faith today, but they are afraid to be different than their pagan friends.
     When we hear someone proclaim they are a Christian but live in a manner contrary to God's Word, they defile the testimony of our holy God.  It is hard to win an unbeliever over to the faith if a person is living with their boyfriend/girlfriend without being married.  Maybe they cheat on taxes or steal from their boss.  They may justify this to themselves, but it does not demonstrate the call of Christ and their commitment to live for Him.  We are, then, no better off than the pagans who live without the Lord.  Our Lord has given to us several callings that will make a difference in our witness.
     First, Christ calls us to holy living.  In I Peter 1:14-16, the Apostle writes:  "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"  We are to throw off old past behaviors and be a living contrast to the ways of this world.  That does not mean that we go off and become hermits, but we are to conduct ourselves according to the Bible.
     Secondly, Christ calls to us profess our faith before men.  Our Savior speaks these words in Matthew 10:32-33:  "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."  The men that John wrote about in his Gospel account believed in Jesus but were unwilling to proclaim it before others for the fear of men.  As that passage said, they were more interested in maintaining their relationship with the leaders of their day rather than honoring God with their lips.  We will face difficulties if we are living for Christ and professing His name.  The world and the sin nature do  not like to hear about God or the Bible.  Why?  Because it condemns their behavior and sinfulness.  It exposes them, and just as in the Garden, they want to hide from God.  So, when we proclaim the name of Christ, it brings conviction upon those outside of the faith.  In the case of the Jewish leaders who believed in the Lord, they could have been expelled from the synagogue.   However, Jesus calls upon believers to confess their faith in public.
     Third, Christ calls us to be salt and light.  He said:  "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.   You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).  These instructions to His disciples should set the tone for our lives.  This is our directive.  We are to be salt so we can preserve this world from further corruption.  Likewise, we are to be a light in the darkness of sin around us.  Our present culture needs both salt and light.  God has chosen us that we might bring these qualities to bear on our work place, our homes and communities.
     If we embrace the philosophy of the leaders that John spoke of in his Gospel, we are like salt that has become good for nothing.  They were afraid of men and not of God.  When we are called to accept God's gracious gift of salvation,  He does all the work in our lives so that we might live to bring Him glory.  His Kingdom, His fellowship is far more precious than the fleeting pleasures of this world. Therefore, we must, with God's help, live a different kind of lifestyle if we call ourselves Christian. 
     Will this be an easy task to stand out from the unbelievers around us?  After 44 years of serving Christ, I can say a confident "no".  It may cost us relationships.  It may cost us a job, but it will be worth all we give up in this life to hear our Lord say to us one day, "Well, done thou good and faithful servant....enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:23a,c).  May we have the courage to let our light so shine that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven!  Selah!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Desert Experience

     Have you ever driven through the desert in New Mexico or Arizona?  As a little girl, my parents drove across the country to a relative's motel in Mesa, Arizona.  Following my bout with polio, I developed bronchitis, and my doctor advised a trip to a dryer climate in order to recuperate.  It was exciting to drive through so many different states and see the sights.  Being from the lush farmlands of Ohio, I was surprised to see the dry, arid desert.  There was nothing for miles but cactus, sage brush and sand.  At one point in our journey, we got caught up in a sand storm and had to stop along the side of the road until the wind and sand slowed down so we could see.  Compared to Ohio, the area seemed very barren.  In many ways, this can happen in our Christian life too.
     There are times in our lives when we have been resting in the lush green grass near a quiet stream.  Our spiritual walk is rich with beauty and a closeness to God that is hard to describe.  Then, something changes and it seems that we have stepped into an arid, dry period in our life where God seems far removed.  Our lips become parched, and we wonder if this time will ever pass.  If it is true for us individually, it is also true for our nation.  We have moved into a time of dryness as a country far from the rich pastureland of our Lord.  Yet God promises hope for all who trust in Him and this is also my prayer for our nation and the nations of this world.
     In Isaiah 44:3 we read:  "The Lord says, 'I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring.'"  This is the foretelling of the Messiah to come who will bring water to the thirsty soul, and when we drink of this water, we will never thirst again!  Yes, there are the dry places in life that come to all of us, but with the Holy Spirit living in and through us, we have a resource to replenish our weary souls.  We know that we will blossom again.  The greatest news though is that God promises to pour out His Spirit on our descendants and bless our offspring.  For me that is both reassuring and encouraging.  I long for my children and descendants to know and love the Lord as I do that they may walk in the blessings of our Savior Jesus Christ all their days.
     Presently, the nations of this world as well as our own country are experiencing the desert of uncertainty with terrorism, economic breakdown, and uncertain times.  We need the tender mercy and grace of our Lord to intervene and bring the rain upon our world.  Daily we need to pray that God will pour out His Spirit upon each country that eyes may be opened and hearts won to Christ.  This is the only way things can ever heart at a time.
     For those going through the dry places in life right now, rejoice because God is always there to give us the water of life we thirst for.  Prayer, reading the Word, and staying in fellowship with other believers is the key to restoring a closer walk with Christ.  He is our Good Shepherd who will once again lead us beside the still waters and restore our souls.  Trust in Him for He will bring us through! Selah!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven

     As I write this, we are in another whirlwind of political activity with a major election just months away.  Tempers flare, promises are made that cannot or will not be kept, rumors fly and occasionally violence erupts as the process goes forward.  Unfortunately, stress levels start to soar and many turn their T.V.'s off to avoid the endless commercials.  For Christians, choosing the right person to vote for is often a difficult task in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It would be wonderful to think that a candidate is a devoted believer in Christ with high moral values.  However, even if we have such a person, they would never be perfect because the Bible tells us plainly that "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10).  Our righteousness comes from Christ alone, but as long as we walk on this earth, we will struggle with the sin nature.  There was only one who was perfectly righteous, just and holy and that is our Lord Jesus Christ.  With this in mind, what can we do to calm our concerns, lower the stress level and keep our perspective?
   First, we must remember that we are citizens of heaven.  We are merely passing through this world with its trials.  Jesus, in His high priestly prayer (John 17) said that we are in the world but not of the world.  God has set us apart and our affections need to be aimed towards our heavenly home.  This world is passing away and God will bring a new heaven and a new earth one day.
     Presently, our Sunday School Class is doing a study of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones series on the Book of Ephesians.  The 8 volume set is drawn from the sermons he preached in London at his church.  In Volume 1 "God's Ultimate Purpose", Dr. Jones writes this:  "For this reason the attitude of the Christian towards the things of this world, towards the discussions and the striving that go on between men and women is always one of detachment.  I have heard two statements recently that illustrate my point.  I heard one man say that he did not understand how any Christian could possibly be a Conservative.  But I heard another say that he really did not understand how any Christian could possibly be a Socialist.  The fact of the matter is that both are wrong; any attempt to equate the teaching of the New Testament with any one of the political parties, or any other party, is to do violence to the teaching of Christ.  The Christian, by definition, does not get excited about these things; he rides very loosely to them because heaven is his home.  He is a citizen of heaven, and his blessings are there, not on earth" (pg. 65).  I think this is why so many of us get upset over politics among other things.  We cannot control the outcome in this fallen world because we are not in charge.    Our home is in heaven under the governance of our heavenly Father who is perfect, holy, just, loving, kind, and freely gives to us all we need for life and godliness.  Keeping our focus on our heavenly home, remaining calmly detached as much as possible while at the same time praying for our world, our leaders and others will help us maintain our balance.
     While we look at things and wonder how they could ever work out, God is not surprised.  He is sovereign over all the affairs of men and sets rulers in place according to His plan.  Romans 13:1 says:  "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."  Daniel, in the Old Testament, tells us:  "It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding" (Daniel 2:21).  Knowing that God is sovereign should give us great comfort.  He is Lord over all things; therefore we need not worry.
     Finally, and most importantly, we must remember that while we may think the world is falling apart at the seams, God is working His purpose and plan.  Today, I listened to a podcast by Dr. John MacArthur concerning the times we find ourselves in.  He said we need to remember that it all started in the garden of Eden.  After the fall, all kinds of sin, evil and perversion broke out upon the earth.  Polygamy came into practice, homosexuality, idolatry and other sins are clearly found in the book of Genesis.  There is nothing new in this world!  Yet, God did bring judgment upon those sins and sinners through the flood.  There will come another day of reckoning to our world when Jesus Christ comes to rule and reign.  Then, and only then, will all things be put right.
     Dear friends, we are called to walk in this world but be not of this world.  We are the ambassadors for Christ.  What people are looking for today (though they may not even realize it if they are dead in their sins) is a Savior.  They want a perfect man/woman to rule the nation.  Over and over again with each political cycle, people pin their hopes on their candidate who will solve all their problems.  Our job is to let them know that there is a perfect leader who has already come into this world, died for our sins, risen from the dead and is coming again to set all things right.  He will never disappoint.
     Our calm in the midst of political firestorms will make people wonder how we can do it.  This gives us a chance to tell them about whom we serve and how He will never leave nor forsake us.  Selah!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In the Midst of Darkness - Bless the Lord

     When the wind of trouble blows our way and it seems that the evil prosper, we are called to do something totally counterintuitive to our human nature.  We are called to bless the Lord and praise His name as David did so frequently in the Psalms.  Perhaps this is why I have always loved these beautiful songs of the Bible.  David found comfort and strength when he poured out his soul before God and we can too.
     Psalm 103 (one of my all time favorites) calls us to praise the Lord.  It begins with:  "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name" (vs. 1).  This call to worship asks us to put our whole heart into lifting up God's name.  As we lift Him up, He, also, will lift us up out of the darkness that can so easily envelope our minds.  It is hard to be depressed at the same time we are blessing God.  Then, David goes on and tells us to bless the Lord and not forget His many benefits to us not the least of which is the forgiveness of our sins (vs. 2-3) as well as healing our bodies.  God is, indeed, good.
     When we stop to consider the forgiveness of our sins, we read these words:  " far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us" (vs. 12).  Meditating for a moment on that thought should bring us great peace.  God forgives and remembers our sin no more through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even in physical bondage whether by sickness or man's doing, we are still free in our spirit.  We have favor with God and are heirs with Jesus Christ.  This is the greatest reason for blessing the Lord.  However it does not end there.
Jesus is the light in our darkness.
     In verses 4 through 6, David lists more reasons to bless the Lord:  He redeems our life from the pit; He satisfies us with good so we are renewed with strength like an eagle; and the Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed.  What a mighty God we serve!  Looking at the word "oppressed" we can see a multitude of situations that God provides relief for us.  We may be oppressed with negative thoughts over situations we cannot control.  We may be oppressed financially and cannot find a job, or we may be oppressed for being a Christian (especially in other nations of this world but already coming our way here in this country).  For all these situations, God works righteousness and justice.
      God's character alone gives us great reason to bless His name.  He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and does not deal with us according to our sins.  However, the Psalm does tell us that He will not keep His anger forever (vs.9).  There will be a final day of accounting.  The first time comes when we die and the second comes at the Great White Throne judgement (Rev. 20:11-15).  All we need to do is look back to the days of Noah and the great flood to see how God deals with unrepentant wickedness.  Therefore, we have all the more reason to live for His glory, obeying His commands and loving one another.
      Because of our relationship with God through Christ, we know that He looks upon us with compassion as a father looks upon His child.  He knows we are weak, and that our walk upon this earth is just for a short while.  Yet, God's steadfast love goes on forever towards those who love and live in awe of Him even to our children's children.  I love that promise!  I desire for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to love and serve the Lord all their days.
      Finally, David summarizes the Psalm by calling upon the angels, hosts and ministers to bless the Lord.  He calls upon the works of God and all creation to bless the Lord and concludes with:  "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (vs.23).  Just meditating on all that God is and has done for us should lift us up even in our darkest hours and most difficult times.  There is power in praise for it drives the darkness away.  The Lord knows we need this for our nation, for our churches and our families.
       May we be a people who bless the Lord rather than curse the darkness for He is the light of the world.  All the powers of evil shall not prevail against God's church or His people for we are free by the power of Jesus Christ.  Selah!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Learning to Make Adjustments

     There is nothing more certain in life than change, and most of us do not like change.  So from my perspective of life and experience, I can honestly say that we have to learn to adjust.  We have to adjust our expectations when some of our dreams do not come to pass.  We have to adjust to new circumstances that come with marriage, a baby, loss of a job, injury or sickness.  The list can go on and on.  The sooner we can learn to adapt to our ever changing life here on earth - the better off we will be when it comes to finding contentment.  Let me suggest that it is far easier to make adjustments when we are relying on the Holy Spirit than when we try to do it in our own strength.
     Of all the inspired writers of the Bible, the Apostle Paul is definitely someone who had to adjust to change in his life.  In his letter to the Philippians (4:11-13), he expounds on the secret to his contentment in this life:  "11Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  His ability to find peace in the midst of trials rested in his faith.  He knew that Christ gave him the peace to carry on.  Isn't this what we want in life?
     To give us some perspective, we must look at what Paul tells us about his life.  We know he is a citizen of Rome and well trained in Judaism.  However, after he met the Lord, his life really required learning how to adjust to a new way of living that brought challenges with it.  2 Corinthians 11:24-27 puts it this way:  "24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."  I cannot even begin to imagine going through all that Paul experienced; yet in it all, Christ strengthened him in faith.
     Perhaps the greatest key to learning how to adjust and adapt to the twists and turns in life is found in the same letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:7):  "For we live by faith, not by sight."  When we spend our time looking at circumstances, it can be depressing.  However, fixing our eyes of faith on our Lord and His kingdom to come will keep us on the path to contentment no matter what transpires.  In order to do this, we must be students of God's Word and a person of prayer.  The Bible cleanses our mind so that we can think God's thoughts after Him, and sincere prayer gives us a chance to lay down our burdens and be refreshed by our Lord.  This is where we find solace, comfort and wisdom in a fallen world.
     We cannot change anything by wishing it away.  However, we can rely on the Holy Spirit within us and learn to adjust to whatever we face today.  God always shows us the way and gives us wisdom if we just ask Him for it.  Our goal in life is to live a contented life no matter what circumstances we are in so that we might glorify the Lord.  Like the Apostle Paul we must learn to live by faith and not by sight!  Selah!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Singing Our Theology

     As a little girl, I remember attending church with my parents and sister.  Standing next to my mother, I always thought what a beautiful voice she had as she sang the old hymns.  I wasn't able to read yet so I could not join in, but I did learn by heart the "Gloria Patri" and the Doxology.  Repeating them week after week left them embedded in my heart.
     Throughout my childhood and well into my adult years, I recall various hymns that have blessed me.  When my Grandfather died, they played his favorite hymn
in church, "The Old Rugged Cross".   Later in my life when I would visit home, I remember hearing my father play "Sweet Hour of Prayer" on the organ.  He loved that song.  So when I came across a list I could join on the internet that shared one or two hymns a day, I joined it.  Since that time, I have been posting many of those old hymns on my Facebook timeline.
     Attending a recent birthday party, one of my daughter-in-law's family members remarked to me that she enjoyed seeing the hymn postings every day.  She said one of her Sunday School teachers used to say that when we sing a hymn, we are singing theology to ourselves.  I thought that was a great statement.  What we sing in church ought to not only bring praise to God but it should also reinforce the doctrine and truths of Scripture.  One way to do this is to sing the Psalms.  A sister reformed denomination does this  exclusively.  Other portions of Scripture have also been set to music, and this aides in memorization.
     Some of the earlier hymns of the faith are the best (in my opinion) as they conveyed the foundations of our beliefs.  One such hymn which is often sung today is Holy, Holy, Holy:
Verse #1
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Verse #2
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who wert, and art, and evermore shall be.

Verse #3
Holy, holy, holy! Tho' the darkness hide Thee,
Tho' the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Verse #4
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise Thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

     Looking at these lyrics, we see mention of the Trinity, the angels worshipping the Lord and all creation praising Him.  The song is God centered worship as it should be.  Singing this strengthens our foundational beliefs.
     Several years ago, I attended a contemporary Christian service and we sang a song made popular by "Delirious ?" an English contemporary Christian group.  The lyrics to the song "I Will Follow" stood out in my mind:
     I've found love, as deep as the ocean,
And your eyes, they hit me like a train
And your words serenade me like the sweetest of songs
Here I find peace again, again

I will follow, I will follow
I will follow, I will follow

There's a song, and it's louder than music
Can you hear me when there's no sound?
Joy, coz I dance with the angels
Take me higher, I'm not coming down.
And your words serenade me like the sweetest of songs
Here I find peace again

I will follow, I will follow
I will follow, I will follow

The sentence that bothered me the most was the description of the eyes of God hitting us like a train.  Yet, in the song, there is no mention of Jesus or God directly.  When compared to the words of "Holy, Holy, Holy", there is a sharp contrast in what is being conveyed.
     Theology matters and so do the words which we sing.  When we worship, we are to give God the glory and lift His name up.  It is not about us, our feelings or experiences.  Some songs and music are better suited  for the stage in an entertainment venue rather than a worship service.  I realize this is not a popular idea or trend in the church today.  However, I have shared this to point out the value of the hymns that may seem outdated to some but which contain good theology.  My prayer is that our worship will be acceptable to the Lord and bring glory to His name.  Likewise, I pray that we may watch all the words that come from our mouth (whether spoken or sung) as we will have to give account for them one day (Matthew 12:36).  Selah!