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!