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!