Monday, June 12, 2017

No Place to Run...No Place to Hide

     Our grandchildren delight in playing the game of "Hide and Seek" in our home when they come for a visit.  I have to admit that some of their hiding places are very good too.  However, there are times when a giggle gives them away, and they are quickly located.
     As adults, we often try to play this game in more sophisticated ways. My husband and I enjoy watching true crime programs where detectives use modern forensic techniques to discover who committed a crime.  In almost every case, the person responsible leaves a clue behind which leads to their eventual arrest.
      When we do something wrong, we try to hide it from those around us as well as God.  We may be able to fool friends and family, but we can never hide from God.  All we have to do is look back to the Garden of Eden.  After Adam and Eve sinned, their first response was to cover themselves and hide from God.  Yet, God knew where they were all the time, and He also knew what they had done. There is no place for us to escape the all-knowing, all-seeing God who made us.
     One of my favorite Psalms is 139.  In this beautiful Psalm, David describes the intimacy with which God knows us:  "O Lord, you have searched me and know me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me."  Now that is knowing someone very intimately and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, God knows each one of us in the same way.  In some ways that can be unsettling especially if we think we are hiding something.  As David said, He knows our thoughts and what we are going to say before we even say it!  This calls to mind a children's song that goes:  "O be careful little eyes what you see...for the Father up above is looking down in love so be careful little eyes what you see."  It goes on to mention ears and mouth as well.  We would do well to remember that little ditty before we say something we should not.
Our grandson Hudson hiding in his tent
     David goes on in this Psalm to also describe that there is really no way to escape God's presence.  Verses 7-12 read:  "Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you."  Like Adam and Eve, we may think we have successfully hidden from God so that He may not see what we have done, but we would be wrong, and there is a very good reason for this.
     In verses 15-16, David writes:  "My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them."  At this, we should be amazed.  God created us and formed every part of our being laying out the days we will live.  There is no one who knows us more intimately than God.  So how should we respond to this knowledge?
     First, we must realize that even if no one else sees us commit a sin God does.  Being everywhere present and with us always, we have the unseen Creator who doesn't miss any detail of our life.  Therefore, when we sin, we must be ready to come in repentance to God and confess what we have done and seek His forgiveness.  Keeping a short account also keeps our relationship with the Lord intact (I John 1:9).
     Second, we can trust in a God that knows us and loves us in spite of ourselves.  The heavenly Father loved us so much that He sent His only Son to take our punishment for sin so that we might be forgiven and restored.  He proved His love with the blood of a new and better Covenant.  What security we have through Christ our Lord!
     Finally, we have the assurance that when others do not understand us, God does.  He made us, He knows all our days, our thoughts and even our weaknesses.  Therefore, day or night, we can, through the blood of Jesus Christ, come to Him.  We do not have to hide any more now that Christ has broken the bondage of our sin.  We can come freely to the throne of grace any time in order to talk with our Creator.
     Realizing that we cannot escape the eye of God, we need to keep short accounts as David desired to do.  He closes this beautiful Psalm with these words in verses 23-24:  "Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!"  When we ask God to reveal to us our motives/sins, He will be faithful to do that.  This will help us to live a holy life before Him and bring greater glory to His name.  Selah!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Blame Game

     Lately the news has been revealing more than just current events.  On two occasions, I listened as a comedienne and a politician tried to blame their failures on everything but the kitchen sink.  In the comedienne's case, she blamed the victim of her grisly satire leaving me to scratch my head and say, "How does that even sound reasonable?"  Both cases, though, reveal something about all of us.  We have a sin nature and it shows up whenever we do not want to acknowledge something we have said or done in violation of God's Word.  The Bible makes it clear:  "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
     This "blame game" is not new to us.  As my husband says, "It started in the Garden."  Indeed, when God confronted Adam with his disobedience, he blamed Eve.  Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent. Since that time, has anything changed?  All we have to do is watch children when they are caught disobeying a parent.  The justification for doing what they did comes pouring out of their lips very easily.  Unfortunately, we all have this bent both in our thinking and in our hearts.  All we have to do is read through the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 to see if this isn't so.  Have we lied?  Have we taken God's name in vain?  Do we honor the Sabbath as a holy day of rest?  What about stealing, bearing false witness against our neighbor or even lusting after what someone else has?  There is no one who has kept the Law of God perfectly except for Jesus Christ.
      Back in the Garden, God promised to send a redeemer who would deliver us from the bondage of sin.  He would perfectly fulfill the Law of God and take our sins upon Himself dying in our place to pay the price so we do not have to endure eternal punishment in Hell.  God even gives us the faith to be able to turn and receive this gift of His Son.  Now I write this not just for those who have never understood what it means to accept the free gift of salvation but also for Christians who still may not comprehend how great our salvation is.
     Before we come to Christ, we are dead in our sins and unable to make the right choices.  The Reformers called this "total depravity" meaning we are infected throughout our mind and spirit with sin.  It does not mean we were as bad as we could be.  However, when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes so that we might repent of our sins and turn to Christ, we are now able to choose the right course according to God's Word.  In fact, we desire to please the Lord and serve Him.  Even more, the Holy Spirit guides, teaches and enables us to serve God.
     As believers, we are free from the bondage of sin, but that does not mean we will never sin again.  We still have to contend with our old nature that wants to draw us back into sin.  Ah, but God has made a way for us to come back into fellowship with Him when we stumble
(I John 1:9).  From start to finish, God had a plan to save us.  What Good News for this hurting world!
     Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his series of sermons on Ephesians 2 reminds us that God not only provides a way of salvation, but He also keeps us through the power of the Holy Spirit that we will never be lost again.  What's more, He will never leave nor forsake us.  This is the blessing we have from God in Christ.  It is no small thing.  He took us from the pit of despair and sin where we made excuses for our misdeeds to a new life where there is no longer condemnation but forgiveness.
     Whether you are a person reading this who has never heard this before or a seasoned believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, think on the things I have written.  We do not have to walk through life with excuses blaming others for what we have done.  Instead, we have an advocate in Christ who breaks this continual bondage.  He, alone, has all we need for life and godliness.  Selah!
   

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What Does It Mean to be a Friend?

     Lately, I have been thinking about friendship and what it means.  My mother used to tell me that if I wanted to have friends I needed to be one first.  This is really sound advice because we cannot sit in our homes without any interaction and expect people to seek us out.
     In His instruction to His disciples, Jesus told them what it means to be a friend.  We find this in John 15:14-17:  "You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.  Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  This is my command:  Love each other."  What an honor and privilege to be called a friend by Jesus Christ.  However, we must never take this for granted.  We are His friends when we come to believe that He is the way, the truth and the life.  Once we have made that commitment, we must follow what He has instructed us to do...love one another and live the way He has told us to in His Word.
Long time friend Julie who came to visit
     Being a good friend in the biblical sense is first of all sharing with one another.  Jesus told His disciples what the Father had told Him.  Likewise, we need to be able to share our hearts with one another in a loving spirit.  I hate to say it but in our day, we fall far short of being able to even have civil conversations with one another on any issues.  There is a spirit of contention out there, but we do not have to live like that.  We can set an example of Christ-like friendship by being kind, listening to others points of view without attacking them, but holding firm the truths of our faith.  In many cases, just being a shoulder to cry on is what our friends really need.   Like Jesus, we need to share the love of God with our friends and be someone they can trust with their confidences.
     Secondly, a good friend is someone who loves us "warts and all".  Jesus loved us that way.  In fact, He loved us so much that He died in our place on the cross.  How can we then pick on another person's imperfections when God has forgiven us so much at such a high cost?  Besides, Jesus told us that if we loved one another it would demonstrate to the world that we are Christians.    The world system by contrast is marked by hatred, greed, envy, and strife.  On top of all this, friendships in the world are rarely deep or lasting.  Instead they are formed as a matter of convenience or control.  I believe that deep in our hearts is a desire for true and lasting friends who will not betray us.  We have that in Jesus Christ.  His love for us sets an example of how we are to love one another.  So how do we flesh this out?
     I know in my own life, I have not always been the best friend I could be.  There are times when I have not extended myself to others as I ought to or phoned them just to check on how they are doing.  It is little things like this that make us a good friend.  I believe that between brothers and sisters in Christ this is so important because it acts like a framework of accountability.  We are to laugh, cry, pray and care for one another.  If the friendship is rich, it usually works out that when one is down the other is up.  That is why we need one another.  We were made for relationship.
     Perhaps one of the greatest and yet most difficult parts of being a friend is telling another person the truth in love.  We hear that term a lot, but really do not know what it means.  It does not mean attacking another person but rather, it means being willing to sacrifice self and tell someone the truth knowing that they might reject us.  Jesus did that many times.  He told the woman caught in adultery to "go and sin no more."   This is one of the hardest things we ever have to face with our friends or even our family, but if we never tell someone they are about to fall in a pit, we will be sorry when they are injured.  Proverbs says:  "The kisses of an enemy may be profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Proverbs 27:6).  I would rather have a friend wound me with the truth for my soul's sake than to tell me lies to tickle my ears and lead to my destruction.
     Jesus was a perfect friend.  He sticks closer than a brother, and shows us, by laying down His life for us, what real relationship is all about.  As believers, how do you treat your friends?  Are you willing to take time to talk to them, pray for them and reach out to them?  If ever the world needed something now...it is genuine friendship and love that Christians have to offer.   Be a friend to someone today.  Selah!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lord Change Me!

     With all the turmoil in our world today, it is easy to feel discouraged and overwhelmed.  Many of us turn to prayer when the going gets tough and that is a great place to begin.  However, we need to take a second look at how we are praying.  Too often we focus on changing others, changing the people we work or live with, changing our leaders in government or in church.  Instead, we need to take another approach.
     Instead of asking God to change everything around us, we need to ask Him to change us.  We need His wisdom to see our life as He sees it.  When we pray, we need to ask the Lord to lead and guide us that we might find the purpose for which He has made us.  Furthermore, we need to ask for His will to be done and not ours.  Too often, due to our sin nature, we think the problems we face are someone else's fault.  If they would change, then we could be happy.  Certainly, we can ask God to work in another person's life for His glory and purpose, but we must also remember that we may need a change in our attitude and thinking as well.
     According to the Bible, sin has utterly corrupted our thoughts, words and deeds.  In the Garden of Eden, man was like a pure glass of water.  However, man allowed Satan to put one drop of poison in the cup, and the water became corrupt.  That is how we are affected by sin.  When we come to Christ, we begin a journey of sanctification which will be complete when we see Him face to face in heaven. Until then, we struggle with sin which wants to pull us back to our old habits and perspectives.  Living in a fallen world with all its temptations does not make the journey easy but this is where prayer comes in as well as a study of God's Word.  Scripture tells us in Romans 12:2:  "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."  Talking with our Lord each day...throughout the day....brings a change of heart and mind like nothing else can do.
     God's desire and plan for us is to be conformed to the image of His dear Son that we might glorify Him.  With this in mind, we need to be asking God to change our way of looking at others, our job, our church, our community and even our government.  By all means,  we  should and must pray for those around us, but we also need to keep in mind that we are a work in progress too. I confess some of this is hard to understand because God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  This is where we must trust Him and the work He is doing in our lives.
     Mickey Evans (a Pastor now in glory with the Lord) started a ministry at Dunklin Memorial Camp.  He reached out to those with life controlling problems that were breaking up families.  He reminded people in his care about "The Bombshell Theory".  It goes like this:  We cannot change another person by any direct action on our part.  We can only change ourselves and others tend to change as they see the change in us."  This change in our lives is a powerful witness to God's grace through Jesus Christ.  This is why we need to cry out to God, "Lord change me!"  Then we need to say confidently, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".  It is not "my" will be done.  
     Even if God came and changed our circumstances and all the people around us, we still would not be happy.  Until we allow Him to work in us by prayer and His Word, we will never know the contentment we can have as we walk through this world.  Begin today and ask the Lord to change your outlook and understanding that we might be ready to bring glory to His name.  Selah!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Abiding in the Vine

     Recently our son and son-in-law worked hard trimming back branches on our property.  With a machete in hand as well as a chain saw, they worked tirelessly cutting back the overgrowth.  Then when they had finished, they dragged the branches into piles for later disposal.  While the branches were green and filled with life when they were first trimmed, a week later the piles of branches had
turned brown and were quite dead.  It was a striking contrast and one that made me recall the instruction that Jesus gave to His disciples concerning abiding in the vine.
     In the Gospel according to John, we read these words spoken by our Lord:  " 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:4-8).  I love how Jesus speaks in simple terms using nature to point out how important our relationship to Him is for us.
     One of the first points that our Lord makes is that we need to be attached to Him if we want real life.  He said he was "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).   Certainly apart from Him, we have no life.  We are like the dead, dry branches piled up in our yard.  Likewise, in this condition, we cannot do anything because we are not joined to the source of life.  We cannot produce fruit in our lives because we are withered and have no ability to do this on our own.
     However, if we are joined to Christ by confession and repentance trusting in Him for salvation, we are joined into the vine where streams of living water fill our souls and satisfy our longings.  Furthermore, Jesus told us we must abide in Him.  According to the International Study Bible Encyclopedia, the word "abide" means:  Old English word signifying progressively to "await," "remain," "lodge," "sojourn," "dwell," "continue," "endure".   All of these definitions lend the notion that we are to have intimate relationship with our Savior.  We are to stay close to Him and He will stay close to us.  As a result, we will produce fruit which, in turn, glorifies God.  In addition, fruit also demonstrates to the world that we belong to Christ.  This appears, at first glance, to be an easy job.  All we have to do is abide in Christ.    Unfortunately, we have the old nature still clinging to us.  When we give in to it and pull away from Christ, we are unable to succeed in bearing good fruit.  He is our source and life.  As He said, "apart from me you can do nothing."
     There are those outside of the faith who try hard to do things on their own, but they can never succeed without God's help.  Adam and Eve found that out in the Garden.  Humanists have tried to perfect man with every passing generation with little apparent success.  Secularists, globalists, communists, socialists and all the other "ist's" have tried but none can produce the fruit of righteousness that comes alone through Christ as we abide in Him.
     Let us take to heart the lesson of those branches which were cut off on our property.  They withered and died because they were separated from the source of life.  May we know that our life, power and fulfillment come when we abide in Him...it is not in what we can do but what and how He produces the fruit in our lives for His glory.  Selah!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Diffusing His Fragrance

     In my home, I enjoy using essential oils.  A few drops in the water container of my diffusers, and the house is filled with a lovely scent.  I am always amazed how just a small amount of oil can produce such a powerful fragrance that seems to fill the rooms.  In the same way, we, as Christians, are to bring our faith to bear on every aspect of our lives so that others will see the love of God within us.  We are to be salt and light in this world of darkness, and like the diffusers I use in my home, we are to be the fragrance of Christ that permeates every portion of our world.
     Presently, around the world, there seems to be a clash of ideas like we have never seen before.  On one side, we see those who believe that man is the measure of everything.  This camp believes we are getting better all the time, and that all we need is a government who will meet all the needs.  These ideas came to the forefront during the Renaissance and have morphed into a movement that has spread across the globe.  According to the American Humanist Society, the definition is as follows:  "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."  That does not sound bad does it?  However, one of the banners on their page reads:  "Good without God".  This whole set of ideas really did not start in the Renaissance.  Rather, this concept was introduced in the Garden of Eden when Satan whispered to Eve, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  Of course, we know that Eve ate the forbidden fruit and so did Adam.  Who would not want to be like God?  Why do we need Him if we can be like Him?  The motto of humanism at that website "Good without God" sounds very much like the serpent in the garden.
     On the other side of the equation, we find those who have embraced the truth found in the Bible which declares that God is our provider, sustainer, Creator, healer, King and Sovereign.  He is the only one who can meet our needs and the only way to salvation is through His Son Jesus Christ.  The ultimate picture of the clash between two world views comes when Jesus stood before Pilate the Roman head of state for the region.  When challenged by Pilate to answer his questions, Jesus' replies reveal the wisdom of God incarnate.  "Then Pilate said to Him, 'So you are a king?'  Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king.  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.'  Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?'" (John 18:37-38).  This is exactly the conflict we face as believers.  We have those who say "What is truth? After all, isn't everything relative?"  Yet, our response must be that we are proclaiming the truth, living it day to day, and following the only One who can truly meet all our needs.
     In a recent article in The American Family Association Journal, Dr. Stephen McDowell president of the Providence Foundation (providence foundation.com) and an author wrote a very good article entitled "Why do the leftists (still) rage?"  He argues that the great divide in our nation today is a clash of worldviews.  He says of this divide:  "It centers on such important issues as life, the family and morality - views on which the Bible is clear."  Indeed, our Lord told us that if the world hated Him it would also hate us.  We will face tribulations, but we are to continue diffusing the fragrance of Christ wherever we go because the Lord overcame the world.  Despite opposition, we have been commissioned to share the truth even if there are those who resist it.
     If we are to fulfill our call to be salt and light in this world, we must apply our Christian worldview according to Scripture to every area of our lives.  There is no room for compromise.  We cannot say, "This is my belief based on God's Word, but I do not want to bring it into my workplace, politics, or school."  Jesus said, "32Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven. 33But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven.…(Matthew 10:32-33).  We have a truth to proclaim.  Not to prove that we are right, but to save men and women from eternal separation from God.  With the Holy Spirit's help, we can fulfill the call to be a sweet fragrance filling every space in this world with the truth that will set others free.   My prayer is that His Word would
dwell richly in each of us that it will effect all we say and do.  May we be faithful to this task that we might glorify God.  Selah!

Friday, April 21, 2017

MAKING MELODY TO THE LORD

     When I was a little girl, I remember very well attending church with my parents.  I was in awe of my mother's beautiful soprano voice as she sang hymns during the service.  It was the most striking memory, and I remember thinking that maybe one day I would be able to sing as well as she did.  All those precious hymns we sang found a place in my heart and to this day, I often break out singing in my kitchen or while doing chores around the house.  Not only is it a pleasant memory, but it is way for me to express my joy in the Lord and what He has done for me.
     King David learned this truth in his early years as well.  Tending his father's sheep was hard work and lonely too.  However, David spent time singing to the Lord the beautiful words of praise we find in the book of Psalms.  Using song, David poured out his heart before the Lord and these words were later sung by our Lord Jesus and His disciples in worship.  Psalm 98:4-5 tells us:  "4Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King."  Then in Psalm 100:1-2, the author tells us:  " Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. 2 Serve t
he Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing."  Whether we are gifted singers or can only make a joyful noise unto the Lord, He is well pleased when we lift our voices to Him in praise.
     In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote these words of admonition to believers:  "19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ."  I love the phrase..."making melody with your heart to the Lord".  This should be our goal daily.  If our heart is filled with thankfulness to God and praise, we will not dwell on our circumstances.  Our lives may be filled with change but our God is the same yesterday, today and forever!  Acknowledging Him with our lips in song is like a fragrant offering to our God.
     Once again, in his letter to the Colossians (3:16), Paul encourages believers to sing:  "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."  When we meditate on the Psalms, we are singing God's Word back to Him, and we are also letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.  Think about it with me for a moment.  How did many of us learn the alphabet, or other basic pieces of knowledge?  We often learned by repetition and song.  So what are the benefits of making melody to the Lord?
     First, if we are feeling sad, we can brighten our spirits by singing to God.  At first it is an effort, but as we go along, our hearts are lifted out of despair.  Secondly, we are able to learn God's Word as we sing them to the Lord.  Third, singing praises to God encourages others around us as well.  It lifts the atmosphere in a home, and blesses others in worship.  Finally, singing to the Lord helps us focus on Him as we go about our work.  This is a "win - win" situation.
     Joining the choir several years ago, has been a rich blessing for me as I get to sing the songs of praise to God in worship.  Still, our songs should not be confined to church only.  We have so much to  praise and thank God for that we can never offer up a Psalm, hymn, or spiritual music enough times.  Remember that it is more important to sing from the heart in faith than to hit all the right notes.  Let us bless the Lord by making music each day!  Selah!

Monday, April 17, 2017

In the Afterglow

     Following Easter or any major holiday, there is always a let down of sorts.  The house needs to be cleaned if we had company, leftovers need to be put away and we resume our normal activities.  However, Easter is different.  For believers, this time of celebration should not be a one day event.  In fact, we need to live each day in the joy of Christ's resurrection.
     Yesterday both our choir and our Pastor gave a message based on the first letter of Peter verses 3-9:  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.  Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  What beautiful words of hope that should make us rejoice each day as we go about our daily work.  Because of the resurrection, we also have that hope to carry us through the hard places in this life.  Likewise, we know that we, too, shall rise to new life in Christ as believers.
     If we break down these declarations made by Peter, we can see why a Christian should live in daily hope and joy.  First, our living hope means that we shall have eternal life in the presence of the Lord.  Our destination was purchased by the blood of Christ and His resurrection sealed for us an inheritance that as Peter describes is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.  No one can take this from us when we belong to Jesus Christ.
     Secondly, the Holy Spirit that comes to dwell within us at salvation confirms to us that we belong to Him.  He seals us that we may never lose that which God has graciously provided for us in Christ. Likewise the Spirit leads us into all truth and keeps alive the hope we have in our Lord.  Romans 15:13 reads:  "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."  It is the power of the Holy Spirit living in us that keeps our hearts and minds at rest in Christ even in the middle of the pain and trials of life.  Having lost a number of my loved ones, I have proven this true.  It was the Holy Spirit that kept my hope alive because I knew I would see them and be with them again.  Without Christ, I cannot imagine how I could have gone on.
     In addition, this living hope defends the believer against the attacks of Satan who always tries to remind us of our shortcomings and inflict us with guilt.  However, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is all the defense that we need.  We are set free from sin and guilt.  Therefore, we need only to quote Scripture when the enemy comes around our door and remind him that he is a defeated foe.  This is why it is so important to know and cling to Scripture.  It is our weapon that is sharper than any two edged sword.  Dear friends, we have the power of Jesus Christ living within us as believers.  We belong to the only One who has overcome the world.
     Indeed, this life brings with it troubles and persecution, but Peter wrote this that we may see beyond our circumstances which are only momentary.  Our eternal reward and inheritance are far greater than what we are going through here on earth.  Peter acknowledges that we experience grief here but he encourages us to rejoice for Christ will come again as He said.  The linchpin to all of this is the resurrection of our Savior.  If death could not hold Him, then He is able to keep our inheritance, and give to us a living hope day by day.  There is no need to live life in a hopeless state of mind.
     When Peter talks about our trials, there are several things he means in this passage that we need to remember.  According to the MacArthur Study Bible (footnote on verse 1:6, pg. 1889), Dr. MacArthur writes:  "...trouble does not last ('little while') 2. trouble serves a purpose ('if necessary'); 3. trouble brings turmoil ('grieved'); 4. trouble comes in various forms ('trials') and 5. trouble should not diminish the Christian's joy ('peace').  We need to remember this each day.
     Fixing our eyes on Jesus keeps us from the heartaches that come to all men.  We have a living hope because we have a risen Savior.  Therefore, we need to live each day like it is Easter...because it is.  The Apostle Peter said it well in his second letter verse 3A:  "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us to His own glory and excellence...."  Because He lives, we also live and have a hope that nothing can steal from us.  Selah!

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Depth of Despair

     For Christendom, Good Friday represents the darkest of days in the events of our Lord's journey here on earth.  Even though he spent a good deal of time trying to make the disciples aware of what He must go through to fulfill His mission of bringing salvation to mankind, they could not grasp it.  So when events began to unfold, they reacted as many of us would have done.  They fell asleep when the Lord asked them to watch and pray with Him.  Then, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, they ran away out of fear.  Only Simon Peter had the daring to follow behind to see what would become of the Lord.  Yet, in the end, even he denied His Master three times.  Despair, confusion, darkness, fear would all be good words to describe their emotions as they watched events play out.
     In Scripture, we are not told many details about them after they ran from the Garden, but we can put ourselves in their position easily enough.  These men whom Jesus had called watched the miracles, heard the parables, walked with the Lord and listened as He taught.  Perhaps they believed the kingdom would come through Him at the time in which they lived.  After all, He was welcomed into Jerusalem with great fanfare by the citizens.  However, within days, everything changed rapidly until on Friday, Pilate handed Him over to be scourged and crucified.  With His death, the "air" went out of the room so to speak.  How could this be?  They had seen Him raise Lazarus from the dead, but they found it hard to believe that He would rise from the dead on the third day.
Jesus is the light in our darkness.
     As the hour approached of His death, Scripture tells us what nature's response to this terrible moment was like:  (Matthew 27:51-53) "And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn top to bottom.  And the earth shook and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."  While these are amazing phenomena took place, it would take the resurrection to fully grasp all that God had just accomplished.
     Most everyone reading this can identify with the painful, shocking day which the disciples experienced on Good Friday.  They may have felt like they let the Lord down, and imagine how deeply sorrowful Peter was for his denial.  In our lives, we also have had times and days when the sky is black and all seems lost.  Maybe we have been a long time caregiver for a loved one who is not improving.  Perhaps we have had a beloved family member die suddenly, and we, like the disciples, cannot fathom why this should have happened.  Each of us is destined to walk through the "valley of the shadow of death" and if we stop there, we are cheated of the peace we can know in Christ who walks with us all the way.
     What the disciples could not grasp and what we often miss is that the Scripture tells us in Psalm 30:5:  "For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."  God poured out His wrath and punishment on Christ for our sake.  The day seemed dark and filled with despair for the disciples, but the resurrection was coming when the darkness was overcome by the light of the world.  The bondage of sin was broken.  The pain and suffering would lead to great rejoicing.
     Often when we are caught up in the despair and pain of this world, we cannot see what God has for us ahead.  We think we shall never be happy again, but God is the lifter of our head.  He has given us the victory over sin and death.  He shines His light into our darkness when we come to Him in true surrender.
     As we meditate on this day and the suffering of our Lord, we must remember that He knows what it is to walk in the darkness and despair of this life, but He also reminds us:  "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John xvi:33).  With Him, we will see the light again and the joy that comes from living in His victory.  Selah!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Holding Fast Our Confession

     During this time in history, we are faced with many who believe that the truth is relative.  They say, "What is true for me may not be true for you."  Likewise many believe that what they do in secret whether by direct action or in their thought life will be hidden so no one may know.  In contrast, the Christian knows that there is only one foundation for truth, and one day, we all will be called into account for how we have lived our lives.  For those outside of Christ,  it will be eternal separation from God.  While believers are assured an eternal home in heaven, they will also stand before the Lord to give account for their thoughts, words and deeds.  This should cause every Christian to pause and consider how we live before the Lord.
     In the book of Hebrews, the writer says in verse 13 of chapter 4 these words of warning:  "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."  Every idle thought, cruel word, or wicked deed is known by God and is eventually uncovered.  I should know because I have experienced this in my own life.
     Playing with a neighbor boy and his older sister one day, I accidentally injured him while we were playing cowboys and Indians.  I had seen on T.V. how a person would fall down if someone hit them on the head not realizing it was acting (I was five or six at the time).  So, I took my toy gun and hit the boy with it causing a nasty gash in his head.  His older sister scolded me and hurried him home to clean up the cut.  I ran inside thinking that since my parents did not see me do this I would not get into trouble.  When evening came, a phone call came to my mother from the parent of the little boy.  She related what happened, and needless to say, I was in big trouble.  What I thought was hidden was made plain as day. It was a painful lesson to me in more ways than one  Fortunately, the cut on the neighbor boy's head was not as bad as it initially looked.  I apologized both to God and my friends.
     Of course the ultimate example is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Once they had eaten of the fruit which the Lord told them not to eat, what did they do?  They both hid from God's presence.  God knew what they had done.  No one needed to tell Him.  The repercussions from sin led to painful consequences that we still face today.  Yet, as believers, we have a Savior in Jesus Christ who paid for the penalty of our sins.  We can now fellowship with our Lord again, but this does not exempt us from temptation or sin.  So what are we to do?
     Hebrews 4:12 tells us the power of God's Word:  "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  This is the standard for truth and the foundation upon which we must stand.  There is no such thing as one truth for one person and another for someone else.  There can only be one truth claim, and God's Word is the measure for our thoughts, actions and lifestyle.  Therefore, we must come humbly to the Bible daily so that we can honestly examine our lives to see if there is any sin in our life.  I John 1:9 tells us if we confess our sin, God will forgive us.  What a glorious thought!
     In the 14th verse of Hebrews 4, we read:  "Therefore, since we have such a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we profess.…"  God wants us to live a life that is holy and different from the world.  We are not called to blend in, but to stand out as a light on a hill for others to see.  We cannot hide from sin nor can we ignore the study of God's Word which exposes our hearts.  Our purpose in this life is to glorify God by holding fast to our confession of faith in Christ.  No one said it would be easy to stand in a culture seeming to head in the other direction, but with God's help, we can do it.
     May we encourage one another to hold fast our confession and believe the truth of God's Word.  There is no place to hide from God; so let us live in the light as He is in the light that others will see our good works and glorify the Lord.  Selah!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Virtue We All Need to Cultivate: Humility

     Many years ago, a singer named Mac Davis sang a song tongue in cheek that made everyone laugh.  The title was "Oh Lord It's Hard to be Humble".  The first verse went like this:  "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way.  I can't wait to look in the mirror 'cause I get better lookin' each day.  To know me is to love me, I must be a h*** of a man; Oh Lord it's hard to be humble, but I'm doin' the best that I can."  Now, when I saw him perform this on T.V., we knew he wasn't serious because even he broke out laughing as he sang this.  Unfortunately, in today's world, humility is often a forgotten virtue. So what does humility look like?
     We need look no further  than to our Lord Jesus Christ who was not only perfect but the only one who lived a life of humility.  He demonstrated his servant heart when He washed the feet of the disciples.  This was a job that only a servant would do when his master had come home.  Read John 13:1-17 to get the entire picture.  We will key in on a few verses starting in verse 12 and going to verse 17:  "When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?' He asked them.  'You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent Him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.'"
     In this passage, the humble conduct of our Lord is not a result of Him forgetting that He was the Son of God; rather, His conduct demonstrated that his position was not an occasion for feeling superior.  Instead, He became a servant and bid His disciples to do the same.  This pattern of humility in Jesus Christ is one which He wants all followers to copy.  We must be more willing to serve than to dominate or become "top dog" in any area of our life.
     A brief description from The Reformation Study Bible states that "humility does not mean pretending to be worthless and refusing positions of responsibility, but knowing and keeping the place God has appointed for one.  Being humble is a matter of accepting God's arrangement, whether it means the high exposure of leadership (i.e. Moses) or the obscurity of being a servant.  When Jesus said that He was 'lowly in heart' (Matt. 11:29), He meant that He was following the Father's plan for His earthly life" (pg. 1519, The Reformation Study Bible).  For me, this was an eye opener.  I especially love the phrase "knowing and keeping the place God has appointed for one."  Why is it we always try to go beyond God's plans for us?  Jesus followed God's earthly plan even though it led Him to the cross.  However, in due season, God glorified Him in His resurrection and ascension. God desires our obedience not our performance or accomplishments.
     Somehow, we have allowed the world to influence our thinking even in the church.  Many Christians feel that their small contributions cannot amount to much compared to those who have high visibility or who have done something outstanding.  Our Lord, however, does not look on outward activities or appearances.  He looks at the heart.  Do we possess the heart of a servant?  Are we willing to work in obscurity to serve people who cannot repay us?  These are the things which catch His attention...not trophies, recognition or applause.
     Jesus refused to be made king over Israel when the people wanted him to take the crown even though He was our King.  Instead, He lived a life of obedience and servanthood to set an example for us of how to live before God and treat one another.  Humility is indeed a virtue which we do not often find today and yet, brings rich blessings when it is embraced.
      While Mac Davis introduced us to a cute song, only the first few words are really true:  "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble...." because it really is hard unless the Holy Spirit empowers us.  Jesus gave us, as His disciples, the example to live and serve as He did.  Further, His promise to us is this in verse 17:  "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
     During these days of reflection as we await the joy of Easter, may we also seek to serve as our Lord served.  We are not to lay up our treasures on earth which pass quickly away.  Instead, we are to invest ourselves in serving others and lay up blessings in heaven which will not disappoint or fade away.  Selah!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Prayer Like No Other

          Perhaps no other chapter in the Bible touches my heart more than John 17.  This is known as the "high priestly prayer" of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Prayer is communication between God and man and  knowing that Christ, who is both fully God and fully man, offered up prayer for us as believers should touch our hearts with deepest humility.
     Aware that He faced death upon the cross as our perfect sacrifice, He spent time talking to God on our behalf.  He is, after all, our high priest and the only mediator between God and man.   Jesus begins His prayer by preparing Himself for what is to come.  He knows He has accomplished what the Father has sent Him to do during His earthly ministry.  Then, Jesus says in verse 2:  "...since you have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him."  Here our Lord makes reference to the fact that God has sovereignly  chosen those who would be called by His name.  Then, He gave them to His Son that they might find salvation through His sacrifice.
     As we consider the part of this prayer that deals with both His disciples and all future believers that should come after them, we can break it down into a few parts.  First, Jesus prays for our knowledge in verses 6-9.  Looking specifically at verse 8-9, we read:  "For I have given them the words that You gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given me for they are Yours."  Jesus makes clear in these verses that His prayer is not for the world at large but for those whom God has called to belong to Himself...a people after His own name.
     In verses 10-12, Jesus prays for our perseverance.  If ever we doubted the Lord's love for us, all we have to do is read these verses.  Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him.  He came to die for our sins, but in the midst of this time before the storm, He prayed for our perseverance.  He was going to the Father and asked that God would guard and protect those who were believers.  How well our Savior knew our weak frame and the temptations that would come our way!
     Not only did He pray for perseverance but He also prayed for our joy in verse 13:  "But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves."  Joy is that unspeakable assurance that God is present in our lives.  It does not mean happiness which is often here today and gone tomorrow, but an abiding peace which resides in our hearts and minds that no one can take from us.  This is a gift worth having and by the sacrifice of Christ, this joy is ours day by day.
     One of the most beautiful parts of this prayer, to me, is found in verses 14-17 where Jesus prays for our protection from evil and for our sanctification.  Jesus, here, reminds the Father that He has given us God's Word and because of this, the world hates us since we no longer belong to the world.  Jesus does not ask God to take us out of the world but to keep us from the evil one.  Then comes this verse:  "Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth."  Keep in mind that it is God who does the sanctifying. Our efforts in any of this are of no avail.  Rather, it is in and through Christ alone that we are redeemed and sanctified.  This is a blessed thought.
     Finally, in verses 20-26, Jesus prays for our unity, oneness, our mutual love and for the day when we will be with Him.  Not only did Jesus pray all of this for His current disciples who would soon be tested beyond their limits with His trial and crucifixion but He also has prayed this for us as well.  We, and all who came after the disciples,  are those of the future generations for which our Lord prayed all of these things.  Here we have provision for all we need in life and godliness in one prayer.  Because He was the perfect lamb of God, all that He asked the Father has been done for us.
     This prayer should bring us to our knees in repentance and thanksgiving.  We have such a Great Savior, who before He went to the cross, made known by prayer, His desire for our welfare, growth and sanctification.  If this does not humble us, nothing will.  We are a blessed people who are called by the name of Christ.  Meditate on this prayer offered for us as we approach Easter
.  Consider our Savior's ministry on our behalf even as He faced death on the cross.  Then, rejoice in His powerful resurrection which seals for us all the promises made within this prayer.  May we ever live in such a way that we bring glory and honor to our Lord who prayed for us that we might live for Him.  Selah!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

In An Age of Contentiousness

     Most people have heard of "The Dark Ages" or "The Age of Enlightenment", but if I were to name our current time period, I would have to call it "The Age of Contentiousness".  Never have I witnessed so many people going after others on issues whether it is politics or the movies we have decided to watch.  Whatever happened to "civil discourse" or "agreeing to disagree" in a manner that does not cause verbal attacks?  Not only is this happening in the realm of political discussions but also amongst Christians.  Unfortunately people are more concerned about their opinions and being right than about their relationships.  I know someone will say, "But shouldn't I stand up for what I believe?"  My answer is "of course" as long as it can be done in a manner that doesn't damage a friendship.
     Mickey Evans, a fine pastor who started Dunklin Memorial Camp near Brighton, FL and has since gone home to be with the Lord, clearly stated, "It is better to be righteous than right."  I loved that phrase and its implications.  Sometimes wisdom dictates the necessity of acting in a manner that brings peace rather than argumentation.  We may be right about something, but in proving our point, are we hurting others?
     Jesus taught us in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:9:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."  Matthew Henry in his commentary says:  "The peace-makers are happy. They love, and desire, and delight in peace; and study to be quiet. They keep the peace that it be not broken, and recover it when it is broken. If the peace-makers are blessed, woe to the peace-breakers!" (Biblehub.com, Matthew 5:9).  Amen to that!  We bring glory to God when we act as peacemakers rather than stirring up an argument.  There is always a time and place to take a stand even as Martin Luther did.  However, we have to remember that Luther started out just posting a series of questions for the purpose of discussion.  He did not start out to cause a split in the church but to bring about some reforms.
     When I was a child, we did not have the internet or Facebook.  This resulted in communicating face to face or by telephone (which was not mobile or "smart").  Maybe this is the difference today.  Social media can be a wonderful tool to reach out to people across the distance.  I love my Facebook account because I can communicate with former classmates, my family and friends.  However, there are times when it can be ugly to be online.  When I am tempted to reply with a sassy attitude, I step back and think:  will this edify this person, glorify God, and further the cause of Christ if I say what I want to say?  There is a time for truth but can I say it in love without damaging a brother or sister?
     In his letter to the Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul writes:  "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."  Once again, Matthew Henry in his commentary states:  "Since men became enemies to God, they have been very ready to be enemies one to another. And those that embrace religion, must expect to meet with enemies in a world whose smiles seldom agree with Christ's. Recompense to no man evil for evil. That is a brutish recompence, befitting only animals, which are not conscious of any being above them, or of any existence hereafter. And not only do, but study and take care to do, that which is amiable and creditable, and recommends religion to all with whom you converse. Study the things that make for peace; if it be possible, without offending God and wounding conscience. Avenge not yourselves" (biblehub.com, Romans 12:18).  Only God can change a heart.  We cannot.  Neither are we called to judge one another, but instead, we are called to demonstrate love.
     If we truly wish to end this "age of contentiousness" then it must begin with us.  We need to think before we speak, post on Facebook, hit send on an email or take action.  We also must pray for those with whom we disagree and remember that we have been forgiven much by God; therefore, we have no place to put others down.  My mother used to remind me almost every day:  "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".  Thanks to the movie Bambi and the little rabbit Thumper for those wise words!  Let us be peacemakers not peace breakers, and let it begin with us
!  Selah!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Taking Care of the Body

     Some years ago, my husband along with our son-in-law, went to see the human body exhibit at the MOSI science center in Tampa.  People have donated their bodies to science and through the wonder of "plastination" they have been preserved in order to show the public what various systems of the body look like.  Both my husband and son-in-law were amazed at the intricate design of the body created by God.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 139:14:  "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."
     Unfortunately, if we look around today, we see many people who take their body for granted and abuse it.  The evidence is all around us.....alcoholism, drugs, smoking, obesity, all have a detrimental effect on our health, and in many cases, we know what we should do.  However, we do not do it.  We don't exercise.  We eat junk food, and do not take time to get a good night's sleep.  We avoid going to the doctor for a check-up or worse yet, we go but do not take the advice we have been given.  In some cases, people refuse to take the medication that would help them improve.  Why?
Our newest Grandson Hudson
     According to the Bible, "..for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). There is no one in this world with the exception of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has done everything perfectly.  Furthermore, our perfect world (including our bodies) have been marred with sin in the Garden of Eden.  After the Fall, the world began to change.  Man's body would die as would the animals that God so carefully formed.  Decay and death entered the world, but God's plan would bring redemption and a promise of a new heaven and a new earth.  Likewise, for those who believe in faith that Christ died and rose again from the dead, there is a promise of eternal life.  When the body dies, our soul will not die but live forever in the presence of our Lord.  Then, when Christ returns, we will be given a new body that will never suffer death, pain or illness.  What a great day that will be!  Until that time, though, we are to value and care for the life which God has given to us.
     God does not make mistakes and the body we have, though marred and imperfect as a result of sin, is still a gift from Him.  Psalm 139:13 says:  "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb."  The Lord knew us from before the foundation of the world.  In fact, the Bible says He even knows the number of hairs on our head.  We have been designed to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but we need to take care of our body in the process.
     In his letter to the Corinthians, who had their share of problems, the Apostle Paul wrote to them concerning sexual immorality as one aspect of abusing the body.  I Corinthians 6:18-20 reads:  "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."  If we are a believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has come to live within our bodies.  We sin against God when we abuse, neglect or forget to take care of ourselves.  As Paul rightly says, "we are not our own".  Christ purchased us with His blood that we might live to the glory of God for eternity.
     When I was young, I never thought much about my diet, exercise or other considerations related to my health.  Somehow, most young adults have the same mindset.  Eventually, though, time catches up with us and we see how our health is affected by the food we eat, and the choices we make.  Neglecting our health is every much a sin as telling a lie.  God has told us that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and this means our earthly bodies must be cared for.  We certainly do not neglect our vehicles if we need to get around.  Nor do we neglect our homes because we need a good place to live.  Therefore, let us resolve in our hearts to honor God and bring Him glory by taking care of our health.  This human body was fearfully and wonderfully made by the Lord.  May we never take it for granted.  Selah!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Great Faithfulness in an Age of Broken Promises

     If there is one character trait I admire more than any other,  it is "faithfulness".  How rare it is any more to find relationships whether friendship or marriage where both are committed no matter what happens.  However, there is One who remains faithful when everyone else walk away and that is God.
     As I was thinking about this today, the hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" came to mind.  The words of this song speak of the enduring commitment God has for His people:
     Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
     There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
     Thou changest not, Thy compassion's, they fail not,
     As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be. 

     Great is Thy faithfulness! 
     Great is Thy faithfulness! 
     Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
     All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
     Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! 

     Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, 
     Sun, moon and stars in their courses above 
     Join with all nature in manifold witness 
     To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. 
     Repeat Chorus

     Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth 
     Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
     Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, 
     Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! 
     Repeat Chorus 
     
     In His Word, we find many passages that proclaim His abiding faithful presence with us.  God promised Israel, in the Old Testament, that He would be with His people as they conquered the land:  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you"  (Deuteronomy 31:6).   Then in the New Testament, the Lord follows up with this same promise being quoted in Hebrews 13:5:  "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Whether going to battle as Israel had to do many times or trying to live during hard times as the Hebrew Christians did, God proved Himself faithful never to abandon His own.
     One of the greatest verses that assures us of the Lord's unchanging nature is found in Malachi 3:6: "“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."  In this passage God is talking about His justice and judgment on those who have turned from Him.  He does not change in His character; therefore, we know that He is faithful.  What He says He will do, He will carry out.  We see a similar passage in Numbers 23:19:  ""God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"  While others may change with every wind of doctrine, God remains the same.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  
     In my own life, I have experienced first hand God's faithfulness.  At the time I had polio at the age of 7, I prayed and asked God to heal me.  He did in a miraculous way.  Even during those low moments of deep grief when we lost our grandson, His presence comforted us.  He carried us when we were weak.
     Recently, a co-worker's mother suffered a heart attack.  We prayed for her and the Lord was faithful to answer and spare her life.  What a mighty and faithful God we serve.  He sticks closer than a brother and guides us like a shepherd ever faithful to His Covenant and promises.
     Our world is filled with broken promises, wounded hearts and many disappointments, but through it all, there is only One that we can count on.  God has even made a way for us to come to Him through His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  Trust in Him for He will never let you down.  Selah!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sowing the Seeds of Prayer

     When my father became disabled and was no longer able to farm his land due to heart disease, he found great comfort in playing hymns on the organ in our home.  He was not a great musician, but this did not matter to any of us.  We knew that he found solace in the words and notes of the hymns.  One of his favorites was “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  I think he played that one more than any other because for him, prayer is what kept him going day by day.  This should be true not only in our individual lives but also in the church as well.
Any time is a good time to pray
     Since I grew up on an Ohio farm, I know about planting season and harvest time.  There was a lot of work in preparing the ground and planting the crop.  The rest was in God’s hands.  My father worked hard to keep the weeds down, and the plants fertilized.  His labor is not unlike that of a Christian.  As we labor in prayer, we are planting seeds that will one day come to fruition just as my father’s crop came to harvest time.  The question is will our harvest be plentiful because we sowed many seeds to the Lord or will we reap only a small harvest because we did not spend much time in His presence?  How then, do we begin to sow the seeds of prayer?
     Coming into His presence with reverence, worship and thanksgiving opens our heart before the Lord.  Psalm 50:14-15 says:  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  We honor God by coming to Him and offering ourselves in an attitude of thanksgiving.  Yes, sometimes it is a sacrifice on our part.  Life is hard, and at times, it is all we can do to find much to thank God for.  Yet, when we come thanking Him, we open our own hearts to His healing touch.  He rejoices more in this sacrifice than anything else we could bring to Him.
     Once the soil of thanksgiving has been tilled, we are ready to plant the seeds of prayer not only for our concerns but also for the needs of others.  I Timothy 2:1-2 reads:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Rather than spend our time complaining about things we cannot change, let us go to the only One who has the authority and power to change the things that concern us.  God already knows our thoughts and our hearts, but He waits to hear from our lips the words of our concern.  What a release we experience when we can carry our burdens, our cares and our family before the Lord.  He is able to do what we cannot.  As we pray, we sow these seeds into His soil.  Likewise, these verses tell us to pray for our leaders, our church and our brothers and sisters in the faith.  More is accomplished in prayer than can ever be done through our own efforts.
     Now, at this point, I have to caution that prayer does not mean instant answers any more than when my father sowed seeds in the ground.  It is God’s perfect timing for all things that brings results.  My father could not make those plants grow.  He did what he could but only God could bring the harvest.  The same is true in prayer.  Be patient but persistent in prayer.
The harvest will come if we remain faithful.
     What should we carry to God?  All that troubles our heart as well as all the praise for what He has done.  Once we have spent time communing with Him, we will never be the same.  Corrie Ten Boom once said:  “Don’t pray when you feel like it.  Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.  A man is powerful on his knees.”  What a privilege we have to carry everything to God in prayer.  The more we sow to His glory the more we will find joy in our daily living.  Do we want to see souls saved?  Then, we need to pray daily for those around us.  Do we want to see God at work in our church and our homes?  Then, we need to bathe all this in prayer.
     My father always had a great harvest each year.  It did not come about by chance but by effort in working his ground and trusting in God.  We must, likewise, labor in prayer sowing the seeds of faith and see what great things God will do for His glory and our growth.  His harvest never fails.  Selah!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Don't Stop Growing!

     Whenever I have discussions with co-workers and friends, the topic of our current world situation comes up.   We do live in challenging times with many unanswered questions and it does seem that more and more our world is beginning to resemble the days of Noah where every man did what was right in his own eyes.  Inevitably, the question always comes up:  "Why are people so bad today?  Who would do such a thing?"  The answer to that question is the same today as it was since the Garden of Eden:  sin.  Though God created us in His image, we are marred by the sin nature which we inherited from Adam.  This means we are self-centered wanting to be our own gods.  Oh, we don't go around saying it like that, but ultimately, we look to please ourselves.  As a result, we have a society that very much looks like this description in the Apostle Paul's letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-5a):  "1But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power..." So, we see that some things never change do they?        
     This is why God sent His Son into the world to redeem us from the captivity of sin.  His life, death and resurrection paid the debt we owed to a holy God.  The reason behind this was because God loved us (John 3:16).  When we come to Christ as our Lord and Savior repenting of our sins, we come into relationship with God.  This does not mean we will never sin again because we will always do battle with our old nature, but it does mean that we are now free to choose whether to do the right thing or the wrong thing.  However, God gives to us the gift of His Holy Spirit to guide us daily and a new heart that can respond to the Lord.  Yet, things do not stop with salvation.  This is just the beginning of an entirely different life and relationship to our Creator.  Often, we miss the second step which is our growth in relationship to God.
     What our Heavenly Father wants the most is to have a close, intimate relationship with us that we might know Him, His character and His love for us.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for His disciples and all believers who would follow them.  John 17:3 Jesus prayed, "This is the life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent."  The Lord wants us to go on growing and not stay as babes in Christ.  Our Savior wants us to hunger and thirst after righteousness and not be satisfied with knowing the basics.
     Our Sunday School class has been studying the sermons of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians and today, we discussed Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in which he says:  "...the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17).  We know that the Ephesians were believers, filled with the Spirit and sealed in the Spirit, but Paul saw that they needed to grow in their knowledge of God just as Jesus had prayed.  He repeats this same prayer in his letter to the Philippians and to the Colossians ( Phil. 1:9-11; Cols. 1:9-10).  His desire was to see these new Christians grow in their relationship to God and not remain stagnant in any way.
     According to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Man's troubles are always due to his ignorance of God" (God's Ultimate Purpose, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pg 342).   Let that soak in for a moment.  Our lack of knowing God as our Creator, Judge and Savior who loves us causes us to miss the blessings that God has for us.  Do we hunger and thirst to know God?  Are we really willing to spend time with Him or do we want a superficial relationship only?  So how do we do that?
     Yesterday, our pastor spoke on the Word of God and a study which Barna did on Christians spending time in the Bible.  The average amount of time spent reading the Bible came out to 9 minutes a day.  Is it any wonder that we lack an intimate relationship with God?  We must spend quality time with God in prayer, Bible reading and meditating on what we have read.  Most of our days are filled with busy activities in the world so that is where our greatest input comes from.  Do you want to know God?  Then we have to get into His Word to us to understand who He is and who we are.  We need to talk with Him all day long.  I find myself praying at work...not out loud but to myself throughout the day.  He is with us all day long, and we need to cultivate the sense of His presence in all that we do.  Then, we need fellowship with other believers who can encourage us and correct us in love.  This will help us to grow in Christ.
     Our culture is sin sick.  If we want to be the salt and light in this world to bring about change, we have to work on ourselves first.   As we grow closer to God, we will have a greater love for others, a more forgiving heart, and a willingness to share the truth of Christ with others.  May we all grow in the knowledge, wisdom and revelation of our Lord day by day just as Paul prayed.  Selah!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

You Are What You Read

     When I was a senior in high school, I remember looking forward to graduation when I could escape all the papers I had to write along with all the books I had to read.  I thought life would slow down just a little.  Then, I started college in the Fall.  What a surprise I had when each class assigned three to five chapters plus some research questions to complete by the next class period in two days.  That would not have been so overwhelming if I only had one or two classes but when you have five classes to keep up with, it becomes a monumental chore.  Needless to say, I worked very hard to complete all the reading and papers that were due.
 
 Once again, I thought that after college I would be able to relax and slow down in my schedule.  However, we never stop learning as there are always new skills with the jobs we take.  Then, in my case, we decided to homeschool our children which turned out to be a 21 year adventure.  Along with our children, I had to refresh my memory and do some research in order to teach them what they needed to know.  This was a labor of love, but I also had to be a student along with them in order to be prepared to do a good job. Most jobs encourage continued training, and this goes along with God's Word concerning our spiritual growth.
     2 Timothy 2:15 is a well-known passage written by the Apostle Paul to the young pastor Timothy. His words touch us today and should encourage us in light of other Scriptures.  The verse reads:  "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."  When we apply ourselves to the study of God's Word, we learn who He is and who we are.  Likewise, we can better  discern the truth from lies when we have a solid biblical foundation.  We become like the material we read and meditate on.
     In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote these words of exhortation in 12:2:  "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."  We know from this passage that we are to renew our minds, and the best book to feed us is the Bible.  Here we learn the character of God, His plan for our lives, and His guidance in difficult times.  As we read, pray and think on these things, our mind does begin to change.  The more we hide His Word in our hearts the more treasures we store up for ourselves as we walk in this world.
     While the Bible is our chief source for life and godliness, there are other excellent sources of wisdom that can open our understanding of God's Word to a greater depth.  One such book is "The Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin.  I remember my husband's brother in law commenting to me at one point that he felt that many may never have read this book including pastors.  Yet, it is full of wisdom and serious theological understanding.  I thought about that for some time and this year, I decided to add it to my reading list also using a book by David B. Calhoun entitled "Knowing God and Ourselves:  Reading Calvin's Institutes Devotionally".  This second book is meant to be a help and deepen comprehension.
      There are many good books out on the market, but we do need to use caution.  Some are merely practical advice without solid foundation on the Word of God.  Other books deal with trends in our culture but do not take into account that there is really "nothing new under the sun".  When we invest our time in serious study of God's Word and utilize good commentaries to assist our understanding, our minds will be renewed.  The things of this world will have less glitter and allure for us as the beauty of the Lord becomes more clear.  We really do become what we read and spend time with.
     Let us strive to become lifelong learners and spend our time wisely before the face of God in the pages of His Word.  Remember what Hebrews 4:12 tells us:  "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."  What we read does effect our thinking and outlook.  Make certain it is founded on the foundation of the Bible.  Selah!
   

Monday, January 9, 2017

Having a Heart to Serve

     Math has never been my strong suit.  For those of you who know me well, this does not come as a surprise.  I did well in this subject until I reached Junior High.  Because I had been a good student up until that time, I was entered into an experimental math program called SMSG.  Today this would be equivalent to CORE curriculum math.  In other words, nothing was done in a traditional manner.  Theoretically, this was supposed to make math more understandable.  However, it made it more difficult for my parents to assist me, and I found I often did not understand the material.  When it came time to take Algebra I in high school, I wanted to take traditional Algebra but since I was college bound, I was once again enrolled in this experimental Algebra program.
     By this time, I was struggling to keep my head above water, and on top of this, we had an instructor whom I will never forget.  His name was Mr. Newhart.  He, without a doubt, knew Algebra well but he was not a good instructor.  Many of us in the class had questions, and inevitably, he would become irritated and impatient with us.  In fact, one day he told us that if he were principal of the school he would see to it that we were all suspended.  He did not like us so that made learning even more difficult than it had to be.
     After several parent teacher conferences and extra help after class, I managed to finish the year with less than a stellar performance, but I finished!  I think Mr. Newhart did not return the next year which was most likely a good thing for both he and future students.  Some people may have the right qualifications for a job, but if they don't have the heart for it, they will not succeed without hurting others.  This is true for any vocation or even for those serving in church leadership.
     Many years ago, a pastor friend, told me that there are those who go into the ministry out of a need they have to perform in order to be accepted rather than having a heart to serve.  As a result, these people tend to hurt others they are supposed to be helping.  Selfish ambition gets in the way of true relationships.  I think many of us can recall some of the top, up and coming young pastors who crashed and burned in recent years, and some of it was due to their self-promotion.  Like my algebra teacher, they had lots of subject knowledge, but they ended up hurting others around them.
     Jesus Christ, our only perfect example, calls us to be servants if we would minister to others.  Twice in Mark's Gospel, the Lord instructed His disciples who had been arguing who would be the greatest among them.  In Mark 9:35, we see how Jesus responds:  "And He sat down and called the twelve.  And He said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.'"  Then in Mark 10 starting in verse 35, James and John come to Jesus with a request.  They wanted to sit one on the right and one on His left side when He came into His kingdom.  Jesus said it was not up  to Him to grant this request.  Of course, the other disciples had become upset upon hearing this.  Once again, Jesus used this teachable moment to reveal to us what the heart of ministry is really all about.  Starting in Mark 10:42-45, Jesus said this:  "And Jesus called them to Him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be 'slave' of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.'"
     In both of these passages, Jesus emphasized that having a servant's heart was pleasing to God.  After all, He came as a servant not one seeking popularity, fame and fortune.  On many occasions, Jesus healed someone and advised them not to tell anyone.  At one point, the people wanted to make Him the king (John 6:15) by force so He slipped away by Himself.  Jesus was secure in His mission, and He knew who He was and why He came.  He did not need the world's accolades that Satan offered Him in the desert when He was fasting.  No, He came as a servant to be our ransom and to glorify God by redeeming the people whom God would call to Himself.  Likewise, all who would serve in the ministry, church leadership or in any other vocation to which God has called him must also have that servant heart.  We cannot glorify God when we are busy glorifying ourselves.
     I do not know whatever became of Mr. Newhart after he left our school, but I really hope he found a better use for his talents.  He did not love his students or teaching for that matter.  It was a job with benefits and nothing more.  If we are not willing to lay down our lives in service to others, then we have no business in following a call that requires it.  We may have the knowledge, skill, training and degrees, but if we do not have love for others we are more like a "sounding gong" as Paul wrote and others will be hurt in the long run.  Furthermore, God is not glorified when we are busy self-promoting.  May we ponder what the Lord has said about leadership/ministry for He will hold us accountable one day.  Selah!