Friday, October 13, 2017

Our Promise of Heaven

     This week my dear Uncle Paul went home to be with the Lord.  He was a godly man who loved his family and served the Lord through his profession as a dentist.  The example he set of attending church on a regular basis was something that no one could miss; so I find it a comfort to know that he is now resting in the arms of Jesus and is reunited with his sister, my mother as well as other family members who have gone before.  What a great homecoming celebration he received I am certain.
Dr. Paul Engel..a man who loved the Lord
      One of the greatest joys in walking with Christ is knowing what our eternal destination will be when we lay down in death.  Our body will die but not our spirit that has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  He said so clearly as he comforted Martha over the death of her brother Lazarus.  John 11:25 says:  "Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live..."  At that moment, I do not think Martha could comprehend what was about to happen, but Jesus would call forth her brother from the grave to demonstrate the power of God over life and death.  Believing His Word (the Bible) is truth gives hope to all who call upon His name in faith.
     There is an old saying that goes, "Nothing is more certain than death and taxes".  We know about taxes but none of us has yet experienced death.  What do we really know about eternal life and heaven?  In the book of Revelation we read this description:  "3And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
      5And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Chap. 21:3-5)  If we knew nothing else about heaven, this would be a great blessing.  No more pain, no more suffering, no more sickness, no more death and all the tears we have cried, will be wiped away by the Lord.  For those that long for perfect peace, justice, truth and happiness, this will be the place where there is joy forevermore.
     If you read on in chapter 21 of Revelation, there is a description of the new Jerusalem that has come down from heaven.  The description is beyond our understanding as the streets are gold and many beautiful gems make up this magnificent dwelling place.  There is no need for the sun and the moon because God's glory lights the entire realm.  God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit dwell here, and we are forever with Him in this perfect place.  This is the City of God and is for those whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world.  Verse 27 says:  "27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life."
     I will never forget that a few days before my own father died, he looked off in the distance and described this beautiful city.  He said the streets were gold and it was so remarkable.  This gave me peace as I knew from God's Word that he was given a glimpse of heaven.  Even more though, I know that he also is enjoying a special home in heaven because Jesus went on to describe that in His Word.
John 14:1-3 says:  "1“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also..."  How wonderful to know that those who have physically left our presence are now living in a city not made with hands and a dwelling prepared for us by the Lord.
     Dear ones, while we grieve the loss of those we love, we also rejoice for them that their race here in this fallen world is over.  Their worn out bodies sleep but their souls are bathed in the presence of God where they will live forever.  This is the inheritance of all who confess their sins and receive the gift of God's salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
     This past August and I had the opportunity of seeing my Uncle Paul for the last time when we traveled to attend my husband's class reunion.  We laughed, reminisced and then, before leaving, we prayed together outside his home with his wife Anna.  I will carry that memory in my heart until I see my Uncle in heaven again.  He has now joined that great crowd of witnesses in heaven cheering the rest of us on to fight the good fight and run the race for the prize of God's high calling.  This is our comfort, our encouragement and our future in Christ!  Selah!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Praising Him in the Storm

     In many ways, the last two weeks have been surreal.  First there was the preparation for the storm and all the stress which came with knowing there was a Category 5 hurricane out in the Atlantic.  Most Floridians watched "The Weather Channel" non-stop as the storm drew near.  We, as well as others in our community and state, made our preparations gathering supplies, buying extra gas for our generator along with food and water.  Then, it came ashore in the Keys first moving farther eastward than had been predicted.  Our power went out on Saturday, September 10th so we had no way of knowing where this one eyed monster storm would travel.  Little did we know we would be experiencing the eastern eye-wall of Irma in our county.  Although we do not have a run-down of the wind speed, we knew as we sat in our home that it had to be greater than 80 m.p.h.
     Having experienced the damage of the three hurricanes that crossed over Highlands County in 2004 and a tornado spawned from Hurricane Wilma in 2005 that crossed our property and took out our pole barn, we were not certain what we would find when the storm finally passed us by.  Looking outside to see what had happened, however, was a shock.  Twisted broken trees, signs bent or brought down completely, uprooted trees, power lines lying on the ground and shingles off the roof.  In some cases, people lost most or all of the roof to the wrath of this storm.  Then, there was the oppressive heat.  With no electricity, there was no air conditioning.  Fortunately, the generator we bought after the hurricanes of 2004 had been hooked up to save the contents of our refrigerator and freezer as well as some lights and fans.   We had not remembered that we also had our pump attached to the generator so we could at least take a cold shower and get a cool drink.  That was a nice surprise!
     Gathering debris the day after the storm, my mind went to another time not that long ago when we experienced a different storm in our life as a family.  It was 2014 when we lost our six year old grandson Branson James Thayer.  At the time, I clung to the words of a song written and sung by Casting Crowns entitled "Praise You in This Storm".  I remembered the story that Mark Hall, lead singer for Casting Crowns, explained how the song came together.  He made the acquaintance of a family who had a child diagnosed with cancer.  The family braved the ups and downs fighting long and hard for their child over a three year period, but in the end, this young girl who loved Jesus lost the struggle.  Mark Hall said that through it all, the parents never quit trusting the Lord or leaning on Him.  He was so impressed by their faith that he wrote the song along with Bernie Hermes (for the full story...have a tissue nearby...go to Christianitytoday.com and read "He Gives, and Takes Away" a commentary written Sept. 11, 2006).  So when Branson was suddenly taken from our family, I tearfully listened to the words of this song and found encouragement because we all walk through storms in life, but we are not alone.   Isaiah 43:1-2 says:  "1But now, thus says th
e LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you."  Jesus also told us in Matthew 28:20b "....and behold I am with you always even to the end of the age."
      As I sat under the shade of a tree on the tenth day of no power, I remembered the words to the song again, knowing that God had miraculously brought us through this storm.  In fact, He did more than that.  He brought neighbors together to help each other.  The Lord worked through churches to supply meals and relief for those who needed help, He worked in the hearts of women to do laundry for linemen as they tried to restore power to our state.  In so many ways, we are witnessing God's hand at work.
     While the storms of death, sickness, or hurricanes come to everyone in this fallen world, we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, who has overcome this world.  In Him, we can too.  Read the chorus to the song and be encouraged...no matter where you are today:
     "And I'll praise you in this storm
       And I will lift my hands
      For You are who You are
      No matter where I am
     And every tear I've cried
     You hold in Your hand
     You never left my side
     And though my heart is torn
     I will praise You in this storm."
     
Take time to read or listen to the song which can be found on YouTube or Google.  It will bless you!  We can all praise Him in the storms of life!  Selah!
   

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Like a Good Marriage

     Glenn and I recently celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary.  It seems like only yesterday that we exchanged our vows and made our covenant to live together under the headship of Jesus Christ.  I will admit that it takes daily effort to keep the wheels of relationship running smoothly.  Contrary to the media, no one just falls in love and lives happily ever after.  Life is full of heartache and challenges.  That is why it requires effort to make a marriage successful.  However, this is not the only important relationship that needs regular attention.
August 21, 1971
     As I reflected on our many years together, I also thought about being a part of a church.  There are many occasions in scripture where the body of Christ is referred to as the bride and our Savior as the bridegroom.  Like marriage, our relationship to the church is similar.   When we join a church, we agree to support it financially, with our efforts and in prayer.  Too often, I think, people tend to take their church membership in a very casual manner.  Some hop from place to place seeking to find what  in their mind is the "perfect" church.  I hate to say this...but....there is no such place.  Being part of a church is very much like marriage.  It requires effort.
     One of the key reasons why we have to work at both relationships is that it involves imperfect people.  A pastor friend of mine says, "The church would be perfect if it weren't for all those sinners who belong to it."  Indeed, we see this even in the early church where Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement over John Mark who deserted their missionary efforts at one point.  Barnabas
was willing to give him another chance but Paul was not ready.  We know later in Paul's epistles that John Mark was a comfort to him.  Just from this example alone, we can see that even at the beginning of the church nothing was ever perfect.  This is where forgiveness and growth can take place if we pray and allow the Holy Spirit to resolve conflict.  Let me share another example.
     Early in our marriage, our differences were very clear.  Glenn was highly organized, and skillful at keeping things in order.  I, on the other hand, am a spontaneous person who does things on the fly.  When it comes to packing a car trunk, I would put anything in wherever I could while my dear husband neatly places things with care.  Now I am certain that my spontaneity has many times irritated my husband and his organization has at times done the same for me.  However, together we have learned from each other and the blend has been to God's glory and our benefit.  The same is true in the church.  How many times do people get upset over the color of the carpet or other things in the church and leave as a result?  It takes God's work in the heart to overcome the imperfections we see in one another.  We are all a work in progress.
     Secondly, communication is another area of importance in both the church and marriage.  If you do not tell someone how you feel, how will they ever know it?  I remember being upset one time because I expected some flowers from my dear husband for a certain occasion.  He did not give me any.  I stewed about it and let him know I was upset.  However, he said something that helped me understand him.  He said I should tell him if I wanted flowers because he could not read my mind.  He never meant to disappoint me...he just did not know.  The same is true in church relationships.  Are you hurt over something someone said to you?  Go talk to that person and tell them.  Is there something about the church that needs to be addressed?  Do not keep it to yourself.  Go speak to your pastor, elder, deacon or leader so that they are aware.  Too many people leave a good fellowship because they feel left out.  This does not need to happen if we communicate clearly, and this leads to another important point.
      We must not approach marriage or church with unrealistic expectations.  Even if we communicate clearly our point of view on issues and accept that we are imperfect people, we will not always have things go our way.  So do we abandon our marriage or our church just because of this?  No!  We must remember in both relationships that Christ is our head.  He is sovereign and will direct us in all things.  We often fail to talk to God first about the issues that trouble us.  He is Lord...we are not.  We have to look beyond ourselves to the overall welfare of not only our spouse but also our congregation as a whole.  If there is a lack of a ministry in the church and it troubles us, then, we might want to step out and meet the need that we see.  Today, there are many people who walk away from their marriage or their church over unrealistic expectations instead of trying to keep the commitment they made to God.
     With all these things in mind, we might wonder when is it ever right to look for another church body?  If the teaching in the church ever departs from the foundation of God's Word and begins to embrace error, then, we should go to the leaders and express our concerns.  We need to pray, and if they do not turn away from serious error, we should seek another place to worship God.  This does not include things like carpet color, building programs etc.  We are talking about heretical teaching.
God has planted us where we are in order to grow us into the likeness of Jesus Christ day by day for His glory.  It is not about us, and we need to look with greater perspective at God's overall plan.
     Forty-six years is a long time, but we have stayed together because we made Jesus Christ the center of our marriage.  We have been through difficulties, joys and sorrows together.  It has taken perseverance, work and effort to sustain our relationship day by day, but it is more than worth it.  Four children and ten grandchildren are the reward of a good marriage.  Likewise, the fruit of church membership is seeing others come to Christ, watching fellow pilgrims overcome difficulties and standing by those who sorrow or are sick.  We are meant to bring glory to God through our faithful witness within the Body of believers.  Pray for the church, the leaders, the pastors and fellow believers.  As a community, we are all on our pilgrim's journey, and we need one another.  Keep in mind that it is Christ who is our head.  He will do what is necessary.  Remember these words in Ephesians 5:25-27:  "25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."  He will complete what He has begun in us.  We can depend on that!  Selah!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pray, Christians, Pray

     Our world is in turmoil.  That is an understatement isn't it?  However, we should not be surprised because it has been that way since "The Garden of Eden".  Reading the Bible each day is not unlike reading the daily newspaper.  There have been wars, rumors of wars, wicked rulers, adultery,  murder, and every manner of sin.  The people of Israel, though liberated miraculously from slavery by God, whined and complained all the way to the Promised Land and they did not like their leader Moses either.  So what is the difference between those times and today?
     For one thing, our forebearers did not have instant communication, social media and television.  In many ways, I think they were lucky.  We have 24/7 means of getting the news every day, and unfortunately, it isn't just news any more.  It is heavily laced with opinion.  With this constant barrage of information (some accurate and some not), it is easy to get upset.  This is one reason I try to limit my time on T.V.
     In addition, the rising tide of animosity between people of different races, and political persuasions has given in to violence and shouting rather than reasonable discourse.  No more polite exchange of ideas.  Instead, all we hear about are senseless murders of police officers, bystanders, and the tearing down of historical statues.  Yet, none of this will solve the problems of mankind.  Revising history by removing statues does not change what is wrong with our nation or world.  The bottom line is sin.
     Romans 3:23 says:  "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."  Then, go back to verses 10-18:  "as it is written:  'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.'"  In these last few verses, Paul quotes various Scriptures to describe man's sin and the consequences of it in terms of his behavior.  Sounds almost like today's headlines doesn't it?  We should not, therefore, be surprised at what is happening around us, but the solution is not more government or social programs.  Tearing down statues, revising history, planning demonstrations or dressing like ninjas and carrying baseball bats will not improve our lives.  The ONLY thing that can bring about right relationships with others comes when we get into right relationship with God.  Repentance, prayer and receiving the forgiveness of God for our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ is the only answer for what ails the world.  We all need a heart change.
Photo by Kevin McCoy U.S. Capitol Building
     Furthermore, we need to be praying for those in leadership.  Instead of complaining about our current president, vice president, Congress, our courts, we need to be lifting them up in prayer.  Any resistance to their leadership is considered resistance to God who has placed them in power whether we approve or not.  Look at Romans 13:1-5:  "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience."  This Scripture was intended for Christians of all persuasions.  Let us keep in mind that Paul did not live in a perfect government.  The Romans were in charge at the time of his writing.  In fact, he was a prisoner when he penned these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
     If we believe that God is all powerful, all knowing and sovereign over all the world, then we must trust in Him when it comes to those in leadership.  There have been many leaders over the years of my life that I have not particularly liked or agreed with, but I have always prayed for them because God placed them in that position for His plans to be carried out.  Christians, we are called to pray for those who lead our nation, our communities, our churches.  Bending the knee to pray has more power than all the armies of the world.  God can do what we cannot.
     Finally, we have to be in the Word of God daily because this book tells us the truth about ourselves and God.  Listening to opinionated newscasters will not calm our hearts but the Bible will.  We owe it to ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds each day that we may be conformed to God's will....not ours.  This is why I call for us all to be students of the Bible, prayer warriors for our world, nation and leaders.  Then, let us be the ambassadors of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This is how we can bring about a change that will last and bring glory to God.  Selah!
   

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

     In the comic strip "Pogo" back in the 1960's, Walt Kelly had his character make a famous statement:  "We have met the enemy and he is us."  While this quote referred to a political statement the artist was making at the time, we would do well as Christians to look at how we often undermine ourselves on a daily basis through negative thinking.  We tell ourselves things like, "I could never do that" or "I think it is impossible to accomplish".  Most often, we are our own worst enemies.
     Thinking back to high school days, how many of us would come home with hurt feelings because someone looked at us funny.  No words were exchanged but we were certain that we must have done something wrong.  When I would get those ideas, my mother used to say "Maybe they ate something that didn't agree with them and it had nothing to do with you."  I now can laugh about how silly I was to assume something without any confirmation, but at the time, my mind would run wild.  The Bible calls these "vain imaginations".  2 Corinthians 10:5 reads:  "5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;..."
     When we allow our thoughts free rein in our life, we can draw many inaccurate conclusions.  This is why it is so important to focus our thinking on God's Word.  Because we were born with a sin nature, our minds can easily revert to old patterns of negative thinking even as Christians.  God has made us new creations, but we still carry with us the "old nature" that can raise its ugly head from time to time.  This is why Paul told the Corinthians to bring every thought into captivity to Christ.
     In his letter to the believers at Philippi, Paul wrote these excellent words (Philippians 4:7-9):  "7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."  Looking at this verse, we notice, first, that Paul tells us that it is God who guards our hearts and minds.  He is our peace giver and we can rest on that promise.  As we choose to dwell on good things we find in God's Word and have in our relationship with Christ, we will experience the peace of which he speaks.  Our problems come when we start to fill our minds with what the world tells us as versus what God says we are in Christ.
       Just think about all the propaganda we listen to every day on the radio or T.V.  If we use a certain toothpaste, we will keep a beautiful smile.  Wearing a certain line of clothing means we are in style or having the right car makes us more popular.  Then consider all the misinformation we hear concerning ideas, beliefs and politics.  Is it any wonder that our imaginations run wild and we become distressed over things?  We know that worry is a sin.  Jesus told us "not to worry" in His Sermon on the Mount.  So Paul's words to the Corinthians and to the Philippians speak to the problem with have with our minds.
       In His final prayer before He laid down His life to free us from sin, Jesus prayed for us these words in John 17:17:  "“Father, sanctify them by your truth, because your word is truth.”  Reading, absorbing, memorizing, and meditating on God's Word is what will keep our thinking straight as we walk through this difficult world.  After reading the Word, we need to pray for God's insight and wisdom so we may bring our thoughts captive to Him.  It is a challenge I admit especially in this age of social media and electronic gadgets that can keep us occupied for hours.  However, we will miss the peace of God if we do not learn to think God's thoughts after Him.
      With this thought, I close.  What we read, watch on T.V., the movies we view, the games we play and the company we keep, all has an effect on our thinking.  We can either fill our minds with the world or with the truth of God.  The choice is ours.  We do not have to live in fear, worry or concern, if we follow what the Apostle Paul has laid out for us to do as believers.  Selah!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Seasons of Life

     As many of you know by now, I have retired...not from housework which is never ending but from working outside the home PLUS housework.  It has been a rich season of life as I have worked alongside my husband over the years in his optometric practice.  In fact, I have had many different types of jobs at various times.  I worked in radio broadcasting, a bookkeeping department at a bank, public relations for the Ohio Optometric Association, an independent Christian book seller, an independent vitamin and health business, 21 years devoted to home educating our four children and a successful Mary Kay business.  Off and on, I worked in my husband's office as an optometric tech and insurance biller.  Now I have come to a different season in my life.  Family time, writing, reading, working in my home and continuing to serve the Lord as He leads shall be my focus.  After all, Christians do not retire from serving the Lord.
     God foreknows and foresees all things and He knows how our bodies age.  Therefore, even in the Old Testament times, God made provision for this season of life.  In Numbers 8:23-26, the Lord gave this command concerning the Levites:  "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.”  We see in these verses that God established a time for active duty and a time when this work shall come to an end.  Notice that the Levites continued to come to the place of worship even though they were not actively doing the physical work.
     Paul is a great example of someone who worked hard both as a tentmaker and a servant of the Lord until the time of his imprisonment.  Even then, Paul did what he was able to do in those circumstances.  He wrote great letters to the churches and continued to see those allowed to visit him during his confinement.  His forced retirement in prison brought forth even more fruit in his service for God.  We can see his attitude in Acts 20:24:  "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."  Paul merely wanted to go on serving the Lord until he was called home to heaven.  This should be the way we approach those days when we cease from working in a job.
     Too often, there are those who think that retirement means we can withdraw from serving Christ, quit going to church, and in general, withdraw from everyone.  Even with physical limitations, however, people can still be very useful in Christian service.  I am reminded of a dear saint who has recently gone home to be with the Lord.  While she could not get out and about, she did have a blessed ministry.  She sent cards for birthdays and wedding anniversaries faithfully.  I looked forward to hearing from her each year because it was such an encouragement.
     Every one of us is called by God for a purpose according to our season of life.  As circumstances and physical changes take place, so do the types of ministries which the Lord opens before us.    We will not fully retire until our course has been completed in this world.
     For those who have retired, there is much work to be done for the kingdom and one thing we can all do daily is pray...pray for our church, our nation, our pastors, the sick and the bereaved.  We can visit nursing homes or make phone calls to encourage others or even assist in folding church bulletins.  There are endless possibilities as the Lord leads in our lives.
     I am thankful for the many years I have been able to serve in many different jobs...especially the years I had to teach our children at home.  God has been good to me and I am looking forward to the new adventures that lie ahead in this season of life.  No matter what season we are in, though, God never wants us to retire from serving Him.  We were made to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.  Selah!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What on Earth Are People Thinking?

     As we traveled home from a glorious vacation this past week, I noticed the radical change in road trips from the time when I was growing up.  My parents did a lot of driving on various family vacations, but I do not remember having as many close calls as we did on our recent trip.  People today are not very courteous nor do they signal when they attempt to change lanes.  The only way to describe their driving is aggressive as if they are mad at someone.  Several times we were nearly run off the road by people who tried to cut between us and the car in front of us when there was no room. I know we are not the only ones that experience this kind of thing.  However, looking back at my childhood trips, it seemed that people were more patient and aware of fellow travelers. In fact, there are many areas where we can observe how the tone of our society has changed.
     On a shopping trip, not long ago, I listened as a customer berated a cashier for the pricing of a certain product.  The cashier patiently explained what the special was and how this product did not qualify.  Nothing satisfied the customer.  After further argumentation she stormed out of the store vowing to tell everyone how bad this business was to those who do business there.  I could not help but feel sorry for the cashier as she was just doing her job.  She had no control over policy; yet she took all the of the anger from the customer.  I complimented her on her kindness to this person.  I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of someone's rant.  Still the question remains.  What on earth are people thinking when they drive aggressively or take their anger out on a store clerk?  What has happened to civility, good manners, kind words and looking out for our fellow man?
     Reading Scripture today, I came across a verse that seemed to answer that question in so many ways.  It comes from 2 Timothy 3:1-4:  "There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."  Well, that about covers it all doesn't it?  Paul never minces words in what he writes by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
     Now I cannot say that these are the "last" days as no one knows, but God, when the end of time will come.  Nevertheless, I have lived long enough to see how our society has radically changed over the years.  What was unheard of twenty or thirty years ago is often a regular occurrence now like the example of the cashier in the store.  At the root of all of these behaviors, though, is sin.  There is no other explanation, and unfortunately, we are all infected with this problem of the heart.  We are selfish, and there is only one remedy that can set us free.  Only by confessing our sins and acknowledging our need for Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior can we receive a new heart by God's grace.  At that moment, not only does God give us a new heart, but He also gives us His Holy Spirit to guide us as well.  Does that mean we will never lose our temper in a store or on a highway?  No.  I wish I could say that was the case.  However, we do begin to change.
     As the Holy Spirit works in us, He produces the fruit of righteousness within us:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  This is a big difference from the description in 2 Timothy 3:1-4.  Our goal and target is to be conformed more to Christ than to the world as believers.  The good news is that God is the one doing the work within us as we surrender to Him day by day.  I don't want to be like those drivers we encountered on our trip nor do I want to hurt another person with angry words over a product in a store.  Rather I want to demonstrate the love of Christ in what I say and do.  Therefore, let us strive to live as examples of light to those who are living and working in great darkness.  The times have changed and not for the better, but we are to be of good cheer because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has overcome the world....and by His blood, we too shall be more than conquerors through Him.  Selah!

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!