Friday, December 1, 2017

"The Next Big Thing"

     Sitting and sipping my coffee this morning, I could not help but reflect on the old coffee mug which once belonged to our oldest son Aaron.  It has a large representation of the Tasmanian Devil (cartoon character) on the front of it.  I have probably used it since the day our son moved out.  It feels comfortable to me.  We have plenty of other coffee cups, but there is nothing like my "Taz" cup to start the day.  There is something to be said for tradition.
     Growing up, my family attended a Presbyterian Church in our community where we weekly recited the Lord's Prayer, said the Apostle's Creed and sang the doxology and the Gloria Patri.  After hearing it for years, I learned it by heart so it became a part of meaningful worship to me.  Now that I
am older, I find a security and stability as I recite these same things that the saints of the early church also said.  Yet there was a time when I thought tradition was boring and went searching for "the next big thing".
     My husband and I joined with a group of believers who were going to "throw off" tradition and hear from God afresh in worship.  It sounded good, and so a new church was born.  A praise band replaced traditional hymnody, and we rarely, if ever, recited the "Lord's Prayer" or the "Apostle's Creed".  Instead, we stood and sang until the Spirit of God moved upon us and someone would utter a prophetic word in tongues with an interpretation.  Needless to say, it had elements of excitement because it was new and different.  However, I believe much of it relied upon feelings and emotion rather than a move of the Spirit.
     Cracks in the foundation of this new body of believers began to show when doctrine came up in preaching.  Most of us had come out of traditional churches and were well acquainted with the Bible. Yet one week, we were told "once saved, always saved."  The next week, we heard that we could lose our salvation.  Nothing seemed to be settled.  After a number of such incidents, we prayerfully decided to leave this body.  We had made many wonderful friends and thankfully, we are still friends today, but we realized we could not stay where doctrine was fluid.  The whole experience was very painful for us as a family, and for a time, we had no church to call home.
     When we finally settled in to the ARP Presbyterian Church in our community, I cannot begin to describe the comfort that came over me as we sang the "Doxology" and recited the "Lord's Prayer".
I was home...felt secure again as I heard the Doctrines of Grace expounded from the pulpit.  "The next big thing" was not at all what I thought it would be.  Lesson learned.
     Solomon learned this over the course of his life too.  He started out well by asking God for wisdom ( 2 Chronicles 1 and I Kings 3).  God was pleased at his request and granted him this as well as riches and peace.  From there, however, things went downhill.  Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter and formed an alliance with Egypt.  God had told the Children of Israel not to marry foreign women, so while Solomon may have been wise in his decisions among his people, he was not wise in his own life.  He was always seeking "the next big thing".  He gathered 700 concubines to make his life happy, and he began to engage in pagan rituals along with them.  He certainly had a fabulous palace, he built the Temple for God, and he had peace on all sides with the nations around him.  However, in all his quest for "the next big thing" to titillate his senses, he lost sight of true worship of the only God.  His regrets are recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes where he writes, "Vanity of vanities says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity."  His quest for excitement led him to the realization that "new things" were not always the best things.    He concludes his writing (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14) by saying, "The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."  Indeed, Solomon learned the hard way and after him, the kingdom was torn in two as a result of his wayward leadership.
     As we look at our culture today, we see the pursuit of the same thing Solomon wanted:  "The next big thing."  Whether it is the newest smartphone, electronic gadget or toy, man's heart has not changed...it is still tinged with that old sin nature.  Unfortunately, some of that desire for the next big thing has also crept into the church.  Even though our experience happened many years ago, the same scenario can be seen today where congregations want to throw off the "old" traditions in favor of new ways of attracting a crowd.  Yet Scripture teaches us "...no one understands; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:11).  What is it we are missing here?
     The church is to be a bastion of teaching and discipleship.  A place to be equipped to go into the world and share the Gospel.  We are to be the salt and light.  As a peculiar people, we are to influence the world and not allow the world and its methods to influence us.  Why is it that  in many cases we see bodies of believers compromising with the world's standards and becoming places of entertainment rather than centers of teaching?  God does not change and neither does His Word.  Therefore, do we think we can improve on what He has told us?  My prayer for the church at large is that we seek to return to reformation principles:  Sola fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone),
Sola Cristos (Christ alone), Sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and Sola Deo gloria (to God be the glory alone).  All else is window dressing.  We must not get caught up in "the next big thing" if we are to be faithful to the one who calls us.  Tradition may seem stuffy to some, but in the context of the Christian faith, it ties us to the generations that have gone before us saying "The Lord's Prayer", the Apostle's Creed and singing the doxology.  It is what sets us apart from this world with its trinkets and baubles.  Selah!
   
   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Being Thankful in All Things Great and Small

     In this season of Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of visiting my grandsons today at their school for a special parent/grandparent lunch with them.  What a delight to see them smile and hear about what they have been doing.  Family time and the simple things like having lunch in a school cafeteria are a gift from God.  Perhaps we forget to take time just to praise the Lord for these moments that bring a smile to our heart.
     As I was reading today in "The Valley of Vision", the Puritan prayer I read touched my heart strings:
     "O my God,
       Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee,
       for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in
       ceaseless flow.
     When I think upon and converse with thee, ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
       ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
       crowding into every moment of happiness.
      I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it,
       though it is fixed in barren soil; for the body thou hast given me, for preserving
       strength and vigor, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom
       of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; for thy royal bounty
       providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste,
       sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others,
       for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
       for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
       for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
     I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures.
   
     Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity." (pg 16-17, The Valley of Vision).

     What a beautiful expression of thankfulness and praise to God in this prayer.  How often we overlook the bounty of all that we have been blessed with.  We often complain about our appearance, or even our performance on the job whether homemaker or worker outside the home.  "I wish I was more like so and so," we say.  However, Scripture paints a different picture of who we are in Psalm 139.  David writes:  "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:13-14).  Our Creator made us just the way He wanted us to be with a plan for us to bring glory to His name.  In this, we should express our thankfulness just as this Puritan prayer expresses.
      Having the basic needs of our life met (i.e. food, clothing, shelter), what more do we really need?
Yet, daily, through commercials, we are told that we deserve more.  Our society runs more on "the next great thing" than on thankfulness and praise to the God who has so richly blessed us.
     Perhaps the most meaningful part of this prayer is at the beginning where the one uttering the words calls herself a "little vessel" that is filled as it can be.  Jesus told us in John 7:38:  "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  We are meant to pour out the streams of living water to those who do not know the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit use us all for His glory and praise.
      As we approach Thanksgiving, let us begin to reflect on all that God has given us and be thankful for who we are, for the time we live in, and for the opportunities we have daily.  These have been ordained by our Sovereign God who made us and loves us.  If we do this, we will find a greater contentment in the life He has given us.  Selah!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tinkering With God's Things

     Years ago, I tried to get an old clock fixed.  It was a treasured clock from my father's collection.  I loved to hear it but one day it stopped.  So, I perused the local phone book and found a fellow who said he could repair old clocks.  He came to our house and picked it up and promised to get it back in working order.  After several weeks with no word from him, I called to see if he had it finished.  He replied that it was tricky and he was still working on it.  When a month went by, I called again and he said he needed to take it to Orlando where there was a clock repair school since he could not locate the problem.  Finally, the clock was returned to me after several months away.  The clock repairman had broken off a wooden piece at the top of the clock which he had glued back on.  In addition, the clock had all new insides since the school could not fix the original works.
     With my assistance, the repairman remounted the clock on my wall but when it chimed the hour it sounded terrible.  So, this man bent a piece in the clock so it would chime without such a tin sound.  Unfortunately, the clock still does not work.  We all know the old saying, "Let the buyer beware", but in this situation, I think I needed to do a better investigation of this man's credentials before giving him my old clock.  He tinkered with it and it hasn't been the same since.  When it comes to the things of God, we might be just as cautious before we begin to "try" to improve on what God has said.
    In my quiet time this morning, I read a story about King Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16).  This king, like many before him, did evil in the sight of the Lord.  The Bible says, "he walked in the way of the kings of Israel" by introducing pagan, idolatrous practices into the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Since Ahaz was being threatened by the king of Syria, he made an alliance with Tiglath-pileser the king of Assyria who protected him.  Upon visiting Tiglath-pileser in Damascus, Ahaz saw an altar used by the Assyrians that caught his eye.  He liked it so much that he made a drawing of it which he sent to Uriah the priest.  Uriah built the altar according to the drawing before the king returned from his trip.  When he saw this altar, he made his burnt offering, grain offering, and drink offering on it.  Afterwards, he replaced the bronze altar which had been the center of offerings that Solomon had dedicated in the temple to God's glory and according to God's design.  Ahaz moved the bronze altar to one side so he could use it to inquire by or divine the future.  This was something which the Lord had forbid (Deut. 18:9-14).  This new altar would now be center stage for all the offerings by the priest.  Additionally, Ahaz made many other changes in the Temple.
     None of the changes which this king made were commanded by God.  The Lord had laid out all the specifics when the Temple was built by Solomon.  It seems that Ahaz was beguiled by the altar he saw in Damascus more than by his relationship to the Living God.  He was tinkering with God's things.
     Over a period of time, God's chosen people became more and more enamored with the culture around them.  They started to add pagan practices and idolatry into their worship, and much of this was a result of their leaders falling away from the truth of God's Word.  There were a few kings who tried to reverse this trend, but they were far and few between.  Indeed, God was patient with them for a time.
     Ahaz focused his attention on the beauty of an altar rather than on the worship of God.  We don't know what he was thinking, but we know that he moved things around and thought nothing of it.  Maybe he wanted to make the House of God more esthetically pleasing or streamline it.  Unfortunately, the priest did not object as he had become caught up in the spirit of the age.  So what is the takeaway here?
     First, we need to ask ourselves, "Do we think we have better ideas than God?"  Ahaz tinkered with the Temple.  He was the "clay" that indirectly told the Potter (God), that he did not like that old boring bronze altar compared to the pagan one he saw.  So he moved, without God's approval, to change the house of worship.  He also incorporated, in his own life, pagan worship along with the ordained worship prescribed by God, and allowed the people to do so likewise.  This was no small thing.  As we continue to read in the Old Testament, the consequences for disobedience would follow.
     When we look at our own lives, what things have we put ahead of God?  Ahaz was impressed with
an altar more than obeying the Lord.  He altered worship to incorporate the elements of the culture around him rather than following what God laid out in His Word.  We see this happening in churches today when people put more emphasis on the comfort or beauty of a building rather than on the worship of God.  In addition, many denominations have caved to cultural pressures and accepted practices which God has clearly forbidden in His Word.  We cannot have it both ways.  Either we follow the Lord in all things according to His Word as our foundation, or we tinker with the Bible and worship and do things our way.  At some point, we, too, will face the consequences if we let this happen.
     I certainly regretted letting the clock repairman work on my treasured antique.  His tinkering did more damage in the long run.  The same will be true when we start to add to what God has already told us in His Word concerning our faith and practice.  We do not want to tinker like Ahaz and be in love with an altar rather than the One whom we should focus our attention on.  There is no substitute for fidelity to God's Word, worship and precepts.  His Word is truth, and we cannot improve on that.  Let us be found faithful to His glory!  Selah!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My Heart Sings and So Should Yours!

     Recently, our church music director has been leading a class in Reformation Music in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  Every session covers a different area of music during this time period.  One of the main components of church worship was Psalm singing either accompanied by the organ or sung acapella.  We listened to clips from You Tube video of congregations and choirs singing these songs.  The purpose was twofold at the time.  First, the Reformers wanted the people to learn Scripture and singing is one of the best ways to retain things in your mind.  Secondly, the Reformers also wanted the people to participate fully in the worship of the church.  Prior to the Reformation, the congregation of the church did not have a personal Bible to read from and most services were said only in Latin.  The Reformers wanted to fully engage both the mind and spirit so that believers would be encouraged to grow in their understanding.  Our local congregation continues to sing Psalms (no longer exclusively) in our traditional service, and there is another branch of Presbyterianism that sings Psalms acapella each Lord's Day and includes no hymns.
     Most of the hymns that were written in those early years after the Reformation were based on Scripture and are still sung today.  Growing up, I remember listening to my mother's beautiful voice as she sang out the words to those hymns.  The memory has not faded either.  Just the other day as I was cleaning, I tuned into an instrumental praise station on Pandora and listened to the hymns played on piano.  I could easily recognize the name of the hymn and start singing the words.  This is why I say that what we sing we most often remember.
     In the Bible, we read about David who wrote many of the Psalms and sang them as he cared for his father's
sheep.  Later, we know that he soothed the soul of Saul by playing music (I Samuel 16:23):  "And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him."  On many occasions when I have had a difficult day, I will spend time singing those hymns which praise the Lord and lift my heart.  Praise and worship in the home does soothe away the irritations of the day.
     Other parts of Scripture show Miriam singing praise to the Lord in Exodus 15:21:  "And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”  The women joined in and praised God with her.  Moses also sang a song of praise to God.  Mary, the Mother of our Lord, rejoiced with a song of praise to God recorded in Luke 1:46-55.  Over and over again, we see examples like these that should encourage us to sing and make melody to the Lord.  When we sing scripture, we are repeating God's Words back to Him.  What a sweet sound in His ears!
     Our daughter-in-law who comes from a great musical family spends time each evening singing prayers with her boys when they go to bed.  These are the things that stick in our hearts and we never forget.  She is making a time of prayer also a time of musical worship to the Lord.
     When I was only six my Grandfather Engel died tragically in an accident, but I remember his funeral.  My mother had told me that he loved "The Old Rugged Cross" which they played that day.  Ever since then, it has held a special place in my heart.  Likewise, I remember very well that my father loved the hymn "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and spent time playing it on our organ at home.  Now when I hear this hymn, I look back on it with joy.  We often tag important events in our life with music so why not make it the music of God?
     Ephesians 5:18-20 reminds us that we are to make music unto the Lord:  "18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  When we have this attitude in us, it will not be difficult to encourage each other, learn Scripture and be lifted up even as we praise the Lord.  May your heart sing today even as mine does so that we can bring glory to our Lord!  Selah!

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!