Monday, January 30, 2017

Don't Stop Growing!

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

You Are What You Read

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Having a Heart to Serve

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