Friday, December 23, 2011

“Don’t you just love that new car smell?”

A lot of folks seem to get excited about the smell of a new car. But with 30 years between now and the only time I owned a new new car, I can’t say I could even recognize that smell. What I do remember, quite vividly, is the “did I just get taken to the cleaners?” period that followed every car purchase -- those first few times you put the key in the ignition and close your eyes, literally say a quick prayer, then turn the key, wondering if the engine will actually turn over; maybe even being surprised when it did! 

My first car buying experience since becoming widowed went like this: the repairman tells me that my recently rear-ended car is totaled. I ask, “Where’s a good dealer for me to go look for a replacement?” He says, “I have a good car I’ll sell you.” I say, “How much is it?” He tells me and then I say, “I can afford that, I’ll buy it.” In case you weren’t paying attention here, let me point out that I had just bought a car not knowing the make, model, year, or mileage, and not even laying eyes on it.

If you’re horrified at my foolishness, you’re not alone. It horrifies me too. And I knew better. My mechanic of a husband bought, re-built, and then sold more cars than I can remember and I knew this was no way to make a sound purchase. But God is good. The car was passed on to my son-in-law a year later and it has yet to fail any of us in faithfully getting from point A to point B. It was, as promised, “a good car”. And as an added bonus, I really could afford the car – so there were no monthly payments to make! What more could you want from a car? 

As Christians, there are other, more important, “major purchases” you make in life. One of them is finding a good church home. With our military background and moving from town to town so much, I’ve had a lot of experience in “church hunting”. I don’t really care for that phrase. But it is quite accurate because you tend to carry around a fully-loaded shotgun, ready to fire at any church the moment they don’t measure up to your standards. The biggest downside to “church hunting” is that every church has problems to shoot at; the most glaring of which is that they all have sinners in the pulpit and in the pews – I mean really, they’re everywhere you look! There’s even one who shows up in my bathroom mirror every morning….

Two years ago I came to WCC, but with no hunting and no shotgun. I had bought this church, much like that car, sight unseen. I had just completed my first time watching “The Truth Project” by Focus on the Family. The 12th week was about community involvement and the Lord used that final segment to show me how foolish I was to attend a church 20 miles from my home, knowing I would never become really involved because of the hassle of driving back and forth. I spoke to my pastor and told him I needed to stop spinning my wheels at his church and start being involved in the one right in my own neighborhood. He asked me the church’s name, I told him, and he said, “That’s a good one”. 

And again, in case you weren’t paying attention, let me point out that I had just decided to join a church without meeting a single staff person, hearing a sermon, knowing the type of music they liked, what Sunday School or Bible Study programs they offered or even what color carpet was in the sanctuary! And yes, you and I are both horrified at my foolishness. But God is good. And WCC has proven to be a good church. The folks here have yet to fail in showing me Christian love or holding up the Bible as the Word of God. And as an added bonus, I really do live so close that I can’t help but be involved in this community of believers. What more could you want from a church?

Hindsight has led me to believe that the Lord carefully placed me here, living right down the street from WCC, so I could later make this “blind” church choice. I also believe He carefully guided me to a Christian mechanic who would make sure this widow didn’t get a lemon for her “new” car. In both cases, I feel the Lord used these godly men to guide me with their knowledge and expertise – a mechanic to say “that’s a good car”, and a pastor to say “that’s a good church”. We all need people like these two men; folks who will help steer us clear of obstacles as we navigate through life.

But that car won’t stay good; it has needed some maintenance over the years: new tires, new oil, new windshield wipers, and the list continues to grow. As the owner now, I’m responsible to do what I can to keep everything running as smooth as possible. Churches need maintenance too if they are to continue being good. And as a member, I’m responsible to do what I can to keep everything running as smooth as possible.

It seems some folks like the “smell” of a new church almost as much as others like the smell of a new car. They get bored with the same old routines and look for any excuse to “shoot at” so they can justify their move to a new church. But personally, I think it is time to put away the shotguns, roll up our sleeves, and get to work maintaining the good church God has so graciously given us. As for me, this newsletter I’m writing is part of my doing maintenance for this church. Maybe tomorrow I can drop by with a new set of tires for the pastor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Note on Journaling – My Version of the 3 R’s

For me, journaling seems almost like a biblical command. I’ve come to see this simple act as a sort of “stewardship”, taking care to make good use of the many, many wonderful things God does for me.

First, it honors God when we stop our busy lives to reflect on what He is doing/done for us. Second, the entire Old Testament could be nearly summarized in the word “remember”. Israel’s frequent failures, both individually and collectively, were often times directly caused by their lack of remembering God’s Providence. And lastly, we’re told to witness to others and to retell how God has been merciful and gracious to us.

Journaling, especially online blogging, provides a way for me to accomplish all three of these goals. When I sit down to journal, I stop and reflect on what God is doing in my life. The act of writing, editing, re-writing, and typing causes me to remember those actions of His as they become permanently etched on the walls of my mind. And when I share my writings, I am giving public testimony, retelling God’s dealings with me to others. And I am also encouraging, even exhorting, them to reflect, remember, and retell their own stories.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Temptation, James 1:13, 14

Two weeks ago my Pastor spoke on temptation as the theme for his morning sermon using this passage -- James 1:13-14, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”

And since then my friend and I have been tossing back and forth ideas about how it could be that Satan was able to tempt Jesus because He doesn’t have lusts. Well, my reasoning may not be completely correct, but this is what I’ve come up with so far . . . .

We are all of us tempted by our lusts, but being tempted is not the problem, for the Bible clearly says our Lord Jesus was indeed tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4:2 and Matthew 4:1). But it is when we give in to that temptation that we sin. Satan tempted Jesus with human lusts – the exact same ones he uses to tempt us. But Jesus has no lustfulness in Him; therefore He did not give in to that temptation and did not sin.

As we grow in our walk with the Lord, becoming more sanctified, more mature, more Christ-like – our lustfulness begins to fade and temptations bother us less and less. However, even as I am writing this, I realize that our lusts are very much still there. The old sins may bother us less, but new sins have crept in – ever so subtly – to take their place; for example, the PRIDE that I’m not doing that “old” sin anymore.

But GLORY be to God that when tempted, Jesus, having ALL power and authority and being fully God, did not just “ZAP” the devil and make him stop bothering Him. No, instead He used the Bible to thwart Satan; the same Sword of the Spirit that every believer has to fight off Satan. Jesus gave us His example, using memory verses from the book of Deuteronomy, to rise above temptations.

And now, I have to stop writing in this blog and go memorize some more Scripture verses!

Ephesians 6:11, 17
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” -- including “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Journal Suggestions:

What sword-like verses has the Lord given to you for fighting Satan in your life?

Describe a time you were able to overcome a particular temptation by using Scripture.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Psalm 1 - The Truth of God's Word

Psalm 1:2-3 says, the Blessed Man … “delights in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”

Here we find a 3-step plan every Christian should hope to follow:

Step 1: You “taste” Bible study a few times and you find it is a delight . . . it nourishes you and satisfies you, and before you know it –

Step 2: You begin to meditate upon the Word, both day and night. And as it becomes even more pleasant, you begin wondering how you ever lived without doing Bible study before now! Then one day –

Step 3: You wake up and realize that you are indeed PLANTED in the very words of the Lord – and there is just no other place you’d rather be! The Bible has become a precious and rich soil that the roots of your life fully enjoy and depend on daily to sustain your life. The roots of your soul are deep and they spread wider as time passes and you become more and more familiar with all the glorious richness found in the Bible.

Yes, as promised in Psalm 1, you’ve become firmly planted. And now, your leaf does not wither – even in drought, when life’s troubles and trials are blowing hard all around you – for your roots have found the ever-present Spring of Living Water.

-- Happy first birthday to my blog :-)

Mark 5:19
"Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."

Journal Suggestions:

What has the Lord been teaching you?

Describe the path you took in becoming a person who digs into God’s Word.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Daniel in the Lion's Den

So why was Daniel in that lion’s den? As we read the story in Daniel 6, we find that the king saw he was a good over-seer and he was faithful to do a good job. Then the other over-seers were jealous. Rather than stepping up their game, following Daniel’s lead, they’d rather just make trouble for him so he looks bad and they’ll look good.

So how’s the story end? Well, Daniel doesn’t have a scratch on him after spending the whole night with the lions – seems they weren’t hungry enough to anger the Lord God! Lesson: we are taught here to be faithful to God in spite of any opposition. God is able to not only keep our souls safe from all harm, but our bodies too when that suits His purposes!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Health and Wealth Prosperity Gospel

What is the biblical definition of success? Joshua was told to obey all that was commanded – for then he would be prosperous and have success (Joshua 1:6-9). Do you think God’s view of success is anything like ours?

I’m relating this passage to Psalm 1 – it also promises success and prosperity if we mediate on and follow the “Book of the Law”. However, my mind is filled with images of Paul, chained to a stone wall in a dank, dark prison cell. Prosperity and success…? Paul successfully witnessed to the jailor and his whole household was saved. He was rejoicing for the opportunity to share the gospel with a captive audience while in prison (Acts 16: 22-34).

I’m also remembering the blessings poured out on Job after he withstood his trials – but before those blessings came, and none were promised to come, Job’s faith stood fast. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). Job saw his relationship with the Lord in much the same way as a marriage covenant – in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer – regardless of our circumstances, we are to love the Lord and bless His holy name.

I guess the bottom line is this, if I were obeying God because of His promises of success and prosperity, it wouldn’t really be obedience at all. God commands that first of all, we love Him with all our hearts, our souls, and our minds (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Steward of the Word

Happy New Year! I’m excited to see what 2011 will bring, I hope you are too!

Lately, I’ve been thinking about stewardship and I’m amazed at all the ways God has shown me to apply this word in my life.

It began a few weeks ago when I noticed the bathroom scale was giving me some un-wanted news and I acknowledged that tackling my weight-eating-health problem alone would probably end in failure – again. I realized then that my body was something on loan to me from God to be a steward over – to care for on His behalf.

But as I said, that was only the beginning. Over the next few days I jotted down several other “things” God has entrusted into my care. And then, I stumbled across this definition of stewardship: a minister of Christ, whose duty is to dispense the provisions of the gospel. If that doesn’t sound like anything you find in your dictionary, don’t toss the thing out, there’s a good explanation. I recently got my hands on a newly published copy of Noah Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary. I’ve really enjoyed thumbing through it to compare old definitions with those in our modern dictionaries. What an eye-opening experience! But, I’ve digressed here a bit . . .

So a steward is one who cares for someone else’s property and looks out for their best interests. A Christian Steward is one who cares for God’s property on His behalf. And according to Noah Webster at least, one of those pieces of property in our care is the Gospel. What a glorious gift! What a marvelous thing it is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with someone! But also, what an awesome responsibility it is to be charged with “dispensing the provisions” of the very words of God.

As Christians we often find ourselves over-focused on our great privileges – and yes, they are great and many and we should be eternally thankful. However, in doing so, we have often overlooked our solemn duties and responsibilities. Throughout Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul challenges each of us to be faithful stewards and bring God’s Gospel of Grace to all the nations. And may I add, beginning with those living in our own neighborhoods.

Maybe 2011 is the year you’ll become bold for Christ. How many people have known you for years and you’ve never spoken with them of your faith? Are there people in your life who would be surprised to bump into you if they visited your church? If so, resolve to be a better steward of the gospel this year – be bold about your faith, not offensive, but not ashamed either. . . . “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16

But witnessing to the lost is only part of the steward’s challenge. We also are responsible for knowing and applying God’s Word to our own lives. If you don’t already have a new year’s resolution, please allow me to suggest one for you: read your Bible through this year. If that seems too daunting and difficult, get your hands on a copy of Halley’s Bible Handbook. This gem has been in print several decades so even used copies are readily available. A friend of mine shared with me just a couple weeks ago how she always reads along in her Halley’s as she studies the Scriptures. And I applaud her method of choice – Henry Halley is an excellent “Tour Guide”!

But perhaps for others, the idea is little ho-hum because you’ve “been there and done that” so many times before. If that’s the case, then offer to be that Tour Guide for someone tackling Scriptures for the first time. Seeing their excitement is guaranteed to put fresh meaning into every golden nugget of Truth you unearth together.

In the end it doesn’t matter how you do it, just as long as you do it! Letting your Bible sit on the coffee table or book shelf and gather dust is an awful waste of knowledge. But it is also against God’s will for your life: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15). This book contains God’s revelation to us, and He longs for us to know what is there. The English preacher Charles Spurgeon had an interesting twist on our need to be stewards of God’s Word. He said we should never let our fingers be defiled by Bible dust.

Unfortunately, here in the United States, we often take for granted we will always have access to God’s Word – that it will be there for us, whenever we manage to get around to making time for it. We’ve lost our passion – we’ve forgotten how precious Scriptures are. Just five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s printing press first allowed non-clergy folks to hold God’s Word in their own hands. And Reformers, like Martin Luther, fought to have Scriptures written in the common language of the people. Our nation’s Founding Fathers saw to it that every child had an opportunity to learn reading so they could study Scriptures.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John passes along God’s warning to the church at Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). If these sad words describe you, don’t lose heart. Today marks a new beginning. Start the year off right -- cherish the Word, be a good steward of the Gospel. Here are some practical suggestions to get you going:

• Be a better steward of your time -- schedule a regular meeting with your Bible.

• Volunteer to be a teacher or work with the youth of your church, share with others the knowledge of Scriptures God has entrusted to you.

• Consider giving financial support to organizations dedicated to sharing the Bible around the world. The Gideon’s and Wycliffe Bible Translators come to mind, but check with your clergy for other suggestions.

• Start a neighborhood Bible study group and watch God do great things as you maintain an “open to all” atmosphere.

• Commit to memory one Bible verse or short passage each week or month. And plan to review these regularly in order to keep them sharp in your mind.

• Search out opportunities to personally share the gospel with others. Be a faithful witness for the Lord, telling others what great things He has done for you. You don’t need to memorize fancy scripts, just speak the truth from your heart.