He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3a

Monday, June 18, 2018

Are Things What They Seem?

           We visited a friend’s house on the East Coast who have a small river behind their home, even though they tease and say it’s no more than a stream.  The water is brown and dirty.  The thought of even jumping in for a swim repulses me!  

            Once while visiting a state out West when our children were young, we stopped at a river in the mountains and helped ourselves to the crystal clear, cool water. It was wonderful.  Was this wise?  At the time, thirty years ago, it seemed fine.  

            There are beautiful cool, clear waterways in the Great Smoky Mountains, and other areas of the country, as well.  They appear pure and clean, but with the air quality from pollutants of sulfate nitrate and mercury from power plants and other industrial sites, along with acid rain, it makes a body wonder.

            As Believers, we are able to have a relationship with our Creator.  Through this relationship we can see our lives changed from the desires of the world to the desires of Christ through a cleansing found no other way.  

            Our lives are easily made brown and murky from all the evils of the world. It might not seem like those little things of life could make much of a difference.  What would it matter if we gossiped a bit or drank a little?  What’s wrong with smoking a cigarette, or gambling some?  Who is really going to care if we use bad language or try drug use, just once? Surely it can’t matter.

            Yet, each of these behaviors inevitably evolve into another and then another.  The culmination of all of these or any combination of these, has the potential to muddy our lives to the point of despair.

It’s like the metals and chemicals that get dissolved into our waterways.  You can’t see them.  But the “poisons” being filtered or even “dumped” into the water, affects the fish and other aquatic species, as well as, the other animals who drink from the shore. As the animals become contaminated with the pollutants, it destroys their lives.  The fish and game hunted for humans to eat, are also tainted, even though, with the human eye, it may not be visible. 

But there is hope.  We have a forgiving Father and one who understands temptation. He has the ability to purify all that is murky in our lives and make it pristine clean.  He can turn all the passions we have for this world around, so we no longer desire them.  And He can change our desires so we want only to use our gifts and talents to further His Kingdom.

So I encourage you to reflect on those “harmless things of this world” and see if there is a desire greater than the desire you have for God.  When we give all that we are and all that we have to God first, our lives can be rich and pure.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Standing Alone

           I remember as graduation from high school neared, I along with about ten others from my class, sat around a large table in the Media Center/Library.  Somehow the conversation turned to drug use.  Each person around the table shared just a little about their experience, even if it was “just trying it once,” with drug exploits.  I was the only one at the table who did not have a story to share! Thankfully, the sharing wasn’t in order, but rather randomly across the table, so I’m not sure who or how many even noticed that I did not participate in “the sharing!”

            Standing alone can be horribly difficult.  It takes conviction and determination to go against the grain, and sometimes those people who you have always called “friend,” or perhaps worse, your family! Our nation’s history records such an incident which certainly must have created uncomfortable scenarios between many involved on both sides of the equation; the North and the South. Records show Andrew Johnson, a democrat during the Civil War era and sitting senator for Tennessee, a slave state, stayed solid with the Union, even when his home state was seceding from the Union as they formed the Confederate States of America.

            Politics are often a great topic of discussion, and sometimes it can be very uncomfortable.  Often when in a conversation of this type, we prefer to have a partner or more than one or two other people who share our views. Politicians are very good at having a group of people who can support and strengthen their views.  It brings a degree of solidarity and confidence that enables the speaker to press on, knowing if he falters, likely someone else will step in to pick up the slack.

            This concept is also true in the sports arena. A sport team relies on every one of the members to score points.  No team can win effectively when all the scoring is dependent on a single player. It takes everyone’s participation! This is also true during a debate.  Not everyone thinks the same or at the same speed!  Experience often dictates how we think, react and respond to given situations and discussion.

            When Christ walked the Earth, twelve ordinary men were called to walk and minister with him.  Jesus taught, demonstrated and trained daily, the truths he knew these men would need to know when his work on Earth was finished.

            The day came when Jesus stood alone and faced the angry mob as Pilate washed his hands of the entire situation.  Christ knew he would suffer pain and would ultimately stand alone on the cross as He would be the ultimate sacrifice for the world.

            We all have situations where we are called to stand alone, much like I did in high school, or in other discussions where there is great disagreement.  Fear can cause us to withdraw from what we know we really need to do.  We freeze and are unable to share our view, even when it's the message of Christ, for any variety of reasons. That’s when we really need to rely on God for guidance in our conversations and our lives in general.

            I encourage you to share your faith testimony, even if it means you must stand alone.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Passion, Community, And Commitment

          A young woman visited our church congregation some time ago before her trip to a foreign, third world country, to do missionary work. She would be teaching primarily young children, but given the area she would be in, explained it would be impossible to even give those she loved, information about exactly where she was. I found her passion and follow through amazing!  

         God has gifted many of us with skills and talents we may not give a second thought to.  We are skilled at mechanics, sewing or quilting, cooking, teaching, conversing, cleaning, or a hundred other skills.  We may have a heart for the aged or very young, those who are in prison, or the poor.  We have expertise unique to us, in our area of the world, in which we live!  It’s when we use the proficiencies, which are “acting on our Godly passions” to aid those less fortunate, that we answer the call of God asking “Whom shall I send?”     

         Each of us are afforded opportunities every day to act upon our personal abilities that would in some way help another person, but very often we hold back because we are worried about “political correctness” and wondering if there will be someone who would misunderstand our motives.

         Perhaps you’ve even considered buying a sandwich in a fast food place for a homeless person, or volunteer to serve food at a shelter, visit a children’s hospital, or nursing home.  Following through can be daunting, considering the world we live in! 

         Certainly, we all have our “own worlds” that are nothing less than busy!  It’s hard to find a time to commit to act on our Godly passion, when our own family already needs us.  But I encourage you to consider how you might be able to encourage someone else.  Send that note or visit a nursing home, or even take food to a shut-in, in your very own community.  There are countless ways to use your knowledge and capabilities to “love on” another person.  

         There is one other way that bears comment about passion, community and commitment.  The men and women serving in the military to keep our country safe and our freedoms free, is the highest form of love for both our country and her people.  They put their lives on the line every day and often we neglect to offer gratitude for their personal selflessness.  On this Memorial Day, I urge you to reach out and hug a military person, and as importantly, remember those who gave their lives so we each have the right to live in a place of unequaled freedom.  It's a priceless gift.

         Allow these times “of loving,” whether it be a simple act of kindness to a neighbor, or a life of sacrifice for our country, to be an opportunity for God to shine brightly through you, and enable you to share. People all around are starving to be accepted and loved.  It may not be easy to reach out, but if you can pull on your courage, asking God to show you how, your unique passion for your community will be a very special gift for another person in need.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Going Against The Grain

         Numbers 14:6-10a Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.

         We can see disagreements in the political world every day! One person will say one thing, and within moments, with our social media, there is usually an immediate response, often in the form of a tongue lashing for any variety of reasons!  With all the bickering going on, it’s hard to know what is really right and what is wrong, not to mention how each person actually feels about a particular issue!

         Disagreements and broken friendships/relationships didn’t begin just within the last twenty or even fifty years.  There were disagreements between others as far back as Biblical days, as indicated by our scripture; and even with friends in the Revolutionary War and Civil War, as well as others.  It’s been seen time and again over the last decade, given our current political climate.  It seems like just around the curve, while new allies are born, friendships are dissolved, with little hope of restoration.   

         Everyday friends in our non-political world also split; and often due to disagreements that become hostile and ugly.  Even families have been known to lose all measure of civility when disagreements escalate to the point of such anger that relationships are completely dissolved.  

         A friend shared just this week that his family was having a reunion, but some of the siblings would not attend because there was a rift between siblings over something that happened when they were young children. How can this be?  How can a person stay angry over something for so long, due to a difference of opinion or other supposed infraction?

         There were many people in Jesus’ day who did not agree with Him.  He was the Son of God and many could not or would not accept Him as such.  Yet, he continued to teach and love.  He offered forgiveness for those who would choose to believe in him.  Still, because he went against the grain of what was traditional or “normal” he was rejected, scorned, scoffed at, and even hated.

         Perhaps there are those within your friend group, or family circle who have hardened their hearts to forgive because of a disagreement, years long passed.  It may have been over something significant, or possibly over a simple misunderstanding that was blown completely out of proportion.

         I encourage you to reflect on those with whom you have contact with, whether it be workplace, school, family or a friendship that has seen the door closed.  Just as Christ went against the grain to make right relationships through his teachings, perhaps there is a way you could reach out to someone to initiate the bonds of relationship once again.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Making Of A Hero

Heroes come in all shapes in sizes, and often the definition depends on culture, background and sometimes even religious perspective.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against Nazism in Germany.  Helen Keller overcame both deaf and blindness, becoming an advocate for these disabilities. Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in the American revolution and Winston Churchill inspired Britain during their battle against Nazi Germany.  Harriet Tubman became active in aiding slaves to freedom and Joan of Arc, a simple peasant girl, led the French army into battle! These are only a few from a “list of famous courageous people who sacrificed their own comfort to stand up for principles of human dignity and liberty.”1

What makes a hero? When I hear the word ‘hero’ I can’t help but think of the 9/11 attacks nearly 7 years ago!  Much was said about those firefighters and emergency personnel who honestly performed heroic acts.  They worked tirelessly and selflessly to save as many victims as possible during that horrible disaster.  And as brave and courageous as all these men and women were, the truth is our firefighters, police and military personnel do this day in and day out, and hardly is any recognition given.

Jesus is rarely described as a hero.  Yet wouldn’t He exemplify the word to the greatest degree?!  Jesus was a man who went against what was traditionally taught and against the greatest evils of this world.  He went so far as to defy death with His resurrection.  What mere man can make that claim?  He set the stage for the opportunity of change in the right direction.

So the question bears asking.  Can anyone be a hero?  It is said happiness is staying focused on your mission, not your results.  We can be happy when we are humble, gentle, and patient.  When you add goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, while thinking about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, we have the perfect recipe for happiness!  

When we feel good about who we are because we are focused on the task before us, even if it seems dangerous to any observers, we can be heroic, even if others do not view it in the same light.  

Sometimes the task before us is to grow spiritually.  That requires the dedication of a hero, as well! It takes faithful determination to search the scriptures with diligence, while staying focused on the message.  

I encourage you to consider your heroic actions!  As you read The Word and consider what it is saying to you, personally, you have the opportunity to grow spiritually, giving you the guidance you desire.  You can become enabled do heroic deeds for your family, friends and neighbors, whether it’s to deliver a meal, share a hug or smile, teach children in a classroom, or perform some other act of kindness.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

Strong Women

          As I look at my small world, I know I want to leave something fundamentally good behind, when I leave this world.  I want to make a difference.  I’m by no means, the only female who has felt this way.  

         Our rich history tells us Anne Frank, Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, Margaret Thatcher, and Diana, Princess of Wales also wanted to make a difference, and lived their lives so the entire world would remember them, even if that hadn’t been their plan! 

         In today’s world, women like Arianna Huffington and Taylor Swift find themselves, according to Forbes Magazine, in the top one hundred most influential women. Most women in the list, I didn’t know, which may make me uniformed, and there were a few on the list I hated to agree with!1
         Another area where we can find women who made a difference is in God’s word.  Hannah, in 1 Samuel, desperately wanted a child.  In her cry to the Lord she promised that should He honor her request, she would return the child to him to be raised in the Temple.  God honored her plea and gave her a child.  Hannah honored her promise and took her young son to Eli the priest to be raised in the Temple.  This special boy was Samuel who grew up to be one of the leading, godly men in the Bible.
         Abigail is yet another Biblical woman who showed unique strength.  Married to Nabal, a wicked and self-centered man, Abigail made a decision that took great courage.  She chose to provide a feast for David and his men after Nabal had rebuffed David’s request for food.  David was ready to fight, but Abigail’s kindness spared her family of certain retaliation and likely destruction.  After Nabal’s death, David took Abigail for his wife because of her virtues.
         Esther is still another woman the Bible tells us uses uncommon strength and courage after she, the Queen, learned Haman, King Xerxes’ top man, was going to annihilatethe Jewish people.  Queen Esther, a Jew, put her life on the line by talking with King Xerxes’ for her people.
         Being a “strong woman” (or man) for God can be intimidating and costly (through loss of friends or family relationships or possibly your life, like Esther encountered), but when we give ourselves to God, He is with us every step of the way. 
       So I challenge you to reflect on your life.  Are you “strong for the Lord?”  Are you willing to make a difference?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Noah, The Original Prepper

There are advertisements everywhere about being ready for a catastrophic event.  It seems at least once a week there is a commercial on television for large quantities of food stuffs, all prepared and packaged for the purpose of survival.  Families are re-learning the process of gardening; and planning for the big natural disaster, since grocery stores, even if only being threatened with a good snowstorm are plummeted with shoppers who clear the shelves of everything in sight!

Some might describe “prepping” as big business and that might not be too far from the mark, although there actually may be such a need for this kind of preparation.  At an expo about “prepping” in this area, survival shelter plans have been presented that have the potential to help functionality for up to 200 years!  

Others are creating “homesteads” and going “off the grid,” in an effort to leave behind all the hustle and bustle of city life and “normality” as we have come to know it.  This requires time, a bit of funds and lots of planning, but it can be done successfully.  It is often heralded (and rightfully so) the healthier alternative, both physically and emotionally.

Those who were once considered fanatical for “prepping” and fearing the world ending from some catastrophic event, there is a shift.  It is not only the “common man” or uneducated person preparing for something big to happen, however un-likely.  Highly educated people like lawyers, doctors and “high-end” professionals are also seeking the resources necessary to be prepared should there be a terrorist strike, natural disaster, war, loss of a job, or other circumstance that would require self-sustenance over a long period of time. 

As Believers, we see the end of time through the information afforded through God’s Word.  As prophesies continue to be fulfilled, we recognize events that are closing in on Christ’s return.  Preparing for a catastrophic event is not a ridiculous idea, since the “end times” assure us we will be facing persecution and troubles as the day draws nearer.

What’s interesting in all this is to recognize that “prepping” is not a new idea.  Noah might be considered the “world’s first prepper.” Consider that he was given a directive by God to build a big boat before it had ever rained!  Not only did he have to build this boat, he had to collect two of each animal, for an undetermined length of time!  It’s reasonable to assume that after he corralled all the animals on his boat, he also had to have enough water and food to feed all those critters plus his own family!

Joseph was yet another Biblical hero who found it necessary to “prep” for an upcoming drought.  God told Joseph, Pharaoh’s dream meant seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine.  After explaining to Pharaoh this event, Joseph prepared.  He gathered and stored provisions for people across the land to sustain them for the upcoming famine.

I encourage you to consider the idea of “prepping.”  What does it mean to you? The “end times” are drawing nearer. God expects us to have prepared hearts, and given his examples through Noah and Joseph, it may not be such a bad idea to be somewhat prepared externally, as well.