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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Rejoicing With The Angels

          The year is coming to a close and I rejoice with the angels who welcomed several into the Christian faith in the last few weeks!  What a great way to end the year.  Last week we were told of two people who came to know Christ as Savior and then this Sunday another young man came forward and accepted Christ.  These new believers are beginning a journey which will change their lives forever.

We all have a story to tell.  One woman recently shared she thought for years she was a born again Christian, but wasn’t sure she would really enter heaven’s gate when she was called home.  Her conviction led her to her knees to make things right with God so she could know for certain she was indeed going to spend eternity with Jesus.   What struck me as remarkable about her story is how long she believed in her salvation before she realized she really hadn’t given her heart to God.  

Even those of us who grew up in the faith, can be deceived.  We were raised in Christian homes where we attended church every Sunday, had parents who were believers and generally learned all about what it meant to be a Christian.   This was driven home when another young man shared his story of going to church every Sunday morning, evening and even Wednesday night prayer meetings with his family.  He assumed because he was involved in all the “goings on” of church, youth group and even into his adult life, he was on his way to heaven.  Years later he realized he had never asked God to be Lord of his life. 

Someone said once, “Just because you sit in the garage, doesn’t mean you’re a car.” While that is true, so is, “Just because you attend church, doesn’t make you a Christian!”  It is easy to have “head knowledge.”  We eventually absorb what we hear, especially if we hear it often.  But if we never make a heart commitment to the Savior, we have accomplished little, and certainly not gained salvation.  We don’t “inherit” our parent’s salvation.  We don’t become a born again Christian because of our works or because we follow the Law.  It’s about sacrifice.  It’s about an admission of sins and repentance.

As 2014 comes to a close, many people make New Year’s resolutions in a genuine attempt to make changes.  They have “resolved” ……  You might plan to exercise or eat better, lose some weight, begin new projects or have another type of resolution.  Perhaps you have made a resolution to read the Bible more, maybe all the way through this year.  Maybe you plan on trying to memorize scripture, or become involved in the Youth group at church, teach a Sunday School class or even join the choir, all of which are commendable resolutions. 

I suggest the greatest resolution any one person can make for 2015 is to study the Bible consistently.  I contend “studying” is different than reading, going to a Bible Fellowship class, or listening to sermons, although all of these are excellent behaviors.  But to sit, one on one with The Lord, to abide in His presence while you read His “Love Letter” to you; searching the text for clarity, sources for true meaning (perhaps a Greek dictionary), share your heart with Him, and then just listening to what He has to tell you will make more of a difference in your life than any other single thing you can do.

So my challenge for this year is to consider setting a time every day when you have “one on one” time with The Father.  When you do, the blessings will come.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

For The Love of Family

            I had great expectations that Christmas, despite the warning to my sisters and I Christmas would be very sparse.  For a nine-year-old, a Christmas without gifts isn’t comprehensible.  My parents relentlessly told us, “No gifts this year.  We’re going on a trip to Mississippi.  We can’t afford both.”  The meager Christmas was even evident in the tiny tree in our small trailer.   It was only lightly decorated for the holidays. The snow outside, and Christmas spirit in my childish heart, however, compensated for the lack of ornaments inside.

            But Christmas morning, when our family gathered around the little tree, I felt a huge lump in my chest.  It weighed heavy as I tried to look pleased with the single object I held in my hand.  One gift?  My heart was crying.  I know you told us, but I didn’t think you meant we really weren’t getting “Christmas”!  I don’t want to go on a trip.  I want gifts.  That’s Christmas, I shouted silently.  I fought back the tears forming on the inside, while forcing a smile on the outside.  My hands were cold as I fidgeted.  It’s a trick.  There must be more, I thought desperately, while I watched my sisters each open their single gift.  But it wasn’t a trick.  It was reality.  This was it. One gift; no more.  

            The long ride from Indiana to Mississippi is barely a vague memory.  My parents traveled at night, as we children slept.  When we arrived, there were a few more surprises in store.  Since I had never met this part of my father’s family, it was a unique experience since they were one step removed from the Mennonite faith.  My parents tried to prepare us for the difference, but until you experience it, it seems very foreign.

            These people drove cars like we did, although theirs were much plainer, and predominately black.  They dressed much differently than us; all the ladies wore their hair the same: on top of their heads, (literally, even the little girls wore it in this fashion); the men all looked the same too, and they didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas!  I was appalled!  All the families were large and often joined others for meals or fellowship.  Their church services included no music with the singing, and cousins could marry cousins!

            When I met my great grandmother, I immediately loved her.  She gently hugged each of us girls in turn.  It was awesome to look at the elderly lady and know she was my father’s grandmother.  She loved us, even before she knew us, just because we were family, and in spite of our differences.

            Christmas in its former meaning soon vanished from my mind.  I forgot about the “gifts” I didn’t receive, and the disappointment, as each of those special people invited us into their homes, shared of themselves and all they had.  They taught me the love of family. When it was time to leave for the return trip home, I held back.  I truly didn’t want to leave such a haven of love and tranquility; a place where I felt I belonged.  Our differences weren’t apparent any longer and I only knew I felt welcomed and a part of their family; not an outsider.

As I look back on so many memories of that special time, I think of an even greater love that happened at Christmas. The gift of God’s Son enables our families to join His heavenly family for eternity.  Because of God’s special gift, we are no longer separated from God.

            I learned during my experience of our trip that the love of family is so much more important than the love of gifts to unwrap on Christmas morning.  The gifts I could have unwrapped that year instead of meeting my extended family would soon have been forgotten.  The memories of that time shall always remain a part of me.  I never saw my great grandmother again, but she’s still alive in my heart.

            Jesus, as the gift at Christmas, has the power to live in our hearts, if we allow Him.  God’s gift of Jesus is the greatest kind of love.  Through Him, we can know the true meaning of Christmas, and the love of family will be real for us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

We’ve all seen the bracelets that have WWJD on them.  They’ve been around for quite a while now and I think, honestly, they serve a good purpose.  I’ve been reading “In His Steps” by Charles Monroe Sheldon and the story asks the question, “What would Jesus Do?  But it really asks more than that. 

The story is about a minister who challenges his church members to ask the question,  “What would Jesus Do?”  —and then, base their response to that question, for an entire year regardless of personal ramifications, on what they think Jesus would do if He were facing the same issue, right now.  

The situations involve a wealthy newspaper publisher who takes a critical eye at his newspaper advertising and even Sunday delivery.  The ramifications to his business seem obvious.  When advertising is altered or deleted based on “what would Jesus do?” he is going to lose money since it included ads to the local saloon, cigarette use, etc.  The same holds true with Sunday delivery.  Subscribers count on it.  It will again, likely, cost him revenue since the immediate response is upset subscribers.

Another member who took the challenge faced a dilemma of knowing how to deal with information he inadvertently discovered which would damage the business he works for, should he expose them. An heiress must decide how she will handle her millions while another woman must determine if a career in music is where she should be.  My point is we all have individual issues every single day where we make choices.  How do you decide what is right and wrong?  More than that, given our social media and status, the amount of information any given person has access to, and the blurred lines in society, do we honestly ask ourselves, “If Jesus were here this very minute and faced this very issue (no matter how trivial), how would HE respond?” 

If a you or I seriously committed to a full year of this process; hitting our knees and searching our hearts before making a decision about anything, would our lives be different?  Further, if the commitment is to choose only what Jesus would do regardless of the ramifications to each of us personally, would our choices be different?

I had an experience recently where I had to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” and I had to make a choice.  It might not have been my choice several months ago, or it might have.  But I had to seriously ask the question rather than just toss the thought around for a few seconds; and then I had to make a decision.  My “off the cuff” answer, in any case, wouldn’t have been illegal, immoral or wrong in any sense of the secular way.  But if Jesus was faced with the same decision, how would he have responded?  Asking this question and then following through regardless of the ramifications to ourselves or our professional life, can be difficult.

I challenge you this week to face every single decision with the question, “If Jesus were physically here and faced with this decision, this moment, what would He do?”  Can you follow through?  Are you willing to commit to responding the way you honestly believe Christ would respond?  Pray about your situation and decisions every single moment.  Ask for God’s guidance, search your heart and then make a decision.

Monday, December 8, 2014

After I Die

         The Pastor has been doing a series on “What happens after we die.”  While some would consider it a morbid subject I find it fascinating.  Please don’t misunderstand, I have no desire to die just now, but I think it’s worth thinking about, since when I leave this earth, I'm going to spend eternity somewhere!

            I take great pleasure in spending time with those I love.  Sometimes it is collectively with the ladies of the church in amazing fellowship.  Other times it is with a friend in one on one time.  Often I spend time with my children whether on the phone (since several live many miles away), or via facebook messaging or in person and of course I spend time with my husband!  And as grandmother I completely enjoy my very special grandchildren.  A friend said once, “Times like these are medicine to my heart.”  She is absolutely right!

            I know however, the day will come when I will leave this earth.  First I want my funeral to be a celebration, not a sad farewell….   But I can’t help wonder (even though you may think me odd) --  what the speakers will say about me and my life, at my funeral. ---What kind of wife, mother or grandmother was I; or daughter, cousin, or aunt?  What kind of friend was I, or working associate?  What character qualities did others see in me?  What contribution, or achievements will people remember—or will they even remember any?  What difference have I made in people’s lives around me?

            I would like to think I was a good wife, dedicated and loyal.  As a mother I expect there are different views depending on the child, but mostly I hope they believe at least I did my best, even if I failed each of them from time to time.  As a grandmother, again descriptions would vary because of geography, if nothing else, since distance alters relationships.  And I suspect my parents, cousins and co-workers also had their varied opinions of me that might have changed from time to time.  

 But I’d like to think my character qualities were fairly consistent and could be described as loyal, upbeat or happy, encouraging, honest, godly, creative, dedicated and making a difference in people’s lives; I hope positive affirmation.

 My point is each of us has this one life to make a difference, to do something good as we touch other people’s lives.  I wonder if we don’t get so caught up in our own day to day issues we forget why we are here.  Do we get lost in being so “busy” with life we lose perspective of what is really important? 

The Pastor made a comment some weeks ago that kind of stuck with me, “The only thing you can take to heaven with you is other people!”  We get so wrapped up in getting ahead and being successful we lose sight of the people around us who won’t make it to heaven if we don’t plant the seed of the Gospel and thus leaving them with the unpleasant (actually the horrific) alternative. 

 I am responsible for my eternal decision, because I will die (unless the Rapture happens first).  But I am also responsible to the people I have contact with, to the point at least of sharing the Good News.  It’s what we are called to do as Christian disciples.  So I challenge you this week.  Consider first your own destination.  Do you know where you will spend eternity?  Consider also your neighbor, co-worker, friend, family members or acquaintance.  Have you offered the Gospel to them?  What will these people say about you after you are gone?