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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Standing Through Adversity

          History is full of people who faced adversity, yet made amazing strides in their lives.  Helen Keller, both deaf and blind, learned sign language, wrote books, campaigned for women’s rights and was elected into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  Beethoven lost his hearing yet was able to write his Symphony Number 9 without ever hearing a single note of it.  Viktor Frankl suffered horrible terrors in the Nazi Concentration camps but was able to reach down within himself and draw on the will to live.1  These aren’t the only people who suffered great difficulties, and moved beyond their trials.

            We know the story of Saul before he became Paul.  He was what would be termed today, a terrorist!  He was wicked, doing all the things he believed he had a right to do.  He hunted down and killed believers, certain he was in the right.  Yet on the way to Damascus, God changed who Saul was.  In effect, he was indeed, “reborn.”   Saul gave up his old ways, humbled himself, and turned his life around. 

            As non-believers, before we came to Christ, we were no different than Saul.  We did what we believed we had the right to do because we were of the world!  We had places to go, movies to see, money to make, careers to advance, people to meet, and dates to keep!  We persecuted Jesus in our daily lives, just as Saul, before we humbled ourselves before God and turned our lives around.  

            Adversity comes to everyone.  We are going to have difficulty, misfortune, pressure and affliction.  It’s part of this life we cannot escape.  It’s how we react to our trials that determines if we’ll survive, give up, or move forward in a positive way.  If we attempt to face the trial on our own, without Christ, Satan is going to use every means he can to draw us into the depths of despair. The world will tell us to fight back, repay evil with evil, to be bitter and display our anger and discontent.

            But God’s Word says to honor Him in everything.  It is only when we humble ourselves before Christ, we are enabled to face the crisis with a level of peace.  We have to react with the belief that God can solve everything, but we have to be willing to search for Him, so we can glorify Him through the suffering.

            We can choose to be broken and defeated, listening to the negative voices that make us feel small and unworthy.  But we have to remember like Helen Keller, Victor Frankl and others who had to believe circumstances, obstacles and limitations mean nothing, when it comes to standing strong in our faith before whatever giant mountain looms before us.  It comes down believing God is bigger than any thing we are facing.

            We have to ultimately react as Paul did when God said, “Go.”  God clearly had other plans for him.  In the same way, God has plans for each of our lives, but we must be open to hear his voice and then be willing to say, “Yes, Lord.  I will be obedient.”

            So I challenge you to view your circumstances through the eyes of a true believer; one who knows God will not give us more than we can bear and who will be with us through whatever is before us.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Church Prays

         Our congregation has been waiting for a new pastor for nearly two years.  It’s been an amazing process as the team has prayed earnestly for God’s leading, so we bring in the man God wants to lead our church.

            But the Pastor, as important as he is as leader, is not the only person who needs to make a difference in our congregations.  We the people, are the church.  We are called throughout scripture to be a mighty church of God.  We are called to prayer.  Our prayers give us the power to say no to sin, have a joyful life and good fellowship with other believers.

            God’s ears and eyes are open to those who would humble themselves before him and search his will.  God tells us we have not, because we ask not.  It isn’t that God doesn’t know what we need or want, but in a relationship there is communication; conversation; dialogue! And yes, God does speak to us, but we have to have hearts and ears that will hear!  But how can we have a heart that hears if we are not listening?

            In any relationship if we don’t listen to the person speaking, we cannot respond to their comments, views, questions and thoughts they have on any given subject.  God is no different!  If we are not listening, like any relationship, there is going to be disconnect.  Be honest.  If you are talking with your spouse and you are tuned out, you likely become agitated and will then tune him/her out.  This creates tension until dialogue is next to none, until the problem is solved!  We MUST take time to be with our spouse if we expect a relationship!

            When Jesus walked the Earth, he scheduled time in his day to spend time with the Father.  If it was important to Him, shouldn’t it be even more important to us.  Consider he KNEW the mind of God because He is God!  Still he had conversation.  Can’t you picture it?  They are alone in conversation and Jesus saying something like, “Father, did you see Peter today when he walked on the water?  Was that not amazing?  It’s a shame he had that momentary doubt and took his eyes off me!”

            “But Son,” God would reply, “You were there for him!  I’m proud of you!”

            Wouldn’t having this kind of conversation with God be awesome?  We can!  But we have to be focused like Peter needed to be, with our eyes on God so when he speaks we hear! I’m not suggesting we will “hear” God speak as we do our neighbor, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t “speak” to us…..through our thoughts, hearts, His Word, prayer, even other believers.  But in each case we must listen!

            So I challenge you to evaluate your “prayer time” with God.  Do you, out of obligation sit down and lift your requests, treating God as a vending machine?  Or do you have conversation with him like Jesus might have?  As believers we are God’s children.  He wants to hear our hearts when it’s joyful, breaking, troubled and everywhere in between.  Do you have this kind of relationship with God?  I can tell you, it’s my heart’s desire to have this kind of communion with Him.  Is it yours?

Monday, April 11, 2016

From Grape To Raisin

            “It’s funny,” my friend said one day.  “I feel like a grape that has become a raisin!”

            “What?” I asked, clearly confused.

            “Well, I remember when I was in high school, I had big dreams.  I was cheerleader, part of student government and seemed to have everything going for me.  Then I graduated, married, had kids and my life is anything but what I dreamed it could be.  I feel like I have shrunk and shriveled from the person I once was, to become dry and wrinkled, rejected and worthless.”

            “That’s horrible!”  I replied.

            “It is what it is,” she said dejectedly.

            “I have allowed life to control me, rather than me controlling my life.  I’ve let life events shape the person I have become.”

            “But that’s true of everyone to some degree,” I countered.  “It’s how you respond to events that determines the person you will become.” 

            “That’s just it,” she said.  “I didn’t respond positively or aggressively enough when things were going sour, and I ended up being the “curdled milk!”

            As I thought about the conversation later, although amused at her analogy, I had to admit we probably all make choices and respond in ways we wish we hadn’t to life circumstances.  And it seems once we begin that kind of cycle it’s very difficult to get out of it.

            We are a people designed to make choices.  As believers we have God’s Word to rely on when we have questions.  As we search His Word, talk to other believers, have prayer time and trust in Him for guidance, we will see answers to questions that sometime seem impossible to answer.
            Sometimes we get so focused on ourselves we end up blinding ourselves to ways to make life brighter for someone else.  When we think of others, it will draw us out of the “it’s about me,” mentality.  Face it; we probably all want more of what life has to offer.  We want more money, freedom, time, love, happiness, wisdom and a whole long list of other “wants” if we’re honest!

            Instead of asking “Why me?” try asking," Lord, what can I do to make my life better? What can I do to make someone else’s life better?  How can I use my gift(s) to honor You (God)?"  Am I being the best I can be and allowing God to control my life?

            What I’m suggesting is turn your thought process around so instead of being the grape turning into the raisin, you are the raisin finding ways to fill the skin full of juices to round out your life!  While this may sound like another absurd analogy, isn’t this what we really want to see in our individual lives?  We want good things to happen to us.  That doesn’t always happen if our minds are not open to receiving it.

            When we give our mind the gift of positive, directional thinking, we’ve given ourselves a gift of unbelievable possibilities!  So I challenge you to reflect on how you think.  Are you living with a “defeatist” attitude and blocking yourself to good possibilities?  Are you willing, with God’s help, to turn your thoughts into ammunition to fight negativity and move forward to be where you want to be?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Face To Face Communication

Settling the America’s back in the early 1600’s was nothing less than “extremely difficult.”  Those that arrived from the shores of England were excited at the possibilities in this new land.  While some likely anticipated hard times, I wonder if they really understood what they would be facing. 
As it turned out, drought on the East Coast caused food to be in short supply, not only for the colonists, but also for the Indians.  Hunger and hard times can cause even the most rational person to have only thoughts of survival, and caused additional tensions with the Natives.  Along with drought conditions and tropical humidity, the colonists had mosquitos and flies to contend with.  Follow this with a bitter cold, cruel winter, historians call “The Little Ice Age,” the colonists were severely tested. 
Winters were hard on the pioneers as cold wind whistled through the cracks of their homes and down chimneys.   But they remained, facing hours, even days inside their homes.  Today’s world, even with a vicious snowstorm, rarely leaves people in their homes for long. With snow plows and salt trucks on the scene, most everyone is out and about on the highways going to work, school or even just out enjoying the beautiful white landscape in a day or two. 
            That said, last winter, especially up in New England, there was so much snow, people who enjoy the snow and are relatively used to the frozen, ice crystals, found themselves housebound!  In some areas they had over 150 inches of the white powder. Some lost electric, but even this was only a huge inconvenience with the use of generators, enabling most life habits to continue undeterred.
            Early settlers had limited access to the outside world since television and the Internet weren’t yet introduced. They had the need to entertain themselves and each other in creative ways to keep the “walls from closing in.”  Children would play with hand made toys, women would sew and quilt, while men would finally find time for sharpening saws, whittling or doing chores.  It was also the time when a fiddle, harmonica or other handmade musical instrument would be pulled out and played to pass the time away.  It was also a time for reading, primarily the Bible since this was the most available text for many families.  It was a time of family closeness both physically and emotionally. 
In today’s world, often the greater our accessibility to “things,” the greater and extravagant our desires become.  We frequently no longer desire the company of our family, but choose to communicate with our friends, who we may only know via the Internet causing face to face communication to become difficult. The skill for full personal conversation has deteriorated to the point of nearly non-existent, especially within families, creating breakdown of family unity.
            We all have the need of family and friends to sustain us.  Whether it is boredom or excitement filling our days; we as humans, want to be part of something greater.  It is by God’s design we need each other and even greater than this is the desire of communication with Him. 
            When God is our first desire, we will have fulfillment like no other.  It doesn’t mean the “cold winds won’t blow into our home.”   Nor does it mean families won’t sometimes run into disagreement.   But when we communicate with God, we can find unique peace in His love, which will spill over onto those we love.