Monday, April 30, 2012

Giants in the Land

Well, I don't normally get into writing about political issues and I don't really intend to now, but I was just so inspired by Rick Green from Wall Builders speaking at our church last night that I couldn't pass up the opportunity entirely.

Recently, Larry and I hosted several couples from our Sunday School class for Sunday lunch. One of our guests is very involved in local politics and the discussion turned to some of the issues facing our city. In one incident, a business was seeking permission from the city commission to open in town. While it is a perfectly legal establishment, some felt it was not the sort of business venture we would want to see in our sleepy, conservative little burg. Unfortunately, the measure passed and the business was granted access. After the commission meeting, one of the commissioners confronted my friend (who opposed the measure) and said, "Where were the churches?" Where, indeed? Not one church showed up to voice an opinion in the discussion, but I am sure many church members will have something to say when a tattoo parlor opens in Plant City.

Last night, we heard Rick Green from Wall Builders give example after example of the Christian values that shaped the opinions and beliefs of our founding fathers. Examples that students won't hear in public school history classes and we certainly won't hear in the secular media. They wouldn't dare tell the American public that the framers of our founding documents spent HOURS in prayer before session - not just a little 15 minute "bless this meeting"  - but literally hours studying scripture and in prayer before making the decisions that shaped our nation.

I came home from church and was reading in Joshua, chapter 17. In this chapter, some of the Israelites are having trouble subduing the giants within the boundaries of the land allotment for their tribes. Joshua encouraged them and in the last two verses of the chapter he says to them, "You are numerous and very powerful...the farthest limits will be yours...though [the Canaanites] are strong, you can drive them out."

The giants in our land are numerous and some of them can be pretty intimidating, but we are numerous and powerful. Jesus Himself said that the gates of hell could not prevail against His church. The problem is, like the ten other spies in the wilderness, I think most of us have decided the giants are too big and we can't defeat them. We cower in fear because we are so concerned about being politically incorrect or offending someone who might disagree with our views. The giants are strong...but we CAN drive them out.

Rick Green gave us a few directives last night:

1. PRAY ~ We need to pray for our country and its leaders. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
2. VOTE ~ We are numerous but the numbers can't be counted if you don't cast a ballot.
3. Be Informed ~ Know what your representatives at all levels of government believe in and stand for as well as candidates for office.
4. Get involved ~ Find Godly candidates (regardless of party) that you can support and then get involved in their campaigns.
5. Contribute ~ Help em out.

There are giants in the land, but we can drive them out. "Greater is He who is in US, than He who is in the world." It's time for us to take this country back!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fan or Follower? (I stole that from Dr. Lewis...)

At FBCPC, we have been talking alot lately about whether or not we are just a fan of Jesus or truly a follower. In my Bible reading last night, I came across a passage in Joshua 14 about Caleb. He was one of the two spies (Joshua was the other) who wanted to take possession of the Promised Land when all the others were too afraid. In v 8, Caleb says about himself that even though the hearts of all the others "melted in fear" that he "followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly." He goes on to say that he was blessed by Moses because he "followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly." v 13 & 14 "Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kennizzite ever since, BECAUSE HE FOLLOWED THE LORD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, WHOLEHEARTEDLY."  Are we seeing a theme here?

We have a sweet couple in our church who are sold out for Jesus...literally. They are selling almost everything they have and are going to Papua New Guinea (that's the jungle, folks) with Wycliffe Bible Translators. A week ago, they gave a presentation to the church during House of Prayer. Afterward, I hugged Cheryl and said, "Sometimes I think I'd like to sell everything and go somewhere." (Don't ever say things like that out loud). This past week she walked up to me at SS evangelism and said with a sweet smile, "They need nurses." Alrighty, then....

I recounted the conversations to my husband and he said, "Would you really go that far away from your grandkids for that long?" Well....would I? (Place pregnant pause here) I don't know...(Sorry, its the best I can do)

I don't know, because right now it does not seem that I have been called to PNG or anywhere else that requires selling it all. Most days it seems like I have enough of a mission field coming in and out of my back door to justify staying here. But if I want to follow the Lord wholeheartedly, it should be something I am willing to do when He calls me.

These things I do know:
  • I need to focus on His promises. The land was filled with giants. Huge obstacles may stand in my way, but if God has called me He will remove them. Caleb and Joshua remembered what the others forgot. The land was called Promised for a reason - God promised it to them. All they had to do was go in and take it. The others focused on the obstacles but Caleb focused on the promise of God.
  • I need to have faith in spite of fear. When the others saw the giants their hearts melted with fear. I don't remember anywhere that it says Caleb and Joshua never experienced fear, but they were willing to trust God in spite of their fears. Whatever God calls me to do, I may have fear, but as long as I move forward in faith, I will see the blessing of God.
When Mike Storter spoke last Sunday in regards to his battle with leukemia, he pointed at his weakened body and said, "In light of someone else's eternity, what is this?" I dare not even put myself in that category.... Could I leave my kids and grankids (my cat...) if it meant influencing someone elses eternity? Not in my own strength...

Philippians 4:13 "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

Here's hoping He's calling me to stay put and minister from right here or maybe do some short term mission trips. But if He calls me to move, will I go? I'm pretty sure I will.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Feeding the Flock

There is nothing more beautiful
than the bright red male cardinal.
I love my bird feeders. I can sit for hours and watch the birds - and other critters attracted by free food - coming to the feeders. When we moved back in January, one of the things I couldn't wait to do was get the feeders up. I found a very picturesque spot in the yard. I bought new seed. I filled the feeders and hung them out. And waited....and waited....and waited....   Nothing. Occasionally, one lone cardinal would grace the feeder for a few seconds and then he was off.

Now that we have been in the house for a few months, I began to notice something. Just a few feet away from the feeders, is an area with a large hedge - almost a little wooded area on the edge of the yard. The thing is full of birds. I know, I know... its not that far for them to fly to get to where the feeder is. But they don't. So finally, I moved the feeders. Within an hour, there were multiple birds that were on the feeders and on the ground under it. The only thing I can figure is they feel safer closer to the trees.

How often do we make the same mistakes when we are trying to reach out to those around us for Jesus? We have very picturesque churches, we offer wonderful programs and Bible studies, we sincerely invite people to come. And then we wait...and wait...and wait.... And occasionally someone will come in and partake, but we know there are so many more out there that are missing out. If only they would come....

Matthew 28:19-20 "GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

We have to move the feeder. Church is a wonderful place and I wouldn't trade my Bible Study group for the world. But there are people out there who just aren't going to come to church first - we have to go get them. We have to take the food to them.

Note his precarious perch.
Right after I took this he fell off backwards!
I read in a book on birds once, that you put the feeder first in a location where they feel safe and will come to the food. Then you can start to slowly move the feeder away from their habitat about a foot at a time and they will follow it. What an awesome picture of how we need to reach our community and the world. Take them the gospel - where they feel safe. Then invite them to an outside activity. Keep working on them and eventually, they will come. And, of course, somewhere in the process, we pray they come to Jesus most of all.

Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. I don't think He meant for Peter to sit in the barn and wait for the sheep to come to him. So let's go feed those know what I mean. Let's go take the food to the flocks!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Beauty for Ashes

There is a canal that runs behind the building where I work. It resembles the back of any strip center...bare, block walls, dumpsters, recycling, etc... People use the canal at times for a trash can - a plastic bottle here, a trash bag there, all manner of detritus usually found in such places.

And yet...  The water flowing through the ditch is remarkably clear. You can see the sandy bottom and the water plants waving in the current. near a culvert behind the dumpster, there are thousands of little minnows - new life in the midst of the trash. Along on bank a violet peeks out of the grass, a yellow sulphur butterfly flutters past my face, and a huge, brilliant purple dragonfly hovers over the water. There is beauty even here.

Isaiah 61:1-3 "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor."

Is your life a mess? Feel down in the ditch, down in the dumps? Are you poor, brokenhearted, grieving, imprisoned? There is beauty even here. Jesus used the scripture above to describe Himself and what He came to do. He came to set prisoners free and comfort the mourning. He came to take us our of our despair and give us something to sing about.

Pay attention to the blessings in the midst of the trash. Change your focus to look for the spots of color among the gray. Look to Jesus. God will give you beauty for ashes.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mama Needs New Shoes

One of my acquaintances and fun Facebook friends posted tonight, "Rough day? Well, tell Him about it.......then buy new shoes!" Wish I had read that a little earlier - I SO would have gone shopping tonight! Of course, her post was accompanied by a picture of the cutest little wedges...

I didn't make it shopping, but I can certainly fulfill the first part of her statement. And as I sit down to read my daily Bibile reading...trudging through Deuteronomy this week...I come across this gem in 33:27 "The Lord is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." Rough day? God is your refuge... Too often we look to material possessions, jobs, friends, money, and more for comfort during difficult times. I am certainly not going to deny that a new pair of shoes hasn't superficially gotten me through a crisis on occasion, but they fall into that category of treasures on earth that moths and rust destroy(Matt 6:19). For that permanent comfort that we all crave and that strong refuge that we need to run into, only God will suffice. Shoes wear out, but He will never leave us or forsake us.(Joshua 1:5)

Rough day? Well, tell Him about it...then let Him comfort you and give you peace. Trust Him to take care of the outcome or to strengthen you through what needs to be done. Give it to Jesus....then go get that cute little pair of wedges just for the fun of it!

I am SO going shoe shopping tomorrow....

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Daily Grace

I have a sweet friend at church who recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. In addition to this child, she has a little daughter named Grace. When she returned to work, she entrusted the care of the new baby to her mother who posted her excitement on Facebook. I would like to quote her post, "Loving my new job! [My grandson] is the perfect baby and I get to see Grace everyday! Man, it doesn't get any better than this!"

I had to turn this one over in my head a few times... We should all be so excited... We should all be seeing Grace everyday. Of course, not the person Grace, but God's grace. Yet we run headlong into our day with blinders on our eyes. Or maybe we are so overwhelmed by a circumstance that we just can't see past it and we forget the graciousness of God.

Isaiah 30:18 says "The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion..." God doesn't just kinda want to show us grace - He LONGS to show us grace. He RISES to show us how compassionate He is.. and, yet, we forget..

Ephesians tells us that it is God's grace that saved us. We had nothing to do with it other than accepting it as a free gift. God so longed to show us His compassion that He rose to the occasion and gave His Son so that we could experience His grace...every day. Ephesians 1:7 says that we have forgiveness of sins in accordance with the RICHES of God's grace...every day. 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that His grace is enough...every day. Ephesians 2 says that He has raised us up and seated us in the heavenly realms with Jesus. Not that He is going to - He already did. And you know why? So that he can show us the INCOMPARABLE riches of His grace...every day. And I could just go on...

Are you experiencing daily grace? Do you get to see Grace everyday? Oh, that we would realize what we have been and are being given. Then we could say with Grace's grandmother, "Man, it doesn't get any better than this!"

Dear Jesus, Open our eyes to see the gift you have given us. Help us to experience Your grace daily. Help us to recognize Your compassion. You are too wonderful for words. Amen

Friday, April 6, 2012

Guilty as Sin

This past Sunday, there was discussion in our Sunday School class about the two things we have difficulty grasping as humans that keep us from seeing our need for a Savior:
  • The depravity of our sin.
  • The holiness of God.
We talked about how we have a hard time accepting that we are truly sinners because we think we are good people. We aren't criminals, terrorists, drunks or drug addicts. We must be ok. In the story of Jesus crucifixion, there is an unlikely representative of us as sinners. One who knew the power of the cross of Christ in a more tangible way than anyone, and yet, he probably had no idea...

Picture this: a convicted criminal sits in a Roman jail cell in Jerusalem. He doesn't know what is happening outside his walls. He gets a little of the crowd noise and he probably knows it is Passover. He awaits his sentence knowing that it is probably going to cost him his life. He can't hear Pilate's questions to the crowd, but what if he could hear the crowd's response? "Crucify him!" "We want Barabbus!" He wouldn't know the crowd wanted him freed. He probably thought they were calling for HIS crucifixion. Soon a guard shows up at the door of his cell. He thinks, "This is it. They are going to kill me. I'm about to be nailed to a cross." But instead...his chains were gone, he's been set free...

I wonder if he just skipped town as fast as he could or if he hung around to find out about this character that was to be killed instead of him. I wonder if he followed the crowd to Golgotha. I wonder if he saw Jesus crucified in his place. I wonder if he understood more than anyone else what it meant for Jesus to die in his place. I wonder what would happen if we all realized we are as guilty as Barabbus.

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

Sunday, April 1, 2012

All to Jesus

Recently, I was listening to a pastor speak about worship and he made the statement, "I never sing anything I don't mean." That statement came back to me with force this morning. Of course, being Palm Sunday, we are singing many songs about the cross. How about this line: "I believe in a hill called Mount Calvary. I'll believe whatever the cost." Just let that sink in for a minute....whatever the cost...hmmmm. How about this old favorite invitation hymn: "All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give." Everything? No matter the cost? Just how far am I willing to take this, anyway?

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1

A living sacrifice.... Sacrifices in the scripture usually involved the loss of life. says a sacrifice is "The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered higher...". Another favorite song: "Take my life, lead me Lord.."

So what does total surrender REALLY look like? I'm thinking it's more than just Church on Sunday. So I ask myself the hard questions
* What if God calls me to another place?
* What if God asked me to sell all I have?
* what if God calls me to lay down my life?

Or maybe He just wants me to swallow my pride and witness to my waiter or give up one evening a week for outreach...

I don't really know how to bring this to a close because I am still doing the self examination. But am I really ready to give up whatever He asks no matter the cost? To surrender all? To let Him take my life and make me a living sacrifice?

What I do know is this: This is exactly what He did for me. He left a home behind that I cannot even imagine. He gave up all He had in Heaven, moved to another place, witnessed to his waiter (and hundreds more), and then laid down his life.

In Philippians 3:10, Paul says he wants to know Christ so much that he wants to share His suffering and become like Him in His death. Why? Because his eye is on the prize. In verse 14, he says His prize is heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Oh, that I would have the passion to know Christ and the willingness to surrender that Paul had. Until then, I am a work in progress. Oh, wait, another song: "He's still workin on make me what I ought a be..." LaLaLa....