Thursday, April 17, 2014

Put That Knowledge To Work

During our devotion time last night, Jason and I were reading from Oswald Chamber's book, My Utmost for His Highest.  Unlike many of his short devotions, this particular one was so straightforward and to the point that it really left no room for discussion.  The focus of the message was clear:  it's not enough to know to do good; we must put that knowledge in action.  The only thing I could think to say at the conclusion of the reading was that I was surprised he didn't use Philippians 4:9 as one of his keys verses:  Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.  Jason agreed, and we carried on with our devotions and prayer time.

This morning, as I did my personal devotions, guess what verse I came across.  Yep, you guessed it--Philippians 4:9.  I laughed and sent Jason a text with the verse and the sentence, "Sound familiar?"  He sent back a smiley face.  God was doing it again.  He was using multiple sources to drive home a singular point.  But as I pondered the verse this morning, I felt a bit like Princess Mia in the Princess Diaries where she says, "The concept is grasped; the execution is a little elusive."

I understand the verse.  I know what it says and what it means.  It makes perfect sense to me.  However, carrying out that particular order sometimes seems very difficult, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why.  I guess it's the flesh.  I want to serve God.  I want to do the things He's taught me to do and avoid the things He's told me to avoid.  Yet when faced with certain circumstances, I make the wrong choice.  I choose the chocolate cake over the fruit or the soda over water.  I choose the easy way instead of the right way.  I choose my feelings over what I know to be true.  I choose anger instead of forgiveness, bitterness over goodness and selfishness over selflessness.  I know better.  I really do.  But still I make the wrong choice.  Fortunately, God's still working on me and helping me to do those things I need to do.

May I remind you today that it's not enough to know what's right; we must also do what's right.  Knowledge is great, but unless we put it into practice, it's pretty much worthless.  I know it isn't easy, but with God all things are possible.  We can do this in His strength.  We need only be willing.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. - James 1:22-25

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's Not Small to God

A strange thing happens quite often at our church.  Without coordination or discussion of any kind, the message goes right along with the Sunday School lesson or the songs reinforce the preaching.  Time after time, we've laughed as things tie themselves together in such a way that we have no choice but to say, "It has to be God!"  This past Sunday was one of those days.

As I was getting ready that morning, I felt a strong leading to show a video presentation for the offering.  The particular video on my mind was one that I had put together for Easter last year (or maybe even two years ago; I don't remember).  Anyway, I debated whether or not to do it.  After all, it was Palm Sunday not Easter Sunday.  Wouldn't it be strange to show an Easter presentation a week early? I argued.  But I couldn't shake the feeling that I should do it.  When I asked Jason his opinion, he agreed that I should do it.  Only later did I understand what God was doing.

As we sang the first congregational song (which I pick out each week), the voices of the church rang out.  "Take the name of Jesus with you. . . Precious name, oh how sweet!"  When the pastor stepped to the pulpit immediately following the song, he was laughing.  "I love how the Lord works," he said.  "This morning the title of my message is "Jesus is the Sweetest Name I Know."  As he chuckled, I realized he had no idea what other "coincidences" (NOT!) the morning held.

The choir song -- "Because He Lives," which begins "God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus") -- hmm, there's that name.

The second congregation song -- "Oh, How I Love Jesus," which begins, "There is a name I love to hear; I love to speak its worth.  It sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest name on earth."  -- Okay, getting spooky now.

The offertory presentation -- My Name Is Jesus

Let me just say, there was some serious chuckling going on, but amid the laughter, we were marveling.  While God's work in our church service may not have seemed comparable to the Red Sea crossing or the crumbling of Jericho's walls, I believe that it was equally as great.  God used three different people to create a church service that lifted high the name of Jesus.  Every song prepared our hearts to receive the message, and because they were so entwined, it was almost like hearing the message over and over again.

After the service, the pastor asked me, "Did somebody tell you what I was going to preach on?"  I laughed and shook my head, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized Somebody did tell me.  I just didn't realize it.  It was no coincidence I chose those particular congregational songs, and it wasn't until we were singing them that I realized their common theme.  It was no accident that I felt such a strong urging to show that video during the offering time.  God was working in what we would call the "small details."  But one thing this has reminded me of is that these things are not small to God.  The name of Jesus was lifted high over and over again, and that is a big deal!  We have no trouble remembering that nothing is too big for God, but I think we sometimes forget that nothing (or no one) is too small either.  God used a little church in a big way this weekend, and I know of at least one life that was impacted because of it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I Know How You Feel

In my daily devotions, I've been going through a reading plan called, "The Active Word".  Basically, it groups together devotions with common themes and gives Scripture to read along with each devotion.  The first series was a brief journey through the Psalms, which I enjoyed immensely since Psalms is my favorite book of the Bible.  The series I'm on now (and have been on for a while it seems) is a study on the attributes of God.  It's been a refreshing and enlightening look at Who God is and what characteristics He possesses.

One of the most recent attributes I studied was God's ability to relate to us.  The devotion spoke in detail of how Christ came to earth to be born of a woman, to walk the ground that we walk, breathe the air that we breathe, and face the earthly trials that we face.  I nodded as I read through the devotion.  I mean, I appreciated the lesson, but it seemed like kid's stuff.  I felt like I wasn't really gleaning any new insight, but then a thought hit me out of the blue.  Please bear with me as I try to explain.

God is omniscient, right?  He knows everything there is to know.  He knows our thoughts, our actions, our feelings and our attitudes.  In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves, right?  Isn't that knowledge enough to make it where He can relate to us?  What else does He need to know about us in order for Him to relate to us?  What knowledge could He have possibly gained during His time on earth in the body of a man?  He already knew everything!

Do you want to know what I think?  (I hope so because I'm going to tell you anyway.)  I don't think God came to earth so that He could relate to us.  I think He came to earth so that we could relate to the fact that He can relate to us.  In other words, it's one thing to think about God as a Heavenly being who sees all, knows all, and so on.  It's quite another thing to think about God as a man who knew the aches and pains of a fleshly body, who understood what it was like to go hungry, who hobnobbed with the poor and wealthy alike.  Isn't it then easier to believe God when He says, "I know what you're going through, for I've walked in your shoes"?

God didn't have to come to earth to relate to us.  He could do that already.  No, instead, He went the extra mile to ensure that we would have no doubts about His claims that He can relate to us.  He didn't have to prove Himself to us, but He chose to do so anyway.  Do we serve an awesome God or what?

Friday, April 11, 2014

You're Not Wearing That, Are You?

Sunday mornings are stressful for me.  Not only am I struggling to make sure I have my lesson ready for Sunday School, my song sheets ready for the congregational singing, my songbooks available for offertories and other Sunday morning necessities, but I'm also performing what has become one of the most difficult tasks for me to complete:  figuring out what to wear.  Those of you who know me will have guessed that I actually take care of most of these things on Saturday to avoid creating more stress on Sunday mornings, but picking out my clothes is something I usually have to do that morning.

The first consideration for choosing an outfit is whether or not we will be coming home Sunday afternoon.  Some days we go over to my sister's house in between church services.  Sometimes, we have lunch with my in-laws and then return to church to catch up on some things that need to be accomplished.  On rare occasions, we come home for a couple of hours of rest and relaxation.  If we're coming home, my options of clothing are greatly increased.  I know I only have to wear the selected outfit for a few hours, so comfort, aptitude for wrinkles and other such considerations are not such a big deal.  If we'll be gone all day, however, the clothing must be comfortable and not apt to wrinkle.  Either that, or they must be easily changed into casual wear for the afternoon.

The second consideration, I'm sorry to say, is the state of my left shoulder.  I have severe bursitis (and who knows what else) in my shoulder.  This causes swelling, pinching, throbbing and a number of other issues that spread from my neck to my wrist.  A shirt or dress that may have fit fine yesterday could be completely uncomfortable on Sunday morning if my shoulder has decided to swell or act up.  Most times, I can tell as soon as I put the garment on that I'm not going to be able to wear it.  Other times, I think maybe the material will stretch or the pain and pinching will go away.  But before long, the garment is discarded and another one is chosen to take its place.  It is not uncommon for me to go through three or four outfits on any given Sunday morning.  This, as you can imagine, leads to tears and frustration--not exactly the spirit of worship one hopes to be filled with on Sunday morning.

You may be wondering why this happens on Sunday mornings and not other times.  To be honest, it does happen at other times, but since I work from home, my work attire consists of yoga pants and floppy t-shirts.  No, I'm not likely to win any beauty contests, but I'm comfortable, and as I sit and work in front of my computer, that's what matters to me.  When I run errands, I usually wear casual clothes that are made to be stretchy and comfortable, so again, the clothing is not as much an issue as it is on Sunday morning when trying to wear dress clothes that are designed to be attractive, not comfortable.

That's not to say, however, that I don't have many days where I suffer from poor-fitting attitudes.  Just like my church clothes, these attitudes pinch and pull.  They hurt and make me uncomfortable.  Why?  Because they don't fit.  I'm a child of God and, as such, certain attitudes simply don't fit the way they used to.  Anger, bitterness, jealousy--I still own them.  I keep them in my closet just in case.  But every time I pull them out and try them on, I realize that I must have grown. . . spiritually, that is, because those attitudes don't fit right anymore.  I've outgrown them despite my attempts to "squeeze" back into them from time to time.  Sometimes I even manage to get them on, but they don't feel right.  They restrict my movement (my walk with the Lord).  They make me look bad (not fat, but undesirable).  They pull at my conscience and pinch my spirit.  And so I'm faced with a choice:  continue to struggle in the discomfort or cast it off and try something else.

I'm a comfort kind of girl.  I like to be comfortable, especially now with my back and shoulder issues.  If I can pull off stylish and comfortable, fantastic!  If not, well, sorry, but the comfort is the deciding factor.  Now if I can just remember that each time I reach for one of the uncomfortable attitudes.  They don't fit, so why don't I reach for ones that do, like peace, joy, goodness and the lot?  After all, they're attractive, stylish, and they fit so much better.  And the crazy thing is that the more I wear them, the better they'll fit and the more comfortable they will become.

We need to be careful to spend as much time dressing the inward man as we do the outward one.  Wouldn't it be a shame to have God stop you during the day and ask, "You're not wearing that, are you?"  He knows it doesn't suit you, and deep down, you know it too.  Choose wisely.  Comfort is not the only thing at stake.

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;  Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. - Colossians 3:8-14