Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The "not my normal" Christmas

       This year, because of circumstances beyond our control, Christmas will be a little different. We didn't go out into the forest & cut down a tree. In fact, there is no tree at all in our front window. We also didn't festoon our house with lights. The only lights outside are the ones that illuminate our walkway all year long. All of our Christmas mugs are still in their boxes and all of the Christmas dishes are still safely stored away. In fact, there is no evidence at all that Christmas is just a week away. Walking through our house, you'd never guess that I have accumulated 10 bins of Christmas paraphernalia.
      For me, it's the year Christmas has been bypassed.  I love the Christmas season. We usually start all the decorating the day after Thanksgiving and enjoy it until New Years Day when I pack it carefully while watching the Rose Bowl.  A giant tree usually stands in the front window, filled with ornaments which are packed with meaning. The house is filled with other things evoking memories of my many Christmas celebrations, both as a child and with our own kids & grandkids. Mom's Thomas Kinkade tree adorns the hutch, her apron hangs from a dining room chair. Stockings, now 1 for each of our 12 grandkids, hang over our picture window. The Christmas village that I carefully assemble each year usually takes up one living room space while the Precious Moments manger scene takes up the other...and on & on. 
      But this year, although the boxes have been carted down from the attic, they're being taken to storage rather than opened for decorating.
      I was feeling really sad about all of this, complaining bitterly to my closest friends, when the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart the words of a song I'd long forgotten:
      No don't get me wrong & mistake what I'm saying. Obviously I love all the embellishments that go along with the holiday season.  BUT I have realized this year that those things don't give Christmas its meaning. It's my Savior's birthday! It's the day we celebrate the beginning of His sacrifice of leaving His home, coming to walk this earth, putting up with ridicule, treachery, humiliation, & death in order to secure my salvation. There were no lights, trees, presents, or any other adornments at His birth. There was only a humble stable & a lot of love. The setting was anything but beautiful, but the meaning was beyond our comprehension. I began to take a long, hard look at my attitude & realized that perhaps this would be my BEST Christmas ever - the one that I would be able to truly focus on the truth of His birth without the trimmings. The one that would keep my head in the Biblical story without the secularization which brings such chaos & clutter. This Christmas, I will celebrate what Christmas really means - by giving my heart & love to those I care about & sharing God's message with those who don't yet know why we celebrate it at all.  This season will refocus my heart & mind on what truly  matters. So what will this Christmas mean to you?  Renewing, refreshing, & remembering, through sharing, serving & showing God's love...or one more year of spending too much, sleeping too little, &  socializing your way through a season of busyness that you're delighted to finish?  It's all in what you focus on!! I hope, like me, that you will have a "not your normal Christmas" as well, & remember why we're doing what we're doing, in order to truly enjoy the meaning of this special season!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Whole Counsel

     While Dan and I were searching diligently for a new home for our little body of believers to worship in we were confronted with a couple of serious issues. Twice we came close to signing a lease, only to have the pastor/bishop/elder say to us "Well, there's one more small thing that you should know about us..." That one more "little thing" was the fact that they were ordaining those with "alternate" lifestyles, marrying same sex couples, & inviting those of the g/l community to become members in their congregations. For us, that was truly a deal-breaker. How could we, in good conscience, be linked even superficially with those who are diametrically opposed to what we teach & believe, as unpopular as our stand may be?
     Other churches we visited were preaching an old remake of a 60s heresy - the "greasy grace" gospel which promotes the idea that because of God's love for us we can never do anything that will make Him unhappy or cause Him to be displeased with us. They teach that His overwhelming grace excuses all of our sin, presumptuous or not. That's just NOT true. The enemy is merrily leading a whole bunch of sheep to the slaughter while their shepherds are blissfully ignorant or purposefully  manipulative!! Either way, the effect is the same.
     While these things may not sound so earth-shattering, the bottom line is that both types of teaching are in grave error. God does love all sinners & died for all of us. While no one sin is greater than another, except the grieving of the Holy Spirit, sin is still sin and the Bible makes it clear that we CAN in fact make God sad. We can separate ourselves from God by our unconfessed sin & there are things that we can do that will block our entrance into heaven, whether we want to believe it or not.
   Waging battle against these teachings is not new. Even if you disregard the Old Testament, believing that its focus on law & righteousness is irrelevant for today, both Jesus & the apostles firmly & continually addressed those who were living licentious lives, doing what they wanted & claiming the grace of God would excuse them & cover it all.  He also addresses those with "alternative" lifestyles in Romans 1. I don't know what Bible these shepherds are reading or if they belong to the "smorgasbord" group which takes to heart only those parts of the Bible that are convenient or seeker-friendly, but I do know its not their version of truth that sets anyone free. Although those who promote it would insist that I am "narrow-minded & intolerant" I would point them right back to the whole counsel of the Word. God's demands for holy living has never changed, as much as we'd like to invalidate it as old school, and standing for truth does not make a person a bigot or a hypocrite. I fully admit that I'm a sinner saved by grace, just like you are, & I'm in need of God's constant forgiveness, cleansing, & renewal. God's love will cover my sin, but I have a part to play as well. The Word of God proclaims God's judgment...whether we like it or not, & God's amazing love doesn't negate or diminish His admonitions to Be Holy, as He is Holy!!
     Make no mistake...God does care about how we live. While He cares about every person on this earth and sent His Son to die for all of us, making a way to redeem us from the consequences of our sin, we will be & are accountable for our life choices. I'm not advocating exclusion. We as believers should & must welcome EVERY person into our churches to hear the truth so that God can set them free from the enemy's delusions, but ordination, leadership & even membership must have different qualifications. As His watchmen, we must teach that God does punish disobedience & willful, presumptuous sin.  Just as every loving parent disciplines & corrects their children in order to mature them & help them become better people, so our God disciplines & corrects us in order to grow us up & align us more closely to His Image. If we're not being disciplined the Bible says we're not His Children! Ouch!! If we can live any way that we want, why is so much of the Bible commanding us to live righteously, to live as children of light? Why are we continually cautioned about rebellion, ignorance, & loose living? God does care. The fact that most of the church has become indistinguishable from the world is not enlightenment - it's frightening. If we truly believe the WHOLE counsel of God, we've got a lot of cleaning up to do - both inside & outside of our churches. And we'd better get busy doing it because time is short for Christ's return. The last thing I want to hear is "Depart from me, I never knew you". How about you?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

      Last Sunday, Dan preached on hearing the Lord and some of the same basic principles came up in Bible study last night so I thought I'd share a little.
      There are so many voices in our lives at any given moment that it is hard to pick out the right ones without some serious listening. Over & over in the Bible, God's servants stopped to be still & listen to God's voice before taking action. Moses refused to move forward until He was assured that God had heard him and was going to go with him. David asked again and again for God's direction before fighting various battles or even deciding where to settle down. Gideon used fleeces. The disciples cast lots. The methods varied but the bottom line was that they all wanted reassurance of God's will, His voice, before making decisions.
      We need to do the same. In our rushed world, stopping to hear God's voice above the noise of this world is a necessity. The shouting of society, of unbelievers, & the media can tend to deafen us to God's whisper. How do we hear Him? How do we know it is His voice & not our own ingrained attitudes or invented ideas? How do we choose God's best over just that which looks good?
      There are a few Biblically sound answers:
1.   Pray, and keep praying until you get an answer. Sounds easy but so many of us lose heart & stop praying before the answer comes. Or we are praying, get an idea, & rush ahead of God before He confirms His Word to our hearts.  Pray...& if you don't get an answer before the decision needs to be made, consider it to be NO. Matthew 7:7,8,& 11 all tell us to Keep On Asking!! Once is just not enough!
2.  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Word. God has given us both of those incredible blessings, the Spirit & the Word, to guide our lives. If they don't agree, or if you're having to crowbar an answer then it's not God's best or it's not the right timing. The Spirit of God always lines up with the Word. If we think we are being led totally by the Spirit, we tend to be emotionally charged. If we never listen to the Spirit, we tend to be legalistic. We need both the Spirit & the Word, in agreement, to lead us!
3.  Wait to respond until you get the answer!  Timing isn't everything but it is critically important. Delay is not always denial. A period of preparation might be needed in order to accomplish God's best for the situation. It may be that there are others who are not ready, or circumstances are not aligned. If God's answer is not clear, WAIT. It's not a popular concept, but necessary.
4.  Ask others, mentors and those who you trust to have Godly wisdom, to pray with you. Proverbs 11:14 says there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. Many times I have asked my spiritual partners to pray. Their guidance & insights have saved me much grief through the years. When I don't get confirmation but choose to do it my way anyway, I am setting myself up for unnecessary problems.
5.  Ask for open & closed doors. Sounds silly, as does laying out fleeces, but I have avoided many pitfalls by asking God to lead me through those ways. God doesn't mind our questions, just our  demands. Boldly coming to the throne is encouraged, if we come in a spirit of humility of wanting His best rather than His approval of our decisions. He will open & close doors that lead to His best for us if we just ask. His Word, in James 1:5 & numerous other places, encourages us to seek His counsel & wisdom. He wants to give it, so why are we so hesitant to ask?
      While I'm sure there are other ways to validate God's voice to your life, these are the time-tested methods that I have used throughout my Christian walk. That's not to say I always listened, but when I do listen, God leads & I have inner peace, regardless of what I may be walking through. Try it for yourself. You will see that listening for God's voice can be a challenge, but it is well worth the effort.

Monday, January 6, 2014

An Epiphany on Epiphany

My Christian walk has never led me into a "liturgical" type of church, so when I was reading about Epiphany I was intrigued.  While my house is fairly back to normal after the holiday festivities, most of Christianity around the world is continuing the season. Epiphany is the remembrance of the visitors from the East that we call Magi or Wise men. Unlike many Christmas cards, most Bible scholars believe that about 2 years passed between Christ's birth in the stable & the arrival of the Magi. Why else would King Herod demand the execution of all baby boys age 2 & younger? He checked his facts against the timing of the star & Biblical prophecies & then made the command. If you're not familiar with their story, read Matthew 2!

So why is the visit, this last story of the Advent season, so important?  That's where my epiphany came. God's Word is so amazing! There are no accidental inclusions in Scripture & so there must be lessons here for me to learn. As I started prayerfully reading, these are the lessons I learned.

The Magi took great pains to go looking for the new king. The Bible says that if we seek, we will find Him. (Luke 7:7-8) He is always available to us but so many people sit back & wait for God to show up in their lives to prove Himself, or to rescue them when they get into trouble. What great reward for those who seek Him! He will always be found & He promises to reward those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

They didn't stop even when running into great obstacles, trickery, & misguided ideas. They looked for the new king in the palace (a logical assumption) & were cajoled by Herod, whose motives were anything but righteous. They travelled many miles through difficult terrain & circumstances. Their motivation was so great, however, that nothing deterred them. They knew the finding of this new king would be an awesome experience & it was. We can never give up anything or go through anything that makes it reasonable to give up our faith or relationship with God. Once we truly find Him, our "light & momentary" troubles will seem insignificant. (2 Co. 4:17) The sheer joy of knowing the end results led our Savior to the cross. (Hebrews 12:2) What else could solidify this lesson?

Their gifts were prophetic: Gold because He was & is the King of Kings, frankincense which was incense used to honor deity, & myrrh which was an embalming spice & spoke of His death.

Their visit was confirmation that Christ came for the WHOLE world. While it was the Jews that looked forward to the Messiah's coming, these Magi were Gentiles. Their visit echoed the words of Simeon, in Luke 2:25-32, where he addressed the baby Jesus as "the Light to the Gentiles & the glory of God's people."

They came to worship. Unlike the shepherds who came to check out what the angels said, these visitors came only to worship. They didn't ask for anything or expect anything back. They just wanted to honor & adore Him, presenting their gifts to this One whose star announced His coming! What a difference we would find in our lives if we spent more time worshipping & adoring our King, rather than constantly asking for His help or His provision. That's not to say we shouldn't ask, but if our petitions continually replace Worship there is something really missing.

Finally, the Lord directed them to leave another way. When we are truly in the presence of our Lord, hearing His heart & His Word, it should change & redirect us. If we can go in & out of church each week, study the Bible, pray, & do all the other "Christian" things without any change in lifestyle or perspective we are in need of a Spiritual adjustment. (1 John 3:6,9) Perhaps our passion for God has died or we're not using our gifts & talents. Maybe we've become lax or our Bible reading & prayer time is a chore rather than a privilege. God's presence should always cause us to want a deeper relationship with Him & stronger passion for those things which are His heart.

Those are the epiphanies that I had while reading about Epiphany. I pray that they were meaningful & perhaps thought-provoking for you as well.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Time to Renew, not Restart!

**I realized that Mitchell Morsels has been sadly neglected through 2013 in part because of the hectic pace of life & in part because I tend to "get going" on something and my morsel turns into a book! I intend to write more often in 2014 and that starts with a change in expectation & focus. So here I go...

      The word that jumped out of my Bible reading today was RENEW.  Webster's defines RENEW as "to make new again; to revive; begin again; bring back to its initial state; unimpaired by use or influence." 
      A nice January thought: renewal. Most people resolve to do better - to exercise more, eat healthier, be more careful with their money, read the Bible or attend church .We look at January as a time to revive things that were neglected, or to kick up the intensity of things we do. However, instead of restarting the same things again with fresh motivation, I encourage you to look at your life with renewal in mind. Renewal starts as we have accepted Christ into our lives. He has made us "new creations". In Romans 12:2, we are told to avoid becoming like the world by renewing our minds, & therefore proving what God has found acceptable & perfect as His will for us. According to the amplified Bible, renewing our mind means being transformed and changed by new ideals & attitudes, which are distinctly different from the customs, beliefs, & norms of our current society. Untainted; clean! So how can my life be changed & transformed into a more perfect image of Christ, which is my goal? What habits, attitudes, thoughts or actions do I need to incorporate into my life in order to be a better witness, a more fulfilled Christian, & have a deeper relationship with God? What if I look at my life as a clean slate which has not been ingrained & molded by worldly ideas, but is ready to see life with Biblical perspective? What if I see myself as unimpaired by past failings, betrayals, hurts, & attitudes & regard myself as being brand new - back to an initial state of purity, strength & vitality? Forgiven, redeemed, justified, whole. Not whitewashed but NEW.
       Of course, it will take spiritual focus & continual redirecting in order for me to accomplish this. I need to be more intentional about those things God has provided to help me: Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, studying the Word...& that will motivate me to move ahead, as the Apostle Paul did, to forget those things that are behind, in my past, in my former ways, & press toward the high calling, the achieving of all that God has for me - in my life, my ministry, & my relationships.
That would truly be Renewal!

Just a few thoughts to begin the new year!