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Sep 29, 2016

Worship: Created Things, Created People, or the Creator

“Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” – Revelation 14:7


Going behind the Iron Curtain very soon after the Wall came down, was a fascinating experience! Walking through East German towns and viewing the paucity of goods on dusty, dingy shelves in a gray society, walking through parks in waist high weeds, or strolling along streams filled with old tires, discarded cans, and discarded hub caps, viewing old, once majestic buildings, with crumbling carved facades, seeing pedantic cement, colorless structures built to house thousands of families and occupants, all of this pictured a dreary life of loss of freedom, creativity, neatness or color and, worst of all, a depressed outlook on life. The people you passed on the street kept their head down, did not look up, smile, or greet you, or enjoy seeing the sun. Communism took a fearsome toll on these populations.
There have been and are grand societies of history, filled with ornate palaces, and majestic structures, and gilded mansions. And there have been and are empires of poverty, disease, and loss of hope. Throughout history, empires have been both magnificent and downtrodden, wealthy and poor, healthy and diseased. Normally, the spirit of man has been able to recover from the poisoned spears of plague and war, depression and collapse, disintegration and disillusion. They then raise up, once more, prosperous and powerful regimes, to outdo the past, building their Babel-like structures higher and more magnificent than before. But history is filled with images of both prosperity and ruin.
When the devil took Jesus from the dry, impoverished wilderness to show Him the empires of the world, displaying them all before His view, I am sure he avoided the failed nations and causes, the plague ravaged populations, or the results of war’s destruction. It was all the most desirable empires of power, wealth, armies, and magnificent structures. He certainly did not want to seduce Jesus with man’s failures, or misfortunes. It was all the most humanly coveted from the world’s and the devil’s perspective.
The Son of God was well aware of the entire condition of mankind, failures and success. Things come and go, things deteriorate, empires are not eternal, man continues in a downward slide. How did the devil figure he could seduce the Wisdom of the ages? He who is Wisdom itself? With the worship of things and/or created, fallen man?
We are currently seeing the riches, past and present, of four nations from Budapest to Amsterdam, akin to having empires pass before our eyes on the rivers’ banks; castles and towns, some castles still inhabited, others magnificent ruins, if such description is not contradiction.  The sights are truly glorious, especially to us who have not seen the new heavens and new earth. They are of days and years long ago. They are of present life and vibrancy, but also of present life and unbelief.
There are many things and people that might invite your worship of them, but none of it permanent. Worship today, gone tomorrow. Are they really worth your worship? Is the worship of things and/or people truly thoughtful worship? Or is it a temporarily enticing, subverted kind of worship? Why is man so seduced by the impermanent? It is because he has not allowed his eyes or heart to view and consider what is permanent and eternal, and compare. Man is caught up in the transitory. They meet his current delights; delights which never satisfy, but are fleeting. It is a sad commentary that man worships things which are fleeting to fill appetites which are every bit as fleeting. They exchange the eternal for a mess of pottage.
The history of man, the things they build, and the ultimate results are evident to anyone willing to research and study and observe objectively. The devil gave Christ a bird’s eye, but edited view. You have enough resources to plumb the depths of man’s past and see how transitory and fraught with failure it is. If your worship is as unsatisfying as that history you are without excuse if you trade that “mess of pottage” for the eternal God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Jesus answered the devil’s temptation in the wilderness, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”


“Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in you do we trust, nor find you to fail; your mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!”
(5th verse of Sir Robert Grant’s hymn, “O Worship the King,” 1833)


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Sep 22, 2016

Peace in the Maelstrom

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” – Matthew 6:25


Anxiety is a killer. It is an ever present irritant to the body’s nervous system, impacting your physical health. Excessive and constant worry gives disease a foothold. It wears you down. It saps your strength. It is perhaps the worst carcinogen of all. But truly, is an anxious free life even possible?
The Bible certainly warns about the danger of worry while directing you to an alternative: great confidence and trust in God; something that appears to be very difficult to achieve in a fearful world. Peace of mind is not the absence of life challenges or tests to your faith. Life in a fallen world is life on a spiritual battlefield (Ephesians 6); many mine fields to safely navigate; constant damaging projectiles to avoid; the constant stalking of a very real and lethal enemy.
It is not the absence of problems which is your case, but your response to one problem after another, and overcoming them. Each of the letters to the seven churches of Revelation commands the believer to be an overcomer. Overcoming implies the ever present existence of obstacles in your life. Peace in the midst of that arises from a perseverance of faith that will never be cowed by the enemy’s onslaught. He can throw the kitchen sink at you, but that will not defeat you. Jesus is the anchor to a soul that cannot be moved.
Jesus said repeatedly, “Do not fear.” He encouraged, “Do not worry.” “Can your worry add a single hour to your span of life?” “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” he continued, “for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for today is its own trouble.” He spoke truth to you, but do you really believe Him, the Lord of the universe? “Great peace have those who love your law,” wrote King David, “and nothing can make them stumble.” “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you,” wrote the prophet Isaiah.
Peace is a frame of mind, a real palpable condition of the heart, which God’s Word promises is fully attainable, not just to what you consider “VIP” type of people, it is attainable to any child of God (because really every child of God is a VIP even if you do not accept it). Peace is the absence of anxiety, the absence of worry, the full confidence of your mind that you are in God’s protection and need not fear any harm or evil.  Peace is an overwhelming sense of joy; an inescapable feeling that all is under control; your Heavenly Father personally has your back. It sounds too good to be true. But this is the unexaggerated description by God to you of the peace that passes understanding; the very peace He gives.
Life for every one of us is unpredictable. This is especially true because there is a whole other world of reality from what you can see; a spiritual world of good and evil players. Even within the visible world you do not control the actions of those around you, who can impact your own safety, health, and well-being; and the invisible world puts your world under double the threat. Peace is not even in your picture if there is not your Creator and Mighty God in the picture. And because He is, and because He is your God, His promises of peace to you are very real.
But is your faith such that you will seek His peace and experience it, even as you continue to live in a very dangerous world. No matter how dangerous, it is His world! “Greater is He that is in you, then he that is in the world!” Jesus said powerfully and honestly, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”


“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’ “.
(1st verse of Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” 1873)


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Sep 21, 2016

The Pit

On a recent visit home to my parents’ house, I found a stack of papers from my second grade school year. I thumbed through the terrible drawings, misspelled words, and chicken scratch handwriting with tears of laughter streaming down my face, sharing these hilarious memories with my husband who thankfully didn’t know me back then. As I was putting the papers back in their folder, something caught my eye. The form was a small questionnaire my teacher had each student fill out. I’m sure it was meant to be cute and entertaining to look back on like all the other papers we had just howled over, but this one was different. What do you want to be when you grow up? A doctor. What is your favorite food? Pizza. What is your favorite color? Blue. What is your favorite sport? Gymnastics. If you could have one wish come true, what would it be? That my parents won’t die.
As I read my answer to the last question, my heart sunk a little. I remember being terrified to the point of tears anytime I called my parents and they didn’t answer. I was certain they had been in a car accident. I also remember being (unnecessarily) scared that our family was going to run out of money and find ourselves living on the streets. And after September 11th and all of the media attention around terrorism, I avoided opening our mail because I was afraid there might be anthrax in it. Saying these things out loud is a little comical now, but I was paralyzed by fear at the time. We always joked that I was the “family worry wart,” and it wasn’t until years later, after several more serious manifestations, that I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
You’re probably wondering why in the world they asked the woman who obviously has not mastered her anxiety to write the newsletter about that very topic, and I have to admit, I am wondering the same thing! I couldn’t be further from an expert, but I have learned a few things during my years of battling the monster named Anxiety.
1. Trust Jesus.
In Philippians 4, Paul urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Our task is pretty clear: Talk to God about whatever it is that causes your anxiety. Paul goes on to say that if you do this, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is our Good Shepherd which means we can rest in the assurance that He is taking care of us and, according to Romans 8, working all things together for the good of those who love Him. Now, this doesn’t mean things will always go our way or look the way we want them to; it does, however, mean that we can trust God’s infinite knowledge, perfect ways, and steadfast love. When we surrender our anxieties to God, we exchange them for His peace.
2. Watch your thoughts.
While trusting Jesus is the answer, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy. On the contrary, it can be very difficult sometimes. It’s human nature to want to handle everything on our own, and it requires intentional action and significant effort to release our business to anyone, let alone someone we cannot see with our earthly eyes. To trust Jesus, you have to watch your thoughts. 2nd Corinthians 10:5 admonishes us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Our sinful minds will never naturally think in a pure and holy manner. They will be inundated with worry over whether we will get the promotion, if our child is fitting in at their new school, if the scans will come back clear this time, if we will be able to cover the rent check this month, and on and on and on. There is no shortage of topics to dwell on if you want to drown in anxiety; that is why we have to be active instead of passive. When your anxious thoughts start creeping – or rushing – in, you must stop them. Recognize the thought, then immediately release it to God.
3. Surround yourself with truth.
This is a very important step in finding freedom from the chains of anxiety. Anxiety tells you lies: This is too small for God to care about. I’ve sinned too much recently for Him to want to help me with this. I can handle this on my own. Saturate your mind with counter-truths from the Bible. Memorize verses that address your specific worries so that when they pop back up, you can dismiss them as foolish. For example, if you consistently feel that your concerns aren’t important enough to bother God with, try memorizing Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Additionally, it is very helpful to have a support system who knows what you struggle with and can speak truth in to your life. My husband knows my battles with anxiety, and he has learned how to speak rationality and truth to counter my worries. It has helped me tremendously to hear an audible voice countering the fearful one controlling my mind some days.
Lastly, I want to leave you with some encouragement from one of my favorite books, Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, were arrested for hiding Jews in their Amsterdam home during World War II and sent to endure the horrors of three different Nazi concentration camps. Their story is an inspiring one of faithfulness, forgiveness, and restoration that will convict and challenge you in many ways. As Betsie lay dying in the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp, she muttered these words to Corrie: “We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.
This statement has stuck with me since I first read the book ten years ago. There is no doubt that anxiety is consuming. It seizes your mind and holds you hostage. It either freezes you with fear or makes you behave irrationally. It takes only a matter of seconds before you are completely controlled by the apprehension, every decision made through the shadow of this looming darkness. Before long, you will find yourself buried in it, and it will feel inescapable. That is when your heart must echo Betsie’s words: He is always deeper, greater, stronger than the pit that the ruthless dictator, Anxiety, has pulled you in to. He has overcome; therefore, we can too.


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Sep 15, 2016

When You Confess Your Sin, Others are Helped

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight… Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” – Psalm 51:1-5


The Bible certifies the existence and saturation of this thing it calls sin. If nothing else, beyond the fact that God really is, and that He communicates to man in space and time, the Bible emphasizes the fact, in example after example, that sin really is, and it is man who naturally and rebelliously sins. Even if sin is denied, ignored, or scorned, when the rubber meets the road, man knows beyond all doubt this one truth about himself: he sins, regularly. The law of God is embedded deep in his being, his consciousness, as a created being, and he is increasingly aware in his development from infancy on that obedience to God’s law is not his forte. He is not only born a sinner, but he knows when faced with the unvarnished reality of who he is, and how he behaves, that obedience is not his natural makeup. Everyone is a sinner; not just a little bit, but thoroughly. In all 66 books of the Bible this truth stands out like a sore thumb. Man has a fallen nature which results in sin oozing out of his pores like perspiration.
So, if this is the case, in the awakened, Spirit-regenerated Christian, confession ought to be as regular as breathing. If it is, you can be assured of a healthy soul. If it is not, there will be a natural sin-sickness which festers and infects the whole person. This sickness needs a remedy, or, minus healing, it will eventually lead to death with numerous “dying” crises along the way; the death of other things in your life: things like kindness, goodness, patience, relationships, righteousness, purity, hope, love; things which when absent result in a sad and broken life.
God’s Word graciously calls you to confess your sins, with the promise of faithful forgiveness and refreshing life in Christ. It is a call to personal confession between you and your Father in heaven, but it is also a call to confess your sins in the presence of others, other Christian brothers and sisters. This accomplishes a number of benefits to them and to you. They become aware that they are not alone in being a sinner. They are encouraged by your confession of sin to confess their own sins. You are humbled; a very good thing. They are blessed and encouraged; also a very good thing. Your relationship with one another becomes closer.
The Bible even tells you that others become converted through your confession of sin. It is evangelical in leading others to commit their life to Christ. David in Psalm 51 writes after his own confession of sin: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn to you.” And in James you are encouraged: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”
There is far too little confessing sins to one another. If there was more, there would be greater spiritual health among us, and there would be more sinners being brought to redemption and forgiveness in Christ. We need a spirit of Psalm 51 in our midst, your own contrite confession of sin and also the working of humility in your life so that you would confess your sin to God in the presence of others. This is what God in Christ is asking of you.


“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be; let that grace now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it–prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
(3rd verse of Robert Robinson’s hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” 1758)


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Sep 08, 2016

Sin's Repeat: The Energizer Bunny

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race which is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1


King Saul could not keep from trying to kill David, one he once allegedly loved as his own son, though he apparently regretted trying to end his life. David was close enough in private to kill Saul, out of pure self-defense, but he would not lift his hand to take the life of one he considered God’s anointed. He cut off a corner of Saul’s garment unbeknown to Saul, and another time presented him with a spear and bowl he took from right next to Saul’s head while he slept. When David revealed to Saul he had spared his life one time after another, Saul always voiced his impassioned sorrow, only to pursue David’s death again when the immediate regret wore off. To his eventual death by his own sword, Saul pursued the killing of David out of persistent jealousy.
The Old Testament story of Israel the nation is replete with God’s saving them out of destruction one time after another, only to see Israel go whoring after other gods and idols time and time again. They begged for God’s deliverance when in a terrible pickle, swearing total obedience to his commands only to return to their adulterous sin over and over. Such is the story of God’s people throughout history. God should have washed his hands of man and his rebellion long ago, except He is so thoroughly long-suffering and ever merciful. It is no different today for any of us. Sanctification is a long embattled process. Sin has an energy which makes it incredibly persevering in raising its ugly head again and again.
Final eradication of your sinful nature happens only when you are glorified in eternity. Perfection belongs, in this life, only to the Son of God. Nevertheless, you are commanded to be perfect in Matthew 5 as your Heavenly Father is perfect. It is an always pursued goal which calls for even more energy from your soul than what sin stirs up in seeking a permanent place in your life. Frustratingly wearying and never totally victorious, your fight calls for unflagging perseverance and hope in Jesus. It is never a completely lost cause, nor should you ever see it as such. To do so is to claim Jesus a liar.
There is progress in sanctification when you die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness, though it may appear to be a losing cause. The fact is, if you are truly fighting sin in Christ’s strength you are more aware of sin in your own life than ever before, having a more holy awareness and sensitivity of it. The closer you grow to Jesus, just as the Apostle Paul, you are more conscious of sin’s power and presence than ever. Your heightened sensitivity is no sign of a losing cause; in fact, if you feel you are winning the battle, it is not a good sign of genuine victory.
Ironically enough, sanctification is growing in you as you become more and more aware of sin’s subtlety and insidiousness, especially in you. This is why late in his ministry Paul saw himself as the worst of sinners. You will truly make Paul’s claim yours when you grow closer to Jesus and his likeness; not to outdo Paul’s humility, but because you truly believe you ARE the worst of sinners.
Such recognition and humility will cause you to not allow sin to repeat in your life. You will steal its energy and put it to work in obedience. You will successfully fight the good fight, as is your calling as a follower of Christ. Rather than a Saul, you will become a David; a man or woman after God’s own heart.


“Stand then in His great might, with all His strength endued; but take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God. Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul; take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole.”
(2nd verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” 1749)


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Sep 01, 2016

Taking Your Own Life

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:7-8


Suicide is epidemic. Regardless of its causes; that is, loss of all hope, excruciating pain, ignorance of whether or not your life is yours to take, suicides take place every moment around the world, with no end in sight. They can be the bullied teenager or the terminally ill octogenarian, the PTSD impacted soldier or the jilted spouse or lover.  Suicide victims come from all walks of life and circumstances, from all ages and both genders. It happens, apparently, despite any sure knowledge or great concern of what happens immediately after. To them life, their life, is not sacred. It is not worthy of protection.
Life in this world begins and ends every day. Humans are born and humans are killed or die in every minute of each day. Millions of conceived human beings never even see the light of day outside the womb; purposefully. Is human life really so sacred? Or is the death of human individuals so common place that there is little difference of human life being snuffed out, just as much as a mosquito being swatted? If human life is so sacred, as some claim, what makes it so?
If there is not a Creator of life, and life is not the result of some intelligent Creator-Designer, but is rather a totally mechanized, random event begun by accident in some primordial soup; and once initiated (that is, unexplainably sparked into being) it is unable to cease, until some just as random deadly force in the universe snuffs out all life, and the universe subsequently goes cold and lifeless, just as we know and observe now in all places beyond our earth’s atmosphere; in that case, human life has no meaning or purpose or goal. But, if indeed there is a Designer and Creator of life, wouldn’t He have something to say about the importance of what, and who, He created and sustains, and to whom or what He gives sacred value?
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, writes this: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8) I am sure there are many people who give very little attention, if any, to this truth or accept it as true. They believe they are their own and no one other than themselves have any ownership of them. If they want to take their life, it is their choice alone; and they show they have the power to do that, because they are successful in suicide. But then, they immediately stand before God with accountability for their actions, because they have no power to snuff out their existence completely. God still determines their eternal home. No one has the power to annihilate themselves from being a living, eternal soul.
Many live under the myth they are their own “god.” They, and they alone, determine their own being or non-being. The Bible says this is but a myth; it is completely erroneous. Committing suicide is never annihilation. Nor is it, necessarily, to end up for all eternity in some far better place, nirvana. Nor is suicide, potentially, the unforgivable sin. It depends on what has been done with God before taking their life. Christians have committed suicide, and yet sometime prior to it have exhibited the fruits of regeneration, before falling into a hopeless, painful pit, where, for whatever reason, they were unable to throw all their cares on Jesus, recognizing He cares for them.
There is mystery, and there is mercy. Why they reached this state and succumbed to it is often shrouded in mystery. Yet, if they genuinely trusted Christ for salvation before coming to this awful place where they were driven by their circumstances to not trust Jesus, there is, I believe, mercy still before the Mercy Seat of God, where they will find themselves the moment their breath is snuffed out. However, if they have not come to God through Jesus, His Son, before taking their life, they are still in God’s hands, though subject to His judgment, which the Bible clearly warns will result in God’s rejection, and eternal punishment. “Depart from me, I never knew you,” Jesus said of those who refused to hear and obey His words.
Suicide in all circumstances is tragic! There is always, with a living and merciful God, a far better solution. Life is indeed sacred, even if one does not see their life in that moment as sacred, worthy, or hopeful. With Jesus all things are possible. Nothing, again I say, nothing, is ever hopeless. People are driven to despair and suicide because of severe anxieties. But God’s Word promises that all your anxieties can be cast on Jesus, because He cares for you. It is a matter of whether you trust God, and take Him at His mere word.
Will the God of all creation, the Almighty One, not keep His promise? Belief that He is as He says, loving and true, just and righteous, is what stands between you and your glory; to be rewarded by Him with glory, as He promises, or punished by Him justly and eternally as deserved. Hold your own life and other lives as sacred, no matter the anxieties which drive you to despair. Hope in Christ never fails, and is the only solution to utter despair. As the Psalmist plaintively cries out in Psalm 130, in his despair, he waits on the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. In other words, no despair is so desperate, or pain so debilitating, or any healing so out of reach, that waiting for the Lord is not only possible, but absolutely necessary. The watchman who urgently waits as though his very life depends on the morning rays of sunrise will get his reward.


“I wait for God, the Lord, and on his Word my hope relies; my soul still waits and looks unto the Lord till light arise. I look for him to drive away my night, yea, more than watchmen look for morning light.”
(from Psalm 130, The Psalter, 1912)


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