Saturday, July 23, 2016

I Believe...



In our bible class last night we reviewed my second most favorite (or meaningful to me) verse. It is contained in a narrative in Mark 9:14-30 where Jesus casts a demon out of a young boy. The father is challenged concerning his faith and his response in verse 24 was, “I believe, help thou my unbelief”, or “I do believe, but help me to have a stronger faith.”

One of the reasons this is one of my most favorite passages is that I can identify with those words more than you might suspect. You see, we tend to look at people and form an opinion about them and their faith from a very limited knowledge of them. You consider what you know of me, my ministries, our mission efforts and think, “Russ has it all together, I bet he never worries about anything.” Well, if that's way you think, you would be wrong. It may be true that my wife and I have faced some challenges which you have not. It may be true that we have undertaken works that you would rather not, but that doesn't mean that my faith is unshakable. That may or may not surprise you, but I believe that God places us where he wants us to be and perhaps those places are to challenge, test or strengthen our faith.

You will never know how many times I have prayed, “Lord, I believe, but help me have a stronger faith. Help me have a faith that trusts you more and that let's me give more control of my life to you”. “I believe, help thou my unbelief!

What this passage lets me know is that I'm no different from anyone else. That each of us face Faith Challenges from time to time. You may be struggling with health issues, job issues, personal relationship issues or with faith issues. You maybe looking at this things and thinking, “There is no way I can deal with this by myself.” If you are, then you also identify with that father of 2,000 years ago about who we read, “Straight away the father of the child gave a cry, saying, I have faith; make my feeble faith stronger.” (BBE) Is it time for you to consider your faith and perhaps give up some control, or as they say, “Let go and let God.”




Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Change is inevitable, but not always good.


We live in a world where change is a constant. No matter what area of life to which you look, you will see change, change is inevitable, you can't stop it, but I would suggest that you can control how it affects your life to some degree.

The thing with change is that if it is going on around you, you often don't notice it happening. Having lived in Africa for a number of years we were perhaps more aware of changes in America. These changes were more evident to us when we visited, than those who are living in the midst of them. For example: On one of our furlough trips we stopped at a restaurant while traveling. I went to pay our bill and in front of me were a family with teenage children. The daughter had thong underwear pulled up on her hips and shorts that were worn far too low. Somewhat embarrassed for them I thought, “This must be a poor family, they can't afford clothes that fit their children.” Of course later I found that this was a “fashion statement”.

I realize that I am somewhat “older” than some of you, and maybe I am “behind the times” and an “old fogie,” but I don't see this as a good change.

Not long after returning to live in America we attended a funeral (the first after returning). We dressed in a way we felt was appropriate, you know what they used to call “church clothes.” I wore dress slacks, a tie and jacket and my wife wore a dress. We walked in and were shocked because there were young women there wearing halter tops, short shorts and flip flops. Apparently the “dress with respect” aspect of our society had shifted even more. And again, I don't see this change as a good thing.

Another change I noted is how folks dress in our bible studies and worship assemblies. Now I realize that there are no “clothing guidelines” in the bible, other than to behave decently and modestly and I certainly am not suggesting that we try and mandate any. But I am suggesting that modesty be considered regarding proper attire for those who claim to be in the presence of God. I thought to myself the other day, I wonder how folks would dress if they really thought that Jesus was going to be there when they arrived? Of course we know he is, isn't he?

Now I realize that this is a very subjective and personal observation, because what I feel is modest or decent may not be the same thing you think it is. When we were in Africa I saw a man leading the song service wearing a woman's, short, sheer negligee instead of a shirt. He didn't know what it was, it came in a good will box from America and he thought it was better than the one tee shirt he had with holes in it. I saw a man wearing a pair of ladies maternity pants with the large elastic panel on the front, because again he didn't know what they were and they were nice pants with no holes. I however know better and wouldn't wear those things.

All of this is to suggest that perhaps the changes as to what is acceptable in our world may not always be good things. And, I would ask that you consider how your attire is perceived by those around you. Paul puts it this way, “We are free to do all things, but there are things which it is not wise to do. We are free to do all things, but not all things are for the common good. Let a man give attention not only to what is good for himself, but equally to his neighbor’s good.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 - BBE)


Friday, July 15, 2016

JESUS KNOWS THE ANSWER


I was reading John 6 the other night where Jesus fed the 5000 with a two fish and 5 loaves of flat  bread. Although you can read about this in all four Gospel accounts, John gives us some information you don't read in other places so I found it especially interesting.

As I read this passage I stuck me that Jesus knows the answer before we even know the question. In this passage Jesus asked Philip in verse 5 and, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” Then in verse 6 we read, “Jesus said this to test him, because he himself already knew what he was going to do.”

I don't know about you, but I really need to work on remembering this idea. There is an old hymn with these words, “My Jesus knows just what I need”. That's a difficult concept for us to grasp isn't it, yet when we have been around someone for a long period of time we can often anticipate what they need or want. We may realize that they need something even before they ask. Why then, should it be so difficult to think that our God can do the same thing?

The scripture tells us that he knew us even while we were in our mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5). In other words, he has known us for a long time and he knows what we need, far better than do we.

As we consider John 6, I am sure that the disciples were shocked and surprised at the solution Jesus offered for feeding 5,000 plus people. Yet, Jesus already knew exactly what was going to happen and the end result of collecting 12 baskets of left overs. An unbelievable answer for an overwhelming question.

How often in our lives do we face difficulties that seem to have no ready solution? Perhaps we face questions in our lives that have no easily discerned answer? Could it be that Jesus knows the answer before we even know how to frame the question? In John 6 we see that a solution to the problem was reached, but only after the disciples first listened to what Jesus told them to do and second, then did it.

Maybe you are not like me,  maybe you don't struggle with as many questions as I; but from what I've seen of this world, I believe you probably do. Perhaps it's time to spend more time listening to Jesus speak to us through His Word. If we do, just perhaps he will supply us with a much needed answer.


Friday, May 13, 2016

When Life gives you lemons… it has a Silver lining





OK, I know it is a mixed metaphor, but it gets your attention and sets up the idea I want to convey.

The past couple of weeks have been difficult for me in some ways. I injured my Sciatic nerve and have been in quite a bit of pain. I have seen a doctor and am taking therapy, but the results are somewhat slow in reliving the pain to say the least. Quite a surprise as I have never had this type of problem before.

Next I had a filling come out of a tooth and went to the dentist yesterday for a simple repair. A few hours later I left the office after having two Wisdom Teeth pulled, a tooth prepared for a crown and three small fillings. This was a surprise as it is the first of my teeth I have had to have pulled in almost 68 years and seldom have problems with my teeth.

So, those are some of the lemons (the sour things that make you scrunch up your mouth and shake your head and say I don't like that). OK, I know you can make lemonade, but I don't much like that either. Now I can choose to dwell on those things and say, "Oh, poor me! Why do all of these things happen to me? I have to admit that I don't like the pain and am praying for quick relief, however I tend to look for the Silver Lining when I can.

A few weeks ago the church where I had previously preached in California sent us a house warming gift of a beautiful Boston fern. Now that the weather has warmed here in Ohio my wife hung it on the back porch and waters and cares for it regularly. Quite unexpectedly one day she found a Robin's nest in the fern. Now, day by day we watch it and as of yesterday it has 4 eggs in it. We also noticed one day, one the Robin's eggs lay broken on the ground and in the place of the Robin's egg was a smaller brown speckled egg. We suspect a sneaky Sparrow did this, taking advantage of the Robin's care for the egg and baby soon to be born. We are looking forward to this with great expectations.

OK, here's the point. You can choose to dwell on the Lemon's in your life, or you can look for the Silver Linings around you. I choose to try and look for the good, the beautiful, possibly the unexpected; for that which will make me smile and think good thoughts in spite of the pain life brings. 

Paul wrote these words to us on how to deal with life in Philippians 4:8 (I hope you find them helpful): "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things". (ASV) Another paraphrase of this verse says, "fill your minds with those things that are good".


So how are you dealing with you "Life Lemons"? Stop and look around you for that Silver Lining," and think on these things. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother's Day Thoughts


This week my 8 year old grand daughter said, "Grandpa, come here," and she pulled me into the living room. She then whispered, "What are you going to do for grandma for Mother's day?" To which I replied, "Nothing"…. She had a shocked look on her face and I said, "Allyson, she's not my mother, she is your dads mother. My mother was great grandma Lawson." She thought for a moment and say, "Yes, but couldn't you fix her breakfast in bed or something?" I assured her that I would be doing something special for her grandmother.

Mother's day is not a religious holiday or a government recognized holiday, but it is one of the most important days we celebrate. We pause to recognize the one who is the center of most homes. Yes fathers are important, but mother's many times do most of the nurturing and spend the most time with the children. You may feel (but I hope not), like one young man recently who said, “My mother never did anything for me”. Our response was, “Yes she did,” “She cared enough to carry you for 9 months and give birth to you”. She cared for you, bathed you; fed you, changed you when you need it and did it because she loves you”. I mean, really, without your mother you wouldn't be here.

Many women choose abortion in our world and the life God has given them as a gift is ended. If you are a woman in that situation, I'm sorry if these words hurt or offend, but none the less I believe them to be true.

Mother's we who are your children are sometimes unappreciative, sometimes hurtful, sometimes difficult to deal with, but underneath it all, we really do love you. Thank you for loving us back! But mother's the most important thing you can give your children is an understanding of and love for God and His Word.

In 2 Timothy 1:5 & 3:14 Paul encourages Timothy by saying, "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them [that is, your mother Eunice and through her from your grandmother Lois]; and that from childhood you have known the holy scriptures [because your mother taught them to you] which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

Thank you mother's and Happy Mother's Day.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

THE PROBLEM


We had a man come into my place of work the other day and he immediately said, “I want to talk with the store manager”. The store manager wasn't available for awhile, so he told me his problem. It seems he had bought a lawnmower a little over a year ago and it just blew the engine. He wanted the store to give him a new one or credit towards a more expensive mower. In other words, to redeem the broken one and make it new in some way...that was a problem…
When the manager arrived he explained that the store policy is that we will refund or replace up to 60 days on mowers, but the manufacturer has a one year warranty (which was also past). I thought the manager did a good job of explaining all of this very patiently, but it was a problem with no cheap answer to make it right. I mean, that which regulates the transaction and responsibilities was clearly spelled out in the papers they were given…so what do you do?
This is similar to the problem each of us have today isn't it? We as humans are broken and unfixable by human standards. Each of us has the problem of sin in our lives. It may not be a BIG easily recognizable sin, but to God, sin is sin. If you don't obey his rules, then you can't be fixed. God's word tells us that all of us sin and fall short of God's Glory, (Romans 3:23). While we are told in 1John 1:7-10 that anyone who says they don't sin is calling God a liar and that His Word is really not part of their lives. That is a problem isn't it, because sin separates us form the source of life (eternally) God himself. When we sin, we are responsible for the cost for the damage to our lives, which is impossible for us to pay.
Fortunately, when God wrote his rules, he wrote in a redemption clause, an escape clause if you will. It's spelled out clearly in his rule book (the Bible) in more than one place. Places like Mark 16:15-16 and Romans 6:1-10. We are told that the redemption we can experience is not dependent upon our own ability, but upon the willingness of Christ to pay what was necessary for us. What was required was a payment in blood; a payment of sacrifice; a payment of suffering to fix what you broke and for which you were responsible. He paid the debt he did not own, because he loves you that much! In return he asks the you obey him and commit to living by His rules to the best of your ability.
Now the man who came into our store was helped with his problem. We actually gave him a loner mower until he could check with the manufacturer. Redeemed or fixed no; we were just kind of able to put a bandage on the sore spot in hopes he can get it fixed properly some place else.
I see a lot of people who are putting band aids on their lives, they cover up the sore spot, but something is missing, something is hurting, something is lacking in their lives. It is the healing that comes from God when we finally decide to follow the rules in His Book the Bible. To embrace the need to sacrifice some things in our own lives, to gain eternal life.


Friday, April 1, 2016

ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER



Way back in 1969 a group known as "Three Dog Night," recorded a song called "One is the loneliest number." The basic concept is that being alone is no fun and not something most of us want. I was reminded of that song this week in an unexpected way.

This week I got to re-experience a young children's bible class. My wife's helper was out of town and I wasn't teaching, so I "assisted" with the 2nd grade bible class. You might think that you couldn't learn much from a class presented for children that young, but then, you would be wrong.

The class was about a man in the bible with no friends. No one wanted to be around him; he wasn't nice and didn't treat others very nice either. In fact that was the main thing he was known for, cheating and mistreating people. Besides that he looked weird, he was really short and people probably found it easy to make fun of him because of that, but maybe that is why he turned out to be such a mean person.

Jesus saw in this man the potential for greater things. He turned his life around and took the pain of loneliness out of his life. And just in case you haven't figured it out, the man's name was Zacchaeus and you can find his story in Luke 19. He was a Tax Collector working for the Romans collecting taxes and cheating people to line his own pockets. He was so alone that he was looking for someone to make a difference in his life and so anxious to find one, he even climbed a tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus.

The bible class centered on how difficult it is to feel all alone and how you would feel in different situations. There are times we all feel alone, we feel unloved, and unliked. On the outside we may look to others like we have it all together. We may dress nice, we may have a good job, and we may have things that the world says means success, but we can still be alone. You may have none of those things and be alone and miserable because of that. Maybe that causes you, just like Zacchaeus, to treat others in unkind ways, but Jesus still is the answer to the loneliness and pain we sometimes feel.

Once Zacchaeus understood how much Jesus cared, that he could really understand his pain and loneliness. When Zacchaeus understood that Jesus really wanted to be his friend, his life was changed as no one else could change it. He literally became a "new man." In Luke 19:8-10 we read: "Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!" Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost." "


Some of the most powerful and wonderful words in the bible are found here, "For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost." How about you? Are you all alone… are you lost? Perhaps it's time to start looking for Jesus, even if you have to put some effort into finding him, like Zacchaeus?