Sunday, January 23, 2011

God's Holy Word by Carolyn

God's Word takes my breath away. I am in awe of how the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals through this Holy Book.
I attended four Bible studies this week. That astounds me!

One of them is quite large, very diverse and primarily for ladies who work during the day. Another is with three of my friends, one of whom is seriously ill. My boon companion, Judy and I often study together, and the fourth is with the three young girls who live next door to me.

Bible Study Fellowship is an international organization for women who study the Bible together. This year we are studying Isaiah. There are 13 women in my group and we are one of 15 groups meeting in the church on Tuesday evenings. Each week we are given Scripture to read, notes on Scripture we've already read and questions. When we are together we discuss them. "Where do you think justice has not prevailed in your life, and what ways have you witnessed God bringing justice into your life?" the leader asked. The response? "Justice has not prevailed in my life because I haven't received the punishment I deserve for my sin. God brought justice into my life when His Son died on the cross for my sin so that I may go free to live eternally with God." Wow.

Four friends learning about heaven came next. "How do we know we are going to heaven?" my ill friend asked. "We have been assured through the Scriptures" another replied. "If we confess our sin, recognize we are unable to save ourselves, and invite Jesus into our lives as our Savior and Lord, we are assured we will be 'sealed' with God's Holy Spirit. Then one of those rooms Jesus is preparing in His Father's house in heaven is reserved for us!"

Then came the "boon companions" Judy and I talking about our Tuesday night Scriptures from Isaiah 40:10. "See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him. See, his reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him." We look at this alone. We think separately about what it could mean. We define reward and recompense from the dictionary. As we are doing that, we realize that the wages of our sin are satisfied by the death of Christ. We have been redeemed! We are God's reward! Our sinful natures have been ammended! We, who were lost have been found. Amazing GRACE!

Finally, three girls, ages 7 - 12 are reading about the death of Lararus. They see in John 11 that both Mary and Martha individually ask Jesus why He didn't come earlier and save their brother's life. "Why? Why?" They begin to understand that Jesus has bigger plans than that. But not before He sees the tears the sisters shed and He too weeps at their suffering, at their heartache, at their inability to see what He sees. And the girls see that Jesus understands their own sadness and sorrow, and that sometimes miracles are preceeded by great pain. We need to trust Him. We must wait upon Him. We need to believe that He has bigger plans.

John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." The Word became Jesus and Jesus is the Word. That astounds me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Boon Companions (by Judy)

Twelve years ago this month, I was baptized. Of course since I was raised Episcopalian, I was baptized as an infant. At that time, my family and members of the church agreed to take responsibility for my spiritual growth. I grew up loving the church that I attended - the building, the church calendar and accompanying rituals, the music, and especially the youth fellowship, which was a lot of fun for a teenager.

Then as a young adult I drifted away – a familiar story. When we had a family, I knew it was my responsibility to raise our children the way I had been raised, so they were baptized and confirmed, and we attended church on a sporadic basis, for it was so nice to stay snuggled under the covers on Sunday mornings, listening to Charles Kuralt on CBS and solving Will Short’s puzzles on NPR. There was always guilt, but not enough. There was also a hole, an inexplicable emptiness.

One day, something changed. Again, something inexplicable – but rather than emptiness, warmth and a closeness. "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." I discovered that the Bible was filled with wonder, beauty, conviction, illumination, and clear, direct words for me. It no longer gathered dust on the shelf. A church in a neighboring town became such an special place that Sunday morning was the pinnacle of my week. Words to hymns that I had repeated over and over for decades took on the nature of sermons, revealing towering theology and personal relationships with Jesus. The saints in the mists of the past felt closer than casual friends in the workplace.

And finally, someone else joined me as I walked this new path – a boon companion. We discovered that pouring ourselves cups of coffee and opening the Bible together, planning and producing a monthly TV program called “I Love to Tell the Story,” going on the road with presentations to women’s groups in small rural churches, facilitating summer Bible studies, and simply talking about our faith in odd locations like local bars strengthened us way beyond what we could have done alone. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”

Twelve years ago, we were both baptized again in front of our church, friends and family – this time in full knowledge of what such a public acknowledgement means. Though we don’t know what the future holds, and our service may go in different directions, the horizontal bar of the Cross of Jesus holds us together, while the vertical bar points our gaze always upward. Proof of such a bond is that this boon companion, dear Carolyn, has agreed at our age to begin a study of GREEK, and she gave me the salt and pepper shakers in the photo above, so that my Jack will know that he is #1, at least here on earth!
Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. Psalm 34:3

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Give us a watchword for the hour,
A thrilling word, a word of power
A battle cry, a flaming breath,
A call to conquest or to death:
A word to rouse the church from rest,
To heed the Master's high behest.
The call is given, ye hosts arise,
The Watchword is EVANGELIZE!
To fallen men, a dying race,
Make known the gift of gospel grace.
The world that now in darkness lies,
O Church of Christ, EVANGELIZE!

The call of Christ is unmistakeable. It is all over the Bible. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" Matthew 28:18-20.

"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Acts 1:8

"O, son of man, I have set thee a watchman...therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me...if thou dost NOT speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand." Ezekiel 33:7-8

"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew 5:13-16

We have our marching orders. The price for an immortal soul cannot be fixed. Think about it. Is there any trouble too great, any humiliation so deep, any suffering too severe, any love too strong, any labor too hard, any expense too great, to spend on an effort to win a soul?

God loves His people more than anything He has created. He created us in His image. God has bought every soul back. We are "twice bought." Once at creation and once again from the "desires of the flesh." Satan uses the flesh to snare the people God created in His image. He will stop at nothing. He uses all his energy, his utmost cuning, he will employ any means for the single purpose of ruining a soul.

As God's people, we must recommit ourselves in 2011 to this mission. We must dedicate our lives to lost souls. We must commit ourselves to seeing unbelievers become committed followers of Jesus Christ. We have no choice. It is Christ's call.

"O where is that mysterious line
That may by men be crossed,
Beyond which God Himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost?
An answer from the skies repeats,
'Ye who from God depart,'
TODAY, O hear His voice,
TODAY repent and harden not your heart.'
Joseph Addison Alexander

Saturday, January 1, 2011

True Grit (by Judy)

As I sit at the computer on January 1st, 2011, there are so many things to write about that I hardly know where to begin. My plate has been full, literally and figuratively as we have entertained friends and family, enjoying the blessings of each one. In the end though, I am turning away from the end-of-year events, and toward a movie we recently saw – True Grit.

This film moved me in ways that were completely unexpected, from the sometimes lilting, sometimes chilling thread of music – “Leaning on His Everlasting Arms” -often sung in church, but never with such haunting intensity, to the clarity of purpose modeled by a slender 14 year old girl from Arkansas. I should have known from the opening screen with a verse from Proverbs, but it was only as the film progressed that I understood the deep reflection of Christian values – a reliance on God’s providence, remorse and confession from a condemned man about to hang, a sense of justice and redemption, and a beautiful line spoken by the heroine - “You pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”

Since I saw the movie, I have been reflecting on the word “grit.” It is doubly on my mind, for I received a yearlong subscription to magazine called GRIT from a co-worker – a reflection of my final job at school of farm manager. I have seen grit a lot recently – not the granules of sand that is the first definition, but rather the more heroic meaning, an indomitable spirit, or pluck.

I have seen it in the 24 piglets who share a cold, dark, snow-covered century-old barn with 11 sheep; in the brave, and stoic acceptance of chronic pain in a family member; in a sister-in-law who finds humor while living among the infirm and hard of hearing; and in the Bible, especially in my hero Joshua – he who saw mere men instead of giants, who led a raggle-taggle band to make walls come tumbling down; and who at the end of his life declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Where does grit come from? For awhile, it may come from within. But ultimately, when we humans realize that we can’t manage a situation on our own, it must come from reliance on One Stronger. In the movie, for awhile young Mattie could rely on Rooster, but her true grit came from Leaning on His Everlasting Arms!