Set free to serve ….. (July 2013)

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. [Galatians 5:13]

Freedom cannot be understood in terms of being free from something apart from being free to something else. This verse above reminds us that we have been set free in Jesus to be of service to him and to others. We were never intended to be set free to sit on our posterior centers and do nothing.

Service is not an option for the Christian. It is the obligation of gratitude and thanksgiving to Christ that we are ever in service to others. There is always a way to be servant to Jesus and to our brethren.  If I am physically unable to serve, I am still mentally and spiritually able to serve with my regular and persistent intercessory prayers. Our voices and disposition of encouragement and comfort is not lessened by our physical limitations.

All around us there are ample opportunities to engage in the ministry for which we were set free. Often Jesus taught us about loving others as the evidence of knowing him. From the example of washing feet to the example of giving our cloak to another; from the commands to feed our enemies to visiting the sick and imprisoned; from caring for the widows and orphans to the nurturing of little children in coming to him, opportunities are everywhere.

James 2:15-17 asks us the question, what good is our faith if in seeing a need if we do not respond to it? The point is that we are called to engage.

Saints, we are born to priesthood. We are slaves of God. Our rightful place is in service. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only. We must engage the tasks set before us if we are ever to grow in Christ’s likeness.

Wait a minute – Are you angry with good reason? (June 2013)

The question originally comes to the forefront when the Lord is talking with Jonah, but it is a fair question under many circumstances. Like you, I have frequently been approached by Christians with smouldering anger issues – usually under the kind of circumstances which tend to evoke the same question. “Is your anger justified?”

I can’t recount the number of times I have been challenged by someone who is angry about something said by another somebody “who has the nerve to call himself/herself a Christian.” On several occasions I have been verbally assaulted by people who think that the church has been derelict in their responsibilities.

One such complaint was brought to me by a woman who felt that her nephew should have been visited “by the church people.” I asked whether the nephew attended a church, to which she answered, “No.” I inquired whether anyone had contacted someone from her church to request such a visit. Again the answer was, “No.”  “Were the members of your church to know about your desire for a visit by divination?”

In this situation, I asked the accuser if she was a Christian. “Of course!” was the immediate response. So I told her, then the church was there – in you. You were aware and said nothing. You were aware of the need and you were present for prayer. The church had a representative on the scene – YOU. You, the church, should have made the need known. You, the church, should have witnessed to the nephew. So, I suppose you are right in your accusation that the church was derelict in her duties. You, the church on the scene, did nothing.

There have been other instances as well. I was challenged by a person once who had been aware of a neighbor’s financial need. The man was in need of food and heating oil, etc. The fellow complaining that the church was negligent and he was indignant. His question was, “Where is the church when you need them?” My answer was the same. You ARE the church, I told him. You were right there, you knew of the problem, and you had a checkbook.

It is a common mistake. We are always thinking of someone else doing something about the problem. Rarely do we think of ourselves as being the answer to someone’s prayer. We call someone else to pray. We ask someone else to investigate a need. We put the responsibility on nameless, faceless others to address the problem. And yet, we pray that we will grow in the likeness of the Lord. There’s nothing wrong with getting assists from other Christians, but not at the expense of not responding ourselves.

Saints, we are given opportunities to exercise our Christian faith every day. If we are unfaithful in these little things, how can we realistically expect to be led into or be given bigger things?

Make a visit. Send a card. Pray with someone who needs prayer. Open your wallet. Volunteer. Take opportunities to serve. Step out, Church. We are here and we are able.

Cascading kindness …… (May 2013)

Have you ever heard of the “Butterfly Effect”? No, not the movie, the theory born out of the field of General Physics. The Butterfly Effect is commonly defined in the following ways: (Physics / General Physics) 1] the idea, used in chaos theory, that a very small difference in the initial state of a physical system can make a significant difference to the state at some later time 2] the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, e.g., the introduction of a small, seemingly insignificant alteration within an eco system or microcosm can cause large changes over time. It is illustrated with the concept that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings over Brazil can eventually unleash a typhoon halfway around the world. From this concept the theory gets its name.

The notion is simple. It takes into account the myriad of small factors present in any complex environment which are profoundly affected by any other small factor. Small factors reacting to other small factors are changed in a domino like effect. Those many small elements, in turn, affect other larger elements, which, in turn, affect still larger elements, and so on ad infinitum. For example, the introduction into an eco system of one small bacterium can over time lead to the extinction of a whole species or the destruction of the entire eco system. The effect can seem to be random and can result in enormous changes in many differing ways. Thus, a seemingly insignificant event can eventually alter the course of history or change the cosmos.

“Change one thing and you change everything.”

Everything in our world (defined by any scale you choose to use) is integrally related to everything else in our world. Nothing stands in isolation.

This is not only true in the physical, chemical, biological (tangible) realms, but also in the moral, emotional, psychological, and spiritual realms. Everything is affected in some way by everything else. We cannot possibly know all the small and large things that are affected by small actions or decisions. There are simply too many to identify, let alone calculate. Our minds are not capable of processing that much information.

The scripture tells us that our God knows all things. That is, he knows those things which are and those things which are not. The Architect of the universe knows all the possibilities and in his wisdom changes little things to bring about enormous consequences. For example: The great society of the Nabateans was brought down to nothing simply by the Lord’s opening another trade route. Cyrus’ rise to power and influence upon Jerusalem was engineered by the Lord years before his birth. This kind of cascading effect, once introduced, is almost unstoppable.

Consider this:

If it is true that in time even the smallest of factors can cause major alterations, then what are the possible effects of one believer’s obedience to the Lord on any given day? If the Lord were to prompt one believer in Central Pennsylvania to speak a word of grace to another person, what would be the consequences in Brussels two generations later? How would we measure the results of one seemingly insignificant person’s prayers on the everlasting life of another family in three generations on the other side of the world?

Do you remember that Brazilian butterfly flapping its wings? Did you make the mental connection between that insect and the typhoon you heard about on the news last night?

Victor Hugo wrote one of the most beautiful fictional stories (first published in 1862) about redemption. In that work, Les Misrables, a cleric forgives Jean Valjean for stealing some silver, gives that silver to him and in so doing, sets in motion a cascading chain of events which affects the lives of many people for all time. One small act of grace, by one unnamed cleric changes countless lives in a myriad of ways. That cleric could not have known the consequences of his actions that night. But, does it matter that he could not know? The aftermath of his choices was God’s domain.

Saints, God is engineering the building of his kingdom. He knows all the possibilities and the potential aftermaths of all those possibilities. So, if one day the Lord “says” to you, “Pray for (name, circumstance, people).” will we do it? Or, will we say within ourselves, “This is of little matter.” or “what difference will my prayer make?” or “I am nobody so my prayer doesn’t affect anything.” Remember that Brazilian butterfly?

Who am I that I should go and share my insignificant witness with anyone? Why should I go to the new neighbors and welcome them into the neighborhood – let alone invite them to church? What possible difference can my visiting someone in prison make? Why should I volunteer a couple of hours of my time – what is the point? Why should I send a card with a little money in it to someone who I know is financially strapped? What difference can my measly gift make?

Oh, saints, your kind word can change the world. Your forgiving and accepting heart can transform another’s life and their friends’ lives, and their progeny forever. Your sharing the good news with someone today at the Lord’s prompting may take the gun out of someone’s mouth in San Antonio twenty years from today. You won’t know, you can’t know – but does that make any difference?

Listen to his promptings. Say not, “I am but a child.” (Jer 1:7) Don’t disdain the Lord’s choice of messengers – you. Don’t underestimate the value of your little gift. (Remember the “widows mite”?) Never sell short the worthiness of your witness, your love, your acceptance, your encouragement. There’s real gold in these earthen vessels, and the Lord knows how to invest it. Trust him, and, as the Nike commercial says, “Just do it.”

Still in the fight ……. (February 2013)

I get many things in my electronic inbox. Some are worthy of deletion on sight, some are worthy of reading, and some are worthy of passing along.The following came to me several weeks ago from a local pastor acquaintance of mine, Pastor Steve Sabol. It, like many of his e-mails, is worthy of passing along. Because many of us do not have email, I elected to pass this one along via the Calvary Connexion. Enjoy.

“I have in my possession this letter from a struggling and frustrated brother in Christ. See if you can relate to the cry of his heart…

‘…If I know the will of God, but still can’t keep it, and if the power of my Shadow keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, my Shadow is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?’

Now for the surprise… Those words come to us via the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 7:17-24. Wow! The author of 13 books of the New Testament, the performer of incredible miracles, and yet he struggled so with his Shadow. Did he give up? Was he fatalistic? Hardly! He finished his lament with these words…

‘The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of my Shadow to do something totally different.’ (Romans 7:25)

You and I can find the same place of grace, confidence and hope that Paul found 2,000 years ago, if we place our dependence on God’s supernatural power and not our own will power. You and I HAVE failed, and often! But let’s look at those failures as practice shots, not death blows. Step up to the plate, the game is still on.”

Amen, Steve. This is a life still being lived, a fight being fought, a goal for which we are still striving. It’s not over, and our Shepherd is not finished with us yet. Grateful for his forgiveness and depending upon him, we press on toward the mark.

I am with you ….. (October 2012)

Among the most comforting words spoken by Jesus (in my opinion) are these words found in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”  That promise, “I am with you,” is revealing in so many ways. It shows us, for example, what the Saviour thought was and would be important for his beloved disciples to know. It gives us insight to some of his other teachings as well. For example: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. “I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'” (Matt 25:35c; 36 b, c) These verses reflect what he would have expected from all his followers. But, please note that they talk not of what was done for him apart from being with him. Certainly the portions concerning the naked, thirsty and hungry speak of provision, but these three quoted here speak of being with him.

He promises to be with us always. He does not promise to always fix the problem, make special temporal provision, or intervene in our dilemma, but rather to be with us. The joy of knowing we will never be alone in our sorrow, or suffering, or our need is a source of great strength. From this we can glean that as we endeavour to follow in his steps, we are called upon to meet needs where we can, but (more importantly) to be with those who are suffering. Where there is mourning little can be said that is of great comfort, but being with someone who is weeping can comfort much. Just being there – no pithy sayings, no platitudes, just a loving presence to hear the cry, and listen to the heart.

Often the greatest gift, even for Jesus, is just being there. His complaint to the unrighteous was, “I was a stranger, I was in prison, I was sick. Where were you?”

Frequently our mates, our friends, or our acquaintances find themselves in the place where they are not looking for answers, nor special temporal provisions. They do not need platitudes nor religious instruction. They just need someone to be with them. They need someone to hear them cry, listen to their heart, someone to cry on.

The downtrodden, the oppressed, the disheartened, the discouraged, the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned (in any form) often just need you. The common illusion is that we need some special answers to give when there are no special answers. We need some solution to give when there is no solution. Saints, we already are what is needed — loving companionship, caring company, a tender presence. Sometimes that is just what the Lord brings to us, and it is obvious that he thinks a great deal of that gift. We could do a lot worse than giving what Jesus gives us.

Let’s try simply to be there for someone.

The Cedars of Lebanon

About 15 years ago, unsure of whether I had made the right decision in re-locating our family from California to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, I took a long walk one early Saturday morning to inquire of the Lord. I recall looking out into the thick forest near our house and seeing no cedar trees. Jokingly, I asked the Lord, “Where are all the cedars of Lebanon?” The Lord answered immediately, “You are the cedars of Lebanon.” A sudden assurance came over me that my family and I were right where God wanted us to be. I hurried home to do research on the cedars of Lebanon. From scriptures such as Ps. 92:12-15, Hosea 14:5-7, Ezek. 31:3, Ps. 104:16-17 and Isaiah 2:15, I learned that these cedars are planted in the house of God; flourish in His courts; proclaim His uprightness; send down deep roots; grow very tall and overshadow their forests; give off a wonderful fragrance; provide shade for men and a place for birds to nest; and continue to bear fruit in old age. These trees are rot-resistant and knot-free and, hence, are ideal for building purposes. They were used to build David’s palace (II Sam. 5:11) and Solomon’s temple (I Kings 6:9).

Although this word from the Lord provided me personal guidance and much assurance and encouragement, I am not narcissistic enough to believe that this word was only for me and my family. Ps. 92:12-15 says, “The righteous will…grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” All who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ are “the righteous” (II Cor. 5:21). We are all cedars of Lebanon. Let us be encouraged and continue to grow and be the cedars of Lebanon He has called us to be!

Jeremiah’s encouragement

From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing…   [Jeremiah 30:19]

When Jeremiah spoke these words to Judah’s inhabitants, the people had not yet been exiled to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness to the Lord. But dark times were rapidly approaching, and things were soon to get worse before they would get better. In only a few short years, they would witness the frightening slaughter of loved ones and the destruction of Jerusalem as well as their beloved temple. Then the few who survived would be stripped, chained together, and dragged away into captivity. But prior to these terrible events, God gave them the guarantee through Jeremiah’s preaching that He would intervene in their behalf and restore them by reversing their horrible plight, returning them to their homeland, establishing them again as a nation, and filling their barns with bountiful crops. Such great blessings would cause them to celebrate and even laugh, as the word “rejoicing” indicates in the original language.

Israel’s natural blessings then point to spiritual blessings which we may begin to experience now. By faith we can sing the songs of Zion even though darkness is covering the earth. Is He not the same yesterday, today and forever? Weeping and hardship endure for a time, but our God is with us as a mighty Champion, as the Redeemer who saves, as a Father who waits for His children to return to Him and walk obediently with Him. Trust in Him, lean heavily upon His strong right arm, follow His commandments, and wait patiently for His appearing. Celebrate His goodness today and hold to His faithful promises for that which is yet to come.

– by Jean Lewis

We can only hope …

Her scream pierced the silence, shattering the tranquility of the house. In one motion Suzie and I dropped everything and began running toward the source of the scream. Parents can tell the difference in their children’s cries. Some can be ignored, some cannot. Some convey minor problems and some cries embody real urgency. This scream was laden with genuine fear, and there was no time to lose.

Racing up the stairs, we could hear her screaming at the top of her voice, “There’s a beast in the tub! There’s a beast in the tub!” We burst into the bathroom, and there, terrified, was our daughter, standing dripping wet on the bathmat. Her little body was shaking and she was looking into the water as she cried in palpable horror.

Mama went immediately to our child, and Daddy went to the water. There it was. A very small spider had fallen into the water, become trapped, and floated on the surface against the tub wall. Mama calmed the trembling child while Daddy removed the offending creature.

That one is among the family favorites when the girls get to reminiscing and stories are shared around the table. That little girl has since grown up and such beasties cause neither problem nor distress. But, at that time, at that age, the horror was real, the child needed rescuing, and the beast needed slaying. Thank goodness there were parents there when she needed them.

Saints, not all people see things the same. One man’s spider-ette may be someone else’s beast. To one person, a problem may seem too small to be of concern, but to another that problem may present a justifiable fear. Thank goodness there are older and more experienced saints around when the scream comes in the night.

It’s true, that a boyfriend breaking up with an adolescent may seem gnat-like to an adult, but the crisis is genuine to the heartbroken pre-teen. A failed test may bring genuine tears to the eyes of the young, while a minor setback may seem as though it should pose no concern to a more experienced elder. Parents must learn to take the smaller issues of life seriously when their children are growing through them. They should remember what it was like when they were young and naïve, and every problem was bigger than they.

Older, more experienced disciples also must learn to take the concerns of younger, less weathered saints seriously, too, even if we know that the beastie being faced is no valid threat. Like foolish parents, we can deride the child for being scared (which will leave a lifelong scar), or we can comfort, encourage, and even rescue our younger siblings in their predicament. Newlyweds may be in genuine distress over some seemingly trivial conflict, while more mature saints will see the problem as no calamity at all. The response of the elders should be encouragement, reassurance and hope. To the child in fear’s grip, this is a real beast!

At the same time, we must help the younger learn the difference between legitimate threats and imagined ones. They should learn not to scream for every gnat, cry “foul” at every hurt, nor over-react to every little life event. Each of us is called to this ministry: to encourage, reassure, comfort and teach. “We understand. It’s O.K. You can stop crying now. Here’s how to deal with this beastie.”

Of course, we expect that the child will grow, the immature saint will learn. Eventually the screaming will stop, the crying will abate, the over-reacting will cease and the whining will be no more. The lesson “This is how to deal with the beastie.” will be learned and the traumatized saint will become a ministering adult.

We can only hope.

Speaking rightly and doing rightly

A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth: and the recompense of a man’s hands shall be rendered unto him.

Speaking right and doing right bring rewards. The world may no longer exalt virtue, but this true proverb gives wonderful advice. If you use your mouth for kind, spiritual, and wise words, God and men will reward you with satisfying honors. And both God and men will also surely compensate you for works of charity, godliness, and truth.

The only speech that brings good and satisfying rewards is pure and wise speech, which the proverb implies. If you use your mouth for folly, lies, or boasting, it will bring trouble (Prov 10:6,14,31; 12:18; 13:3; 18:6-7,21; 20:17). The same is true of actions – things done with your hands. Only noble deeds bring good rewards (Prov 6:17; 10:4; 26:6; Is 3:10-11).

This wicked generation says, “Only the good die young.” But their idea of good is what God calls wicked. Think Janis, James, Jimi, Jim, Marilyn, and Diana. It is dangerous times, when it becomes popular to despise those who are truly good, especially by today’s carnal Christians (II Tim 3:3). Good is out; cool is in. Good is square; sin is hip.

But that is all a lie from hell, for it is the wicked that die young (Prov 10:27; Eccl 7:17).  If you want to have a happy and long life, it is by speaking and doing good (Ps 34:12-16; I Pet 3:10-13). Instead of despising good men, you should love them (Ps 119:63; Titus 1:8).

Good speech does bless others (24:26). But the reward in this proverb is to the speaker (13:2; 15:23; 18:20). Kings will befriend a man with gracious speech (22:11). How could Pharaoh resist promoting Joseph (Gen 41:39-45)? Jonathan resist loving David (I Sam 18:1-4)? Nebuchadnezzar resist promoting Daniel (Dan 2:46-49)? What will the King of kings do for those who speak to others about Him (Mal 3:16-18)? Read it, and shout!

Speech that brings reward is gracious (Col 4:6), wise and kind (31:26), helpful for those in trouble (31:8-9), honest (12:22), and always thankful (I Thess 5:18). It does not include corrupt words (Eph 4:29), speaking evil of dignities (Jude 1:8), foolish talking or jesting (Eph 5:3-5), or backbiting (25:23). It blesses enemies (Matt 5:44), warns friends (Lev 19:17), comforts the feebleminded (I Thess 5:14), and honors parents (Deut 27:16).

Good speech is from a good heart (22:11; Matt 12:33-37). And a good heart also does good things. Your body is the Lord’s; He created it, and He bought it; your body is twice His (I Cor 6:13-20)! No one serves God “for nought” (Job 1:9-10)! Diligence will bring you before kings (22:29). Visiting widows is pure religion (Jas 1:27). Following Christ brings reward now and later (Mark 10:28-30). And so does a cup of water (Matt 10:42)!

Good deeds are the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, righteousness, and truth (Gal 5:22-23; Eph 5:9). Bad deeds are signs of carnal Christians – self-love, coveting, boasting, pride, blasphemy, disobedience to parents, unthankful, unholy, perverted love, truce breakers, false accusers, unruly, fierce, despisers of good people, traitors, heady, haughty, lovers of pleasures more than God and having only a hypocritical form of religion (II Tim 3:1-5).

Your goal is to be like Jesus Christ. He grew in favour with God and men (Luke 2:52). His speech was gracious beyond belief (Ps 45:2; Luke 4:22). He went about doing good to all (Acts 10:38). But did He not die young, you say? He laid down His life, forgiving the soldiers, in the ultimate act and words of goodness for His elect. What was His reward? Promoted to the pinnacle of the universe (Phil 2:5-11; Eph 1:19-23; Heb 12:1-3)!   ✦                                                                                                                                                  – Carolyn Kessler

Burnt Biscuits

When I was little, my mom liked to make breakfast for dinner every now and then.

And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work.

On that evening so long ago, my mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my mom and ask me how my day was at school. I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite! When I got up from the table that evening, I remember hearing my mom apologize to my dad for burning the biscuits. And I’ll never forget what he said: “Baby, I love burned biscuits.” Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned.

He wrapped me in his arms and said, “Your Momma put in a hard day at work today and she’s real tired. And besides – a little burnt biscuit never hurt anyone!”

You know, life is full of imperfect things…..and imperfect people. I’m not the best housekeeper or cook. What I’ve learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults- and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences- is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship.

And that’s my prayer for you today. That you will learn to take the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of your life and lay them at the feet of God. Because in the end, He’s the only One who will be able to give you a relationship where a burnt biscuit isn’t a deal-breaker! We could extend this to any relationship in fact – as understanding is the base of any relationship, be it a husband-wife or parent-child or friendship!

– submitted by Carolyn Kessler