Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hey You--Yes, I Mean You

God bluntly grabbed my attention this morning. It wasn’t during the time I was reading Scripture or praying. It was while I was reading an article by Donald S. Whitney published in Tabletalk on pages 61-62 in the February 2011 issue. Normally I study the daily devotionals then read the articles with a bit less concentration. Not so today. God demanded I comprehend the theme of this article.

How much time do you spend reading a verse in the Bible? I’m not talking about how much time you spend reading the Bible. I’m talking about how much time you spend on a verse. Maybe two or three seconds? How can you expect to remember and understand God’s Word if you spend just seconds on important verses? The answer—you cannot. You may gain a general knowledge, but it is doubtful that much of what you read will become a part of your thinking and affect your behaviors.

I am not suggesting spending several minutes on each verse in the Bible. That would be ludicrous. However, God revealed to me this morning that I am rushing over verses he wants me to consider in more depth. I am too busy getting through a passage of scripture (or through today’s devotional reading)--not actually concentrating on what God is telling me in His Word.

The article by Whitney made several excellent suggestions, some of which I have successfully used in the past and a couple I plan on trying.

  • · Repeat the verse or phrase with emphasis on a different word each time
  • · Write the verse in your own words
  • · Find the principle of the passage by asking a question
  • · State a problem the passage solves
  • · Ask yourself how the passage relates to the gospel and to Jesus
  • · Choose a verse or short passage to think about throughout the day
  • · Memorize scripture
  • · Pray scripture

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." Joshua 1:8 ESV

So, I need to quit rushing God. I must slow down and carefully listen to what he is telling me in His Word.

Lord, show me how to delight in your law. Give me the unquenchable desire to meditate on it day and night.

“…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." Psalms 1:2 ESV

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Five Kernels of Corn

The way we portray the original Thanksgiving feast is excessively glorified. The plight of early European settlers on the Atlantic shores of what eventually became the United States was very dire. They suffered greatly from the elements, lack of food, illness, and many other dangers. It doesn’t take much delving into history to realize the desperate circumstances the early pilgrims often faced. They had every reason to be in the depths of depression; however, I prefer to think some were thankful for what they did have.

This poem is based on a passage from The Light and the Glory by Marshall and Manuel. The pilgrims were suffering from illness and lack of food. The winter raged and many had died. At this very desperate time there was only enough food for each person to have five kernels of corn.

Five Kernels of Corn

Five kernels to eat--no more to have.

To gripe and complain--no good it will claim.

Five kernels to eat. I so want much more.

The gloom inside, it is killing my pride.

Five kernels to eat--grateful to have.

At least I have these, nothing else to please.

Five kernels to eat. Thankfulness is due.

I’ll savor the taste--without any haste.

First kernel goes fast--so hungry, so small.

I’m thankful for food. Lord, you are so good.

Second kernel quickly gone. My family eats too.

Their love I can feel. Lord, blessings are real.

Third kernel slowly chewed. Our shelter protects.

No raging cold inside. Lord, in warmth I abide.

Fourth kernel to savor. I still have my life.

To live for God’s glory. Lord, this is your story.

Fifth kernel—the last. It soon too is gone.

Thankful for blessings--salvation and living.

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Killing Lincoln

I could hardly tear myself away from the book Killing Lincoln written by Dugard and O’Reilly. I was emotionally involved with the main characters. It is not as if I did not know what was going to happen. After all, the title of the book tells the reader who is going to be murdered, and I did have exposure to America history in school.

I hated history in school—too much learning of dates and places. I could have cared less about what ancient governments thought they needed to do. I could see no connection to real people. Then I found historical fiction. Suddenly the people of each era and conflict had a human face. I could understand their concerns and how their lives were affected. To my surprise, in the past couple of years, I have discovered that factual history books can be interesting if they emphasize the people and culture of that era.

Ray enjoys history more than me. He wanted to see the Gettysburg Battlefield so I reluctantly agreed to go. We spent two days driving the roads around and through that historic place. We walked on selected parts of the scene of this gruesome battle. The people became real. I developed an interest in Joshua Chamberlain, a college professor who became a commander in the Union Army. We purchased and read his book “Bayonet! Forward”: My Civil War Reminiscences. Shortly after the Gettysburg trip I picked up Sharra‘s book Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War and found it much more intriguing as I read it another time.

I just finished Killing Lincoln. Killing Lincoln is set during the end of and time shortly after the Civil War. I was pleased that I actually recognized some of the names of people and places. I had a better grasp of the issues facing the people and how lives were affected. I was mesmerized.

Then it struck me. My appreciation for the Bible has followed a similar path as my understanding of the Civil War. I didn’t get it. The Bible's weird names, seemingly senseless customs, and killing just didn’t apply to my life. I enjoyed the parts about love and peace, but the other parts were boring, not important. Then I attended some well-done Bible studies and conferences. I started to really pay attention to some outstanding expository preaching of scripture. I read biblically sound books. When I started to understand that ancient culture, the people of the Bible became real.

I cannot say that all the Bible characters and all the passages of the Bible fascinate me; however, I am astounded by the lives of famous biblical characters like Daniel, Paul, and Moses. Some of the lesser recognized characters like Onesimus are fascinating. I want to know more about him and love to create stories about what caused his estrangement from Philemon and what happened after he delivered the letter.

So instead of viewing the Bible as an outdated book, we should be reading the stories of real people as avidly as we read our favorite genre. Parts of the Bible are hard to grasp. But it abounds with adventure, human conflict, and love. Much can be gleaned from this fascinating book.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11 ESV

Lord, give me insight into your stories. Make my time reading the Bible a time of understanding, insight, and pleasure.

It's Not About Weight!

“I am so glad you are here today.”

“Come sit with us.”

The genuinely warm greetings from Phyllis Umscheid, Allison Patton, and others worked. This friendliness is one of the reasons Jarod and Aubrey Pirtle were persuaded to continue attending TBC after their initial visit.

It is somewhat odd that they visited a TBC church service because the Pirtles did not know many Benton people. Aubrey had been encouraged to visit TBC by a good friend who is an active member of another church. Because Pam Hendrix’s teenage son enjoyed the TBC contemporary-style service, Pam thought Aubrey and Jarod would also. Pam was sure the Pirtle children, Cameron and Raegan, would fit into the children’s ministries.

They had not been attending The Benton Church very long when an Alpha Bible Study group was formed, and the Pirtles become involved. They started developing friendships with other couples who had children and were seeking to learn more about Jesus. Then a new Alpha Bible Study group formed. This time, instead of participating, they became part of the leadership team by volunteering to lead the children. Aubrey and Jarod grew in their faith as they prepared Bible lessons and activities for the children. They loved getting to know them and their parents as they interacted on Alpha nights.

However, there was one major problem in Aubrey’s life—her weight. The stresses of life, pregnancies, and a thyroid problem had resulted in her becoming overweight. She had tried several times to lose the weight. Nothing worked. But now she needed to lose a large amount of weight fairly quickly for health reasons. Aubrey investigated weight loss programs. One sounded promising, but it was too expensive for her budget. She mentioned her frustration to a church friend hoping only to find empathy. Aubrey found much more.

Noreen Templin quietly talked to some of Aubrey’s church friends. A plan was born. A fund was created. A group of church people started to regularly contribute money to pay for the cost of Aubrey’s weekly appointment at the weight loss clinic. Aubrey is amazed the fund always had ample money to cover the fee. Church friends have supported her in numerous and unexpected ways. For example, Holly Crawford prepared special food for her any time there was a church function where food was served. Aubrey is so deeply grateful for the love demonstrated by her church friends. With tears of gratitude Aubrey laments that she cannot thank all the people involved because she has no idea who they all are.

Aubrey’s tells her weight-loss story best.

I came to the realization that I was idolizing food about a year ago. Many times I had tried to lose weight with no success. I have to admit that it’s mostly because I have very little willpower, and ultimately I was not completely giving it to God. I am going to the Medi Weight Loss Clinic. They discovered that I have hypothyroidism and insulin resistance. It has been amazing to learn that my weight problem is not just because of my eating habits.

After a couple of months of denying the support that was offered and praying, my husband and a dear friend explained some things to me. All the while Jesus was showing me all the ways that losing weight could happen, but each time I was telling him that’s not how I wanted my prayer answered. At one point Susan Griem asked me, “Aubrey, how can you deny this blessing from your friends?” That’s when it started making sense to me. God was there knocking at the door, asking me to let him in the whole time.

Aubrey insists the telling of her weight-loss story is not about her. It is about her Lord and Savior. Aubrey says, “This journey is not about having a beautiful body or being able to wear cute clothes. It is about my past history of giving in to sin. It’s about tearing down the walls that sin creates and becoming closer to my Savior. I want to live my life for my Savior.”

This story is not just about Aubrey. It is about how her church friends lovingly serve others without expecting recognition. It is about how God works through others to bless us.

“…I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 NIV

The Spiritual Journey of Aubrey Pirtle as recorded by Sandee

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Serve How?

Serve how? Are you sure?

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:12-13 NIV

Joyfully! Now that is one tall order! Any of us can serve joyfully for a short time doing something we want to do that just happens to be of service. But what about serving in a way we do not want? What about serving when we would rather be doing something else? Isn't it good enough that we serve without complaining? Do we have to be joyful?

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV

So do I really serve joyfully? It is easy to say “Of course” when I am sitting comfortably at home relaxing while I sip ice tea. And of course I can answer that I joyfully serve as I do volunteer work at church or in the community—well most of the time I am joyful—as long as things go as I want and as long as I am with my friends.

One solution to not serving joyfully is to just not serve at all. If it is not something I want to do with the people I want to be with, I just will not do it. But is that pleasing to God?

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12 NIV

Whoops! That verse does not say anything about serving only when I want to serve. To make matters worse, my Savior served others without complaining even at great distress to himself and without his friends encouraging him.

“ just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28 NIV

So we are to serve joyfully no matter what God calls us to do. We are to gladly serve doing whatever is needed whenever it is needed.

“But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” Psalm 68:3 NIV

Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, make me a joyful servant—no matter the task.

Need Church?

I did not think I needed church. It was amazing I even considered not sleeping in on Sunday morning and drinking several cups of coffee as I leisurely read the comics in the Sunday edition of the Wichita Eagle-Beacon. Making myself look good to others was the only reason I first attended the Benton United Methodist Church (as it was known then). I had taken the job of principal at the grade school, and I wanted positive exposure in the community. I wanted to meet people and to demonstrate that I was interested in the town. Little did I understand at that time, the decision to attend church with this congregation was God-directed and life-changing.

Even though I grew up in the church and accepted Jesus as my savior during childhood, my early adult years were not exactly exemplary. Yes I was a “good” person by society’s standards, but I was not attending church regularly, reading my Bible, or even praying except when my circumstances became difficult. I had no time for such things. I was busy living my life, having a fulfilling career, and watching out for my personal interests. My motivation for church attendance in Benton fit perfectly with my professional goals for community exposure. I had no intension of joining the church or of even becoming involved. I must admit that I felt I was far too busy educating children to participate in any of the church programs. However, God had plans for my life.
Over time our somewhat sporadic church attendance became more regular and important to Ray and me although we both remained very reserved in our participation. One week I started feeling an extreme dissatisfaction and an unusual need to talk with one of the ladies in the church. One evening I called the choir director to see if she would respond to a couple of religious questions. She did not answer the phone which I took as an omen that my religious convictions needed no enlightenment from anyone. However, God had created unrest in my heart which could not be extinguished.

The next Sunday as everyone was chatting and filing out of the sanctuary, I felt an irresistible urge to talk with the choir director immediately. This was very strange as we had probably not exchanged a dozen words during the previous months, and I had crossed her off my list of possible ladies to talk with about religion since she had not answered her phone when I called. I had to hunt her down and the words which came out of my mouth requesting a meeting were not what I had planned to say. She listened and proposed a time we could meet later that week. I will never forget that first meeting in her basement. It was the beginning of my spiritual growth. God had placed me in the hands of a person knowledgeable in how to study scripture. She taught me how to pray in ways and at a depth that I did not think possible. She nudged me into joining the church and becoming actively involved in church governance and ministry. I learned the difference between being religious and having a strong spiritual life through worshipping God. God worked a miracle in my life as a result of her skillful spiritual mentoring.
I have two questions. First, is God creating unrest in your heart? Is he telling you it is time for you to learn more about him? Ask God for a spiritual mentor. Our church has several strong Christian men and women who would joyfully and gently lead you into a closer relationship with our Lord.
Second, if you are strong spiritually, has God placed a person on your heart? Is God moving you toward mentoring a less mature Christian? Are you actively looking for someone you can encourage to grow in faith? Let the Holy Spirit work through you.

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18 NIV

The Spiritual Journey of Sandy Taylor as recorded by Sandee