Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Are You Ready?

We ask that question a lot, don't we? Are you ready?

Around here, that question gets asked every Sunday morning. Are you ready? Once we both say yes, then we head out to church. In fact, the same question is asked every time we are going anywhere!

One of my sons often texts that question to me on game days. Are you ready for some football? Then the texts continue as we are both watch our favorite team (Go Gamecocks!) and share commentary as the game progresses.

During this election season, we find ourselves often asking Are you ready? And most often the question ends with the phrase for this to be over, as we have grown weary of the rancor and bitterness that seems so much a part of the election cycle, and more so with each election. And we are also finding ourselves are you ready for this to be over in reference to Covid and masks and social distancing. (That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one!)

We ask Are you ready? about all sorts of things. Appointments. Activities. Football games. Parties. All the events of life. It's important to be prepared - to be ready - for these things.

But the question must also be asked regarding an event yet to come, the most important of all events. It's an important question about an important event. And making preparation today will mean you are ready tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever this event occurs.

"Why do you stand looking up into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come again in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11 NASB, emphasis mine)

Jesus is coming again. Are you ready?

 
Jesus is coming to earth again;
What if it were today?
 
(from the hymn "What If It Were Today?"; words and music by Lelia N. Moris)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

An Important Reminder

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." 

So begins the second chapter of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. 

It is interesting that the writer begins the chapter with a term of conclusion. You may have heard your pastor or a Bible teacher point to this word therefore as a very important word; when you see the therefore, they may have said, you need to determine what it's there for.

What is it there for? What is the conclusion the writer of Hebrews is drawing as he begins this chapter? Remembering, of course, that the writer of Hebrews didn't actually write in chapters and verses; those were added later.

Therefore, he says, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard. And what had the recipients of the letter, these Hebrews, heard?  Chapter One gives us the answer to that question.  Long ago, the writer says, God spoke through prophets. But, he says, in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:2a ESV).

Then he goes on to tell them, and us, exactly who Jesus is:
  • heir of all things
  • the One through whom God created the world
  • the radiance of God's glory
  • the exact imprint of God's nature
  • the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power.
  • the One who made purification for sins
  • the One who is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God
God has spoken to us through this One. Through Jesus. And because of who Jesus is, we need to pay attention. And not just pay attention, but pay much closer attention! The implication is, what Jesus has to say is important. Because Jesus is the radiance of God's glory. Because Jesus is the exact imprint of God's nature. Because God has spoken through Jesus.

And if we don't pay attention, what will happen?  We will be in danger of drifting away.

There's another danger as well. Verse 2 reminds us that throughout recorded history, there were consequences for those who didn't pay attention, who didn't heed the message of God. The conclusion is, since that is true, what makes us think we will be any different? How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3)

In a devotional reading titled "Drifting from the Word", Dr. Charles Stanley writes: "Drifting begins subtly and usually includes compromising the principles found in God's Word. No one is immune from drifting. All of us have felt the temptation to let our devotion slide so as not to become too serious. However, Jesus gave up everything to come to earth and die in our place. We have eternal life because He took the principles of His father seriously. By His grace we are saved and set free from sin. Once realized, this should be enough to curb any notion of drifting. Anchor your life in the Word of God and you will not drift."

That's what the writer of Hebrews is saying to us. Pay attention to what [you] have heard. God has given us His Word. He has spoken to us through Jesus. We have that message contained in the Scriptures. We need to pay attention! 

Because God has spoken.

Because He has spoken in Jesus.

Because Jesus is better.

Pay attention.

Monday, September 14, 2020

If

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV)

This is a familiar verse. A verse we often hear quoted on the annual National Day of Prayer. A verse many people are turning to as they see the chaos in our world.


This word from the Lord was originally spoken to Solomon on the occasion of the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. A few verses later in the same chapter, the Lord warns of what will happen if His people turn aside from the Lord's commandments. There will be consequences for abandoning the Lord's ways. We see that in 2 Chronicles 7:19-22.

There can be little doubt that as a nation we have turned aside from the Lord's commandments and are not wholeheartedly following His ways. Even more troubling, there are many among us who call themselves Christian, and yet are not wholeheartedly following the Lord. Could it be that the troubles we are facing as a nation stem, at least in part, from this root? And if so, is there hope for us?

I believe there is hope, and the solution is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14. It begins with the word if. If my people, God's people, follow the plan outlined in these verses, God will hear. Yes, in its original context these words applied to the Jews. But there's a principle here that still is valid.

If my people. These instructions are not to the pagans or the politicians or the rioters or the anarchists. Not to the atheists or the agnostics. These instructions are to the people of God. To the people called by His name. What are God's people to do?

Humble themselves. And here we get to the root of the problem. We're not very good at humbling ourselves. We don't want to humble ourselves, before God or anyone else. We want to be in charge.  We think we know what is best. We think because we are American we have certain rights to do and say and think as we please. Yet God says we are to humble ourselves. This is much like what Jesus instructed when he taught His disciples, and us, how to pray. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10 KJV). Thy will, not my will. Even Jesus humbled Himself before the Father when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42 ESV)

To humble ourselves is to acknowledge that we are not God. A while back when my husband and I were out and about, we passed a church with a sign at the end of their driveway that read "Remember, God's still God and you're still not."  Remembering that is the essence of what it means to humble ourselves before God. Remember who's in charge!

Pray. We think we understand what prayer is, don't we? Too often people think of prayer as giving God our list of wants and concerns, a kind of to-do list for God to handle. Is that really all there is to it? Is prayer really only giving God a list, or reciting a memorized poem, or mumbling a quick sentence before we go to bed? Is that really what God meant when He said His people are to "humble themselves and pray"? I think not. 

Prayer is communication. And communication is two-way, meaning there is speaking and there is listening. Certainly one blog is not adequate to explain all that prayer is, but I definitely think God is expecting more than just a hastily mumbled mantra every day. Does that mean that longer prayers are better, somehow more spiritual? Does God hear us more clearly if we talk longer or use bigger words. Of course not. In fact, Scripture cautions against "empty phrases" (Matthew 6:7 ESV). The point is to be sincere in our communication with God.

Seek my face. This is an extension of the point about praying. Many years ago I heard someone say that we should "seek the Blesser, not the blessing". How often when we pray do we seek what God can do for us, rather than just seeking God Himself. Because God desires relationship with His people, He desires that we seek HIM and not just seek what He can give.

Turn from their wicked ways. This is the very definition of repentance, to turn from sin, to change direction. If we have sincerely sought the Lord, have humbled ourselves before Him, we will have become aware of those things in our lives that are displeasing to Him and we will want to repent.

Then. When we have followed God's instructions, He promises to hear and to forgive our sin and to heal our land. When we do things His way!

Will our land be healed because people gather in groups on a designated day one day a year to pray for our nation? No. It's a good thing when people gather together to pray. It's an important thing. But it's a better thing, a more important thing, when individuals come daily before the Lord in prayer. To intercede for the nation. To intercede for families. To intercede for the lost. To commit themselves to doing things God's way.

A day of prayer is a good thing. A lifestyle of prayer is even better.

"Lord, teach us to pray." (Luke 11:1 ESV)



Friday, September 11, 2020

Remembering 9/11

It's that day again. The day that still makes my heart ache. That makes me almost ill. The day our world changed.

For those of us who were alive on that day, those events are burned into our memories. Where were you on that awful day? I remember it vividly. On that Tuesday morning, as on every Tuesday morning, I was heading to church. Tuesday was the day for Ladies Bible Study in the morning and staff meeting in the afternoon. We were planning to begin a new study on that morning, and as I had been preparing the introductory session, my thoughts had been focused on Psalm 62, specifically on verses 7-8: "On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us." As the day progressed, I found myself holding on to those verses.

I walked into the family room just minutes after the first plane had hit. Our son Brian, who had just gotten home from his job at UPS, was watching TV before heading upstairs to bed. We both stared at the TV in disbelief. And then we watched as the second plane hit. On my way to the church, I heard the news about the Pentagon on the car radio.

Our Bible Study that morning turned into a brief time of prayer, after which I sent the ladies back home. Our staff meeting was cancelled. The pastor and I met briefly to talk through preliminary plans for the following Sunday worship service, and then he sent me home.

Life as we knew it changed forever on that day. I remember well the shock and the grief and the numbness that followed for so many days. For many those feelings are repeated each year as we mark another anniversary and as we see those horrible events replayed over and over and over on television.

Life changed on that day. We've grown accustomed to taking our shoes off at the airport and to having our purses and backpacks inspected. Sadly, we're no longer surprised by acts of violence.

But not everything has changed. It is still true that "my refuge is in God." I still grieve with and for those families who lost so much on that day just because their family member went to work that day. I still grieve for the families of first responders and military personnel who, on that day and in the years that have followed, paid the ultimate sacrifice. I am still grateful for men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

Even more, as I reflect on the ways that life has changed, I cling to this unchanging truth:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear." (Psalm 46:1-2)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Better

I am so excited! My Bible Study group is about to begin a study of the book of Hebrews.  For the next few months, we will be immersing ourselves in this amazing book.

In preparation for this study, I've been reading Hebrews this week, particularly the first chapter. I've read that chapter at least once every day this week.

I encourage you to do the same. Just read it. Slowly. Deliberately. Not in a hurry-up, just so I can say I did it, just because Susan said I should, kind of way. Take your time. Savor each word.

Let those words wash over you. 

"God has spoken to us in His Son." (Hebrews 1:2 NASB)

Jesus is better.

Better than angels.

Better than the prophets.

A better High Priest.

Mediator of a better covenant.

Jesus is better.

I can't wait to dig into this study. It's going to be awesome!

Because Jesus is better!

"He [Jesus] is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of God's nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power." 
(Hebrews 1:3 NASB)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Signs

The signs are all around us.

Today is the second day of September. The crape myrtles that line my street are losing their blooms. The apple orchards are open. We're beginning to see pumpkin everything - Cheerios, Peeps, and coffee creamer, to name a few - everywhere we turn. And it's time for some football! Yes, there will be Gamecock football later this month!

I love September.  There's a subtle change in the temperatures, which around here means low 90s instead of upper 90s. But hey, we'll take what we can get! And gradually we will move to lower humidity, a welcome change for us all.

All these signs point to one thing. It's time for fall, y'all!

I know fall doesn't officially make an appearance for about three more weeks. But turning the calendar page to September means it's that time again. Add in the fact that we're coming up on the Labor Day weekend, and it's as good as official. 

Fall has arrived. The signs are everywhere. You can't help but notice.

There are other signs that are obvious as well.

"But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power."       (2 Timothy 3:1-6a NASB)

I'm certain you have noticed some of these things in our culture. They are just as obvious as the cooler air and the football season.

We can look at the calendar and know when fall arrives. We don't know exactly when Jesus will return, but as we look at these signs around us, we can't help but be aware the day is closer now than it has ever been.

Are you ready?
 
"People get ready, Jesus is comin',
Soon we'll be going home."
(-Crystal Lewis)

Monday, August 31, 2020

Refreshed

Would anyone disagree that 2020 has been a frustrating year? A stressful year? A very not-normal year? With shut-downs and quarantines and masks and cancellations, this is a year we would all hope not to repeat. A number of my friends have already begun decorating for fall in hope of speeding 2020 to its end.


While I haven't pulled out the fall décor, Al and I did decide to change things up a bit and take a break. To get away from all that is normal and have a change of scenery. To do that, we headed to one of our favorite places - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - where we relaxed, ate some good food, did some shopping, and spent some time in one of our favorite spots - Cades Cove.


We enjoyed some of the beauty of God's creation.







And of His creatures.





We enjoyed the reminders of a simpler life.








 It was a pleasant day of wandering around, just enjoying being together.








After a few days semi-unplugged from the noise and chaos of life, we're home again. Relaxed. Refreshed. Thankful. And ready for this new day.

"He restores my soul." (Psalm 23:3)