Friday, October 1, 2021

The Gift of October



I say this every year when October rolls around - October is a gift. And my first post every October seems to follow this theme, so here we go again!

A few years ago, I took this photo while standing in our driveway. We don't live in the mountains anymore, and there isn't this much color yet on leaves where we live now here in the Upstate of South Carolina. But colors like this are part of the reason I love October! Perhaps it's the same for you as well.

October is the month of red and gold and orange leaves.

Of pumpkins and apples.

Of fall festivals.

Of cool mornings and warm afternoons.

Of leaves falling.

For those who live here in the South, October is a welcome respite from the extreme heat we experienced all summer, and even through September.

For those who live further north, October extends the beauty of summer a little longer before the winter months of snow and ice and extreme cold.

October is a gift! Let's enjoy every moment of it, and give thanks to the Giver of all things for such a wonderful gift as October!

"O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."  (Psalm 106:1 ESV)



Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Eavesdropping

 



Go ahead and admit it. We all do it. Listen in on the conversations around us. I'm not talking about the hide-behind-the-door-like-a-sneak-so-you-can-hear-the-conversation-between-your-parents kind of eavesdropping. I'm talking about just listening in on conversations that happen around you, the conversations that you aren't really a part of. In the restaurant. In the doctor's office. At church. In the mall.

When you listen to those conversations, what do you hear?  

Here's what I've heard a lot of lately: complaining, whining, grumbling, negativity. It's too hot. It's too cold. It rains too much. It doesn't rain enough. The coffee is too hot. The coffee is cold. The coffee is too strong. The coffee is weak. The tables are too close together. It's too crowded. I don't like that song. The music is too loud. Why don't we sing my favorite song? Why are the chairs arranged this way? The chairs are too close together. The chairs are too far apart. On and on it goes.

There's a recurring theme. What I like. What I don't like. Me. I. My.

Even among those of us who call ourselves Christian, there's an awful lot of complaining and grumbling and selfishness. Maybe especially among those of us who call ourselves Christian. As though life is all and only about us and our own personal preferences.  

That's sad, isn't it? Because the truth of the matter is, it's not about you. Or me.

Is this how we are displaying Jesus to the world?

I challenge you to pay attention to your conversation today. Really listen to yourself. Eavesdrop on your own conversation, not just the conversations around you. What's the dominant theme?

Certainly we live in challenging times. A never ending virus. The economy. Self-serving politicians. The list could be very long.

But our joy isn't based on circumstances, is it? Our joy is in the Lord Jesus. And shouldn't that joy should be reflected in our conversation?

Something to think about today.

"Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."             (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters], these things ought not to be so."  (James 3:10 ESV)

"Through him [Jesus], let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."  (Hebrews 13:15 ESV)

"Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude jesting, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving."  (Ephesians 5:4 ESV)

"Do all things without grumbling."  (Philippans 2:14 ESV)

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."  (Psalm 19:14 ESV)

Friday, September 24, 2021

You’re Composing!

When I was a college student, one of the most dreaded hours of the week was Tuesday morning’s Sightsinging Class. Sometimes we sang as a group, but most often we were called on individually. Each of us was given a line from the the textbook and a pitch, and then we were to sing the line correctly. A capella, of course. I can still hear Dr. Will saying, “Miss Austin, you are composing.”

Composing would have been fine in composition class, of course. But not acceptable in sightsinging class. This memory came to mind on Wednesday night in choir practice as we were struggling a bit over a section of music for our Christmas program. I joked about it being “creative license”. After all, that sounds better than “mistake”. And I could hear Dr. Will’s voice in my head. “You’re composing.”

Soloists often take some creative liberties with the music. (If you have ever heard a pop artist sing the National Anthem, you know what I mean.) But a choir, singing a passage in unison, has no such liberties. 

Neither do we when it comes to the scriptures.

But this morning, I am wondering how many of us are doing exactly that. Taking “creative license” with the Word of God. 

We do that every time we pick and choose the parts we like, and ignore the rest. Every time we quote it out of context. Every time we make it about us. Every time we mis-apply it. 

How that must grieve the heart of God. 

In order to avoid “composing”, we must read the Word. Study it. Read all of it. Not just the favorite parts. And read the Bible itself, not just books about the Bible. Not just devotional books. The Book itself. The whole Book.

Let’s stop composing. Let’s honor God by honoring His Word.

“Be diligent to present yourself to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)



Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tinted Moisturizer and Mascara

Despite what you may have thought when you read the title, this is not a post about makeup. Even so, thinking about makeup helps to illustrate the point.

Makeup is a fact of life for many women. Truth be told, most women past 25 or 30 just look better with judicious use of some cosmetics. In the words of a pastor friend of ours from years gone by, a little paint never hurt an old barn!

In spite of that, the older I get, the less I want to be bothered with all that. I need it more, but I want to deal with it less. As a result, on most days, if I'm not planning to go out of the house, I don't go through the whole makeup routine. Those are pretty much tinted moisturizer and mascara days. Maybe a little lip gloss. But not much more. Just enough to get by. Just enough not to scare anybody!

Just enough to get by. There's a lot of that going around. Most days, I have just enough cosmetic products on my face to get by. I hear teachers complaining about students who are capable of so much, but do just enough to get by. In the workplace, many are doing just enough to get by without losing their jobs.  

And, sadly, many who call themselves Christian are doing just enough to get by. Certainly becoming a Christian is not about what we do. The Scripture tells us that we must "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 16:31). That's it. It's not about what we do, but about what Jesus has done that is the issue in salvation.

But what about living out our salvation? What about living the Christ-life?  

Spend some time in the New Testament book of Acts. That book has a lot to say that can help us understand how we are to live the Christ-life as we draw nearer and nearer to the return of Christ to this earth. How do we live the Christ-life in a culture that rejects Him? How do we live the Christ-life in this 11th hour?  

The early church, as described in Acts 2:42-47, has much to teach us about how we should be living in these days. This group of believers was not satisfied to just get by, and that makes them very different from many believers today, certainly here in the United States.

If you think about it, we here in the United States have much in common with the early church. We are in the minority in our culture, as were they. The early church faced persecution because of their faith, and more and more we are seeing that in our culture as well, as the Christian faith is ever more marginalized in our society. The early church believed that Jesus would return to earth very soon, within their lifetime. While many years have passed since Jesus left this earth and we don't know exactly when He will return, we do know with certainty that He will return because that is what He said He would do. And we also know with certainty that we are closer now than we have ever been to that time. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed."  Romans 13:11b NASB).

That's what we have in common with the early church. Sadly, for many modern-day Christians, that's where the similarities end and the tinted moisturizer and mascara comparisons begin. The early Christians were much more than just enough to get by church members.

Here's what we know about them: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42 NASB)

Continually. Devoting. Those are very descriptive words. They describe a lifestyle, not an every now and then, just enough to get by, attitude. These early believers were devoted to the apostles' teaching.  They listened. They learned. They applied. And what were the apostles teaching? They were teaching what Jesus had taught them! So to bring this into the 21st century, what should we who call ourselves Christian be doing? We should be, as they were, devoted to, as a habit of life, the study of the Scriptures! Not just to occasionally reading some Scripture. Not to occasionally, when it's convenient and it's not raining and there's no ball game that has our attention, showing up for Bible study and worship on Sunday morning. But as a habit of life, if we are following their example, we should be devoted to the study of the Scripture.

They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayer. In other words, they were doing life together. As a habit of life, they were spending time together. Eating meals together. Celebrating what we now refer to as the Lord's Supper. Together. Praying. Together. They routinely spent time together doing these things. As a habit of life. Not just enough to get by. Not just enough that their name wasn't removed from the class roll. Not just occasionally. Not just when it was convenient and they didn't have anything better to do. This was the better!

That's the model we have from the early church of how to "do" church. How to live as a believer in the 11th hour. (Remember that they thought they were in the 11th hour, too!) This is the model the Scripture gives us of believers living in community with one another.  

The Gaithers wrote a song some years ago titled The Church Triumphant. The song begins with this line: Let the church be the church.

These early believers in Acts 2 show us how the church is to be the church. They show us what it means to be a community of believers. Not just tinted moisturizer and mascara believers, but believers who, as a habit of life, live as a community.

This is not to say that they lived out in some holy huddle, or commune, on the side of a hill somewhere singing Kum Ba Yah all day. Not at all. They still had life to live and families to raise.  They had to make a living and go fishing for the day's meal. But through all that, they lived in community with one another. They did life together. They spent time together. They studied together. They fellowshipped together. They prayed together.

Continually devoting themselves to. As a habit of life. As a priority of life.

"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."  (Acts 2:42 NASB, emphasis mine)

They were not tinted moisturizer and mascara believers. Neither should we be!

What was the result of that kind devotion?  

"Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe, and many wonders and signs were taking place."  (Acts 2:43 NASB)

"And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."
(Acts 2:47b NASB)

If we're missing the sense of awe, perhaps it's because we're also missing that kind of devotion.

That's really the question for us as believers here in 21st century America, isn't it?  What are we devoted to?

How would you describe yourself? What would those who know you best say about you? What about those who just see you occasionally? Are you known more as a continually devoted kind of believer? Or are you better described as tinted moisturizer and mascara?

Something to think about.

Monday, September 20, 2021

A Song of Thanksgiving

 


"Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the Creator triumphantly raise,
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who guideth us on to the end of our days.
His banners are o'er us, His light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night,
'Til shadows have vanished and darkness is banished,
As forward we travel from light into light.

His law He enforces, the stars in their courses,
The sun in His orbit, obediently shine.
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim Him Divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing,
With glad adoration a song let us raise, 
'Til all things now living unite in thanksgiving 
To God in the highest, hosanna and praise!
                                                                              -Katherine K. Davis

No, I’m not confused about which month we are in! Those are the words to a hymn titled "Let All Things Now Living", written by Katherine K. Davis and typically sung to a traditional Welsh melody. It's one of those hymns we don't sing in church any more, but it's still one of my favorites.
 
I was thinking about this song this morning. Not because we have sung it recently; we haven't. We sing some wonderful music in our church. New songs, old songs, the great hymns of our faith. But we haven't sung this particular hymn recently; in fact, I can't even remember the last time I sang this hymn in a church setting! Rather, this morning it has been called up from deep in the recesses of my memory. It's a catchy tune, but this morning the text has my attention.
 
Perhaps it's because I'm not as young as I used to be! Or perhaps there is some other reason. In any event, I am becoming more and more aware of how much I take for granted. How often I forget to say "thank you". It's not that I'm ungrateful. Forgetful, yes. A little scatter-brained sometimes. Distracted. But not ungrateful. 
 
I have so many reasons for thanksgiving this morning. I woke up! I have been granted another day of life. We are moving into my favorites season. I love this season of the year with its brilliant reds and golds. With its spectacular sunsets and breathtaking morning skies. It's such a beautiful season of the year, and even though we are just beginning to get a hint of the colors to come, I am so thankful as I anticipated what lies ahead.
 

 
There are so many reasons for thanksgiving this morning beyond just the beauty of the season. I'm thankful for my husband and my family. For dear friends. For my church family. For my pastor. For my health. 
 
I'm thankful for the privilege of prayer. I'm thankful that God hears and answers. I'm thankful for those times when I utter a prayer with a very specific request, and within just a few minutes I have my answer! And I'm equally thankful for those times when the answer is a long time in coming. The times when I'm learning how to wait and how to trust. I'm thankful for all that those times are teaching me about God and about faith.
 
I am so very grateful for a Sovereign Lord. One who knows me best and loves me most. One who has all things under control. One who knows exactly how this craziness in our world will turn out, and exactly why it will turn out that way. One who has a purpose for all things. One who has it all under control.
 
This morning I am so very grateful. For another day of life. And for the privilege of living it for Jesus! 

So very grateful. 

It's a good day for a song of thanksgiving!

"My heart overflows with a good theme."  (Psalm 45:1 NASB)
 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Joy Unspeakable

Once again I have a song lyric running through my head. It actually happens to me pretty often, but in this case it's a little baffling. I haven't heard this song for years, and I can't even remember when, if ever, it was actually sung in a church service I was part of. Yet I can't get it out of my head! Joy unspeakable and full of glory, the half has never yet been told.

It was a little foggy here yesterday. Mot the completely-fogged-in fog we experienced while living in the mountains of western North Carolina. But a gray, gloomy morning. Thankfully it didn’t last all day. That’s what often happens, isn’t it? Gray mornings leading to glorious sunshine later in the day. And thinking about that is what triggered the song memory.

Life is a lot like that, isn't it? We spend much of our life "in a fog", at least spiritually speaking. Even when we have trusted Jesus early in life, we don't really comprehend all that means. Our understanding grows as we do, in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense. And as we grow, the fog begins to lift and we see things more clearly. Continuing to grow in our faith means we see more and more clearly. Now we see things as through a mirror, dimly, as the Apostle Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 13. Eventually we shall see clearly, shall see Jesus face to face. And that will indeed be "joy unspeakable and full of glory"!

But we don't have to wait until then to experience that kind of joy! We can live that kind of joy every day in the here and now. That kind of joy comes when we know that our eternity is secure, but also comes because we live every moment of every day in confident assurance that our God is in control.  When we see everything that comes our way as coming from His hand for our good and for His glory. When we live with grateful hearts for all the gifts He gives, both large and small. When we know that we know that we know that we belong to Him. That knowledge, that settled certainty, that no matter what comes my way, I belong to Him.......that brings a life of joy!

Yes, tough times come. We have all been expecting that in these last couple of years. And perhaps that's another reason the old hymn has come to mind. It's a reminder from God not to give up. That He is in control. A reminder not to let the tough times rob my joy! Yet another reminder came to me in my quiet time this morning as I read these words: "[Jesus prayed], But now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves."  (John 17:13 ESV)

Joy unspeakable. Not because of circumstances. Often in spite of circumstances. But isn't that what joy is, really? Joy is not dependent on circumstances. Joy comes from a relationship with Jesus. Joy is not an external thing; it is internal. Happy times, grace gifts, tangible blessings......those are just a bonus! Joy is in the relationship. And it is joy unspeakable and full of glory!


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuiness of your faith - more precious than gold that is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV, emphasis mine)


And just in case you aren't familiar with the old hymn I mentioned at the outset, here it is. This hymn was written by Barney Warren way back in 1900.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KskwIKSHqzk

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Throwback Thursday

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for my Jewish friend. Thinking about that has led me on a “throwback” journey, remembering our pilgrimages to Israel.

This morning I'm particularly remembering previous "last days" in Jerusalem. The last day of our trip typically begins with prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. We walk through the Kidron Valley and go to the House of Caiphas. We walk the Via Dolorosa and we end the day at the Garden Tomb.

Those are precious memories indeed!  I came across this photo this morning.  Al snapped it near the Garden Tomb on our last trip.


I remember that day well. I was tired. My feet hurt. It was the first day of what would end up as a very serious cold/sinus infection/ear infection. At the time, I was feeling pretty miserable. Even so, I would do it all again! There is something so special and so precious about being there. About walking where Jesus walked. About celebrating the Lord's Supper there in the Garden near the empty tomb.

Those are wonderful memories. The kind of memories that last a lifetime. I'm so glad we had this opportunity, not just once, but several times.

Memories are wonderful things. I'm so thankful that God has given us the gift of remembering. And for photographs that capture the memories!

On this "Throwback Thursday", here are a few of my favorites: