Monday, December 19, 2011

What Does Christmas Feel Like?

Author: Susan L. Prince

I was talking with a friend the other day and I observed that it didn't feel like Christmas to me.  She asked, "What does Christmas feel like?"

I answered, "I don't just feels happier, people are nicer, families gather together, there are great meals...," decorations and commemorations, and people think about Jesus.  I said that I can remember as a kid how exciting Christmas was, that I couldn't wait for it to come, and that now, the appeal is just gone.

Then, last night as my friend and I sat around watching George C. Scott portray Ebenezer Scrooge, I was struck by the thought that it felt like Christmas. All I was doing was sitting around wrapped up in a blanket, watching a Christmas movie with a friend.  Her home is decorated with greenery and lights, ceramic, snow-covered villages and many scented candles glowing, and I was sitting there observing all of it.

She had just finished making a tasty dinner for me, poured sparkling cider into my glass, made sure I was comfortable and warm, and that her home was inviting and seasonally appealing while being entertained by a classic holiday film.  It felt like Christmas.

It felt like Christmas because of the the holiday decorations, the sights and sounds, but most of all because I was spending time with a friend.  This special friend had just spent a part of her day making me feel comfortable and happy by serving me.  It was her good pleasure.

When I think about Christmases past and why they were so anticipated, (obviously as a child, getting presents is the big appeal), but as one grows older, it's the family time and the meal we all share that starts to be the important part.  I think about my Gram making that turkey gravy, and Grandpa challenging me to eat all those mashed potatoes.  I think about Grandma's laughter and seeing to it that everybody is happy, and then taking pictures of us that leave off our heads, feet or the people on either side.  I miss those people.  I miss those times.  They can never be again, because those people are no longer here. I live so far from home and miss my family.

Spending that time with my friend yesterday made me realize that it is the people I miss.  It's the people in my life who have served me and have seen to it that I am happy. My joy has been one of their greatest concerns. You know what?  I am so blessed that even though the people that I miss are gone from my life on this earth, He has seen to it that I've never been without people in my life who love me and want to see me happy, and show me this through serving me.  They are pleased to give of themselves to me, their time, attention, resources, talents and gifts.

At Christmastime I'm remembering how God leads us to do this for each other.  He first did this by giving us life, then He gave us His Son, and His Son gave us salvation.  We should rejoice that our names are written in heaven. It has been His good pleasure to serve us!  That bloggles the mind!

What does Christmas feel like?  It feels like I'm loved.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Avoiding the Appearance of Evil?

Author: Susan L. Prince

"Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess. 5:19-22 KJV) has often been used to caution Christians about doing anything that might look like sinful behavior to another, or further, might cause somebody to stumble in the faith.

The verse has always kind of bothered me because I am conscientious about my behavior and would never want somebody to stumble because of something they saw me doing. It also would bring up discussion about doing things that appear evil to one person, may not appear evil to another, we all have different opinions about what constitutes "questionable behavior," like going to the movies, or maybe into a bar, or what we watch on tv. 

 I often think about Jesus and his ministry and how he hung out with "sinners" and was around people who partook of wine at parties and spoke to tax collectors and prostitutes. If His behavior had the appearance of evil, how the heck am I going to avoid appearing evil? 

It's also interesting to note how different generations in the church view certain things. The older generation might say the guitar or drums in church is evil, or that rock music is "of the devil." Dancing or smoking a cigar might be a problem for some, or possibly having a tattoo, but when we start avoiding things that others' might deem "questionable," we start infringing on a believer's liberty in Christ. We can easily become legalistic and start calling things "unclean" that simply are inconsequential to God or are pure in His eyes. It also can cause us to start judging one another, our actions and motives, so I think properly understanding this verse is very important.

I heard something on the radio yesterday that brought this to the surface of my brain and I thought I'm going to research it. It turns out that I could only find the "appearance" term in the King James Version, and that in the translation I use, NIV, it says, "do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." It says "avoid every kind of evil. Other translations use, "every form of evil," and I like what The Message says, "Throw out anything tainted with evil."

It became clear to me just from that little revelation, that Paul wasn't saying avoid questionable behavior, he was saying avoid anything sinful. It is important to weigh what is said, or prophesied, and determine if it is good or bad and if it is bad, avoid it!

"Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess. 5:19-22)

I think it is better understood that we avoid evil, no matter how it appears to us, or in whatever form it takes. Evil can appear to us in many ways, even as "an angel of light," which is why we need to first determine if what we encounter is good or evil, and if it is evil, throw it out and run away!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

"What Makes You Think...???"

Author:  Susan L. Prince

Isn't it amazing how something said almost in passing can literally "stop a person in his tracks" and really change a person's thinking?

Has that ever happened to you?  It has me and I am going to share the nugget of wisdom that was passed along to me a year or so ago by my friend, Chris Rowland.  Chris probably won't even remember the conversation, and she can't know how much those few words she spoke that day impacted me.

I was sharing with her one day in a quick conversation that we just happened to pick up in passing, that I wasn't sure I was really getting anything out of the discussions we'd been having in our SaLT Group Bible Study and I didn't think I was going to go one night.  (Really, it was probably just a lame excuse because I didn't feel like going.)  Chris said to me, "What makes you think you are supposed to get something out of SaLT?  Maybe we are supposed to get something from you."


Chris and I went on about our day going separate ways, but what she said struck a chord in me.  I'm the type of person that really ponders and thinks about things when they are spoken to me, and that just wouldn't let me go.  The Holy Spirit convicted me, and used Chris Rowland to point out an error in my thinking at that time.  What she said was also a springboard for me to start utilizing my spiritual gifts the way they were intended to be used when God gave them to me.

Armed with the understanding that as I study my Bible, God will reveal things to me for the sole purpose of helping others' see truth, I can use my gifts to edify the Body and glorify God.  It is my part in the Body of Christ!  It's not about me!  Ever since that talk with Chris, I have approached Bible study differently and understand that God may use me during our SaLT Group meeting times to impart a word to another person.  He may not, but it is my responsibility to prepare myself appropriately and be willing to use my gift at all times.

Now, here's another cool thing that I realized talking with a friend at church today.  My friend confessed that she sometimes is fearful to speak up in a group of people with something that the Lord may be prompting her to share.  I tried to encourage her using this story of Chris encouraging me, but then realized something else, that if you don't share what God wants you to, you are robbing God's people.  I also pointed out that had Chris not shared with me that "maybe we are supposed to get something from you," I would have continued to rob God's people from something.  The flip side of that of course, is the "ripple effect,"  Who knows how many other people have been affected by what Chris said to me that day?

What Chris said to me opened my eyes to see that I need to be available to God and be obedient to share with others what He reveals to me.  Over the course of this past year, as I have learned to share more and more, it is quite possible that something I've passed along has impacted somebody else profoundly.  I'm not saying that to toot my own horn, because I'm not, it's all God anyway, but I am saying it to point out that God may have charged you with speaking truth into somebody else's life, and you need to be obedient to tell what you know.

So, I ask you, the reader, what makes you think you are supposed to get something out of _________?  Maybe we are supposed to get something from you."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Knot, Knot, Knot on Wood

Author: Susan L. Prince

The past few days I have spent on my knees.  No, not in prayer, although I was very mindful of God during this little project, especially when I noticed the knots in the wood of the deck I was applying water sealer to.

I walk around on the deck feeling the smooth wood beneath my bare feet, spend time at the table reading newspapers, drinking coffee and doing Bible study, often by candlelight and the light given off from the flame of the tiki lamps.  I've had the deck for two years now and it is one of the best investments I have ever made.

One of my really favorite things to do is lie on the wood once it is heated by the sun.  I love it!  I don't know why, it is just something I enjoy doing.

One night I even decided to sleep on it and I did!  Katie did, too, for part of the night, even though she made for herself a contraption of netting to protect herself from bugs and whatnot.   I braved the elements, just me and my bag and "woo pillow".

I've really learned to enjoy my deck and want to protect it so it will last as long as possible.  I applied water sealer to it shortly after it was built and figured it was time for another application.  This time I was more meticulous about the process and noticed something that fascinated me.

I saw the knots.  

The first time I sealed the deck I used a pressure sprayer, so I stood above the wood, spraying it with sealant.  Today, I used a brush and applied the sealant by hand, therefore it required me to be on my knees, brushing over every single surface of the deck.  Because I was so much closer and literally going over every inch of the wood, I really took notice of the knots.

Knots are the bases of branches that died, broke off, and then were covered over as the tree grew.  Knots are considered imperfections, because in the timber world, they reduce the strength of the wood.  They often appear darker in color, and I think, add character to a piece of wood.  Today they added immensely to my day out in the sun, working on the deck.

I noticed the detail of the grain of the wood.  With my brush, I would follow the grain, then come upon a knot.  The grain of the wood where the knot was, changes.  The grain takes a turn around the knot and sometimes the grain changes direction a whole 90 degrees.

I started thinking about the fact that those were once branches on a healthy, living and growing tree.  I looked at the different planks of wood that were placed together to form the floor of the deck and saw that each plank had varying wood grain and texture from the next.  The knots were all in different places, too.

Reminded of John 15:2, "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful," I looked at a knot and studied it.  I considered for a moment that it was a scar in the tree that was now a plank of wood on my deck.  The branch that had been growing there was weak, or for whatever reason, it fell off, and the tree continued to grow, "swallowing" up that hole that was left, filled it with resin, and went on with life, growing stronger and stronger as time went on, producing whatever fruit is was designed to produce.  The branch that had been a hindrance to that tree producing good fruit was cut off. 

There are knots in my life.  The areas of my life that have been weak, or ways of thinking that were destructive, have been pruned away by God.  He is able to reveal to me through my prayer life, fellow believers, His Word and circumstances, where these hindrances and things that produce rotten fruit are. He cuts them off, so I can continue to grow in Him and therefore produce good fruit. 

I was also thinking about how these "knots", or scars, remain in me, although often hidden from view.  I am grateful for those "knots" so I can remember not to go that way again, producing rotten fruit.  

I am glad I have knots, and like the knots in the wood I was examining today as I brushed over it, I was able to see the beauty in the imperfections.  Every piece of wood is astonishingly beautiful in its own way, and the knots make it that much more appealing to me.  I was able to see the strength in the weakness.  Something else occurred to me as I pondered; that my brothers and sisters in the Lord all have knots.  

Just like the wood grain and texture was different in each plank of wood, we are all different.  We grow spiritually at different paces, we are pruned for various things and our knots form, but He continues growing us to produce good fruit.  When we are put together, like the planks of wood on my deck, we are a beautiful piece of work that the world can see as His Church, and behold as the glory of the Lord. Knots and all! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Greatest Revolutionary

Author: Katie

There are many reasons why Jesus was and is still considered a revolutionary. Many claim that Jesus had a political agenda. He claimed to be God incarnate who came to redeem his people and set up his Kingdom on Earth. This in itself was enough to bring about contention with religious authorities of the day. Much of what Jesus practiced during his earthly ministry went against the religious practices that had been strictly enforced for generations. He proclaimed salvation by grace instead of the works based plan enforced by the Pharisees (Ephesians 2: 4-5). He was criticized for performing miracles on the Sabbath, and for offering salvation even to the Gentiles. He kept company with sinners and taught forgiveness instead of revenge. He consistently rendered the religious leaders humiliated and speechless when they chastised him. Yet, he loved and gave his life for them no less than any other sinner.

In the modern day protestant church, we learn that it is by grace we are saved and not of ourselves. It is not because of any works we have done. Instead, it is a gift from God therefore; we cannot boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). This teaching has been passed down through generations. It is radical and changed the course of history. Men can not work their way to God. It is impossible because there is no one righteous (Romans 3:10-24). Jesus changed the world because he taught mankind that the only way to God is through the Messiah (John 14:6). This teaching frustrated the religious leaders in the New Testament era. It contradicted everything the Pharisees believed about God and Heaven because they taught that man should live by Old Testament Law (with a few minor adjustments of their own). Christ’s message caught the attention of the rebellious. This message gave and continues to give hope to the hopeless. It drew the Gentiles to Christ. They realized that he alone was the Savior. For those who still had doubt, Jesus performed miracles that appeared to be unorthodox.

One such miracle took place on the Sabbath. There was a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. (They did this in a spirit of accusation.)

Jesus answered, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” With the Pharisees anger burning against him, Jesus then instructed the man to hold out his hand and it was completely healed (Matthew 12:9-13). Jesus reached out to the meek and humble in spirit.

It was from this pool of unlikely candidates that Jesus chose his followers. Society’s rejects were those that he reached out to and spent his time with. It was their lowly state that made the message of Christ so appealing. His life was extraordinary and unexpected. The Messiah, the King, and the Redeemer expected by the Jews was not a lowly carpenter. Jesus introduced a new way of thinking and understanding that would continue to bring about change long after his death and resurrection.

The teachings of the Christ continue today. So do the practices of pious, legalistic religious leaders. We are a people with a Savior whom we still reject, mock, and crucify on a daily basis. Faithful Christians are still mocked and persecuted for following the teachings of the Greatest Revolutionary of all time. More often then not, it is the educated legalistic religious leaders who instigate persecution of the saints.

The heathens of Christ’s time on earth did not have access to the Holy Spirit like we do today. The Spirit came in Christ’s place to dwell in every believer. Yet, even today we have the same problems with religious leaders and politics in the church. Even with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, we mock the lowly, avoid the needy, and seek the things of earth (health, wealth, and prosperity). We seek to please our flesh and rely on ourselves instead of God. We can not plead ignorance as an excuse. We have the living, breathing Word of God available to us every moment of every day. A very disturbing question is raised when I think of Christ returning again. Will we recognize him or will we reject him yet again?

If Jesus returned today, he probably would not respond to our society much different than he did the first time. However, the next time he comes he will come as Judge, not Redeemer (Revelation 20:11-15). The religious community has adapted the ways of the world to a point that it can be very difficult to tell the saints from the sinners. But, this will not be a problem for the Son of God who knows our hearts. Religious leaders are still rejecting the needy and neglecting the poor. We are still the same people only more depraved than ever. We have not learned form the mistakes of the Patriarchs. We have so much more available to us for understanding and knowing God. We have access to the same power that raised Christ from the dead. We have witnessed the miracles and can experience the Holy Spirit living in us, yet we remain self-centered instead of self-sacrificing as God is. The religious of today often behave no better than the self-righteous, pious leaders in biblical times. Jesus would contend with them the same way he did the Pharisees in his day. However, he would also display deep love and mercy to the poor in spirit.

Even in modern day society, it is those who are lowly and meek in spirit that follow hard after Christ. It is the true followers who are persecuted by the self-righteous. The Messianic teachings still prevail as truth and are still revolutionizing the world in more ways than can be accounted for. Just as the wickedness and depravity of our generation might cause Jesus to react in anger, so the repentant heart of one sinner continues to cause such great celebration.

The Kingdom of God exists in his people. It was God’s plan to send Christ to unite mankind as one with him through the Spirit. Those who do not know Jesus can not comprehend this. The Jews believed the Messiah had come to conquer their enemies and set up a kingdom from an earthly perspective. The Kingdom he came to set up is not one that man can understand apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God already exists in the hearts of every believer where God himself reigns. God’s Kingdom is the governing of the Holy Spirit uniting mankind as one body. Sadly, just as it happened in biblical times, today there are many who do not understand nor believe this concept. It is up to the Christian community to be Christ to the lost and hurting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

God and Moses...Face to Face?

Author: Katie

Exodus 33:11

God "spoke to moses as a man speaks to his friend"

Deuteronomy 34:10

"Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in."

I did some research in order to understand...and also in order to teach. It's important as Christians that we know how to give an answer and I'm not very good at that. So, I am working at being better. As I was reading this passage today, I pondered...

"God came in a cloud and had a conversation as if with a friend"..."but face to face?" Then in my research I came across Deuteronomy 34:10. Each passage is speaking to illustrate an intimate relationship. Exodus 33:11 is focused on God...and His speaking to if sitting down over a cup of coffee. This point is emphasized to me in Deuteronomy because there it says, the LORD "knew" Moses face to face. This makes it clear that "face to face" is to help us see the intimate relationship God and Moses had with one another.

What makes this even more clear is that further in Exodus 33:19-23, God tells Moses that he cannot see His face and live. Therefore, the Father hides Moses' face in the cleft of the rock and allows him to see only his back side. Even today with Christ as our Savior...because of the presence of sin...we cannot see the fullness of God in all his Glory and live. It would be more than our humanity could handle.

Today, God gives each person the opportunity to have a "face to face" relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. One day all believers will literally see Him "face to face". That should give believers incentive toward intense evangelism! I can't wait to see Him in ALL His glory!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Reading the Bible for Life

Author: Katie

Yesterday, I read the first chapter in Read the Bible for Life by George Guthrie. I must admit I was quite surprised at how personal this chapter was for me since it revolved around the February 5, 2008 tornado that struck Union University. I didn't realize that Dr. Guthrie had begun his book with this particular discussion with David Dockery. The entire chapter was so personal and so relative to my walk with God that I was almost moved to tears. Let me explain.

During the time spoken of, like many who will be reading this book, I was not only a student, but I was also on staff at Union. I had just left the office 2 hours prior to when the tornado struck. It brought me back to that night when I received the phone call saying that volunteers were needed to help get the students to safety...and what a miracle that not a single life was lost.

I remember the weeks following and how the normal routine at work had completely changed and we all had to pull together to salvage what was left. We had to regroup, reorganize, counsel, and rethink how things would need to be done. I remember attending my classes at one of the local private schools while campus was being "reconstructed". It took everyone putting aside personal tasks and personal issues to focus on working together to help the victims and clean up the rubble. The whole community came together. It was such an amazing experience to see so many reaching out to others in a time of crisis.

Amidst the nostalgia while reading, I found myself deeply touched by a couple of particular statements in Dr. Dockery's testimony. The first thing he said shich had a very personal impact was when he commented on his perspective of what it meant to live with a biblical view of the world. He states, "First, we must be committed to the Great Commandment, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as well as loving one another as ourselves".

It was not the words of Dr. Dockery which struck a chord so much as the Word of God which he quoted. If I had my personal journals in front of me, there would be many references to Mark 12:30 and Deuteronomy 6:4 because these verses were the start of a lifetime of change for me and have been the focal point of that change for the last decade.

Loving God first goes totally against the grain of humanity. In fact loving God and others is quite the opposite of human tendency. Loving self first is what comes natural to our carnal being. What I have learned about putting me first is that it is...

1. Lonely
2. Counter productive
3. Self-defeating

The harder we work to elevate ourselves in our own eyes and the eyes of others, the more selfish we become. We fight so hard to protect what is ours and to be something other than who God created us to be. Consequently, we are not much fun to be around.

People feed off of one another's selfishness. They try to make friends with those in the limelight for their own personal gain. They step on others to climb to the top. They even do nice things for others for personal recognition. Relationships become superficial. Feelings get hurt. Anger gets stirred. Fights happen. Friends are alienated. This is the same kind of selfishness that is at the root of divorces, gang fights, riots, and wars.

Being self focused is the equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot or beating your head against a brick wall. Yet, it is a constant battle and a conscious choice, moment by moment that I strive to not be self-centered. Being unselfish does not come naturally for most of humanity yet, selfishness is almost like self abuse. Even so, we cling to the carnal teachings that say we are our own God, we don't need God, and/or we must be true to our "self"..."me first". This gives a whole new perspective to, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last". Putting myself first almost always will put me in last place in the long run.

Truthfully, I have learned from personal experience that selfishness leads to loss...not gain. God commands us to love Him first because unless we do...we can't love others. If we love others and consider them more important than ourselves, we live in peace with others and with God.

God doesn't command us to do this because he is an egocentric. He doesn't put boundaries in our lives to imprison us. He does it to free us. The cure for all the misery in the world is found in the First and Greatest

So, where is the problem? Why is loving God and placing others as more important than ourselves so contrary to popular belief? Why is it so hard to love? It shouldn't be.

In closing, I leave you with another impactful quote by Dr. Dockery, "It is because of sin that our relationship with God has been distorted. It is because of sin that our relationship with others has been frayed."

It is because of sin that we find it hard to love.