Sunday, May 31, 2009

When the Ugly Becomes Beautiful by Tammy Blackburn

     I am a nature lover at heart. It just seems that nature is where I see God most clearly. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling and have seen some of the most gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and animals that one could ever imagine. I cannot even begin to describe how my entire being longs to praise my Father God each time I encounter His beautiful handiwork. I’m equally moved when I simply sit and watch the beautiful birds at the bird feeder in my backyard.

    Recently, I spent a couple of days at the beach with my children. I absolutely love the ocean and could sit and soak in its beauty for hours. It is so vast and so powerful that I can’t help but be reminded of how awesome our God is. The waves crashing on the shore are like a song being offered back to their Creator. The moon shining on the water at night seems to be a reflection of God’s Majesty. One afternoon while we were there, we were sitting in our room having lunch when the ugliest blackbird landed on our balcony. He walked right up to our sliding glass door and appeared to be watching us. It was actually quite comical the way he bent his neck to see what we were doing. My son decided to try and open the door and give the ugly bird a few crackers. Lo and behold, this bird ate every piece and wanted more. He wasn’t afraid of us, and as we continued to be entertained by him, I wondered why a beautiful bird couldn’t have landed there instead. My daughter sat down by the door and commented on all the colors in this ugly bird’s feathers. It crossed my mind that she might possibly be colorblind. I sat down there with her and sure enough, there was an amazing rainbow of colors shimmering along his body. I also noticed that his beak and feet were an unusual shade of red and his eyes were stunning.

     Suddenly, I realized that God was teaching me a lesson. What I had judged to be something ugly and unimportant was just as much His creation as everything else I had been enjoying. I began to wonder how often I look past things that seem ugly or unattractive to me. I have no trouble praising God for the things I find beautiful, but do I ever praise Him for the things that annoy me? Do I find Him in the mundane things in life? Do I see His glory in what seems to be the ugliness of this world?

     Jonah chapter 3 tells us that God provided a worm to eat up the plant that was shading Jonah’s head. It also says that God provided a scorching wind and a blazing sun to cause Jonah to grow faint.  Now, we could say that those were some ugly things, yet God’s hands orchestrated them. He used them to teach Jonah a valuable lesson.

     I’ve spent the last couple of weeks praying for God to help me see Him in unusual and seemingly ugly places. He has definitely been answering that prayer. I challenge you to do the same. Let God show you something beautiful in what seems to be something ugly. Let Him show you Himself, and then praise Him for His creation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Seek Ye First by Kim Jackson

   Karen Lafferty’s rent was due. Her car payment was, too.

   Having left a well-paying job to pursue a call to ministry, Karen began a journey into uncharted territory. Believing that where God guides, he provides, Karen stepped out in faith.

   But now her savings were gone, and bills were due. She spent the day on the phone trying to stir up interest in guitar lessons. She didn’t want to go back to singing in nightclubs. If only she could get a job where she could make money and still be involved in ministry. But nothing seemed to be working out.

   Karen went to a Bible study that evening. The pastor was teaching on Matthew 6. Karen remembers, “When he read verse 33, ‘But seek first his kingdom ...,’ I thought Yeah, that’s the answer. When I got home my rent still wasn’t paid, but my joy was back."

   Karen picked up her guitar. “I started plunkin’ around and wrote a little melody. The words of Matthew 6:33 began to fit the tune, and an ‘alleluia’ descant sort of formed over the top of it.” Other passages became additional verses.

   Karen shared the new song at a church youth service. It was easy to remember and caught on immediately. It was 1971, the height of the Jesus Movement, and people from all over the world were in attendance at Calvary Chapel. When they returned to their native countries, they took “Seek Ye First” with them.

   When Karen woke the next morning, her rent was still due, and her checking account was still empty. But within days she received a letter promising unexpected funds. That check paid not only her rent and her car payment, it also covered the cost of the Bible training she had been hoping to take.

   But that was only the beginning of God’s faithfulness.

   The next year Karen recorded her simple Scripture song on an early Maranatha! Praise Album. By the time she felt the tug to missions in 1978, God had taken “Seek Ye First” around the world.

   And as a testament to God’s promises, as well as Karen’s obedience to the challenge of the words she set to music, the royalties from “Seek Ye First” have provided 80% of Karen’s income as a “Musicianary” … for over 30 years!

   “It’s really incredible,” Karen says today. “I am very grateful and very humbled. The song is the simplest thing I’ve ever done musically. It wasn’t any big feat because anyone could have written it. I’m just really grateful God allowed me to write it.”

   And not only write it…but live it. 

Matthew 6:25-34

   "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Foundation with No Rock is a Muddy Mess - Tami Gilman

My house is at the end of a dirt road. My husband and I certainly knew the road was not paved when we chose to build our house there, but being nestled in a wooded lot in the quiet neighborhood was worth it. Besides, there was a drought at the time and other than the dust, it wasn’t much of an inconvenience. Dust, my friend, is a lot easier to wash off a car than mud is.

There are rumors that twenty or so years ago the developer of the neighborhood (who is now as old as Moses) had a layer of gravel sprinkled over the dirt road. Proper drainage, culverts and ditches were never dug, however. Over time, the gravel has washed away, potholes have appeared and sections of our road wash out with heavy rain. Our neighbors have been meeting to discuss a solution since the state says it’s the county’s problem, the county says it’s Moses’ problem and Moses is not taking any responsibility as the original developer of the neighborhood. At some point last week, the gravel fairy drove through and dropped a load or two of new gravel onto the road. It is peculiar because no one is claiming they had it done. While we are all grateful, the road was not properly prepared for the new fix and has only masked the problem.

It occurred to me as I drove home in the rain last night that our lives are similar to the road. If you do not have a proper foundation rooted in Christ, the next storm will wash away all we have done to cover up our flaws and quickly expose them. If my road had been scraped, crowned and covered with a thick foundation of rock as a base, the rain would not have fazed it. It would have washed away in those new ditches and through the culverts that would need to be installed for my illustration to be accurate. Instead, even though someone was nice enough to spread new gravel, the ruts, potholes and mud resurfaced after only one rainfall. I notice that some of the neighbors drive around the potholes and ruts and others drudge right through them. Sometimes we avoid issues in our lives and other times we make them worse with poor choices.

As we attempt to operate in our own strength and apart from God, even the best intentions can’t complete us as our Heavenly Father can. Even if you believe in God, accept Christ’s salvation and are filled with the Holy Spirit, you must actually allow them to take an active role in your life. If you believe that God is too busy with other people or His purpose in your life is to punish you, even as a Christian you will remain a rutted, muddy mess. Instead of covering up the issues with a layer of gravel, put on your rain boots, grab a shovel and get to work asking God to help you clean out the ditches and fill in the potholes in your life. Then as the rains come, we are not affected. We are complete in Christ and even when the enemy uses other people or our own minds to create a muddy mess in our spirit, we allow the negativity to roll into the ditch and be carried away.

Luke 6:47-49 (New International Version)47I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Supercilious Saul - Jan Darnell

Saul’s supercilious feelings of superiority and pride were based in his heritage, education and accomplishments. I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons…Acts 22:4-5

A zealous Pharisee, Saul persecuted the Way or the early Church of Christ. This sect was called the Way because they believed Jesus to be the way back to God. Jesus said, I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. Jn. 14:6

Obviously, Saul considered his actions against the Way to be appropriate and, in fact, necessary. His convictions compelled him to exterminate those of the Way and purge Judea of her heretics. In effect, Saul was defending his own faith in God, even to the point of physically restraining and murdering the resistance.

Differences in opinions as to how we should approach and worship God can be traced back to Adam’s sons, Cain and Abel. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. So, Cain killed Abel. Gen. 4:8 From that point forward, history provides an endless list of wars over divergent belief systems. Cain initiated the bloody trail. Saul was just picking up the stick that has been passed down by zealots to beat down their opposition. My sacrifice is better than yours.

Jesus, however, wasn’t claiming that He had a better sacrifice to offer than another. He asserted that He was the sacrifice. Religions across the world offer us spiritual, meditative, and ritualistic, parochial sacraments as paths back to God. Those of the Way simply follow Jesus. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the sinless Lamb slain by God on the altar for our sins. His unblemished righteousness covers our prideful wickedness. Hallelujah!

Supercilious Saul, on his blood thirsty journey to Damascus, met the humble Jesus of the Way. Saul’s intentions were to inflict more pain, do more stick beating and bring to justice followers of the Way. And it came about that as I was on my way approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”Acts 22:6-7

Saul, blinded by the light, fell prostrate to the ground. With no other options than to engage in conversation, he answered, “Who are Thou, Lord?” (This was a question Saul should have asked when he witnessed the stoning of Stephen and heard him pray for his tormentors to be forgiven. Acts 8:58-60) Jesus replied, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.” Acts 22:7-8 Wow. Saul thought he was defending God. Turns out, his supercilious pride blinded him to the truth of the Way. He was actually persecuting the God he thought he was serving. How critical it is to be sure we are following the Way and not our way.

The world is full of religious zealots who claim to know and serve God. These are willing to die for Him, sacrifice comforts and deny themselves pleasures for the sake of kingdom membership. However, followers of the Way do not persecute those who follow other paths. We cannot build the Kingdom of God upon the blood of religious dissenters. The Kingdom of God is built upon the blood of our Redeemer and cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ.

After his encounter with Jesus, Saul changed his name to Paul, which is a Latin word meaning “small” or “little.” Saul gained humility when he met the Way that day. His murderous zeal yielded to the sweet love and satisfaction of Christ. Whatever Gamaliel taught Saul regarding the laws of God, Jesus perfected through the revelation of His grace as the…the way, the Truth and the Life of God.

Paul became a zealous advocate of the Way, preaching the “good news” of forgiveness, rather than persecuting the followers. Nearly a fourth of the New Testament canon was written by Paul to the early churches and believers he brought into the Kingdom of Christ. When we humble ourselves before the Way…when we recognize our supercilious tendencies as hindrances to the realization of truth, then God will reveal the glory of His Son to us. God is for us, not against us. Let us be for Him and not against His Way as well. Ro. 8:31-33

Monday, May 4, 2009

Secrets - Tammy Blackburn

Who doesn’t love a good secret? All of us can become as giddy as children when we see a brightly wrapped package with our name on it. Even more exciting is to share a gift or surprise with someone else. When my children were young, they would hide behind their doors and whisper and giggle every time a special occasion rolled around. Maybe you’ve stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning talking to a friend. I’m sure all of us can think of a special friend with whom we’ve shared our dreams, our goals and even our disappointments.

When I was a young girl, my best friend lived just down the road from me. We spent many of our days together. The one that is the most memorable to me happened on a snowy day when we were about 12 years old. There were woods that separated our houses with a creek running through them. We loved to walk along the creek to a small stone bridge that was old and crumbling. On this particular day, the snow was already several inches deep and school was out. We met at our usual place in the woods and had a wonderful adventure. As we sat on the bridge to catch our breath for a few minutes, we noticed that the water under us appeared to be frozen. Showing all of the preadolescent intelligence we possessed, we decided to try walking on water. About halfway across, the ice cracked and we fell in up to our thighs. We started laughing so hard at each other that we ended up falling all the way in. By the time we climbed onto the creek bank, we were soaked and frozen. We went back to my friend’s house and his mother gave us dry clothes, sat us in front of the fireplace, and made us hot chocolate. We sat there for hours just sharing our thoughts. We felt free to share things with each other that we would not have shared with anyone else.
Why were we able to be so transparent, and why did we feel so comfortable sharing our secrets? It is because we had spent so much time together. We had laughed together, cried together, worked together, eaten together, and played together.

In my quiet time recently, God spoke to me through Psalms 25:14. “The LORD confides in those who fear Him; He makes His covenant known to them.” Wow! Imagine God sharing His secrets with us. After all, that is what it means to confide in someone. I began to imagine myself walking along a creek, hand in hand with my Savior, and having Him share His dreams with me. Maybe we would sit on an old crumbling bridge and talk about all the things that were important to us. However, if I haven’t spent enough time getting to know Him, how will we be able to share so openly with each other? I want to spend my days in His presence. When I cry or laugh I want to share it with Jesus. I want Him there when I am at work or when I am at play. I want to know my Heavenly Father so intimately that He shares His secrets and confides in me. I want to know the heart of my King as well as He knows mine.