Faithful Obedience by Vicki Church

Vicki and I sat together during a Counseling in a Week training program and what a privilege it was to spend that time with her. One of the things I learned from her was that a quiet disposition of the heart is something to be treasured. I pray I can imitate her on that!

Thank you, dear Vicki for your willingness to contribute to this series on Faithful Obedience.

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Faithful Obedience In Our Worship Practice
by Vicki Church

What came to my mind as I thought of faithful obedience was being obedient in our worship of God. Worship shapes our life in so many ways. It teaches us to sing praises to God, to read and understand the scriptures, and to confess our sins. We are fed through the Word and the sacraments. I am thankful to my parents who raised me in the Christian faith and for my husband who took our family to worship each Sunday. Of course, there were time that it was hard to get everyone ready to get out the door. And, there were times when I went out of a sense of duty and without a desire to worship. But this simple act of obedience was one that has shaped my life and for which I am grateful.

When we assemble as one body, we meet together to praise God, pray, confess our sins, and we are fed through the sacraments and the Word. This establishes the pattern for our lives.

I was so blessed to be raised in a home where it was the rhythm to our week. We usually planned our vacation time around Sunday worship, either leaving on Monday or planning where we would worship when we were away from our home church. It may be felt by some to be legalistic, and I confess that as a child sometimes it felt that way. But as we raised our children, I began to understand the reasons for the adherence to the Sabbath and appreciate it.

One incident in particular comes to mind. My husband and I and our three children just arrived home from Sunday worship and there was a phone message on our answering machine. My youngest sister had just been in a car accident and was in a coma. We quickly grabbed some clothes and drove the two and a half hours to the hospital. The Lord took her the following Saturday morning. On Sunday morning we all attended church. It was difficult to sing some of the songs, especially “It is Well with my Soul”, but the Word and the music was like balm to my soul. We found ourselves praising and thanking God through our tears.

One of the foundational commandments is “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8. The prophet Ezekiel reminded the Israelites, “Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. “

Worship teaches us to sing praises to our Father. I heard Elizabeth Elliot speak at a conference some years ago. I was struck by the number of hymns that peppered her speech. The Word just permeated her thought pattern because of the hymns that she had learned through worship. What a blessing to be taught the Word and hymns from an early age!

Worship teaches us to constantly look to the Lord to be fed through His Word. As we open the scriptures each day it calls to mind and reinforces what we have been taught through the exposition of God’s Word each Sunday. As many of us are involved in the Bible challenge, we are reading the scripture more than ever. Hearing it exposited each Sunday, makes the weekly reading more understandable and helps us to develop deeper roots. We are taught how to think about the world and equipped to handle what the Lord gives us to practice that week.

Worship feeds us at His table each week. Being summoned and welcomed to the table each week, instills a pattern of hospitality that we can imitate in welcoming others to our table each week.

The apostle Paul also exhorts us. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching. “ (Hebrews 10:24-25)

I am so grateful to be able to worship each Sunday and pray that the Lord will use it more and more to shape me to be able to understand His Word, to follow the example of sharing a table, to confess sin, in short to grow in grace.

Oh, How Wonderful it is to Come to His Table!

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Sometimes the days are too long,
the nights don’t bring rest to our mortal bodies.
The minutes pass by slowly,
while our heartbeats run faster.

Some weeks the thorns and thistles
pierce our skin and hearts deeper.
But the Word does it work daily in us:
Dew in the morning,
Medicine in the midday,
Hope at night.

A Bible verse tucked in the back pocket of a pair
of old jeans day after day. Ready to be read.
One more phone call.
A prayer.
The Promise Giver won’t let us go.
His Promise is holding us.

It’s true, we are still standing,
Only because He sustains us.
The Word we have eaten,
The living Water we have drank
Runs through our veins even in the darkest of days.

And then Sunday comes.
Oh, how we love your day, Lord!
And we sing to our Maker.
And we all read the Scriptures together.
A Communal Table to feed the souls of many.

We confess our sins.
We confess what we believe.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer.
We sing Psalms and Hymns.
We bless our Maker and
Bless each other.

We listen to the Word proclaimed,
A fountain of life.
And we soak in all of it.
We, hungry pilgrims,
Are gathered together
Because we love Him,
Because He loves us.
Because we exist for this.

And then, a mystery before us unfolds again,
We look around, and we are together,
A body of believers, as one.
Ready to eat.
To remember.

The Bread is broken in front of us,
and we remember.
We pass it, we eat it.
Slowly.
My children -all of them- eat.
We smile.
We have longed for this all week,

The Wine is poured,
and we remember.
His blood for us.
We believe.
We drink.
My children -all of them- drink.
We smile.
We have been baptized,
and we remember who we are:
The sheep of His pasture.

We are at the Father’s Table again.
And we know that because of Jesus,
We are welcomed.

He has prepared this table for us
In the presence of our enemies.
We are ready to feast,
To remember His victory,
His love for His people,
The hope of Eternal Life.

Isn’t this what we needed this week so much?
This sacrament of communion,
To remind us that all will be well?
That we are His?
That He is ours?

Oh, how wonderful it is
To come to His table!
To remember how He saved us!
To have communion with Him
In the company of our brothers and sisters.
To eat and drink,
To remember all of His benefits.

Oh, how wonderful it is
To come to your table, Oh, Lord!

Becky

Welcoming Friends who Disagree with Us

Canon Press

Steve Wilkins in his excellent book, Face to Face: Meditations on Friendship and Hospitality says about having friends with whom we may not always agree with theologically:

“If a believer were to surround himself only with those who agreed with on every particular of the faith, he would never grow in understanding. He would be “right” about everything, never knowing whether or not he held certain wrong or indefensible positions. Holy differences are means by which we grow in our understanding and discernment, clarifying and solidifying the understanding of our faith…Forbearance in these matters is essential. When this is lacking, it is impossible for biblical friendships to prosper. If you only want friends who will always agree with you, you will never have any true friends…We desire to learn the truth, and it is not helpful to avoid these differences. We must learn to see the good side of our differences.” (p.85)

Have a blessed week, dear Friends,

Becky

An Advent Lesson on Friendship

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As I was taking out the books we have for the season, I came across a favorite of mine: Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1&2 by John Calvin and decided that I wanted to re-read this Advent (I had not read it since 2010).

The first sermon corresponds to the passage of Luke 1:39-44 in which Mary rises after receiving the amazing news the angel brought to her, and goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. As I read the passage and Calvin’s comments I could not help but see how much we can learn here about godly friendships (I am aware that Mary and Elizabeth were not friends but cousins, however the principle is the same). When Elizabeth comes and hears what the Lord is doing in Mary’s life she -filled with the Spirit of God- praises God and calls Mary blessed. She knows that God has chosen to give her cousin a greater gift, and she rejoices with her and praises God for that miracle.

If we have been born again, we have already been filled with the Holy Spirit, and that is what can make us be good friends to our sisters and brothers in Christ. It is because Jesus is in us that we can rejoice when we see the gifts our Father has bestowed upon our friends, and can honestly rise up and call them blessed.

Mary receives the not-ordinary-at-all news from the angel: she will be the one to bear the Son of God in her womb! And her first response once the angel departs is to run and seek her friend -and cousin- Elizabeth. Oh, how wonderful it is when the Lord gives us a blessing, an unexpected grace that we cannot keep silent about, and we just want to run to our closest friend and share the joy of that blessing with her. And what a comfort it is to know that our friend will certainly rejoice with us and will call us blessed.

I love that Calvin points that “whenever we speak about what God has done, we should strive to show how much we depend on him alone, and how all we have comes freely from his bountiful hand.” We must never forget that, for if we do we might fall in the temptation of boasting and wanting our friends to see us and not our Father, the Giver of all the good things and gifts He has chosen to freely give us.

How much we still need to learn about how to be good friends to others. Sometimes, I think, it is easier to mourn with our friends in their losses and trials than to rejoice with them in their prosperity and victories. How much we need to learn from Elizabeth; she has her own miracle growing in her womb, and yet, she does not try to compare her gift with Mary’s. Because she a woman filled with the Spirit of God, she rejoices with her and assures her one more time of the Word of God. She speaks God’s promises to her friend and humbles herself as she rejoices to see how the Lord has dealt with both of them.

This season as we start to re-read the story of the Incarnation, it would do us well to remember that, as Calvin writes, the Spirit not also gives us different gifts but “works in each of us, sometimes more fully, sometimes less, in order to teach us that all things come from Him, and that on Him alone we depend.”

Many times we respond in arrogance when we see how the Lord blesses our friends and secretly murmur and point to their many faults, but Calvin reminds us, “The fact that others might have faults should make us still more humble…To see the gifts which God has given to our fellow men ought to stir us up to greater zeal.”

When we grow and really practice this “Elizabeth principle,” when we learn to value God’s gifts in our friends and we bless them and bless the One from whom all blessings flow, then this attitude “will help maintain unity and harmony among us, as we better learn to bear with one another… So a bond of peace and brotherhood exists whenever we make the most of the gifts God apportions those around us.”

May this Advent be a season of seeing Him again in His Word, and seeing Him in the gifts He has freely given our friends,

Becky

Praying Ephesians – Ephesians 4:17-32-

©Shiloh Photography

Father, I praise your name, your goodness, your mercy which lead us to repentance. Thank you, because you draw us to you and in drawing us to you You change us. Thank you for your Word, a double-edge sword, that pierces into our soul dividing darkness from light. I praise your steadfast love, my Lord, the one that pursues us until we are transformed!

My God, help me not to walk in the futility of my mind only let your light, your Truth shine in me, into my mind and heart delivering me from a darkened understanding. Oh, Father, how I pray that you will give me a humble heart willing at all times to admit and repent from all sin and error in me so that I may not grow a hardened and callous heart. Deliver me from all sensuality, from a greedy desire to to practice sinful habits that I have welcomed many times as “part of my natural way of being.” Oh, that I may not forget, not for a moment, the way I have learned Christ! Father, I ask you today to help me put off daily my old self which is full of deceitful desires that draw me away from your Kingdom of Light. Give me discernment and a heart willing to obey what I know that the Holy Spirit is calling me to do; help me to be diligent in the habit of practicing discernment, first and foremost, within my own heart which is deceitful above all things. Create in me, day after day, a heart that is willing to put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Yes, in true righteousness and holiness, not in the one that is deceitful, fake, and raises from a puffed-up heart filled with nothing but filthy self-righteousness.

Help me, today, Father of Truth, to put away all kinds of falsehood: lies, slander, deception, flattery, gossip, and to be diligent in pursuing truth. Lord, that I may be true to the Word, true to myself, true to my convictions. That I may be willing at all times to speak the truth with my brothers and sisters remembering that we are indeed members one of another. Help me remember that spoken truth should always be spoken with the goal in mind to help each other grow in every way into the likeness of Christ.

Oh God, give me a quiet and gentle spirit, one that has learned to overcome the kind of anger that makes me sin. Father, that I may always have a heart whose natural response is to forgive and forgive, and forgive. Transform me daily in the light of your Word, that I may be in all areas of my life, different than the one I used to be when I did not know you nor the Gospel who transforms and gives life.

Deliver me, Lord, from all corrupt talking which only brings death and kindles enormous fires. Help me day after day, situation after situation, to speak -and write- only those words that are good to build up others, words that give grace to those who hear them. Help me to fill my heart with your Word even more, so that out of the abundance of my heart I may always speak.

Oh, Lord, deliver me from grieving your Holy Spirit by whom I have been sealed for the day of redemption! Deliver me from having deaf ears and blind eyes that won’t let me hear and see where your Spirit is leading me. Deliver me, oh Lord! That all my life, even the deepest meditations of my heart may be pleasant to you.

God, only you, through the power of the resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit within me can help me put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander, along with all malice. Only in you can I overcome sin, and I give you thanks for the provision you have made for us to conquer and not live in bondage of any kind of sin anymore. Let my life, Father, be characterized by kindness, by forgiveness never forgetting that God in Christ forgave me.

In Christ, my Redeemer who lives and reigns forever more,

Amen

Becky

Praying Ephesians -Ephesians 4:1-16-

 

@Katie Lloyd Photography

Father, thank you for your Word which is perfect and pure, and which teaches us how to walk as Christians in this fallen word. Father, I ask you to forgive me because many times I have not walked in a manner worthy of the calling to which I have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience.

Oh Lord, help me, through the Grace that saved me and sustains me, to walk every day with all humility. Forgive the many times I have looked down on someone; forgive when I let pride and self-righteousness have dominion over me. Forgive me when I walk haughtily, with a heart blind with arrogance. Give me a humble heart, a teachable heart, the heart of a servant.

Forgive me when I don’t walk or speak with all gentleness. Forgive me for my harsh attitudes, for my rudeness. Work in me, Oh Lord, and create in me a humble and gentle heart. Let my words be sweet to you and to those around me.

Father, forgive me when I lose my patience, when I want things to be done promptly and my way. Lord, help me! That I may not see my loss of patience as something that is not grievous to you. Help me to see how it shows the condition of my heart that doesn’t want to wait for your perfect time. Father, help me to wait in silence knowing that my hope is in you. Help me to trust in you at all times knowing that you are sovereign over the time frame in which we live.

Lord, teach me to bear the burdens of my brothers and sisters in love, help me to persevere in prayer for them, to intercede, to remember with a compassionate and grateful heart those who are going through trials. Help me to reach toward them in love to help them with their burdens. Help us, Lord! Forgive me, O Lord, when I have turned and have decided not to bear with my brothers in Christ with love. Give me a heart that reaches in prayer and hands that reach to serve promptly and with a joyful heart.

Father, that I may eagerly seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That I may not forget that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. That I may not forget that you alone are over all, and through all and in all. Help me, please, Oh Lord. Help me, to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace without compromising the Truth as revealed in the Scriptures. Lord, help me, because this is so hard to do in this era in which many voices are raised and a dense cloud of confusion makes it hard for us to discern how to do this. I need you, Lord. I need you, so much!

Father, thank you for the grace that you have bestowed upon each one of your children. Thank you for the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, the teachers, all given in time to equip us for the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ until we all -each one of us- attain the unity of the faith and come to the full knowledge of your Son, Jesus Christ. Father, thank you because in the Word, in the prophets and the writings of the apostles, through the exposition of your Word, we can grow in grace into mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Graceful Father, help me to hold fast to the Truth, to the words that have been revealed in the Scriptures, deliver me, deliver us from an apathy towards your Word, which will restrain us from growing in grace. Help me, Lord, to hold fast to your Word in a time in which deception keeps knocking at our door disguised as piety and is adorned with seductive words. Help me, help us, so that we may not be like children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried away by every new wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes that seems so inviting.

Oh, God, help us, help me! That I may dare to speak the truth in love for the sake of building and not tearing down. Help us, help me, to hold fast to your Word, to the unchangeable Truth in a time in which people, even in the Church,  are trying to redefine what your Word clearly teaches. Lord, it would be so easy to fall into deception, help me!

Father, this Lord’s Day I intercede for your Church. Help us grow joined and held together by your Truth. Help us, work properly and function as one body. Make us grow in all submission to our Head which is Christ Jesus, and help us build ourselves in love to bring glory to your Name.

In Jesus’ Name, our Lord and Savior,

Amen

Becky