Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sharing the Joy of Worship (Number 26 in a series)

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (KJV)

One of the hardest parts of relocating is (for me, at least) finding a new church home. Whenever I am out of fellowship, I feel hungry. My soul misses the nourishment of sharing worship and companionship with other believers. No matter how many wonderful inspirational books I read or gospel albums I listen to, nothing replaces the joy of being with others who share my faith.

There is a mutual strengthening that takes place when we gather together to worship. We rejoice in each other’s joys, help to carry each other’s burdens and grow together in God’s Word. As we raise our voices in praise, we bring down a glimpse of the future we anticipate in heaven. Camaraderie and celebration fill the hall.

I am so blessed to have found a wonderful congregation here in California. The operating orders of this fellowship are “Love God. Love people.” As I become more acquainted with the different ministries the church supports, I will be able to find my own place to contribute to the well-being of the body of Christ. The prospect is exciting!

This is not the first church I visited since my arrival. It is the one where I heard God whisper, “Your place is here.” I knew it was Home within two visits.

Don’t be discouraged if you are seeking a church home. Here are some hints for finding the right fit:

• Commit to finding a church home and becoming involved. A “maybe one day” attitude will interfere with your search.

• Search the internet for churches in your area. Read what they say on their websites. Do their beliefs match yours?

• Visit and see if the reality matches the website. Don’t be afraid to visit several times.

• Pray for God’s direction in choosing the right fellowship.

Once you’ve found that fit, you’ll find worship is a joy, not a duty. Whether the membership is small or large, you’ll be blessed and you’ll be a blessing.

Father, we thank you for the blessings of fellowship with other believers. Help each of us to find the right place to worship and serve You. Please anoint our efforts and use them to Your glory.

© 2009 Mary Beth Magee

Monday, February 23, 2009

Crushed for the Greater Good (Number 25 in a series)

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5 (KJV)

Mama has several medications to take each day. Because of her swallowing problem, she has to take them through her PEG tube. Pills must be dissolved in water so they can flow through the syringe into the length of tubing we connect to the PEG.

We use a mortar and pestle to crush the pills into a powder to more easily dissolve them. The pills are of no use to my mother until they are pulverized. She cannot benefit from the medication in any other way.

Each time I prepare her medications, I am reminded of Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah. Just as I crush the pills to help my mother, Jesus was bruised (some translations use the word “crushed”) to help us. Our healing came at a terrible cost.

This week, many of us will observe Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. As we turn our hearts toward Jesus’ final days in human form let us remember the price He paid to save us. Crushed. Bruised. Beaten.

Father, we thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You that He was willing to suffer on our behalf and pay the ransom for us. Keep us in mind of Your never-failing love.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Basin, the Towel and the Heart (Number 24 in a series)

"He [Jesus] riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded." John 13:4-5 (KJV)

The example of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is often used as an example of servanthood. I was content with that explanation until recently. Now I see Jesus’ act as an expression of love for the disciples.

My mother is no longer able to bathe alone; I help her with a sponge bath each day. She washes what she can reach and I wash what she can’t. These days, that includes her feet. I place the little wash basin on the floor and she places her feet in the water, one at a time. I kneel beside her and first wash, then dry, each foot.

The first time she slipped a foot into the pan of warm water, she sighed with pleasure and said, “Oh, that feels so good.” I used the washcloth to let water run down her shin and calf, then wiped her leg, from knee to toes. Lifting her foot from the water, I dried it and repeated the process with the other foot. I found myself smiling at her delight.

And then it struck me: it gave me joy to wash her feet, because I loved giving her the pleasure of the warm water and massage of the washcloth and the resulting clean feet. Because I love her, I love to do things for her. I don’t mean to belittle all those theologians who use the basin and towel to demonstrate servanthood and its importance in the church. I just want to acknowledge the other part of the demonstration, the component that explains the first one – the love.

At the center of the servant heart is love. We serve those we love for their own sake. We serve those we love for God’s sake. Whether we wash their feet or donate money for their relief or serve food at their shelter or however else we may serve, we do it for love.

Father, thank you for sending us Your love in the form of Your Son. Help us to always reflect Your love in the service we perform, that we may always point others toward You.

© 2009 Mary Beth Magee

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Vines and Branches (Number 23 in a series)

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” John 15: 4-5 (KJV)

Although I now live in northern California – wine country – I have yet to see a vineyard in full growth. My previous visits have been in late autumn or early winter and my arrival for the move here was in late October. The vineyards are barren-looking fields, strung with horizontal wires and interspersed with vertical “sticks.” If this was the only thing I knew about vineyards, I would think them sad things indeed.

Yet Jesus likened himself to a vine. There must be more to a vine than those pitiful sticks. And there is.

The vine is the backbone of the grape plant, the starting point from which the branches spread and grow. It is the vine that endures through the winter, waiting to send out new growth in spring’s warmth. The vine is also what determines the kind of grapes are to be produced on those branches.

With Jesus as our vine, we will branch out into the kinds of activities He would have us do. Our actions and thoughts (our fruit) will reflect Him. The harvest of our lives will bring Him glory.

If we spring from some other vine, that will show as well. Our lives will be filled with things other than Jesus and the harvest from our husbandry will be much poorer.

When we lived in Mississippi, we saw scuppernong vines growing in wild abandon, a riot of elegant curves and graceful leaves. These oversized white grapes provided tasty fruit for jelly and beautiful foliage for scenery. The trellises on which they were supported created a cool, shady haven. This is the sort of multi-faceted beauty our lives can display, if we spring from the True Vine.

I’m looking forward to seeing California in full bloom, vines and all. Meanwhile, I’ll draw on the Vine for spiritual blooming.

Father, thank you for providing the Vine to anchor our lives in what is pleasing to You. Help us to always remain true to the Vine in all we say and do, that we may be judged as fruitful branches for Your kingdom.

© 2009 Mary Beth Magee

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What are you studying? (Number 22 in a series)

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (KJV)

On my cross-country drive, I played a series of CDs: my favorite gospel albums and a couple of sermons on CD given to me by a coworker. They were a tremendous encouragement when I had to drive through three day of rain with a good portion of my worldly possessions stacked on top of the car. The fourth day I was out of the rain, but had to deal with an interlude of sleet. Through it all, I was accompanied by praise and worship. I was reminded I wasn’t facing the situation alone.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he offered them verbal “pats on the back” and exhorted them to focus on the good and true things, not the evil and false. This strikes me as a very wise counsel for us today, as well.

What are you studying? Where are you focused? Those are the things that will color your thinking and your actions. Are you studying God’s Word or a gossip magazine? Do you listen to music that uplifts you or does it fill you with angry images? Is your time spent in positive pursuits or wasted in pointless activities?

We live in a world where many people will do almost anything in their pursuit of fame or wealth. There are game shows requiring people to win, not by playing more skillfully but by destroying the efforts of other players. Insults are the expected conversational tool. Other programs offer participants the opportunity to take physical risks, or be subjected to humiliating scenarios in hope of gain.

Much of the music today deals with unsavory language and situations. Marital infidelity, abusive treatment, drug use, promiscuous sexual relations – all of these and more are fodder for the music mill.

These sorts of “entertainment” don’t come under the heading of “good” or “true” or “virtue.” If we spend our time immersed in such things, we risk a jaundiced view of our fellow humans. Where is your focus? What are you feeding your heart and mind?

Father, thank you for encouraging words and uplifting music to keep us focused on You. Help us to think on things honoring You and to shun the things which cloud our minds. Keep our minds focused on what is pleasing to You.

© 2009 Mary Beth Magee