Saturday, March 24, 2012
(My Child), if you accept my words and store up my commands with in you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying you heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and it you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, THEN you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
For God gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds the victory in store for the uptight, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of this faithful ones. THEN you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path.
For wisdom will enter you heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.
Wisdom will save you from the ways of (the wicked), from (those) whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their way. Proverbs 2:1-15
From whom will we be protected? The devil, you say? Well yes, we are protected from Satan and his minions by the very presence of the Holy Spirit in us. We cannot be controlled by them, only tempted, because “greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.” God will forever win that one. So who are we being protected from? Evil people: People who have our very worst interests at heart. People who would have us rejoin them on the “other side.” People who lie to us to our faces and smile while doing it.
So what do they look like? We are told that they look like us. Satan appears as a shinning light, a smiling face, a warm hand reaching out, a stranger, a neighbor, a store clerk, a movie star, a preacher, a teacher, a news caster, even a child. We will not necessarily recognize them on sight, though we often think we do. We have a serious tendency to “type cast” evil as looking disrespectful and even dark and ugly. Not so, says the Bible, evil looks beautiful. That is why it is so tempting.
Ah, but all those people who get arrested are so obviously evil looking in their mug shots. How many really bad pictures have we seen of ourselves that cause us to carefully pick just the right one for face book? How many driver’s license or passport pictures would put us in jail if that is what was used to judge us? I don’t know about you, but the last time we had directory pictures taken for church, the first three shots scared me to death! The one you see now is the fourth one, taken after I totally dismissed the other three. :)
I remember one sweet girl who used to be a regular customer where I was working. Many would have deemed her evil because of the way she dressed and presented herself. She was Goth, whatever that is. She had the black hair, the black lipstick and eye shadow, and the black clothes and lots of piercings. She seldom smiled because smiles just aren’t Goth. But she was always polite and patient. And she came very close to smiling several times. Then one day she looked different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something had changed. I told her she was looking especially nice that day… and she broke out in a huge smile and said, “I am on my way to the first day of my first job.” What a change from the sulky young teen to the now employed young lady. My heart soared for her.
No, we can’t tell by just looking. But we can tell by listening and observing through the eyes of wisdom that God uses to protect us when we are so familiar with the Word of God, that evil cannot fool us. We recognize evil when we HEAR IT, or read it, or are exposed to it in action and deed. That is what the wisdom of God does for us when we study and fill our minds with it and let it penetrate our hearts. Just sayin’… LOVE FIRST, ask questions later
This started as a personal exercise in hearing the Word. I hope God has blessed you, too. May we keep our eye out for true evil and resist it, but may we also love unconditionally, without jumping to conclusions about what we see.
Friday, March 23, 2012
As my studies in Matthew, James and Hebrews slam together on the subject of behavior, I tremble some over the times I totally lack such behavior and go off in my old ways. Matthew 18 speaks to the results of not loving our brother or sister as the Lord has asked us to do. James reminds us how to go about living out that love for each other, while Hebrews demonstrates the power of simple faith to guide us in doing what God wants done. And, actually, in the sense of cohesiveness that is God’s Word, they all say he same thing: Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.
They also all stress the power and need for God’s Word in our hearts in order to accomplish anything for Him and in His name. And that brings me to this Quote:
For the soul of a person to be inflamed with passion for the living God, that person's mind must first be informed about the character and will of God. There can be nothing in the heart that is not first in the mind. Though it is possible to have theology on the head without its piercing the soul, it cannot pierce the soul without first being grasped by the mind. - R.C. Sproul
This really challenges me for many reasons, not the least of which is that during my first 20 years of “service to God” I was a doer who had not really listened. I went to Bible College, I studied books, I participated in all the services, sang in the choir, taught Sunday school and other children’s and Youth opportunities and even applied to a Missions Board to serve in home missions. But I did not let any of it penetrate my heart. Disaster followed.
And, then there is knowing what God has to say about what is actually IN our heart: All sorts of evil! Has anyone ever had to teach a child to sin? To desire and demand things? To want the top spot with Mom and Dad in rivalry with their siblings? To be selfish? Consider the apostles: They finally asked the big question in Matt 18. “Who will be first and sit at your right hand?” Where did that come from? From their hearts.
So it isn’t that there is nothing in our hearts. It is that there is nothing good in our hearts. It is that we need to set about deliberately filling our mind with good and then letting that good penetrate and settle into our heart, replacing the habitual thoughts and actions of a sinful heart.
Let’s face it: To be doers of the Word we have to actually know what the Word says and then we have to be watchful of everything we do, remembering that the Word is going to be there with and in us when we do it. Meditate day and night – Psalm 119 We must not cloister ourselves and become useless, but we must know the Word and keep Him in mind with every choice we make. That’s what this says to me. Keep the Word in your heart not just in your mind. Seek Wisdom in understanding it and obeying it. Use it regularly as a tool for making decisions. Doing is what helps learning to penetrate our hearts. As rough as James seems to sound, I think that is really his main point.
I know that one of the steel beams of learning is doing, whether it’s math and science or Bible lessons. Imagine if education was just one long lecture that numbed our minds and never penetrated our sense of self, our hearts. We would be absolutely nonfunctional. We must practice what we learn and we must let it effect the way we live and serve. Then we and others will know that God is real in us.
May we yearn to be functional as children and servants of God, letting Him guide us everyday in everyway, so that we can grow in wisdom and faith.
Monday, March 19, 2012
This morning I am trying to sort out some very convicting thoughts. Recently it has been impressed on me that there are people out there that we might assume do not have a place in the family of God simply because they are not doing what we would be doing if we were (are) serving God. This distinction can come up as close as criticizing others in our church who are not reaching out in the same way we are (teaching children, leading youth, feeding the hungry, or leaving for a foreign land), to someone as far flung from our lives as rock star Bono of U2 living his life in a world we would shudder to be involved in.
I was stunned to find that Bono has a rock solid faith in the truth of Christ as we know it and he backs it up without apology in a very Apologetics way. Contrary to how it sounds, Apologetics is not a way to apologize for believing, it is a way to state the facts about what is to be believed and Bono does that very well in any interview he gives.
This weekend’s great surprise was this quote from a different source: Alice Cooper. Yes, that evil, sinful guy that we all find repulsive. This is what he says: “Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.” Amazing! When, how, where… something to look into, here.
But let’s go back closer to home. I truly feel called to minister to women. I have a heart for women that won’t stop beating. As God grows me I find myself seeking out women who seem to be lonely and/or hurting in some way and I can’t seem to stop myself from offering friendship. I also seek out women who can balance my life and keep me accountable, but lonely women are on the top of my list. Yet some who do not know me well, express regrets that I am not teaching young children. I love children. And I love to spend time with them in situations where I am not the only one present. But my heart seeks out women who are hurting in some way. And I save my energy for reaching out to them, maybe helping them and then letting them go when they are ready to move on. Believe it or not that takes a lot of energy. Now, if I could just always be a blessing instead of a stumbling block; that would be a true miracle.
As we look at others and their service to God we can be extremely critical. If it doesn’t fit our agenda, it couldn’t be right. I want to cry every time I hear someone make a remark that some other servant of God could not possibly be a real Christian because they go to the wrong church. It breaks my heart that we can be so shallow as to think that Jesus cannot bring His children home to Him if they are not in the right church. God can reach His children ANYWHERE that they happen to be. And He can use them so long as they surrender their hearts and go where He leads them to go. As I often say, ‘there are Christians in ‘that’ church, too.’ God knows who is and who is not and He controls who comes to Him and who does not.
I think we can be forgiven for thinking that Alice Cooper never had a God thought in his life, but we are straining the boundaries when we think that God could not possibility put thoughts in Alice Cooper’s head that would bring him home to his Savior. Shame on us for having such little faith in God’s amazing outreach.
May we give God credit where credit is due and stop assuming that we are the only true Christians in the world. Let us step back in love and make room for difference without apologizing for what we believe or how we live our own lives for Him. May we love without but’s, and share without hesitation, strengthening our own faith, while building the faith of others. And may we leave the selection of souls to God, and God alone. Amen
Saturday, March 17, 2012
This morning my thoughts were so awe inspiring that I thought my coffee cup might just explode so I decided to do my thinking here, lest I get coffee all over myself and my Bible.
I was reviewing chapters 11 and 12 in Hebrews in preparation for the sermon tomorrow when I realized that in Hebrews is one of the most moving summaries of God the Father’s working that I have read. The writer tells it this way:
And so, from this one man (Abraham), and he as good as dead, came descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people (many of whom he will list) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. They admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth… looking for a country of their own…. They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. THEREFORE, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city (a future) for them. Heb 11:12-16
My own heart swells when I think of how simple it really is to trust, in faith, that all that God has promised will come to pass. But the book of James (which I am also studying right now) reminds us how complicated we can make faith. And how damaging it can be to us and others when we struggle against Him rather than surrender to Him in faith in all circumstances.
Do you wonder how it could be said of the Children of Israel that they lived for the future God had promised them, when we know the stories of how often they turned their backs on Him and shunned His ways? I think it was because not everything done by the nation was done by ALL the people. I think it was because there was ALWAYS a remnant of true believers who were not swayed by the crowds: There were always those who kept the faith and practiced it daily. Not even when it amounted to only one family (Noah’s.) God did not let go of His people and His promises. He was, and is, always true to Himself and therefore always true to the promises He gives us.
James pleads with us (all who believe in Him) to practice our faith: Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only. In good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in richness and in poverty… keep and practice the faith. God will test us. And God will work to perfect our faith though trials and tribulations. And His goal is not just to grow us, but to use us to show others what He is about… Our job is to glorify Him. Our job is to let Him grow our faith, what ever it takes, knowing that in the end we will be heirs with Christ and all that that refers to.
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus tells us that with even the minutest grain of faith (as small as a mustard seed,) we can move a mountain. But He never suggests that that is all the faith we need to live a life for Him. We sometimes tease about how clueless the Apostles were even after so much time spent walking beside Him, but “there we are...” clueless about trusting Him for everything we do or want or need. Finding fault with the way He thinks and plans. Holding back when asked to do even simple things like smile at strangers or actually say “hello” to them, or give what little we have to someone else, or share our time with lonely people.
Then the big ones hit: Sudden poverty, sudden pain, sudden change of course, sudden “No’s“ to what we planned, sudden health issues, sudden death, loss and destruction. Then, suddenly, our faith wavers and we open ourselves to doubt and worry. James admonishes us to keep the faith even while we tremble in pain and turmoil. He reminds us that God is in control and everything is still going the right way according to His plan. God is tempering us like steel, making us purer and purer in our faith as the days go by. The correct ending is still there and will still be accomplished. We WILL see Christ as He is and we WILL BE LIKE HIM and we will be WITH Him for all eternity. PRAISE THE LORD! What else is there to say? He has our future planned and it will come to be!
May we be caught looking to the promise while working out our faith right here on earth.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
What do we believe? Why do we believe it? Do we know the answer to either of these Q’s?
There are many ways to approach finding out what we really believe. The major one is, of course, reading and rereading the scriptures. The more familiar we become with the total package, the more comfortable we will become with the Truth it reveals to us and the easier it is to be patient with those who would like to argue with us and change our minds. It gives us assurance enough not to have to feel offended and argue back.
There are also Bible studies we can do. Like sermons, they vary from studying a particular book of the Bible to studying a particular doctrine or a particular application of doctrine in our lives. There are light, milk-like studies and there are deep, meaty studies. There are also in depth studies of just one idea or thought, like the study we did last year of Psalm 23 that sought to give us a deeper view of the Shepherd at work.
But there is also a way to study that I call “word play.” The scholars have a very different name for it, but I was influenced by a testimony which ended with, “I am so glad that there are several different translations these days so our lives can be richer by seeing the same thought expressed in different ways.” At first I was put off. “Why do we need so many translations? One had always been enough for me. I just don’t get it.”
Well, first off, I had not settled for just one as I had been using the New American Standard Version in my last “life” before I ran off. And, second, I had only two newer translations to read at the time because my old Bibles were still packed away and the ones I had were given to me as “Welcome back” gifts.
Now, I have become very comfortable doing “word play” between these several translations and most recently I have become excited to actually study some of those words more deeply.
As one of our studies looks at the book of James, I realized that the phrase “double minded” as used there can almost be called the theme of James in my view. So I “googled” it. What fun that was. Sure enough, the term is used in harmony but the possibilities are amazing. The possibility that stood out to me and will be the background for me in the rest of the study was “not able to commit.” Now that gets down to the nitty-gritty for me. One minute I give Him what is on my mind and a few minutes later, I take it right back again. One minute I am surrendering myself or something I long for and the next I am plotting how to get it, or get it done.
Then in my study of Matthew, I have been reminded how adamant Jesus was as he compared “on this hand” to “on the other hand” as He expounds on the new rules of life that He is bringing in the New Covenant. In the KJV He is said to say, “Verily, verily I say.” In the NIV He “I tell you the truth.” In the NLT, the phrase is, “I tell you this.” But the one that caught my heart is in the NKJV: Assuredly, I say to you…. OR, as I think of it, “I ASSURE you that these things are true and trustworthy.” I don’t know about you, but I find that extremely comforting and reassuring. Like a rescuer or parent comforting a child with the phrase, “Everything will be alright.” Only, with Christ’s assurance, the statement is not arguable. Everything really will be alright.
So, now I understand why having many translations if profitable for us: We can play “word play” with them and discover riches as “lay” people that have long been reserved for the scholarly to interpret for us. Add to that a study Bible online study tools (for those who do not have all those clever study tools on a shelf at home) and “google” and we can fly!
But, just as a reminder, Google will give you good and bad information, so you must discern how trustworthy it is by filtering things through what you already know you believe and who you believe. And Wikipedia, which is a source that Google will give you nearly every time, is open to interpretive change at all times, and personal opinions run rampant in the explanations, So be careful to know not to believe everything you read online. One source I came up with looking into “double minded” was a paper written by someone who has a huge basic different in their overall beliefs, but who’s paper was otherwise excellent on the subject of double mindedness. This is another place where we need to be comfortable in knowing what we believe overall.
May we all get excited for learning more and more and growing stronger and stronger in our faith. Here’s to finding gold in the “black sand” of God’s Word!
Friday, March 9, 2012
This morning I had my first meeting with the orthopedic therapist who will be helping me rebuild my left shoulder after years of abuse which had caused, so far, a small tear in my rotator cuff. It was such a great session that I think I love her! Unlike the doctor, she wanted to hear the whole story and asked excellent questions. Then as she explained what she had in mind for me I could see that we were absolutely of one mind. Unlike the doctors, she knows that what I want to do is reclaim my body and learn how to build it without hurting it as I get crispier and crispier in my old age. :) We are of one mind about this thing that needs to be done.
For me, it never fails to excite me when I find myself meeting a new person whose thoughts and actions are in sync with mine, or who is someone I can respect and follow, and learn from. Ah, shucks, I just love meeting new people, period. But there is something extra special about people who love the Lord, love to talk about the Lord, and love to spend time thinking about the Lord; all the while loving other people just because He does. That makes any day super special.
My sense of buoyancy today is also supported by the fact that it is a beautiful sunshiny day. And, I caught my first whiff of spring as I approached the therapy office; the wonderful smell of fresh bark dust. They had a lot of it in the flower beds in the parking lot. I had walked over and then I walked home again and it was great just to be out in the sun. This is a GOOD DAY for name dropping: This is the day that the Lord has made… easy to say today. And yet, who will we say it to?
And what about tomorrow? It is supposed to rain. Will I wake up grouchy? Will I even tell myself that the Lord is to be thanked for the day, let alone anyone else? And what if I wake up at 3:44 and do not get back to sleep again until sometime after 5:44? (I do that often.) Will I be thankful and joyful for that?
Some of us are on facebook and we find it easy to slip a note to our friends about how our day is going. What kind of inference can they take from what we say? Do we drop God’s great name as we share? I am assuming here that we all have at least a few friends and family on our lists who are not Christians, and some who are, but never really talk about it. Perhaps we can keep that in mind and post comments about the Lord—drop His name—as we share our thoughts there. One nice thing there is that if we turn red even thinking about that, at least no one will see our red faces.
I don’t have a lot of wisdom or “breast beating” to do on this subject. I didn’t even tell my therapist what a great day it really was. I think I get lock-jaw pretty easily.
But, at least, I want to share with you that God is awesome! I worried myself silly that this therapy thing would be a waste of time, but He knew all along that it would not. I have been given a chance to take back my body and continue to use it for whatever time I have left. I am excited. Even as I sit here I am doing the first exercise she gave me: tightening down my “wing.” I am dropping my shoulder and “pinching” my “wing” down into my back, over and over. Now I know why my shoulder hurts so bad when I spend time writing. And now I know what to do to change that cycle. Thank you Lord for all that you do for us, large and small. May we all start paying better attention, and telling more of our story everyday, to someone.
And lest you think crazy saintly things here, my shoulder is screaming at me and I am not afraid to mention it! :) Off to take some Naproxom!
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
We had an interesting discussion in Bible Study this week as we began looking into the book of James. Several questions were asked about the first verse, since it introduces the book and the writer, James. As we sought to see who James was, we began to see that James could easily have been a name dropper in that he could have certainly bragged about himself since he was a physical half-brother of Christ.. He didn’t mention that. He also could have mentioned that he was serving as the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He didn’t do that either.
James was not a believer before the Resurrection Perhaps he even thought of Jesus as a too strict, even bossy big brother who was odd, or weird, maybe even a nerd or geek. He and his brothers and sisters grew up with him in their home. How many brothers and sisters actually look with great respect on their siblings as children and teens, let alone worship one.
It could be said that maybe Jesus was not a name dropper either. He seemed to keep the secret of who he was as he was growing up. Though, on occasion he referred to his Father, he didn’t seem to push the point, even to Mary.
We do know that, when they came looking for Christ as he was teaching, he made a very clear statement that his family now consisted of those who believed in him and those who would in the future. Maybe James remembered that day. Maybe James remembered not believing; maybe enough to be humbled by the fact that he was given the chance to believe and the chance to serve…
Because what he did say was that he was “a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Now that’s name dropping! HUMBLE name dropping.
So what kind of name dropping do we do? For me, I can’t remember very many names of famous people, so I fail a lot at name dropping. Several in my family are “star” name droppers: They know the names of nearly every star that ever made a movie and they know the names of the movies they starred in. Me, I’m always referring to “ you know, what’s her name…”
But there is one name I have dropped a lot in the past few years. She is not famous, but she is well known and well liked in my church and when I first came there everyone wanted to know how I came to be in that church. I humbly said, “My cousin Kathy brought me here.” That always got a good response so I was encouraged to continue dropping that name. I still continue doing that when she has created a scrumptious, delightful feast for a Women’s Ministry event and I think some of my new friends should know about that special relationship we have!
But Kathy isn’t just important to me because she is a gourmet cook: She is also the person who led me to the place where I needed to be so that God could finally get my attention and begin to turn my sinful choices around and begin living for Him again. And I will tell anyone who will listen about that, too.
But, of course, the name we all need to be dropping in the course of simple conversation is that same one that James used in his salutation: God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
How often do we drop His name into the conversation when we are among strangers, in a restaurant, on a bus, or in a store. Who do we praise for sights like a rainbow, or a bird sitting on a limb and singing, or a squirrel rushing here and there; the moon and stars, snow, waterfalls, anything beautiful that we see in His creation. Would we ever speak His name to someone who loves “mother nature” or Santa” or the “Easter Bunny?” How often do we tell the people we care about that God loves them even more than we do or can?
I’m thinking I need to become a better name dropper. God gave us His name so that we could drop IT. How well are we doing? How much better would we like to be? May we all have our hearts so full of His Name that it falls right out of our mouths when we open them. Wouldn’t that be thrilling? Wouldn’t that be just the thing to make our day and some else’s, too?