Thursday, August 28, 2014

Get Comfortable

            In our country, we are told over and over again things like:
            “Follow your heart.”
            “Make your own way.”
            “Never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
            “You can be anything you want or do anything you want.”
            “Apply yourself and all your dreams will come true.”
            (How else could we have so many reality shows where people want to be singers?)

            We are told that anything is possible.  We can make it happen by dreaming big and reaching high and wanting it badly enough.  In fact, look at all the commercials and advertisements that tell us that “We deserve it.”  It doesn’t matter what it is – a luxury car, a vacation, a break, a new phone . . . “We deserve it.”  And it doesn’t matter how little effort or hard work we put in . . . “We deserve it.” 
            But while these statements can be encouraging and can get young people to dream big and try hard and aim high (and become greedy), I think they can be misleading and give false hope.  For many of us, no matter how high we aim, we can’t seem to reach the moon.  Our great efforts fizzle and we end up crashing back down to earth, landing in the mud. 
            What about all those wonderful promises that we can get whatever we want and that “we deserve it”?      

Prayer, Faith, and God's Will

(Summary of “Understanding God’s Will,” Question 9, Q9a-Q9i)

            “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’” (Mark 11:22-24)      

            I have to be honest.  I struggle with this verse more than any other.  I really do.  I mean, it sounds pretty straightforward to me: believe that you’ll get what you ask for and you’ll get it.  Name it and claim it!  Sounds great! 
            But there’s a problem.
            It doesn’t always happen.  There are things that we pray for and that we are confident are in line with God’s Will, and yet they don’t happen.  The mountains didn’t move. 

            How come some prayers don’t seem to work, even when you believe that it’s God’s Will?  And how long do you keep praying for something (especially when it’s a painful issue) when God seems to not be listening or answering?   

"Understanding God's Will" synopsis

            “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:1-2)
            We all want to know what God’s Will is, don’t we?  But do we really know what we are asking?  Are we willing to put in the required effort to know it?
            Usually, when we want to know God’s Will, we want to know what our next step is or what plans God has in store for our future.  We think of “His Will” as “His plans for our life.” 
            But is that how the Bible defines “God’s Will”?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Blessed are . . .

            “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . those who mourn . . . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . the merciful . . . the pure in heart . . . the peacemakers . . . those who are persecuted.”  (Matthew 5:3-10)

            These are those whom Jesus calls blessed.  But who do we call blessed?

Jesus wept!

“Jesus wept.”  (John 11:35)

            What a tiny sentence, but so meaningful.  Have you ever really thought about what this verse means for us?  Because once you do, it really changes the way you see God and your relationship with Him.

Meeting Your Needs

            “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19, KJV)

            We oftentimes use this verse to convince ourselves that God will give us what we “need.”  We “need” more money, a better job, more appreciation, more success, a better spouse, to seek revenge or dish out justice, a bigger home, a fancier phone, a better entertainment center, physical healing, etc. 
            And then, if we don’t get what we “need”,  our spirit gets crushed and our faith gets shaken up. 
            But does God always provide what we “need”?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Weak Jesus

            “When Jesus said this, one of the officials standing nearby struck him in the face. . . . Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. . . . And they struck him in the face.”  (John 18:22, 19:1-3)

            Jesus, our Lord and Savior, didn’t do what we would expect a Lord and Savior to do.  It’s not like in the movies.  When the soldiers were coming at Him, He didn’t raise a hand and blow them back with some sort of force, knocking them down unconscious.  He didn’t use fancy martial arts moves to take down a whole room of soldiers, leaving only Himself standing in the middle while everyone else groaned in pain on the floor. 
            No.  Jesus - our Lord and Savior, God in the flesh, Creator and Sustainer of all – took a beating.  He let Himself be mocked and beaten and spit on and dragged away and crucified.  And He didn’t fight back.  The strongest person in that room looked the weakest.  The chicken at the bottom of the pecking order. 

The Gifts or The Giver?

            “When Simon Peter saw this [that they caught a large number of fish when Jesus told them to lower their nets, even though they had caught nothing the whole day], he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of the fish they had taken,”  (Luke 5:8-9) 

            Does God’s goodness to us, His wonderful blessings, astonish us anymore?  Or do we expect them and take them for granted?  Food, shelter, a good friendship, health, an adequate job, children?  Do we really notice them and live with a thankful heart for all the ways He’s blessed us?  Or do we wolf down the blessings and then look for the next one, barely taking the time to praise Him for His goodness and appreciate the things He has already done for us?
            Do God’s blessings make us look at Him more closely, make us recognize Him for the good, generous Father that He is?  Do they make us realize how inadequate we are on our own, how dependent we are on Him, and how undeserving we are of His blessings?  How far we fall from His righteous standards?  Or do we focus more on playing with our newest toy and on how it makes us feel happy and warm and cozy?  Always keeping our eyes open for the next thrill?
            Our answers to these will tell us if we are more focused on the gifts or the Giver!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A "Mary" Kind of Faith

            “On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’
            ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied.  ‘My time has not yet come.’
            His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”  (Mark 2:1-5)

            This, to me, is an excellent example of coming to God with a need, in faith.
            But it is so different from how I think we normally approach God.  We don’t just make a request; we tell God exactly how we think He should answer.  We tell Him our plans and dreams and wants and “needs,” and we hope that He blesses them.  We expect Him to agree with us and bless us.  And we are discouraged and confused when He doesn’t.

An Opportune Time

             “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him [Jesus] until an opportune time.”  (Luke 4:13)   

            Jesus had just gone through that time of testing in the desert.  He successfully beat Satan with Scripture and by resisting temptation.  He was hungry and probably physically weakened.  And I am sure that He would have loved a long rest from Satan’s attacks.  Didn’t He earn it, after all?  A nice, long rest?

            But Satan doesn’t play fair.  He doesn’t run off with his tail between his legs and say, “Okay, I give up.  You win.  I’ll leave You alone now.  You are too strong for me.”  He simply slinks off to the side, into the shadows, and begins watching for an opportune time.

            Until an opportune time. 

Sleeping on my Sword

            “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
            Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’
            Then the devil took him to the holy city . . . ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down.  For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up . . .’’
            Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’’
            Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’
            Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
            Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”  (Matthew 4:1-11)

            Wow!  There is so much going on here, so many great spiritual lessons.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

            “And throw the worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 25:30)
            “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 13:49-50)

            I used to wonder about the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Where does this happen and who gets thrown there?  It sounds like an awful place to be, and I always assumed that it happened in hell.  But what I couldn’t figure out is why the “servant who hid the talent” in Matthew 25 is thrown there, too.  It makes it sound as if a believer (a lazy one) ends up in a place with weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But how can that be if “weeping and gnashing” happens in hell, as seen in Matthew 13?  How can a believer end up in hell? 

Biblical View of Prayer!

            John 15:7:  “. . . ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
            Mark 11:22-24:  “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’“   

            One of the most damaging things to a young or weak believer’s faith is not having an important prayer answered the way they expected.  When a desperate prayer is not answered the way we want, it can destroy our faith in God.  All of a sudden, we question our faith, our God, how He views us, how we view ourselves, etc.  We feel like our faith was weak, like God didn’t care, and like He let us down.  And many people end up retreating from God in confusion and bitterness. 

A Modern Day Pharisee

            “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:7
            “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

            There’s an older couple in our area.  They are a nice enough couple, but the wife is the kind of person who likes to comment on and be in everyone else's business.  And her favorite past-time is noticing every time someone else’s lawn gets too high.  That’s pretty much what they do all summer . . . mow their lawn every three days and watch everyone else’s grass grow.  Lawn height is one of their biggest concerns. 

God Would Never Do That! Or Would He?

            God would never send a famine or economic distress to get our attention.
            God would never send disease to open our eyes to our bad choices and to call us to repentance.
            God would never use wars or violence to cause us to cry out to Him.
            God would never use a tornado, earthquake, or tsunami to draw our hearts back to Him.
            God is not like that.  He is a soft, squishy, feeble, all-loving, ever-forgiving God who would never dream of punishing or disciplining or causing any kind of pain for us.  He’s all about catering to our requests and pouring out His goodness on us and allowing us to live life on our own terms, because we are the center of the universe.  We are the lords of our own lives.  Aren’t we?  Isn’t He?
            Surely, in this day and age of rampant sexual diseases, violent wars, economic recession, famines, natural disasters, devastating consequences of our choices, etc., none of this has been allowed by God in order to open our eyes to our need for Him.  God would never do that!
            Or would He? 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mocking Pigs

            “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who were going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God! 
            In the same way the chief priest, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!  He’s the King of Israel!  Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him. . . .’”  (Matthew 27:39-42)

            Jesus was always misunderstood by people.  Mocked and discredited.

Do You Grieve?

             “. . . Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen . . . and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
            As [Ezekiel] listened, he said to the [other men], “Follow him throughout the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. . . . but do not touch anyone who has the mark. . . .”  (Ezekiel 9:3-6) 
            Do you grieve over the condition of our country?  Over the ways people are trying to erase all signs of God, to make Him illegal, to change morality into fifty shades of gray instead of biblical black-and-white?  Do you grieve over the lost souls, the condition of godless schools, the broken families, broken vows, broken homes and broken hearts?  (Over the condition of your own heart?)  Are you okay with the changes?  Or indifferent to the immorality and indifference all around us?  Do you dabble in it, just a little bit?  Enjoying a tiny taste of sin here and there?  Do you partake in the degrading, immoral television shows and movies and music and lifestyles?  Because it won’t affect you, of course . . . would it?  Do you grieve?

Abraham: Right Where God Wants You

            When I was going through a difficult time waiting for God to bring us a house, Genesis 13 brought me a lot of comfort.  I don’t remember how I ran across it at the time that I needed it.  Maybe it was just the next passage in my regular reading or maybe God led me to it?  I don’t remember.  But we were waiting for years for God to get us out of the rental we were in and to being us the place that He wanted us to be in.  (All of this is in The Sweetly Broken Journey on the other blog.) 
            And as I waited for Him to show us the next step – to bring us the right place - I was so afraid that I’d miss the sign.  I doubted my ability to know when God was showing me the next step.  I desperately wanted to wait for His guidance, but I totally expected to fail to recognize it.  I was a mess.  And I was pleading with God to help me hear Him, to help me know when He said “Go” or “Stop.” 

Abraham: It's All About the Journey

            I love Genesis 12.  Notice in the first verse that God says “Leave your country . . . and go to the land I will show you.”  He basically tells Abram to step out in blind faith.  First he is to leave his home and then, eventually, God will show him the land he is to go to.  But for me, so often in my life, I want to see the map ahead of time, the exact route I am supposed to take and the place I’ll end up, the rewards that I’ll get for the effort, before I decide if I want to go or not.  But that’s not how God works.
            God’s way is to call us to go before we have any idea where we are going, to give us trials before we have any idea what He wants us to learn through them.  And we learn as we go, as we rely on Him and draw closer to Him during the journey.  He does not tell us His plans ahead of time.  But our faith deepens and grows as we walk the twist and turns, the hills and valleys, the dead-ends and turn-arounds with Him.  We may not know where He is taking us, but He does.  Our job is not to know ahead of time, it’s just to walk with Him.  And eventually, we’ll find ourselves in the place that He wants us to be.  If we are obedient and listen to Him.

Noah: God Will Remember!

            Look at the first four words of Genesis 8: “But God remembered Noah . . .”  The previous verse says, “The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.”  Five months of sitting in the ark while the waters killed off everything around them.  Five months of being locked into a floating box, waiting for an indication of when the door would open.  Five months of waiting for God to move.  And then . . . God remembers them. 
            Do you ever feel forgotten by God?  I know I do.  I have been in my own floating box before, trapped and feeling like I was suffocating because God wasn’t opening a door.  I went through years of feeling this way.  Feeling like I was just waiting for God to open a door, point the way, or show me any indication that He was still there and that He cared about me.  Did He even remember that I was waiting for Him, pleading with Him?
            But if there is one thing I have learned from being trapped in my own floating box, it’s this: God will remember you! 

Noah: Walking With God

            Genesis 6:8 is so humbling and convicting to me:  “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  

            The whole earth was evil, so evil that God was pained in His heart and was going to wipe everything out, animals included.  It all broke His heart.  [It is important for those who want to criticize God for destroying an entire generation to realize that some scholars believe that this is a time when half-human/half-demon giants roamed the earth, the Nephilim.  Gen 6:1-4 talks about how the sons of God – possibly fallen angels – went and had children with the daughters of men, the human women.  If this is the case, then this generation was not like the normal everyday people we know nowadays.  This idea would also explain the angels who are held in chains awaiting the Day of Judgment in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6.] 
            But what I want to look at today is that in all this evil, one man stood out.  God looked down through the myriad of evil life and noticed one righteous man. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Adam and Eve 6: Obedience

            I never really thought about this before, but since Eve hadn’t yet gained the knowledge of good and evil, she probably had no reason to doubt the serpent.  She couldn’t yet understand that he was being deceptive and had evil intentions.  She didn’t yet know what evil was, and that it was behind the snake’s advice. 
            We know, though.  So when we read the story, it’s obvious to us that he has evil intentions to harm her and their relationship with God, to ruin God’s greatest creation and to grieve His heart.  It’s like watching a scary movie where the viewer is yelling, “No, don’t go in that room!  He’s waiting there with a knife.”  And we snicker at the foolishness of the person for going in there and getting themselves killed. 

Adam and Eve 5: Naked

            After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they discovered they were naked, and they were ashamed.  Naked compared to what?  Everything around them was naked at the time.  They never knew what it was like to be clothed.  It’s not like their eyes were opened and they saw that they were standing naked in a room full of people who were fully dressed.  Why should there be shame about being naked when you have no other condition to compare it to? 
            I find it fascinating that even though they had no reason for thinking naked was “bad,” shame and embarrassment were the first things they felt.  And isn’t this what we all struggle with now?  Even if we don’t have any real tangible reason for feeling bad about ourselves, deep down we think “I am just an embarrassment.  I am something to be covered up because the true me is shameful.” 

Adam and Eve 4: Temptation

            Like the Forbidden Tree in the Garden of Eden, temptation will always be right there, in the middle of the garden.  Not off in some hidden corner, but right in the middle.  And I think that God has designed it so, to give us a choice.  In order to be able to choose Him and to choose to obey, there has to be the possibility of disobeying.  God doesn’t want robots that were designed to obey and love Him; He wants people who will freely choose Him. 

Adam and Eve 3: Half-truths

            Satan is tricky and doesn’t necessarily outright lie to us to get us to disobey.  Oftentimes, he gets us with half-truths, like how he got to Eve.  “You will not surely die,” he says.  But what he doesn’t tell them is that they will start the process of dying.  “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” he says.  But what he doesn’t say is that you’ll wish you never did.  He doesn’t tell them what a horrible thing it is to know (and unleash) evil. 

Adam and Eve 2: Blame and Finger-pointing

Adam and Eve Lesson 2:  Blame and Finger-Pointing
            Gen 3 talks about the fall of man.  Notice that when Adam and Eve got caught after eating the fruit, they pointed the finger at someone else, trying to shift the blame instead of simply saying, “I sinned and I’m sorry.  Forgive me.” 

Adam and Eve Lesson 1: Un-fulfillment

            Okay, we all know that Genesis 1 says that God created man and woman on the sixth day.  But Gen 2, which goes into greater depth about the creation of man and woman, caught my attention recently.  Obviously, God created man first.  And He put man to work in the garden, naming the animals, before He made woman.  (If this was all on the sixth day, God must have made Adam pretty early in the morning so that he had time to name all the animals before God made woman.) 
            Anyway, God said it’s not good for man to be alone.  But this thought hit me for the first time, This wasn’t a surprise to God.  He knew from the beginning that Adam wouldn’t be complete without Eve.  And yet, He let Adam be alone for the day.  He let him find no other creature suitable for him before He introduced Eve. 
            So I have to conclude that God wanted Adam to know loneliness, to know what it felt like to be “incomplete.”  Because by doing this, Adam could know the greater joy that comes when you finally get something you longed for, even if you didn’t really know what you were longing for.  If God had made Eve at the same time as Adam, Adam would never have felt the difference between loneliness and companionship. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Life-Changing Verse on Grumbling

            How would you define “contempt”?  An outright hatred for or despising of someone?  Being deliberately malicious or looking down on others? 
            What if I told you that contempt toward God is not so much “despising Him” as it is “grumbling about our lives and refusing to trust Him despite the care He’s shown us in the past”?

A Serious Challenge from Ezekiel

            Here’s an eye-opening, humbling passage to consider:  In Ezekiel 22, the Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel about all about the disgraceful, ungodly things that Jerusalem is guilty of doing.  And then in verses 30-31, we read this:
            “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
            The people’s sin earned them serious consequences and punishment.  But God wanted to relent.  He wanted to be talked out of destroying them.  And He would have . . . if only.  If only He could have found at least one godly person who would “stand in the gap” for the people.  One godly person who lived rightly before Him and who sought to intercede by prayer for the people of the land.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Most Terrifying Book of the Bible: Jeremiah

            Okay, there are other terrifying parts of the Bible, particularly when hell is talked about - being separated from God forever, eternal fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But Jeremiah has got to be one of the most terrifying books there is.  Because it blows our Western idea of God’s unending love and patience out of the water. 
            Of course, we all know that God is love and that His love is unending.  And we know that He is incredibly patient, pursuing sinners over lifetimes and history so that He can draw as many people as possible to Him.  But we – especially in America – seem completely unaware of God’s justness.  We are all about His grace and mercy, yet we forget His wrath and discipline. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Don't Be a Saul

            1 Sam 28: 5-7:  “When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.  He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.  Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.’” 

            Have you ever sought God’s guidance or help about something only to feel like He wasn’t listening?  Have you ever struggled with His “absence” and with feeling abandoned by Him?  Been tempted to go out on your own because He just wasn’t answering you fast enough?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Convicting Verse about Faithlessness

            Mark 6:5-6: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” 
            In this passage, Jesus has gone back to His own hometown.  And the people there are basically talking about Him like, “Where did He get this wisdom, even doing miracles?  Isn’t He the carpenter, the son of Mary?” 
            But they are not asking it like, “Wow, what a great accomplishment and amazing power!  How neat that one of our own has done so well.  Now He can really help out our town.”  They are saying it like, “This is Jesus we are talking about here.  We’ve known Him forever.  How can little old Jesus really be anything special?”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is it Sin to NOT Pray?

1 Sam 12:23:  “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”

            This is what Samuel tells the people (who have rejected God by asking for a king) when they admitted their mistake and asked Samuel to pray for God’s mercy on them.  And Samuel basically says that it would be a sin against the Lord for him to not pray for the people.
            Have you ever thought about prayer in that light?  That it may be sin to not pray in certain circumstances, especially if it’s something God put on your heart or involves intercessory prayer for others?
            Here is a sampling of prayer verses from the New Testament.  Things we are instructed to pray about. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saddest Verse: Samson

            “. . . But he did not know that the Lord had left him.”  (Judges 16:20)
            This has got to be one of the saddest verses in the Bible. 
            You see, Samson was special.  His birth was announced by an angel, he was set apart for God from the very beginning, and he was given great strength to “begin the deliverance of Israel.”  (Judges 13:5)  God had hand-picked him for great things.  A leader and deliverer for the people.  And yet, Samson blew it big time.  He lived in such a self-gratifying way that he didn’t even notice when the Lord had left him.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Very Sobering Verse: Elisha

            I’ve been thinking lately about what are some of the most powerful (yet often unnoticed) verses in the whole Bible.  The kind of verses that open your eyes and raise your eyebrows.  That humble, challenge, and convict you.  There are many that I think could make the list.  But in the next several posts, I will share what I think are some of the most sobering, sad, challenging, convicting, etc. verses in the Bible (in no particular order) and other lessons that I have learned from Scripture.

Very Sobering Verse:
            “Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died . . .”  (2 Kings 13:14)