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Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Does Your Belief in Jesus Look Like?



What Does Your Belief in Jesus Look Like?

 

We believe that Jesus Christ was with God the Father from the beginning of eternity and is part of the Trinity. (John 1:1)  That His appearance as Savior had been prophesied for centuries.  (Isaiah 9:6-7) And we believe that He came to save the world from sin. (John 3:16-17)  These are historical and traditional main beliefs of Christ’s Church. 

 

We believe from Scripture that Jesus went about performing miraculous deeds and healing the sick.  If we had been alive then we could have seen Him raise the dead.  And watch as He healed the sick. 

 

We believe that He died for us in the past and that He gives us eternal life in the future. It is comfortable to relegate Jesus to the past and to the future.  We can still keep Him at arms length that way!  And keep our faith in Jesus as a nice intellectual or traditional belief system.  We can stay in control that way and feel good about ourselves!  But Jesus doesn’t want to keep His relationship with us intellectual or distant.  He wants to get up close and personal with us.  He wants us to make room for Him in our hearts right now in the present?  

 

He calls us and keeps on calling us –keeps on knocking at the door of our heart!  Keeps on wanting in!  It is our call whether we let Him in or not!  Scripture says:  “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him or her, and he or she will eat with Me.” (Revelations 3:10)  Jesus desires to come into our lives and be with us - share with us – lead us.  Will we answer the call?  Say “yes” to His invitation?  Let Him in?  Things will never be the same if we do!  

 

Scripture says that Jesus will be here with us now if we open to Him.  He says He will never leave us or forsake us.  We believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.   But do we believe that He is our here and now personal Savior?  Do we know we belong to Him?  Has our belief become an intimate possession?  Do we give Him our doubts and fears?  Our hopes and dreams?  Do we leave our problems with Him?  Do we know that He will ultimately overcome evil in the world? 

 

Do we let Him guide our lives – obey His Word?  Do we take time to pray and to listen for His voice?  He communes with us and dines with us and loves us with all His heart.  Do we enjoy sharing and dining with Him?  Do we love Him back with all our hearts?

 

To believe in Jesus is to commit to following Him –to obey – to wait for His leading.  Some of us only give Him part of our lives.  Part of our love. That isn’t good enough.   He wants it all!  Scripture says we are like sheep and we wander off each in our own direction.  There are so many paths to take in life and many of them lead to harmful and dangerous places.

 

 Scripture says that our Shepherd, - Jesus - wants to lead us (His sheep) off of the bad paths and onto the good paths.  He has good plans for us.  We were created to do good works in Him. (Ephesians 2:10)  If we plan our lives on our own we will stumble off onto paths that lead to nowhere because we don’t know the way.  But Scripture says that Jesus is the Way, (John 14:6) so to believe in Jesus is to let Him be our Way.

 

Wherever Jesus goes, drama goes.  When we read the Bible we find something powerful happening wherever Jesus went.  And often things would get messy.  People were either healed and transformed by Him or they would hate Him and plot to kill Him.  People were blessed and transformed by Him because Jesus is the “Life”.  (John 14:6)  And His abundant life means action and victory.  And Jesus is also called the “Light”.(John 14:6)   And the light is always a threat to those who love the darkness.

 

Our faith in Jesus is very valuable.  We belong to the “kingdom of heaven” when we believe in Christ.  Scripture compares the kingdom of heaven to a pearl of great price.  When a merchant looking for the most beautiful pearl finds it he goes out and sells everything he has so that he can purchase it.  And Scripture also compares the kingdom of heaven which is ours through Christ, to a great treasure hidden in a field.  When a person finds this treasure she sells all she has so that she can buy the field.  (Matthew 13:44-46)

 

We are kingdom people when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord.  And our place in the kingdom is worth more than any other pursuit and requires our greatest love.  We should be ready to forsake any personal goal that hinders us from entering into the kingdom.  Follow Christ in the faith as He calls us to love and forgive one another.  And stay away from any teaching or activity or sin that would compromise or water down our precious faith.  

 

We are coming to the end of the year now. Another year has come and gone.  Scripture says: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare: before they spring into being I announce them to you.”  (Isaiah 42:9)  Let’s ask God to convict us in areas of our lives from this last year that need to change.  And let’s follow our Lord Jesus Christ into the New Year and into the new things that He has for us to do!      

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas outside the Wall

 
Christmas outside the Walls
 
The Christmas season is a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  And the Christmas season is also a time to celebrate family. Scripture says: “Oh how good and pleasant it is when family lives together in harmony.”  (Psalm 133:1) We picture Christmas with family laughing together around the dinner table and opening gifts around the tree. Family members sharing stories and playing games together, singing carols and going to church together. When we think of Christmas we think of family.
 
But then there are people who don’t have family to be a part of on Christmas.  Death has separated these sad ones from a beloved family member. Every year churches open their doors for “blue” Christmas services for grieving widows and widowers who have lost spouses or for bereaving children whose parents have died. 
 
But sometimes arguments or even abandonment can separate people from the warmth and belonging that family should bring at Christmas as well as every day. As the smells of Christmas cooking and the noise of love and laughter drift by from other family groups celebrating Christmas together, these ones without family sit alone at Christmas often feeling rejected and bitter. They say that Christmas is the loneliest time of the year for these ones without family- these ones who spend their Christmases alone - outside the wall.     
 
We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas because Jesus saves us from our sins.  Ephesians 2:13 says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  Scripture says that long ago only the Jewish nation had God’s promises and our Gentile ancestors were far away from God.  Jews and Gentiles could not eat together since Jews were “circumcised” and the Gentiles were “uncircumcised.”  The Jews who were “clean” were prejudiced against the Gentiles who were “unclean.”  And the Gentiles were hostile towards their Jewish neighbors too. (Ephesians 2)  There was a dividing wall that separated them.
 
But Jesus came to tear down the dividing wall!  To break down separation.  To put us back together. Scripture says: “for He himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...  His purpose was to make the two into one in Himself.  Thus making peace and reconciling both the Jew and the Gentile to God through the cross by which He put to death their hostility.  Jesus came to preach peace – to you who were far away from God and peace to those who were near to God… In Him you are all being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”  (Ephesians 2: 14, 15b, 16, 17, 22)
 
We celebrate the good news of Christmas because Jesus came into the world to tear down the wall (of sin) that separates us from God and from one another.  We sing Christmas carols about His wonderful Gift to us – His love and His forgiveness.  We kneel and we pray, we light candles, and give gifts and offerings. The tinsel, the tree, the baby Jesus, the festive dinner, the Christmas music! It is a holy time.
 
But Jesus wants us to be more involved at Christmas than to just enjoy ourselves.  Jesus calls us to follow His example and tear down the walls in our lives that separate us from our loved ones! To share their burdens and be patient with the little annoyances they sometimes cause us.  To follow Jesus and forgive them like He forgives us. To spread His grace and love over all of our dealings.
 
We try to follow Jesus, but it is not easy. There are walls in our lives already sturdily in place that divide. If we look we may see strong walls of resentment we have built around ourselves – constructed for our protection!  And then walls of self-righteousness we set up to keep out those people who don’t measure up to our high standards.  And of course the walls of indifference that so easily pop up in our minds to separate us from all those people who are inferior.  And there are walls of fear that automatically appear at every turn.  So many walls in our lives!  What can we do?
 
We are comfortable with our walls but Jesus is not. He keeps calling. Calling us to open up to sharing His love.  He keeps urging us to tear down any walls of hate in our lives.  To keep the peace as much as we can. He keeps promising that we can do it if we follow where He is leading.  That He will be with us and give us the love to make it happen.
 
You may have tried to tear down the walls in your life and found that you cannot do it on your own.  But Jesus can do it through you!  Because of His birth we can have “new birth” or be “born again”.  The characteristics of the new birth is that we yield ourselves to God so that Christ’s spirit is formed in us and His nature begins to work through us.  Just as Our Lord came into human history 2,000 years ago, so He must come into our lives today.  Have we made room for Him to come into our lives?  Scripture says: “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)  If we make room for Him to be born in us He will give us the power to break down our walls and transform our lives . 
 
    
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child



 

Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child!

 

The prophet Isaiah wrote these words “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  These words were written about 750 years before Jesus was born.  And 750 years later, Matthew believed that the old prophecy of Isaiah was finally being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 

 

Inspired by God, Matthew writes: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”  (Matthew 22-23) 

 

One of Jesus’ names was to be “Immanuel”. The name Immanuel here declares the presence of God with His people. Also the angel told Joseph to name this baby “Jesus” and the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (God) is Salvation.”  Jesus would be the long awaited Messiah.  Obviously the baby Jesus would be different from any other baby ever born. And His conception would be different from any other conception – in that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be God and He would be human.  

 

The gospel of Matthew starts out with the genealogy of Jesus.  This genealogy demonstrates continuity between the Old Testament and Jesus and it also shows Jesus’ royal line in that Jesus was a Son of David.  And it also demonstrated Jesus’ link with Abraham the patriarch or father of the Jewish race in that Jesus was called a Son of Abraham. 

 

We usually read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke since Luke’s story is so beautifully written  - the shepherds and the wise men – the bright star and the angels singing in the heavens – the stable and the baby Jesus sleeping on the hay in the manger –  and Mary and Joseph standing watch over the Christ child.  And our Christmas carols reflect Luke’s miraculous story.

 

But when Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus’ birth, his words aren’t so magical, and they do not easily lend themselves to Christmas carols. Matthew jumps right in talking about the problems Jesus’ birth brings.  First he gives us a glimpse of the problems Mary’s pregnancy causes her with her fiancĂ© Joseph.  Matthew writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to divorce her secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19). 

 

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21) 

 

Biblical scholars tell us that there were no sexual relations during an ancient Jewish betrothal period, but an engaged couple like Mary and Joseph were considered to be “husband” and “wife” and their engagement could only be broken by divorce.  Matthew uses the terms “husband” and “wife” for Joseph and Mary before they were married.

 

Joseph obviously did not believe Mary when she told him that she was pregnant and that she had not had sex with another man. A pregnant virgin – impossible!  It had never happened before – or since – so how could Joseph believe that Mary could be the only woman in the world who became pregnant without having sex?  He wasn’t stupid, was he?  

 

Mary told Joseph about Gabriel, the bright angel that had appeared to her bringing news that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. And she told him about this same angel who had promised that she would give birth to the Son of God, the One who would save His people from their sins!  That yes, she was the only virgin to ever be pregnant with a child, but her Child would be the only Child to save His people from their sins!  A miraculous pregnancy and a miraculous Baby!

 

 But this was all too much for poor Joseph to take in. All he knew was that the woman he loved - the woman he had trusted – the woman he called his “wife” -this woman had betrayed him and was pregnant with someone else’s baby! And soon the whole village would be whispering about it.  It must have been humiliating and painful – not only for Joseph but also for Mary.

 

We are not told how Mary felt in all of this. She had wanted God’s Will in her life.  But submitting to God’s will was already causing her to lose her man. She had counted on her Joseph to be there for her and to believe her when she told him about how the angel had given her this wonderful news.  But instead Joseph had become angry with Mary’s news of the Baby. He didn’t believe one word of her story. He thought she was lying. And he didn’t leave room for God in her story either! So Mary was pregnant and watching the man she loved reject her and walk out of her life.  And while he was walking away he promised that a shameful divorce would soon follow.  At least he was good enough not to have her stoned! 

 

But then God stepped in and took care of the misunderstanding.  God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph that what Mary had told him really was true!  That Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she truly would give birth to a Son who would save His people from their sins!  And they should call His name “Jesus”. 

 

Matthew continues the Christmas story by telling us that Joseph woke up from his dream and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary to be his wife. Joseph and Mary later traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  And wise men or Magi from the East came to Jerusalem asking where they could find the king of the Jews.  They had seen His star and they had come to worship Him. 

 

Matthew now describes a second problem that the birth of Jesus brings!  It seems when Jesus came into the world as a baby two thousand years ago, His birth caused problems for some. And when He comes into our lives and world today, it is the same. His Presence with us can also cause problems from a rejecting world. 

 

Matthew begins by telling of how Herod, the evil king at that time, was troubled by these traveling Magi asking where the new baby king of the Jews could be found. Who was this “new king” they were asking about anyway?  Herod was the only “king” the Jews could have!  How dare they talk of a “new king” being born!  Jealously and rage filled Herod’s heart.  He asked the wise men to return to his palace after they had found this “new king”.  Return and tell him where this baby king was so that he could go and “worship” him also.   (King Herod had no intention of worshipping Jesus!) 

 

The wise men or Magi followed the star to Bethlehem and Scripture says that these men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”  (Matthew 2:10b)  It seems that Jesus’ presence brought exceeding great joy back then and His presence in our lives brings us exceeding joy today!  And when the wise men came before the baby Jesus and His mother Mary, they fell down and worshipped Him. And they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi were probably Gentiles.  Matthew shows that people of all nations acknowledge that Jesus is “king of the Jews” and we Gentiles come to worship Him as Lord like the wise men did.  But God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the wicked Herod and tell him where Jesus was but to travel back to their country another way.

 

King Herod waited for the wise men to return and tell him where he could find this “new king” – the baby Jesus.  But when the wise men never returned to Herod with that information, he flew into a rage.

 

 When the wise men had first asked King Herod where to find this new king, the scribes and religious scholars of the day had come before King Herod and referred to an Old Testament prophecy in Micah as to where the new king would be born.  There are many prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus’ birth, but this one in Micah says that the Messiah or king will come out of the town of Bethlehem.  This scripture reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me, the One to be ruler in Israel.  Whose goings forth are from of old and from everlasting.”  (Micah 5:2) 

 

The scribes and the religious scholars believed from studying Scripture that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They referred to Micah’s prophecy when the wise men asked where He might be found. Yet none of those ancient theologians bothered to accompany the wise men to Bethlehem (a 7 mile journey) to see if, indeed, the Messiah had been born!

 

The little town of Bethlehem is now a point of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians yearly.  But let us learn from those scribes and religious leaders in Jesus’ time who knew all the right answers but did not make that first pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They knew where their Savior was to be born from studying prophecy but they did not love Him enough to go find Him for themselves.

 

 Today neither our orthodoxy, biblical knowledge, nor church attendance guarantees that we will see what God is doing in our midst. We can know all of the correct answers like the religious leaders of old did and yet miss the Savior! Let’s be willing to love Him enough to follow the leading of God and His Word wherever it may lead.   

 

     

 

 

 

        

 

  

 


Friday, December 6, 2013

Your Faith in God is All Important




Your Faith in God is All Important

 

The Bible says: “Without faith it is impossible to please God,…”  (Hebrews 11:6)  It sounds like no matter how intelligent we are or how many good works we have done, we still can not please God unless we have faith in Him.  Martin Luther wrote: “Faith is the angelic messenger between the soul and the Lord Jesus in glory.  Let that angel of faith be withdrawn, and we can neither send up prayer, nor receive the answers.  Faith is the telegraphic wire which links earth and heaven …”   And Scripture also says: “Everything is possible to him who has faith in God.”  (Mark 9:23)  Everywhere in Scripture we read again and again that our faith in God is all important.

 

The Bible says that God has given each one of us a measure of faith.  (Romans 12:3)  Our faith is alive and active and there are steps we can take to nurture the measure of faith that God has given us and to help it grow.  For starters Scripture says: “Faith comes by hearing – hearing the Word of God.” (Romans 10:7)  So we can build up our faith by reading and meditating on God’s Word.

 

 When we have faith in God the promises in the Bible are ours.  The promise in Second Corinthians 12:9 is ours.  “My grace is sufficient for you.”  God’s grace is sufficient for any need we have, whether finances or relationships or health or any other need.  God is ready to help us as we respond to Him with faith.  By faith we can stand on the many wonderful Biblical promises!  

 

We operate by faith in something all of the time.  When we drive our cars we put faith in the brakes to work and when we reach out to a close family member we have faith that they will be there to answer us (but sometimes humans fail us).  Even though God never fails us, having faith in an invisible God is different since we can not physically see Him, the way we see the smile on our relative’s face.  But when we want to know God, He will be there: Scripture says: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8)  And when we read the Bible we can see through the eyes of faith that the God of the Bible comes through for His own, even if sometimes it is after death. 

 

A person isn’t a football player unless he actually plays football.  And a person does not have faith unless he puts it into practice since faith is active.  Scripture says: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-17)  We can “practice” faith by joining a Bible study or going to church or giving to the poor or helping out where we are needed.  We can give our lives to God and trust Him for each new day.      

 

Faith was so important to God that Scripture says that He blessed Abraham and his children (the Jewish people) simply because Abraham had faith in God.  “Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith …” (Romans 4:20)  We humans seem to think that God is pleased with our service and our work.  But more than that, God wants to be trusted and loved. And he wants us to be dependent upon Him – have faith in Him.  And that is what Abraham did, according to Scripture.  He simply trusted God. 

 

Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible.  Faith begins where human power ends.  When we come to the end of ourselves we come to the beginning of God.  God promises to be with us and He asks us to give Him our lives and our problems.  If we do not believe in anything that we can not touch or see or hear then we will have trouble learning to walk in faith.  But life does not consist just of what we can see and hear and touch.  We may not physically see God but we do see His handiwork all around us.  If we open our hearts to God we will see Him.  Scripture says: “A fool says in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1)   

 

We have faith in many things.  Sometimes we may have more faith in ourselves than in God.  We can be convinced that we are in control of our own world.  It’s easy to be proud of our own capacities and forget that God gave us those capacities.  Or despair when we have troubles that are outside of our control.  And we forget that God promises to be with us and nothing is outside of His control

 

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:20)  I have heard that a mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds there is.  So Jesus is telling us that even though our faith may be the size of a tiny mustard seed, with God it is enough to do big things.  Jesus is encouraging us to use the little faith that we have. That when we pray we don’t have to have but a little faith for God to answer – to move our mountains. 

 

What is the mountain in your life?  Loneliness, loss of a job, health issues, a wounded relationship, trouble at home?  Let’s give our mountain to God and use our mustard seed sized faith to trust God to take care of our problem. He may move our mountain right away or He may move the mountain in the future.  But let’s let go and let God take care of it. 

 

Martin Luther wrote that having faith in the God of the Bible gives us confidence and makes us happy, joyful and bold in our relationship with God and with others. The Holy Spirit makes this magic happen through faith.  When we have faith we joyfully want to do good to others (Gal.5:6) And this precious faith bubbles up in our lives and makes us want to serve and love and praise God.  Jesus describes it this way: “He that believes in Me, rivers of living water will flow out from his heart.”  (John 7:38)  Have you seen that joy and confidence that faith brings in the lives of fellow Christians? 

 

The person with faith in God becomes a channel through which God’s blessings flow to other individuals.  Having faith in Christ changes our lives and causes us to do things we would not have done if we did not have faith.  Faith in God is all important, so let’s ask God for more faith!     

 


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Count Your Blessings




 

Count Your Blessings

 

 

It took a week for my Grandfather Richard to die from Meningitis.  The country doctor rode by on his horse every day to check on Richard but there was nothing much that he could do to stop the raging infection.  The year was 1911 and antibiotics had not been discovered then.  Six other people on nearby farms had died from Meningitis that winter and fear was spreading throughout the community that more would catch this contagious disease..

 

My Grandmother Eva was thirty years old with two little children when her beloved husband died and she became a widow.  She wore black dresses and cried a lot those first few months.  Her grief and fear were more than she thought she could bear.  She was fearful for herself and her children.  How could she run the farm all by herself?  How could she feed her children?  There was no welfare system in place at that time and few jobs outside the home for women.  Fear and depression settled in over her like a dark cloud.

 

But shortly after my grandfather’s death my grandmother was in church one Sunday when the congregation sang a favorite hymn, “Count Your Blessings” (published in 1897).  As they were all singing this hymn my grandmother thought to herself that perhaps she should do what the words of the hymn were encouraging folks to do – to count their blessings.  So she promised herself right then and there that she would do that.  That she would thank God for all of her blessings. Even though she had lost her beloved husband and had no money to raise her children, she would trust God and develop the habit of thanking Him for any blessing she might have. 

 

Gratitude is a discipline.  It involves a conscious choice. The prophet Habakkuk chose to praise God in the midst of terrible times.  Let’s listen to what he had to say:  “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines:  Though the labor of the olive may fall, And the fields yield no food:  Though the flock may be cut off from the fold.  And there be no herd in the stalls.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  (Habakkuk 3: 17-18)  My grandmother told me that if Habakkuk could praise God during his dark night of the soul that she could do it too.   

 

So after that, every day my grandmother counted her blessings.  And every day she thanked God for each one that she counted.  She told me that she found more and more blessings every day to thank God for.  And the more she was thankful the more blessings seemed to pop up. New ones every day! 

 

 Her father promised to come over to her farm and help her one day a week with the farm work.  And she rented out part of her house to a single woman and used the rent money to hire another farm worker to do more of the work that her husband had done.  My grandmother told me that her decision to remember her blessings and to thank God for each one turned her life around and gave her the strength to keep on going during a difficult time.

 

The concept of remembering what God has done for us (and is doing) is an important biblical theme.  The command not to forget is given more than four hundred times in the Bible.  We are to remember the wonders of God’s creation. (Deuteronomy 4:32)  And we are to remember that the world belongs to God. (Psalm 50:10)  The Israelites were to remember that God delivered them from captivity in Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 5:15)  And we are to remember the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.  (1 Corinthians 11:25)

 

Remembering keeps us from the sin of ingratitude.  It helps us face the future with confidence – like it helped my grandmother so long ago.  Scripture says:  “I will remember the deeds of the Lord: yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”  (Psalm 77:1) 

 

My grandmother had an old piano and she began singing her praises to God as she played hymns on the piano.  She told me that it helped to sing out her thanks to God for all that He had given her.  She said that when she quietly gave thanks to God sometimes her thoughts were still on herself and her problems to some extent.  But when she sang out her praises she focused on God and His glory and all of her problems faded.  She told me that she felt that she could sing her cares away easier than she could reason them away.

 

My grandmother chose to be thankful when it would have been easy to grumble.  And we can choose to be thankful for the things we have instead of complaining about the things we don’t have.  It is so easy to complain.  I am very good at it so I know. The antidote for grumbling is gratitude.  When the Israelites were in the desert traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land they had so much to be thankful for but instead it seems they spent much of their time grumbling!

 

God had miraculously delivered them from bondage and slavery in Egypt and He had opened up the Red Sea so that they could cross it and not get caught by the Egyptians who were chasing after them.  God fed them manna every day when they were in the desert which was quite a number of years.  (Numbers 11:4-6)  And God miraculously gave them water that sprung up out of a Rock when they were thirsty.  God led them and protected them all the way across the desert on their long journey.     

 

You would think that the Israelites would have thanked God and praised Him for His many gifts and mercies during that difficult time!  But no, Scripture says that the Israelites fussed and grumbled all the way across the desert to the Promised Land. They grumbled about the food that God provided and they fumed and didn’t trust God’s leading and worried that they would never get into the Promised Land. They missed the good old days in Egypt when they had been slaves in chains.  And they grumbled because they were commanded not to worship idols like all their neighbors did!  

 

It seems that God took their grumbling personally, because God angrily asked Moses: “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? …”  (Numbers 14:11a)  Does God also take our grumbling personally after all that He has done for us on our life journey?    

 

There is a story in the Bible of a time when the Jewish people like my grandmother, sang their songs and praises to God while He took care of them.  Scripture tells of a time in antiquity when strong neighboring countries with large armies surrounded the little tribe of Judah and were preparing to attack and kill and destroy!  The Jewish people were in big trouble!  The king of Judah called for every Jewish person to fast and pray and then he called everyone together to stand and sing praises to God as the enemy approached.  And this is what happened.  “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”  (2 Chronicles 20:22)   

 

So as the people of Judah was singing and praising God together, God confused the brutal band of soldiers who were rushing in for the bloody kill screaming battle cries and waving swords and spears.  God played a trick on these violent attackers and messed up their brains.  Instead of slaughtering the men, women and children of Judah that they were going for, these crazed enemies suddenly turned in confusion and began fighting one another.  Not one Jewish soldier had to fight that day.  They all just stood there and sang praises to God and watched in amazement as their violent attackers turned away and savaged one another as they went.

 

Some of us may have a day, like Habakkuk or even like the ancient tribe of Judah.  A day when it seems like everything is coming against us.  It is comforting to know that we have God who loves us and we can turn from our own limitations to a God who has no limitations. And from our own time limits and come to God who works outside of time and doesn’t have to hurry.  There are no deadlines against which He has to work and He will hear our prayers and take care of us in His own way and time.  He has a plan and a purpose for each one of us and He can do things that we never thought of or imagined possible.  He can take care of problems that we considered impossible.

 

We have a God who is everlasting and un-changing.  He is full of grace and we are cleansed and perfected and will be taken to glory through His overflowing grace. .We have so much to be thankful for.  Psalm 100:1-2 reads:  “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Come before His presence with singing.”  If we are not already coming before the Lord often with our thanksgiving, then let’s choose to start doing that now.  Let’s start counting our blessings and thanking Him for each one every day.    

 

 

 

 

 

Some of these ideas were taken from “A Daybook of Grace”– A Year of Devotions – Mark Gilroy and Jessica Inman and Patti Hummell   pp. 320-349. 

 

             

 

    

 


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Written Word of God



 

The Written Word of God

 

I was having lunch with my friend Suzie when she leaned over and told me that she was depressed because she didn’t think that we were worshipping God the “correct” way.  She had joined a discussion group at church and now she doubted her Christian faith!  Surprised and shocked I asked her what exactly had caused her to question her faith. 

 

Suzie replied that she no longer trusted the Bible, that the Bible was outdated and we need new revelations to fit our modern lifestyle.  Anyway, the stories in the Old Testament didn’t really happen but were metaphors or made up myths, she added. But if the myths are real in our minds then they are indeed real for us! – say again?  A seminary professor had told her this, so it must be true!  I guess she was saying that our faith is all in our minds!  

 

Sue saw how upset I was getting but she just kept on talking. “And the God of the Old Testament is judgmental”, she spoke louder, “outmoded”.  We need to update God –maybe create a new god who doesn’t take sin so seriously, she explained waving her hands in the air!    

 

By now my head was spinning but before I could catch my breath she went on fussing about the judgmental God in the story of Noah’s ark.  The story of Noah’s ark tells of a God who caused a flood that ended the lives of all the people in the world at that time, except Noah and his family.   What a terrible story!  Sue ranted.  How could we worship a God who could do such a thing?  We need a God who doesn’t judge, she added! 

 

Suzie face was twisted with pain as she poured out her concerns.  Depression and confusion had taken over Sue’s life where there had once been faith and joy.  My friend no longer believed the Bible was God’s Word and now she had lost the joy of her salvation.  I was angry – angry at this church group that had torn apart her precious faith and angry that such heresies are out there to harm other young believers like Suzie.     

 

Evidently Suzie’s church group has a low view of Scripture.  Many of the books in our Bible painstakingly give us the genealogy and history of the Jewish people and other ancient peoples who followed God.  The Bible’s history accounts tell us in detail how God worked with His people from one generation to another over thousands and thousands of years. Our Christian faith developed over the ages and came to us through God’s preparing and working through Israel and then through the Gentiles also. To throw away this rich heritage and water down these accounts as “myths” or “metaphors” is very wrong I believe.

 

If a small Italian child is taken from his family and later told that his parents and brothers and sisters and all of his relatives were just figments in his imagination or myths – and  metaphors, he might be confused as to his national identity and he would also lose his close identity with his family. And if we believe those who would discount the Bible stories and accounts as myths, we might become confused as to our identity in Christ and lose our way when we read God’s Word.      

 

If the Biblical stories of Noah and Moses and Mary and Joseph are just metaphors or myths  - then how would we know that the story of Jesus and His death on the cross is not a myth also?  When we believe that part of God’s Word isn’t real don’t we raise the question that all of it may not be real?  What parts of the Bible are myths and what parts are true in this slippery slope?  Do we pick and choose which parts we want to believe and which parts we don’t like?  Do we just believe the parts that fit in with our lifestyle and throw the rest away?

 

Not knowing what to say to Sue I jumped in and suggested that in the story of Noah and the flood we are judging God when we accuse Him of being evil for sending a flood to end the lives of a group of violent evil people.  According to Scripture (Genesis 6) God did this because these ancient violent people were constantly performing evil acts.  Scripture says that it broke God’s heart and He finally stopped it.  We do not judge God as if He were another person.  God is not only the Redeemer but He is also the Judge of the world.  His ways are past finding out.   

 

 Scripture says that “It isn’t God’s will that any should perish but that all should have everlasting life.” (2 Peter 3:9)  God is a God of love but He is also a God of justice.  He loves us too much to allow us to forever continue to ruin ourselves and others with violent and evil acts.  There will be an end to sin someday.    

 

 I believe that some folks reject parts of the Bible because there are accounts in the Old Testament of God judging and punishing tribes and nations who continued on and on in rampant sin.  Eventually the wages of sin is death.  But some don’t like to hear that God judges sin.    

 

I believe that another reason that people reject parts of the Bible is because they don’t know what the Bible says and they haven’t studied it.  One of the reasons to read God’s Word and know it ourselves is that it protects us from these false prophets.  In every age there have been people who use the Bible for their own purposes and not to build God’s kingdom.  We need to know God’s Word well enough to know when someone has an agenda that is not God’s.

 

Scripture says: “But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”  (2 Peter 2:1) 

 

St. Peter warns us about our responsibility in handling God’s Word.  We are to be careful in how we interpret and teach the words of the Bible.  Those who deliberately distort God’s Word will be held accountable.  Scripture says; “…Ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  (2 Peter 3:16) 

 

Another Scripture tells us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)   And “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12)

 

Martin Luther made the proclamation of “sola scriptura” – “only the Bible” - as the only authority for the Christian life.  But part of the phrase has been ignored.  He actually said, “Only Scripture rightly divided,” which means “interpreted correctly.” And Saint Jerome once said: “A false interpretation of Scripture causes the gospel of the Lord to become the gospel of man, or, which is worse, of the devil.” 

 

We don’t need to over analyze every word of the Bible to keep from falsely interpreting Scripture.  If we are believers in Jesus we have been given the Holy Spirit as a helper and guide and He will allow us to hear the Father’s Voice when we are reading the Word.  If we have questions concerning a Scripture we can ask God to help us understand the meaning.  And we can study the “living” Word where God reveals Himself in His words.  He gives us Himself and His love and His life to those who receive these words.  Indeed God’s Word gives us God Himself. 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Waiting on the Lord




Waiting on the Lord

 

 

The Bible says “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”  (Psalm 37:7)  Waiting upon God is often necessary in order to feel His presence and to hear His voice.  Often we have to wait for the things we want the most and there are times when we will need to keep waiting and knocking and asking and seeking and fasting in order to receive what we are praying for.  God’s timing is not always our timing. 

 

Hannah was a Jewish woman who lived about 1,100 years B.C. and she prayed and waited on the Lord for many years before her prayer was answered..  Hannah was married to Elkanah, but Elkanah had another wife, Peninnah, as well as Hannah.  It was a common practice in ancient times for men to have multiple wives.  Over the years Peninnah gave birth to many children but year after year Hannah remained childless and barren.  Peninnah would make fun of Hannah because she could not become pregnant and Hannah would cry.  In ancient cultures a woman was something of an outcast if she was not able to bear children. 

 

Year after year Hannah prayed to God, crying out to Him for a child, but the years passed by and she remained barren into her middle age.  Once a year she would go with her husband and his other wife, Peninnah and their children to Shiloh to worship God and to sacrifice before Him.  And she would bring sacrifices to God and pray before Him at the altar. 

 

Finally one year when they went up to Shiloh to worship, Hannah spent an extra amount of time in prayer before the Lord.  When the high priest, Eli passed by, Hannah was bowing down before the altar and praying and crying before God.  Eli the priest thought that she was drunk and he asked her if she had been drinking.  But Hannah assured Eli that she was not drunk she was just crying and begging God for a child.  She had promised God that if He would give her a child she would give it back to Him.  After Eli, the priest listened to Hannah he said to her: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”  (1 Samuel 1:17)   

 

Soon after that trip to the altar in Shiloh, Hannah finally became pregnant and she had a son and named him Samuel!  Hannah was so overjoyed and thankful that she sang jubilant praises to God and because God had answered her prayers and given her a baby, Hannah gave her baby back to God.  When Samuel was just a young child she took him to Shiloh and  gave him to Eli, the high priest so that he could learn to serve God.  Samuel stayed in the temple with Eli, the high priest and served and learned God’s Word.  In the end God gave Hannah and Elkanah more children and Samuel grew up to be a great man of God.  Samuel was used by God to prophesy and guide and bless the Jewish people.

 

  We can only wonder whether Hannah would have gotten pregnant and given birth to Samuel, if she had not pounded on the closed door of her childlessness and prayed and waited on the Lord for so many years!  There are blessings of the Kingdom that are only given when we do not give up!  When we wait on the Lord.    

 

One of the Bible’s most mysterious stories is told in Genesis 32:24-32.  It is the story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel.  Jacob was traveling to meet his brother Esau and he was worried that Esau might try to kill him as he had threatened to do.  Jacob had wanted God’s blessings so badly that he had stolen them from his brother Esau many years earlier.  And then many years later he was about to meet Esau and his armies.  Jacob was alone in the evening praying to God for help when Scripture says that a Man appeared before him and wrestled with him all night.  When Jacob was winning the Man touched his hip and the socket of Jacob’s hip went out of joint.

 

 At dawn the Man (an angel) said to Jacob, “Let me go for the day breaks.”  And Jacob answered, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  (Genesis 32:26b)  And the Man (angel) answered: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  (Genesis 32:28)  Jacob told everyone that he had wrestled with God and the prophet Hosea later wrote that Jacob wrestled with an angel.  This story holds many unexplained mysteries.   

 

Some Bible scholars believe that Jacob limped after he wrestled with God, because when we move out in God’s power we faced heavy persecutions.  Or perhaps God gave Jacob this painful hip that was out of joint for the same reason that Paul was given his thorn in the flesh.  Perhaps Jacob needed to be given something to help keep him humble since God blessed him with such special blessings.  St. Paul also had a physical problem – a thorn in his flesh -because God had given him visions and power to heal and do miracles and evangelize.  Both Jacob and Paul moved in the Spirit with more power and were given more blessings than most others.  It might have been easy for them to have become proud and use their God given power the wrong way if they had not also been given physical problems.  I don’t know! 

 

The name “Jacob” means “Supplanter” or “Deceiver”.  Jacob had supplanted his brother Esau and deceived his father Isaac in order to get God’s blessing.  And the name “Israel” means “Prince with God” or “He strives with God” or “May God Persevere”. In spite of his sins and his character weaknesses, God commends Jacob for being a fighter and not giving up and for wanting all that God had to give him.  So he is given a new name. Scripture says that all of God’s children will also receive a new name! 

 

Hosea sees Jacob as a model to be emulated whenever one is facing difficulty, or asking for a needed blessing.  (Hosea 12:2-6)  For some blessings we may want, God may choose to make us part of the process by encouraging us to contend and ask and wrestle in prayer for what we need.  Very occasionally the Holy Spirit may urge us to wrestle in prayer and contend for the blessing.

 

God was pleased that Jacob wanted more of God in his life – more of His power and more of His will in his life and more of His blessings.  And God was pleased that Jacob wanted to walk in His ways and obey His commandments.  And God will be pleased if we want more of Him and want to walk in more of His ways too. 

 

Sometimes we don’t know how to pray.  But hopefully we want what God wants for us.  But Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is a great Helper when we prayer.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for.  But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  (Romans 8:26)

 

 In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Christians in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers at the feet of God to be taken care of as He in His love and wisdom sees best.  We pray “in His will” or submit to God’s will, remembering that God loves us and He is all merciful.  We can trust God to do what is best.

 

Constantly coming to God with our prayers and not giving up keeps our focus on Him.  Jacob and Hannah both contended and wrestled with God over a long period of time and God was pleased with each of them and blessed them.  Their prayers were answered and they were blessed.  Jesus invites us to do the same when He gives us the parable in Luke 18:1-5.  Persistent prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but it is laying hold of His willingness. 

 

 

 

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