Thursday, May 31, 2018

Living in God's Favor

I'm starting a new Bible study and will share this morning's insight while it's fresh on my mind. The assignment was to compare Luke 1 with John 1:1-4, followed by a series of thought-provoking questions.

As I read about Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary outside of the Christmas season, their stories were less predictable and more fresh. I wasn't anticipating "baby Jesus." I just saw their lives--and how God upset their plans. None of them knew what lay ahead, that they would sacrifice each and every day from that moment forward. None of them anticipated how God would use them personally, but He did. How did they respond to God's intrusion into their lives?

Elizabeth said, "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me..." (Luke 1:25). Mary said, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
Zacharias said, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us...." (Luke 1:68-69).
From this point forward their lives would be radically changed. Each of their homes would be indwelt with the Spirit of God (through John, filled with the Spirit before birth, and Jesus, God Himself). This was new--convicting, challenging, different, sometimes unwanted! Others would see them as strange, both because of their earthly circumstances  and the tenor of their lives and homes (no wine or liquor, etc.). They would be ridiculed for their testimony ("Tell me about the angel again, Zacharias/Mary!") and choices. Their future would be one of pain, suffering, and loss (your sons will be beheaded and crucified--that's how God treats His chosen ones?).

And yet. Yet. Their belief in God and their view of His redemption stood firm: God chose me! God has shown me His favor! God is moving, working, redeeming, and He is using me. He is the Mighty One, my Savior, He has done great things for me, He is holy, merciful, He fills the hungry with good things, He exalts the humble, He scatters the proud, He has sent help for Israel, He keeps His promises (Luke 1:46-55).  He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, He is our salvation, He will rescue and deliver us, keep His covenant, bring forgiveness and tender mercy, He will light our way and guide us into the way of peace (Luke 1:68-79).

Yes, life would be hard, different, and painful--but God was at work. What is greater than being part of His plan and purpose? Change didn't happen in a day, a week, or a year. It took decades--and most never saw or realized the scope of God's plan. We still wait for the revelation of God's full redemption, believing that He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do (Hebrews 11:6). Life is hard; but God is good. Serving God is a privilege and honor, not because the way is easy, but because God is worthy--and He makes it all possible.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Friday, May 18, 2018


Yesterday I got myself in trouble by committing to something that wasn't really mine to do or give...Argh! I hadn't taken the time to think it through. I had prayed, but I didn't want to wait for God to say "No." And I didn't want to ask for anyone else's advice either. Please tell me you've been there?

After a couple of hours of stewing, worrying, praying, and playing out "what if's," this passage came to mind,

My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor,
Have given a pledge for a stranger,
If you have been snared with the words of your mouth,
Have been caught with the words of your mouth,
Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself;
Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor,
Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor.
Give no sleep to your eyes,
Nor slumber to your eyelids;
Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand
And like a bird from the hand of the fowler. (Proverbs 6:1-5)

So I did. I really did pray, "Lord, what would it look like for me to humble myself in this situation?" and I really did wait. Then I picked up the phone, admitted my mistake, and released myself from bondage. What freedom! I know it doesn't mean there aren't or won't be other consequences, but I am free from the "what if's."

My other example of making a commitment without prayer has been that of Joshua and the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites deceived Israel and Israel made a covenant with them "and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord." (Joshua 9:14). Spoil Alert: It was not the best situation, but God remained sovereign, accomplishing His will (see the end of the story in Joshua 9:27).

Prayer doesn't get God right with me; it gets me right with God. And that's exactly what I need. All day. Every day.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bitterness in the Camp

What is bitterness? How can you spot it? Here's an easy test: bitterness uses another person as an excuse for disobedience.

In other words, "I would do such-and-such, if it weren't for such-and-so." "If such-and-so is going to be there, I'm not going." "It's not my fault."

..but God is greater.

As I read about the Israelites in the book of Joshua this morning I came to these verses:

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.” So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt. For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the Lord, to whom the Lord had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way. (Deuteronomy 5: 3-7 NASB)

Did you see it? The people were so hardened against God they did not want their children identified as His people. "Sure, we're stuck here in the wilderness. We don't have a choice, but He's not going to get our children." There was a sense of entitlement (I deserve)* which led to a consumer mentality (God's here to serve me):

The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

When God didn't meet their demands, they fell into a victim mentality (I can't help it; It's not my fault). When they realized they had no control and they were stuck with manna for forty years, they surrendered to a perishing mentality (We're all going to die). This type of thinking always results in rebellion.  The Apostle Paul broke it down like this for the New Testament Church:

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11-13)

Even with the perfect Rock, the perfect Father and Provider, they fell into bitterness, seeing themselves as the center of the universe. They refused to be satisfied with God's provision and demanded more. We do the same. Maybe we want a better job, a different family, a better wife, children, home, car...whatever it is, it's not good enough for me. Then, as my thoughts cycle around and around, and I struggle with discontentment, I end up angry and bitter. The result is me justifying my sin: I won't talk to them; I can mistreat them; I won't go to church; I refuse to go out of my way, God doesn't deserve my _______ (fill in the blank)... In the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, God doesn't deserve our children, so we won't circumcise them. And the root grew deep, defiling many (Hebrews 12:15).

The Bible uses Esau as the prime example of bitterness: See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17).

Bitterness. Like all sin, it is an act of rebellion that creates destruction; but it is not outside the hand of God. He can and will use all things to glorify Himself. Know someone who's bitter? Get involved. Call them out. Pray for them. Love on them. Don't let their bitterness be an excuse for your disobedience. Are you bitter? Look to the Lord. Confess your self-centered desires and demands then ask God to help you turn it around so you can forgive, love, and serve others as Christ did. What about your enemies? God says,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)

Guess what? God lives longer than people. His way and will prevails. And He is faithful. He raises us leaders and kings--and in the case of Israel, He raised up Joshua to lead the rebels' children. Our disobedience, rebellion, and bitterness will not, cannot, stop God. But confession and repentance restore our relationship and give us a God-designed purpose: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

* See Mark Shaw's book, Addiction-Proof Parenting: Prevention Strategies for Parents

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Moving Forward

The way I understand it, not all of the Bible is written to me, personally. Yes, the truths of the Bible are timeless and God never changes, but the stories and letters were written to specific people at a specific time. They have a context that may or may not apply to what's going on in my life right now. Whether you agree or disagree with my viewpoint perhaps you will be encouraged as I was this morning.

(After time off to rewrite and study the book of 1 Corinthians, I'm back at my chronological read through the Bible....)

When I left the Old Testament, Moses had reviewed Israel's time in the wilderness and God's commands. Then, after a longing gaze on the Promised Land, he died alone and the Lord buried him (oh, how God loved Moses!!).

Its time to move forward. Joshua has taken over and Israel is ready to get on with it. Here are some of my thoughts from Joshua 1-4.

  1. 1:3 The LORD said: “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.” God has not given me literally every place my foot treads, but every step of my path is the place He has brought me; it is the place He has given me, for this moment, for His purpose. While I’m here, I am to continue to meditate on God's Word and do it! (Just do it--as Kevin Carson says, "God doesn't pay you to think, He pays you to obey" --personal paraphrase). 
  2. 1:8-9 And then He said: “…meditate on [this book of the law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed for the LORD you God is with you wherever you go?”
  3. In the moments of uncertainty, going, and doing life, God’s call does not change. I am to remember Him and His Word, to obey, and walk in His way regardless of my circumstances, trusting Him with the outcome (see point 1).
  4. 2:17-18 The spies did not know how God was going to give them Jericho, but it made sense for Rahab to set apart her home from the others in the day of battle. Not only did Rahab act in faith by hiding them (James 2), they, too, acted on faith that God would provide a means of rescue for her and her family if they followed practical steps of obedience, doing what made sense, and trusting God with the outcome.
  5. 2:24 The spies reported, “Surely the LORD has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.” God, in His goodness, showed them that even the people who lived there were afraid of them and what God was getting ready to do. God doesn't just take care of the surface details, He works every bit, down to the very thoughts, motivation, and emotions of the people involved.
  6. 3:10-11 Then, as a means of showing His might and intentions, God gave them (and the surrounding nations), and unforgettable sign. He is so good! He knows our tendency to doubt, question, and give in to our own way instead of moving forward in faith. “Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Grigashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite…” as He stopped the water of the Jordan and dried it before the nation.
  7. 4:8-9 As a reminder, they placed stones--one for every tribe--in the Jordan itself before it overflowed its banks once more. i.e. Remember!!! We are such forgetful people!
  8. 4:23-24”For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” In other words, "This is not about you. It never was. This is about God showing His might and power--this is about man seeing himself and his incredible limitations and turning to worship almighty, omnipotent God, the One who makes it all, who goes before you, who is worthy of all praise and adoration. He is worthy of your obedience and your life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Who's Your Shepherd?

I was unloading the dishwasher this morning, thinking of the nights I worked as a labor and delivery nurse in the barn. One of the most common questions people ask about sheep is, "Are they as stupid as people say they are?" And the answer? Yes.

But in my mind the thing that gets sheep in trouble is not their lack of smarts but their fear. They are creatures without the ability to protect or care for themselves--without sharp teeth, hooves, the ability to hide or run fast. God created them defenseless. That is why they need a good shepherd.

Our sheep are not frightened most of the time. They live within a sound fence and barn with cattle, dogs, chickens and cats as companions. Each day they are provided clean water and grain or grass. Their needs are met; they have no fear, which is evident as they mosey from one end of the pasture to another. Content sheep don't run willy-nilly, they graze, lie down, and quietly mind their own business.  That got me thinking about people; scared, frightened people.

If you don't  have a good shepherd, you will be afraid. You should be afraid. Suffering from fear and anxiety is a natural response to being in a bad place. Whether we admit it or not, people were created from the very beginning as helpless, depending creatures. And not having the right shepherd is terrifying. The good news is, there IS a Good Shepherd--and it's not me. If I have enough sense to stop and look at where I am when anxiety rises in my gut, I may find that I've wandered away. I'm trying to be my own shepherd. Perhaps I'm trusting someone or something else. Neither is a good option.

But when I turn and run to God and come under His shepherding through Christ, my needs will be more than met. I will even walk through the valley of the shadow of death, without fear.

The next time fear and anxiety threaten your heart stop and ask, "Where is my shepherd?" You'll find Him right were you left Him--and He'll be looking or waiting for you.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)