Monthly Archives: May 2016

Holding Onto the Grace

Last week I watched my grandkids, and this week I’m still getting caught up.  I have some great thoughts on Malachi 3:12 that I am working on, and I hope to blog about this soon.  But in the meantime, here are some awesome things I have found in Hebrews 12!

Starting with verse 14:

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

This is so convicting for us today.  Are we making EVERY EFFORT to be at peace with people?  It will take being humble, living out verses like:

  • He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth (Isa 53:7)
  • he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (Phil 2:7)
  • But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  (Matt 5:39)
  • I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  (Isa 50:6-7)

Going on to verse 15: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

This verse deals with the sin of idolatry.  Look at this Old Testament reference: “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. Deut 29:18

Why do we fall into the sin of putting something ahead of God?  We feel like God is not enough.  We lose confidence that he will take care of us.  We don’t see that we HAVE the grace of God.

This is illustrated by what comes next in the passage:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

What went wrong with Esau?  He did not appreciate his birthright.  He had an awesome inheritance that would include both physical and spiritual blessings.  But he did not see what an awesome thing he had.  The moment he got hungry, all he cared about was meeting his needs.

Do we see what an awesome birthright we have?  The writer of Hebrews goes on to show us exactly what we have:

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

This is flat out amazing.  When we contemplate what we have, it really can keep us from being bitter, from turning away from God, and from sinning.

Because it is a very serious thing that we should appreciate what we have, and let this motivate us to make every effort to be holy.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

In doing a Greek word study of this last verse about worshiping with reverence and awe, I was surprised to see that the word for “awe” really means “fear.”  So many times in the Bible, we are told that the word “fear” means “reverence” more than it means “being afraid.”  But in this case the word really does mean “being afraid.”

And it makes sense in this context.  God is telling us very strongly that it will not go well for those who don’t treat the gift he has given them as utterly precious.  As it says it Hebrews 2:2, “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

We are going to be shaken.  Judgement Day IS coming.

We MUST “be thankful and so worship God acceptably.” Literally, being “thankful” here means that we “have grace.”  The passage has come full circle.   We start out by being admonished not to miss the grace of God, and we end by being advised to hold tightly to it, so it overflows into our heart and into our every behavior, and we are thankful.  Then we worship and serve God in a way that is immensely pleasing to him.

In going through years and years of trials as a Christian, one of the hardest things is to hold onto grace and gratitude, and not let bitterness enter our heart.

One couple who exemplifies the way we SHOULD be is Gary and Christy Roberson.   Gary at one time was in the ministry.  He LOVES to serve God.  But at some point he moved to Atlanta so his children could be in a church where there was a great teen ministry.  He ended up working for many many years in a demanding job that required him to travel. Christy had to work full time at a job that probably wasn’t her favorite thing to do.  (If you’re reading this, and I post the wrong information, let me know.)

They went through many other challenges in life.  Gary was appointed as an elder, but had to step down due to health concerns.  I believe they lost a grandbaby.

But through all of this they continued to serve God admirably.  Gary taught the adult Sunday school class.  They both got with many couples and families and counseled them.  They certainly helped Ken and I in an enormous way with raising our family.

Just recently, Gary and Christy reached a point where they were able to semi retire.  They put out the word that they would like to serve in the ministry at a small church, to receive a supplemental income.  And who hired them?  A small church in Hawaii!

They held onto the grace and God has blessed them in a huge way!

Gary and Christy

This picture brings tears to my eyes.  I am so happy for them.

So let’s all hold onto the grace we have and make sure we NEVER get discontent, never want more, never get bitter.

Life may not be what we want it to be.  Our dreams may feel broken.

But as Christians we are blessed with a tremendous birthright, a marvelous salvation.  That is more than enough.

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Grace, Gratitude, Hebrews

Getting Past the Point of Holding Back

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 3:8-11

I love this passage.  Of course, it isn’t good to think that we might be robbing the Almighty God.

But I love the promise that if we give to God, he is going to pour out blessings on us.  This isn’t a prosperity gospel thing.  To me, it’s just a spiritual law.  If we put God first with any part of our life, we will have a return:

  • For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  Luke 9:24
  • Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work  II Cor 9:6-8
  • “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matt 6:33

Yet it is so hard to bring the “whole tithe” into the storehouse.  For me, it’s not the money that’s as hard to give.  It’s time. It’s doing the challenging things for God, like sharing my faith.  It’s pouring myself out to new friends.

Because I want to hold back in these things.  I want to preserve my resources.  I never know how much energy I am going to have, or how good I will feel.

So I’m hesitant to give.

I did a study on what it means to “bring the whole tithe in to the storehouse.

First of all, the Jews were commanded to give the Lord a tenth of what they brought in at harvest: “You must set aside a tithe of your crops–one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”  Deut 14

This tithe would be used to support those who were formally serving the Lord: “The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.  For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.”  Numbers 10:38-39

Tithes were also to be taken up to support the poor:  “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work.”  Deut 14:28-29.

So the Jews were supposed to take the very food that was to sustain them out of their larder, and give it to sustain others.  This had to be difficult.  I picture someone looking at the piles of grain, and jars of wine and oil they’ve worked hard to gather, and then taking some of the bags and jars and intentionally setting them aside, knowing they won’t have them if there is a year of drought.

It truly was a faith thing. They were giving away their hedge for the future.  They had to believe that if they gave some of their sustenance away, God was going to take care of them and “bless them in all their work.

And it’s the same with all of us.  We have to believe that when we give to God, he take care of us in our time of drought; that when we pour ourselves out for him, he will replenish us.

Here is one part of the spiritual principle of giving that I think is very important to understand:  God doesn’t necessarily give us a direct return for our service, but there is a return.  It isn’t like giving to a bank, where you earn a set interest rate.  It isn’t like planting a seed in the ground, where you know a plant will result.  It’s more ambiguous.  The Jews couldn’t say, “I tithed, so tomorrow it will rain.”  They just had to believe that God would reward this tithe in some form or fashion so their needs would be met.

And this encourages me.  Because when it comes to serving the Lord, I WANT to see a direct return.  I want to feel like, “Okay, I shared my faith with those people, now they should become Christians.”  And of course this often doesn’t happen.

But what does happen is that God blesses my efforts with an indirect return.   Out of the blue, someone calls and says they want to come to church.  All of a sudden there are people who want to start studying the Bible. We can know that our work will not be in vain.

Here is my conclusion:   If we don’t hold back, God won’t hold back! 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38

Since I’ve been studying this, I have been trying to share my faith more.  Earlier this week I was passing the time with a bellhop at the Auburn Hotel while I was waiting for the desk clerk.  We got to talking about church, and at some point, I was uncharacteristically candid with him about what distinguishes our church.  “We try to make Jesus Lord, but for some reason people don’t want that.”  He sympathized, but I guess he wasn’t at a point of wanting it either.

Later, I talked to a grocery check out clerk who thought it was awesome that I was buying things to cook dinner for house church, and wanted to hear all about it.  Yet when I invited her to join, she just smiled.

That evening at house church, we all filled up on spaghetti.  Then we sat in a circle and sang, “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman: “Praise the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name.  Sing like never before…”

It was one of those perfect moments.  We were full and satisfied.  I looked around and saw people I love singing from their hearts to God.  We were all enjoying the antics of the adorable children in our midst.  We were a spiritual family.  There was a glow and warmth in the room.

And I thought, “This is the feast I invited people to attend.  But they didn’t realize what they could have.”

I think that’s what God was trying to say.  He was telling the Jews, “”I’m inviting you to a feast!  Don’t you realize what you could have, if you’ll just give what I ask?”

God is still saying that to us today.  He wants to “graciously give us all things.”  (Romans 8:32)  He will do “immeasurably more.”  (Eph 3:20)  We just have to get past the point of holding back, past our fears, past our need to control, past the emotional baggage from the past.  Instead, let us joyfully pour ourselves out for him with the faith that there will be a return.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Col 3:24

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Filed under Faith, Make Every Effort, Malachi, Perseverance, Uncategorized

We Are Not Destroyed!

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  Malachi 3:6

This is an interesting passage.  First, God says that he does not change with circumstances or emotions, as we do.  He is steadfast and faithful to his people.  He keeps the terms of his covenant with them.

I read an interesting commentary on the next part of the verse about not being destroyed.  John Gill said that this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the Christians would not be destroyed when the city fell.  We know from history that over a million Jews were killed in the destruction of Jerusalem, yet there is no record of Christians being in the city when this happened.  They evidently were warned and all left the city ahead of time.

““The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.”  (Eusebius, early Christian writer)

“When [Cestius Gallus] unexpectedly and unaccountably raised the siege, the Christians took that opportunity to escape. … [As] Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished.”  (Adam Clark, citing writings of Epiphanes)

Another commentary said that Malachi 3:6 foretells the coming of Christ, when Christians will be given eternal life.

To me, Malachi 3:6 reminds me of the famous passage of Lamentations 3 that we often sing:

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Both passages say the same thing.  God is faithful.  Thus, we are not destroyed.

And really, isn’t it all the same, whichever interpretation of this verse we hold to be true?  God preserved the early Christians during the destruction of Jerusalem.  He preserves our life for eternity today.  He promises that whatever we go through, he has a renewing fountain of mercy for us, and thus we can trust in him to preserve us.

We can say, as Lamentations 3 goes on to say, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord . . . Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.”

I love this verse because it reminds me that we have to trust when things aren’t going as they think they should.  It was really great how Mike preached yesterday that we can come to a point of thanking God for our trials, because we can come to accept and trust that his plan is what is best for us.

Several friends graduated this past weekend.  One was Chris Lucy.

chris grad

This is what Chris posted on Facebook yesterday: “A lot of people told me to give up, don’t try because you will fail. But so many people also taught me to fight for what I want in life. After many all nighters, doubt and in some instances very real depression I finished. I don’t know if any one person knows exactly what it took for this moment to happen, but people saw bits and pieces. I pray to God the story doesn’t end here. I pray that my story inspires others to pursue their dreams and always put God first. Live a life to imitate Jesus. God gets all the honor.”

Chris went through some very dark times on his way to graduation, some times when he could have given into the temptation to not trust in God’s plan.  But he always put God first.  He stuck with God as the one who could get him through.

My friend Kim Dixon also graduated.

Brandon and Kim

I remember Kim years ago, when she wanted so much to have a baby, but couldn’t get pregnant.  Her husband, Brandon, had a less than ideal job working the night shift at Walgreens.  It was a challenging time.  But now Kim is the proud mom of a two year old.  And Brandon got his dream job of working for Habitat for Humanity, and is making a difference with his work.  And in the midst of all this, Kim decided to go back to school and pursue a better career, and she just graduated with the qualifications to be a school counselor!

Kim also could have given into  discouragement and the temptation to not trust in God’s plan, but she chose to hold onto God as her life preserver.

So this week, let’s all trust, no matter how tough it gets, that God is faithful.  He never changes.

He is working the plan that is best for us.

We will not be destroyed.

We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.  II Cor 4:9

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Loving our Neighbors

“I will come to judge you. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, lying witnesses, and those who cheat workers out of their wages and oppress widows and orphans. I will also testify against those who deprive foreigners of their rights. None of them fear me,” says the LORD of Armies.  Mal 3:5

It’s  scary to think of being on trial before the Almighty God.  At this trial, God himself testifies against people. Yikes!  And he does it without delay, without continuances, like we can push for in the court system today.

What does God bear witness against?  Largely against mistreating others.

And while none of us may have stuck it to a widow or an immigrant lately, this verse makes it apparent that how we treat one another is uber serious to God.

Because what God is looking for is those who revere him enough to see that they have an obligation towards their fellow man.  As God is committed to us, he wants us to be committed to one another.

Here is how Biblical scholars define righteousness:  “God’s righteousness can be understood as God’s faithfulness to his people, where he fulfills his obligations to them. . . righteousness is also understood as God’s faithfulness to fulfill His obligations to human beings and His creation because as creator He has a relationship with them.”  (Rupen Das)

God sees himself as having a responsibility towards people.  As children of this same God, surely we should see that we also have a responsibility to our fellow human beings.

Look how God spelled this out from olden times:

 ”When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Leviticus 19 goes on to relate a whole slew of things not to do.  I’m abridging the passage here:

DO NOT: steal, lie, deceive one another, defraud or rob your neighbor, hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight,  curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, pervert justice, show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, go about spreading slander among your people, do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life, hate a fellow Israelite in your heart, seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

“Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the bottom line.  It always has been.

“But who is my neighbor?” we want to ask, just as the experts in the law inquired of Jesus in Luke 10.  We’re surrounded and overwhelmed by more needs than we could ever address.

Ken and I watched a movie over the weekend, “Of Mind and Music.”  It was about a neurologist in New Orleans who took some time off to grieve the loss of his mother.  As he walked through the city, he came across a female street musician/singer who was starting to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s.  The neurologist ended up taking this woman in his own house to care for her, and then finding an assisted living placement for her.  When someone asked him why he was doing this for a random person on the streets, he answered, “Because I can.”

Instead of being overwhelmed, let’s ask, who CAN we help?  Who is in our path at this moment?

Ken and I went to a funeral on Sunday for the great aunt of our daughter in law.  We heard different people share about this special woman.  One was her neighbor, who talked about how much their relationship had meant to her over the years.  They were like family.  The neighbor’s children were always over at the woman’s house, and always came home with cookies or pieces of cornbread.  As the neighbor sat at her friend’s deathbed, she told her over and over again how grateful she was for her.

All of us have people “next door.”  They’re not all going to become our best buds, but some of them could become a blessing to us. And we could become a blessing to them.  I know this has been true for me.  My Latin neighbor down the street, Dee, is a great example.  We get together for coffee, visit when we’re outside, and chat on the phone.  Several times she’s brought her husband over to help with issues with our house.  I had a yard sale, and she came and sat next to me and supported me.  She has told me several times that she is thankful for our friendship.

But even though I know this, I still I get tired and busy, and I stop reaching out.

One thing that has helped me as I’ve been thinking about this is to remember that I have the Spirit, an actual piece of God, in me as I walk around.  It was incredible that God became flesh.  It’s just as incredible that God dwells in us.  When I interact with people, I bring God in contact with others.  The Spirit wants to talk with people.  The Spirit wants to love them through me.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  I John 4:12

The other thing I am learning is the importance of humility.  I really think one of the things that separates us as human beings is our pride.  We can’t help thinking we are more important than that other person.  We don’t realize that we all exist by God’s mercy.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

I think the story of the unmerciful servant reflects the way God has always thought:

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’”  Matt 18:32-33.

God’s given us mercy.  That’s why we treat others well.

I have so much growing yet to do in this.  One recommendation I want to make, is that you listen to super convicting lesson by Chuck Pike on helping the poor.  It has really stirred up my thinking.  He says the biggest obstacle to helping the poor isn’t the lack of resources, it’s the lack of motivation.  We’re too tied up in our love of money, pleasure, and self.

We need to look at the scriptures anew, and take a hard look at ourselves.  Because it’s just as true for us as it was at the time of Malachi.  We will be judged by how we treat others.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  Matt 25:41-43

You know, Mother’s Day is coming up.  I’ve been asked to share something a little something at church.  I’ve been thinking about my mother, and the good things she taught me.  One thing my mother really believed, and lived by, is that people are important.  She genuinely cared about people, that was very evident in the way she gave her whole focus to someone when she was with them, and how they were on her heart when she wasn’t with them.

My mom loved deeply, and was always videoing the people she loved.

My mom loved deeply, and was always videoing people.

In the end, that’s what God wants from us as well, for people to be important to us.

And I’m finding that it’s easy to say, “Yeah, let’s care about people more,” but really hard to put into practice.  Because it’s heart growth that needs to happen, and heart growth takes time.

So let’s seek to grow in this.  Let’s take a fresh look at the scriptures.  Let’s look at examples of giving we admire, and seek to imitate that.  And let’s pray.  We can’t help with every need, but we can wake up every morning and pray, “Who is my neighbor today, Lord?  Please show me, and help me to love them as I would want to be loved.”

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? I John 3:17

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;  Deut 15:7

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