Category Archives: Abundance/Greatness of God

The Blessings of The Holding Pattern

My makeshift mask I rigged from an old cami.

Life is in a holding pattern right now.  We’re quarantined, staying home.  No longer are we going out to concerts or sporting events or arts festivals.  No longer are we getting with friends, or getting a pedicure or our hair done, or going out to dinner. I could go on and on,

It’s hard for me to be in a holding pattern.  I want to do things.  I want to take action.  I want to live large.

Today’s red -letter passage tells me that Jesus knew how to deal with holding patterns.  Meditating on this has opened my mind in encouraging and comforting ways.  I’m including the paragraph preceding the red-letter words for context.

After this, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He did not want to travel in Judea, because the Jews there were trying to kill Him.  However, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near.  So Jesus’ brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that Your disciples there may see the works You are doing.  For no one who wants to be known publicly acts in secret. Since You are doing these things, show Yourself to the world.”  For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.

Therefore Jesus told them, ‘Although your time is always at hand, My time has not yet come.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me, because I testify that its works are evil.  Go up to the feast on your own. I am not going up to this feast, because My time has not yet come.’” (John 7:1-8)

Jesus made this very insightful observation: “Your time is always at hand.”  It’s so true that for most of us, we don’t even think on waiting for the timing for God.  Right now, there are things in my life that I want to fix and address.  The only thing is, that the other pieces in the process don’t cooperate.  It can be so frustrating for me.  But I never thought to take it to God and say, “God, is it time for this thing to be addressed right now?”

Because God is big on timing.  Look at what God said to Abraham:  “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess . . . Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. . . . In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Gen 15:7,13, 15)

What’s cool about this passage is that we can see that God has a very specific sense of when things need to happen.  He planned for Abraham to have numerous descendants, and for them to inherit the Promise Land.  But it would be many, many years before this would actually happen.  How patient Abraham had to be.  He pretty much lived his life in a holding pattern.  He was a vagrant, moving from place to place. Yet he also saw God work in amazingly powerful ways.  He saw his dreams come true as he bore and raised a son, Isaac.

The idea of being in a holding pattern has special significance for today’s red-letter passage, because the festival that is referred to is the Feast of Tabernacles.  In this, the Jews remembered the time when they were in a holding pattern, and God took care of them.  The Israelites would take tree branches and construct temporary shelters and live in them for 7 days.  They did this so they recalled how God had taken care of them for 40 years in the wilderness.

Isn’t it crazy, in a sense, that God had them celebrate the time of being in the wilderness?  I mean, why not celebrate the time when they actually took the Promise Land?  Of course, that hadn’t happened when the laws regarding the festivals were written.  But still, it’s wild to think that the thing they celebrated would be the time when they were just waiting around in the desert.

But the thing they celebrated was that God took care of them in a completely amazing way.  There was always manna on the ground for them to eat.  Their clothes never wore out.  Moses described it with these words: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” ( Deut 8:3-4)

This was truly miraculous.  Yesterday, I did laundry, and I saw some of my clothes that were getting ratty and need to be thrown away.  I also went to the grocery store, and had to pay for the groceries I had carefully planned, ordered, and paid for with money from my husband’s paycheck.  But the Israelites’ clothes didn’t get ratty, and they didn’t have to pay for their food.

The Feast of Tabernacles was also called the Feast of Ingathering.  It celebrated the final harvest for the year.  It was the time of the year when the Jewish people had the most.  Their storehouses were full.  Yet God wanted them to live in booths, to remember the time when they didn’t have anything, but had to completely rely on God.  He wanted them to have the deep impression that everything they had came from him.

This is a long digression, but such a rich one.  Because in today’s red-letter passage, we see Jesus reflecting the same kind of thinking that God had through the Old Testament.  His brothers were like, “If you’re the Messiah, go down to Jerusalem and do your thing” But Jesus basically said that he had to wait to be sure that it was God’s timing, and not his own.

Did you ever think how hard that might have been for Jesus?  He knew what would help the world.  He saw everyone suffering, and so badly needing what he had to offer.  His heart went out to them.  Yet he waited, and didn’t go down to the Feast.  And he said something at the end of this passage that shows what his thinking was, literally, “My time has not yet been fulfilled.”

The Greek word used there does mean fulfillment.  It’s not just that Jesus’s time hadn’t come.  It’s that there was a plan that needed to be fulfilled.  The same word was used many times in Matthew to describe how the events surrounding Jesus fulfilled prophesies.  For instance, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matt 1:22-23)

Jesus had a deep sense of walking according to God’s vast plan.  He knew that God had taken years to work his will, from the time of Abraham, through Moses and the kings and prophets to the present day.  He knew, as Solomon wrote in his wisdom, that “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

How can all of this inspire us? First, we can decide to surrender to God’s timing.  As badly as we want things to change immediately, and as badly as we want to fix things, it may not be the right time.  Let’s pray about it.  It many be that God is simply waiting for us to do that.  It didn’t take long for Jesus to decide that it was time for him to go to the feast, after all.  In the next verse we see that he went, and started preaching half way through the festival.

Second, we can believe that God will provide for us during the holding pattern.  Jesus wasn’t worried about the delay in his ministry, in spite of the impoverished state of the souls around him.  He wasn’t focused on the lack, and it being up to him to do something about it.  He knew that God is the only real provider, just as the Jews knew this when they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles.  More than that, he knew that God is an amazing, miraculous provider.

I hope that you are as refreshed as I am by this study.  Speaking of Ecclesiastes, sometimes lately I can feel like Solomon when he wrote, “Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecc 1:2b-3)  It can seem like I have day after day of inconsequential pursuits.  Of course, I know that I’m doing much that is worthwhile, and there are many moments that are deeply fulfilling.  But there are also times when I get a going-nowhere kind of malaise.

There is purpose in the holding pattern.  I must believe in it, and let my soul be at peace.

May we all have a deep sense of walking according to God’s vast plan, and know that he is an amazing, miraculous provider.

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Faith, Favorite, John, Red Letter

Walking Through the Valley

As I write this, it is Easter morning at dawn.  The sun is preparing to rise.  The sky is lightening against a backdrop of grey clouds and the silhouette of dark trees. My heart is full of all kinds of thoughts.  First on my heart right now is the deep sadness of mourning the passing of a good friend we had when we were raising our children.  I learned last night that he passed away due to COVID 19.  I am melancholy with the memories of the times we had together.  His family and mine had many a dinner together.  I remember him taking the children in a ride behind his tractor.  I remember many good talks.  It was the kind of time when you just enjoyed being good friends.  We lost touch as our children got older, but the regard in my heart for him and his wife stayed the same. The warm fuzzy feeling of our friendship that I valued and treasured remained the same.

So I hurt for his family.  My heart breaks that he lost life at a relatively young age.  My heart is heavy that his wife is quarantined to grieve alone, and that his children must continue without him.   I keep thinking of this one verse, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”  (Ps 23:4)  I feel like I am walking through that shadow right now.  We all are.  Thousands are experiencing the grief.  Thousands are alone in hospitals, dying.  Thousands of healthcare workers are exhausted and scared, and seeing patient after patient succumb to the end of life.

There are just times when we walk through the valley.  It is very real, and around us all the time.  But sometimes it becomes more real and keen.  My heart also is sad at this time because another friend has lost the love of her life due to suicide.  She is beside herself with grief and self-recrimination.  I hate it for her.

Yet the sky lightens.  Today, I am going to teach a lesson to the children at church about the resurrection.  We’re going to talk about times we are sad, and what it feels like when a toy breaks, or someone is mean to us.  Then we’re going to look at how Jesus passed, and his friends were desolate.  Yet the miracle happened.  Mary came to the tomb, and discovered that he was alive.  How she must have celebrated in amazement.  How her heart must have burst.

Yesterday, Ken and I took a bike ride.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day, with bright blue sunlight and crisp air.  The fields were green, spotted with clover.  It was so peaceful.  And it reminded me of the cycle of life.  The trees that were dormant in the winter are blooming again.  The birds are abundant.  The grass is green again.  The weather is warm again.

Scene from our bike ride.

It reminds me of a verse I’ve been repeating to myself over and over again.  “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.” (Lam. 3:22-23)

His compassions are new every morning.  Just like this beautiful sunrise, with the pink clouds drifting across the tree line, hope is new every day.  The defeats of yesterday are gone.  And that’s what I want to tell the children, that God is a God of hope and life.  He is bigger than the things that make us sad.  He is good.  He loves us so much.  He may not fix the broken toy, but he will bring good.  He will bring comfort.  He will help us rise from our sadness.

Yet I am bound up in my fears.  I heard lately that a psychologist said that every negative emotion, whether it is anger, bitterness, whatever, comes from fear.  I fear things falling apart.  I fear chaos.  I fear the downward spiral.  I fear failure.

And when I walk in the valley of death, I have to face these fears.  The valley is real.  I want to grieve with my friends, with the world.  They are my sisters and brothers.  We are connected.  The death and the hardship will not end soon.  There are families everywhere facing economic insecurity.  They’re lining up by the thousands at food banks.  They’re filing for unemployment in record numbers.  In third world countries, economies are collapsing.  In impoverished nations, the checks from relatives in the States have ceased.

The valley is real, so very real.  But, just like in the story I will tell the children today, God is bigger than the fears. In a demonstration of super power, Jesus rose up like the sun.  The force of God’s love for the world rises over all of us. It’s a comfort in the valley.

Those of you who read my blog know that I’ve been studying out the red letter words of Jesus in the book of John.  Today’s passage is John 6:70, when Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?  Yet one of you is a devil.”

This passage seems to fit perfectly with what I’ve been thinking.  Jesus chose twelve of his disciples to be his closest friends and the ones who would carry on his ministry after he was gone.  He stayed up all night praying before he chose them.  Yet one of those he chose was going to betray him.

Why in the world would Jesus have a man in his midst who was going to be a negative element?  It makes no sense.  But it reminds me so much of this pandemic.  We have this beautiful spring all around us.  We continue on with our lives.  But in our midst is this huge incongruity, this evil that is taking lives and breaking hearts and bringing poverty.  Why would God allow it?

Jesus did allow Judas to be a part of his bosom buddies?  He walked with him, ate with him, conversed with him, got to know all about his life. And at the same time, Jesus knew that he would stab him in the back.  Jesus knew that his own destiny was tortuous death.

Jesus always walked through the valley.  He held that sadness that he lived in a broken world, and it would require him to lay his life down.  So he embraced Judas as a part of the Twelve.  He saw the face of his betrayer every day.  The world for him was always tinged with the weight of what he would do.

And so, today, I walk through this valley with him.  I walk through the valley with God.  As I am surrounded by the news of grief and trials, as this all becomes closer to me and more real, as even today I pray fervently for a close friend who is struggling every day with the fevers of COVID 19, I can relate more to what God felt as he saw the inevitability of what Jesus would have to experience.  I can feel his pain more, as he watched his son be abused and tortured by others.

We have to walk through the valley.  It doesn’t make sense to do so.  But through it all, it brings into even more stark relief that the valley is not all there is to life.  There is heaven, and life eternal.  There is the goodness of God that we see in nature and in the people around us.  There is an overwhelming bubbling up of joy in our hearts, in spite of everything, as real as the shafts of sunlight that accompany the dawn.  There’s that juxtaposition of sorrow and laughter that is life.

So when Jesus had Judas as his disciple, he was living out a little microcosm of life: perfection marred by evil.  He walked with the negative element as his constant companion, yet it did not ultimately overcome him.  In fact, he told his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And this is what I leave you with, on this Easter morning.  We will walk through the valley.  That is what life is.  But we walk with one who has overcome the world.  We fear no evil.  Instead, we will overcome evil with good.  We will overcome with faith.

Because his compassions are new every morning.  And Jesus rose, like the sun.

“This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (I John 5:4)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9)

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 NLT)

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Amazing, Astounding, Marvelous, Wonderful!

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For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing, and he will show him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. (John 5:20)

This has been such an encouraging verse to study out.  We looked at the first part of it in my last blog.  Now, we’re looking at the part where it says that God will show Jesus greater works than these.  Greater works than what?  Than the healing of the man at the pool, which Jesus had just performed.

Jesus says that when his listeners see these greater works, they will be amazed.  So I looked up every place in the gospels where this same Greek word for amazed was used.  I found that people marveled when Jesus calmed the wind and the waves.  They were filled with wonder as they saw people receive sight who had never been able to see, people receive voice who had never been able to talk, people receive mobility who had never been able to walk.  Their jaws dropped when a man who was hopelessly possessed became in his right mind.  They were floored when he made a fig tree wither.  They were astounded at wisdom of Jesus, especially knowing that he hadn’t been formally taught.  They were so astonished when he cast out a demon from a mute man, and the man began to talk, that they said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”  

It’s really good for me to remember how amazing the works of God through Jesus were, because right now I’m surrounded with some really tough, heart breaking, life changing situations.  I want to say, “God, I’m praying, but I don’t know if you’re hearing me, or if you’ll act powerfully in these situations.”  But when I read this list of miraculous deeds, I know that God can still astound.

Because the last part of the verse says that God exerts his power so that we will be filled with wonder.  In other words, so that we will see that he is God, and there is no other, and subsequently glorify him.  God always seeks his own glory.  It’s just expressing the truth.  He’s the Almighty and All Powerful.  All glory is due him.

So God will seek to be glorified through today’s tough situations, one way or another.  And as I reflect on this, I start to recall all of the ways I can marvel at God right now.  I marvel that my life was orchestrated in such a way that I came to faith.  I marvel at the ways God worked in my marriage.  I marvel at how he allowed my husband to grow in his career and provide for us.  I marvel at how, even in the past year, I’ve healed in ways I never had before.  I marvel at the impact our church has had.  I marvel at lives I’ve seen change, and people I’ve seen come to faith.

And that reminds me of what Jesus says later in John,  “Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  (John 14:12)

Jesus promises that it isn’t only that God will show everyone greater things through the life of Jesus.  It’s also that God will show greater things through our lives, because Jesus is interceding for us.  I believe that my list of reasons to marvel is evidence of this.

So I can’t be despondent.  I have to open my eyes to who I serve and worship.  And who I serve is amazing.

I love that it’s the time of year when we think about how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies of his birth.  One of my favorite ones is in Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born. . .  His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

His name shall be Wonderful.  That very word suggests the surpassing, the miraculous, the incredible.

Wonderful is what God set in motion.

May we expect more, and be more at peace.

May we know that God will be glorified.

May we fall on our knees acknowledging what has been done, and what will yet be accomplished.

(Photo credit Pete Linforth)

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Knowing the Gift of God

gift

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  John 4:10

If you knew the gift of God. . . 

Isn’t this true for all of us, in various ways?  If only we knew the gift of God, and what he is offering us.

Something that stuck with me from last Sunday’s sermon was the statement that we often miss the miracles that God is doing.  So this morning, I made a list of miracles I have seen recently.

One is that I was able to give a coaching workshop last night.  I happened to run into a business owner last week, and she asked me if I could come and address her employees.  To me, this wasn’t just chance.  It was an answer to prayer!

This morning, I got a text from a friend, responding to my query on how she is doing.  She said she is doing well!  As a young woman from China, I watched her wrestle to have faith for years.  That she finally got baptized, and has been able to win spiritual battles and remain faithful, is a miracle.

Another friend told me how she had a challenging week with her child, and came across someone at just the right moment who offered to take him for the weekend and give her time to recharge.  That was a miracle, too!

Jesus said that he had living water to offer.  This term, “living water,” is found all over the Bible.  It’s the fresh water Isaac’s servants found when they dug a well.  (Gen. 26:19) It’s the water that was prophesied about in Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.”  It’s the water that’s referred to in Revelation, “For the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water.”  (Rev. 7:17)

Jesus was giving the gift of eternal life.   And many of us have received this gift.  But do we know the extraordinary gift of God, or have we become dull and jaded?  Do we see that God worked miracles to bring us to salvation?

I know that this is true for me.  God put me in a place where I could play my flute in a church when I was 16, and be drawn to him for the first time.  God put a young man in my life, and at the right time this young man would turn to him, and lead me to him.  After I married this man, God put us in a church that set an amazing spiritual foundation for our life.

I need to be trembling in holy fear that God would work such miracles for me, one life among billions.  I am the woman at the well. I was certainly a “Samaritan,”  miserable and living so much in the world.  I didn’t deserve for God to take notice of me.

If you knew the gift of God.  Let us be mindful, each moment, that we are saved because of miracles.  May we not take it for granted, but treat it with wonder.  May we be more reverent. More in awe.

And then, may this knowledge allow us to realize that the gift continues to give.  As we see what he has done, we come to believe that God will do so much more.

And so we ask, and he will give.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  Heb 12:28

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John 3:16: The Unexpected and Amazing

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-17)

Here it is.  The red letter passage that everyone sees everywhere.

So I want to try something different in studying it.  I’m going to tie it in with what we know about God from the first part of Bible history.

Let me give you a synopsis of what happened.  God made the earth, and mankind, and pronounced that it was good.  As the years went on, his heart was grieved because man was so wicked.  So the Lord destroyed the world in a flood.  Yet, God wasn’t giving up on man. He found a reason for hope in Noah.  God preserved this righteous man, along with his family.

Then came Abraham.  Once again, God found a righteous man who could be the focus of his love and purpose.  God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as stars, and that all nations would be blessed through them.  He also promised to give them a land of their own.

But how would this take place?  The crazy thing is that it would be a very long time until God gave Abraham’s descendants this land.  God told Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” (Gen 15:16)  Abraham would father Isaac, and Isaac would father Jacob.  Jacob would father 12 sons, including Joseph.  All of Jacob’s progeny would go to Egypt, and end up in bondage for 400 years.

Then, Moses would lead them out of Egypt, back to the land God promised them.  In the process, Egypt would experience consequences for how they had treated the Israelites.  All of their first born sons would die.  Their army would be wiped out as they tried to cross the Red Sea.

Even after all of that, the Hebrews who came out of Egypt would not receive the Promise Land until they were ready to believe that God was with them and they could conquer the inhabitants of the land.  It was actually their children, led by Joshua, who battled and drove the tribes out of Canaan and made that their home. They carried out the destruction of the Amorites that God promised in Genesis 15.

So here are some themes in these stories that we can also see in John 3:16 and 17.  First, that God loves the people he created.  It breaks his heart when the world is wicked.  He wants to find a way to save people.  In Genesis he saves them by preserving Noah and his family.  In Exodus he saves them by bringing them out of Egypt.  In John 3, he saves them by giving them Jesus.

Second, that God wants to bless all people.  In Genesis, he promises to bless all people through Abraham.  In John 3, he promises to bless all people with heaven. (If they believe in Jesus.)

Third, that God looks for righteous people.  In Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Joshua, God found individuals who would do his will.  In John 3, God seeks individuals who will do his will by believing in his son.

Fourth, that there is judgement for those who are not righteous.  God destroyed the wicked in a flood.  He wiped out many of the Egyptians through the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.  He helped the Hebrews defeat and drive out the inhabitants of the Promise Land.  In John 3, he declared that all who do not believe in his son will be condemned.

In conclusion, John 3:16 is thought of as the ultimate warm, fuzzy passage.   But it’s so much more.  It’s the culmination of who God has been throughout the ages. From the beginning, he showed how he loved the world.  Although it broke his heart, there were also times that he brought about judgement on the world.

When God sent his son, it was the same song, with different verse.  And what a powerful verse!

What’s really cool to realize is that we are a part of that verse.  We are a part of God’s plan to bless all nations.  It wasn’t just that the Jews of the time could believe in Jesus and have eternal life.  John 3:16 says, everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

How will everyone know about Jesus, so they can receive their blessing?  Through us. That’s our purpose.

How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?  Romans 10:14b NLT

John 3:16 has probably impacted more people than any other Bible verse.  But the initial reaction to it is just the tip of the iceberg.  With the understanding of all that has gone before, and all that will come to be, comes the realization that this is completely and utterly epic.

Let this thrill our hearts!  We’re the fruition of what God set in motion through the ages.  We’re the blessing bringers!  We reflect God’s love and goodness.

And then let us find one way that we will live differently today because of it.

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Psalm 35, Part II — God Delights in Our Well-Being!

Ruthless witnesses come forward;

they question me on things I know nothing about.

They repay me evil for good

and leave me like one bereaved.

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth

and humbled myself with fasting.

When my prayers returned to me unanswered,

I went about mourning

as though for my friend or brother.

I bowed my head in grief

as though weeping for my mother. (v. 11-14)

I am very convicted by David’s heart for others.  When they were sick, he fasted for them, and mourned and wept for them.  Am I practicing this type of love?  My friend lost her job.  Am I fasting and grieving with her?

This passage in Ps. 35 is a good one to encourage all of us to love sacrificially.

  • Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  I John 3:18
  • “I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. Phil 2:20

Psalms 35 goes on —

Rescue me from their ravages,

my precious life from these lions.

I will give you thanks in the great assembly;

among the throngs I will praise you.

It was very important to David that when God answered his prayers, he would thank and praise God publicly.   David said in II Samuel 22:49-50 that he would not only praise God in front of his fellow Jewish believers, but he would praise God in the hearing of the pagan nations.

You exalted me above my foes;

from a violent man you rescued me.

Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;

I will sing the praises of your name

David knew that he needed to praise, so that people would see God through him.

Today, we still need to help people see the glory of God through praise and thanks for how he is personally working in our lives.  In fact, it is our purpose.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  I Peter 2:0

“I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”  Isa 43:20b-21

As we go about our days, let’s tell others the latest story of how God has answered our prayers.  Let’s glorify God more!

Ps. 35 ends with this passage:

May those who delight in my vindication

shout for joy and gladness;

may they always say, “The Lord be exalted,

who delights in the well-being of his servant.”

My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,

your praises all day long.

I love where David says that God delights in the well-being of his servant.  Here are some other translations of that verse:

  • who delights in giving peace to his servant.”
  • he wants his servant to be secure.
  • Who delights in the prosperity of His servant.
  • who delights in the welfare of his servant!

What an amazing God we serve!  His heart’s desire, his great pleasure, is in taking care of us and helping us to do well.  He wants us to be secure, and at peace.  This is a theme throughout the Bible.

  • I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them,  Jer. 32:40
  • If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matt 7:11

May this encourage us.  God loves to work for our good.  When he does, let us praise him publicly.  And let this motivate us to actively work for the good of others, as David did.

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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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Pure Offerings

“My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.  Mal 1:11

I just love this verse.  It has so much good stuff in it.

It talks about a time when God’s name will be great among the nations.  The “nations” are foreigners, people other than the Israelites.  In other words, they are Gentiles.

God is saying that although at this time only the Jews know him, a time is coming when He will be known more greatly — known in every place on earth.

And He will be revered more greatly than He was by the Jews, revered by the very people who didn’t know him.

He will be revered so much that the peoples of the earth will bring PURE offerings to him, not the second best offerings that the Jews were giving Him.

It reminds me of what Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:21, 23:

Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

God’s goal was for there to be a time when people would worship in spirit and in truth.  They would not only serve Him in righteousness, they would do it WHOLEHEARTEDLY!

But how would it get this way?  How could He bring people who didn’t even know him to the point of wholeheartedness, when the Jews had NEVER been able to do this for long?

Look at this prophesy in Isaiah 11:10:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The people of the world will rally to the Root of Jesse, as they would to a banner lifted on a battle field.  We believe the Root of Jesse is Jesus, who descended from David, Jesse’s son. So this prophesy meant that Jesus would have a strong impact on people.

And this is absolutely what happened.  As Jesus foretold: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  John 12:32

Nothing could have the impact that Jesus has had on earth.  Think for a moment what the world would be like if he had never come.  Now think of all the amazing things he brought.  He brought such an example of service to one another, of valuing each individual person, of goodness, of self sacrifice.

It is NO WONDER that God said that His name would be great among the nations. Jesus is an immensely POWERFUL picture of who God is, one everyone could see and experience.  His influence has spread far and wide.  It has changed innumerable lives.

I think of a couple of examples I’ve seen lately.  One of my friends is training her baby to sleep through the night.  It is hard to listen to the baby cry.  It is hard to go through the dark hours with little sleep.  But she said she thinks of Jesus and the way he died for us to save us, and that gives her the strength to do the things her daughter needs.

There is a woman I am studying the Bible with who has had a very tough life.  After many years of trials and being mistreated, she encountered an incredible example of a Christian forgiving a group of people who had done egregious wrong.  When she saw that, she was profoundly changed forever.

The story of Jesus is POWERFUL.  And today, WE are the ones who are impacted by it.  We are the ones who will spread the news, so that it will be known to the ends of the earth, and His name will be great among ALL nations.

I am so thankful that God gives me a way to be wholehearted, to worship in spirit and truth.  I revel in the example of Jesus.  There are so many shining facets of his life that shape me daily.

I can only glorify.

…for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
 Isa 11:9

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. Gen 49:10

I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.  Isa 42:6

 

 

 

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Miracles I’m Not Taking for Granted

I decided yesterday was one of the high points of my life.

First, out of the blue, my old friend Kristen Kopp showed up to worship with us at the North River Church service.  That was such an awesome surprise.  I hadn’t seen her in a long time.

Then, at church, we showed part of a video that I helped put together.

Video

I can’t describe how gratified I was to finally see this video.  Over the past few years I’ve tried at least twice before to put together a promotional video for the church, and it always didn’t quite come together in the end.  Then we started working on this video, and Michael, the brother who filmed it, loaded the footage in his computer and then his computer broke in a car crash.  The video got put on hold.  And then when Michael did get his computer fixed, and had time to edit the video, we used too much copyrighted footage, and YouTube wouldn’t support it.  So I didn’t get to see it.

So this past Friday Michael uploaded the video to Google docs and I saw the video at last.  He did such an awesome job.  I teared up and my throat welled with emotion.  I thought, “This is something awesome that I was a part of, that I used my talents to help create.’  It was immensely gratifying. And it was even more special because for so long I’d felt sad and frustrated because I hadn’t been able to get a video done.  And then it was even more moving, because we were actually able to show at least part of the video to a large group of people.  We achieved our objective!

Another thing that made the day a high point was that we had a baptism that was an unbelievably good surprise for me.  It was Courtland, one of the Tuskegee students who has been studying the Bible.

Courtland baptism courtland

With all the low points our church has been through in the last year, I can’t describe how encouraging it was to have this baptism at the North River service.  It was like a huge confirmation:  God is working!!

After church, our North River friends put on a wonderful lunch for us, and tons of people who have been involved in our ministry were there.  It was over-the-top encouraging.

IMG_6186

And one person who was at the lunch was Ashley Nutt, a sister I LOVE who I helped study the Bible with, and is now at medical school in Philadelphia.

Ashley on the left. (Sorry my camera wasn't set right and it's blurry.)

Ashley on the left. (Sorry my camera wasn’t set right and it’s blurry.)

It was great to see Ashley and hear her talk about how well she is doing.  But my heart soared as she related to me how wonderful our ministry is to her.  She said that no other ministry she’s been in has such a sense of family and dedication.  She was so passionate about the great spirit that defines our group that I felt lifted up and restored, again, because I felt like we’ve been through so much in the past year.

Finally, I went to the wedding shower for my son and his fiancee, Elizabeth.  It was one of the most lovely showers I have ever attended.

IMG_6195

The women went over and above to make it an outstanding event.

IMG_6214

But even more special to me, was to be able to celebrate at this tangible reminder that my son, Max actually is getting married to an awesome young woman.  I’ve talked before about how amazingly God has worked in Max’s life to bring him to this point.  So my heart was already full because of that.  But also, Max and Elizabeth have had some tough trials on the road to getting everything ready to have a marriage together, especially in the last week or so.  It was absolutely refreshing to be with loved ones and rejoice in all the good things they have.  God is good.

So, all in all, it was an incredible day.

But what made it incredible wasn’t just that awesome things happened.  It was that I very much recognized that each one of these things was a miracle.  Each occurrence could have gone a very different way.

And that recognition of miracles, after the struggles and lowliness of heart I’ve experienced, was especially poignant.

So the scripture in Mark for today is:

When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

“But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened,and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky,and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”  Mark 13:14-26

It’s a long passage.  But Jesus was saying that grueling, frightening times were coming, but then at the end, Jesus will come back and, with great fanfare, and gather us and transport us to be with him in heaven.

None of us know how many struggles we’re going to have to go through before the end comes.  But there will be struggles.

That’s what makes the miracles that happen along the way especially awesome.

And my message today, is that we need to see the miracles that are happening, and not take them for granted.

Jeff Hickman preached yesterday that we should exult in the miracle of our salvation.  He quoted Titus 3:3-5a

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. . .

He pointed out that we CANNOT take our salvation for granted.  We would be in such a mess without it.

The same is true for our lives.  God gives us so many things, at just the right time, that are wonderful.

Let’s recognize these things.  The days are dark.  The very fact that so many things have gone right is a miracle!

And if you are at a low point, waiting and wishing for something you desperately need to turn out for the good, keep holding on and remembering what God has already done.  Something good is coming!

Today I am utterly thankful for the ways God has worked.  Life is a series of miracles.  I don’t take them for granted.

 

 

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Six Practical Ways to Make Jesus Lord

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:   ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’    David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.  Mark 12:35-37

Jesus is talking here about the Jews’ expectation of the messiah.  The teaching tradition was that the messiah would be a king who was a decedent of David.  The classic  prophesy of scripture they used involved God promise to David in II Samuel:

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  . . . Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ”  II Sam 7:12-16

Jesus amazed them by pointing out scriptures that teach that the messiah would be called Lord, not just a leader.

This was a radical, life changing concept — for the people back then, and for us today.

Because you can admire a great king, you can pledge fealty to him.

But you don’t worship him.  You don’t see him as divinity. You don’t live in complete subservience to him in every area of your life.

It wasn’t the first time this concept had been introduced in the time of Jesus.  What did the angel tell the shepherds?

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Luke 2:12

The angel proclaimed it.  Jesus came to be God on earth.

And later Jesus would confirm it:

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”  Matt 28:18

The messiah would not just be a regent to pay homage to.  He would not just be a leader to follow.  He would be the Lord, to whom every knee should bow.

Today, can we treat Jesus as our leader, but not our Lord?  Do we want to follow him, but not bow down to him in every area of our lives?

Here are six practical ways to make him Lord:

  • Get up early enough to spend time with God.  Start your day with putting God first.  I have done this for 25 years, and it is an awesome blessing.   That doesn’t mean it comes easily.  Even after all this time.  I still have to battle for it, especially for a focused prayer time.  But making it happen makes every day go better.
  • Watch your tongue.  This is so difficult for me lately.  I have been feeling negative and critical, and I find myself saying negative things about others.  It feels like I’m teething, and I want to bite something.  I also catch myself loving to tell juicy stories about others that I wouldn’t want to repeat to their face.  I definitely have to guard my mouth.
  • Reach out to someone at least once each day.  Be outward focused and seek to connect with others by texting, calling, emailing, and even better, actually getting with someone.  Don’t just let social media be your interaction!  Don’t let your schedule get more important than people.  Love others as He loves us.
  • Submit to one another.   Married women, let your husband lead, regardless of his competence to do so, and TRUST that this is God’s plan.  I have been married 34 years and I KNOW this is the best way.  If you fight for your own way, you are fighting against God.  Everyone, married or not, submit to one another out of reverence for God.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Don’t have to have your own way.
  • Seek and save the lost.  I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs since I first started seeking God when I was 16, and I can state with certainty, life is always better when I’m making a concerted effort to bring others to Christ.  There is just something about changing someone’s life forever, and getting close to them in the process, that is the most fulfilling thing ever.  But doing this is also the HARDEST THING.  It really takes a conscious effort every day, every instance, to deny self and make Jesus Lord.  If you think it’s difficult for you because it’s not your gift, think again.  It’s hard for all of us.  But it will bring you the greatest blessings.
  • Fight for your heart.  I’m just telling you from experience, you’ve got to get in there and tackle this stuff.  Battle the bad attitudes that rise up every day.  Wrestle with your laziness and lack of motivation.  Don’t let moodiness control you.  All these things will arise, but don’t give into them.  Don’t let them be the status quo.  Fighting for your heart is one of those things that seem hard to do at the time, but believe me, it’s worse if you don’t deal with it.  Remember, “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Heb. 12:15)  A bad attitude GROWS and messes you up, and also hurts others.

Today, people still think that the scriptures teach that God plans to build a physical kingdom through the nation of Israel.  If you’re interested in exploring what the Bible says about this, here is a great article.

But Jesus came to do much more.  He came to establish a spiritual kingdom, where he would be King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  (Rev. 17:14)

And his rightful place would be on the throne of our lives and hearts.

 

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