Saturday, June 30, 2012

Choosing to Love God

For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt...Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.” Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them...And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight.” 2 Kings 17: 7, 13-15, 20

The whole topic of free will has an interesting twist when you are dealing with the fact that your will affects those you love the most. From the perspective of a mother and wife I find that many of the things I do on a daily basis are things I chose to do, but not always things I would love spending my day doing. The reasoning behind my daily choices is not that I have children that command I serve them or laws my husband has dictated above me to serve our family in a specific way, but rather my actions are the byproducts of the love I have for my husband and my children. It is the love I have for them above my own love of self that causes me to make sacrifices in my life for them and put them first most of the time in my life.

I think service is a natural characteristic of expressing love toward another person. Conversely, if we tend to not to love someone, we inclined in the other direction. The lack of love holds us back from doing anything above and beyond what is required in dealing with a specific person. Love is really the catalyst of service and sacrifice of oneself. The more we love someone, the more we are willing to give the best of ourselves in service to that other person, to make concerted efforts to right the wrongs in that relationship before any long-standing division takes place, and to strive toward pleasing that person without thought of personal gain.

What about our service and subsequent love directed towards God then? If we find ourselves in a place where we are doing things to serve God out of the guilt we feel when we see His commands which then makes us realize our life does not measure up to what He says, do not really love Him? Service without love is empty and shallow and when the going gets tough in those areas of service then human nature and its bent on self-preservation kicks in and leans us towards the easier and more self-satisfying choices we have before us.
On the other hand, when we find that we are seeking to hear God's Spirit speak into our lives and then obediently follow the paths set before us, even if the path takes us in a direction that may not include our most favored activities and people, then we are living out a deep and true love for the Lord. A love towards the Lord that acts in this manner also hurts when division comes and when the relationship is put out of order. This sort of love makes sure to ask of God, “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening. What can I do for you?” and then is willing to do that which is requested.

Our loving Father loves us more than we could ever imagine. But, relationships are not built on the willing and loving service of only one of the two people in that relationship. God has always been good to keep consistent in providing love from His side of the relationship toward each of us – and as you can see in the verses from 2 Kings 17 He has been doing this for a long time. God desires for each of us to be loving towards Him also and He knows of our sinful nature and that is why He make is t point to call back those He loves when they start to wander away from the perfect loving relationship He wants to maintain with each person He has created.

But, it all comes back to our own free will and the choice we have to either soften our hearts and be open to loving God all the more in our lives OR hardening our hearts and choosing instead to serve ourselves and our own desires. The people of Israel decided to serve themselves and found that God gave them the desires of their hearts – separation from Him. Each of us have the same choice that all mankind has had since sin first separated man from God in the garden of Eden – putting God first or putting ourselves first.

What will each of us choose today? The way you have oriented your heart, either toward God or towards the world, will ultimately dictate who you will serve in the end.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Touchy Topic Addressed to Hurting Women

This morning I want to talk about a pretty touchy subject within the church and therefore I am going to back up my position with a lot of scripture. But, I believe this issue needs to be addressed no matter now touchy it is because there are Christian women who ponder questions out of the distress within their lives and their hearts, and these scriptures bring answers – firm answers – to those open queries.

The touchy subject I want to address this morning is the situation of a believing wife and an actively sinning husband, believing or unbelieving. And, first I want to address the responsibility of the church in this situation and then I am going to address the responsibility of the wife.

If a husband is actively sinning, knowing his actions are not good but choosing to do them anyways, and a member of a church, the church has the responsibility to call him out on his sinful ways.  If then he refuses to admit what he is doing and actively seek help, then after the second confrontation the church is to reject him. See how the two scriptures from Titus confirm those statements:

For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers...To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” Titus 1:10, 15,16

Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:10

But what about the wife? Is she to reject her husband also? No, instead the wife is to play a more difficult and Christ-like role – she is to sanctify the husband within the marriage by committing to stay in the marriage if her husband should so choose to stay. Now, that doesn't mean if your husband is beating you that you stay in the same house with him and allow yourself to be repetitively beat, but it does imply that as a wife you are to continue to call this man your husband and do things on your end that work towards reconciliation with the issues he is facing. For the sake of your children the union of one mom and one dad is by far the best for them because then attachment issues do not come into factor and make the child even more so question their self-worth - that is the work toward reunification you are to hold onto. But, if the husband does decide to leave the marriage on his own decision then God says He will not condemn the wife in the husband's leaving.   Either way, God says your actions in following His commands are to bring His peace into your life. (All of this can be backed up in the following verses from 1 Corinthians 7:12-16)

But to the rest I, not the Lord, say:...a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife...; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband?...”

The final subject in this area that I want to address is the area of authority. What happens if a husband gives up his authority over the wife because his life is so consumed by his sinful habits? If the wife left to sit and wait for him to give her direction on how to raise the children, how to attend to matters at home, which church to attend, and how to handle the family finances? No, if the husband has become ambivalent in these or any other area then I feel the wife needs to see God as her interim husband and make decisions with Him and by him, making an oath before the Lord to do the things He sets before her. In making that oath she still has the responsibility of answering to her husband, as described below in Numbers 30, but then the oath alone is canceled by him and if canceled after confirmed then the guilt of the canceled oath falls on the decision of the husband and not on the obedience of the wife to let go of the confirmed oath. See what I mean:

If she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an agreement with an oath, and her husband heard it, and made no response to her and did not overrule her, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband truly made them void on the day he heard them, then whatever proceeded from her lips concerning her vows or concerning the agreement binding her, it shall not stand; her husband has made them void, and the Lord will release her. Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void. Now if her husband makes no response whatever to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all the agreements that bind her; he confirms them, because he made no response to her on the day that he heard them. But if he does make them void after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.” Numbers 30:10-15

There are far too many hurting women within the church who have no idea how to proceed in their marriages because there are few too many churches who are willing to confront the husbands in these marriages on their sinful behavior, and biblically they are commanded to do so. If you are finding yourself in a situation where hope is hard to find because of your husband's sinful behavior, pray and ask God to direct you along the lines of the truth I have laid out above and for a church family (if you don't already have one) that will stand at your side as a sister in Christ to bring as much healing to your marriage and your family as your husband allows.

Being strong in a difficult situation has nothing to do with your own strength or endurance. Rather, it all has to do with the strength you can draw from the Lord. So, look up and keep going, following the Lord every step of the way and He will not only direct your path but also give you the ability to take each step with the power of the risen Christ who is able to protect you from all harm, heal every broken heart, and strengthen every bended knee.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Repentance Without Jesus is Not Enough

...Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' So they said to him, 'We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.' And he said to them, 'Into what then were you baptized?' So they said, 'Into John’s baptism.' Then Paul said, 'John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.' When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19: 1-5

As I was reading last night, I came upon the scene laid out above in Acts 19 and I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what these differences in baptism really boiled down to, and so I decided to do some investigating.

As it turns out, a man named Apollos instructed these new disciples about the need to repent and turn back to the Lord, that was the main message of John the Baptist and that was the message Apollos was so personally fervent to share with anyone he met. The problem was through, that just like John the Baptist knew, this message of repentance was not the end of the story. The message that Jesus had to share, that would be received by hearts that had turned back to the Lord, was the even greater message to be received.

If you go on in reading Acts 19 you will learn that it wasn't until these 12 men believed in Jesus and were baptized in the “name of the Lord Jesus” did they receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The final part of the story had finally been put into its proper place in their lives and their hearts had been cleared, ready and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and indwell in them and to work through them.

As I thought about these men and the preparation they had undergone before Paul encountered them in Ephesus I have to think of how many times this same type of scenario happens every day in the lives of people who want to make a change in their ways, but do not realize their need for Jesus after their confession of sin.

In the past I have likened the repentance and forgiveness process that we enter into as Christians was an on-going cycle. In the illustration below you see three arrows that go around in a circular fashion. Image with me for a while that each of those arrows represent a step in the cyclical pattern our sinful nature takes us on as believers who put our hope and trust in the Lord. The green arrow represents a committed sin. The blue arrow represents the heart seeing its need for repentance of that sin. The red arrow represents the work done by Jesus to forgive us of our sin and bring us back into a righteous relationship with God.

Now, think about what that cycle would look like if that last of the arrows, the red one, was removed from the picture. If there was no forgiveness, just repentance, the cycle would never complete itself and a person would be left changing their direction to only have the next sin that they commit drop them even further away from the Lord. We NEED Jesus to bring us back to the top – the place of restoration that only His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection can accomplish. On our own we are left in a zigzag pattern into the pit of hell and a greater and greater separation from God.

Thankfully, no matter how far that zigzag pattern takes us away from God, the sacrificial offering made by Jesus is enough to bridge the great divide. And, it is only when that divide is closed that our hearts our cleared and ready to receive the Holy Spirit – the same as these 12 men who were baptized in the name of Jesus. The work was complete and their lives were forever changed because they now had the power of the resurrected Christ in them.

How about you? Do you stop at asking forgiveness and then try to work out your own salvation when you realize you have messed up and need to make an about face? Or, do you take one step further after you see your sin and repent of your ways, and call upon Jesus to once again cleanse you and bring you back into that perfect relationship with Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit?

To access the power of God requires accepting the work of Jesus done on the cross. Without the cross we are dead in our efforts to redeem ourselves and even more so, offer redemption those who are lost and searching for the God we say we serve.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Choosing Sides

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:1-8

There is so much meat in Romans 8:1-8, that I just started out this morning going line by line through the text and typing as the Lord led my thoughts. I am overwhelmed at how much there is to share within these words that God has ordained for us to hear, heed, and take to heart. Here are the meditations of my heart this morning as the Spirit has led me. I hope they bring as much joy to your heart as they did to mine.

There is no condemnation brought upon me from God when I choose to follow the Spirit over and above choosing to do things as my mind, the world around me, and sometimes every fiber in my own body is willing me to do instead. (Romans 8:1)

Freedom comes through living life in the Spirit (who will help me keep the law of God in it's entirety instead of trying my hardest to keep the God's law by doing the best I can on my own. (Romans 8:2)

By myself I am weak and that is why I need Jesus. Sin is just too powerful for me to overcome on my own – been there and tried that too many times to count – and when I got to the point where I was finally exhausted with trying to keep up the facade that I could “do good” on my own, that is when I was ready to receive Jesus as my personal Savior. (Romans 8:3)

The ultimate “law” prescribed by God for us to follow is not the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and not even what Jesus said were the greatest two commandments, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) Instead, the ultimate law prescribed by God is for us to follow the Holy Spirit, who will lead us to keep the 10 Commandments, the truths within the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest commandments according to Jesus, AND everything else in between. (Romans 8:4)

Our minds are bent toward evil and sin and without the intervention of the Holy Spirit we are on a fast track to death and condemnation. Only when we agree to take ourselves out of the equation and allow the Holy Spirit to take over do we find our lives at peace – with ourselves, our neighbors, and with God. (Romans 8:5)

Being at war with God is not a state that leads to peace, let alone being at war with others and even ourselves. We try and try on our own to make our situations better, to heal our past brokenness, to mend relationships that have been torn apart, and we put hope in our own peace-making efforts to bring reconciliation between ourselves and God – but nothing ever seems to work out the way we planned. Jesus was speaking this same truth when he said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” (Mark 12:30) We either choose to serve Jesus through the indwelling of the Spirit OR we choose to serve ourselves by trying out hardest to please Jesus by going about our own paths towards righteousness. (Romans 8:6-7)

Pleasing God and doing everything within His will is possible, but not with any super effort we can supply from within ourselves. Walking in His Spirit every step of every day, listening for His still small voice that brings peace to every situation (no matter what we may think contrary to His logic), and praying for discernment and the strength to obey against our own willful and sinful reasoning – that alone is how we please God. (Romans 8:8)

What is even more important for all of us to understand though is that we are all given equal access to the same Spirit. Just because someone has been a believer longer, has greater biblical knowledge, or belongs to one denomination verses another has no bearing on the ability to draw from the reserves of the Spirit. The only prerequisite for obtaining the gift of the Spirit is faith in Jesus Christ and the willingness to give up control of your life to the One true Giver of Life. It is when you clean house and let the Spirit roam inside you so that He alone calls the shots at every turn, that you have not only fully realized the means to living out the complete law of God, but you have also found the instrumental means to being at peace with God.

May the Spirit of God dwell richly in your hearts today so that all you do will be pleasing to Him!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What is Wizpert?

I am adding this extra blog today to let you know about the new application I just added to my blog today on the top of the right-hand column – it's called Wizpert.

If you have not heard of Wizpert, which I hadn't either until I was sent a personal invitation from the company's CEO, here is what the press is saying about this new start-up company:

You can think of Wizpert as an IT help desk for life. The company recruits knowledgeable bloggers, which it calls “Wizperts,” across topics like exercise, health/wellness, and parenting. Advice seekers can connect to Wizperts via their blogs or the service’s website, and most importantly, they can begin a conservation within seconds.”

For those of you who know me personally or professionally, and have called me in the past for advice or for personal and biblical counseling, know how great of a fit this new venture is for me.  I will mainly be concentrating on the subjects of biblical spiritual growth and home schooling for now - my two favorite subjects to offer advice on but maybe in the future I will also add some other topics that interest me as hobbies, like cooking, gardening, and hobby farming.

This is a great chance to try out this new venture with me also because to get started each Wizpert begins in“free” mode until they get a few good reviews from callers on Skype.  So, if you or someone you know would like to “chat”, then grab a cup of coffee and get your Skype account pulled up on your computer while I am still offering advice for free.  I would love to connect with you through Wizpert – just make sure to leave an honest review at the end of our conversation.

I am excited to see what God has prepared for me to share with you tomorrow - until then!

- Peggy

Eyes Fixed on Jesus

But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.” 2 Kings10:31

This morning I was reading through 2 Kings 10, which is an account of how Jehu did as the Lord had told the prophets regarding how he would rid the land of Israel of the family of Ahab and Jezebel and all of the evil they had spread through their worship of Baal over the Lord God Almighty, I was left at the end of the account a bit dismayed. You see, after all of Jehu's works towards righteousness in the land, he failed to make a clean sweep. We learn from the verses proceeding verse 31, in the account in 2 Kings 10, that although Jehu removed all of the things I just mentioned above, he failed to remove the “golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.”

I found myself wondering, “Why would a person be so bent on clearing the land for the Lord, only to stop short of finishing the job?” But then of course I had to look at my own life and the many things I have done in the past with zeal for the Lord and yet even thought I have been able to start a good work, not always have I been able to finish well.

I have a feeling that Jehu got to a point that he was so wrapped up in his pursuit of ridding the land of its main evils, that the glory given him in those major accomplishments were enough for him to relish in. The act of looking back and saying “I did well.” was more than likely his greatest foe against finishing the job that was set before him.

Finishing well does not happen by mistake. Rather, finishing well is done by keeping your eyes on the goal and not taking them off of the goal to instead glory in the small steps of accomplishment you make along the way. It is at times of gradual triumph toward an end goal that we are most tempted to take our feet off the path that we are running on. We tend to think the opposite and that when we are failing we get most side tracked, but those times when we fall and become disheartened, are instead times when we truly see the path for what it is (the paved way set before us) instead of looking at all of the scenery, distracting vices, and small victories that surround us.

I think verses 12 through 14 in Philippians give us an indicator of how to keep our eyes on the path set before us and the goal of pursuing Jesus to the end:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 
In all humility we are to accept the things that have happened to us and through us in the past. We are to grab at those things Jesus puts before us because if we have given our hearts to Jesus then we have given Him the right to take us where He wants us to go. We do not need to understand, we just need to let go of defeats as well as accomplishments and instead just fix our eyes on Jesus because He alone is to be the focus of all we do, all we say, all we think, and all we are until we are finally called home to live with Him forever.

Jesus, and eternal life with Him, is the goal. Don't take your eyes off of Him no matter if your circumstances have you up or down. The things we do and which are done to us are only the by-products of our walk with Him – He alone is the reason we walk in faith and hope!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Different Ministries Same God

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

How is it that one person's ministry can look so different than another person's ministry, and yet at the same time both people be serving the same God in all truth and in all conviction under the Holy Spirit? I have been faced with this question over the past few days as two different circumstances have confronted my basic convictions about how differently God speaks to my heart and reveals it through my life and how He has chosen to work in two other women who are very different from me and who also minister and bring truth to the body of Christ.

I think throughout his ministry, Paul also encountered many people with whom he had conflicted ministry ideals.  At times these ideals did cause him and other believers to go their separate ways; take for instance the conflict between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Over time God showed that He had been in the hearts of both men and in the midst of their inability to work together.  Because their differing ways though, God expanded His kingdom in a greater way. But what is even more heart-warming to come to grips with is that over time, these men with softened hearts, eventually saw God bring reconciliation to their opposing positions and in the end create an even greater testimony for the Lord, as you can see by what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:11.
Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.”
Yes, that is the same Mark that is mentioned in Acts 15 who Barnabas wanted to bring and yet who Paul refused as a travel companion. Here at the point of when 2 Timothy is written, Paul is nearing the end of his life on earth, most of his faithful companions have abandoned him, he is confined to a prison, and yet the man who receives mention as one who would be useful to him in this state is a man who in the past he refused to travel with.

The verses from 2 Corinthians are words of wisdom from a man who saw the conflicting sides of ministry yet the oneness of a diverse body under the single, unchangeable nature of God. Paul understood that even though the ministry of one person may not even be palatable from one believer to another, that as long as no “offense” or “blame” (meaning committed acts that would cause someone to walk away from the Lord and His truth) could be brought up against a believer in ministry, than it was ordained by God no matter how different each person's ministry looked from the outside.

I am not sure if these matters which I have been pondering before the Lord have been completely revealed to me, but after looking at the truth the bible has to offer in regards to God ordained ministry approaches I have at least decided to not to try to look too deeply at these women but rather look more closely at the Lord who stands behind each of us and asks each uniquely to walk in the manner He has prescribed.

I am praying one day I will see a greater reconciliation between what, at least at this point in time, I can't wrap my mind around. At this crossroad in which I stand, I realize I just need to have a softened and nonjudgmental heart to all those who are ministering in much different ways in the name of the Lord. My greatest prayer is that God then, in my openness, will bring about ways for me to see the beautiful complexity of His nature and how He exhibits it differently in each person He calls and ordains to be a minister of truth. 

Have you ever thought about how God may be calling you to see Him through the lens of a person who has a different way of worshiping Him or ministering to Him? Time taken to consider what your heart may have judged and therefore been hardened against instead of being softened to the array of godly diversity is time well spent. In the end, we may be surprised at the variable magnitude that God has placed before us and which we might have missed if we didn't take the time look.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Another Step Toward Perfect Rest

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:6

Last week if you were with me I stated that I was determined to discover a more complete understanding of Sabbath rest by conducting an on-going holy experiment on my Sabbath days. Well, here I am in week two of my experiment and I have some more wisdom that God has shared with me to add to the wisdom He shared with me last week. By the way, if you want to see what I wrote last week, you can go to my blog posted on June 17th labeled Sabbath Made for Man.

As I said, this is week two of my experiment and after my dedicated morning of worship and fellowship and of course my afternoon nap, the Lord led me to the following scripture verses during my study time with Him – the story of Paul and his God appointed meeting with Lydia. Here is the story with a few highlights marked, which I will talk about after you read the text:
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them... And we were staying in that city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.” Acts 16:6-15
I just love the obedience of Paul to simply pick up all his things after receiving a vision from God and go where God told him to go. He is a man whose spontaneous ways before the Lord are very similar to my own ways. As I read through these verses though and came upon the line “And we we staying in that city for some days.” I was left to ponder to myself, “How many days did Paul and Timothy (earlier in Acts 16 it explains that Timothy was traveling with Paul at this time) go about this city wandering, just looking for where God was a work and calling them to work along side Him? Did they wander so many days that they were to the point of frustration? Did Paul maybe think that this trip was a pointless pursuit and that his vision from weeks, or maybe even months, ago was a just figments of his imagination?”

As I pondered these things and then read the next line about how they went on the Sabbath to a prayer place by the river, I also wondered if this was their last ditch effort to come to God in prayer and maybe seek what they were missing and why they had yet to realize the reason they were in Macedonia. But, in their Sabbath rest, the one that brought them to a place where they could worship and seek the Lord of heaven and earth, they found themselves in the exact spot God was calling them. A place where they were able to see where God was at work and why He had called them – it was because of this woman Lydia and her family who God had prepared and who had hearts ready to receive the message of Jesus Christ - eventually even back the church which was to be established in that area.

In the days leading up to their encounter with Lydia, Paul and Timothy I am sure had to deal with rejection from people regarding the gospel they preached. It is only human nature, and Paul and Timothy were human enough to experience the effects of rejection just like the rest of us, that each rejection came with a disheartening blow and a greater amount of questioning of themselves, their purpose, and their presumed calling. Over his years of ministry, Paul had to deal with much rejection to the words of truth he preached and I am sure the teaching he gave in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 was a conviction he came to after seeing many reject the message of Jesus and in a mix only a mere few who were ready and receptive to hear the words of truth he spoke. Hear what Paul has to say in that passage:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The Sabbath sometimes comes at the point in the week when our efforts from the previous days have seemed fruitless and have only piled up for us heaping mounds of disappointment. But often times, those are the conditions which lead us to the most unlikely places and where God is ready and waiting to then show us how the things we might have rejected in the past, like a wealthy woman who just happened to be praying my the river and was ready to hear what Paul had to say, are the things on our path which are ordained for His purposes.

If Paul would not have stopped to observe a Sabbath rest, he would have missed God's plan to expand the church in Macedonia through Lydia. Have you ever thought about what you could we miss if you failed to take our Sabbath rest? Often times we think that taking time to rest will only lead us away from our purposes, but then God's ways are foolishness to man and it would be best to recheck our thinking when it takes this deceptive rabbit trail. Instead, we should think twice before we forgo a time of rest just so we can get more things checked done in conjunction with the purposes God has set before us. It may be in our rest that God has orchestrated a short-cut to those purposes He has set before us or that our busy running around has kept us from seeing the real path we are being called to take.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Refusing Rest

This morning I did a bit of digging into the Hebrew text of two related passages in Isaiah. I wasn't sure why this first verse caught my eye or why I cross-referenced the second verse from the first, but I have a feeling it may have to do with the very small amount of sleep I have gotten this week and the knowledge that if I am to make the favorite breakfast of our exchange student (caramel rolls) before her return trip to Indonesia, then I have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning. Whatever the cause of my research, I am excited again by what God has let me uncover in His word and I am thrilled to share my findings with you.

Here is the first verse from Isaiah 30:15:
'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.' But you would not..
And here are the key words with their Hebrew translated meanings:

returning (shûwbâh) otherwise “turning back” or a term signifying repentance

rest (nachath) holds the imagery of setting down a burden that one has been carrying

saved (yāsha) – implies that if one is given more space to spread out and is not confined, then this freedom provides security. Interestingly the world for Savior is derived from this word.

quietness (shäqat) means a secure rest, one without any need to do anything or say anything

confidence (biṯchāh) a sense of resignation where there is nothing else to be done. Interestingly this the only instance of this word used in the Old Testament

strength (gᵉbûwrâh) meaning a forceful act of power

would not (âbâh lōh) means an intent to do absolutely nothing

Putting all of that together, I have come up with this expanded version of the Isaiah 30:15 verse:
In repenting of your ways and turning back to God you will gain a lifestyle where your various burdens will be released, this is the secure freedom God is offering you; in then resigning yourself to not strive beyond the restful place you have been given you will gain a powerful source of strength.' But you had no intent to heed this command and rest...
And then, the following verse was cross-referenced from the above one, and I thought it was peculiar that all the words translated to the English word “rest” in these two passages have different meanings, which give the verses a twist when you read them and realize not all “rest” is the same.

Here is the second verse from Isaiah 28:12:
'This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,' and, 'This is the refreshing'; yet they would not hear.
And here are the key words with their Hebrew translated meanings:

rest (mᵉnûchâh) a comfortable, still resting place

weary (âyêph) tired to the point of being faint

rest (nûwach) settling into a place where you have gone to withdraw from activity

refreshing (margêâh) a definitive place where rest is found

not hear ( lōh shāma) not give any attention to what was being said and therefore not obey what was asked

Also, to understand the word “this” in the Isaiah 28:12 passage, you have to go back and look at verse 10 where the Lord is telling the people of Israel that He wants then to live by His precepts (His word and law given to them in a manner than builds one of His teaching upon another and therefore builds their lives in such a way that everything they do is cemented in place with His divine teaching). In the reconstruction of this verse then with the above expanded meanings from the Hebrew definitions, I have added the meaning of “this” in likewise manner.

Putting all of that together, I have come up with this expanded version of the Isaiah 28:12 verse:
'The building up of hearing and obeying the precepts of the Lord, one on top of another, is the comfortable still resting place with which God has determined to move those who are faint to a place in which they can withdraw and cease from their activity for a time of refreshing,' and 'The building up of hearing and obeying the precepts of the Lord, one on top of another is the spiritual place God has defined as one which will give people the rest they looking for'; yet these people would not pay attention to His words or obey what He had commanded.”
So what can we take away from this lesson today to apply to our own lives? I think some of the truths I have pulled out are as follows:
  • Rest is found through repenting my sinful ways to God and turning to Him
  • Rest is found in laying my burdens down before the Lord and letting Him care for the things I shouldn't be carrying around
  • Rest is found in resigning my will to strive and accomplish over to God and letting Him guide my path
  • Rest is found in a space that is bounded by God's law - a space of bounded freedom
And when we get to that place of rest, God supplies us with a power that cannot be reckoned with – His power. The lie that doing more will accomplish more needs to be slain in our hearts and minds and instead the power of resting (really trusting to the point of not going forward until God says so and in the direction God commands) needs to rise up in our lives so God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Also, we best be mindful to not do what the nation of Israel did, and not enter into the rest God has ready for those who follow His ways and live life by His precepts - to do so would mean a life of restless sinful pursuits bogged down by burdens and the chains of condemnation.  If you ask me, the gift of rest God has to offer sounds much better than the other choice we are left with, don't you agree?  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Inbetween Hesitation and Impulisivity

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.” 1 Kings 18:21

As I read this verse this morning I found myself deeply saddened by the final line in this verse, “But the people did not answer him a word.” How often do we encounter people or respond in kind ourselves when a choice between God and something else needs to be made? It is like we hold out hope that some other option will come our way or someone else will make the choice for us so we don't have to take the blame if the choice we made was the wrong one.

These people standing near Elijah actually didn't come to their senses until the end of a very long day of gathering piles of evidence as to which choice was the wiser of the two to make (that being the choice for God over the choice of Baal). In the end they did choose God, but it was only after an episode that would have brought any person in the place to their knees – it was the stand off between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. (If you are not familiar with the story you can find it in 1 Kings 18: 20 – 40.) Here is what the people did and said after they witnessed this spectacular evidence of the existence of God, “Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!'” (1 Kings 18:39)

As I was thinking about this whole scenario, the following verse came to mind: “...because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) For you precautionary types who want all the evidence before you so you can make a wise and calculated decision, this is a tough teaching. I tend to live on the other end of that pole and make the mistake of looking before I leap, ready to believe God will be there to catch me if I, by chance, have missed what His particular call was before my flight.

Neither position, hesitation or impulsivity, is wise to live by. There is a middle ground though that must be found between the two places – one to which the Holy Spirit of God brings through His revelation of God's will to each individual willing to listen and follow.  For you hesitating types, the problem lies in the fact that God usually does not lay out detailed plans for you with all the convincing evidence needed to follow Him from start to stop.  On the other hand, for us impulsive types, we do need to train ourselves to stop and listen before we leap otherwise we may leap into the wrong pool!

The reality is, if we make sure to listen and confirm the Lord's direction, then we are ready to step into the unknown. Faith that God will not fail you in your obedience is what faith is all about. Are you ready today to follow God and step out without knowing where you are going? As long as God is with you (yes that is the check for you impulsive types like me), you are making the right choice and God will continue to confirm your steps as you keep trusting Him and checking in with Him on the way He has set before you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lofty Destruction or Lowly Success

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Philippians 2:3

“... he who exalts his gate seeks destruction.” Proverbs 17:19b

Last night as I was taking some time to read through a few different bible texts, I came upon the top verse from Philippians first and then a bit later I came upon the verse from Proverbs. My mind quickly did a compare and contrast of these two verses and I was intrigued enough to look at them more closely and see how they could possibly be brought together.

I hope you end joy reading all that I found to satisfy my biblical curiosity and what I in turn learned about how God calls us to act toward one another in a means to protect us from destroying ourselves and the dreams He has set in our hearts.

I want to start with the verse from Proverbs because I found the words in this verse a bit different in the NKJV than that which were in the text I had read last night. My standard translation of Proverbs 17:19b didn't connect as well with Philippians 2:3 as the other translation I had, but I just knew there was something to be found if I was diligent in looking at the original Hebrew of Proverbs 17:19b, and I was right. See what I mean as I dig apart for you the key words from Proverbs 17:19b:
exalts (gâbahh) meaning to be haughty; which can further be defined as someone who is disdainfully proud, snobbish, or scornfully arrogant.

gate (pethach) meaning a place of entry.

seeks (bâqash) meaning to strive after; and with the verb tense of this word as it is used it means a continual striving toward an end result, which here is personal destruction.

destruction(sheber) the essence of this word refers to the poor outcome to a dream. The mind of the person who is pursuing this dream somehow does not see that it will lead to an ill end and therefore he/she does not stop and change tactics – the end result is ruin of the dream and more than likely ruin of the person as well.
Putting all of these words back together with their expanded meanings we then learn that “...a person who is scornfully arrogant towards others thereby creating a huge barrier between herself and others is on the fast track to ruining all of her dreams of future success.”

In looking at how that verse now reads out it is easy to make the connection now from the Proverbs verse to the Philippians verse. It is hard to be haughty when none of your actions are “done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind”. It is hard to build up barriers between yourself and others when you are “esteem[ing them] better than” yourself. In following the principal God has set before us we can find the path to successful realization of our dreams – the dreams He has forged in our hearts.  What is even more wonderful is that in realizing these types of dreams we not only satisfy the longings Hehas placed inside of us, but also our lives bring glory and honor to Him by living within His standard and stil finding succes through means which oppose the stardards of the "dog eat dog" world we live in.

Today as you find yourself confronted with a situation that may instinctively cause you to pondering how to build a wall between yourself and another person, take time to stop and pray for that person and that situation. Seek out how God would like you to see your situation from His perspective and take into account the fallen state of both yourself and the person you are facing. When we remove our lofty facade and remember that “we are [all] but dust” it is then we can serve in the mostly lowly of states even the most offensive person God could put before us and still come out on top in the end.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Still Can't Believe

Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.” Acts 13:41 (Paul quoting Habakkuk 1:5)

Are you despised by people because you believe in Jesus? Many people are. Despised for believing the bible as truth, despised for believing Jesus is the only way to heaven, despised for believing humankind is sinful at the core and in need of salvation, and despised for believing good works and performed rituals are not a means to justification before God.

We are not alone though in being despised. God Himself has been despised since the point Satan decided he wanted to replace God and be a god himself. With the fall of mankind into sin and with the first act of disobedience from Adam and Eve, we have been confronted with the choice to either believe God for all He says He is or despise Him for what He asks us to believe about Him. There is no middle ground between those two choices. It is either a choice of belief or disbelief.

The more amazing fact though is that so many people see all of the signs of God, as Paul pointed out to these Jews he was speaking to in Acts 13 as he recalled the scriptures which pointed to Jesus and then the things Jesus did to fulfill them, and yet they still do not believe after they see these things and hear all the facts to support the truth which is right in front of them.

Should we then we shocked when people around us despise us and reject our belief in God? No, not at all. Do we have the mission of converting them through the proof we can set before them? No again. For those who have closed hearts, minds, and eyes there is nothing we can do on our part besides pray, to help them believe in the God we have encountered and know is the One true God. Even Jesus, with all the miracles, signs, and wonders he performed, could not convince people to believe in Him. Jesus set an example we should heed in that He watched to see where God was working and in whom God was working and in that direction He focused His attention and energy.

We do not know who will and who won't accept the words we declare on behalf of our Lord, and therefore we must keep speaking truth and allowing God to use our words for His purposes and His glory. Many can be saved if we are diligent enough in declaring the word of the Lord to those around us no matter how many times we are rejected or despised in our obedience to declare truth. Don't worry today about who will reject or despise your words or your beliefs. Instead, just keep speaking out for the Lord and let your voice we a sweet melody of salvation. There are people who are seeking amidst those who are perishing and we should be wise in endeavoring to be the givers of God's light to those who are just waiting to hear what we have to say.  To the rest, we have to pray for them "...for they know not what they do."