Sunday, September 30, 2012

Joyful on the Sabbath

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 58:13-14

As I came upon the above verses yesterday, I realized I had not blogged on the Sabbath for a while and therefore thought I should probably consider the words of Isaiah as I spent my Sabbath today. If you read these lines from Isaiah carefully, the Lord lets it be known that on the sabbath we need to be purposeful to avoid things that bring pleasure and honor to us above what will bring pleasure and honor to Him.

I have to admit it is difficult at times to discern if a certain activity is bringing honor and pleasure to me or to God, especially when I enjoy doing some of those activities which bring honor and pleasure to Him. In days gone by it would have been shameful to even consider finding pleasure in a solemn sabbath activity. All such activities were instead to be done with a somber expression and a religious disposition. Thankfully in our modern era, and with our fuller understanding of God's intent of the sabbath and the activities we are to commit ourselves to observing on it, personal joy is not considered a determining factor in weighing out acceptable holy day reverence.

Today for instance, I was able to sing a special song to our congregation that a few of the worship team members and I have been working on for the past two weeks. After the service, a woman made the comment to me that I looked like I was having so much fun as I sang my heart out to this wonderful song – and she was right, I did enjoy it thoroughly. But the catalyst of my joy was not because the song sought to bring me honor and pleasure, but rather because it was sang to the Lord to bring honor and pleasure to Him. I know our performance was all the more enhanced by what God supplied us as we worshiped Him in song and it pleased His ears as we used the gifts He had given each of us to come together and sing for His glory.

“...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

The Sabbath must not be taken in the black and white context of "all for God" and "none for me", when God's intention for the Sabbath is that we always seek to find how we can find communion with Him and share in His joy not live in disconnect from it. I hope that your Sabbath today brought you much joy as you sought to honor and please the Lord who has given you the ability to be joyful in many things and the gifts to that help you share in that joy with Him.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are You With Me?

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.” Titus 1:15

 “Are you with me?” A question which is usually voiced when a choice needs to be made – one in which a person can no longer make the choice to sit on the fence and think he/she is void of having to make a decision. An answer must meet this question and then quickly be followed up with a bold jump down to either one side or the other. The above verse from Titus compares the two opposing sides of the spiritual fence that God places before us and asks the question, “Are you with Me?” The pure side with Him or the defiled side apart from Him, the side which makes not only the person pure or impure but also their mind and conscience pure or impure.

The divide is great and the fence is very high from which we jump, it is the fence that separates sin from holiness and the choice to jump to the side with God was made possible only because of the costly price that Jesus paid on the cross. Isaiah wrote from God's point of view how much it does matter regarding the side of the fence we choose to be on and how that choice determines what will be accomplished in and through our lives. As I read these verses I realized how sad the life is for those who live apart from God on a daily basis and why we see so many people in our world groping at anything they can for the peace that we have in Christ but which they either do not know about or do not want to accept from their opposing side. Here is what he wrote:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened,
That it cannot save;
Nor His ear heavy,
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity.

No one calls for justice,
Nor does any plead for truth.
They trust in empty words and speak lies;
They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch vipers’ eggs and weave the spider’s web;
He who eats of their eggs dies,
And from that which is crushed a viper breaks out.

Their webs will not become garments,
Nor will they cover themselves with their works;
Their works are works of iniquity,
And the act of violence is in their hands.
Their feet run to evil,
And they make haste to shed innocent blood;
Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
Wasting and destruction are in their paths.
The way of peace they have not known,
And there is no justice in their ways;
They have made themselves crooked paths;
Whoever takes that way shall not know peace.


Therefore justice is far from us,
Nor does righteousness overtake us;
We look for light, but there is darkness!
For brightness, but we walk in blackness!
We grope for the wall like the blind,
And we grope as if we had no eyes;
We stumble at noonday as at twilight;
We are as dead men in desolate places.
We all growl like bears,
And moan sadly like doves;
We look for justice, but there is none;
For salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions are multiplied before You,
And our sins testify against us;
For our transgressions are with us,
And as for our iniquities, we know them:
In transgressing and lying against the
Lord,
And departing from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands afar off;
For truth is fallen in the street,
And equity cannot enter.”
Isaiah 59:1-14



Jesus also talked about this divide in terms of either loving the light of God or hating it and then He put into a greater picture how whichever side of the fence we choose to side on will make an even greater distinction at the time when all the works of men are exposed by the light of God.

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:20-21

The side of the fence we choose to jump down to makes all the difference as to whether the things we do in this world make any impact within the greater picture which God's light will one day illuminate and make clear to everyone. You can either be on one side of the fence or the other, in darkness or in light, in a state of truth or in a state of always believing the lies which are set in your conscious, and either with a mind set on the things of God or a mind set on the things that oppose God.

By the grace of God we have been given the choice to pick the side of the fence our hearts, souls, and minds reside on. What will you say today in response to the Lord's question, “Are you with Me?” How you answer will not only affect your day today, but also your days that have no end.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Trusting the Rain to Fall

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:10-11

This is a picture from my front porch taken almost 2 years ago
Even though it is only late September, my kids are already thinking about snow. Last year we had a very mild winter and for those of us who love the cozy effect which snow brings to winter surroundings, we kind of felt cheated out of a real winter. But, the greater effect left by the lack of snow last year was the near drought that threatened the entire crop season here this year. (We fortunately did get some incredible spring rains, which in some places proved to be too much, and in the end our growing season ended up being very bountiful.)

Looking to heaven for this necessary moisture though is risky business when viewed from a worldly mindset. A more secure watering system is of course one we can control through hoses, pumps, and sprinklers. But, watering done within these manufactured parameters is limited and does not have the same potential of bountifulness as what the rains given from heaven can provide. The farmer who trusts in the rains over his own abilities to provide moisture to his crops may not know what each year's crop will yield, but in trusting in the rains and the snow to water the ground as the seeds in which he places in the soil have need for, he does know he has a greater potential for prosperity than the farmer who is watering his own crops.

It should not surprise us that we crave moisture. The rain and snow which fall to the earth bring refreshment and allow the plants around us to flourish and bring about a landscape of prosperity and contentment. But also, in the same way as we long for watering from heaven in the physical sense, our hearts too long for watering from heaven in the spiritual sense. No matter who we are, there is a longing within our souls to see a harvest come out of our lives. Within each and every human, God has made known to our nature that growth is only possible when watering from an outside source comes into our lives.

The watering source we determine to use though is the main determining factor which effects the prosperity of the land and seeds we have been intrusted to farm and plant. The amount of time we spend watering our own hearts out of our own means leaves us less time to cultivate our hearts and also less time to cultivate new ground and plant seeds in the rest of the fertile places the Lord has given to us to tend in the lives and circumstances around us.

Think about it this way. Say you were a farmer and you planted a garden and installed a sprinkler system so you could control the exact amount of moisture in your garden. Then, unless you had unlimited resources for this garden, which you don't because no farmer does, you would need to make your garden on a small scale because of the massive amount of resources per square foot that such a garden would require. The seeds planted within the garden, although minimal, would produce abundant growth because they would be tended to with great care.

But, in contrast if while you were tending your garden you took the time to look out on the landscape of your entire plot of land, you would find that surrounding your little garden there would be a great lack of prosperous growth. Weeds are sure to have overtaken the land outside your garden due to neglect and although you would have a beautiful little garden that would in essence provide for your own needs, you would live in the middle of a wasteland that saw not prosperity. Your future success as a farmer would not be good, and although you would have enough food to survive on yourself, you would have no crops to share or sell. The land which you had to grow the multitude of seeds you had been given to plant would have been wasted, never given the chance to prosper as they could have if you had not horded your resources and only watered and tended your little garden from your own means.

As I have been writing this, my thoughts have gone to the parable of the talents and so I think I will leave you today with this story that Jesus used to talk about trusting in God to supply for all our needs in growing the seeds of spiritual prosperity He has entrusted each of us to care for and grow in this world. As you read this story I hope you have time to reflect upon whom you are trusting to water what you have been given and if the time and energy you are expending are on the things you must do as the farmer of the seeds you have been given to grow.  The greatest mistake we can make in our lives is to pick and choose the seeds we want to grow in limited areas of our live so we can have complete control over the type of crop we finally produce.  Trusting in God alone to water for us and in all of the land He has set before us is the key to being prosperous, but trust requires us to wait in faith for the rains to come.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.

For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Matthew 25:14-30

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blameless

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

 After a long night filled with tying up lots of loose ends, I passed by one of my flip calendars and turned the page since it was already 1am and I was hungry to hear from God's word for just a bit of refreshment for my soul that was feeling very much spent. The words that met me were from 1 Corinthians 1:8 “...our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”, and it struck me in my weary state that this was a promise I needed to ask the Lord to fulfill in my life. You see I have seen my heart wane in and out in my devotion to the Lord because of the testing the Lord has brought into my life in the past to reveal things in my heart that needed to be disposed of – those sinful tendencies and less then stellar character traits I was blinded from seeing because my sinful nature had grown accustomed to them.

As I quickly thought back to the many ways God has tested my faith and shown me the things within my heart that needed to be refined, I knew they were for the best that God was doing these things. And yet, looking back I now also realize how vulnerable I was during those times of testing. Vulnerable within my heart into desiring to follow an easier path than I was being asked to walk by my Lord and Savior – one that did not look as difficult and painful as the path I saw laid out before me.

This paradox of refinement of our souls against our need to hold strong to what we believe in about God, work in tandem with one another I believe to prepare us for the second coming of Jesus. God wants to prepare us for this day, yet in order to do so He must take us to the limits of our faith so we can see those things within us that would make our meeting Him more painful and difficult instead of more glorious and joyful. Yet, when those tough times come into our lives it is hard to trust in God that He will not allow our testing to go so far as to crush us and leave us in a wanton state when the day finally is upon us.

But in thinking over these things I realized that God offers us another promise in His word that answers this fear as He states:

He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...” Philippians 1:6

God is working day by day to prepare us for this special day on His calendar – the coming of Jesus - so that we can stand blameless before Him and enjoy the day as God intends us to. Completion of His good work in us is not a fact we should question if we truly believe in Him and trust in the what He says about that day and about the care He is putting into making us ready for it.

Fear that the next time of testing or trials may be the beginning of the end of my life of faith is not where my mind should be taking me as I purpose my steps with Jesus each day. A life of faith says instead to the Lord, “Wherever you ask me to go, I will go right away trusting in all that you have for me there.” I guess that is why when I came upon this quote from Oswald Chambers this morning I was all the more encouraged in what God had been speaking to my heart about His desire to work within me all He needs to work out in order to make me blameless when the day of judgment finally does arrive.

The exacting call of Jesus Christ has no margin of good-byes, because good-bye, as it is often used, is pagan, not Christian. When once the call of God comes, begin to go and never stop going.” Oswald Chambers

The life of a soul convicted to walk forward with Jesus and not stop until the end has been reached is a life that may be uncertain here on this earth and one that will wane back and forth in many heart matters. But, staying strong in the promises of the Lord so He can work within us the gain of godly character and the refinement of our souls is the key to allowing that walk to bring us one day before our Savior in a state of blamelessness. Our obedience in following the path of grace He has offered each of us, and which eventually will lead each and every believer to the culmination of the grace He paid on the cross, is the path my soul yearns to stay on.

Every day we take steps of faith, and as Ephesians 5 states, we need to be careful where each foot falls as we walk to make sure where we are going is toward that blameless state the Lord has prepared for us within His will.

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trusting in Truth and Not in Feelings

"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You."  Isaiah 26:3

This morning as I was praying, I realized that the fervency in my prayers as of late has been declining. On top of that realization, my soul has felt very unsettled about the divide I see continually growing as I have let my feelings take over where I know the truth of the Lord should be taking precedence. It was during this prayer time, as these thoughts were going through my mind, that I felt the nudge of the Spirit to pray through my feelings and instead to pray alone on the basis of God's truth - for that I asked the Lord to help me since it was not within me that I knew this change could happen.

You see, I have come to realize over the years through my experiences and through my study of God's word that even though I am less internally passionate about seeking God at times, my feelings are not to be the basis upon which I ultimately decide who God is in my life and who He says He is in His word.

Of course I was not surprised then when I sat down to read God's word this morning, that the author of one of my devotionals quoted 2 Corinthians 5:7 and equated sight to feelings. Through this confirmation regarding what I had prayed earlier, God made sure I knew He had received my prayer and was delighted to answer me as the Holy Spirit had directed my heart to call out to Him.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

If we were to only act on our feelings and what we see, then we would not be living in faith at all, but rather in disobedience to what the Lord has told us is true. We must choose the god we serve from either the One who speaks His truth in the bible as our Redeemer and King or from one of the false gods our enemy uses to heighten our selfish desires and corrupt hearts. Giving lordship to truth over feelings is a constant battle for the Christian because feelings are so intense and they come upon us without warning. To not prepare ourselves for where feelings may take our hearts and our internal allegiances is the same thing as allowing ourselves to walk straight onto the path of destruction – one that leads us not only away from the Lord Jesus for a short time but one that hardens our hearts and minds towards God with every step we take. See what Ephesians 4 has to say to that effect.

...you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Ephesians 4:17b-19

Living by feelings alone long enough will lead the heart to do things that are even beyond what the heart is able to reason through feelings. Actions which are “past feelings” are taken by a heart which has been so hardened against truth that it no longer even sees that where it is headed.  This sort of living, even though it "seems right in the eyes" and heart of man, it will never bring the peace and hope the person controlled by this way of living ultimately seeks.

There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” Isaiah 48:22

Feelings lead us away from truth and whether they are feelings of complacency, joy, or utter despair we must be on the guard day and night so as not to let them rule over what God has told us is really true. The truth the Lord provides us is true no matter what our situations may be tempting us to believe. Feelings which are based on assumptions, our internal condition (which is sinful and always in opposition to truth unless we allow the Holy Spirit to take over it), and calculated temptations thrown at us from or enemy are meant to draw us away from the truth we have learned about God. Just by understanding where feelings originate is the beginning of understand why we must put the utmost care into making sure we don't rely on them and why we need to steep ourselves in God's truth all the more.

Seek truth beyond what you feel and you will find that God will be there when you have pushed through your feelings and trusted in Him beyond what you can see. When we experience doubt, fear, impatience, despair, or alienation we need to remember that God does not want us to allow these feelings to be our faith inhibitors but rather our faith motivators. Yes, sometimes it seems like darkness surrounds us and we cannot see the face of God no matter how hard we try. But, just because we cannot see God and our feelings do not move us in ways to desire Him as they once had or as we would like to see them move us, that does not mean He is not there and that everything He says about Himself is not true.

Living past what we feel and walking forward upon the precepts of God during those dark and quiet times are opportunities for us to find that ALL God says He is in His word is completely true. And when we push beyond what we can see and feel and trust in God over all we are tempted to believe on the contrary, the greatest and most powerful feelings that God alone can give us will be ours, the feeling of peace – the only feeling that truly allows us to find rest in our souls and strength in our faith for the journey that will lead us home to His ever-loving and faithful arms.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not Tossed To and Fro

...we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ...” Ephesians 4:14-15

As I have been reading through the bible these past few days, the Lord has been impressing a repeated message to me, one I have not blogged about until now because up until last night I had no idea what the meaning was behind the things He had been telling me. In the process of not being able to make sense of these things I did not put them out of my mind, but rather stored them away in the back of my mind. I have to admit I should have been seeking God more as I saw Him place this theme before me again and again, but I did not and instead found myself a little bit baffled as to why God kept speaking to me again and again about this subject – that being that those who are headed on the path of destruction will continue to move on that path and things must get much worse for them before they start to get better and see truth for what it is.  Then, last night my eyes were opened as the Lord used all of what He had been teaching me to speak truth in the response to a question I didn't even have to think about before I answered it. 

What happened is that I had to be at a meeting last night and the room was filled with “the trickery of men” beyond what I could even do justice in describing to you right now. After the meeting finished, one of the people in charge approached me and said, “Wasn't that a difficult meeting?” To which the Lord opened my mouth and gave me the following response without my mind really understanding until later where it had come from and the full gravity of what it meant: “As I have been praying about this situation, God has shown me that things must get much worse before they get much better.” To that this man I don't think had any idea how to answer and therefore just agreed with me and quickly allowed me to finish packing up my things while he found some other people to talk to.

I have to laugh when I think about how God uses the simple tool of my mouth to proclaim truth when my mind does not even know at times, until after I speak, what the greater meaning of what I just said was. I know that God has given me this gift to proclaim truth apart from myself and it can be a bit frightening knowing that when I allow God to use my mouth for His glory, not always will what I say be welcomed or even understood by the hearer.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

There is a growing divide between those who are “tossed to and fro [by] every wind of doctrine” that comes from the mind of man apart from those who have trusted in the truth that Jesus alone provides. For those who trust in the truth that Jesus supplies and what the Holy Spirit reveals through the gift He gives to all who believe, truth clings to us and sustains us so that no matter how hard the winds of life blow we stand firm and God is glorified. It is in the foundation of truth we are allowed to stand and it is the only place where our feet can stay firmly planted and amidst the wickedness of this world. But, for those who do not have that solid footing, the Lord takes their worship or trust in the things that are not of Him and He reveals them for what they are, making certain that none of what they do brings about results that could cause man to glory apart from Him.

Hear what Isaiah had to proclaim from the Lord about this very same truth in the lines I have provided from chapters 47 and 48 of Isaiah:

For you have trusted in your wickedness;
You have said, ‘No one sees me’;
Your wisdom and your knowledge have warped you;
And you have said in your heart,
‘I am, and there is no one else besides me.’
Therefore evil shall come upon you;
You shall not know from where it arises.
And trouble shall fall upon you;
You will not be able to put it off.
And desolation shall come upon you suddenly,
Which you shall not know.

Stand now with your enchantments
And the multitude of your sorceries,
In which you have labored from your youth—
Perhaps you will be able to profit,
Perhaps you will prevail.
You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels;
Let now the astrologers, the stargazers,
And the monthly prognosticators
Stand up and save you
From what shall come upon you.
Behold, they shall be as stubble,
The fire shall burn them;
They shall not deliver themselves
From the power of the flame;
It shall not be a coal to be warmed by,
Nor a fire to sit before!
Thus shall they be to you
With whom you have labored,
Your merchants from your youth;
They shall wander each one to his quarter.
No one shall save you.”
Isaiah 47:10-15

I have declared the former things from the beginning;
They went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it.
Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I knew that you were obstinate,
And your neck was an iron sinew,
And your brow bronze,
Even from the beginning I have declared it to you;
Before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you,
Lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them,
And my carved image and my molded image
Have commanded them.'...

For My name’s sake I will defer My anger,
And for My praise I will restrain it from you,
So that I do not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it;
For how should My name be profaned?
And I will not give My glory to another.”
Isaiah 48:3-5, 9-11

Those verses above give lots of food for thought when we think about handling any situation apart from the will of God.  The question we are often left we when we think about these things is, "What will the Lord do with those who are seeking to plot and scheme against His will?" Well, we are not allowed most times to know the exact specifics regarding what will transpire in the life of anyone who walks with or without the Lord. But the one thing we can be certain of is this: The life of those who do not follow the Lord will end in humiliation when God comes to judge the world, when He is given glory forever more in His kingdom and when all things are finally revealed in the light of His truth and are no longer cloaked in sin and darkness.

Yes, God will allow things to get much worse before they get better because His purposes overpower the small and inconsequential meetings we hold with such great significance in this world. For those who seek God and His truth, may it not take us until the time of God's reign to realize that the time we spend with the Lord on our knees is the most important meeting we can take part in on this earth and it will accomplish more than we could ever imagine for the eternal New Jerusalem which is to come.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Israel Has Not Been Forgotten

I am the Lord, who makes all things,
Who stretches out the heavens all alone,
Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself...
Who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’
To the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’”
Isaiah 44:24, 26


With the news focusing more and more around Israel and the heightened conflict in the Middle East, I found the above verses I took out of Isaiah 44 (the fuller context is laid out below) captivating to read and ponder. God has not forgotten Israel, but in due time He will restore His nation. In the past God gave an example of what the restoration would look like as He used the king of Persia, Cyrus, to allow the exiles to return to their homeland. But there is a more perfect example of the true Shepherd who will gather the nation of Israel back together for its final restoration – Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Remember these, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
I have formed you, you are My servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!
I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions,
And like a cloud, your sins.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”
Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it!
Shout, you lower parts of the earth;
Break forth into singing, you mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
And glorified Himself in Israel.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
And He who formed you from the womb:
'I am the
Lord, who makes all things,
Who stretches out the heavens all alone
,
Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself;
Who frustrates the signs of the babblers,
And drives diviners mad;
Who turns wise men backward,
And makes their knowledge foolishness;
Who confirms the word of His servant,
And performs the counsel of His messengers;
Who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’
To the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’
And I will raise up her waste places;
Who says to the deep, ‘Be dry!

Who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd
And he shall perform all My pleasure.
Saying to Jerusalem, 'You shall be built,'
And to the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.'”
Isaiah 44:21 – 28


Jesus is the One who has come and the One who will come again to gather the nation of Israel back to the Lord and He alone will finally bring peace where unrest has been the way of life since Israel was first set apart as the children of the Lord.


But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting...

Then the remnant of His brethren
Shall return to the children of Israel.
And He shall stand and feed His flock
In the strength of the
Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the
Lord His God;
And they shall abide,
For now He shall be great
To the ends of the earth;
And this One shall be peace...”
Micah 5:2-5a


If you want to see the most recent stories of what is happening in Israel, here are some links to some of the most recent events at the time of this post:

 


Plus, here are some recent links on the massive return the Jews to their home country as is predicted in the bible:





(These articles above are but a few of the many that are out there and that are coming in daily regarding Israel.  I would love to have my readers add any articles they feel led to add to what I have above.  Please feel free to make a comment on this post and include the link to your article.)

We cannot sit back as Christians and say that what is going on in Israel does not concern us. The bible is to be taken in its entirety and that means we, the predominately Gentile nation who are saved by adoption, are not the original sons and daughters of the great I AM. Our duty to our siblings through the adoption we have been given, is to shine our lights all the more brightly and to pray for them all the more earnestly as their time of restoration draws near.

My prayer for all of us who hold the truth of what these news worthy events mean within the ultimate plan of God, is that the peace of the Lord and the promise of His inheritance to us adopted may richly dwell in our lives as we watch the news unfold and in turn point us to the most glorious future tomorrow with our Savior, Jesus Christ and with our brothers and sisters of Israel who finally see the Savior they have been waiting for.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Watching Brother and My Watching God

Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, 'I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'” Genesis 4:9


This morning my pastor spoke on Genesis 4 and then when I got home this same verse I heard at church was looking me in the eye when I sat down to ready my bible and devotionals. “Where is Abel your brother?” Then the following verse from Luke sat before me to reflect on with the following quote from Oswald Chambers:


Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem...” Luke 18:31b


The same thing will happen to us on our way to Jerusalem. There will be the works of God manifested through us, people will get blessed, and one or two will show gratitude and the rest will show gross ingratitude, but nothing must deflect us from going up to Jerusalem.” Oswald Chambers


After pondering all of these things I felt the Lord put before me today, I had to ask myself, “Where is my brother Abel?” Here is what I journaled after I thought long and hard about that question with a lot of prayer to boot: I have to believe he is in my Jerusalem. He is where God is sending me and he is all men where my sending takes me. He is in the place where I stand firm, but he is not the reason I stand firm or the reason I should ever lose my footing. I may stand next to him, but never do I stand in any way to seek support from him if he does not offer it. He may be the one who affirms me, but more than likely he will be the one who wants to crucify me. I journey onward to my Jerusalem not because of his presence there, but because of God is there and he has called to to this exact place where I can stand in the presence of my brother Abel and in living before him as God asks I will teach him more about God than he understands.


May all of us strive to live like this before our fellow man, but more importantly live this way before our Lord.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Frost Warning

And the Lord said, 'Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.'” Luke 22:31-32

At the end of the last year, as I was praying about the materials I would use in teaching my children this year, I felt the Lord telling me that my kids needed to get real in understanding the cost the Lord requires for the faith of those who confess Jesus as Lord. So, as I was looking among the used books at our home school conference last spring I came upon the book Jesus Freaks which was written by a mutual effort of the recording group DC Talk and the mission group Voice of the Martyrs.

The content of this book is far from your typical fluffy devotional material. It starts out with a bang, literally, as the first story shared in the book is about the execution style gunning done at Columbine High School in response the gunners question as to whether the young girl he was holding at gun point believed in God. I can see my kids are a bit uncomfortable as I have read this material, but that is where they need to be in coming to an understanding that following Jesus is more than just professing Him in church and reading the bible in our comfortable home. The fact is, we all need to be pitched off the comfortable stool on which we rest in our theological faith. God wants us to realize the sacrifice He asks of us too, just as He wanted Peter to realize that the testing of his faith in the reality of life would strengthen not only his faith in the Lord, but also the faith of those who were witness to the firm claims he would make for God even if it cost him everything he had.

Faith must be tested, and the sense of feeling deserted is 'the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual' (Daniel 3:19) into which it may be thrown. Blessed is the person who endures such an ordeal!” Charles H. Spurgeon

Jesus is our perfect example of One who was willing to lay everything on the line for what He knew to be true and moreover the One in whom He trusted beyond all that He could see with His physical eyes. His was an attitude that was willing to do what His Father asked, unrestricted, and unconcerned of His own well-being.

O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39b

Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” John 12:27

Whatever testing the Lord allows as part of growing our faith or using our life as a witness to the watching world as to what faith in Him is really all about, is the basis of the belief in which we are called to live out. Faith in Jesus is not about going to church, about participating in Sunday school, or even about going out and doing good deeds for our fellow man. Faith in Jesus is about living like Jesus and being willing when God calls to trust our lives in His hands even if He calls us to sacrifice our life in this world for His glory.

As I was reading Isaiah this morning I was drawn to these verses below as they speak about how the works of this world and those who oppose God will add up to nothing, but the work done by the Lord through those who have offered themselves up to Him will accomplish great things within the life of the man or woman who do not fear and who are strengthened through the furnace of difficulty. Very fitting indeed for the argument I am placing before you today.

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest regions,
And said to you,
‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not cast you away:
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Behold, all those who were incensed against you
Shall be ashamed and disgraced;
They shall be as nothing,
And those who strive with you shall perish.
You shall seek them and not find them—
Those who contended with you.
Those who war against you
Shall be as nothing,
As a nonexistent thing.
For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand,
Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’


Fear not...
I will help you,” says the
Lord
And your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
“Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth;
You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small,
And make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them, the wind shall carry them away,
And the whirlwind shall scatter them;
You shall rejoice in the
Lord,
And glory in the Holy One of Israel.”
Isaiah 41:9-16


If we think that it is cruel for God to allow persecution and testing to come upon His people, then we really do not understand the faith that we have been called to in Jesus. The faith of a Christian is not about material blessings. The faith that God requires is about overcoming through Him and about blessings beyond what we could ever imagine with our feeble minds – eternal blessings. Listen to what the author of Romans has to say about how we are to live out our faith:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

'For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'


Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39


Trials and tribulation should be the status quo for the life of a Christian, at least if you read scripture in its entirety you fill find that it talks more about suffering and pain than it does about blessings and worldly fulfillment (there actually is very little of that mentioned). We need to keep ourselves always at the ready for what testing may be around the next bend and be willing to drop all our comforts and relationships in the world if the Lord requires for us to leave them behind for His greater purposes in our lives.


As I was thinking about all of these verses I have laid out before you this morning, and also looking ahead to the work we have to do on our farm today because the weather here is to drip below freezing tonight, I thought about how perfect an analogy the two scenarios make. We do not know when persecution will come, but we do know it is to be expected – just like I know in Minnesota there will come a day soon that the freezing temperatures will come and all the plants in the garden along with their fruit will die. Instead of building a greenhouse to extend the life of my plants, I pick what I can and store away what I need to feed myself for the long and cold winter ahead. So too must we as Christians take all the spiritual nourishment the Lord provides for us so we too can be ready when the frost warning comes and everything that once flourished in our Christian life looks dead and unfruitful from the outside or is called to pay the ultimate sacrifice and die.


Here is one last set of verses for the morning, more truth to remind us of the persecutions we are to expect in this life. But do not miss the last verse – the promise that God will bring us out into rich fulfillment if we but only stay true to our Lord Jesus and endure the trials He lays before us for His glory and our refinement.

Oh, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
Who keeps our soul among the living,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.
For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.”
Psalm 66:8-12

Friday, September 21, 2012

As The Lord Chooses

 For those of you who keep up with my blog on a daily basis, thank you for your patience in waiting for today's blog - my internet has been down all morning.  Thank you to those of you who have been praying for it to be repaired.  May all praise and glory to be the Lord who provides us in time with all that we need and even more to accomplish His plans! - Peggy

Surely the wrath of man shall praise You, with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.” Psalm 76:10

Last night was another night out with my family going door-to-door for my campaign. As we came back together at the of the evening, each of us had a few stories to share of the good and the evil we had seen in our “going out” that evening. In thinking about the stories that transpired last night – of how my son had been cursed at, how God had led my husband to put a flier on a door he had all intentions of walking past, how a man had shamed me for thinking that not eeking every ounce of money from the taxpayers and pouring their hard earned dollars into our government instead seeking ways to spend less more wisely was a crime because he “believe[d] in taxes”, and how the sister-in-law of one of my opponents took me into her home and after a wonderful conversation said that she would tell everyone she knew about me – I came upon these following two verses and I was compelled to seek more wisdom on what these two different kinds of “going out” were about.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil, He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” Psalm 121:7-8

I know your dwelling place, your going out and coming in, and your rage against Me. Because you rage against Me and your tumult have come up to My ears, therefore I will put My hook in your nose and My bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came.” Isaiah 37:28-29

In essence, as we compare and contrast these two verses we find that Psalm 121 is directed to people who are seeking the Lord and His will in their lives, while Isaiah 37 is directed at people who were threatening the sovereignty of God by their raging words and actions. For the first group the Lord promises He will preserve their souls and their going out and their coming in. But, for the second group God likens them to oxen who He will control with a nose hook or a horse He will control with a bridle. The actions taken by the Lord were direct results of the actions taken by the people who are being spoken of, not the other way around. Remember how God used Pharaoh when Pharaoh did not listen to the word of the Lord through Moses? He allowed Pharaoh's heart to be hardened, but not until after Pharaoh raged against the Lord by trying to out do the work of the Lord with the work of the hands of his wise men and sorcerers.

But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in the like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh's heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” Exodus 7:11-13

Later on, the Lord explains to Moses how He took the previous actions of Pharaoh and purposed them for His good.

But the Lord said to Moses, 'Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.'” Exodus 11:9

Some people would say, that is not fair – the Pharaoh was only given one chance and God didn't show any mercy towards him. Others would say this event was God's way of setting the Pharaoh up for the purpose he had been designed for since the beginning of time – that Pharaoh was created for evil and never had a chance to have a heart towards God. But, I have to offer a third response to this argument and I base it on the following verses:

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may how My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He wills He hardens.

You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will? But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory...” Romans 9:14-23

The beginning of the end for Pharaoh did not start at his birth, rather it started in how he chose to respond to God. Pharaoh had free will just like the rest of us do, but he chose to use his will for things that raged in the face of the living God and brought contempt to His name. From those choices made by the Pharaoh, the Lord in His wisdom with a picture of the great story He was unfolding through the Israelite people and eventually through His Son Jesus, He determined to use what the Pharaoh had offered up to Him – his rebellion – as a means to bring Himself glory by hardening the Pharaoh's heart even further and showing His divine mercy instead towards Moses and all who were seeking the salvation of the Lord.

Does that mean every time a person rages against God that they are set up for eternal failure? Does that mean for every person who curses the name of the Lord their fate is sealed for eternity? No. God does not lean to the black-and-white thinking we are often drawn to in these types of circumstances. Instead, God uses all things for good to those who love Him but also for the greater good of bringing glory to His name.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God; to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:28-29

In God's great sovereignty He takes each of our cases one by one and makes a decision on how we have responded to Him and how He can use what we have offered up for the greatest good in His kingdom. As I think about the lessons learned last night by our family about the true nature of the hearts of man, I am all the more compelled to leave the results of people's actions and attitudes within the hands of God. When we can see others through the God's scope of “all things work[ing] together for good”, it is then we are freed-up to live in the freedom of the mercy and grace we have been given and in the unconfined ability to pray for those who are standing upon the precipice of eternal judgment that God's will be done in their lives and that our lives be a continual light hopefully drawing them closer to the living God.