Friday, December 21, 2012

God With Us!

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  
Of the increase of his government and peace

    there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

    and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

    with justice and righteousness

    from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6,7)

With Christmas just a few days away, I wanted to visit these wonderful prophetic verses from Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who had to deliver a lot of unpleasant news from God. In fact, in the verses just following Isaiah 9:6,7, he warns Israel about God’s anger and wrath. There are many chapters pronouncing “Woe!” to the nation. Chapters about judgment. It must have been quite a burden for poor Isaiah to be the bearer of the bad news!

But in much of Isaiah, there is also the glorious good news of the coming Savior. There are promises of hope, blessing, and deliverance. The above verses, which are read every Christmas, remind us that our wonderful God is faithful to keep His promises. These are just two of the more than 300 prophesies that Christ fulfilled at His first coming. And they focus on His name.

First, He is called Immanuel. This one name sums up the whole Christmas story. God humbled Himself, He left His throne, and voluntarily took on the form of a completely vulnerable baby to be with us! He submitted Himself to all of the pain and suffering and humiliation of the Cross - taking on the sins of the world - so that all who would believe might be with Him! And because He is with us, nothing and no one can stand against us!

Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. How much time and money do we spend seeking counsel for our lives? How many self-help books or philosophy books line the shelves of book stores? Yet, no one has the wisdom to Counsel or give comfort to our spirits like Jesus. He not only has the words that give life, He IS the Word of life!

Mighty God. Not only is Jesus willing to give us help and comfort, but He is also ABLE to do it! He is not just the Son of God, but also God the Son. He is the Creator of the universe and He holds all things together. Nothing was made without Him. He is all-powerful, so He is able to save. Nothing is too hard for Him.

The name Everlasting Father is a remarkable reference to Jesus being coeternal and one with God. He is the Alpha and the Omega, having no beginning and no end. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. 

And, finally, this baby in the manger, surrounded by the noise and mess of animals in a dirty stable, would also be the Prince of Peace. In the midst of our dirty, messy, noisy world, He still brings peace between God and each of us who call Him Savior. Those of us who were once enemies of God are now reconciled by His blood. And, as a bonus, He also brings us the peace that passes all understanding even when our world is collapsing all around us.

Since God kept His promises concerning the Messiah the first time, we know we can trust Him to keep the promises regarding His Second Coming. In fact, look at that last statement at the end of the passage from Isaiah 9: The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this! It’s like He can’t wait, because He’s so excited to do it! Isn’t that amazing?

How I love Him! May we all make room for Him in our hearts and in our homes this season. Have a blessed Christmas! We’ll meet here in 2013!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Amazing Grace. . .

I don’t know about you, but I seem stuck this week. I somehow can’t find the words to express what I’m feeling about the horror that we have all been focused on since last Friday when an entire classroom of first graders and six teachers and staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School were unbelievably murdered by an insane young man. As we watched nonstop TV coverage and listened to every last detail, I found it reminiscent of the weekend in 1963 when we all sat around our black and white TV sets, stunned by the assassination of President Kennedy. I find myself still horrified, but no longer shocked. What’s wrong with this picture??

There was an immediate outpouring of national grief over the senseless killing of these babies. Facebook postings have been constant. And, somehow, the sweet pictures of Jesus holding the little child, and the picture of the teacher holding a book as she reads to 20 little ones in Heaven, and the poems about the joy they are finding in the arms of Jesus now are not comforting me. Some things just are so evil, we cannot comprehend how any good can come from them...

This is the time when people either rush in with words of “comfort” or stand back, not knowing what to say. And frankly, I think the latter is sometimes more prudent. Christian author, Lysa TerKeurst, posted this morning that this is really just a time to fill with prayer.[ click here to read ]

None of us can imagine what these parents are feeling. We can’t imagine how we would be able to get through the loss of a child. Well, a very wise woman, who had lost a three-year-old daughter, once told me that God does not give us grace to go through things in our imagination - He gives it to us when we NEED it. That’s why is is so amazing.

So, rather than try to give annoying pat answers, I’m taking Lysa’s approach and I’m going to try to fill the gaps for these parents with prayer. Prayer that God’s grace and comfort will be supernaturally present for these grieving families and for the entire community of Newtown, which is reeling. I’m leaning on His sovereignty for comfort, and for His promises to one day make things right and to wipe away every tear. Our God is good even when HORRIBLE evil happens. He is just and He is able. Able to comfort and able to redeem.

May we not forget these families when the media have packed up their trucks and left the scene. May we become people who consistently remember to pray, not only for these families, but for those we know who have lost loved ones. For all those mommies who have stood over the graves of their babies. We don’t know the answers, but we know the One who IS the answer. Work now, dear Father, to bring comfort and an abundance of grace to strengthen and encourage these families. Blessed are those who mourn, for they WILL be comforted. Thank you, LORD.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Proverbs 5 Part 2: Love the One You're With!

I looked up the definition of adultery and saw that the word comes from a French word, that also comes from a Latin root, meaning to corrupt. The definition given was “voluntary violation of the marriage bed.” When someone commits adultery, he is violating or corrupting what God said was good, the marriage bed. We have already read in Proverbs Solomon’s warning to stay away from the seducing adulteress and his contention that adultery leads to destruction and death. Then in his final verses on the subject, he turns to his son with some positive advice: appreciate what you have in your own home! Stick with the wife of your youth and the blessings of her love:

Drink water from your own cistern,

    running water from your own well.  
Should your springs overflow in the streets,

    your streams of water in the public squares?  
Let them be yours alone,

    never to be shared with strangers.  
May your fountain be blessed,

    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.  
A loving doe, a graceful deer—

    may her breasts satisfy you always,

    may you ever be captivated by her love. (Proverbs 5:15-19)

There is a book, originally published in 1979, titled Do Yourself a Favor: Love Your Wife, by H. Page Williams. It’s a humorous book with serious advice that still resonates. The author writes to men that if they find themselves married to a “hag, a bag, and a rag,” it’s because the husband has not been loving his wife. This book is still available, so download it on your Kindle or order up a copy from today! It’s a quick read, but so spot-on!

As the head of the household, the husband has the greater responsibility for how things are going in the home. And, in fact, even though Solomon seemed to be blaming the seductress for adultery, he ends this chapter with the observation that, in the end, the man must take full responsibility:

For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord,

    and he examines all his paths.  
The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him;

    the cords of his sin hold him fast.  
He will die for lack of discipline,

    led astray by his own great folly. (vs. 21-23)

Did you see in verse 21 that God sees everything we do? Even that “secret” adulterous affair is in His full view ! He knows every way we turn and He knows exactly how we got there! The reality is that the man and woman who get caught up in adultery have made conscious decisions all along the path to stray. It’s our own “folly,” or vanity, or desire that has pulled us away from the marriage bed. Men, love the wife of your youth! This is not an appeal to emotion, but action. Love your wife as Christ loved the church! It’s in your own best interest! It’s essential that your children see that you cherish your wife.

Women, be captivating! Don’t forget to keep fanning the flame in your own bedroom! Somehow, after the children come, we tend to focus solely on their needs. I’ve seen many women become so completely absorbed in their children’s lives that they have no time left over for their husbands. Do not neglect him, because there will always be someone else waiting in the wings to take your place! It is in your children’s best interest that the relationship between Mom and Dad be the priority.

The call here is to be proactive and intentional in AVOIDING the trap of adultery. Solomon had gained his wisdom the hard way - we don’t have to. Above all, remember that God is in the business of redemption and restoration. He can resurrect even a dead marriage - one that’s been torn apart by adultery. He can heal and give us the strength to forgive and move forward if we’ll let Him.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Proverbs 5: Lessons from an Adulterer

In Proverbs 5, Solomon tackles a subject he knew a lot about: adultery. Not only was he born from an adulterous relationship, but the man, himself, had over 1,000 wives and concubines. He KNEW and LIVED the repercussions that accompany this sin! Let me say upfront that I know how painful and personal this subject is for many of you. And I know that some of you have a hard time listening to this subject. For some of you it seems old-fashioned and irrelevant in a modern world where hooking up outside of marriage is the norm. For others, who are beyond the virginal age, yet find yourselves now either widowed or unmarried, this message seems meant for young people, and certainly could not be meant for you at this point in your life.

This is the problem with God’s Word. We either have to take it all or leave it. God says what He means and means what He says. And this subject, like no other makes people uncomfortable or even downright mad at God. We will be parking here for a couple of days, because it is such a serious subject.

Right off the bat, I was a little irritated that Solomon seems to lay the blame for adultery on the seducing woman! He lists all of her tricks and cunning ways, and, at first glance, it seems that the poor man has to guard himself from HER! You have to read to the end where he slams the man and lays the blame forcefully at his feet. Surely, this is a sin that entangles BOTH the man and the woman equally. But, because Solomon is talking to his son, the initial warning is against the feminine wiles:

For the lips of an adulteress drip honey,

    and her speech is smoother than oil; 
but in the end she is bitter as gall,

    sharp as a double-edged sword. 
Her feet go down to death;

    her steps lead straight to the grave. 
She gives no thought to the way of life;

    her paths are crooked, but she knows it not. (Proverbs 5:3-6)

This gal may look hot - especially when compared to your wife of several years, who is still trying to shed the weight from pregnancy and is exhausted from chasing toddlers and running kids around town to appointments and sports practice. Maybe she’s a bright young thing at the office who is always perfectly dressed and who thinks everything you say is amazing. She hangs on your every word. At first you just started a little innocent flirtation, but now you can’t wait to get to work to see her! “WATCH OUT!” Solomon cries! There is danger ahead, because she will lead you to death! The death of your marriage, the death of your family, the death of your integrity and self-respect, the death of your soul!

And what happens in the end? Solomon warns that you will give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel...strangers [will] feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man’s house...your life you will groan,when your flesh and body are spent. You will be filled with regret that you would not listen and you will come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly. (vs. 9-14) An affair will lead to financial ruin, the corruption of your body, and complete humiliation. The only ones who will prosper will be the attorneys!

Now, all of us have friends, family, or neighbors who have been through the pain caused by adultery. Or maybe you’ve experienced it up close and personal. As a teacher, I see the collateral damage to the children daily. Is there any good news here? Yes! The grace of God covers even adultery! There is hope in the gospel.

Solomon’s father, David, was not only guilty of adultery but also murder! Yet, the Bible tells us he was a man after God’s own heart! David repented and grieved over his sin with Bathsheba, and God forgave him and washed him white as snow (Psalm 51). He lived with the consequences, but the judgment was completely removed and the joy of his salvation was restored. Jesus not only came to redeem sinners, He also came from a long line of sinners, including adulterers!

Tomorrow we’ll continue with Solomon’s observations and advice as he nails the man!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Proverbs 4:20-27 Plan Ahead!

Today is 12/12/12, which just happens to be the 35th birthday of my younger daughter, Emmy! Remembering that amazing morning when I barely made it to the hospital, because Emmy, always in a hurry, was born after only one hour of labor! Thank yo, LORD, for 35 years of pure JOY with her! Her older sister, Molly, is pushing 38, so I’ve reminded them that they both now round to 40 - because they also remind ME that I round to 100!!  Happy Birthday, sweet Emmy!

I want to ask you to continue to remember my former student, Jacob, in your prayers. He begins round 6 of chemo tomorrow! This has been a long three months! Pray for continued encouragement and strength for both Jacob and his mom, and for a good result from these treatments!

Today we are going to talk about purposeful living. In this last passage of chapter 4 of Proverbs, Solomon uses lots of very active verbs to show the need for intentional planning if we are going to walk the straight path:

My son, pay attention to what I say;

    listen closely to my words.  
Do not let them out of your sight,

    keep them within your heart;  
for they are life to those who find them

    and health to a man’s whole body.  
Above all else, guard your heart,

    for it is the wellspring of life.  
Put away perversity from your mouth;

    keep corrupt talk far from your lips. 
Let your eyes look straight ahead,

    fix your gaze directly before you.  
Make level paths for your feet

    and take only ways that are firm.  
Do not swerve to the right or the left;

    keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:20-27)

You can sense the intensity of Solomon’s plea here. He desperately wants his son to truly LISTEN to his words. The emphasis on guarding and keeping seem to indicate a battle in which soldiers need to be constantly alert to danger and be ready to defend. The Message states verse 23 this way:

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;

    that’s where life starts. 

We are in the midst of a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-18), and we are to be constantly prepared. Paul exhorted us to put on the whole armor of God to protect our hearts and minds. He lists several defensive pieces of armor, and one offensive weapon: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This aligns with Solomon’s argument that is it by listening to and acting on God’s Word - His Wisdom - that we will be prepared.

If we want to stick to the right path, we can’t just wander aimlessly or passively. We need to be intentionally planning where we set our feet. We need to keep our eyes fixed straight ahead in order to avoid the distractions and obstacles that would entrap or trip us. The author of Hebrews tells us that even Jesus kept His eyes fixed on the goal in order to complete His task:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Paul tells us to maintain our focus on the prize that awaits us:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

And again:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

The Christian life is a battle and a race. We need to PLAN AHEAD!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Proverbs 4:1-18 Listen! Listen! Listen!

There’s nothing more frustrating for a teacher than students who will not pay attention or listen to instruction! These days we practically have to do handsprings to get students to focus on what we’re saying! Few are interested in instruction - most would rather be entertained! They are easily distracted and their focus is diverted to the simplest things. Rather than pay attention to what will be on tomorrow’s test, they are more fascinated by the pair of scissors in their desks or the paper clip they just found that can be reshaped into various forms.

So I feel Solomon’s pain when he repeats three times in this chapter of Proverbs, “Listen!” Yet again, he is making the case for wisdom. In fact, this is the central theme of the first nine chapters! Why do we need to hear it so many times? Because, when it comes to God’s Word, we all have Attention Deficit Disorder!

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;

    pay attention and gain understanding.  
I give you sound learning,

    so do not forsake my teaching.  
When I was a boy in my father’s house,

    still tender, and an only child of my mother,  
he taught me and said,

    “Lay hold of my words with all your heart;

    keep my commands and you will live.  
Get wisdom, get understanding;

    do not forget my words or swerve from them.  
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;

    love her, and she will watch over you.  
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.

    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.  
Esteem her, and she will exalt you;

    embrace her, and she will honor you. 
She will set a garland of grace on your head

    and present you with a crown of splendor.” (Proverbs 4:1-9)

Here Solomon recalls the training he received from his father, David. It makes me wonder if, when Solomon was a young boy, David was assured that Solomon was actually taking it all in when David would instruct him, or did Solomon also seem to be ignoring his father’s words? Did Solomon sit in rapt attention at his father’s feet, or was he doodling? Sometimes, children hear more than we think they do! Nevertheless, at some point his father’s words resonated with Solomon, to the point that he passes them on here. How important repetition is in training our children. We must say and model the same thing over and over with consistency in order to have it “take.”

Solomon implores his son to value wisdom, because she would protect him, and she would ultimately exalt him. In fact, he insists, Hold onto instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life! (vs. 13) Then he contrasts the paths of the righteous to the way of the wicked:

The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.  
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;

    they do not know what makes them stumble. (vs. 18-19)

Note that there is increasing light as you move down God’s path, but the way of those in rebellion against God is so dark they can’t even see what they are tripping over! Tomorrow we’ll discover how to intentionally keep to the right path.

I told you last time that I’d share a way to give the gift of Christ this Christmas. My daughter. Molly, and her family are spearheading a terrific effort to bless the homeless that you can join. Please check out her website for information. The deadline to contribute is this Friday:   

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Proverbs 3:13-24 Wisdom Personified

After encouraging us to receive discipline as evidence of God’s love for us, Solomon begins to extol the virtues of Wisdom, personified as a woman. While it seems somewhat of a quick change in subject matter, I think the two are absolutely related, for discipline from God is designed to lead us to wisdom.

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,

    the man who gains understanding,  
for she is more profitable than silver

    and yields better returns than gold.  
She is more precious than rubies;

    nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:13-15)

{When I read these verses, I’m immediately reminded of Solomon’s description of the virtuous woman, in Proverbs 31, who is also worth more than rubies! Hmm... women and wisdom tied together. It’s always struck me as funny that there is no corresponding Proverb for “virtuous” men in this book! :) } 

Solomon continues to describe the blessings of wisdom:

Long life is in her right hand;

    in her left hand are riches and honor.  
Her ways are pleasant ways,

    and all her paths are peace.  
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;

    those who lay hold of her will be blessed. (vs. 16-18)

Finally Solomon assures us that if we will just cling to wisdom, sound judgment and discernment (vs. 21), we will go in safety and our foot will not stumble, we will not be afraid, and best of all in my opinion, our sleep will be sweet (vs. 23-24). Nothing provides a good night’s sleep like the confidence and peace that come from being encouraged and strengthened by God’s Word! In fact, Solomon promises in verses 25 and 26 that we will have no need to fear sudden disaster because the LORD will be our confidence. That’s a guarantee for good sleep that’s much better than any sleep aide can provide!

With all of the things the world has to offer - all of the gold and glitter found in the catalogs that fill our mailboxes at this time of year (which I call “covet books”), nothing compares to the wisdom of God. He alone offers what truly satisfies. He is the only gift that lasts and is truly the “one size fits all.” Jesus is the reason for the season. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is the gift we need to receive and the gift we need to give! Next time I will share with you one way we can pass that gift along.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Proverbs 3:11-12 Thanks! I Needed That!

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline

    and do not resent his rebuke,  
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,

    as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)

When I speak with the parents of my students at Back to School Night each year, I always ask them to stop rescuing their children from consequences. If a child leaves his homework on the kitchen table, don’t rush to school with it so he won’t get marked down. If students lose points for failing to have their work, a minor consequence, they will most likely not forget the next time. Feeling consistent discipline in small things when they are little, is much more likely to prevent bigger consequences when they are teenagers.

Disciplining our children is our responsibility as parents, because it benefits them! It turns them away from bad behavior. When we take that responsibility seriously and do the hard work of shaping our children, it shows that we love them.

Today’s verses in Proverbs tell us that we should understand that when God disciplines us it’s for our benefit, as well. It’s because He “delights” in us that He disciplines us when we fall into sin. In fact, Hebrews 12:18 tells us that if we are not being disciplined, we aren’t God’s true sons!

We should want our children to get caught in their sin. In fact, I’ve prayed that for my daughters and my grandchildren since they were little. And we, too, should want to get caught! It’s only by having our sin discovered that we will see and feel the need to repent. And God promises that our sins will find us out (Numbers 32:33). As long as we feel no consequences for our sin, as long as we think we are getting away with our behaviors, we may not feel the need to repent. But when the conviction of the Holy Spirit comes upon us, when we feel the blow to the gut as we read His Word that exposes our sin, or when the dear sister, who holds us accountable, lovingly points out our sin, we are moved to repent and turn away from it.

It is NOT fun to discipline! It’s the hardest part of parenting! But, because it is our job to prepare our children to honor God, and because it is our heart’s desire that they be successful in His eyes, we need to do what it takes. We cannot ignore bad behaviors. We have all been in public and seen a child being a downright brat. And we’ve seen the parent that ignores the behavior - either because it’s inconvenient to pay attention because they have important texting to do, or because they just want to placate the child. Ignoring the behavior and letting the child get away with it just reinforces the bad behavior, and you eventually raise a child that no one wants to be around!

Sometimes we ignore bad behaviors in the church, as well. Paul, dealing with just such problems within the church at Corinth, exhorted the believers to be harsh in their discipline in order to save the soul of the offender:

... hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord... But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. (1 Corinthians 5:5 & 11)

Paul later admonished them to lighten up, because they apparently forgot that the goal was restoration: 

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely.  The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.  Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-8)

Paul also warned that we not be so easy with a fallen brother that we fall in with him:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galataians 6:1)

Yep, discipline is a tricky thing! But whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end, we can be assured that God’s goal for us is to be complete and mature. He wants only the best for us, because He is our Abba Father! So, let’s not despise the Lord’s discipline; it’s a reminder that He delights in us!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Proverbs 3:7-10 Open the Floodgates!

Before we move to this morning’s verses, I just wanted to thank you for praying for Don. The cancer committee was satisfied that the cancer has been removed and there is no need for further treatment. However, the surgeon may reopen the cut just to take a bit more margin as a precaution. He is going to speak with the pathologist about it. Don’s next visit is in two weeks.

Also, I want to ask for continued prayers for my sister, Jodi. She will be heading to Chicago at the end of this week, where she will see her doctors and they will check her bone marrow. Please pray for travel safety, protection from germs, as she is so vulnerable, and that they will find her bone marrow clear of any signs of the myeloma. She will be staying with her son, Jared, and his family, so pray that they will all remain healthy for the visit, and that Jodi will draw strength and encouragement from being with them.

Now, on to today’s passage, which like much of the Proverbs, jumps from one topic to the next:

Do not be wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord and shun evil.  
This will bring health to your body

    and nourishment to your bones.  
Honor the Lord with your wealth,

    with the firstfruits of all your crops;  
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,

    and your vats will brim over with new wine.  (Proverbs 3:7-10)

The Message states verse 7 this way: Don’t assume you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Why is it we think we are smarter than God? If Solomon were indeed writing this to a young man, possibly a teenager, I’m sure he felt the need to shake some sense into him, as teenagers are often wise in their own eyes! But we adults frequently act the same way. We fail to seek God’s wisdom because we think we have it handled. “I can get this one, God; no need for You to bother with it! I’ve got it covered!” That’s a small step toward disaster!

Verses 9-10 refer specifically to tithing, and while they seem unrelated to the first verses, they are about living a whole life that is in harmony with God’s will. And one of the ways we show that we are trusting and relying on God (verse 5) is by committing our finances to Him. When we put Him first in EVERYTHING, including our treasures, we are demonstrating wisdom! This is the one area in which God actually encourages us to test Him:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10)

Why does God ask for our money? He surely doesn’t need it! But we need to give it! Our handling of our finances speaks volumes about what we value. When we give him the first part (and an Old Testament tithe was at least a tenth of earnings, not including offerings), we show that we understand that ALL that we have comes from Him, and that He will take care of all of our needs.

One of the practical reasons that tithing works is that when you have set aside that financial gift back to God, you find that you are a much better budgeter of what is left. Your priorities for spending shift as you begin to take on His perspective about stewardship. You also begin to see your role in the local Body of Christ as your tithes help further the work of your church.

If you pay all of your other bills first, you will never find enough money left over to give. If this is not something you have ever done or tried, I would encourage you to test God in this area. Try setting aside a tithe for a few months and see if God doesn’t begin to bless you and somehow multiply back to you what you give to Him. It is all His anyway! God promises that our obedience in this will be rewarded - blessings from heaven will pour out on us. Who doesn’t want that??  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Proverbs 3:5-6 One to Memorize!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;  
in all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV 1984)

We’ve come to two verses that were among the first I committed to memory 36 years ago, when I first became a Christian. I love that I don’t have to figure everything out myself. God is so much bigger than I am; His ways are so beyond what my puny brain can grasp. So, I’m so grateful for this promise that if I just trust in Him, I can be assured that He WILL guide me and keep my path straight! The Amplified Bible expands on the idea of trusting God:

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. (Amplified Bible)

We can be confident in God when we know what His character is. This is why studying His Word is so crucial. It reveals just who God was, is, and forever will be. Just thinking about some of His attributes demonstrates that He can be completely trust and relied upon. He is the sovereign, Almighty Creator of the universe; He is self-existent, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent. He is good, loving, faithful, compassionate, merciful, patient, and a righteous judge. He is holy, unchanging, and full of Truth.

And what does He promise to be to me? My rock, my Savior, my redeemer, my joy, my Shepherd, my peace, my hiding place, my defense, my refuge, my healer, my victory, my sanctifier, and my Abba Father. He is the Alpha and Omega, so He meets all my needs from A-Z.

Can I trust this God? Of course I can! He always has my best interests at heart! How do I show my trust? I LET GO of all of those things, people, and situations that I am trying to control, and I give them over to Him! I stop trying to manipulate answers to my prayers and trust that He knows what to do better than I do.

I want to share with you a portion of Beth Moore’s study in James. She writes about our need to give up our desire to demand our own will and to submit to God’s will. She presents the following arguments for submission:

  • God knows everything about you and every matter concerning you. Nothing is hidden from His sight. So submit to God. 
  • He is always looking out for your ultimate good and takes your hurts personally. So submit to God. 
  • He is holy and worthy and incapable of abusing His divine authority over you. So submit to God. 
  • He knows when your motive was right but your mouth messed up. So submit to God. 
  • He knows exactly how to work terrible into good. So submit to God. 
  • He loves you completely and unconditionally and will never let you go. So submit to God. 
  • He knows the well-deliberated plan for your life and how all things must fall into place for you to fulfill your destiny. So submit to God. 
  • He will never put to shame those who trust in Him. So submit to God. 
The Devil is trying to steal from you and destroy you and make it look like it was all your idea. So, Girlfriend, submit to God. (Moore,  James: Mercy Triumphs, P. 143)

I’m so grateful that my God is trustworthy! When I can’t figure it out, I know He already has it handled. I just need to trust and rest and then watch the God of the universe do His thing! Let go and let God. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Proverbs 3:1-4 A Balancing Act

This week in the Bible study I’m involved with at my church (Beth Moore’s study of James), we were talking about submitting to God. Our teaching leader talked about the many verses in the Bible that tell us to submit to our governing leaders, our bosses (masters), to our husbands, to each other as Christians, and, of course, to God. She pointed out that the Bible has no verses that explicitly tell children to submit to their parents. Instead they are exhorted to OBEY. Because submission requires an act of the will based on reasoning, children are not really capable of making this decision, so the Bible basically says, “Do what your parents tell you to do!” It’s an acknowledgement of their need to be protected from themselves.

And the problem really becomes full blown during the teen years, when children are moving from childhood to adulthood, when they are in a position to make all kinds of mistakes and they are in a non-listening mode! Teenagers, even the best of them, are convinced that their parents are totally STUPID! How many times have you thought about your teenager, “If she would just listen to me! I’ve been where she is, and I just want to keep her from making the same dumb mistakes I’ve made!” This seems to be where Solomon is as he continues to plead with a son to seek and cherish wisdom:

My son, do not forget my teaching,

    but keep my commands in your heart,  
for they will prolong your life many years

    and bring you prosperity.  

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

    bind them around your neck,

    write them on the tablet of your heart.  
Then you will win favor and a good name

    in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3:1-4) 

Solomon seems to be saying, “Son, just listen to me! Pay attention to what I’m teaching you. If you just cling to God’s Word, you will have a longer and happier life! God’s commandments aren’t meant to imprison you, but to actually set you free from sin’s entrapments and bondage. I want to help you avoid the pitfalls!”

After reading Jon Courson’s Old Testament Commentary, Volume 2, I did a bit of a word study this morning on the words in verse 3, love and faithfulness (NIV 1984), which are translated as mercy and truth in the King James Version. The Orthodox Jewish Bible shows the words as chesed, meaning kindness, and emes, which means truth. And these meanings seem to confirm what Courson has to say about verses 3 and 4. Courson says that the verses are telling us that we need to keep a proper balance of mercy and truth when dealing with people. It is important to show mercy and love to those trapped in sin, but we never shy away from also giving them the truth.

Courson uses the example of Jesus’ confrontation with the woman at the well in John 4. He treated her with dignity, gentleness, mercy, and love, but He honed in on her sin when He specifically called her out for having had five previous husbands and then living at that time with a man outside of marriage. Mercy and truth, kindness and truth, love and faithfulness to the truth must be balanced. This is wisdom! Solomon tells us to bind them around our necks and write them on the tablets of our hearts. Don’t forget them!

The promise? If we will keep God’s commands in our hearts, and deal with others in mercy and truth, then we will find favor with both God and man. I’m seeing every day at work how I must balance this attitude of mercy and truth, not just with my fourth graders, but with my coworkers. This is the only way I can possibly be a light. It’s one of the keys to my gaining Wisdom. I LOVE this book!  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Proverbs 2:12-22 Choose the Right Path!

Solomon finishes this second chapter of Proverbs telling us how Wisdom will keep us on God’s path and away from the path of destruction:

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,

    from men whose words are perverse,  
who leave the straight paths

    to walk in dark ways, 
who delight in doing wrong

    and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,  
whose paths are crooked

    and who are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 2:12-15)

We live in a world that is constantly pulling us in the wrong direction. We are bombarded with messages in the media that seek to reframe our world view. Resisting the world’s path takes intentional determination, because it so often seems like the right way - it’s alluring - offering pleasure and happiness. It takes wisdom to discern which path is God’s.

Solomon says that Wisdom will also protect us from being unfaithful, not only to a spouse, but to God:

It will save you also from the adulteress,

    from the wayward wife with her seductive words, 
who has left the partner of her youth

    and ignored the covenant she made before God.  
For her house leads down to death

    and her paths to the spirits of the dead. 
None who go to her return

    or attain the paths of life. (vs.16-19)

Look at the danger of following the adulteress: her house leads to death! Those who have been touched by adultery, participated in it, or lost a marriage to it know that, while there can be redemption and grace following repentance, the damages are nonetheless far-reaching. And yet, the world makes it seem so attractive! It’s a staple of movies, books, and television. And the lure is so subtle. It can start out as just a friendship at work, that leads to playful flirtation. But if you are not steeped in God’s Wisdom, His Word, you will miss the flashing warning lights and fall off the cliff!

In his epistle, James tells us there are two kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and wisdom from heaven. Worldly wisdom leads to selfish ambition and bitter envy. It is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, and it leads to chaos. Contrast that to heavenly wisdom:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Hmmm... DEATH or PEACE? Which one do you want? Stick with God’s Word, and you will find His Wisdom!  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Proverbs 2:6-11 We Ask, God Answers!

I’ve been enjoying having the week of Thanksgiving off, but it is back to work this morning! I wanted to let you know that my husband, Don, had the mole removed and the pathology report showed that the mole, though still a surface (and not nodular) type, was deeper than they originally thought, but still in the margin of surface. They are sending the results to the cancer committee that meets at the hospital this Friday to decide whether or not anything further needs to be done (most likely not, since they seem to have removed all of it with good margins). So, we are thanking God for early detection! I’ll let you know what the final word is after Friday.

When we last looked at this chapter of Proverbs, we saw that when we diligently seek after God’s wisdom, we will find it. In today’s verses we look at the God who promises us understanding/wisdom and why we should desire this gift:

For the Lord gives wisdom,
    and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  
He holds victory in store for the upright,

    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,  
for he guards the course of the just

    and protects the way of his faithful ones. 

Then you will understand what is right and just

    and fair—every good path. 
For wisdom will enter your heart,

    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. 
Discretion will protect you,

    and understanding will guard you. (Proverbs 2:6-11)

Look at how God desires to protect us! He promises us victory. He is our shield, and He guards our way. His goal is to preserve us and keep us safely in His will. This is why He freely gives wisdom to all who ask and believe (James 1:5). He WANTS us to have wisdom! We know, then, that when we ask for it, He will deliver!

And the payoff? Wisdom, knowledge, discretion, and understanding will keep us on the right path. We will be protected from the assaults of the world, because we will KNOW God’s ways and His will. 

God longs for us to have wisdom, but He waits for us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-8). He wants us to be persistent in seeking wisdom - not because He wants us to beg, but because He knows that the continual act of asking, seeking, and knocking builds our desire and our appreciation for the gift.

My goal in turning to the Proverbs is to garner as much wisdom as I can, because the older I get, the more I realize how very much I need it! Thanks for coming along, because I need the company to encourage me to keep on keepin’ on!  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Proverbs 2:1-5 Start Searching!

Jon Courson points out that in chapter 1 of Proverbs, Wisdom cries out to be heard (vs.20), while in chapter 2, Solomon tells us that we are to cry out for understanding. We must feel the urgency to understand, and desire wisdom so much, that we are willing to work for it. And there’s a promise that we’ll find it if we genuinely seek it:

My son, if you accept my words

    and store up my commands within you,  
turning your ear to wisdom

    and applying your heart to understanding,  
and if you call out for insight

    and cry aloud for understanding,  
and if you look for it as for silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasure, 
then you will understand the fear of the Lord

    and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5) 

Look at all of the active verbs that indicate effort there! Store up, turning your ear, applying your heart, call out, cry aloud, look, search. These require intentional action and a passion. They speak of a hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Solomon is saying that we need to work to the point of sweating to find the treasure in God’s Word. It won’t come easily. It requires daily searching His Word for wisdom, praying for it, digging in like a miner searching for precious minerals and jewels.

Don’t you find that sometimes it takes a crisis to motivate us to truly grab a hold of God’s Word in search of answers? Solomon says we should not wait for trouble - dig in NOW. Then we will find ourselves armed for whatever comes our way. In fact, that is the guarantee of verse 5: then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 

As a teacher I see evidence every day that those who persevere to understand new concepts truly own them after their efforts. This is our promise. If we put in the effort, apply ourselves to searching through God’s Word so that we might claim it as our own, THEN we WILL find wisdom. Jon Courson says that we will know we’ve found it when we fear the LORD, when we have humbled ourselves before Him, because we finally understand who He is and who we are before Him.

Next time we will look at the wealth contained in this promise!  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Praise and Proverbs1:20-33

I have an amazing praise this morning! Karen posted that her daughter, Kristen, was released from the hospital yesterday, one day after she donated her kidney! And Karen is doing very well, and will probably go home this weekend! She is praising God for answered prayers. She has felt surrounded by the prayers of many, including all of you! What a miracle! Please continue to pray for her as she heals and as her body accepts this new kidney.

My sister, Jodi, is back home after a hard time in the hospital. She is weak, so please pray for her body to regain strength and for her spirit to be encouraged.

Today’s verses issue another stern warning - this one for rejecting wisdom, which is personified as a woman. She cries out a warning to fools and mockers who refuse to accept her:

“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?

    How long will mockers delight in mockery

    and fools hate knowledge?  
If you had responded to my rebuke,

    I would have poured out my heart to you

    and made my thoughts known to you.  
But since you rejected me when I called

    and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,  
since you ignored all my advice

    and would not accept my rebuke,  
I in turn will laugh at your disaster;

    I will mock when calamity overtakes you—  
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,

    when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,

    when distress and trouble overwhelm you. (Proverbs 1:22-27)

 It seems to me that mockers of God are getting bolder. The media and entertainment industry love to make fun of God and those who believe in Him. They consider those who seek wisdom from the Bible as fools and judgmental bigots (now, maybe some actually act that way, so it may have something to do with the way we present the gospel). Nevertheless, they spurn any quote of scripture.

Proverbs calls these people fools. They will one day be overtaken by disaster and will then seek Wisdom, but she will not be found:

“Then they will call to me but I will not answer;

    they will look for me but will not find me.  
Since they hated knowledge

    and did not choose to fear the Lord,  
since they would not accept my advice

    and spurned my rebuke,  
they will eat the fruit of their ways

    and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. (vs.28-31)

There is a time limit on God’s offer of salvation. There will come a time, if we harden our hearts, when He will not be found. We don’t know when our end will come. We can’t wait, hoping to pursue our own will and carry on until we are old, then turn to God. For He may take us in an instant! We need to choose Him, to choose His Wisdom NOW! Only a fool rejects His offer.

Wow! These are powerful words to start us off in Proverbs. Solomon is saying, “Pay attention! This is important stuff!” I’m excited to see what is coming for us!  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Proverbs 1:8-19 Warning! Trap Ahead!

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction

    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 
They will be a garland to grace your head

    and a chain to adorn your neck. (Proverbs 1:8,9)

Now, don’t you wish our children would just listen to us? Why is it that children resist the instruction of Mom and Dad? We have so much wisdom to share, and they don’t seem to want it! :) We know what traps lie ahead of them, but they would rather ignore the blinking lights and find out for themselves the hard way! Hmmm... How many times have we ignored God’s warnings to us or even sought His wisdom before charging ahead???

The first warning that Solomon gives as parental wisdom is to avoid the enticement of those who plot evil:

My son, if sinners entice you,

    do not give in to them.  
If they say, “Come along with us;

    let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood,

    let’s waylay some harmless soul;  
let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,

    and whole... 
my son, do not go along with them,

    do not set foot on their paths;  
for their feet rush into sin,

    they are swift to shed blood... 
These men lie in wait for their own blood;

    they waylay only themselves! (vs.11-12,15-16, 18)

Now, most of us are not going to encounter people who try to involve us in a plan to actually murder or rob someone, but what is gossip if not murder or the robbery of someone’s reputation? Whether we actively participate or passively listen to gossip (even that which is framed as a “prayer request”), we have to bear the stamp of “guilty” on this one! Okay, we are only in the first chapter, and I’m already feeling the punch of God’s Word!

Notice that Solomon says here that those who do these things end up harming themselves - they will fall into the very trap they set for others. Have you been the victim of a vicious gossip campaign? Well, if you’ve ever been a junior high school girl, you certainly have been on both sides of this one! Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with junior high! It may not be as overt when we “mature,” but the ramifications are the same. Both the gossiper and the gossipee (making up a word here) are left battered and bruised. No wonder this is the first warning given!

The Bible tells us that this is not as much of a tongue issue as a heart issue, for “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) This is why, before I ever even set a foot on the floor when I get up each morning I say with David, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)   It’s the guarding of our hearts that we need to worry about. If we aren’t thinking evil thoughts, evil won’t come out of our mouths!

Oh, help me, LORD!  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Immediate Prayer Needs!

Hello, dear friends! I am asking for prayers for my friend, Karen, who is having her kidney transplant this morning (Tuesday, 11/13/12) at UCLA. Her older daughter (and my former student), Kristen, is the donor, so we need to pray for both of them! Pray that God’s amazing peace will surround them, that the surgeons‘ hands will be skillful and sure, that the surgery and recovery will be miraculous, and that all of the personnel at the hospital will minister God’s love to them.

Continue to pray for my former student, Jacob, who just underwent his fourth round of chemo for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Pray that the tumor will be GONE when they perform the scans after Thanksgiving! Pray that Jacob, who turned 15 yesterday, will be strengthened and completely healed. Pray for his family, especially his mom, as they go through all of this with him.

Please pray that my sister Jodi will regain 100% of her strength. She keeps facing a new wave of problems, just as she comes up for air after the last one! She was taken to the ER last night after a day of vomiting.  They admitted her and are giving her massive antibiotics for a urinary tract infection!  She should be coming home today, but I know she is exhausted!  She continues to suffer pain from the shingles!

Finally, my husband, Don, was told last Friday that a biopsy on a mole on his arm proved that it is melanoma. It appears to be in early stages and merely superficial, thankfully! We see the surgeon next Friday to determine what needs to be done. Thank you!!! Please let me know how I can be praying for you!  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Proverbs 1:7 Fear God!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
 but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

 Solomon also wrote this in Ecclesiastes:

Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body Now all has been heard;
 here is the conclusion of the matter:
 Fear God and keep his commandments,
 for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:12-13)

If we desire wisdom, it all has to start with reverence for our Almighty God and with an attitude of humility. As a Christian, fearing God is not actually being scared and running from Him. It’s an awareness of Who He is, of His power and His holiness that fills us with awe and makes us fall on our faces before Him. The fear of God makes us hate sin and desire to be more like Him.

I like how Solomon is constantly posing contrasts throughout this book. When I was a new Christian I had a friend who had studied the “buts” of the Bible. She had looked up the word “but” to see where God was making contrasts. Since she told me about it, I’ve circled the word in my Bible when I come to it. Here is the first one in Proverbs: but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Only fools thumb their noses at God and bristle under His discipline. The wise person desires to know His will and sees His discipline as the path to maturity and completeness.

Sometimes when we read God’s Word, we find something that really hits us between the eyes and makes us wince because it is so pointed in its judgment of our hearts. The wise man and woman, rather than turning away in anger, turn to God for instruction at such times, because they know that God only disciplines those whom He loves. Our Heavenly Father wants to make us better! Let’s make a pledge to welcome such discipline as we proceed through this book. It’s the only way we can become wiser!  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Provverbs 1:1-4 Give me wisdom, LORD!

If I ever needed wisdom, I need it now! So I am thrilled to know that when I ask for it, God is ready to pour it on:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

So, I’ve decided to delve into the book of wisdom, Proverbs. When Solomon became king, he asked the LORD for wisdom, and the LORD gave it abundantly! Solomon was known as the wisest man in the world. These sayings of Solomon, who wrote the majority of the book, are practical, for living life in the real world.

The book is meant to provide advice to young people. In fact, we’ll see that Solomon directed these words to his son. Jon Courson reminds us that the book was written before Solomon ”would forsake his own wisdom in an attempt to find satisfaction in partying, material possessions, women, and intellectualism – only to conclude it was all empty.”

So, because I’m still yearning to actually come to the point in my life where I could be considered “wise” (at 62 you’d think I’d be a little closer, wouldn’t you???), I’m diving in to see what I can glean from God’s Word!

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for attaining wisdom and discipline;
 for understanding words of insight;
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
   doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to the simple,
 knowledge and discretion to the young— (Proverbs 1:1-4)

I don’t know about you, but I’m at a place where I really need to know what is the right, just, and fair thing TO DO! Sometimes I seem to know the right thing to SAY, but I’m desperate to know the right thing to DO! So, my ears are pricking up, and I’m going to apply myself to actively listening, then with God’s help, actually DOING what God says! Anyone else up for the challenge?  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Do not let your hearts be troubled...

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

I woke up at 2:30 this morning with these words in my head: "Do not let your heart be troubled…” I was never able to get back to sleep, because I kept thinking about those words and that no matter what my circumstances, no matter what assails me, I can be still and know that He is God. He is on His throne. He is sovereign, and there is nothing that comes my way that He has not allowed.

I’m currently studying James’ epistle, and I can heartily agree with his exhortation:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

God is in the process of completing us (Phil 1:6), and through the hardships, heartaches, betrayals, attacks, whatever we face, He is working FOR us, because He loves us! And if He is for us, who can be against us? Hallelujah!

I’m so thankful that He is on the throne, aren’t you?  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

John 21:23-25

Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple [John] would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:23-25)

As John’s gospel closes, he reminds us that, as an eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly ministry, John can verify the truth of what he has written down. And he assures us that he’s only included a small part of all that he saw. There is no way any book could contain all that Christ did! Here’s where we need to go back to the previous chapter to remember why John recorded what he did:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

I know I keep harping on this, but this is where we need to add the action of believing to the mental ascent. If we believe what we’ve read in this gospel, we need to put our faith into action. It needs to make a difference in who we are and who we want to become. It should show up in our behavior, and it should be evident to all who know us, live with us, and work with us.

What did Jesus tell us this would look like? He said that people would recognize His followers by their obedience to His Word (John 14). People would see that we abide in Christ, that He is the source of our strength, peace, and joy. They would see our love and devotion, not only to Christ, but to each other (John 15). We would be people identified by our complete and abundant joy (John 16), and by our unity in purpose as we seek to glorify the LORD (John 17). And to me this year, He has specifically told me through this study that I need be demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation. This has not been a gentle prompting, but more like a glaring spotlight on my own need! There was nothing subtle about it!

And what is it that we are to believe? That Jesus is the very Word of God, the Creator. He is the living bread from heaven, the light of the world, the gate to salvation, the resurrection and the life, THE way, THE truth, and THE life. He is the Son of God and God the Son. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Now that just makes me want to shout “Hallelujah!”

We are finished with this book for now. But it has become such a dear source of wisdom and strength to me, I’ll be back here OFTEN! I’m not sure where I’ll be going next, but I’m open to suggestions. Please pray with me for guidance on where exactly the LORD would have me turn in His Word.

We live in such perilous and significant times. As we see the devastation on the East Coast from hurricane Sandy, and we look forward to the election next week, let’s all be in prayer for God’s hand to be on our nation, that we would humble ourselves and turn to Him, and that our leaders would be godly. Pray for those who have lost so much in the past 48 hours! And, of course, let’s do what we can, as God enables us, to actually provide for needs of those affected.

Thanks for joining me in John!  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

John 21:20-23 Part 3

One of the many things that blesses and encourages me about the many personalities of the Bible, whether Old or New Testament, is how God redeems and uses ALL kinds! Every one of them was flawed and sinful – each one had highs and lows. And, throughout their lives, the consistency was God’s faithfulness, not theirs. I am so thankful that God chooses regular folks like you and me. It’s through the ordinary that He does the extraordinary.

So today, as we look at this picture of Peter and John, we’ll focus on their different personalities and styles that God used to build His Church in the first century. We have already seen that Peter was not just interested in his own future with Jesus, but really wanted to know what was going to happen with John.

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: New Testament, points out that these disciples showed their unique personalities even when they were first called to discipleship. He writes, “Peter was casting his net into the sea (Matthew 4:18). ‘Follow Me and I’ll make you a fisher of men,’ Jesus said. And indeed Peter became an evangelist who would bring many people into the kingdom – three thousand saved during his first sermon alone. John, on the other hand, wasn’t casting his net. He was mending nets (Matthew 4:21). And John would go on to mend people, as he taught, preached, and practiced love. These two were very different in ministry, in mentality, in temperament, in personality. But you know what? God used them both.” (Courson, P. 607)

Peter was an activist. He was the one who would charge ahead to get things done. John, was a thinker and a watcher. He mulled things over for their significance. He filtered everything through love. There is a need for both personalities and ministry types.

I’m much more a Peter than a John. I used to bemoan that fact. I had such wonderful women role models in my church when I was a new Christian, 36 years ago. These women were humble, soft spoken, hard working servants of Christ, who quietly loved and served the LORD with all their hearts. I used to pray that God would make me more like them. I am anything BUT quiet! I was mistaking personality for character. It took me years to realize that I was NEVER going to be soft spoken or contemplative. I’m an activist through and through! But I’m so grateful for my dear friends who are “Johns.” I need their steady peace and loving support. They are the ones who hold me accountable!

Isn’t God amazing how He created such variety in His world? Not only in nature, but in the unique personalities that He knit into each of us. No two are alike! Thank you, LORD, that you used both Peter and John, and Paul, and Moses, and Abraham, and Esther, and David, and Rahab, and Joseph, and all the Marys, and Martha. And You use even me!  

Monday, October 29, 2012

John 21:20-23 Part 2

Last time we saw Peter stumble again when, after hearing what future Jesus had in mind for him, he turned and pointed to John and asked, “What about him?” It’s the most natural thing in the world to want to compare ourselves to others. And either way we measure up is a problem. We either decide that we aren’t as bad off as that other guy, and assume it’s because of something inherently better in ourselves (pride), or we whine because that other person’s life looks so much better (envy).

In Psalm 73 the psalmist went though a comparison of his life to the wicked and prosperous, and at first he judged them to be better off:

They have no struggles;
 their bodies are healthy and strong. 
They are free from the burdens common to man;
   they are not plagued by human ills. . . 
This is what the wicked are like—
  always carefree, they increase in wealth. 
Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; 
 in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 
All day long I have been plagued;

   I have been punished every morning. (Psalm 73:4-5, 12-14)

When he saw that wicked men seemed to prosper, the psalmist came to the conclusion that he had wasted his life trying to do the right thing by living a godly life. What had it gotten him? Nothing but trouble! Meanwhile, the wicked were getting away with murder and had everything they could want! This thought oppressed him. As long as he was comparing his situation to others, he was in agony. But he had a revelation when he entered the sanctuary, when he looked to God:

When I tried to understand all this,
    it was oppressive to me 
till I entered the sanctuary of God;

   then I understood their final destiny. 
Surely you place them on slippery ground;
 you cast them down to ruin. 
How suddenly are they destroyed,

    completely swept away by terrors . . . 
Yet I am always with you;
 you hold me by my right hand. 
You guide me with your counsel,

    and afterward you will take me into glory. 
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail,
 but God is the strength of my heart
 and my portion forever. (vs.16-19, 23-26)

The wicked have an ending of eternal damnation. They will be suddenly destroyed! But the psalmist not only had a future in glory with God, he also had the constant presence of God in this life as well. When he looked into the face of God, instead of at men, he realized just how blessed he was. That’s why Jesus told Peter, “Follow me!”

Jesus promises to be our all in all. He is the Alpha and the Omega, everything from A-Z. He fulfills every yearning we have to overflowing when we recognize that He is all we need.

Tomorrow, before leaving this gospel, we will look at Peter and John, their personalities and their ministries, and see how God had a special plan and purpose for each of them, and for each of us.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

John 21:20-23

Yesterday we looked at what Jesus told Peter about how the end of his life would be. And before moving on, I just wanted to say how this passage hit me personally. Jesus told Peter, “…when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” While this was a reference to his death on the cross (the stretched out hands), what really jumped out at me was the image of an old man being dressed by someone and being lead (or pushed in a wheelchair) to a place in life that no one wants to go.

Don and I have been caring for his father, Frank, who is currently in an assisted living center near us, since 2009. It is really difficult to watch the deterioration of aging parents who used to be the ones who cared for you. That role reversal is scary and often frustrating. One thing that has amazed me from the beginning of this process has been the way Frank has accepted the help (bathing, dressing, etc) with humility and grace. He is definitely in a time of life where none of us wants to go, yet he is grateful for the care he is receiving.

Dad has been a good role model for Don and me, and we are so thankful that we have been able to be involved in this process – even though it is stressful and difficult. One day, soon, it will be our turn, God willing. And like, Peter – and Dad - we will need to completely trust God as we follow Him to that place! May we, too, show humility and grace!

Now, back to our scripture for today. After hearing about his own future, Peter began to look around at his fellow disciples. His eyes landed on John, who was following behind.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:20-23)

“Hey! What about HIM???” “What’s going to happen to him??” Oh, Peter, Peter, Peter… I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful for Peter! He said what everyone else would be thinking! So he got the rebuke. Now this is the final rebuke of this gospel, but he received further correction later, in Acts 9, for his disdain for the Gentiles. Just like the rest of us, he was so flawed!!! And Jesus basically tells him, “MYOB!! Whatever I have planned for John has nothing to do with you. You just follow me!” OUCH!

How much trouble do we get into when we begin the comparing? “Why does she seem to have such a blissful life when I’m sinking here?” “Why has my life been full of trials, while everyone else is doing just fine?” Goodness! We have NO idea what things God has planned for anyone else or why. We only know that He is completely loving, fair, merciful, good, and sovereign. We need to get our eyes off of others, and let God be God.

This is such an important concept, and there are so many wonderful promises related to it, that I’m saving it all for next time! In the meantime, today would be a great day for realigning our focus. Keep those eyes straight ahead – don’t look to the left or to the right, but straight into the eyes of Jesus. And follow Him! And pray for every older person you see today!!!  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

John 21:18-19

After affirming His love and His mission for Peter, Jesus gives Peter a peek into what lies ahead of him:

“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:18-19)

Now, this doesn’t seem real specific to me, but somehow Peter got the message that he would live to be old and that his end would not be pleasant or something he would want, since he was told here he would be lead, apparently forcibly, to “where you do not want to go.” We know form church history that Peter was crucified upside down by Nero. But Jesus doesn’t give Peter that specific detail. He tells Peter only what he needs to know: it will be a while from now, and it won’t be pleasant. The good news? Peter’s death would glorify God!

But, Jesus encourages Peter to do one thing: “Follow me!” “Keep your eyes on me, Peter! Don’t turn to the right or left, just keep looking to me and walk, step by step, where I lead!” Now, Peter was the passionate, devoted disciple, who was best known by his highs and lows. One minute he was proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, for which he received a commendation from Jesus, and the next he was being rebuked for speaking the words of Satan!

Peter was the one who jumped out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, then began to sink as soon as he took his eyes off of Him. He proclaimed his undying loyalty at the Last Supper, rashly took out the sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, then cowered before a servant girl and denied even knowing Christ, all in the same evening.

How was this impulsive “bumbler and stumbler,” as Jon Courson refers to him, going to make it through the hard times of ministry? How would he remain faithful in service to Jesus? The same way you and I can – by following Jesus. By making the willful, determined, intentional choice to abide in Christ through His Word and to minute by minute decide to glorify God with our whole life. The really good news is that neither Peter nor we do this in our own strength. We don’t hold on to God with all of our might, because He is holding onto us with all of His! What a relief!!!

Peter will receive one last rebuke from Jesus before this encounter is over. We’ll look at that tomorrow!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John 21:15-17

In this scene between Jesus and Peter, at the campfire on the beach, Jesus extends His amazing grace to Peter as He affirms Peter’s place in ministry. Remember that, only hours after Peter boldly claimed that he would never desert Jesus, Peter denied Jesus three times to a servant girl at another campfire. I love how the LORD calls Peter back again here:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” 

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” 

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep."  (John 21:15-17)

Peter had denied Jesus three times, so here Jesus gave him three times to declare his love for Jesus. Two different words are used for love here. In the first question, when Jesus asks, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus uses the word agape, which indicates an unselfish, unconditional love, the kind of love God has for us. He’s asking Peter, “Do you still think you are more devoted to me than to anything else or more than anyone else is devoted to me?”

Peter responds with, “Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you.” This is a brotherly love. Why didn’t Peter respond back using agape? Jon Courson suggests that Peter finally knew that he could not respond truthfully with that kind of godly love, because he had already come up short. He knew he did not have it in his own power to promise that kind of devotion. Possibly, he finally had been humbled enough to understand his limitations.

Jesus responds by giving Peter a mission: Feed my lambs. What a great honor to be given the task of looking out for the first believers. Peter would, indeed be one of the first church leaders. In fact, he was the first to preach the gospel after Pentecost (Acts 2), when three thousand become believers!

Back to the campfire. Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you agape me?” And again Peter responds emphatically, “Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you.” And again, Jesus confirms Peter’s ministry: Take care of my sheep. Tend to their needs, Peter.

Finally, Jesus asks Peter a third time if he loves Him, but this time Jesus meets Peter where he’s at, and in his question, He uses Peter’s word: “Do you phileo me?” Don’t you love that He doesn’t demand that Peter be perfect before He will accept him? Jesus takes us right where we are. He doesn’t ask us to clean up our act, because He knows we can’t! That is what He does for us! Peter would come to the place of agape, but not through his own efforts. The LORD would be doing a heart transplant on Peter, as He has promised to do with us:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
 (Ezekial 36:26)

This is such an encouraging, sweet picture of restoration for Peter, whom Jesus loved so dearly. And it’s exactly the same kind o restoration He does with us. Even though we may have gone for most of our lives denying Him, when we finally come to the campfire for fellowship, Jesus accepts us just as we are! Look at this great invitation:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

This is the open invitation He extends to each of us. Have you responded yet?

I’m so grateful that John did not finish his gospel without including this scene!  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John 21:7-14

Yesterday we saw Jesus abundantly supply more fish than the disciples were able to handle. As soon as this miracle occurred, John figured out that it was Jesus on the shore. We aren’t sure why Jesus wasn’t immediately recognized by the disciples here. The same was true when Mary Magdalene first encountered Him outside the tomb, and when the two men walked with Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Whether there was something different about His appearance, or whether He just withheld their ability to recognize Him, we don’t know. But as soon as John saw the fish in the net, he knew. This had happened before! (Luke 5)

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. (John 21:7-9)

Impulsive Peter, of course, immediately jumps into the water instead of just rowing the boat the 100 yards onto shore! Isn’t it amazing that although they had been fishing all night, when they get to shore, Jesus was cooking the fish that He provided? Even so, He invites them to bring in their catch.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (vs. 10-14)

Jon Courson points out here that all of a sudden Peter was able to do alone what the group could not do together – haul in the net full of fish! Why was he able to do this? Because the LORD had told him to do it! When God asks us to do something, He also provides the power to accomplish it! If God is calling you to do something which you can’t even imagine accomplishing with the help of a huge committee, don’t be afraid. Just go and do what He asks. He will provide all you need!

The really lovely picture here is of Jesus just sharing a meal with His disciples – with those whom He called, “Friends!” I love that Jesus still ate in His glorified body! I don’t know about you, but I LOVE to eat, so the thought that we will be banqueting in Heaven is so exciting to me! We will sit and eat with our LORD! Amazing!

Tomorrow we will see a wonderful moment between Jesus and Peter.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

John 21:1-6

Before ending his gospel, John records one more day that the disciples had with the resurrected Jesus:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” 

“No,” they answered. 

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:1-6)

The disciples were apparently waiting around on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias, when Peter decided to do something. Courson points out that these disciples were not doing what Jesus had told them to do in Matthew 28:16, when He told them to go to a mountain in Galilee to wait for Him. Instead, they went to the beach. In fact, Peter decided to turn back to his old life as a fisherman. I wonder if Peter maybe had a little ADHD with his need to take action of some kind. We know he was impulsive! So he said, “I’m going fishing! Who’s with me?”

He jumped in the boat, and the others followed. They fished all night, but caught nothing – not one little fish! Isn’t that the way? We get tired of waiting on God, so we just jump in and start to do something – anything but sit around and wait. The results of our own efforts? Zilch!

But Jesus appeared in the morning and called to them, “Friends…” He did not chide them, He called them “Friends!” He told them to try the right side of the boat, to just move their nets by about five feet. And what do you know? More fish than they could manage! When the LORD tells us to do something, He will provide “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Does God have you in a holding pattern right now? Is He asking you to wait? If so, WAIT! He has a plan and a purpose for you. He knows where to help you find the biggest catch. The disciples went back to what they knew – to what was comfortable. But Jesus had a bigger and better plan. He had told them three years earlier that He would make them fishers of men. The time was coming. But they would have to wait.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

John 20:30-31

I cannot believe we are almost at the end of the Gospel of John! There is only one chapter left! So you would think John would not throw in these final verses we find in John 20 until the very end, because they look like a closing:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

John was very selective in the things he chose to include in his gospel, because there was so much material to choose from. Everything he chose to include in here was written with that one purpose in mind: that we might believe!

In this instance, he specifically refers to the fact that Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples. So, in addition to appearing out of nowhere in His resurrected body, He performed other miracles before them. They were eyewitnesses!  In fact, John says Jesus performed MANY other miracles. But THESE, that are recorded in John so we might BELIEVE!

You might be wondering now, why I’m making such a big deal out of this. Well, the reason I chose to study John at all this year was because of the visit we had late last year from a dear young woman, who told us that she really did not have a belief system anymore. She wasn’t sure what she believed – and I don’t think she thought it mattered WHAT she believed. She seemed convinced, like so many in the world today, that we all are worshiping the same God anyway. You see, she had been hurt by the church. She felt rejected by the very people who should have been loving her, after she divorced her first husband. She felt judged. And so, she turned away.

It made me so sad to see. And I wanted to turn her focus away from all those sinners in the church, and back to Jesus. Only Jesus is perfect. Only He never lets us down! John’s gospel completely focuses on Jesus – who He is and what He accomplished. It’s the gospel written to promote believing. That’s why, whenever someone is new to the faith, or is still in a state of seeking, we generally point them to start their Bible reading in his gospel. If you want to know who Jesus is, this is the book that says it best. John wanted us to BELIEVE CORRECTLY “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we might] have life in His name.” Peter concurred with John:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Biblical believing is not just giving mental assent to a set of facts. It is a commitment to, reliance upon, and trusting in Christ alone. It is the kind of believing that causes one to worship!