Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Proverbs 21:2-3 Just do it!

All a man’s ways seem right to him,
      but the LORD weighs the heart. 
To do what is right and just
      is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Prov. 21:2-3 NIV 1984)

How easy it is for us to justify our behaviors and attitudes. When someone has hurt us, we think, and the world confirms, “I can never forgive that!” Or when falsely accused of something, we yearn to vindicate ourselves and argue our side of the issue publicly to anyone who will listen. “Certainly it’s okay for my fiance and me to sleep together - we’re getting married!” Every decision we make seems to us at the time as the best decision, even if we have not measured it against God’s Word. We will find a way to make it seem biblical! And to those around us, it may seem perfectly justifiable. Because they can’t see our hearts - and because they don’t know the heart of God.

But today’s first verse shows that the LORD, indeed, knows exactly our motivations - He compares what we do with what is in our hearts. There is no hiding our intentions! And the next verse adds that, no matter what we are looking like on the outside, the most important thing we are to do is what is right and just, with a heart to match! No amount of sacrifice to the LORD, whether in money or deeds, will cover a heart of darkness!

In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel, the prophet tells King Saul that the LORD is rejecting Saul - kicking him off the throne - because Saul did not obey the LORD. God had told Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites along with all they owned as judgment for their treatment of the Israelites when they were coming out of Egypt. Saul only partially obeyed, but spared the Amalekite king and plundered their wealth rather than destroying it. So God sent Samuel to fire Saul.

Saul begins to justify what he has done, insisting they took the plunder of the livestock in order to sacrifice it to “the LORD your God.” (1 Samuel 15:21) Note that he calls God “your God” not “my God.” Samuel is not about to allow Saul to justify disobedience:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (vs. 22)

So, going back to Proverbs 21:3, does obeying God mean following to the letter a list of religious rules? Is it about keeping the Ten Commandments in order to please God? Surely God expects us to do what is right and to be just in our dealings with others. Certainly that reflects the heart of God. But it is NOT about keeping a bunch of laws and adhering to a set of rules - for the Bible makes it clear that we cannot possibly keep the Law. If we could, Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross! So what ARE we to do???

Jesus was asked this very question. Note His answer:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”   
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

It’s a matter of believing that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father. It’s about following Him as His disciples and allowing Him to change our hearts to look like His. And what is His heart like? Look at what He did while here on Earth. He went to the “least of these,” the sinners. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He went out of His way to meet just one Samaritan woman who had nearly as many “husbands” as Elizabeth Taylor!* He touched and healed the needy, the outcasts, those who were considered “unclean” by the religious leaders.

So, we need to have His heart for the “least of these,” because the reality is that WE are the least! We are the needy and spiritually impoverished of this world. We were the desperate ones before He found us! The change He’s wrought in our hearts compels us to action.

Look around you - there are plenty of needy - just the kind of company He keeps! How can we do what is right and just today? I’ll be looking for an opportunity!  

*Note to anyone who happened to see the Women of Faith webcast last night:  I actually had written this prior to Lisa Harper using the exact same illustration!  :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Who's in charge here?

The world around us seems to be always shifting, with catastrophe just around the corner. Whether we are reading the headlines of events in Syria, Egypt, or Turkey, or of tensions between the U.S. and Russia or China, it appears we are constantly on the verge of a major conflict at the mercy of a handful of world leaders. What a blessing to read today’s verse as a reminder of the sovereignty of our God, who controls ALL things! Even the kings of the earth are under His mighty hand.

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;

    he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: Old Testament, Vol. 2, reminds us how God used a ruler to fulfill one of the prophecies about Christ:

 “Caesar Augustus was one of the greatest leaders of all time, at least in the eyes of man. When he decided to tax the whole world, he no doubt felt potent as he ordered the entire world to go to the cities of their birth. In reality, however, who was pulling the strings of Caesar Augustus’ heart? God. You see, when Jesus was about to be born, Mary was in the city of Nazareth. Yet Micah declared that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David (5:2). So what would compel Mary and Joseph to make the journey to Bethlehem? { my note: let’s remember that Mary was at full term in her pregnancy and would have to travel on the back of a donkey!!!!! } God the Father simply pulled the strings of His puppet, Caesar Augustus, to order everyone to their home towns to be taxed. And in so doing, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, perfectly fulfilling Micah’s prophecy.” (P.246)

I don’t know about you, but this little verse in Proverbs so greatly encourages me! We don’t need to get our panties in a twist over the ineptitude or corruption of leaders. Yes, we need to pray for them, and we need to be actively engaged and INFORMED as voting citizens (don’t get me started on people who vote and yet do not even know the name of our Vice President! - anyone else see the street interview of the Berkeley graduate who did not know who Joe Biden is????). However, we can always remain at peace in our hearts, no matter which party is in control or whether or not the crisis in Syria boils over. (By the way, to see how the destruction of Syria possibly figures in the End Times, check out Isaiah 17:1-6 and Jeremiah 49:23-27).

Our God is sovereign - even over the hearts of men, whether they be world leaders or those wayward children and unbelieving family members we’ve been praying over for years. Another reason to praise His glorious name!  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Proverbs 20:27 Search me!

The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being. (Proverbs 20:27 NIV 1984)

That’s what I read this morning as I sat down to find a word from God as I end this chapter of Proverbs. I immediately thought of how God’s Word reveals to me who I truly am inside - the REAL me, that even I don’t always get - the very heart, including all of the ick inside!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Then I saw the footnote that says this verse from Proverbs can also be translated this way, as we find in the KJV and many other translations:

The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly. (Proverbs 20:27 KJV)

This seems to indicate that our own conscious is a searchlight into our hearts. So naturally, I turned to Jon Courson, who uses Romans 1 to confirm that our conscious, indeed, knows not only who we are, but who God is, because He has given us evidence in creation that our conscious confirms is true, leaving men without excuse in their rejection of God:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)

In order to reject God, we actually have to suppress the truth that He has given us! Notice that man’s main sin problems are in not honoring Him as God and in not being thankful! Doesn’t this express perfectly the current PC worldview of our culture? Remove all evidence of God so as not to offend anyone - yet by doing it, we have offended our Creator and headed into an abyss of unrighteousness! 

So, since we apparently don’t heed our conscience and we ignore the evidence of creation, what DOES reach the heart to bring forth transformation? Well, God will do that for us if we just ask!

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

    Try me and know my thoughts! 
And see if there be any grievous way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

And going back to the above verse from Hebrews, God’s Word, the two-edged sword, is the instrument that cuts to the quick in our hearts and reveals everything hidden. If we will just dive in and read it, His Word WILL accomplish God’s plan to transform us.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

    and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,   
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

God’s Word ALWAYS does what it is supposed to do! It reveals the true attitudes of our hearts and then transforms us from the inside out. We just need to READ it, STUDY it, then APPLY it. May God create in each of us a strong desire to do this daily!  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

There will be time to sleep!

The sluggard does not plow in the autumn;

    he will seek at harvest and have nothing... 
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;

    open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread. (Proverbs 20:4, 13)

Proverbs has much to say about laziness! I did a study of the contrasts in Proverbs about 30 years ago, which included the verses on wealth vs. poverty. It is clear throughout this book that laziness leads to poverty, and that there is no such thing as an easy way to wealth - it requires hard work!

I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of laziness, because, outwardly I am a whirling dervish most of the time! Way too busy! However, there is an inward tendency to laziness that summer really seems to bring to the forefront. After my school year busyness that is non-stop, I pretty much have a hard time doing ANYTHING in the summer! { Can you tell??? } It’s one of the downsides of summer for me. I work so much more efficiently and with focus during the school year. Something about the relative inactivity of June, July, and August causes my brain to turn to mush.

Because I don’t have to get up at 5:00 a.m., I find it more difficult to get my morning time with the LORD! And that’s not good! In fact, right now it’s 9:55 p.m., and I’m only just finally sitting down to look back into Proverbs!

While the verses above seem to speak of physical laziness, it’s also referring to a spiritual sleepiness. It is so easy to fall into bad patterns of laziness with God and His Word. Satan will find 1000’s of things to keep us from opening our Bibles! The buzz of a text message, our favorite TV show, a compelling novel, or the “need” of just another hour of sleep! And we can find innumerable reasons NOT to join a Bible study. But if we give in to the temptation to do everything BUT read God’s Word, we will end up in poverty - with no food when we need it most!

God’s Word is unique in that it fills you up like nothing else. It is a bread that sticks to your ribs and becomes part of you. It mysteriously transforms you from the inside out. I’ve been studying it for 37 years now, and it never gets old. It is always fresh, timely, and pertinent. And as much as I LOVE it - I still have to consciously CHOOSE to open it. I have to fight the lazy bones in me to study it. So I definitely need to be held accountable to read it - and that’s why I’m a huge believer in organized Bible study. I need to have “homework” and the accountability of a group.

Which is why I’m going to urge you today to find a summer study or open your house to a study. And then, if you have never heard of Bible Study Fellowship or been afraid to commit to it, I’m going to HIGHLY recommend it for this fall! Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) is an international, interdenominational study (to check it out, click here‎) that meets all over the world (and probably in your area).

The study runs during the school year, from September to May. It’s in-depth, like a college course on the Bible, and there are eight studies, with a ninth (Revelation) being added in 2014 (this coming year is the Gospel of Matthew, a great place to start). They alternate between Old and New Testament, and trust me, after you have completed the series you will have learned more than a lifetime of random studies could give you. You will have a full picture of the Bible from beginning to end, with a clear understanding of how Jesus is revealed in all of it.

A bonus is their remarkable children’s program! Day classes have a children’s program for preschoolers, while the night classes have a school program for kids from first grade through high school. I was the Children’s Supervisor years ago in BSF, and I can tell you, it’s such an amazing place to ground your children in a love of God’s Word!There are men’s and women’s studies, so the whole family can participate. It is NOT for the sluggard! But the rewards are GREAT!

So, if you are like me, and have a tendency toward spiritual laziness, jump into a study - one with other believers who will encourage you in your pursuit of God. Pray with me that we will not let a day go by without meeting with God this summer and into the fall. Let’s reap a harvest! There will be plenty of time to sleep later!  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Finishing the race!

This is the last day of school! I can hardly believe it! It was such a difficult year, but God has been so very faithful! I’m amazed by the grace He has shown me and by the strength He has given me. I’ve been thinking for a few weeks now about how important it is to finish this race in victory and not just limping across the finish line. Paul loved to use the racing analogy:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (1 Cor 9:24 ESV)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (1 Tim 4:7 ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

I was just telling some friends last night that I feel like I am finishing the year running, not limping, across the finish line. And then, at about 10:00 last night, I developed a painful limp! My hip is hurting (probably because I’ve been sitting at the computer for hours doing report cards), and I’m having trouble even limping this morning! :) I think God just wants to remind me that I run because HE gives me the strength. On my own I am a limping mess! 

I recently read a quote in the new book about the 30-year marriage of Joni Erickson Tada (the quadriplegic Christian artist, author, speaker, and singer) and Ken Tada. In it they are very REAL about the challenges in their marriage. Ken quotes a man who said that the problem with life is that it is lived daily! Isn’t that the truth? It is an endurance race, which is why Paul says we need to run it with endurance. The day-to-day grind of the ordinary, sprinkled with moments of urgency and crisis, can absolutely wear us down. We cannot run it to the finish line without the proper training in God’s Word daily. I’m so grateful that some of you choose to meet me here each morning, so that we may meet Him.

Hang in there, friends! We are being cheered on by that “great cloud of witnesses.” My body may be limping today, but my spirit is sprinting! I can look back over the past school year and truly thank God for the joy of a hard year! But I’m also soooo excited to have some rest for a while! PHEW!  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Proverbs 20:6-7 Where's the Proverbs 31 man???

Most of us are very familiar with the idea of the Proverbs 31 woman. The description of that virtuous woman, whose children rise up and call her blessed begins with a question: An excellent wife who can find? (Proverbs 31:10). Then Solomon follows with 21 verses describing this amazing woman. I have always joked that there is no corresponding description of the “excellent” husband, because there is no such thing! { Okay, men I’m just joking here!!! }

So I was immediately shocked to find the corresponding verses about men in Proverbs 20: 6-7! Yes, that’s just TWO verses! :) They don’t quite meet the standard of the Proverbs 31 woman, however: 

Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,

    but a faithful man who can find?   
The righteous who walks in his integrity—
blessed are his children after him!

Seriously, the world would have us think that there is no such thing as a faithful man. Satan loves to spread that lie that all men are unfaithful to their wives at some time (which, by the way, is also an indictment against women, since it takes two to tango). Actually, in our sphere of friends, we’ve only known a very few whose marriages have been hit with infidelity. Most of our friends have been together since high school and are still happily married forty-plus years later! However, when infidelity happens, the ramifications are so far-reaching, that it certainly SEEMS like it’s all around us! And statistics seem to bear out the claim that it is a problem in many marriages...

But rather than rip on those who fall, I’m going to focus on those amazing men who are righteous husbands and fathers, who DO walk in integrity! Not only among our friends, but also among the many parents who have passed through my classroom, these are by far the majority. And the blessings they bring on their children are many. I have been blessed to have several families in our community multiple times as each of the siblings ended up in my class. I love to affirm to the parents how important their modeling of a loving, committed couple is to their children.

There isn’t a marriage out there that doesn’t go through times of trial and struggle, when you look at each other and wonder, “How did I end up with you???” But those who persevere because they have made a COMMITMENT to stay married - to honor God in their marriage and allow Him to work in their marriage - these couples, over the long haul, enjoy such a sweetness. What a legacy they leave to their children and grandchildren.

Men and women are so very different - it’s amazing that we CAN live together! And, frankly, without God at the center of a marriage, it’s darn near impossible! I have a dear friend who joked. “Except for the sex part, I can totally get lesbianism, because women get it!” Our minds work in completely different ways than men’s. And you know what? God designed us that way! He knew what each of us needed in a marriage. His plan is to make us one in Him and to transform each of us into His image - mainly by the working out of our differences!

Our pastor is doing a series on marriage and this past week they showed us the perfect video that demonstrates the differences between men and women. It’s hysterical because it’s so true! Seriously, you need to see it, by clicking here! After you’ve had a good laugh, thank God for the differences, and then thank Him for your spouse - warts and all! And to my dear friends and family who have lived through the effects of infidelity, I know you know that eventually, healing can come - sometimes even within the marriage. But often, families are blown apart by it - and the healing may take years. May you, too, thank God for HIS faithfulness - because HE never leaves us nor forsakes us!  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Proverbs 20:1 Whatever you do...

The very first verse in Proverbs 20 stopped me in my tracks, and I debated whether or not to touch it, because I do not want to come off as judgmental. But it’s in God’s Word for a reason, so here it is:

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. (Proverbs 20:1 NIV)

The English major in me notes right off the bat that wine and beer are personified in this verse - given human attributes - as if they, indeed, have the capacity to intentionally lead people astray. It’s as if they are sneaky, not forthright in their plan to capture victims. Now, just so you know, I am not opposed to drinking per se. I will have an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and I can enjoy a beer with Mexican food. But I am not a drinker, really, because I have a very low tolerance, and I got all of the partying out of my system in college - losing my dignity in the process!

However, I have been a witness to the dangers of drinking from a young age, so that skews my thinking on this subject. I saw my wonderful father drunk too many times! In the 60’s he was considered a “social drinker,” but in hindsight, we are pretty convinced that he was an alcoholic. So, it’s possible that I carry that gene. I’m outspoken enough without alcohol - don’t need to be subject to the “mocker.”

As a young mom I followed the advice of my sister, Jodi, who told me that if her own children ever decided to drink, it would not be because they saw her doing it. I felt that was a good philosophy to model for my girls, since girls are particularly vulnerable to being victimized while under the influence! So, while my girls were in my home growing up, I never drank.

So is it wrong for Christians to drink? Well, if Jesus thought so, I don’t think His first miracle would have been turning water into wine - and the best wine of the evening at that! But we are given lots of guidance on the subject from Paul in his letters.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. . . (Ephesians 5:18 ESV)

In I Corinthians he has much to say on the subject. He acknowledges that we are free from the law in Christ, so he cautions against being judgmental. But Paul also warns us that we need to be careful that we never stumble another by our behavior, specifically, in I Corinthians, by what we eat or drink. 

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (I Cor 8:13 ESV)

Do we not have the right to eat and drink? ... For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them... (I Cor 9:4,19)

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (I Cor 10:23)

Paul is saying that we are certainly free from the law - but sometimes we need to give up our freedom so that someone else is not hindered. We would not want to drink in front of an alcoholic and cause him to stumble. Our freedom would be putting him in bondage. Nor would you want to tempt someone to become judgmental by drinking in front of a person who has strong feelings about alcohol. Some people are so offended by the sight of Christians drinking, they will never see Jesus past the wine glass in your hand.

Paul’s primary concern was how his behaviors affected others. His top priority was to win others to Christ. So he gave up some of his freedoms that they might be won. Is this hypocritical? No, it’s being obedient! For the overriding principle for Paul was this:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Cor 10:31)

Regardless of what behaviors we are examining, our utmost goal must be to glorify God in all we do - whether at work, at home, or at play!

It is not my intention to condemn alcohol use. However, because of my own childhood, I am very uncomfortable around people who drink to excess. It causes me to cringe inside, because I remember how embarrassed I would be by my dad when he drank. And the problem with drinking is that the first thing that goes is your judgment. So, people who are drunk never judge themselves to be drunk! 

Christians, we are free to drink. However, we need to consider when we do so whether or not someone might be stumbled - a child watching, a struggling alcoholic, or someone who may be tempted to judge. Will our witness be compromised?

When I was a brand new Christian I asked a friend if Christians could drink. I’ve never forgotten his simple response: “Yes, but I gave it up, because I’m not sure I can glorify God with a can of beer in my hand.”

LORD, help us to put the needs of others before our own, so that you might be glorified in all that we think, say, and do.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Counting down! Help!

I need prayer big time! There are only seven school days left, and I’m in need of energy to complete the year in victory! This weekend I sat down to start report cards... Aughh! Facing another root canal would be easier! {Note: I’m still partially numb and can barely open my mouth to eat a sandwich from the last one in January of 2012!} Seriously, if the parents don’t know by now how Johnny is doing, after signing four math tests which he gloriously flunked, then I’m not sure how much this report card is going to help!

State testing ended the first week of May, then we prepared for Open House on the 23rd. Now I’m trying to keep 36 students entertained and excited until that final bell rings on June 11th!

I’ve got to admit, I’m being creative! I allowed the students to finally sit with their best friends, to group their desks any way they wanted, and to even randomly name their groups (we have “The Chamber,” “Table for Two,” “The Penguins,” “The Mustaches,” “The Pickles,” “The Table of Awesomeness,” and some other name that has to do with soccer that I can’t even remember right now). They have been reading novels of their choosing in groups of their own making, with no written work attached to it whatsoever! Just reading for FUN! What a concept! And I’ve been stuffing in their brains the last bit of math and science instruction using every fun strategy in my arsenal. I’m exhausted!

I have yet to pull out a video, but since I will be having a substitute Friday while at a district meeting all day, one is coming for sure! Writing sub plans is almost as bad as doing report cards. At least I know the sub READS the sub plans!

Nothing is worse than these last weeks of school! And parents, please know that we get it! I read the FUNNIEST blog this weekend by a parent (and Christian author/speaker), on the parent perspective. This is an hysterical MUST read, so click here to have a great laugh! But, I just wanted to assure all you parents that we teachers SO get it! We hate this time of year as much as you do! I could never understand the concept of “year-round” school! I need the ENTIRE summer off just to make me want to go back in September - and I’m someone who loves this job!

Anyway, please pray for me as I get these report cards completed and the room taken down and closed up. I want to enjoy these last days with these crazy kids - and I want them to know, as I send them out the door to a summer of boredom, that I love them!