Thursday, September 30, 2021

 "But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell." Numbers 33:55 

I wonder if the Apostle Paul had this verse in mind when he wrote:
"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." II Corinthians 12:7
 Before the Israelites passed into the Promised Land God gave them a number of instructions, to which they agreed to abide. God warned them of what would happen if they didn't.

The Israelites crossed the Jordan  River into a new life. There would be worldly things and people they would need to get rid of in order to have "Promised Land Living." God promised to prosper them in this new land flowing with milk and honey, but first they had a job to do. They'd need to prove their faith by obeying God. They'd have to endure warfare before peace would come. They'd have to make sacrifices before they partook of the bounty.

The Bible overflows with wisdom. You want to live well with your spouse? The Bible tells you how. You want to have a successful career? The Bible teaches you what kind of a work ethic you need. You want to have good friends and peace with your fellow man? The Bible instructs you on how to build quality relationships. The precepts and principles taught in Scripture on how to live can be used by anyone - Christian or not. In fact, many principles taught in the best business management and personnel management texts mimic what is said in Scripture.

The problem is, we tend to follow our hearts, which almost always leads us down roads that end in disaster. 

A couple of things happened after some success in the Promised Land. Israel forgot to inquire of God before making an allegiance with a people group and that led to heartache. Then later, they began to see the enemy rather than God's leading and became fearful. Their fear meant they were no longer trusting God, and it prevented them from expanding their borders to the extent that God promised them.

In the end, the old inhabitants remained and caused them trouble.
"I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not." Judges 2:21-22
When we call upon the name of the Lord to be saved (when we ask Jesus into our hearts), if we have truly humbled ourselves before Him, over time we will be convicted of things in our lives. Our love for God will grow as we grow in our knowledge of Him. As we grow in love our desire to please Him will grow, and that will lead us to desire to eliminate, or drive out, those things that do not please Him.

I wonder, when Paul penned those verses in II Corinthians 12, if he was thinking about the Israelites inability to remove the inhabitants of the land. I wonder if he saw something in his life he couldn't have victory over, some recurring fault that shamed him whenever it took hold of his life.
"...My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in  weakness." II Corinthians 12:9a
The further I get along in life, the more things I find to regret. Words spoken I will never be able to take back. Actions done that I wish I had not committed. Feelings evolved that I wish I had never allowed to develop. These regrets remind me of those nations the Israelites failed to drive out of the land. Yet, God in His abundant mercy, took those nations and used them to prove Israel.

As a child of God, I am thankful for His grace. I still live in this world and in this flesh. I still do things I shouldn't do. I'm still human. And yet, God's forgiveness abounds. His grace that saved me stands and reminds me even when I've sinned that He has covered it. In my weakness, His strength is made perfect because His grace is sufficient. Thank you, Dear Lord.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Taking God's Name in Vain

 Exodus 20:7 "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

Psalm 139:20 "For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain."

Proverbs 30:8-9 "Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."

What does it mean to 'take God's name in vain?'

The Hebrew word for vain is shav1. It means useless or without purpose, and specifically in Exodus 20:7, it holds the meaning of a falsehood, or by implication falsely using or deceiving as in a false witness.

In Exodus 20, the word is used in a list of commandments that apply to our relationship with God and how we are to worship Him.

Psalm 139 talks of the Psalmist's relationship with God and when it mentions using God's name in vain, it is in referring to how God's enemies use His name.

Again, in Proverbs, we see the mention of the vain use of God's name in reference to the relationship of writer with the Almighty.

What is significant about God's name that we must be careful how we use it?

God's name represents who He is, His power, and His authority. Consider God's conversation with Moses when He told Moses to tell the people I Am sent him. Exodus 3 Prior to that God had not been referred to by that name or by the name JEHOVAH. (Exodus 6:3) 'I Am' held significance. It showed God's presence and power.

When God met Moses on the mount, He declared His name to Moses (Exodus 34:5). Imagine the all-powerful, all-mighty Creator declaring His name to a humble man. How would you feel as Moses? Would you ever again use God's name in slight?

When we pray, we call on God's name. So that begs the question, when we are using God's name as an expression, are we praying? Of course not.

My children are experts at annoying each other. I've heard them call each other's name simply to annoy, and therefore demonstrate a disrespect (of course they don't see it as disrespectful at the time). Such usage hurts and angers the victim. Should we do the same to God?

I confess, I am hyper-sensitive to the use of God's name or anything that is intended to represent God. I am offended when even a Christian, who knows the Almighty--how great He is and how little we are--uses His name in a disrespectful manner or spews it off in a trite way. At that exact moment, is that Christian using His name with the reverence due the most Superior of beings?

I've heard it argued that the Bible's meaning of taking God's name in vain is to not claim to be God's and live your own way. Okay, lets go down that road. If in anger you spew off God's name, are you living in a righteous manner? If you throw His name out as an exclamatory expression and mean not to truly be calling upon His name or engaging Him into your situation, are you demonstrating your faith in Him? I even question when a Christian spews out as a reaction to a situation "Thank God" whether they are directing their words to God . . . and if they are not, how does that demonstrate their respect and awe of the Almighty?

The literal interpretation of "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain," is that you don't use His name uselessly. There is no other way of reading it. God says what He says and He means what He means. No matter how you look at it, if you use God's name without purpose (out of anger or a reactionary exclamation) you are not bringing honor to Him nor are you purposefully talking in a way that brings Him glory.

I stand in fear of my Lord--a healthy fear, governed by the awe I feel for the One who with a single word could extinguish my life. I stand in fear of Him because, while He has that power, He chose instead to love me and extend to me His great mercy and grace. I am indebted to Him for the salvation He gave me. How dare I treat Him or His name with even the slightest hint of disrespect.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Whether I Live or Die, I Am Blessed

"For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God." II Corinthians 4:15 

I sat on the examination table determined to let my breast surgeon know she did a good job, and I'm doing well. She sat in the chair beside the table, eyes on the pathology report, trying to have a positive outlook. Not that the pathology report was a negative foretelling of the future. Just unexpected and unusual.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

"You know," I said, "I think you did a great job of my surgery. I feel great and am doing more than what everyone was telling me I would be able to do after surgery. I was even able to help load three calves into the trailer, Saturday." I fumbled. I wasn't doing a good job of what I really wanted to say, simply: thank you. And even more so, to share Christ with her, but the door wasn't open. 

This surgeon had up to this point always presented a very "in-control" professional walk and demeanor and confidence that showed her years of experience in her field. But she faltered, unable to clearly tell me what to expect. 

When I left the exam room after getting dressed, I heard her and presumed she was talking with my oncologist as she read the pathology report to the person on the other end of the phone. I had a strange peace. Well, it really isn't strange because that peace, God's peace on me, has been present throughout my Christian life (whenever I chose to look for it). But I confess, I wasn't exactly tripping down the hall with glee.

In II Corinthians, the apostle Paul spoke extensively about suffering, and in particular, the suffering he experienced. Set aside the 'thorn in my flesh' portion, and he lists the suffering he had endured because he preached the Gospel. His response to the horrors he'd endured as an ambassador of Christ was to focus on the needs of the people he had served and had come to love. 

"And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation." II Corinthians 1:6

My mother suffered from extreme nausea and pain for several months before she died this spring. Yet, she smiled at her doctor and witnessed to her nurses (for as long as she had voice to do so), and her faith and the peace of God shone through her. It impacted those around her. She was ready to go to see her Beloved Lord and Savior, but while on earth, she did what she could for others. 

"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." II Corinthians 4:8-10

We, in America, rarely if ever suffer the persecution Paul endured and did so with the joy of the Lord in his heart. I think it is coming. It will separate those who truly love the Lord and love others as He loved, from those who simply chose Christianity as an identity or merely said the sinner's prayer for 'fire insurance' to escape hell. I think each of us must now chose whether we will follow Christ to death or follow the easy path. 

Such discussion of persecution and suffering tends to turn off people. We like to not think about such things. And in truth, dwelling on the horrors that may face us is not a good use of our minds. Our focus shouldn't be on the troubles we'll face. Our focus should be on the hope we have in Christ: on the future where we'll dwell with the Lord in a perfect place. Our hope lies in the day we will be all that we were created to be: to bring God pleasure, to enjoy Him, and to fellowship with Him and live in a place of continual worship. 

Paul not only endured physical abuse from those who hated him and the message he gave, he endured words spoken against him by those that should have loved him. He endured the rejection of those he had poured his life out for them to know Christ. Yet, he had peace. His love for the church at Corinth caused him to see past the hurt to how all he had endured could be a blessing to them, an encouragement and a source of comfort.

Once, a doctor told me if you don't do such and such you may die. Actually, I've heard that several times over my life from medical professionals. They can't predict my death. My response to that particular doctor, was, "I'm not afraid to die. For me, to die is gain as I will be in Heaven with my Lord and Savior." Her response was what of those you leave behind who love you? Good point. That was Paul's reasoning for God keeping him alive, to continue to serve those he loved. His love for the churches he'd started, for the members of those churches, kept him from giving up.

"For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again." Philippians 1:23-26

While my mother was still here on earth, she blessed and shared and comforted. When she departed, God already had her family in His hand. This is a truth we'd all be wise to remember.

Suffering sometimes leads to death. But that death does not mean the end of life for those who believe. Neither does it mean those left behind are alone. God does not forget the grieving, even if at times it seems like that is so. Before He takes a loved one home to be with Him in Heaven, He prepares for the continual earthly existence of those left behind. For a time of grieving this may be difficult to remember, but nevertheless true. God will be there for you. God will supply your needs. God will take you through each moment and each day, as readily as the sun rises in the morning. You're not alone.

My run with cancer will likely not end in my death. But I do know that it is in the background of everyone's mind. The statistics demonstrate survivability, but the doctor says, "In a room of 100 people with cancer, you don't want to increase the chances of you being that one person to die by not getting appropriate treatment." To that I say, "God determines the day of my calling Home." Even so, my hope is not in this world, but in the world to come that my Lord is preparing where I will forever be with Him. Whether I die to day or thirty years from now, I am blessed.

This is the craziest of all the days of my lifetime. The world seems like it is turning upside down and inside out. People are living out their fear of the unknown in anger toward anyone who might disagree with them. People are demonstrating their hopelessness by looking to anyone who might provide hope, yet failing to look for the One Who can give them perfect hope. They have given up on the good and made evil right and right evil.

How must I live, whether my life is cut short or I live for many more years? I am to live for Christ.

"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: …For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me." Philippians 1:27,29-30

 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Enlarge My Steps

 Thou hast enlarged my steps under me that my feet did not slip. Psalm 18:35 

David wrote this psalm after God delivered him from his enemies and from King Saul, who wanted to kill him. He knew his salvation came from God, and he placed his trust in the LORD God Almighty. 

Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

David's life exemplified faith. In order for him to know that God kept his feet from falling, he had to take steps. I picture him skirting around rocky terrain, moving in and out of caves, and facing the enemy in hand to hand combat. Each of these positions require sure-footedness. A fall could be deadly. David recognized that his stability came from God. 

In writing, I can easily put my foot down in a mess and sink further with each word I write. Entering into a debate where maybe I lack knowledge can lead to a messy, embarrassing situation. Stating my opinion to an audience unwilling to listen can put my ability to sell on shaky ground. Letting my imagination take me down roads clouded by popular opinions, trends, etc. can cause me to stumble and jeopardize my testimony. 

I need the LORD to enlarge my steps under me so that my feet will not slip. 

LORD, please help me to stand firmly upon the foundation of my faith, that is Your salvation, mercy and grace, that I will not stumble. Keep me from making a fool of myself or bringing scorn upon Your Name. Hold me fast, so that Your Name will be glorified, lifted up above all names and all 'gods' of this world.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Witnessing: A Call to Worship the One True God

"Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Ezekiel 33:11

This verse reveals so much of the heart of God.
  • We see His love for the sinner
  • We see the pain we cause Him
  • We see His desire for reconciliation
  • We see His holiness
  • We see His righteousness
  • We feel His yearning for EVERY soul
God was urging Ezekiel to speak to the Israelites. Ezekiel was to warn them of the sword that coming their way, and if he failed, God would require Israel's blood at Ezekiel's hand.
What had Israel done to cause God to call them wicked? They, who were created by God to worship Him, who were the chosen people to be a witness (through their worship of God) to the world of who God was--these people had turned from God to worship idols. In the worshiping of idols, they committed great moral atrocities. 

 Any worship, other than the worship of Jehovah God, manifests itself in wickedness. From the headhunter tribes who thought eating the flesh of their enemies would empower them, to the person who sees violence as a solution to their problems, to the Islamic terrorist, to the person who choses to do good acts not for the benefit of others but for the benefit of themselves--the worship of themselves, of power, of spirits, of persons, of objects, philosophy, ideology or worldview will ultimately result in wickedness. In fact, any worship--any form of adoration and exaltation--that puts the object of worship above God is wickedness.

When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Ezekiel 33:8

I love Ezekiel 33:11 (verse at top) because it reveals to me a Holy God who loves every individual and desires that no one die in his iniquity. It reveals to me a righteous God who wants people to live and not suffer the consequences of their wickedness. I love that God; He's my God; and it is the love of that God that makes me want to obey Him. His commandments are not grievous (I John 5:3).

I have knowledge of true salvation. I know what the wicked, what every sinner, what every person on this earth, needs to do in order to be saved. How wretched and wicked of me if I hold back what they need to know to be saved from the coming sword.

Excuses are easy to make as to why I may not share the Gospel with every person I meet. And some of them maybe legitimate. However, even if I am held back (whether by fear, distance, lack of opportunity, etc.) from telling another how he or she may be saved from sin and enter into a beautiful relationship with God, their Creator and Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, I can still pray for that person and for those that may be Spirit-led to witness to them.

I can encourage those who are able to witness to people and in places where I'm not able. 

But ultimately, I must be ready in season and out of season to share my faith. It isn't a ritual. It's not an "I must lead X amount of people to the Lord in order to receive a crown." It is simply a compulsion that arises out of the deep love I have for Christ and His even deeper love for me.

My witness must come from my relationship with God or it is nothing more than religion similar to any religion in the world. 

God loves me. God pursued me because He desired me. He created me. And in that creation, He made a God-sized hole that only He can fill. He created me with the instinctive desire to worship Him. Sin would lead me to worship something other than Him. But by His grace and by the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, my inner, spiritual eyes are opened to see Him as the Person I must truly worship. 

The wickedness of Israel came from a broken, malfunctioning instinct to worship. The sinful nature, (present in each of us) could not override their need to worship, but it could cause them to make the object of their worship something other than Jehovah God.

God set about to woo them back. He called on Ezekiel to tell them what they needed to do to be reconciled to God. He loved them, but He, being holy, righteous, and perfect, could not accept their illegitimate worship of Him and of the gods they had come to adore.

My life must be a true witness of true worship of the One True God. Every human being craves to fill that worship hole. Some fill it with philosophy and ideology. Some fill it with a god they've created to make themselves feel good about the moral degradation in which they wish to live. Some fill it with a god that represents the anger and hatred they feel toward another and so can justify their acts as worship of their god. But my life must present the difference between their worship and the true worship of God.

I cannot do this by my own strength. My worship of God is only different from others and the worship they have for their 'gods' if the Holy Spirit is present in my life, working to conform me to the image of Christ and to bear His fruit. 

My witness to another can only be effective if it is Christ in me that they see.

Lord, live through me to reach another. May I walk in true worship of You so that another is drawn to You because You are in me, leading me, loving me, cherishing me, filling me.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Writing and Revival

This week our church held revival meetings, so I have had less time to work. 

However part of being an effective Christian writer is having a right relationship with God. Without this relationship there is simply no basis to call yourself a Christian writer. Therefore the time spent at the meetings was worth every second. 

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

When I felt the Lord pressing me to write, I needed to pray. I needed to be sure that this was the direction the Lord would have me go. While I love to write, it does not supercede my passion for God's Word and the message of God's love. 

The greatest message I could ever share with another person glorifies God: 

the salvation from our slavery to sin through the death, burial and resurrection of of Lord Jesus Christ--That indeed we can receive eternal life and a relationship with God when we repent, recognizing our sinful nature and need for a savior, and call upon the name of the Lord. 

We are drawn to the Lord because our make-up is to worship something. My words must draw my readers to worship God. Worshiping God begins with salvation.

While not every story I write lends itself to the presentation of the Gospel, I would hope that a reader, having enjoyed one such story, would pick up another that has the clear message of the Gospel. 

I believe in the importance of discipleship, which I think can readily be done through a well written piece of fiction, but no discipleship can happen if the person doesn't first believe, therefore the greater message is the Gospel. 

To write the Gospel will bring offense:

"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you." (John 15:9) 

"These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me." John 16:1-3. 

However, I am commanded from scripture to do just that:

"Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel..." (Mark 16:15). 

Therefore, if my work is completely void of this most important message to mankind I am not obeying God and cannot glorify Him. Sermons can be preached on this, books can be written, but the bottom-line: for me to glorify God, I must surrender everything to Him, including my writing, and that means my writing will have a message. 

Once this purpose was established in my heart my work on my knees just began. Daily I must pray for my readers. Daily I must lay my work before the Lord and ask that His hand be in it. Daily I must surrender my thoughts, my mind, and my heart to the Lord so that I will work according to His perfect will. These are essential. Without praying and committing myself to the Lord I might as well lay down my pen for my work would be worthless. 

To God be all glory, honor, power and praise!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Remember Your Riches and Blessings Come from God.

"Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph." Amos 5:14-15

Photo by Burak Saygı on Unsplash
 Amos ground his teeth as he watched a priest from the Temple talk, in rather an intimate matter, with a known harlot. Not three steps further his chest constricted to watch a man sell his newborn son to the Moloch priest, after selling a lamb to another brother who planned to sacrifice it to God. Rarely did Amos venture into Jerusalem, but it was near the time of the Passover, and he could not miss that. He walked to the gate with his gaze to the ground. “Oh Lord, how long before Your judgment falls on these people?”

With slow steps, Amos moved through the streets, noting the coin thrown to the harlots and the incense burned to strange gods. Amos sensed the movement of God's Spirit on him and the overwhelming need to challenge his people to follow God’s ways. He stumbled and fell to his knees, but didn’t have the heart to rise. Instead, he bowed down and remembered the words of Joel:

“Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests; howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.” Joel 1:13

“Oh God, how I grieve for my people. How they have not listened, but wasted what You have given them," Amos prayed.

The grief in his heart pressed Amos further to the ground. Yes, there were those who worshiped at the Temple, but did they worship God in their hearts? Did they know God, the great I Am? They gave Him lip service, they did their due diligence attending the Passover, offering their sacrifices, but did they offer God their hearts? No. How could they when they so quickly turned to offer the unthinkable to other gods? How could they when the priests, those who were to teach them God’s ways, dallied with the pleasures of the ungodly? 

The memory of the babe in his neighbor’s arm squeezed his mind until tears poured down his face. To offer such, why? How could he possibly believe that Moloch, a god created by men, who themselves are powerless in light of the one True God…how could he possibly believe that Moloch would bless him for it? In truth, Moloch must only have become a god at the selfishness of men and women who did not wish to raise their little ones, who valued their own life and pleasure more than these small ones so treasured by the One True God. These infants were created by God for the purpose of worshiping Jehovah God, not to die before an idol. How could they not see this?

And what of the wealth, not wealth God blessed them with, but gotten by ways God abhors? “Oh my God, what will You do to us? What evil will come on us?”

But Amos knew. Had not Moses written it in the Law? Had not God spoken of it by the prophet Joel, and even by the mouth of Jonah? The day of the Lord was indeed near at hand.


The prophet Amos must have felt a great burden for both the people of Judah and of Israel. Later, he would prophecy against the neighbors of Israel, even those nations that had influenced in some way the people of Judah and Israel. 

Joel was told by God to have the priests mourn and call the elders and all the people to cry to the Lord, for the day of the Lord was at hand and destruction would come. Amos saw this need in his time. Can we see it in ours?

The liberals blame the conservatives, and the conservatives blame the liberals. Both are at fault. We need, each one of us, to know God. Not just in the ‘yes, I know God because I prayed the sinner’s prayer’; not just in the ‘yes, I know God because I go to church every Sunday’; Not just in the ‘yes, I know God because I regularly attend church whenever the doors are open, and I attend and serve in every opportunity the church allows me to attend and serve.” No. 

We need to know God in the manner that causes us to fall to our knees in awe of His holiness and righteousness. We need to know God in the manner that we can see His light, observe the rushing wind of His Spirit and are overwhelmed by the stillness of His presence. And not just metaphorically, but literally. We need to seek Him until we know we are in the Presence of the Almighty God, the lover of our souls, our beloved. 

And when He meets us, and fellowships with us, and fills us with His joy and peace and energy, we are able to get up and walk in His presence into a world where the manmade Molochs, and Baals, and other gods that promise wealth, prosperity, comfort, and all our needs met, who cater to our ‘poor little me’ syndromes, our selfish ambitions and our pride, prevail--to be able to walk in such a world and not be touched by it, because we are wrapped in His presence. 

And when we live like this, we’ll experience the true blessings of God’s everlasting peace and joy and contentment. We'll experience this in the midst of destruction and terrorism that threaten to overwhelm us...like Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail singing praises; like Corrie Ten Boom in the midst of the Nazi's.

The Lord delights in giving riches and comforts and pleasure to those who call on Him, to those who love Him, who are His children in Truth. But He will not stand with those who forget Him when the wealth and blessings He has given them is not used for His glory, is not used to help those in need, is not used to do His will.

Oh Lord, our nation has done this. We’ve forgotten You and all that You’ve given us. Turn our hearts to You, help us to humble ourselves and not wait for You to humble us. Enable us to see Your truth, Your Word, and repent of our evil thoughts and actions.

When His people, who have enjoyed all His goodness and riches and pleasure, turn away and forget where those good things come from, they become like the servant who has enjoyed the comforts of his master’s favor (the master that provides for his needs and comfort), and forgets he enjoys these comforts at the pleasure of his master. So the servant begins to take these riches for his own gain and misuses them in how he deals with those his master loves (like the poor). Like this servant, we, as a nation, do not wisely use the riches God has given us for His glory. And now we are seeing all sorts of evil.

But if we turn from our ways, if we mourn and lament and cry out to God, He will forgive and again bring us to a place of favor. God’s forgiveness is limitless, His mercies are new every morning, His faithfulness, and love, and graciousness we will know once more. 

Oh God, bring us to the point of knowing Your judgment, righteousness, holiness, so that we would know You at a deeper and greater level than in the  years we lived in Your goodness and riches and pleasure and acknowledge that You were the One who gave it. Forgive us for our attitude and actions that have reflected not only our falling away but also our lack of gratitude. To You be all glory and honor and praise. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.

“The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God…And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD,…For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.” Joel 3:16-21


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Fasting? Oh Lord, Help Me.

 "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Isaiah 58:14

I have pondered, particularly in recent years, how we church-going Christians seem to have even less knowledge of God and live less in the presence of God, then perhaps any other generation. 

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

Not everyone is so. I know some wonderful ladies whom I cherish, whose relationship with God puts me to shame. And I know some men that walk close to their Savior. But in an era where a Bible or a devotional (or a blog) or a message is simply a click away; in a nation where there is a church within driving distance, and in most cities, within walking distance, why are we, as a nation, changing the laws and the culture to laws and lifestyles that God abhors? How can this possibly reflect a nation that perhaps has more freedom to worship God and more professing Christians, than any other nation?

This morning, I spent time studying and meditating on Isaiah 58. I've been here in the Bible before and have readily nodded in agreement that verses 1-5 is a picture of Christianity today, at least in most of North America, and proclaimed that this is why our culture has turned out so bad. 

"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness,...they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takes no knowledge?..." Isaiah 58:2-3

Yesterday, I signed up to receive a number of devotionals in my email. Not likely that I'll read everyone of them, but I will read those that capture my interest...hmm, can I trust my interest to reflect the voice of God

I went to church last night and beamed to see so many wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord after having been away due to surgery. I listened to the sermon and nodded in agreement. But did it change me?

How many times have I looked at my life and said, "Lord, I'm going to change that," then not even a day passes before I return to my old ways?

Every day, I read out loud a "personal affirmation". This morning's included Philippians 4:8:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." 

And it hit me. This verse describes God. He is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, always of good report, of perfect virtue and praiseworthy. Oh Lord, help me to think on You.  

Back to Isaiah. Often when preached or in articles on fasting, Isaiah 58 is referenced. I've sat through a few sermons and read some on this topic. But this morning, God made it new and fresh.

True fasting is about righteousness, about restoring the worship of and fellowship with God. Fasting requires forsaking your sin (like you physically forsake food) to do what is right and good and sacrificial.

Fasting means you turn your delight to the Lord and the things of the Lord (thinking on Him, as in the above verse). It isn't about finding your own pleasure. Lord forgive me. How many times have I fasted and when weak, turned to something comforting? How many times have I fasted to overcome some ailment that bothers me? And while there isn't anything wrong with that, I have found that I often do so over what God has declared 'a thorn in my side' so that I might be weak and He strong. In other words, something He has made clear was there for His good purpose.

How many times have I said, "Okay, well I need to get such and such done, but I need to fast, so instead of not eating, I will fast from...videos, or reading, or sugar, or some other thing I figure I could forsake to "show the seriousness of my prayers." Ack. Me thinks me heart be not right in these things.

Fasting is about God. The whole focus must be on God.

Sometimes my pride is revealed in my fasting. I am fasting because I have an issue with someone and that someone needs to be straightened out. Oh Lord, forgive me. I may not verbalize it in so many words, but one of the motivations is that...I'm very good at lying to myself.

Sometimes I desire to be viewed as spiritual and so I say to my friends, "Well, I fasted for this or that". Actually, I haven't done that for awhile, but there was a time... I excuse it by thinking it is a testimony, or it is living openly before others, or something sounding just as "super spiritual"...

"Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." Matthew 6:16

There is nothing wrong with 'afflicting your soul'. It's good for us to consider our lives and recognize the propensity we have to sin. It's good to humble ourselves before God. But I must sincerely ask myself, am I truly looking at that iniquity in my life with the intention of getting out from under its burden and freed from its yoke?

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" Isaiah 58:6

I don't know about you, but I am often confused by multiple motivations in my life when I come before the Lord. I tell you, its a struggle to come with a pure heart, unhindered by my hidden, self-seeking flesh.

I believe it was Matthew Henry (that great commentary) that said, "Fasting must be the business of our whole lives." 

Lord, help me to fast with the intention of a good steward, letting You lead me to use my time, talent, energy, and money for Your purpose. 

 The bands of wickedness, the heavy burdens, the oppressed, the yoke--all of these imply sin in my life or in the life of the person I might be praying for.

Why then should we fast?

  • freedom from the bondage of sin
  • for a hunger for the knowledge of God and the Bread of Life
  • for reconciliation
  • for the covering of sin by love and by Christ's blood
  • to remember our frailty and need for God's mercy and grace.
The promise given for proper fasting?

"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am...." Isaiah 58:8-9a

Hmm. Seems to me that all those things I was truly seeking for, are satisfied when my fasting is properly motivated, rightly focused, and done with the passion of a pure heart.

If my nation is going to change and truly know and follow God, then I must ensure that I am doing so. Perhaps, just perhaps God will hear my prayer and begin a work to turn the hearts of our people back to Him, and to turn our nation away from wickedness.

Oh Lord, help me to focus my thoughts on You and all of Your qualities, that when I come to You with my desires I bring You glory, and that if You so please, You might take pleasure in answering my prayer.

"Behold the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:" Isaiah 59:1

 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Friends with the Enemy

 "And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD." II Chronicles 19:2

The Bible overflows with stories from which we could learn. Here, King Jehoshaphat, a king that had
worked to draw his people to God, stepped away from the counsel of God and joined with Ahaziah, the evil king of Israel. A relationship that seemed innocent: they would enter into trade agreements and build ships together. But this angered God, and God broke their ships. 

We see in the verse above God's testimony against Jehoshaphat. He helped the ungodly and loved them that hated God. If Jehoshaphat thought Israel a brother, then he would excuse his failure to follow God's counsel by reasoning that he was helping family and should love them. However, God was clear in the law He gave His people on how they were to deal with those family members who turned from God and worked evil. God clearly did not want His people associating with those who lived wicked lives and followed other gods.

King Jehoshaphat, in setting up a trade agreement and building ships with Ahaziah, had essentially determined not to rely on God for his prosperity. He demonstrated he wasn't content with what God had already given him. And it reflected a deterioration in his fellowship with his Lord.

Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah were kings, leaders of their nations. As such, how they led would affect the people of their countries. By the time Ahaziah had become king, God had done all He could to try to convince the people of Israel to return to Him, but they did not listen to the prophets He sent, nor did they gain understanding by the many 'curses' (see Deuteronomy 28) that befell them. The king was wicked and so were the people. 

The tribe of Judah was to be holy, separated from those nations who performed great wickedness in their worship of other gods. From Judah, the Messiah would come, the hope of all nations. Through the Messiah, all people could receive salvation and be reconciled from God. God's desire for all people to know Him, to receive forgiveness, drives His decision to sever the ties of Jehoshaphat with Ahaziah. 

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

The people of Israel had been led astray by its leaders time and time again (see I Kings 11:1-12:33). God did not want that influence on Judah, and the judgment He made on Jehoshaphat's trade and ships was done to protect the people of Judah, and more specifically, the line of David. 

When our own government makes decisions that aligns us with those that hate God, we are in trouble. But our hope doesn't end with the government's decisions. Our God's love for us is greater than the government and greater than those that hate us and Our God. Will we allow the Holy Spirit to reign in us as individuals so that our response is governed by His leading and not by our own nature? 

For us as individuals, we can learn from Jehoshaphat's error, and take heed with whom we join ourselves. While we are called to love our enemies, that doesn't mean we should unequally yoke ourselves to them. We may see great business opportunities or perhaps ways of climbing the corporate ladder by aligning ourselves with someone who doesn't love God and does wicked things. But at what cost? The future of Judah was weighed in the balances of Jehoshaphat's actions. God would not let anything hinder His plan of the coming Savior. The choices we make of who we associate with affects our loved ones, our children, our friends. We need to take care.

Praise God for His mercy. He stopped an alliance of what could have resulted in the destruction of Judah, and therefore the hope of salvation. God will do the same for us. He is in control, and while there are consequences, there is also mercy and grace. God desires good for us. He wants to show us His love for us. We can't know that love if we are walking with the enemy--the enemy doesn't want us to know it. But God chases after us. Are we willing to receive His admonishment as well as His blessing?

"...I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:10b-13

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

“…What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?…” Job 2:10

 I was nineteen years old and slumped between the toilet and the bathtub after several rounds of vomiting. Studying wasn’t happening, and I was watching my dream of becoming a veterinarian slip away. All but accused of lacking character for not pushing through the overwhelming illness, I found myself bowled over with discouragement and despair. Why God? Why is this happening to me?

Perhaps not an audible voice, yet clearly heard by my spirit, God said, “Read Job.”

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Fast forward 36 years later, and I am longing for a deeper fellowship with God, had been crying out to Him for weeks that I might know Him, that He might be so very real to me. During a time of worship while I drove to our ranch, He made His presence known to me. He made it clear He was before me, behind me, beside me, above me, below me. The Light that shone through that encounter would stay with me, and I pondered what He would have in store for me over the next months.

My mother was dying and I was trapped in another country due to COVID restrictions. I’d not be able to see her before she left for Heaven. And, I’d just been diagnosed with cancer. What an amazing journey God was taking me through, never leaving me, showing me His love through the love of my church family, providing for our every need, allowing me to be strong when I should have been physically weak so that I might enjoy both of my daughters’ graduations and my eldest daughter’s wedding. I am blessed beyond measure.

When dropping off my youngest daughter at college, I answered the question of how to make friends by saying, “Smile and be friendly, look for ways to help someone, and then do your best to help them. The best friendships come when you are able to help another.” And to add to that, the best friendships come when you fight for a common goal, or pass through a trial together. That’s why team building exercises usually include some sort of obstacle course you have to overcome together, usually against another team.

Before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked in perfect fellowship with God, worshiping Him, enjoying Him, bringing Him pleasure. We get the picture that they lived in perfect harmony.

Then they took their eyes off God and onto what they might gain if they ate the fruit from the tree which God had forbidden them to eat. Fellowship with God was broken. How they saw each other changed. To see God as they had seen Him before was no longer possible. Bad things now happened to them…they were no longer 'good' and trials would become a part of their lives.

So why didn’t a good God prevent this from happening? God desires us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. He desires us to love Him, which cannot happen if we don’t have the choice to not love Him. Our choosing Him brings Him pleasure. He, the Creator of all, has every right to conduct His creation as He sees fit, just as I can build a house with Legos as I see fit or train a dog according to my ways. Part of having a relationship with Him requires accepting His sovereignty over all creation and that His thoughts and ways are beyond our understanding. I know that this can be difficult to accept. We don't want to humble ourselves to what we can't understand.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Trials, hardships, trouble, come to us for various reasons. Cancer came to me not because I committed some great sin, but because it would help me to experience God and His love in a way I’d not be able to without going through this trial. My illness at nineteen changed the direction of my life, and while I have made many mistakes over those years, that illness drew me to God much the same way a team building exercise draws team members together. God encouraged me, picked me up when I fell, cheered for me, gave me water when I was thirsty and food when I was hungry. He gave me hope when I couldn’t see the end. These things I could not experience without first suffering.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

Why do bad things happen to good people? The knowledge birthing the answer to this question begins with understanding the nature of God and the nature of men. To gain insight into that understanding,  first accept that no one is good, except God. We all sin. That break in the Garden of Eden disrupted all of creation, and the Almighty God is working to first redeem us and then to one day bring us into a new heaven and a new earth that will surpass anything we can imagine: no more illness, no more tears, no more fighting, no more death, no more sin. A place where we can have a perfect relationship and a perfect life with God.

The second thing is to believe that God is found in the fire and the flood and the storm and in every trial you face, and that He is worth finding. Get your eyes off yourself, your suffering, your loss, your pain, and step out in faith that He has a purpose for you and only by passing through your present condition will you find His purpose for you profitable and most blessed.

Third, passionately seek Him with all your heart, and you will find Him before you, behind you, beside you, above you, and below you. And when you find Him and experience His presence, You’ll find cause to thank Him for using that trial to draw you to Him, not to mention the lessons you will have learned along the way.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Isaiah 43:2

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Great Romance

 "How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!" Song of Solomon 7:6

In a romance novel the hero and heroine often have a love-hate relationship. We, the readers, sit on the edge of our seats anxiously waiting to see when the two will finally connect, profess their love for each other and live happily ever after.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

In the midst of some great tragedy, the heroine resists the aid of the hero. The man is hurt. He steps back, perhaps in anger, and the heroine falls into deeper trouble.

When she is about to give up hope, the hero swoops down and rescues her. Then the two of them battle the enemy together. Sometimes the heroine pushes the hero away again, but he keeps coming back until finally he wins her trust and her heart.

While we read, we cheer the hero on and chide the heroine for her foolishness when she rejects his help or attentions. The characters and their struggles keep us reading even though we may feel like smacking them for their stupidity. Yet, without those intense moments of conflict, the story would not bring us any pleasure and we would set down the book.

The other day, I contemplated God's good pleasure. We are created for God's pleasure.
"I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness...." I Chronicles 29:17a
"The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy." Psalm 147:11
"For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation." Psalm 149:4
"Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand...by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities....he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:10-12

"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Revelations 4:11

 The Bible has often been referred to as the greatest love story ever. God created man for His pleasure, much as a man seeks a woman for his. But sin entered the scene. The loved one rejects. Hurt ensues.

In a romance, the hero discovers he must not only win the attentions of the woman, but earn her love and trust. He cannot force her to love him, because that would not bring pleasure. Yet, he will attempt to woo her.

We, the readers, know that at the end of the story the man will get his fair lady, such is the pattern of a romance. God knew, when He created man, man would sin, and He would have to pay the greatest price to bring man back to the perfect relationship once known in the Garden of Eden. But He was willing to endure the pain, pay the price, in order to gain our love and trust.

We cannot know the mind of God. We will never fully understand all that He does, but we can trust that whatever happens to us, His ultimate goal is to restore that perfect relationship.
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32
In a novel, the author places conflict that will believably turn the heart of the heroine to the hero. I think perhaps God does the same. He allows things into our lives to help us see Him, to work to turn our hearts back to Him. Despite the price we may pay when we do turn back to Him (and it is doesn't even touch the price He paid), we bring Him pleasure.

So often we see hardship as the workings of an angry and hateful God inciting unjust judgment upon us. In our society discipline has become a dirty word.

How the Lord longs for us to love Him with all our heart. How He desires for us to trust Him. Of such great importance is this to Him, He is willing to suffer watching us suffer in order to draw us to Him. Are we willing to suffer in order to know and love Him more?

Sometimes, in a romance, the heroine searches for her hero at great cost to herself. Sometimes the search is misguided or foiled by the enemy.

We, the readers, long to tell the heroine, "He's over here. Come look here." But we must watch her struggle until she finds him.

I imagine God feels the same way when He watches us struggle to gain knowledge of Him or to understand Him.

I have come to consider that the increase of trouble in my life is not the absence of God's presence, nor  necessarily the punishment of God. Rather perhaps the trouble is an opportunity to discover something new that will deepen my love and trust for God, bringing forward my relationship with Him to the point of perfection. To bring Him pleasure, not in the struggling, but in how I turn to Him through the struggle, making Him my pleasure. 

And, ultimately, I discover His presence never left me; that He was indeed before me, behind me, beside me, above me, and below me. I discover that my resting place is in Him, and I reach that resting place when I accept the molding of His Spirit in my life making me meek (a topic for another day).

"Take my yoke upon; you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:29


Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Runaway

 Years ago, I set my iPad on the treadmill, started up a movie and pressed 2 for a warm up. I had just begun to punch the speed up when I hear a scuffle at the front door and my son calling me. Sighing, I paused my movie, turned the treadmill off and walked to the door.

Jasmine on the leash

Tears of frustration streamed down my son's face, and he flagged his hand toward the other side of the street. "Jasmine got away." He turned inside rubbing his leg and a little blue color spread across his cheek.

Didn't take much for me to figure out what happened. Jasmine, our two year old German shepherd had been looking for an opportunity to break out for the last couple of days. Even after a training session with my husband the day before, you could see that her 'down' was more of a 'ready-to-pounce' than a 'down'.

My exercise plan had been switched. Ensuring that my son and daughter (who also tried her hand at stopping the dog) were okay, I grabbed the leash, a baggie of chopped up wieners, and left on a walk to follow my dog through the streets of the town we lived in at the time.

I'd learned after a great deal of experience not to chase, just follow, and if at all possible, try to herd her away from the busy streets. And to pray. Pray that someone would help me catch her, because I won't be able to get near her. Pray that she didn't run in front of a vehicle and all the endless hassles that would create.

For Jasmine, it was all a game. She'd dart from yard to yard, say hello to all her doggy friends along the way, and chase a cat or two. She'd say hello to everyone she met, but if they reached down for her collar, she'd take flight. She would not be caught until she was good and ready.

After about a half hour of following and praying, I thought how much like us she was.

Sometimes we become bored with our lives. We become antsy for adventure, fun, excitement...even the forbidden kind. While those who have authority over us might be able to illicit some obedience from us, we look for the opportunity to slip passed their legs and out into what we think is freedom and fun.

We do this even to God. He warns us. He trains us, but we're in 'pounce' mode, eyes forever wandering to that door just past where He stands. Then when we think we have opportunity, we dart through the door and the chase begins.

But God follows. He waits for us to come back to Him. Yes, He sees us. He watches as we dash away from Him, thinking to ourselves that we'll have the time of our lives. He sees the car of trouble that just misses us. He knows the kind people who attempt to turn us from our wander-lust.

And we are fully aware that He is waiting for us to return to Him.

I never left Jasmine. I couldn't. Many people have told me, just let her go, she'll return on her own. But I couldn't do it. I worried about the harm that might come both to her and to anyone whose path she crossed. 

I've seen it happen. A man, trying to help, leaps at her. She escapes, leaving him with an injured shoulder. Cars breaking hard, swerving to avoid, and me cringing for fear an accident will happen. Then of course there is those obtuse characters who choose to swear at me for not having my dog under control. I suppose I deserved it.

When we run away from God, we do more than bring hurt to ourselves. We can hurt those who love us. Even as Jasmine hurt my son. We can hurt innocent bystanders, and we hurt God.

But God is so ever faithful and patient. He watches us and knows, and calls, and waits.

Toward the end of Jasmine's fun, she turned toward home. I began to simply walk, calling occasionally but for the most part just walking. At one point she came to my heel but after a few steps bolted away, not quite ready to be caught.

I kept walking, whistling on occasion, but not chasing. Eventually a neighbor caught her, someone who grumbles and all but swears at me every time she gets out. I mumbled my thanks, hooked the leash onto Jasmine's collar and headed home.

Jasmine never got hurt on her adventures, but I feared she would. There is good reason why we didn't allow her to roam freely like she desired. For her safety as well as others we kept her in the house, the yard, or on the leash.

There is good reason why God gives us instructions on how to live wisely in His Word. He knows the trouble we can get into if we do whatever we desire. Maybe we can get out from under His care and have a good time and not get hurt, but the risk is there. Wisdom tells us it is better to obey His Word.

"When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: to deliver thee from the way of the evil man,..." Proverbs 2:10-12a

Friday, September 3, 2021

What Is Love?

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me." Song of Solomon 7:10 

"Mom, what is love?" Gina asked, setting down her school copy of Romeo and Juliet.

Jessica glanced her way, smiled, wiped her wet hands on a towel, then took a seat at the kitchen table across from her daughter. "Well, it isn't what people normally think it is."

Gina twisted her mouth in that adorable way of showing she knew the answer to her question was going to be longwinded. "How did you know when you loved Dad?"

Jessica licked her lips. That was many years ago, and well, quite frankly, she didn't know what love was when she supposedly "fell in love" with her husband. "There's a lot of pat answers given," she swatted away the words she'd heard over the years, "cliché's really."

Gina leaned forward with her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands, a smile playing around her lips and a twinkle in her eye. Yes, she did love hearing her parents' love story. 

"I used to think it was like Robin Hood discovering that Miriam was 'to die for'. And, there is definitely that aspect." Jessica remembered the hero-role Jack, her husband, played for her in their months of dating. "I used to think the chemistry had to be right, that tingling feeling all over." She nodded her head with a slight smile. "And that is a part of a good marriage."

Gina quirked an eyebrow. "But?"

"But..." Jessica pressed her lips together. Love was so much more than Romeo and Juliet, than the romances displayed in the Hallmark movies. How was she to explain it to her daughter? She tapped her fingers on the table and looked through their window to the beautiful trees in their front yard. "The greatest love story, the one which makes all other love stories look flat and unappealing, is the one of God and Israel, of Christ and the Church."

"Ah, Mom." Her daughter rolled her eyes, but Jessica thought on the passage in Exodus where God said, "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an inheritage: I am the LORD." What greater love story could there be than that? Except, perhaps, the story of Christ dying for His church.

"No, seriously, Honey. God loved Israel. Pursued her, protected her, provided for her, redeemed her, forgave her, remained faithful even when she wasn't. There is no greater love than the one God had and still has for Israel." Jessica set her foot on the edge of her chair and linked her hands in front of her knee. "A marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman, is a picture of God's love and relationship with us."

And there was that twitchy little smile which said Gina was interested but didn't want to be too interested.

Jessica let her lips quiver up in response to her daughter's. "Marriage, and thereby love, is by divine design a picture of the closeness, the oneness you can have with God, and of the oneness of the triune God." Jessica paused and thought for a moment. "And true love, the kind of love that makes a marriage, is about being one with the man who has chosen you to spend the rest of your life with. He pursues you before you are married, wanting you to accept his offer of marriage. His pursuit is pure, stemming from a desire to protect you, provide for you,...to love you as he loves himself, as Christ loves the church. His pursuit is not founded upon physical attraction, although that plays a part. His attraction to you should be because he sees you as God's unique and divine creation and desires to allow you to blossom as that creation for the glory of God."

"Is that how Dad saw you?" 

Jessica laughed. "Perhaps he wouldn't have quite put it that way, but yeah. I know he saw in me things he wanted to see grow."

"Was it love at first sight?" Gina grinned.

Jessica reached across the table and tweaked Gina's nose. "You silly romantic. No. Probably not, but perhaps there was the hope of love that twinkled in his eyes when he first spoke to me. He, as a man desiring God's will for his life, took the initiative. That is how God created men to be--initiators, leaders."

"So he pursued you."

"Well, he took the initiative to find out who I was, send me flowers, a few silly cards, and wash my car."

"Really? Wash your car?"

"Yes. He saw it needed to be done and did it. He took care of it for me."

"Doesn't sound very romantic." Gina wrinkled her nose.

The memory was sweet to Jessica. She had been so alone in the world when her Jack stepped into her life.

"Then, as my protector, he claimed me on a College and Career hike while other young men were... shall we say, wishing to stake a claim." Jessica chuckled at the memory of Jack taking her hand when one guy was rather overt in his advances. "We weren't even officially dating at that time, but Jack knew that some of those guys were not honorable."

"Mmm. Dad the hero." Gina settled back in her chair. "Tell me more, Mom." 

Jessica sighed and couldn't help but relish the memories. "Later, when I lost my job, he made sure I had at least one good meal each day."

"Like Boaz with Ruth."

Jessica tilted her head to the side. "Yes, I guess so."

"But when did you know he was the one you'd marry?"

"That's easy. When he told me he would consider it a great honor if he could call me his girlfriend." Jessica pulled the glass of sweet tea to her and twirled it on the table. "In those words, he showed me he valued me. I wasn't just a pretty thing to hang on his arm, or a woman to rule over. I would be someone he would cherish."

"Oh wow." Gina got a dreamy far away look on her face. "I wonder if a guy will ever be like that for me."

"Oh honey, no man is worth even going on a date with if he first doesn't see you as the greatest treasure he could ever be given. That man needs to be protective of you, even from himself. He needs to see that 'softness' is the very core of who you are. He needs to understand that forming deep friendships, deep relationships is central to your very being, and thus he needs to be willing to never toy with your affections, especially for what he deems his personal gain, consciously or unconsciously." Jessica took a sip from her glass. "When the right man comes around, he'll desire to lead you, but not without God first leading him. And in that leadership, he'll desire to understand your receptive and responsive spirit. He'll respect your instinct to nurture, like how you want to cuddle up with those puppies Dolly had."

"They are adorable, Mom. Who couldn't love them?"

Jessica smiled. "He will desire, more than anything else in his life, to know your thoughts, your feelings, your ways. And you'll feel the same about him." She reached across the table and squeezed her daughter's hand. "He'll choose you, not because you are the most beautiful girl (and you are beautiful), not because you are rich, because you're not, but because he desires to spend the rest of his life with you, every moment with you. You invade his thinking, his planning. And his desire to protect you and provide for you will be core to those thoughts. Not possessive in a controlling way, but a way that makes you entirely his so that he can bless and enrich your life, as much as you will want to bless and enrich his."

The timer on the stove went off, and Jessica got up to pull the bread from the oven. She set it on the sideboard near the window and then returned to the table. "Honey, when the right man comes your way, when the man God brings into your life for you to marry, you'll find that he is interested in bringing you joy and peace and security, just the way Jesus desires for you. He'll not intentionally hurt you emotionally or physically."

"Do men like that even exist. I mean, the guys at school..."

Jessica chuckled. "Are no doubt figuring this whole boy meets girl thing out like you are. The best thing you can do while you wait for the right one to come along is to found your life on a strong relationship with God. Let Christ be your husband for the years you are single. Let Him be the love of your life. When you read the Bible, read it as though it was His love letter to you. The stories He tells revealing to you His character, His love, His passions, and make them yours. Yield yourself fully to Him. Be in love with God. Cloth yourself with godliness. Let your quiet nature and amiable disposition please Christ. Then one day, God will introduce to you the one He has chosen to play that role of provider, protector, and leader for you."

Gina blushed then glanced at her watch. "Oh no, I'm late for basketball practice." She jumped from the table, grabbed her gym bag, and with a quick, "See you later, Mom," she ran out the door.

Jessica watched the door close behind her daughter. Dear Lord, please protect the heart of my daughter from the snakes and the wolves. Prepare the one You've chosen for her by drawing him into a deep relationship with You. Make him a man after Your own heart. 

"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." Song of Solomon 2:4

"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." 

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Spirituality

 "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Galatians 3:3

Belief: an attitude of trust.

Faith: acts of trust and commitment, not as a need to achieve but out of a desire to please, to live out what you believe.

Greg Rosenke on Unsplash
'Spiritual' is my connection with God. It is my relationship with God. Yet, I know that many character traits that should come because of my relationship with God can be found in non-Christians. 

My relationship with God is more than the sum of character traits and principles and values, but because His Holy Spirit lives in me, I can be led and directed in ways non-Christians can't be. There is a deeper understanding of who I am and of the world and of the events of the world than any non-Christian can have.

My faith is built on having a relationship with God, on the fact that He loves me, forgives me, and is greatly interested in who I am and what I do.

So then, the sum of my Christianity is not in the character traits I attain or the lifestyle I live, but in Whose I am and the relationship I have with Him. Knowing this, that I am His and He is mine, and choosing to live as such, unleashes the potential God has designed to work in and through me.

It is not what I do, but Whose I am.

"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you....As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love." John 15:7,9

Forgiveness

Years ago, one of my daughters got caught doing something bad. We had a conversation and she said, "I'm sorry, will you please forg...