Andrew

 

 

John 1:35-42, 6:1-13, 12:20-36

We don’t get very much information in scripture that is specific to Andrew. There isn’t a very big window to view his personality, thought processes, or actions like we have for a few of the other disciples. Even though we don’t have much information I think we can look at the few verses we have and find some help on how to follow Jesus better in our lives.

We learn from John 1 that Andrew knew John the Baptist and followed his teachings. Andrew was actually with John when Jesus went by one day. When John said who Jesus was, Andrew left John and followed Jesus. Even before meeting Jesus, he believed in Him and accepted Him as his Messiah. This shows that he had a soft heart toward God and faith that God had a plan. Andrew knew he had found someone precious when he met Jesus. He was so excited, that he left Jesus and went to find his brother. He wanted to share his excitement for hope with his family. Are we still excited about sharing our Savior with others? Have we been quick to tell our loved ones that we have found hope and a Savior?

John 6 tells us about Jesus miracle of multiplying the five loaves of bread and two fish. When a huge crowd (5,000 men, this number doesn’t include women and children) gathered around Jesus and his disciples, the disciples felt a responsibility to feed the people. Andrew speaks up. “There is a boy here with bread and fish.” “But what good is that with this huge crowd?” Is the hope in His miracle-working Messiah shining through Andrew’s announcement about the small basket of supplies? Practicality sets in and he realizes how foolish his solution sounds to others and he follows up his announcement with a more realistic question. What good is this little bit of food?  Do we see Jesus first in an impossible situation or do we use our human resources and processes to discount God’s ability to provide answers that are not humanly available?

Later in John, Philip, another disciple of Jesus’ from Andrew’s hometown, comes to Andrew to get help checking with Jesus about meeting some out of town guests. This lets us know that Andrew was accessible to others and it was high priority to him to bring others to Jesus. Are we available to be interrupted? Do other’s know they can come to us with issues and they will get our time, wisdom and help? Do we make showing other’s Jesus our top priority in life?

Let’s close this morning with Jesus words to Andrew and the rest of the disciples in John 12. “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.” Jesus is telling us that we need to be so committed to living for Him that we care nothing for our own lives by comparison. We have to turn away from the rule of self-centeredness that we are all are slave to. We need to put off our drive in life for advantage, security and pleasure so we can love God with our whole selves. Being willing to give up control of our lives to allow Christ to control us brings eternal life and true joy. I think we fear giving up control because we don’t fully grasp how much God loves us. We look at what we may be asked to give up rather than the fact that the Creator of the universe, the One who gave His life to buy us back from eternity separated from Him, actually desires a relationship with us. He loves us so much that He not only purchases us with His own life, but He also wants to help us change. This kind of love is so much more lavish and rich than the fear we have of missing out here on earth. He wants to give us eternal life, true joy, and relationship with Him while we are still on this earth.

We all know that God should be controlling our hearts and minds, but how do we actually do it? I wish I had a formula that I could add here to help us all accomplish this goal. In my earlier years I probably would have been dumb enough or arrogant enough to try to write one.  As I get older in my relationship with God I realize that nothing changes without His work in my heart. God’s word tells us this truth over and over, I just never really grasped it. I thought I could do it if I tried hard enough. A good place to start in being willing to give up control of my heart to Christ is asking for His help. Let me rephrase, change comes in consistently asking for help to put my heart in His hands. This is not a onetime, weekly or even monthly request. Every time I talk with Him I ask for His help in softening my heart, allowing him to enter new areas of my heart and to clean house in those areas, and to help me be more deeply devoted to putting my heart in His hands every day. I am finding that true change is slow. Real progress in giving up control to God takes time with Him every day that I can, with a heart that knows I can’t do it on my own. I also know how painful change can be so I ask Him to be as gentle with me as He possibly can and still accomplish His plan. (Maybe if I could be braver this process wouldn’t take as long…) I am also learning to live a little bit more in grace with this process. Instead of looking for complete surrender in all areas of my heart, (and feeling like a failure every time I realize I’m not) I’m learning to see that more areas of my heart are surrendered now than were 5 years ago. This is evidence of God’s work and I am grateful to Him for this change! I can also see that in a few of the areas that are surrendered, some are more deeply surrendered than they were in the past… again, evidence of His handy-work in my heart. The best change that I can measure, is that I started my day with Him more days this year than any other year in my life so far. It is clear to me that this particular change has facilitated all of the other progress that has been made in my heart. It is His grace, His time, and His gifts that are making me different than I used to be.

I wonder how this all worked in Andrew’s life. He got to spend a number of years in intensely close relationship with Jesus. Do you think he had a better grip on surrendering his heart to God than we do because of his relationship with Jesus? He got to see complete surrender lived out perfectly, but I have a feeling that the learning curve was so steep, and the life they all lived together was so fast paced and intense, it was hard to process it all until later in his life. We all have different experiences and different paths in life. We all have to decide who will rule our hearts. If we don’t consciously make a choice to surrender to God, our default setting is most definitely self.

Zechariah

 

Luke 1:1-25, 57-80

When you look back over your life, is there a year or an event that stands out to you as a life altering experience? How about if we narrow the search and just ask that question on a spiritual level? Can you think of a set of circumstances that define your life in a completely new way since you have lived through them? I would say that I have events that changed my life, (getting married, the births of our three kids) and one set of circumstances that altered my spiritual life dramatically. Almost 20 years ago my husband and I spent a year of our lives (with a three year old and two 18 month old kids) knowing that I had a 50/50 chance of living/dying from cancer. That diagnosis changed EVERYTHING in our lives and in our hearts. It deeply imbedded God’s truth and His promises into our souls like no other event I’ve experienced since. If we could interview Zechariah today, I’m guessing he would have a similar description of the events in his life that we get to look at together in our reading.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were descendants of the priestly line of Aaron. They were righteous in God’s eyes and careful to obey God’s commands. Zechariah dedicated his life to the Lord and served as a priest in the temple for many years as he was an old man at this point in his life. On this day, Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Temple and burn incense before the Lord. It was a huge honor for him as a priest to be chosen for this job. While in the sanctuary, and angel appeared to him. We read about angels appearing to people in the Bible often enough that I think we might be callused to the impact this actually has on a person. Can you think, for just a moment, about what it must actually be like to be in a room alone, doing your job and then be joined by a spiritual being that is not known or describable in human terms? The Bible says that Zechariah was “shaken and overwhelmed with fear”. Yes I suppose that succinctly describes how I might feel under these circumstances.

The angel’s message starts with, “Don’t be afraid”.  Hmm…that’s probably not going to alleviate much fear but what other option did the angel have? No words are going to settle a person in this circumstance. The angel continues with his message to Zechariah. “Your wife will give you a son. You are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. He will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” This is all so much! Obviously Zechariah is still completely overwhelmed as his response to the angel only deals with the first thing the angel told him. It’s as if he didn’t even hear the rest of the message. “How can I be sure this is going to happen? I’m an old man now and my wife is old too!”

Then the angel says,” I am Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” It is pretty safe to say that this had to have been the most life-altering day in Zechariah’s life. As we finish reading the verses for today we see that God did accomplish His plan.  John was born to Elizabeth and grew up becoming strong in spirit. Zechariah was given back his voice and his response to God’s good gifts are recorded at the very end of our reading.

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” I love this message shared with us from a faithful old man, rich in wisdom and experience, and full of hope and wonder after being altered by God. We probably won’t be visited by an angel in our lifetimes, and I hope you don’t have to face cancer or some other horrible set of circumstances, but I hope we all have opportunity after opportunity to be altered by God. I hope our hearts are soft to His work, our schedules allow time to listen to His voice, and our priority in life is Him.

Purpose

Matthew 9:10-13

“Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home for dinner, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. When the Pharisees saw this they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”(I copied this from the New Living Translation so the terms and wording would be familiar and relevant to us this morning.)

I am so grateful this morning that we get to look at words and teaching from Jesus. Matthew recorded what happened over 2000 years ago and we get to hear Jesus speaking to people in a real life situation. Going to a friend’s house for dinner, we are all familiar with this. Jesus responds to the people around him in these few verses and we get listen in too.

  • Matthew wasn’t afraid of mixing his friend groups. I often think about who I invite to events based on how well they know each other and how much they have in common, but Matthew just asked his friends to dinner.
  • Jesus went to dinner with disreputable sinners. The notes in my Bible say that Matthew’s reputation as a tax collector hadn’t caught up yet with his new life as a disciple so he became a bridge for Jesus’s message to reach Matthew’s “old crowd” friends.
  • Jesus was accomplishing His work of spreading the gospel and didn’t let other people’s judgments of his methods interfere with his plan.
  • Jesus was very direct in His message, using concepts that were obvious to His listeners.
  • The Pharisees were so concerned about how they looked to others, they couldn’t see people in need of truth. They wanted respect from others more than they wanted to help people, and they wanted to make others look bad in public, (probably to elevate themselves) rather than encourage those who needed the Gospel.
  • Jesus, because He loves us, desires to reach all people with his good news, including the poor, the immoral, the lonely, the outcast, and the sick. Jesus loves all of those He created and desires a relationship with every one of us.
  • The message behind Jesus’ words, “show mercy, not offer sacrifices” is, don’t get so caught up in rituals that you miss loving and helping the people around you.
  • The last sentence of verse 10 stings a little. It is a quick definer of hearts. It is easy to compare yourself with another person to feel better about yourself. We can all find someone who struggles with an area of life that we find easier to manage. Why are we so tempted to do this? We use the wrong measuring stick so often. We should only be comparing ourselves to God’s standard. He is perfect in every way, and we are not. This levels the playing field so quickly. It lands all of us in the exact same spot…missing the mark.

Jesus’ purpose on earth was to meet people where they were in life, love them and show them the way to everlasting relationship with Him and His Father. This should be our purpose too. Jesus’ motivation is pure love. Ours should be the same, with added gratefulness, humility and joy because of the gift of payment for our own sin from Jesus. We get so caught up in our lives, families, responsibilities, things to accomplish that we get sidetracked from our main purpose for being here. We get so wrapped up in what we see and experience on this earth, we start to believe that this life and these jobs and friends are all that there is in life. We forget God’s bigger picture and unseen plan for spreading His good news. We forget His purpose for our lives. It is hard to live in this world with God’s purpose as the driving force in our hearts. But we can do better. We can reset our minds at any given moment of the day or night. We can ask God to renew our minds and change our hearts to be more like Him with unwavering purpose. (This needs to be asked of Him daily or more, rather than a onetime request.) He knows the struggle we live in because he created us and He created this world. He understands our desire to be like Him and the inability we have to actually be like Him because of our humanness. The beauty and joy for Him is when we do reflect Him. The times we choose as He would to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. When we love like He does. When we remember our actual purpose and do what He would in a situation. We won’t ever get it perfect here on earth, but we can grow in the number of things we choose well. We can grow in love for others. We can remember our purpose more today than we did yesterday. As we string more moments of love and sacrificial choices together, we start to look more and more like Jesus did on earth. We start to live with our true purpose guiding us more than not.

We Have to Decide

“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says this, Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me.”

In Jeremiah 35, Jeremiah is trying to warn the people of Israel to stop disobeying God and return to him as their leader and one true God. For hundreds of years leading up to this chapter, the Israelites had worshipped other Gods and ignored God and His principles. They were living the way they wanted to live, serving the gods they wanted to serve and turning a deaf ear to God’s warnings to them that consequences would follow if they didn’t change their hearts. Sounds like a lot of people in this world today, and if I’m honest, my own heart at times in some instructions from God.

Way back in Numbers 6, Jehonadab took a special vow of dedication to God. He and his family for the next three hundred years, abstained from wine, did not build houses or plant crops or vineyards. They lived in tents. God promised them that if they dedicated themselves to Him, they would live long, good lives in the land. And while I don’t know exactly how they supported and fed themselves, they kept true to their commitment to God and lived for three hundred plus years. I guess it might be debatable how large of a sacrifice living without wine for a lifetime actually is, but not being able to plant and grow food, and not being able to have a home is definitely a hardship and an unsettling way to live. The point is, the vow this family made to God was not simple or easy, and it wasn’t just for a short time. This vow was obeyed for lifetimes, generation after generation. So I have to ask myself, how do I measure up? Do I fall in the camp of the Recabites, (Jehonadab’s family) obedient to my commitments to God, or am I like the Israelites, living the way I want to live and not caring what God thinks?

As usual when we read about the Israelites turning their backs to God, it is easy to judge their wicked hearts and selfishness. It seems so glaringly obvious to us as we read through the Old Testament, how stupid the Israelites seem (Don’t they ever learn?) and how much they replaced God with other gods and idols. “Other gods and idols” seem ridiculous and irrelevant to us in this country and during this age, until we put our own version of “gods and idols” into the story. Our “other gods and idols” might be called, money, self promotion, power, travel, selfishness, homes, pride, electronics, accomplishments, a gluttonous desire for food and drink, our children’s achievements, a boss…the options are endless for what we can replace God with in our own lives. If I listed something that is a specific struggle for any of us, the Israelites look a bit less foolish, right? We are more like them than any of us wants to admit. It is easy to see the lesson and who God wants us to learn from in this chapter.

I can’t help but wonder, how did these people do it? How, for generation after generation did they refrain from wine, live in tents and never grow food to feed them selves? It seems impossible in the culture they lived in to have kept this vow. While the Bible tells us that the Recabites kept their vow to God for generations, we know that they were not perfect people. They certainly had sin in their lives, but they were faithful in their vow to God, which mandated the bulk of who they were.   We don’t have other information that tells us what the rest of their lives looked like. Were they good husbands and wives, were they honest people, did they grumble and complain about their situations, did they get angry easily, were they proud because of the vow they took, did they envy others who lived differently, were they bitter inside because of their lifestyles?…the list goes on and on with possibility of what could have been in their hearts at certain times throughout their lives, but God still valued their vow/commitment and the fulfillment of that commitment. He valued it enough to have Jeremiah teach the Israelites and us what obedience looks like through the Recabites story.  People are imperfect, but we can still be faithful to God and keep His commands. I think sometimes we get bogged down by the sin in our lives. We feel defeated when we see it and may be tempted to overlook all of the areas where we are being obedient, because of sin in another. We can learn from the Recabites that it is possible to be obedient to God while still missing His mark in other areas of our lives. So this morning, where do each of us land? How much of our lives are we willing to commit to God? What areas are we faithfully obeying like the Recabites, and what areas are we like the Israelites, turning away from God so we can live as we please?

Ester

Ester 2:1-23, 4:1-5, 7:1-8, 8

Oh my goodness, it’s like a 7thgrade algebra story problem figuring out what to read today… Hoping you “did the math” and got your reading done so we can look at Ester’s story together today. It is another beautiful example of God’s power and ability to use all kinds of people (with lots of different motives) to accomplish His plan… preserving a people group to bring His perfect Son to earth, making a way for us to have relationship with Him!

I know chapter 1 was not part of our assigned reading today but I have to start from the top. I honestly couldn’t remember why King Zerxes was looking for a new queen so I started reading chapter 1. The king threw a HUGE party, (the celebration lasted 180 days!) so he was feeling pretty good from the wine and made a request of his wife. He wanted to show her off in front of all the leaders of his kingdom. She refused him. He was mad! He gathered a bunch of friends (with ulterior motives) and asked their opinion on how to deal with the queen instead of thinking for himself and then followed their advice. So the queen got banished forever from the king’s presence and in time it seems like he started to second-guess the decision he made in anger about his wife. Turns out he did want a wife. So once more he asks his friends for help and they tell him to do a nationwide search for the perfect queen (or maybe the hottest virgin he can find) and this sounds pleasing (shocking, right?) to him so he agrees. A Jewish man named Mordecai had a job around the palace and heard about the beauty contest. He went home and got his beautiful, God loving cousin Ester entered in the contest. Out of many young women, Ester was chosen to be the queen. Mordecai stayed in close proximity to the palace so he could find out how things were going for Ester. He loved her and cared about her wellbeing.

Mordecai overheard a plot to kill king Xerxes while at work one day and quickly reported this news to Ester. Ester told the king, crediting Mordecai with the intel and the king did an investigation and found the report to be true. He impaled the two men on a sharpened pole for their plot to kill him. Some time later, the king promoted a man named Haman to make him the most powerful official in the empire. Haman decided that all the king’s employees should bow down to him as he passed by to show him respect. (Do you think he had pride issues?!?!) Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, because he was Jewish and loved God. This made Haman very mad and he decided to retaliate. Haman was so mad that punishing Mordecai wasn’t enough vengeance for him so he devised a plan to destroy all the Jews throughout the entire empire of Xerxes. Haman was a smart man who served a not so smart king, so he went to the king and told a vague version of the truth that the king believed (without investigating the facts).  Haman got a law passed that stated that all the Jews in the land, women and children included, would be slaughtered on Mar 7 the following year. This is where Ester’s faith gets tested and the rubber meets the road for her. She has to talk to the king about this new law that is passed and try to get things changed around so that God’s people are not completely wiped out. No big deal right? Are they not husband and wife? The problem is that in the culture they live in, the queen cannot ask to be in the king’s presence. Only the king can call for his wife. Ester’s life is at risk for asking to speak to her husband. Ester is brave and invites the king to a meal where she explains the plight of her people, and her own fate because of Haman’s law. King Xerxes is furious about being tricked by Haman and impales Haman on the sharpened pole that Haman has set up to impale Mordecai on, and then the kings anger subsides. Justice! But there is still that law out there (that Haman had passed that cannot be revoked because it was signed by the king) that kills all the Jews, including Ester, on Mar 7 of the following year.

King Xerxes finally puts some smart and moral people around himself and replaces Haman with Mordecai. Mordecai was smart enough to come up with a plan that allowed the Jews to unite as a people to defend themselves and their property on Mar 7 of the following year, which God used to save the Jews lives and also to wipe out the rest of Haman’s family.

No matter people’s motives, position of power, or thinking capability, God’s plan will always be accomplished! He is more mighty than any human, more virtuous than any person, more loving than any being and will accomplish His truth no matter what people do to try to interfere. He will always win.

Elijah

1Kings 17:1-9, 18

Elijah said, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” This is quite a bold statement to proclaim in the face of the king of the land…especially a Baal worshiping King, with a strong military. King Ahab, along with his predecessors as we read yesterday with Holly, had been leading God’s people away from God and replacing Him with other gods. Elijah was the first in a long line of prophets that God used to try to get His people’s attention. Ahab had built a sense of security around himself and his kingdom with his powerful military so God used something that Ahab’s military couldn’t muscle their way around, and Ahab’s god was completely powerless against. Nature.

Three years into the drought, God sends Elijah back to King Ahab with another message. Elijah says, “You have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped Baal instead. Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah.” When everyone was gathered Elijah said to all, “ How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him! But if Baal is god, then follow him!” …and the people were completely silent. So Elijah had the people bring two bulls to be prepared for sacrifice, team Baal against God to see who could prove their power to the people by producing fire. Each alter of wood was prepared, a bull placed on top of each alter and then each team was to call out to their god/God to ask for fire. The god who answered with fire would be the one true God…and all the people agreed.

Team Baal prepped their alter and began calling out to Baal from morning to noon time, but there was no reply. So the people shouted louder and cut themselves with knives until the blood gushed out. They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice but there was still no response. So Elijah gathered twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and rebuilt the alter in the Lords name. Then he dug a trench around the alter and asked for four jars of water to be brought to him. He dowsed the alter and sacrifice with water from the four jars and asked for the jars to be refilled two more times. By the third watering, the trench was full of standing water. Elijah stood next to the drenched alter and prayed, “O Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, answer me so these people will know that you are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, the dust and it even licked up all the water in the trench! When the people saw it they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord-he is God!” God had Elijah, kill all of the prophets of Baal, and then He brought the rain! “The sky was black with clouds and a heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm!” Then the Lord gave special strength to Elijah and he ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel.”

A few things I learned studying this story:

1-God’s power is astounding! That He can stop the dew and rain for 3 years, call fire from heaven to burn up stones and water, deliver a thunderstorm on a given afternoon, and give a man superhuman strength to run faster than horses is all beyond what my human mind can comprehend. This One is who I get to call Father and who I can speak to any second of any day or night about what ever is on my mind.

2-I don’t ever want to be a part of a group of people who are completely silent when asked who their God is. I can’t really say that I have been in this exact situation, but we can all think of conversations we have been in where we could have said more to support God’s character or align ourselves with Him and we chose not to. The truth is that I have, and probably will again, smile and sit quiet when I know I should speak. I so quickly justify in my mind that it isn’t the proper setting, or this is not the hill to die on, or a private conversation would be so much more effective,,,the list goes on and on. I want to live more in God’s power and less in human fear while still being gentle, kind and truthful.

3-I have a lot to learn from Elijah! He was more bold and brave than I have ever dreamt of being. (I do realize that 4 verses later in chapter 19, he tells God that he has had enough and wants God to take his life. But he did the crazy hard jobs required of him in chapters17 and 18. He actually did them!) He heard God’s voice and obeyed God’s commands no matter how difficult the task.

4-God will always win! He is the ultimate power, the only one true God, the One who controls nature and the One who has a plan to make a way for every person on this earth able to have relationship with Him!

Love Like He Loves

 

 

Today’s reading is Gen 39, 41, 43, and 45

As you read through these chapters today did any one phrase stand out to you? “And the Lord was with Joseph” seemed to jump out at me every time as I read through these chapters last night. I love the story of Joseph. I always have. One of my favorite Broadway musicals is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” even though the writer wrote it as a joke because the Bible story seemed so ridiculous and outlandish to him. (If you read through Joseph’s story in the Bible and don’t know or believe in God, the story is ridiculous and outlandish!) But when you read through the story believing in God, the ridiculousness brings to light God’s power and His sovereign plan. This story shows us that no matter the circumstances, no matter the amount of time spent in despair, no matter the hopelessness of the situation, God is with us and knows what we are experiencing. He also knows how the story will end.

Joseph’s life feels like a roller coaster ride to me. Joseph was born to his father in his old age by Jacob’s favorite wife, sold into slavery by his brothers who were jealous of him, sold again to Pharaoh’s staff, made chief of staff by Potiphar because he was so successful in his work, wrongfully accused of trying to have his way with Potiphar’s wife and imprisoned for it, given the responsibility of running the prison from inside, pulled out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, made ruler of Egypt because he proved to be wise, stored up bumper crops for seven years to be ready to combat a seven year famine, asked to sell grain to the brothers (who sold him into slavery) who came seeking help during the famine, and finally reunited with his father and family. That is quite a ride!

Throughout all of the crazy unfair circumstances Joseph found himself in, the Bible says, “and the Lord was with Joseph”.  The people in Joseph’s life recognized that God was with him because his work produced such solid results and he gave God the credit over and over for his ability to interpret other people’s dreams correctly. The people around him knew he was filled with God’s spirit and saw the results of his good management. Joseph trusted in God during slavery enough to keep his head down, do his work and be noticed for his results, to be chosen by leadership to move straight to chief of staff. Then later in his life from being pulled out of a prison cell to interpret a dream, to ruling over the entire country. Those are some pretty daunting situations to live faithfully through. Would I be able to keep my focus on God and be ready for the next step in those same circumstances? Makes me wonder if I give God credit for the things He does in my life enough for the people around me to know that God is with me.

At the end of our reading for today in chapter 45, Joseph’s brother’s have come to him again to purchase grain to keep the family alive and his brother’s still haven’t recognized him. Verse 4 says, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh-the manager of His entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” Whoa…this is not a normal response to people who have wronged one so greatly. It is pretty clear that all of the years that God was with Joseph, He was teaching Joseph to love others the way He loves people. This story is set up perfectly for revenge, but God’s response is forgiveness and mercy. It is a beautiful picture of who God is and how he responds to us. I am all for seeing and receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy. When it is aimed at me, there is nothing more beautiful. When I see it aimed at people whom I feel wronged by, the truth is that I sometimes still want justice for them. I am in desperate need of more time “with the Lord” so He can continue to help me learn to love like He loves.

Eternity

 

Today’s reading is Rev 21. I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I think that a good number of us think about and maybe even talk about heaven quite a bit throughout our lives. When life feels hard, when there are too many deaths in our circle of friends and family, or when natural disasters strike fear into our hearts we long for the relief and perfection of heaven. Certainly at funerals we comfort ourselves with the hope of being re-united with loved ones who have ended their time on earth before us. But what are the facts? What do we really know about eternity from the Bible?

God gave us way less information in the Bible about eternity than He did about the path we take to get to spend eternity with Him. A lot of what we do read about heaven in God’s word should be labeled “hints” rather than facts because God had the writers use words, ideas and dreams that we understand from earthly experience to describe what we cannot fully grasp until we are actually there. Below is a list of some of the truths we do know from scripture about eternity.

 

A place prepared for us                       John 14:2-3

Unlimited by physical properties        John 20;19,26

Like Jesus                                               1 John 3:2

New bodies                                            1 Cor 15:35-49

A wonderful experience                       1 Cor 2:9

A new environment                              Rev 21

A new experience of God’s Presents  Rev 21:3

New emotions                                        Rev 21:4

No more death                                      Rev 21:4

 

It is clear from our list that Rev 21 gives us a lot of information about heaven. This book is written by John and this chapter is a description of a dream or a scene that God gave to John to give us a window of understanding into our eternity if we have believed in Jesus and accepted His gift of payment for our sin. Verse 3 brings the most thrilling truth of heaven to life for us. “God is home now, among His people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” I don’t know how to expound on this fact, as I have no idea how this will play out. I can only imagine what it will be like to have a different experience and a different type of relationship than I do right now with God and it sounds amazing. We get to live with God in the same “world”. God Himself will be with us! This change from what we know now is enough to make heaven perfection! But God doesn’t stop there. He goes on to promise,“He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever!” Wherever God reigns, there is peace, security, and love. Can you wrap your head around life with peace, security, and love instead of tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain?

From verse 10 on John describes for us the stunning beauty of the new city of God, the place we will spend eternity. John’s vision is symbolic and shows us that our new home with God will defy description in earthly terms. We will not be disappointed by it in any way. Truthfully when I think of the beauty that I have experienced around the world when traveling, I cannot imagine how God can top Himself. I don’t have one idea how He could create a place more beautiful than mountains, oceans, lakes, forests, deserts, flowers, animals, stars, glaciers, rivers…think of the most beautiful place you have experienced and try to imagine something better. All I can do is recognize His creation, His goodness, His perfection, His attention to detail, His trustworthiness and His omniscience that we experience here on earth, and then add on His hints in the Bible about heaven and I am blown away with excitement, amazement, and longing to get to my new home!

It’s Not Our Job

2 Tim 2

Our kids are in their twenties now, but several years back our daughters told me how frustrated they were with me for not making their brother behave the way he should have. We tried…believe me we tried everything we could think of to steer him, but the truth was, he made his own decisions. As parents, we could alter his environment but we could not alter his heart. We could use consequences to get a certain result, but we could not force him to think differently about a given situation. I started with this example, but the truth is that we all face this issue with the people in our lives. Do you ever wish you could change the way someone thinks about a certain issue? Have you ever tried to reason with someone to get them to see truth instead of oppose it? How about trying to move someone to be more passionate about something they already believe in but don’t show much action in? It happens with people at work, at church, in our families, in friendships, and sometimes even in chance meetings with others.

 

Second Timothy is a letter written by Paul at the end of his ministry to encourage Timothy in living out the Good News and sharing that Good News with others. In vs 22-25 Paul says to Timothy, ”Pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn truth.” These few verses are beautiful Godly guidelines to live by. As I am in relationship with anyone, I should first “pursue righteous living” aiming my heart at God and working to be “faithful” so I can love others and be at “peace” with them consistently. I must “be kind to everyone”. So simple, but so much more difficult to execute…I must be kind to EVERYONE. (Including the ones who annoy me, the ones who hurt me, and the ones who are indifferent to me.) I need to be prepared, willing and “able to teach” God’s truth to everyone in my life. I am also instructed to “be patient with difficult people”. I have work to do in my own heart before getting to the “gently instructing those who oppose truth” part. Lets be clear here about the fact that these verses are talking about people who oppose God’s truth, not people in my life who oppose my opinions. There is a difference.

 

Verse 25 is powerful when considering conversations or relationships with people who oppose God’s truth. I think we sometimes get sucked into conversations or arguments that get heated because we want so desperately for people to understand God’s truth. Did you catch the second sentence in vs 25? “Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” It’s not our job to change people’s hearts. We are not capable no matter how good our intensions or how strong our theological argument is. God is the only one powerful enough, yet gentle enough, to know how a person actually thinks, and reveal truth to that person which changes their heart.  This is why Paul tells us to “gently instruct” and then turn the person over to God and pray that He might change their heart. This may seem to be simple…just pray for the person… but faithful prayer is not a onetime thing.  Have you prayed faithfully for anyone in your life? Do you know the time and energy it takes to be faithful? Can you count the number of years you have prayed for a specific person to see truth? In my experience, and listening to others who pray faithfully, asking God to reveal truth to another person is usually a long-term proposition. If you are currently praying for someone to know God’s truth, I want to encourage you today to stay faithful. Asking God to change their hearts is our only hope. It is the only thing besides loving that person that we can do to affect real change. In my early years of praying, I used to think that God got sick of hearing the same ask for truth in someone’s life day after day after day. Now after more experience, I have come to realize that my prayer for myself day after day after day is for God’s truth, only as much as I can handle today, to change me. As I have experienced the freshness and renewal of that prayer and His work in my own life, I can pray the same way for others with deep passion and strong hope.  It doesn’t feel rote or repetitive. It is strengthens my relationship with God because I know His desire is the same for that person.

 

This morning can we take a few minutes to ask God what truth He wants to instill in each of us today? Can we consider committing to praying faithfully for someone we love to be open to God’s truth in their lives?

Struggle with Sin

Rom 7

“The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

This is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. As I have gotten older, and my relationship with God has also grown in years, find myself more and more frustrated with the sin in my life. I truly cannot understand how I can know so positively what is best for me, and still choose something other than the best when it comes time for action. How can I know with everything in me that starting my day spending time with God is the absolute best way to begin, yet I wake up and sometimes pick up my phone, or get started on my to do list? How can I know that the best way to nurture a relationship is to love sacrificially, yet I choose to carry on with my own agenda and not make time for or share myself with those I want to love better? How can I be so appreciative and enamored by Jesus selfless gift to me, yet look out for myself instead of selflessly loving like He does? I cannot express the comfort of knowing that one of the superheroes of the Bible writes about my exact frustration with not doing what I want to do, and doing what I don’t want to do. I’m not happy that someone else was failing as miserably as I am, it is just comforting to know that the struggle is real no matter what your level of faith is.

I wish I understood the theology behind these verses in Romans. I don’t understand it enough to settle the truth in my own mind let alone articulate that truth here to anyone else, but I am simple enough to look at verse 24 and know that I am the way I am whether I understand myself fully or not. I can also see from verse 25 that God knows how I am and why I am this way. I think part of the explanation may be as simple as the fact that I am human. I was born with a sin nature and as long as I am on this earth I will have that sin nature as part of my makeup. God knows that I am a slave to sin and has provided a way out of my life dominated by death and sin. Jesus buying me back out of my death sentence with His perfect life is the only hope and help I have. I’m with Paul in vs 25…Thank God!!!

I’m thinking back to Holly’s post on Sat morning and the Frances Chan clip she included in her post. Frances illustrated so beautifully what a small portion of our lives are spent here on earth. The frustration with the sin in our lives is short lived compared with the perfection and eternity of heaven. We are limited in our understanding of “life” because we use our experience here on earth as our measure. God’s timeline and experience is so different because He knows so much more than we do. God also speaks through Paul in chapter 8 of Romans to explain more to us about the new mind He gives us after we accept His gift of salvation. He gifts us part of Him, the Holy Spirit, to help us. Rom 8:9 says that, “We are not controlled by our sinful natures. We are controlled by the Spirit.” I have to stay in tight relationship to God to hear and sense the Spirit’s nudges. When I start to think I can manage my own life, I move God from His rightful spot in my heart, and I move the Spirit’s voice far enough away from me that I can’t hear it. I can’t steal any more of Chet’s writing material for tomorrow from Rom 8, but the relationship between the sin nature and the Spirit’s control are covered beautifully in Chapter 8, and I couldn’t end today in the frustration of our sin nature without some help and hope from Chapter 8.  I’m sorry Chet!