Food for the Heart

 

Mark 7

Are you a “Foodie”? Do you love to try new flavor combinations, food trends and foods from other cultures? Do you love to go to restaurants that have “tasting menus” where the chef makes what he can with the ingredients he gets fresh and you get small plates of lots of different dishes? No matter how adventurous or not you are with food, we all know that food is a basic need in life and the human body can’t survive long term without it. God is such a beautiful teacher in using something as common and known to ALL people throughout time as food to teach us about His principles and His economy. Let’s look at Mark 7 together and see how God is speaking to us this morning.

Again the Pharisees are following Jesus around trying to trip him up and get him out of their lives for good so they can go back to “running” religion for the people. While they are hanging around they notice that some of Jesus disciples didn’t follow the ancient tradition of ceremonial washing of hands before eating. Lets be clear, this tradition had nothing to do with dirty hands. It was all about thinking that this ceremony cleansed them from any contact they might have had with anyone or anything that was considered unclean. It was important to them to appear pure. While “hand washing ceremonies” don’t feel very relevant to our lives today, I wonder if we don’t struggle with the desire to appear pure at certain times and in front of certain people in our lives. The note in my Bible for this passage points out that sometimes Christians worry (sort of like the Pharisees in this passage) that contact with unbelievers,  “worldly” places where sinners hang out, books, or speakers who’s ideas don’t conform to theirs might contaminate or pollute their faith. While I see that the Bible is clear about not soaking our lives with contrary (to the Bible) teachings and not choosing unbelievers to be our closest confidants and counselors, Jesus example over and over was to go out into the world and make contact with the people who needed Him most. He went to the people who were hurting, the ones sick with socially unlovely diseases, the ones selling themselves to make a living, the ones stealing from others for their own gain, (Matthew, one of his disciples) people who were culturally different from His earthly birth…how many times have we seen in the Bible His message that His gift is for EVERYONE? Jesus didn’t intend for us to purity ourselves (which we can’t anyway) and withdraw from others who are not likeminded. He wants us to reach out. He wants us to have real relationships with others so they have the opportunity to see Him in us. So who am I going to, reaching out to, meeting with, building relationship with so they can see and feel the love of Jesus?

Jesus conversation continues with the Pharisees and His disciples. He keeps teaching them what is important to God and what traditions the Pharisees have twisted from the law to serve themselves. By verse 14, Jesus calls the crowd to come and hear from Him so they won’t be confused by the Pharisees twists around clean and unclean foods. He tells them that it’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart. Even the disciples were unsure how to proceed on this issue because after they got away from the crowd and into the safety and quiet of a home, they asked Jesus if he would explain what He meant. So He said to them, “ Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through your body. It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” The confusion was over which set of “laws” they were to be following. Jewish law had a list of clean and unclean foods that were to be strictly followed to be obedient to God, plus we learn in this chapter that the Pharisees were changing the “rules” to suit their own needs and preferences. They were getting bogged down in food rules when Jesus was trying to teach them about their hearts. It is easier for us to see Jesus point here because we have the advantage of seeing and knowing the rest of the Bible. We know how it ends!  God cares about the condition of our hearts more than anything. Instead of talking about food for our bodies, He wanted those He was talking to and those of us reading these verses to realize that we “feed” our hearts every day by what we spend our time on. So what am I filling my mind and heart with? Am I thinking about what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable or am I floating through life letting my world and my surroundings soak into my heart? There is a difference between going into the world with the purpose of taking Jesus to those who don’t know Him and letting your heart be changed by the world around you because you are not paying attention to what is soaking into your mind. Jesus knows that where our hearts are, our money, time and energy end up too. He is asking us to pay attention to what we allow into our minds. I want today to spend my thought time and energy on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable.

 

 

What Does God Really Want From Me?

 

 

In less than four months we have flown through an overview of the Old Testament, and just a week ago started into the New. Today we get to look at some of the first miracles Jesus did. Jesus finished filling His team of disciples during this chapter so these miracles took place very early in His ministry.

Easter weekend parts of my extended family gathered to celebrate. After reading through part of John, we had a discussion. A question was posed. Do you think it was easier to believe in Jesus during the time He was living on the earth or do you think it is easier now to believe, having complete scripture available to us? Have you considered this question before? As I read through the Gospels, story after story of Jesus miracles, I can’t help but put myself in the place of the people who had the opportunity to meet Him, hear him speak or even share a meal with Him and wonder what they thought as they encountered Him. If I were a towns person and word spread to me that Jesus was coming to my area to speak, would I have fought the crowds, cancelled plans and made the effort to go see what all the excitement was about? Would I have been willing to investigate if this really was the Son of God or would I have been scared to get sucked into a hoax and stayed away continuing to worship God as I had been taught. I even wonder what I would have thought of Him had I been one of His disciples. As I read Jesus’ teachings and look at the conversations He had with His friends, there are questions. The ones who spent the most time with Him didn’t always understand the big picture. They asked inappropriate questions and told Him He was wrong when He told them how things were going to go down later in His life. As I sit with this question today, I think I am drawn to continue working out my answer because I don’t want to miss out on what God is doing now, today in this world, in my town, in my family, and in my own heart.

Mark 3:1 Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and noticed a man with a deformed hand. The church leaders watched closely to see what He would do. The law said that no work was to be done on the Sabbath so they were using their knowledge of the law to try to get Jesus in trouble. Jesus knew how they were thinking about this situation, so He asked the man to come and stand in front of everyone; the church leaders, the church goers, and Himself.  Then He asked the leaders, “ Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save a life or to destroy it? They wouldn’t answer Him. How could they? Jesus was breaking the letter of the law but loving this man by physically healing him and drawing him into relationship with Himself by giving him a fresh start at life with a whole healthy body. The Pharisees may or may not have been able to know in their hearts that Jesus was right, but they so badly wanted Him to be wrong that they wouldn’t admit it. Especially in public! An admission would have undermined their entire livelihood! Verse 5 says, “ He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hearts.” Then he turned his attention back to the man and healed him.

The Pharisees hearts were not soft to Jesus and they had no desire to learn from Him or follow Him. If they had had real relationship with God, their spirits would have been drawn to Jesus as others were when they encountered Him. I’m guessing that selfishness, (putting themselves above God in their hearts) was ruling their hearts and actions. They wanted the money, prestige and power of “leading” the people. They had to have been afraid of losing their positions, which made Jesus a threat instead of their Savior. I don’t want my heart to be in that condition. I don’t ever want to be found trying to outwit God by turning events, motives, or actions into something they are not. When I am honest with myself, I have to admit I have done it and will do it again, maybe today. The Pharisees sin looks so blatant and obvious to us. We are tempted to judge their choices and feel smug, thinking that we wouldn’t commit such obvious sin in our own lives, but each morning that I start on my to-do list without spending time with Him first, I am being selfish and placing me, (my agenda) ahead of Him in my life. Each time I am unwilling to be interrupted for another person’s need, I am putting myself higher than God in my heart. When I want credit or notice for something I’ve thought of or done, I really want to be most important for just a few seconds instead of giving God His rightful spot. It may flesh out differently for all of us, including the Pharisees, but the principle is the same.

I am hoping that those of us reading Mark 3 today differ a bit from the Pharisees in that we have soft hearts toward God, that we desire to give Him His rightful spot in our lives.  We will miss the mark but I am praying that we will recognize our selfishness and ask God for forgiveness when we do. I hope we desire relationship with God more than anything else in life and that we are allowing God the freedom to work in our hearts and lives so that we miss the mark less and less as time goes on.

Love/Hate

 

 

Job chapters 1&2

I think I have a love/hate relationship with the book of Job. I find things in this book that disturb me, that I find beautiful, that I fear, and some things that I don’t understand. So let’s read through and I’ll point out along the way some of these “loves” and “hates”.

Chapter 1 Vs 5- “love” As a dad Job was concerned that his children may have offended God and would get up early to make a sacrifice on their behalf to God. Also it mentions that, “This was Job’s regular practice”.  Am I characterized by a regular practice of praying for my kid’s hearts to be Gods?

Vs 6- “hate” Satan presented himself before the Lord. I don’t like the idea of this because I don’t understand it. (I thought that God couldn’t be in the presence of evil because of His holiness.)  “love” I know that Satan is accountable to God and that Satan can only do what God allows him to do. God is in control.

Vs 8- “hate” The Lord asked Satan if he had noticed Job. This entire mess was God’s idea not Satan’s? God is in control.

Vs 9- “love” Even Satan recognizes God’s love and protection for us. God is in control.

Vs 12- “hate” I dislike that Satan is allowed to work in a person’s life to this degree, but I “love” how it is clear in this conversation Who is setting the ground rules for the test. God tells Satan not to mess with Job physically. God is in control.

Vs 21- “love” After losing everything and everyone in his family besides his wife, Job fell to the ground and praised the name of the Lord. Would I respond to these circumstances in this way?

Chapter 2 Vs 3- “hate” Again Satan comes to the Lord and the Lord asks if Satan has noticed Job. “love” God’s thoughts on Job after Satan has taken horrendous pot shots at Job. “Job is the finest man in all the earth, he has maintained his integrity even though you urged me to harm him without cause.” I “love” that God defends Job to Satan, pointing out that Satan is not as powerful as he wishes he was. God is in control.

Vs 6- “hate” God allows Satan to take Job’s health, but I “love” that again God sets the parameters for this and only allows Satan to mess with his health. Satan is forced to spare Jobs life. God is in control.

Vs 9- “hate” I hate for Job’s wife that she is recorded in the Bible advising her husband to curse God and die. (I have to share the note in my Bible for this verse as I have wondered why Job’s wife was spared when the rest of his family was not. It says, “ It is possible that her very presence caused Job more suffering through her chiding and sorrow over all they had lost.”)

Vs 10- I “love” Job’s response to his wife. “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad? Do I have this much integrity?

Vs 11- “love” When Job’s friends heard about what had happened to him they went together to him to comfort and console him. Do I make myself available to comfort and console friends who need it?

Vs 13- “love” Job’s friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. This verse is beautiful. The note in my Bible explains that according to Jewish tradition, people who come to comfort someone in mourning should not speak until the mourner speaks. Am I willing to consider that people might be better helped and loved by my presence, than my attempt at insightful words?

After reading through these chapters again today, there are still things I do not understand. This is a good thing. If I understood God fully, He would not be who He says He is. My human limitations cannot comprehend all of God. Praise Him that He is above all gods, mighty, holy, ultimate truth, creator, faithful, deliverer, just, our keeper, our offering, sovereign Lord, our help and our strength. God is in control of all!  This I LOVE more than I have words to express.

Dry Bones

 

 

Ezekiel 37

In the last week or so we have been looking at several of the prophets that God used over 300-400 years to call out to Israel and Judah. He wanted relationship with them so badly and they continued generation after generation to turn their backs on Him by putting other god’s before Him and choosing to disobey Him. At the time of Ezekiel, Judah and thousands of others had been deported to Babylon when their king surrendered to the leadership of Babylon because they couldn’t fight them any longer. (God would have protected them and kept them safe as a country if they would have followed His plan, but they chose their selfish ways instead of His and landed themselves in exile in another country.) God used Ezekiel as a watchman to warn the people of Judah to turn to God as they were living in captivity. His message was that God expected personal obedience and worship from each of them no matter their circumstances.

As I have read through the prophets this time I have developed a deep sympathy for them in the work God assigned to them. They spent their lives preaching to people who were not interested in their message.  Their job was vitally important and necessary in God’s plan, but in the world I think they just appeared crazy. When I picture Ezekiel calling out to people on the streets, or meeting with groups to deliver God’s message, the picture that comes to my mind is the guy in a crowded city or on a college campus who is yelling out his message to a bunch of people who are maybe a bit afraid of him, or who are wondering if he is mentally stable, or at the very least feeling uncomfortable as they pass by.  How do you stay motivated to get up every day and stay at the work at hand when you are mocked, ignored, and pushed aside every time you speak? I hope that my perception of what it must have been like for Ezekiel is wrong, but after reading chapter 37 and seeing Ezekiel’s personal encounter with God, I’m pretty confident that Ezekiel’s job felt like a steep uphill climb, daily!

So three quarters of the book of Ezekiel is God’s message to Judah while in captivity. The entire book is filled with God’s words that Ezekiel speaks to the people of Judah over years of time, until chapter 37 hits. In this chapter Ezekiel reports the events of the vision God gives to him one day. The first verse, “The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones.” The bones were scattered out all over the ground and dried out completely. God asked Ezekiel if these bones can become living people again. Wisely, Ezekiel answers that God alone knows the answer to that question. So God has Ezekiel prophecy to the bones that He will put breath into them and make them live again. He will put flesh and muscle over them and cover them with skin and they will come to life. So Ezekiel obeys. As he speaks there is a rattling noise all across the valley and the bones gather themselves into complete skeletons and as he watched, muscle and flesh formed over the bodies but they still had no breath in them. So God again told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bodies. As he did, breath came into their bodies and they all came to life and stood to their feet. Then God told Ezekiel that the bones represent the people of Israel, old dry bones…all hope gone. God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the people anyway and tell them that He will open the graves of exile, cause them to rise again, and then He will bring them out of exile back to the land of Israel. When this happens they will know that He is the Lord and He has done what He said He would do.

God reached out to Ezekiel to encourage him and give him new urgency and motivation to share God’s message. Ezekiel had been sharing God’s word for years with no fruit, no change in the people, and no hope for change.  (Frankly, I would have given up!)  God knew that this message needed to land in some hearts so He could accomplish His plan for bringing Jesus to the earth in a family from the line of David. God needed Ezekiel to stay faithful in a steep uphill climb so that Israel and Judah could be reunited and He could live among His people again.

This morning, can you see encouragement from God anywhere in your life to stay at something that feels hard but needs to be done?

This Love

Zeph 3

Zephaniah was a prophet that God used to speak to Judah. At this time, the people of Judah worshiped God and all the other gods of the land. They kind of added the best parts of other gods to the worship of God so they could have what they thought was the best of both worlds. While it is tempting to mentally check out here because these people are not like me, (I would never add idols to my worship of God! …unless I am honest about my struggle of relying on myself instead of on God, or my desire to get what I want with money instead of allowing God to work or my pride in looking a certain way to others when my heart should be consumed with God) the truth is that I am a whole lot like them.  So the first three and a half chapters of this book tell of God’s warning to these people through Zephaniah of the destruction that is coming if they don’t change their ways and make Him their One true God.

Then in vs 9 of chapter 3, God changes his message to tell about the few people who do follow Him and what their lives look like. In reading through the prophets, I can’t remember very many times when God changes from trying to warn the wicked, to talking to the people who do follow him, so I feel like we need to pay attention to His message to these few people in Zeph 3.  In vs 12-13 he says, “ Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will never tell lies or deceive one another. They will eat and sleep in safety, and no one will make them afraid.” Verse 17 is where I want to draw our attention this morning. It says, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

This is God’s promise to those who obey Him. “The Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” This morning I am trying to absorb that the Creator of the universe knows me personally and loves me deeply. The One who stops the waves on the shore, the One who commands the morning to appear each day, the One who holds the storehouses of snow and hail, the One who lays out the path for the lightning, the One who directs the movement of the stars, the One who directs the sequence of the seasons, the One who’s wisdom makes the hawk soar, the One who placed the world on its foundation so it could never be moved, the One who rides on the wings of the clouds and uses the wind as His messengers…this is the One who is with me, the One who saved me, the One who takes delight in me with gladness and calms all my fears with His love. He rejoices over me with joyful songs. I don’t have words. I don’t deserve even a portion of this kind of fierce lavish love, personal care, or mighty pursuit, but the truth is, this is God. It is hard for me to grasp that One who holds the world in place knows me. I can’t fully comprehend the fact that the same God described in Job and Psalms (powerful, mighty, capable, creator, wise, worldwide scale) is the same God who’s words are written in Zeph, (delights in me, calms me, saves me, rejoices over me). But it is real and true, this kind of love does exist. It is completely humbling this morning to think  that we are the recipients of this love.

Is It Right For You To Be Angry About This?

 

 

Jonah 3 and 4

If you grew up in the church you have heard the story of Jonah quite a few times. The story I remember from Sunday School goes like this: God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh so he got on a boat going the other direction. The boat ran into a bad storm, Jonah knew he had disobeyed God and told the sailors of the boat it was his fault that the storm came up and that they should throw him over. So they did, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and sat in its belly for three days and then the fish spat him back out on the shore. God again told Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time Jonah obeyed. The End. I honestly only ever remember hearing the first two chapters of Jonah taught. Maybe I didn’t pay attention in Sunday School well enough, but I think most of the time in Jonah’s story we kind of stop there. Jonah obeyed…  Jonah’s a hero, he learned his lesson and followed God. But after sitting with chapters 3 and 4 for a few days, I’m sad. Jonah’s story doesn’t have the happy ending for him that I thought it had for most of my life.

Chapter 3 opens with God telling Jonah (for the second time) to go to Nineveh and deliver His message to the people of the city. This time Jonah obeyed. I think it is clear that after spending time inside a fish that Jonah was more receptive to God’s plan. Jonah delivered God’s message and the people repented and changed their ways. When God saw that they put and end to their evil ways, He changed His mind and didn’t destroy the people. Jonah 4:1-4 says, ”This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it. “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” So Jonah walked out to the edge of town to watch and see what would happen. As he waited God arranged for a leafy plant to grow up beside him to protect him form the heat of the sun. The next day God arranged for a worm to eat the plant off at the stem, which killed it and left Jonah in the heat with no protection. Again Jonah got mad and said, “death is certainly better than living like this!” Then God said, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died? “Yes” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” Vs 10-11 say, “ Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city? The End. What? Seriously? Where is obedient Jonah from the beginning of chapter 3?

Two times God asked Jonah if it is right for him to be angry about his situation. Why was Jonah so angry? I looked back in my Bible to chapter 1 and got some help understanding Jonah’s mindset from the notes below vs 3. In Jonah’s lifetime, Nineveh was a powerful and wicked city. Jonah had grown up hating and fearing these people because of what they did to others. In Nahum we get a better explanation what Jonah knew about the people of Nineveh. They were guilty of evil plots against God, exploitation of the helpless, cruelty in war and idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft. Yikes, that is quite a list. Also Nineveh was a Gentile country and Jonah was a Jew. Humanly, I completely understand Jonah’s feelings. He was scared of these people and what they might do to him, and also, he wanted them to be punished for their wrongdoing instead of saved from their consequences. Jonah was angry because he was looking at the situation from his point of view, not God’s. Jonah saw people deserving death, period. God saw people that deserved death, but He wanted to save them because of His love.

 

1-I think Jonah forgot the truth that he didn’t deserve to be forgiven by God either. It is so easy to compare our sin with other people’s sins and talk ourselves into believing that we are more deserving of relationship with God than others. The truth is that no one is blameless. None of us are good enough to get to God on our own, we can’t. The only way to Him is by accepting His gift of payment for our sins by Jesus dying on the cross. The only part we play in this equation is sinning. It’s a pretty level playing field for ALL of us!

2-I think Jonah couldn’t get past concern for his own neck and looking like a fool in front of a lot of people. Don’t we all get tripped up here? We just can’t let ourselves truly trust God with our lives. We don’t want to be embarrassed, minimized, pained, looked over or left in the dust. We feel like if we don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will. We want the glory that God deserves.

3-I think Jonah was more in tune with his own interests than the spiritual needs of the people around him. Not to be dramatic here, but we are talking about eternal damnation, forever separated from God…no way out, no change in circumstances, no help, FOREVER!  If the people around us aren’t introduced to  truth and relationship with God here on earth, there isn’t another chance for them to change their minds. This life is all we have to decide to accept Christ’s gift and share the gift with everyone we can.

We don’t get to find out if Jonah softened his heart toward the people of Nineveh. We don’t know if he accepted God’s personal lesson for him through the plant. We don’t know if Jonah changed.

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

Psalm 139

Today as we read Psalm 139, I want to concentrate on verses 7-12. I think we all are very familiar with verses 13-15 as they are quoted and bannered often in our lives, so I want to look more closely at maybe a less familiar part of the chapter but to me an equally beautiful section.

Vs 7-12 “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night-but even in the darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” 

As I read this I am overwhelmed by God’s beauty, comfort, safety, protection, might, omnipotence, omnipresence, power and if I am honest, maybe a little bit uncomfortable. When I am seeking God and listening for His voice in my life, these verses are so reassuring and comforting, I can’t think of many options that are more comforting. But when I get distracted, busy or on a mission to complete my to-do list, I find my mind less focused on Him and more focused on the task at hand. Let me give an example. As I write this post, my mind is consumed with God, His promises and what He might be trying to say to us, so this passage feels comforting. I can never get away from His presence, His hand will guide me, and His strength will support me, very beautiful and reassuring that He is always there with me.

 But what about when I am being less mindful of Him or worse, choosing to do something disobedient? Then I am very uncomfortable being honest about the fact that I can never get away from His presence or escape His Spirit. I think I like telling myself that God isn’t around when I mess up. I know that my sin grieves His spirit and damages our relationship until I get honest and ask for forgiveness from Him, but I don’t like the mental picture of Him being there watching as I sin. It seems so much more ugly when I picture Perfection, the one who suffered and gave His life so I could be washed clean, standing or sitting right there with me as I choose unkind words, an ungrateful heart, selfishness, anger with others, or so many more awful things I do that I’m too embarrassed to write down. The truth is, He is there. No matter what I am thinking or feeling, He is with me and seeing everything I choose, every thought I have, and every motivation for the choices I make. My sin is not hidden. I’ve known this truth since I was a child, but looking at these verses today makes me realize how easily I lie to myself about this truth. 

God’s presence is constant. The way I perceive His presence is based on my choices. 

Looking For the Right Heart

1 Sam 16

Today as we read 1 Sam 16, we get to see God’s choice for the next king of Israel after Saul. The tricky part is that Saul wasn’t dead yet. Saul had become rebellious and stubborn against God. He was more concerned with what others thought of him than he was with his relationship with God, so God took his kingdom away from him. If you look back in chapter 15, Samuel the priest was so grieved by Saul’s terrible choices that when God told Samuel He was going to replace Saul, Samuel “cried out to the Lord all night long”.  It says later in chapter 15 that “Samuel mourned constantly for Saul”.  Samuel was heartbroken because he loved the Lord and he loved Israel. He had been Israel’s spiritual leader since he was a boy. (And he was old and grey in chapter 12) The people weren’t happy because they wanted a king just like all the other countries had, and God had given them what they wanted in Saul. So when Saul was failing to follow God, it was crushing to Samuel. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to meet with a man named Jesse to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king. 

I want to concentrate on verses 6-7 today. Samuel was obeying God. His only purpose for this trip was to do what God had asked him to do. His heart was right and his motives were right. He was in close relationship with God. Vs 6 “Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”   Then Vs 7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Samuel thought he knew where God was headed with this one after he saw Eliab, tall, good looking, from the right family…it all added up in his mind because he was in town to anoint the next king. But God knew what heart He was looking for. He knew the characteristics He needed in the man who would be anointed king but not become king for fifteen years. God knew what those fifteen years would look like and He knew who’s spirit would be teachable, dedicated, loyal, devoted and reliant on Him throughout his life. God knew who He could build leadership skills in to become the leader God needed for His people. Samuel couldn’t see all of that by looking at a family of boys. 

Two points stand out to me in this story. First, when our hearts are right and our relationship with God is close, we still have to listen for His voice. I’ve been noticing something in the past few years as I have read the Bible and then on Sunday, our pastor said exactly what I had been noticing, God rarely does things the same way twice. We serve a mighty and creative God who has every atom in this universe (and beyond) at His disposal to accomplish whatever He decides to accomplish. He works however He decides He needs to in any situation to accomplish what ever He needs accomplished and I would say that a lot of the time we only see or understand a small portion of the effects of His work. Even when we think we know where God is headed in a circumstance or issue in our lives, we have to listen to his direction and leading because He very well might surprise us with something different than what we expected. 

Second, we make mistakes when we asses people on appearances instead of on character. We just can’t help ourselves, we see and we judge. Because we see people or circumstances with our eyes, we feel like we have the ability to judge. We forget that only God sees inside, we forget that only He knows what motivates a person’s actions or choices, we don’t know the truth about what another person’s heart looks like, only God knows. God is the only one who can judge. Appearance doesn’t reveal what people are really like. It doesn’t show their true value. 


Obey My Instructions

Lev 26

The final verse of this chapter says, “These are the decrees, regulations, and instructions that the Lord gave through Moses on Mount Sinai as evidence of the relationship between Himself and the Israelites”.  This entire chapter explains God’s punishment for disobedience. It is a harsh chapter. God uses strong explanations and very descriptive words to tell the Israelites what will happen to them if they choose to disobey Him. He says, “ If you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” Then the bulk of the chapter tells exactly what He plans to do if the people continue to turn away from Him. If you read through the list you know how heavy the consequences get for their choices. These are rough, life altering and sometimes life ending punishments…”those who hate you will rule over you”, I will punish you seven times over for your sins”, “your land will yield no crop”, I will send wild animals that will rob you of your children”, “your numbers will dwindle”, “I will send armies against you”, “I will leave your lifeless corpses piled on top of your lifeless idols”, this list is not close to exhaustive but I think you get the picture. 

All this harshness and punishment might make us question how our loving Father is capable of these decrees. I think we need to ask why. What is motivating Him to be so strong in His instructions? We have to be willing to see that for God there is so much more at stake here than just this group of Israelites obeying Him or not obeying Him. We need to realize that God is already at work completing his long-term plan. God knew His Savior of the world was coming through the Israelite people so they had to be preserved for Him to fulfill His promises. His lens for this chapter is so much bigger than what we see when we just read these verses. He was doing everything in His power, besides choosing for people, to preserve this group of people so not only the Israelites but all people through all of time could have a way to have relationship with Him. He was pursuing them (and us) with everything He had. He needed, at least a portion of these people to commit to His covenant to send Jesus to earth to pay the price for their and our sins.  So it was of ultimate importance that these people choose God. He wasn’t just being harsh or trying to get back at disobedient people. He was accomplishing His plan through people that He loved so deeply He was willing to give His Son’s life to save, and maybe grow and develop the Israelites along the way.

As I sit with this chapter today, I hear God say, this is how much I love you. This is how valuable you are to me. You are worth fighting to the death to keep, protect, and to preserve. I want relationship with you more than anything and I will go to extraordinary lengths to help you keep your covenant with me so we can maintain relationship.  

Sulfur From the Sky

Gen 19

Just a few days ago we were looking at the wickedness of all the people on earth and God’s decision to start over with mankind through Noah and his family. Today, about 10 chapters later we see two cities so wicked that God is moved to wipe them off the earth. When I first saw the topic of this chapter I was shocked that so soon after Noah, an entire people group was so far from God. I did a little research and found that there were actually about 400 years between Noah and Abraham, which helps me understand a bit better how these people ended up where they did. 

I would like to mention here that in my adult Bible reading years, this chapter is one of my least favorite chapters in the Old Testament. I hate reading about people abusing each other and sick depravity in people’s actions. When this chapter is plucked out of the context of Abraham’s life it seems so off the wall crazy that I wonder why it is included. I strongly suggest that you work your way back to at least Gen 18 to get some framework for this terrible set of events. 

Abraham has a long discussion with God to try to find out if God will be fair to people that might be following Him. So God keeps His word to Abraham and sends two angels to search Sodom and Gomorrah for any righteous people. Lot, who is Abrahams nephew meets the angels at the city gates (which lets us know that he was probably a prominent business man or a government official) and invites them to his home for a meal and a place to stay. (This is customary hospitality in this time period as there were no hotels or restaurants. Travelers relied on townspeople for food and rest when traveling.) Here is where the story gets terribly disturbing. The men of the town surround Lot’s house and demand Lots guests come outside so they can rape them. Lot goes outside to try to appease the crowd by offering the men his two daughters (gasp) but the crowd goes nuts and tries to kill Lot so God Has to intervene to save Lot’s life. God blinds the entire crowd, which shocks and scares the men so much that they give up on their rotten intentions and disperse. Back inside the house, the angels tell Lot to gather up the rest of his family and get out of town before God destroys the city. Lot doesn’t appear to grasp how dire this situation is because he drags his feet leaving and the angels have to grab his hand to hurry him out of the city. God tells him to run to the mountains for safety and instead of being grateful for God’s escape route, Lot asks God if he couldn’t please just go to a little village outside of town instead. God graciously agrees but tells the entire family not to look back as they flee for their lives. Then God “rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed the people and every bit of vegetation”…but Lot’s wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt.  Good Wednesday morning to you all! 

This is a very sick and demented group of people and in a few short verses I think we get a pretty good taste of why God decides to end the wickedness. There is so much that disturbs me in this passage, it’s hard to know where to start, but every time I read it I am dumbfounded as to why any dad’s solution to his guests (strangers) being harmed is to offer his daughters to “do with as you wish”. Really, this is the best he can come up with? I think Lot’s lame solution had more to do with saving his own neck than protecting his family or strangers. Lot had lived so long in a depraved community of people that his moral compass was broken and useless. I think he allowed his life to be shaped by his community instead living a Godly life and influencing those around him to God. I think he was reluctant to leave when God was trying to save his life because he didn’t want to give up all he’d worked for and accomplished in his town. I think I’m starting to understand why this chapter is included. The struggle to conform to your surroundings, and over time forsake God’s ways is a timeless and universal struggle. So I have to ask myself, am I willing to obey God, or do I choose the attractions of my culture? How much of my cultures ways am I willing to tolerate in my life? Am I consistently evaluating my choices with God’s principles? Let’s let this chapter motivate us to consider evaluating our choices today. Let’s take these next 12-14 hours and be mindful of every choice we can recognize and measure each against God’s principles. Let’s be honest and be willing to look for the truth in what motivates us to choose what we choose.