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!

An Unlikely Fellow

 

 

Acts 9

“Meanwhile Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.” Saul got permission from the high priest to go to Damascus and bring any followers of Jesus he found, back to Jerusalem in chains. This devoted Jew was serious about wiping out the group of Jesus followers to protect the Jewish faith. Saul was willing to kill for his cause and believed wholeheartedly that he was honoring God and protecting his faith.  Because of Saul’s devotion to his cause, he had a reputation. People knew about the terrible things he did to believers and they were afraid of him. But God intervened.

When Saul was on his way to Damascus a light shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Saul replied, “Who are you?”. Then the voice said, “ I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do”. The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his friends led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days.

When I read this passage, I can’t help but think about what it must have been like for him. It’s such an unbelievable story! Put yourself in Saul’s place.  Think about taking off on a work trip with coworkers…traveling to another town to do your job and all of the sudden, you all hear a voice calling YOUR name but you don’t see anyone. Sounds terrifying, right? Saul is so scared he falls to the ground. Next the Voice asks, “Why you are persecuting Me”? While you are trying to figure out what is going on, you ask who the Voice is. The Voice tells you He is Jesus!!!… and when you go to stand up you realize that you have gone blind!  Can you mentally put yourself in this space? Can you imagine the fear and the anxiety? How quickly do you accept the truth behind Jesus words? How do you reconcile in your mind, hearing from God himself that everything you have staked your life on is wrong? What do you think your friends would have said to you while you all continued on the journey with them holding your hands trying to keep you from falling or crashing into something? I don’t know how long it took them to get the rest of the way to Damascus but I bet every minute of that trip was intense, nerve-racking and super uncomfortable for all of them. I wish we had more explanation in this chapter about how the trip went, how they passed those three days, what was discussed, Saul’s thoughts as he worked through the 180 degree turn his heart had to make, and the change in his friends hearts. All we get is that God sent Ananias to Saul, and that Ananias laid his hands on Saul and told Saul that God sent him so that Saul would regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days and IMMEDIATELY began preaching about Jesus saying that He indeed is the Son of God.

I’m not really a “180 degree turn” type of girl. I like to think that if I was in Saul’s shoes I would have risen to the occasion and responded as quickly and committedly as Saul did. I’m not so sure I could have done what he did within the timetable he worked. I’m a slower processor and definitely slower to make lasting change than three days time. God chose Saul for his passion, commitment and the testimony his past made in the gospel of Jesus. Saul was the perfect person at this point in time to advance the truth of Jesus in the world. God’s choices and plans are perfect. We say that phrase often but this story paints a tangible picture in my mind of God’s perfection. I love that it shows us today that God had a plan over 2000 years ago to spread His message to all people so that we could know that same message today. I love seeing God’s work in Saul’s life that changed him, nearly instantly from a being a Christian killer to a person who lived the rest of his days preaching the truth of Jesus to the point of dying for his faith in Jesus. God is amazing, perfect and so devoted and in love with us that He goes to great lengths to get our attention and draw us to Him.

Jesus, the True Vine

John 15

Well, I’m sorry to say that today I have the perfect example to write on for John 15, 1-17.

Vs 4 “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” Vs 5 For apart from me you can do nothing.” Vs 9-11 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! These are some highlights from the chapter, but take the time to read the entire chapter as there is so much more than I can address here.

I’ve had a busy few days and gotten less sleep than I need the last few nights. You have all been in this spot…tired, a little overwhelmed and generally sick of the grind. When I woke this morning, I was not ready to face my list of things to do so I made the decision to lay in my bed for a few minutes and scroll through my phone before getting up and heading to my first apt for the day. Sounds harmless, I know. The issue is that a few months back I had gotten into a bad rut of running too hard at life and my time with God was getting squeezed out regularly instead of just occasionally. I was miserable, my heart was heavy in almost every relationship I was in, I wasn’t getting direction from God so I had no idea how to proceed in some seriously tough situations and I missed my Creator, Friend, Helper, Father and Confidant. When I finally made time to sit down and confess my selfishness with Him, He asked, What are you going to do from here on out to not land in this spot again in your life? As I was mulling over my options and feeling really frustrated because I knew my schedule wasn’t going to be slowing down anytime soon, He softly said to me, How about you commit to not looking at your phone when you wake up until you have met with Me? (I think we all know, and God for sure knows, how many minutes or portions of an hour we can mindlessly pass through while scrolling through FaceBook, Instagram, the news, texts, emails, or “one more level” of our favorite game.) I resisted in my heart to committing to His plan. I know myself well enough to know that I prefer a slower start to the day.  I’m not at my best first thing in the morning and I had consciously decided several years back that I wanted God to have my best time so I chose then to meet with Him later in the day after I had cleared the sleep cobwebs out of my brain a little. Since I made that “later morning” commitment my life has gone through some changes, and my schedule looks very different then it did at that time.  Back to my conversation with God this morning. In His perfect wisdom He asked me another question while I was fighting with myself over agreeing to His new plan.  He gently asked, How is that portion of an hour more valuable to you, with Me or your phone? It is blatantly obvious what is best for me. I surrendered and committed to change my time with Him. I even addressed my jumbled and wondering mind first thing in the morning and God graciously agreed to help redirect me back to our topic at hand if/when my mind wondered first thing in the morning. So now you understand the weight of my decision to pick up my phone this morning. I wish I had chosen differently. I chose to separate from The Vine today. I chose my phone over remaining in His love. This one decision was bad enough, but because I wasn’t connected to Him from the start today, I missed His voice later in the day when He was warning me away from another bad decision. My second poor choice of the day affected other people. My stomach was in knots while I was working over every angle of the mess in my mind to try to free myself and get out from under my choice. For about an hour, there was no way out. I was completely out of control of the situation I had created and all I could do was wait to see what the fall out would be.

Two important things:

One, God didn’t pull His love away from me even though I sinned and chose to separate from Him this morning. He still spoke to me, still tried to slow me down and give me time to think through my decision before I sinned a second time.  Because I pulled away from Him first thing this morning, I wasn’t connected later and blew right by His gracious warning. I landed myself in a mess because I didn’t pay attention to my Vine’s voice.

Two, My joy was gone for the entire morning! I experienced the polar opposite of joy; worry, frustration, fear, and dread. I was overflowing with stomach acid instead of joy. Jesus was really clear in Vs 9-11 that our joy is connected to our obedience to His commands and I was sitting in the middle of a perfect life lesson for this truth.

 

I do not deserve the resolution that God provided me this morning. He managed things in a way that only He could and He kept the damages minimal. Again, God out-loved me. He is the true vine and remains in me when I remain in Him..and even sometimes when I don’t. I’m in awe today of Love so full, so rich, so complete, so selfless, so forgiving and so personal!

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.