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.

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.