Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

For someone's birthday, we usually spend some time deciding the best way to commemorate the occasion.  We may choose to acknowledge and celebrate the birthday by planning a party with a cake and balloons, sending a card or calling the birthday boy or girl.  We also typically buy a gift for the guest of honor that will satisfy one of their needs or wants.  In whatever way we choose to celebrate the day, our motive is to bring delight to the person who is having the birthday.

How can we apply these principles to Jesus' birthday?  What does Jesus want from us in celebration of His birth?  What would make Jesus happy?

Some of the things that Jesus wants from us is to:
  • Be our Savior (John 3:16-18).  He wants us to believe in Him and accept Him into our hearts so we can then live with Him for eternity. 
  • Love God with all of our hearts (Matthew 22:37-38)
  • Love our neighbors with a godly love (Matthew 22:39; John 15:12; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
  • Take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24)
  • Tell others about Him (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Be His friend (John 15:14)
  • Spend time with Him through worship, prayer and Bible study;
  • Avoid sin (1 Thessolonians 5:22);
  • Live a godly life so that we make an impact on the world instead of having the world influence us (Matthew 5:13-16);
  • Be a living sacrifice by giving all we have (time, money, spiritual gifts) to serve God and others (Romans 12:1)
  • Give to others (Matthew 25:35-39)
  • Help the needy (Exodus 22:22-27)
  • Cooperate with the Holy Spirit that is working is us (1 Thessolonians 5:19)
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to control our minds, hearts and mouths (Romans 12:2; Psalm 141:3)
  • Have our words and deeds motivated by love.  If the source of our motivation is anything else, Jesus will not be pleased (Matthew 15:8-9)
  • Set our minds on things above and not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2)
  • Get rid of anger, malice, slander, filthy language, moral impurity, strife, jealousy and selfish ambition (Colossians 3:8; Galatians 5:19-21)
  • Clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, faith and self-control (Colossians 3:12-14; Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Not worry (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Not criticize others (Matthew 7:1-5)
  • Work as working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23)
  • Give thanks always (1 Thess 5:18)
  • Obey God's commands which will demonstrate the depth and sincerity of our love for Him (John 14:15)
Jesus wants this from us every day not just on Christmas day, the day on the calendar that is set aside to celebrate His birth.  As Christians, we should celebrate our Savior's birth each and every day that He was willing to enter a sinful world in order to provide salvation for all.

So what are you giving Jesus this Christmas and every day thereafter?  What are you doing to celebrate His presence in your life?  If you are not celebrating Jesus every day, what changes do you need to make today?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trust the Pattern





"When the trials of life unravel the fabric of our plans.  When we face the deep confusion of painful circumstance.  When our feeble strength is broken, and we stand with empty hands.  That's when the Father whispers 'Trust the patter I have planned'."  ~ Lyrics from the song, "The Weaver"

Trust the Lord in good times and in bad. He is in control. He has a plan for your life “to prosper you not to harm you to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Every child of God is aware of these truths, but it is not until the death of a loved one, a financial crisis, a dreaded diagnosis, a broken relationship or other trial occurs that we are tested to hold fast to these promises.

During times of trouble it is so easy to get overwhelmed by negative emotions. Anxiety and a desperate desire to get out of your dire situation makes it difficult to walk by faith. It is hard to see what God is doing in and through you and to be patient while He works, when all you want is for your life to be fixed...NOW – that is, to be restored to what you perceive as “normal”.

However, you should not allow your emotions, which can be unreliable during difficult circumstances, to paralyze your faith, your thoughts or your prayers. You must be willing to say to God, “Your will be done”.(Matthew 26:42) God is good, and everything He does is good. It may seem simplistic, but faith in the Lord does not need to be complicated. Life gets complicated when you trust in anything other than God. Trust Him while He works a beautiful pattern of righteousness in your life!

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."  Jeremiah 17:7-8


Loni is our hostess this week at http://writingcanvas.wordpress.com/.











Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obey God's Word

"Psalm 119 paints a comprehensive portrait of the value of God's Word."  (Explore the Bible - Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, page 107)  This psalm is also an alphabetical or acrostic Psalms which is is divided into twenty-two parts which correspond to the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet with eight verses in each part.

In the first sixteen verses, the Aleph and Beth sections, the psalmist uses different words to refer the Scriptures which reveals much about the purpose of the Bible:
  • law (verse 1) - the Hebrew word is Torah from a word meaning “to teach”.  The Bible "guides, directs, and instructs in the way of righteousness" (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
  • decrees or testimonies as in the King James Version (verse 2) - The Bible is truthful and good.
  • His ways (verses 3, 14 and 15) - the Hebrew word, derek, figuratively means a course of life or mode of action, and by following the Bible we will know how to live and act each day.
  • precepts (verses 4 and 15) - a mandate (of God; plural only, collectively for the Law).  The Bible is authoritative.
  • statutes (verses 5, 8, 12 and 16) - positive laws that "mark or describe the line of conduct we are to pursue and order or ordain what we are to observe" (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
  • commands (verses 6 and 10) - laws that both forbid and enjoin.  "They show us what we should do, and what we should leave undone, and exact our obedience" (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
  • judgments (verses 7 and 13) - "rules of conduct formed by God’s judicial decision" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary
  • Word (verses 9, 11 and 16) - "In his revelation God speaks to man; shows him, in a clear, concise, intelligible, and rational way, his interest, his duty, his privileges; and, in a word, the reasonable service that he requires of him." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
Also, in these verses the psalmist describes how we should respond to God's Word:
  • to walk or follow (verses 1 and 3) - to act or do as God's Word says.
  • to keep (verses 2, 4, 5 and 9) - to protect or to take heed.  "God has never given a commandment, the observance of which he knew to be impossible. And to whatsoever he has commanded he requires obedience." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
  • to seek Him (verses 2 and 10) - to inquire as to what is God's will.  We must do this wholeheartedly.
  • to respect (verses 6) - look at intently or consider what God's Word states.
  • to be directed (verse 5)- to have our lives fixed on God's Will or to apply the Scriptures to our lives.
  • to learn or to be taught (verses 7, 8 and 12) - to have received instruction from God's Word.
  • to keep pure (verse 9) - to be translucent or innocent.  We will have nothing to hide, if we are abiding by the Scriptures because we will be receiving instructions so we can make wise decisions.
  • to treasure (verse 11) - The Word of God is precious and vital to our spiritual growth, and we must keep it close to us in our hearts and minds by memorizing, meditating and applying Scripture.  "If God's word be only in his Bible, and not also in his heart, he may soon and easily be surprised into his besetting sin." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
  • to proclaim (verse 13) - tell others what is in God's Word.  To speak the truth of God's Word, it must be a part of us, that is deeply embedded in our hearts and minds.
  • to rejoice (verse 7, 12 and 14) - to be thankful for God's Word and for what we learn from the Scriptures, grace to apply what we learn and the benefits we reap as a result of our obedience.
  • to mediate upon (verse 15) - to think about what the Scripture mean and how to apply it in our daily lives, to talk to others about the Scripture and what we have learned, and to pray the Scripture asking God to reveal more insight to us and the wisdom and strength to live out His Word.  Meditation requires us "to focus our mental, emotional and physical energy on the teachings of the Scriptures for the sake of our spiritual growth." (Explore the Bible - Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, page 113)
  • to delight in (verse 16) - "The word is very emphatical: eshtaasha, I will skip about and jump for joy." (Adam Clarke's Commentary) We are to enjoy studying God's Word.  If an activity brings you joy, then it is very likely that you will make it a priority in your life.
  • to remember (verse 16) - to retain in our memory and/or to keep our attention.  We must not forget what God has done, His many promises and what He has commanded us to do.
Also, in these verse the positive consequences of obeying the Scriptures are listed:
  • we will be happy. (verses 1 and 2)  This happiness is not like the fickle, temporary happiness of the world, but a state of joy that endures regardless of our circumstances and our emotions.
  • we will be blameless (verse 1) that is we will  have integrity.
  • we will do no iniquity (verse 3, 10, 11), that is we will "avoid all idolatry, injustice, and wrong" (Adam Clarke's Commentary).  "We must also put God's Word to work in our lives, making it a vital guide for everything we do." (Life Application Bible Notes)
  • we will not be ashamed or disappointed. (verse 6) because we are living in obedience to God.  We only feel shame when we are under the conviction of the Holy Spirit for our disobedience.
  • we will praise him. (verses 7, 12 and 14) - Praising God will be the natural consequence of growing in Christ through Bible study.  The more we know about Christ, the closer we walk with Him, our joy will increase, and as our joy multiplies, we will be unable to contain it, but will have to proclaim it through praise.
  • our hearts will be right with God (verse 7) - our motives will be pure and our actions and words will be in line with His Will and His Word. 
The first sixteen verses of Psalm 119 also contains requests that the psalmist made of God:
  • "never abandon me" (verse 8) - The psalmist recognizes that without the grace of God he will not be able to be obedient to God.  We not only need the Bible, our instructions for living, but we need the Holy Spirit to guide, teach and rebuke us so we will stay on the right path.
  • "don't let me wander from Your commands" (verse 10) - The psalmist asserts his desire to obey God, but once again acknowledges that he cannot do it alone.  Wandering from God and His Word will only bring us heartache, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit is always working within us prompting us to return to God when we stray.
"This Book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand object; our good is its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is given you in life and will be opened in the judgment and will be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents." ~Author Unknown

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Beginning of Jesus' Ministry

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee after he faced temptation by Satan in the wilderness for forty days and John the Baptist was arrested. (Mark 1:14) As much as Jesus must have grieved over his cousin's, John the Baptist's, fate, He knew He had to do that which God had called Him to do, that is preach the Good News of God, which would bring hope and freedom to a lost and dying world.  The Good News continues to bring hope and freedom to the world. Like Jesus, we should not let crises and tragedies keep us from telling others about Jesus.  Regardless of our pain, there are people who are lost who need Jesus as their Savior, and without Him, they face the worst pain of all, eternal separation from God.

In Mark 1:15 Jesus declared that the prophesy had been fulfilled regarding a Savior, that God's kingdom is coming soon and that a person can enter God's Kingdom by repenting and believing in Him. Repentence and believe in Jesus for salvation are both acts of faith.

The first disciples that Jesus called were two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John.  All four of these men were fishermen.  At the time that Jesus called them, Simon and Andrew were casting their nets while James and John were repairing their nets. (Mark 1:16-19)  Jesus could have called Scribes or Pharisees as His disciples, who on paper may have looked to be the most qualified candidates.  Instead, "Jesus called fishermen, hard-working and industrious people, to perform the most important task on earth:  being fishers of men." (Nelson's Student Bible Commentary

Once Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, they did immediately. (Mark 1:18 and 20)  There were no excuses, no procrastination, no comparing their options and no "what if's".  They expressed no worries about leaving behind their livelihood or their families.  Instead, they demonstrated faith by following Jesus.  This is a perfect example for us to follow:  when God calls us to do something, we should stop what we are doing and immediately do what we have been told to do.  Our obedience should be prompt and unconditional.  It is so simple, but we often complicate matters by superimposing our personal agendas and preferences. 

Jesus and his four disciples went to Capernaum.  "Capernaum was a thriving town with great wealth as well as great sin and decadence. Because it was the headquarters for many Roman troops, pagan influences from all over the Roman empire were pervasive. This was an ideal place for Jesus to challenge both Jews and non-Jews with the gospel of God's kingdom." (Life Application Bible Notes)  Because of the pervasive sin, Capernaum would not be easy place to make converts, but Jesus did not shy away from a task because it would be difficult and neither should we, if it is within God's will for us.

On the Sabbath when they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus immediately went to the synagogue and began teaching. (Mark 1:21)  We too like Jesus should attend church on the Sabbath, and we should serve and use our spiritual gifts when the opportunities arise.  Those in attendance were amazed by Jesus' teaching.  They knew that His teachings were different than the teachings of the Scribes because Jesus taught "as one having authority". (Mark 1:22)  Jesus had the ultimate authority since His authority came from God.  The Scribes had no authority because their teachings were not from God nor were the scribes called by God. (Adam Clarke's Commentary

While Jesus was teaching, He was interrupted by a demon possessed man who asked Jesus what did He want from them and had He come to destory them.  The demon went on to say that he knew who Jesus was -- "the Holy One of God". (Mark 1:23-24)  If even the demons acknowledge who Jesus is, it is difficult to understand how people can deny the existence of God.  The demon thought Jesus came to destory, but Jesus came to give life.  However, this was not a option for the demon, who was a fallen angel; the demon's fate had already determined -- eternal separation from Jesus. 

Jesus spoke to the demon and commanded him to come out of the man, and the demon obeyed Jesus' command. (Mark 1:25-26)  Words have power, particularly the words of Jesus Christ.  It also shows that even the demons are under God's ultimate control; they can only do what God allows them to do.  This amazed the crowd because they had never witnessed such an event before and wondered if this was some type of new teaching. (Mark 1:27)  "Note the contrast here, the demon knows who Jesus is and refuses to follow; the people flock to Jesus but don't know who he truly is."(A Follower's Response by Jeff Miller) As a result of Jesus casting out the demon, the news about Jesus spread throughout the region of Galilee (Mark 1:28) due to the type of miracle that was performed and because of the number of eyewitnesses that saw the event.

Mark 1:29-31 describes the visit to the home of Simon and Andrew by Jesus and his four disciples.  At the home was Simon's mother-in-law who was suffering a fever.  They told Jesus about her illness, and He went immediately to heal her.  Jesus healed her by touching her hand.  Jesus still works the same for us today when he learns of our problem, He has compassion for us and begins to work in the situation.  However, we, like the members of Simon's household, must not be afraid to tell Jesus of our need.  He already knows our situation; He only wants us to allow Him to help.  How Simon's mother-in-law responded to being helped by Jesus is a lesson to us -- she immediately began serving her guests.  Physical ailments may knock us out of commission for a while leaving us unable to serve Jesus and others, but once we are able, we should begin doing the work of the Lord without delay.

The miracles that Jesus performed were "meant to authenticate the teachings and identity of Jesus." (A Follower's Response by Jeff Miller)  Jesus does not want to be known as just a miracle worker and does not want people to come to Him only because He can perform miracles in their lives.  Even though Jesus has compassion for those who are hurting physically, mentally or emotionally and wants to help with these problems, His primary concern is our soul and our salvation.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Give Thanks

On October 3, 1789, Thanksgiving Day was established when President George Washington asked Americans to unite in giving thanks to God for His care and provision.  However, as Christians, our thanks to God should not be confined to one day out of the year nor should we get so busy with holiday festives that we forget the true meaning of Thanksgiving.  If you need a reminder of why we should be thankful, look to Psalm 116.

We can be thankful that we serve God who created the entire universe and has everything within it in His sovereign control, and yet He has time to listen to us when we speak to Him (verse 1) and He answers our pleas (verse 2).  Yet, He is never too busy for us.  Instead, He actually waits for us to stop our busy schedule and talk to Him.  Why?  Because He cares for each of us and has a vested interest in our wellbeing.  "The reality of God's intervention in our lives serves as a constant source of encouragement." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide - Fall 2009, p. 100)

We can be thankful that God has and He will continue to deliver His children from adversities. (verse 3-4)  During these times, God is our only hope for relief.  However, challenging times should not be the only times when we are praying to God and praising and thanking Him. 

Verse 5 reveals three character traits of our Heavenly Father, namely gracious, righteous and compassionate, all of which we should be thankful because we as His children have benefited greatly because of who He is.  First, it is by God's grace and not our merit that He sees us through stormy times and mends our hearts when they have been broken.  Second, everything that God does is right, and it is done at the right time.  Accordingly, we be reassured that God will never take an action that will harm us no matter what our circumstances may be, what we may feel or what others are telling us.  Third, God's compassion is demonstrated to us over and over again by the tender mercies that He extends to us of us.

We can also be thankful that God guards us (verse 6).  He knows that we are weak and that we need His protection.  Being helpless as we are does not mean we are without help!

Also, a source of thanksgiving is that God restores us mentally, physically and spiritually after the turmoil of life events has taken its toil on us (verse 7).  God has saved us from spiritual death and at times, for some of us, physical death; He restores our joy when trouble has diminished it, and He removes all snares and pitfalls from our path so we will not stumble spiritually (verse 8). 

We can also be thankful that we are so precious to God that He is not only concerned about our physical life on this earth, but also our physical death when we will leave this earth and join Him.  Regardless of our state, physically alive or physically dead, we are valuable to Him. 
We can learn much from the psalmist's responses to his circumstance and his subsequent deliverance by God and how we should respond in the similar siutations.  In response to God's faithfulness and motivated by his deep gratitude to the Lord, the psalmist was determined to live a way that would be pleasing to God (verse 9).  He had a servant's heart (verse 16), and he was aware that God would give him opportunites each day in which to serve and walk with the Lord.  If our eyes are on God, we will see the opportunities that He lays before us, and we will want to make the most of them for His glory. 

He was also willing to fulfill his vow of living a righteous life before others when they assemble for worship. (verse 14)  This shows that he was not ashamed of God by making his commitment known to others, and he was taking his vow seriously, as anyone should who makes a vow to God.  Also, those who witnessed his vow would be able to act as accountability partners to ensure that the psalmist did indeed fulfill his pledge to God.

The psalmist had endured much agony and grieve due to sickness and the hurtful comments of others, who were basically kicking him when we was down (verses 10 and 11).  However, he states that he never doubted God (verse 10).  This was possible because the psalmist lived by faith not by his feelings.  "Living in obedience to God as a response to His goodness serves as an excellent way to show our gratitude to Him." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide - Fall 2009, p. 103)  We can never repay God for all that He does for us. (verse 12) However, if we are grateful for the many blessings we receive, then our actions should reflect it by being obedient to Him. 

Another way that the psalmist was going to praise God was through worship.  In verse 13 the psalmist refers to "the cup of salvation".  The term "cup" was often used by the Hebrews to denote plenty or abundance, and the psalmist, as well as all of God's children, have benefited from the generosity of God.  Also, drink offerings were one form of worship during the time the psalimst lived (Leviticus 23:10-18; Numbers 15:3-5 and 28:4-8).  Also, the third cup of wine during the Passover meal is called "the cup of salvation".

The psalmist intent was to make a sacrifice at a public worship service to show the depth of gratitude. (verses 17 and 18)  Like the psalmist we should praise God before our brothers and sisters in Christ when we gather together (verse 19); this will provide others an opportunity to rejoice with us and will glorify God.  God has done so much for us that we should never keep it to ourselves.

Application Steps:
  • "Thank God  for being personally involved in your life.
  • Express your gratitude to God for giving your spiritual rest and security as you face tough times.
  • Reaffirm your willingness to live in ways that please Him.
  • Take time to worship Him and to share with others your testimony of gratitude."(Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide - Fall 2009, p. 105)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Live Righteously

Psalm 112, one of the Hallelujah psalms, focuses on the benefits of being a God fearing believer. This psalm begins with Hallelujah or Praise the Lord, which was used as a call to worship.  We can never praise God too much, and when we praise Him, we give Him the credit He deserves, and we will see our circumstances in the proper perspective. 

Wisdom begins with fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10 and Psalm 112:1), which in turns leads to obedience, righteous living and joy. Fear of the Lord is not the trembling, cowering paralyzing feeling that you may think of, but instead it is having reverence and respect for our Creator.  It is having the proper outlook, that is He is the One in control over everything and everyone and we are not -- we are at His mercy.  Fearing the Lord can bring a blessedness or happiness that is constant regardless of the many changes that we will go through in this lifetime.  If we revere God, we will also respect His Word, and will enjoy spending time reading, studying, meditating, memorizing and applying the Scripture to our lives.  We will want the God of Word to become an active part of our lives so the Word can shape us into the people God intends for us to be. "It is not enough to fear God, we must also love him: fear will deter us from evil; love will lead us to obedience. And the more a man fears and loves God, the more obedient will he be"  (Adam Clarke's Commentary) 

The remaining verses of Psalm 112 describes what our lives will look like if we put verse 1 into practice:
  • Blessings will extend from us to our descendants (verse 2).  This is a powerful reminder that our actions, both postitive and negative, affect others, even generations to come.  Therefore, it is critical that we put God first in our lives and live according to His commandments.
  • God will provide for our material needs on this earth as well as rewards in heaven.  If we are living a God-centered life, then we will not be chasing wealth because we know the things of this earth will soon pass away.  It is easy to be content when we are living a righteous life because we have the proper perspective about God, ourselves and this world. (verse 3)
  • In times of trouble we will have God guiding us through our turmoil, and we will not lose our joy because even though times change, God does not. (verse 4)  In turn, we will be able to encourage others during their trials by showing them grace and kindness. We will be "able to demonstrate the righteous character that reflects clearly our personal relationship with God".  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 94)
  • We will give generously to other (verse 5), which besides money can include our time and talents. We can do this because we know that everything we have is really not ours, but it is God's, and we are just Trustees of those things.   Also, "Generosity and respect for God places our trust in him, not our money, for justice and security." (Life Application Bible Notes) 
  • We "will be eager to conduct business with others in a way that is characterized by fairness and integrity."  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 95) (verse 5)
  • Because our life is built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, we will have the strength to endure hard times. (verse 6)  Because God is faithful, we can have unwavering faith in Him regardless of our circumstances.  What better thing to be remembered for than for our deep faith in God that sustains us through the darkest of times? 
  • We will have no fear of bad news or tragedies because our trust remains steadfast in God. (verse 7 and 8)  When we fear God, our fears regarding anything else will be dispeled. 
  • We remain confident in times of adversity because our hope is in God; we know that God will deliver us from our troubles. (verse 8)
  • We will give freely to the poor (verse 9).  We can be generous with those who have less than we do because we are confident that God will provide for our every need.
"In contrast, wicked people will face utter disappointment in the future.  In fact, they will become angry over the way God's people prevail with honor.  At the same time, the wicked will find themselves in despair because none of their wants and dreams came to pass." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 97)(verse 10) This is because the wicked lived life on their terms, not God's, and by doing so, they invested their time, energy, talents and money in things that are limited to this earth only.  For all their efforts, the wicked will have nothing that will last into eternity.  Thus, their deeds will be forgotten, while those of the righteous will be remembered.

Questions to answer in order to apply Psalm 112 to our lives:
  • "How does your lifestyle demostrate that you want to honor the Lord above all else?
  • What are some ways you find joy in studying and applying God's Word to your life?
  • How do you demonstrate God's grace and compassion in your circle of relationships?
  • Do you remain steady in threatening situations because you know that God's in control?  Why or why not?" (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 97)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Seeking God's Will

Helpful (items) to consider when seeking God's will in the matter of guidance:
  • Begin by prayer for wisdom.  Do not doubt that God has a wise course of action for you and will make it known.
  • Intentionally seek God's face even more than His answers.  "In Your light we see light"(Psalm 36:9)
  • Seek to be willing to take any course that God would have for you.  Be thorough in your work on yourself.  Often people miss God's will because they are not fully willing to be submissive to God whatever He leads them to do.
  • Carefully seek to discover if there are any directives already given in Scripture which could guide you.  Are there illustrations, commands, principles, which speak to this issue?  Meditate on these and see if Scripture promotes or rules out any action you are considering.  Try to find not only what God permits and does not permit, but what God likes, what is dear to His heart.  Go directly to any passage which deals with the general subject to see if there is help to be found which you had not discovered before.  Always read the Bible in context.
  • List each possible course of action, and in a prayerful frame of mind write out what are the pros and cons of each option.  Put these options before the lens of Scripture one by one to see if God has spoken on these issues in some way.  You will find more being said about most issues than you might first believe.
  • When helpful, seek objective counsel from godly and wise men or women you can trust.
  • Finally, examine your will again.  If you are willing to do anything God might direct and that is certain in your mind, then you are free to pursue what God may be placing in your thinking related to the issue.  Is there a long-term righteous desire in you?
  • Now, act in faith.  If God in His perfect cadence intervenes so as to cause everything to turn again, this is His business.  For your part, you are required to take action along the lines of the wisest choice you can biblically make.  Rejoice and do God's will!
(Led by the Spirit by Jim Elliff, pp. 45-46)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Two Paths

Psalm 1 describes two ways of living, righteous or wicked, and the consequences for each, blessings or curses.  Which way a person goes will depend on his own choice, and he alone will be responsible for the consequences that he will reap.  His choice will also determine where he will spend eternity.

To be happy and blessed a person must avoid "the advice of the wicked", taking "the path of sinners" and joining "a group of mockers". (verse 1)  To follow the advice of the wicked means to go along with opinions of those who are without God.  To take the path of sinners means to develop the habits and responses of those who deliberately choose to disobey God.  To join a group of mockers means to remain so close with those who actively put down God, either through their words or their actions, that you become like them.  Verse 1 shows the progression of sin through the "three degrees of habit or conduct: walk / stand / sit", "three degrees of openness, fellowship, or involvement in evil: counsel / path / seat" and "three degrees of evil that result: wicked / sinners / scoffers". (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)

Verse 1 reminds us that those we choose to spend our time with will have an impact on our lives which can either encourage or discourage our relationship with God.  The reverse is true also -- the amount of time we spend with God will affect our relationships with others.

The person who is blessed will also be the one who takes pleasure in reading, studying and mediating on God's Word continually. (verse 2)  Meditating "is a comprehensive term for the study and application of the Word to one’s life. It involves thinking about what Scripture means and how, when, and where it should be applied. Included with this would be reading, hearing, study, and memorizing so one can accurately think about Scripture and apply it." (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)

Verse 3 contains a promise for those who do not do the things described in verse 1 and do the things described in verse 2.  They will:
  • Have deep spiritual roots which will allow them to withstand the storms of life.  They will enjoy stability in their lives because Jesus is their anchor.
  • Bear spiritual fruit.  "Fruit is a proof of the root." (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)  The fruit will also be borne at the appropriate time.
  • Be provided the spiritual nourishment they need to grow.  This will occur not only through Scripture, worship and fellowship with other believers, but also through the circumstances that God allows us to experience.
  • Have a visible testimony which will draw others to Jesus.
  • Be ready when opportunities arise to serve God and others because they have been properly equipped and empowered by God.
  • Be successful because they sought God's will in their endeavors and consulted God's Word for guidance and wisdom.  This success is not as the world defines it by material possession and status, but as God defines it.  God is more interested in our spiritual development than our comfort.  "The main thing is we must judge prosperity not by physical wealth or even physical health, but primarily by spiritual growth and capacity for life with people and in service to God.". (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)  Laura Krauss Calenberg said, "A successful person is one who uses the gifts and abilities that God has given her to make a difference.  Whatever situation, place, or season she finds herself in, she knows that is the place God has earmarked for her to represent him."
Verse 4 states that the wicked are like chaff.  People whose lives revolve around themselves and their own personal needs and who have no place in their lives for God and the things of God lack a stable foundation, and they bear nothing of value.  On the Day of Judgment, the wicked will have no excuses and will have no basis for an appeal for mercy.  Instead they will be permanently separated from God because they chose to live apart from Him on earth (verse 5).  "A wise person would never choose the kind of lifestyle that ignores God's way." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009)

Comparison of the righteous and the wicked:  "(a) The righteous cling to God, love His Word, and as a result are restrained, stable, upright, and just. (b) The wicked forsake God, ignore His Word, and as a result are unrestrained, oppressive, and unjust."  "(a) The righteous are stable, fruitful, and will be rewarded. (b) The wicked are unstable, unfruitful, and will be judged." (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)

Verse 6 reassures us that God will protect His children, and we can depend upon Him to keep us safe in every way because He cares for us deeply and He is always faithful to keep His promises.  However, for the wicked, destruction is their destiny.

Psalm 1 reminds me of two quotes:
"Do not think you are on the right road just because it is a well-beaten path."  Unknown
This may be true of many who rebel against God.  They may not see anything wrong with anything that they are doing because everyone else is doing the same thing, possibly even Christians that they know.
"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Robert Frost
I am not sure if Mr. Frost was thinking about being a disciple of Christ when he wrote the above, but it reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14:  "Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it." (HCSB)



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When I Have Doubts

Psalm 73 was written by Asaph, who was put in charge of the music at the tabernacle by David.  In this psalm Asaph detailed his struggle to understand how the wicked could prosper and experience a carefree life while the godly suffered from afflictions and oppressions and for them life was not easy. Despites his internal struggles to understand, he declares his faith in God's goodness to "the pure in heart".   "Spiritual purity means a believer's heart is devoted exclusively to the Lord God." (Explore the Bible Fall 2009, page 68)

In verses 2 through 5, Asaph admits that his faith faltered and became jealous of the wicked because of their good fortune and their easy lifestyle.  To Asaph it seemed that the wicked suffered no ill effects because of their sins and irreverance to God.  However, the wicked may seem like they have it made on this earth, but remember for them without Jesus to save them, this is all they will have.  Asaph became jealous of the wicked probably because he was comparing their lives with his and other believers.  Nothing good comes from comparing yourself to another; if God does not compare you to another person, then you should not either.  If you find yourself desire something another has, you can be sure that your focus has shifted off of God and His purpose for you.  "When we lose sight of God's goodness to us, we find ourselves tempted to doubt life's basic fairness." (Explore the Bible Fall 2009, page 69)

In verses 13 and 14, Asaph wonders if his efforts to live a godly life is all for naught because of the troubles he endured daily.  "It is not in vain to serve God and keep his ordinances." (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary)  In verse 15 Asaph reveals he had not told anyone of his doubts because as a congregational leader did not want to discourage any members of the congregation.

Asaph declares that he could not understand why the wicked were prospering while the godly suffered (verse 16) until her "entered God's santuary" (verse 17).   Worship, as Asaph discovered, takes a believer's focus off of themselves, their problems and concerns so God has his undivided attention.  When we worship God without letting anything interfere with our worship, God will transform us into what we need to be and that includes the transformation of our thoughts, attitudes and perspective.  While worshipping God, Asaph realized the wicked would ultimately answer to God for their behavior and just because they did not receive serious ramifications for their rebellion to God while living on this earth, does not mean they will escape judgment before God when Jesus returns. (verses 18 and 19)  "Asaph realized that the rich who put their hope, joy, and confidence in their wealth live in a dreamworld. A dream exists only in the mind of the dreamer."  (Life Application Bible Notes)  "No man should desire riches; for they bring with them so many cares and temptations as to be almost unmanageable." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)

In verse 25 Asaph turns his attention from the good fortune of the wicked to God.  He realized his relationship with God was more valuable and precious than any material possession that could be possessed on this earth, and better yet, his relationship with God would outlast all the temporal things of this earth.  He also is aware that his body would fail him on day, but God would not (verse 26).  God would provide him with an inheritance.  But for the wicked since they lived apart from God in this life, they will live apart from Him for all eternity, such is the price to be paid for their rebellion against the Lord.  

Asaph ends this psalm like he began it by proclaiming God's goodness.  "His testimony in both the first and final verses was energized by the transforming worship he had experienced." (Explore the Bible, Fall 2009, page 73).  Worship makes us aware of God's goodness and like Asaph, we should declare God's goodness to others.

How can you deal with your doubts?  Strengthen your relationship with God, give serious attention to worship and count the blessings that you have because of your relationship with God.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When I Am Afraid

After David had been anointed the new king, he lead a life on the run to avoid being murdered by Saul and his soliders.  David had much reason to be afraid, and in Psalm 56 David openly speaks to God about his fears.  He also affirms his faith in God for His protection and deliverance.  Fear can have a paralyzing effect on a person, but when we are frightened, we should follow David's example and run to God with our concerns.  "David decided that he would rather be guided by faith in God instead of fear over his circumstances." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 59)

During his flight, David could not let his guard down for his enemies were after him day and night; they did not rest from their pursuit and neither could David (verse 1).  This never-ending pursuit caused David to pled for mercy from God.  He did this because he feared for his life.  David had fought Goliath and fended off wild animals to protect his sheep so he was not a cowardly man, but the attacks he faced from Saul made him tremble.  Everyone will have moments when they are extraordinarily courageous, but will also have moments that will shake us to the core with fear.  No one in immune to fear.

David's fear did not control him, and in verse 3 he states that he would trust God when he is afraid.  This shows that it is possible "for fear and faith to occupy the mind at the same moment". (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)  The best antidote for fear is to place your trust in God.  "Whether the fear arise from without or within, from past, present, or future, from temporals, or spirituals, from men or devils, let us maintain faith, and we shall soon recover courage." (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon) 

David also said he would not fear men (verse 4); he could say this because of this faith in God's sovereignty over his circumstances.  David also knew that men may injury his body and may even take his life, but men could harm his soul for his soul was in God's protective hands.  "Jesus said, 'Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul' (Matthew 10:28).  Instead, we should fear God, who controls this life and the next. (Life Application Bible Notes)

David also praised God for His Word and the promises contained therein which were sustaining him during his time of trouble.  "Faith brings forth praise."(Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)  Regardless of the ever-changing circumstances of our lives, we can rest assured that God will not forsake us, and He will keep the promises He made in His Word.  God's faithfulness is praiseworthy no matter what situation we find ourselves.

Every day David's enemies spent their time twisting David's words to use them against him (verse 5).  This is a common tactic of the ungodly; they do not value the truth nor do they understand the power that words can have and the harm they can do to others.  David's enemies had him outnumbered and were relentless in their pursuit of him (verse 6).  Saul and his soliders showed David no mercy, but David turned to God believing that God would bestow mercy on him which the Lord did.  David believed that his enemies' schemes were not too much for God to handle.

In verse 7 David asked a question that many who have been oppressed have probably asked, "Will they go unpunished for what they are doing to me?".  David followed up his question with a request for justice -- for God to humble his enemies "in wrath".  Wrath is "God's holy response to human sin." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 62)

David's trial was not going unnoticed by God (verse 8).  God knew ever detail of David's wanderings as he tried to stay one step ahead of Saul and his men, and God remembered every tear David had shed.  The same is true for us when we are faced with overwhelming odds.  God is aware of our oppressive situation, and He will remember us and our struggles.  God does not discount, overlook or forget any problem of His children.  He is actively involved in our lives and working in our situation, even though we may not see His hand in our circumstances.

In verse 9 David proclaims that God will answer his prayers and will deliver him from his dire straits; his faith has not waivered in the face of his life threatening circumstances.  "The cry of faith and prayer to God is more dreadful to our spiritual foes than the war." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)  Romans 8:31 (HCSB) reiterates the latter part of verse 9:  "If God is for us, who is against us?".  "He who has God WITH him need not fear the face of any adversary." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)

In verses 10 and 11 David reiterates his thoughts from verse 4, that is, he will praise God's Word because he trusts God and what can man do to him.  The repetition of these points shows that the importance of them to David.  He was totally and completely dependent on God and His Word for guidance, protection, wisdom and provision.  He knew that nothing that was occurring to him was outside of God's control; his problems were not bigger than God.  David's faith in God was sustaining him.  "When we make a deliberate choice to trust God in the face of our troubling circumstances, in due time we will find ourselves praising God for His faithfulness to us.  We will also renew our devotion to Him by living in obedience to His ways."  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 64)

David during his time of flight had made promises to God (verse 12), and he was telling God that he was not going to be the type of believer that make lots of promises when seeking deliverance from hardship only to never fulfill those vows when the trial had passed.  What are some of the things David could have promised God?  "To renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful desires of the flesh; to keep God's holy word and commandment, and to walk before him all the days of thy life." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)

In verse 13 David recalls that God has not only thwarted his enemies' attempt to cause David's physical death, but He had delivered David from spiritual death because of his faith.  Because of his faith,  David enjoyed a relationship with God which brought him joy, peace and protection.  In this final verse of the psalm, David expressed gratitude, hope and trust.

So what can you do when you are afraid:  talk to God about your fears, choose to affirm your trust in God, remember God is aware of your situation and He will deliver you in due time, continue to praise God and thank Him for the work He is doing in your life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Surprising Prize

On the morning of October 9, 2009, Americans awoke to the news that their President, Barack Obama, had been awarded the Noble Peace Prize which got me to thinking...
  • The announcement of the winner of this year's Noble Peace Prize caught most people by surprise.  Even the White House was caught off guard and had no prepared statement ready which is a rare occurrence for them.  While this news may have been unexpected for most, it did not surprise God.  He knew that it was going to happen.  It is comforting to know that no matter what happens in our lives nothing surprises God.  All people, both redeemed and unredeemed, are under His sovereign control, and everything that happens to us first passing through His loving hands.
  • In my opinion, there is only one person qualified to be the receiptent of the Noble Peace Prize -- Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Jesus is the source of true peace.  Unlike the peace that man creates, the peace that Jesus gives is eternal and passes all understanding. 
  • The selection of President Obama as the Noble Peace Prize winner met with mixed reviews worldwide.  Critics state that he was given the award for his potential and for being awesome.  Regardless of the reason for his selection, I do know that God will not use the same criteria for the rewards he will give His children.  God will never reward someone for their potential or for the good intentions.  God does not grade on the curve, and He is not going to give us a prize in heaven just to boost our self-esteem. Instead, God's rewards will be based on what we have done with what He has entrusted us with, such as our time, gifts, opportunites, relationships and money. 
  • Many people spend much of their lives chasing after awards and other recognition from man.  The problem with this is that all those things are temporal and will not last into eternity.  The best thing a person can do is to focus his mind on Christ and spend his time laying up treasures in heaven.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Value of Being Broke

"The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart". Psalm 51:17 (HCSB)

When you think of the word "broken", you may think of something that has been reduced to fragments, torn or fractured. You may also think of something that is no longer usable and has lost its value.  While these working definitions may apply to the temporal things of this earth, they are not applicable when discussing spiritual brokenness.  Broken can also mean tamed, trained, reduced to submission or changing direction abruptly which is more in line with spiritual brokenness and what God desires for his rebellious children.

Why does God want for our hearts and spirits to be broken?  Because He wants us to see the sin in our lives like He sees it.  He wants us to feel pain because of our sins the same way our sins hurt Him. When a believer gets to this place in his spiritual life, then he experiences true remorse for falling short of God's glorious standard. God wants to get the rebellious Christian to this point so he will confess his sins and repent.

A broken spirit is more valuable to God than any outward sacrifice offered to Him, such as going to church, reading the Bible, tithing or working in ministry.  This is because God cares more about the condition of our hearts than what we do.  Proverbs 27:19 states that "As the water reflects the face, so the heart reflects the person." Unless our hearts are right with God, our actions will be done for the wrong reasons. Also, if our hearts are corrupt with sin, it will weaken our relationship with God, and we will not be able to live the lives God desires for us.

God will use whatever means necessary to break one of His wayward children.  It may be through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, a timely word from a godly person, a Scripture verse, a devotion or a sermon. Regardless of how spiritual brokenness is accomplished, know that God's motive for doing so is His unfailing love.  He always disciplines His children when they disobey because He loves them too much to watch them destory their lives and testimonies with sin.  To resist spiritual brokenness is to resist what will benefit you the most.

Once we are spiritually broken, God will not leave us that way. A broken spirit and heart is something God can work. When we are "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3), God can work in our lives unhindered by pride and personal agenda.  God will mold us to become more like His Son and prepare us to spend eternity with Him.  Our relationship with God will be restored as well as our joy and peace, and our obedience to God will increase.






When Sin Occurs

David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by the prophet Nathan about the sins he had committed, more particularly the adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, in an attempt to hide Bathsheba's pregnancy that resulted from the adultery.  This psalm is a model for true repentance which is consists of "conviction, confession, sorrow, prayer for mercy, and purposes of amendment, and it is accompanied by a lively faith". (Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Commentary) 

When David realized the depth and depravity of his sins, he became spiritual broken, and David turned to God, the only One who could restore him.  "When we deal seriously with our sin, God will deal gently with us.  When we hate what the Lord hates, he will soon make an end of it, to our joy and peace."  (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)

David asked God to "wash away my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin" (verse 2).  He desired forgiveness and to be made pure. The guilt that David was experiencing was righteous because the source of the guilt was unconfessed sin in his life. After God forgives a sin there is no need to feel guilty anymore; God no longer remembers the sin. Guilt over a forgiven sin is a tactic used by Satan to make us ineffective witnesses for God.

In verse 3 David acknowledged his sin and is willing to take responsibility for it.  "Conviction precedes forgiveness." (Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Commentary)

David recognized that even though many were affected by his sins, ultimately his sins were against God (verse 4).  He knew that God had seen his sins and that his attempts to hide them were futile.  Also, David knew that only God could render judgment against him.  David had no defense for his sins so he did not waste his time making excuses, but instead pled for mercy.  David knew that whatever judgment God decided upon, it would be true and just.

Nathan's rebuke to David was God's way of shining a light into David's soul and revealing to David all of his sins, including the ones he overlooked, excused, diminished and tried to conceal.  As a result of his spiritual brokenness, David was bearing his soul to God, and in verse 5 David acknowledged that by nature he is a sinful person.  He was no longer trying to hide his sins from God.

David knew that what God desires is integrity (verse 6).  Integrity is when your actions match your beliefs.  For a Christian this means our actions should reflect the new spirit we received when we were born again.  This is important because God is interested in both what we do and why we do it.  He does not want us to do things just for show. 

Integrity is lacking in our lives when we sin and act like those who are lost.  Faithfulness to God will result in a life full of integrity.  Without wisdom from God a life filled with integrity is impossible for it is wisdom from God that teaches us what is right and wrong.  "The penitent feels that God is teaching him truth concerning his nature, which he had not before perceived." (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)

David had faith that God could cleanse him from his sins and make him spiritually clean (verse 7) and then  his relationship with God would be restored as well as his joy and gladness (verse 8).  David asked that his sins be hidden from God (verse 9).  "God's forgiveness involves the removal of sin's power from our lives and not just the feelings of guilt about having sinned." (Explore the Bible - Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 55) 

In verse 10 David requested a miracle from God -- to create within him a clean heart.  This is a request for a miracle because only God can create anything new.  David acknowledged that he could not be the man that God desired him to be with the heart he had. 

David also knew his spirit was not what it needed to be so he asked for a "renewed steadfast spirit".  The Hebrew word for renew is châdash which means to be new, to rebuild or repair. Adam Clarke's Commentary describes a "right spirit" as a "constant, steady, determined spirit" and "no longer bound and degraded by the sinfulness of sin". "Right conduct can come only from a clean heart and spirit" (Life Application Bible Notes); and it is the way to integrity.

David asked God to neither cast him away nor take the Holy Spirit away from him (verse 11).  David was aware that this had happened to Saul, and he did not want to suffer the same fate.  However, the fact that David was convicted of his sins is proof that the Holy Spirit had not departed from him.  David wanted his relationship with God restored.  Sin damages our fellowship with God and adversely affects our usefulness and effectiveness in our ministry. 

David had lost his joy because of his sins, and he wanted it back along with a willing spirit to obey and serve God (verse 12).  David wanted opportunities to teach others who rebel against God so that they may also repent of their sins (verse 13).  "When God forgives our sin and restores us to a relationship with him, we want to reach out to others who need this forgiveness and reconciliation. The more you have felt God's forgiveness, the more you will desire to tell others about it." (Life Application Bible Notes)

Not once in this psalm does David request that God remove the consequences of his sins.  He was willing to endure the consequences, but he could not bear being separated from God.  His sin had caused a break in his fellowship with God, and David wanted that fellowship to be restored.  Only then would he once again be joyful.  Following David's example we too can have our relationship with God restored after we have sinned as well as our joy and our witness for God.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 is a well-quoted passage in times of sorrow and is very telling about God's relationship with us.

Verse 1 - David recognizes that Jehovah, the Lord, has a personal relationship with him as his shepherd.  The Hebrew word for shepherd is raah which means to tend a flock and to rule, but also means that to associate with as a friend or to keep company with.  As the good shepherd, the Lord leads his flock while providing for their basic needs, such as food, water, rest, refreshment and safety.  The flock is all obedient believers. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary states that "Discontent and distrust proceed from unbelief; an unsteady walk is the consequence."  David realized his dependence on the Lord and had found contentment in Him.

Verse 2 - The green pastures and still water is more than just nourishment for the sheep; they provide comfort and a sense of security.  We too can experience this comfort and security as well as renewal by following the guidance of the Lord.  To rebel against God is to rebel against our own best interest.
 
Verse 3 - However, when we do stray, God can and will restore us when we repent.  The path to restoration is to follow God who will never lead us in the wrong direction.  The right paths that God will guide us along will bring us security and contentment.
 
Verse 4 - Walking with God does not mean there will not be hardships, but we have no need to fear with the Lord as our shepherd.  "He who has his God for a companion need fear no danger." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)  David found comfort in knowing that God would fight for him using His rod and would rescue him and put him back on the right path using His staff whenever necessary.
 
Verse 5 - In this verse David refers to the Lord as a Host which may seem like a drastic shift.  However, in David's time, a host had the duty to keep his guests safe like a shepherd does for his flock.  Also, a host anoint the guest's head with oil as a means of refreshment just as the Lord refreshes those believers that walk faithfully with Him.  A host keeps his guest's cup full which was how David described the abudance of grace he receives from God.
 
Verse 6 - David expresses his confidence that God would continue to care for him and guide him.  He was confident that in the future he would continue to benefit from God's mercy and goodness.  Our future is also secure for the Lord is always with us as our Shepherd and our Host. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Praise the Lord

The theme of Psalm 135 is praising God.  It provides many reasons why God is worthy of our praise and why giving our praise to anything else, the idols that may exist in our lives, is futile.  God deserves our praise because of His goodness to His children and His sovereignty over creation and all world events.

Verse 1 is a call to worship.  The psalmist used the Hebrew word, halal, for the word "praise".  Halal means to boast, to rave, to celebrate, to commend, to make a show; this is what we should be doing -- bragging to others about what God has done for us and for His goodness and greatness.  (The Holman Christian Standard Bible uses the word "Hallelujah" in the place of the word "praise".  Hallelujah means praises the Lord; the Greek form of hallelujah is alleluia.) 

Verse 2 reveals who the call to worship is for -- those who "stand in the house of the Lord" or those who serve in the Lord's house (the priests and Levities) and those "in the courts of the house of our God" or the Israelite laity (the Hebrews).  The Hebrew laypersons were prohibited from entering the court of the priests or the holy place.

Verse 3 contains the first reason for praising the Lord -- because He is good.  "The people of Israel knew His name.  Knowing God's name implies having a right relationship with Him."  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 37).  Those who know God as their Heavenly Father know His name and have access to Him for worship and prayer.  What keeps us away from God is our sin, pride and the idols we allow to exist in our lives.

Verse 4 reminds us that we as God children were chosen by him not because of anything we did or will do, but because of his infinite and unfailing love for us.  He considers each of his children as "a treasured possession.  Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary states that "If they [believers] do not praise him for this distinguishing favour, they are the most unworthy and ungrateful of all people." 
Verse 5 provides two more reasons for praising the Lord -- He is great and He is greater than any other gods!  To praise God properly, He should be the center of all of our attention.

In verse 6 the psalmist reveals that God's sovereignty has no limits.  Whatever God chooses to do throughout the world is good and just.  Any idol created by man will be limited in power because its creator, man, is also limited. 

Verse 7 details God's work in nature through rain, wind and lightening while verses 8 through 12 tell of God's provisions for the Israelites, including the miracles He performed on their behalf on their way from Egypt to the promised land.  These verses together shows God's greatness and yet more reasons God should be praised.  Like the Israelites we can look back and see the times that God has led us through difficulties, provided a way out when one did not seem in sight, helped us fight our battles and performed miracles on our behalf.  Thus, we too have reason to praise God for the goodness He has shown us during our lives and for His greatness.  "A fresh awareness of God's greatness in creation and history can prompt His people today to praise Him too."  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 39).

Verses 13 and 14 contain more reasons to praise God.  His name and reputation are enduring throughout the ages.  God is not bound by time; He is infinite.  He is a just God and will render judgment upon those that oppose Him.  As a child of God, you can rest easy and leave venegance in the hands of the Lord because He will not let the wicked go unpunished.  This is because God is merciful; if you are suffering for doing good and/or at the hands of the wicked, remember God sees your pain and will sustain and deliver you and continue to praise Him.

Verses 15 through 18 warn against idolatry.  An idol is anything that takes God's place in our lives and can be a material possession, a relationship, a career, power, status, health, appearance, entertainment and leisure to name just a few.  All idols are inferior to God.  Even if the idols are fashioned with valuable materials, the idol itself is worthless because it is a temporal object.  The idols made by the Israelites had mouths, ears and eyes.  However, they could speak, see hear or breath; they were without life.  By contrast, God can speak to us at anytime He desires, He hears us everytime we utter a sound and He always has His eyes on us and can even see inside our hearts to know our deepest thoughts and motives.  He is a living God who is eternal.

Verse 18 states that those who make idols and those who trust in idols are like the idols themselves.  That is, there are spiritually dead.  They cannot hear God speak or see Him as He reveals Himself through nature, His provisions to them, the mercy He has given them by withholding His judgment and through the many miracles He performs each day in their lives.   

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Seeing the Connection

O. S. Hawkins in The Art of Connecting states that every person has three connections: a connection with God, a connection with self and a connection with others.  He went on to say, "We will never be properly related to others until we are properly related to ourselves and we will never be properly related to ourselves until we are properly related to God."

The Eternal Connection
God wants to have a relationship with man like no other creation.  Only when we connect with God are we able to do the work He created us for.  Without God's help we are not able to connect anything of any value. (John 15:4-5)

Philemon 3 reveals three ways we relate to our eternal connection:  as our Heavenly Father who loves and supports us His children; as our Lord who has authority over us and we are His servants; and as Christ who died for our sins.


Internal Connection

A positive self-image will occur when we are relating to God wholeheartedly and love Him so much that we are willing to give up anything for Him, including our identity.  We willing identify ourselves as His children and servants.  When you get to this point, you no longer need the things of this world or its approval to build up your self-esteem because you now realize and accept that God's opinion of you and your life is the only one that matters.  You will begin to connect with yourself in a proper manner when you see yourself as God sees you:  precious, dearly loved, a one of a kind masterpiece.


External Connection
Philemon 1 and 2 shows how we connect with others: as family, as friends and as fellow soliders.  In each of these ways, there is a sense of community and camaraderie.  In order to maintain that fellowship we should refrain from any action that destorys others and our connection with them, such as judging, criticism and slander.  As Christians, we should seek to build each other up, be encouragers and support others in any way possible.  We should be the personification of godly love.

Unfortunately, we do not always connect with others and God as we should.  Our failure to connect properly reveals our weaknesses and flaws.  Failing to see yourself as a servant of God may be a symptom of a problem with pride.  Your tendency to put down others reveal your insecurities and poor self-esteem.  The world would have you believe that you cannot change, and if you are an untrusting, critical person that is what you will always be, but that is a lie. 

What needs to happen is to ask the Holy Spirit reveal areas in your relationship with God and with others that you need to work on.   If you ask, He will show you what you need to know.  Next, take responsibility for your actions and ask God for forgiveness for any sins.  Begin to work on your relationship with Him which will require time, sacrifice, committment and energy.  You will never finish this step; it will be a live long process because this one relationship will effect everything else, how you relate to yourself and to others. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

James 5

In James 5 in verses 1 through 6 there is a warning of God's judgment and a call to repentance to the rich who live to make more money,indulge their selfish desires and exploit those who have less money, status and power. Chances are you do not consider yourself to be rich, but the term "rich" is relative. With more than 6.7 billion people in the world, it is likely that you are rich compared to someone else in the world. Accordingly, James' warning is applicable to all of us regardless of how much we possess.

Jesus taught that we are to lay up treasures in heaven because the things of this earth will pass away, and we are certainly not to earn money or anything else at the expense of anyone. A Christian who hoards and is stingy with their money and possessions, even to the point of cheating others what is rightful theirs, is not trusting God to meet his every need. The reason God gives us money and other possessions is not for us to collect them, but to use these resources to help the less fortunate and to spread the Gospel, all of which honors the Lord. You may think that the more you give away, the less you will have to support your needs. However, the reality is if the giving is done in line with God's will, God will give you more blessings than you could ever imagine in return. You can never out give God!

To those who are being taken advantage of and mistreated, it is easy to become discouraged; it is difficult to see how things will change and when the guilty will be punished. However, in verses 7 through 11 James reminds us of Jesus' imminent return and that judgment that will befall on the wicked. It is hard to wait, but anything worth having involves a wait;the wait is always worth it which is absolutely true of Jesus' return.

Until Jesus returns and pronounces judgment on the wicked, we are to endure the trials of this earth with steadfast faith. We can do this because we know God is control, and He will vindicate His children when they have been wronged. Also, in the interim, we are to refrain from complaining and criticizing one another. During difficult times it is natural to become frustrated and overwhelmed by emotions, and during these times, we should pour out our feelings to our Heavenly Father and not to each other. Regardless of the circumstances that we may encounter, we need to remember that we will be held accountable for any careless words that we may speak. While we are waiting on God to deliver us from our unbearable situation, we can find comfort that others, such as the prophets from the Bible, have endured and survived the hardships of life. James, in particular, singled out Job who endured tremendous trials, but He remained faithful to God throughout it all.  God brought Job through that difficult time and bestowed great blessings upon him. God can do the same for us, if we will endure faithful and not lose hope no matter what happens. 

In verses 13 through 18 James urges us to be people of prayer.  Whether we are healthy or sick, happy or sad, with plenty or very little, we should always pray.  Paul affirmed this in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when he said to "pray without ceasing".  Our prayer life should remain active regardless of our circumstances, and we can do this by trusting fully in God's sovreignty over our lives and to regularly praise him for the blessings he gives us. 

Verse 16 states that "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective".  James illustrates this point by reminding us of Elijah who prayed fervently that it would not rain, and God answered Elijah's prayers by withholding rain for three years until Elijah asked God to provide rain.  Elijah is proof that God hears and responds to persistent prayers.  But what made Elijah righteous?  He was a believer of God who lived his life in God's will by being faithful and obedient.

Lastly, the book of James ends with a reminder to Christians that we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ who stray from the Gospel and live a life that is in rebellion to God. Our motive in doing so should be out of godly love and not condemnation.  All Christians belong to one body, the body of Christ.  When one member is living outside of God's will, the entire body of Christ is affected, that is why it is so important that we encourage each other to perserve through life's challenges and to remain faithful to God.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

James 4

To me the underlying theme of James 4 is a warning against pride. Pride reveals itself when we demand our desires be met without no thought of others (verses 1-4), when we choose our way over God's way (verses 4 and 7), when we have no remorse for our sin (verses 8-10), when we are judgmental of others (verses 11 and 12), and when we make plans without considering God's will for us (verses 13-17).

Verses 1 and 2a states that all conflicts are a result of man's selfish desires and the pursuit of those desires at all costs without any regard to the impact on others. Disputes occur when we feed the flesh instead of the spirit. The source of these selfish pursuits is man's unwillingness to be content with what God has blessed him with instead of being always driven to obtain more. Fights occur when man chooses his way over God's way, and unfortunately, man will go to get lengths to get what he wants instead of pursuing God.

Verses 2b and 3 point out the problems with our prayers and why we don't receive what we want: we fail to ask God or we ask but the request is based on our selfish desires. God cannot grant us something if we fail to ask, and He will never give us anything when we ask with an impure heart, wrong motives, what will cause us harm or for what is outside His will for us.

Verse 4 - Christians who live like they belong in the world by pursuing their selfish desires and failing to put God first in their lives are guilty of spiritual adultery and are enemies of God. Worldliness draws us away from God. As Christians we live in the world, but we are not to live as the world does; we are to be different. Worldly Christians are ineffective disciples; because the sin in their life they will not be able to have the impact on the world that God intends. Rather the world is having an impact on their lives.

Verse 5 - God's jealousy is righteous because we belong to Him because of His only Son's death on the cross.

Verse 6 - God will grant us grace to overcome our selfish desires, but we must first humble ourselves before him.

In verses 7 through 10 list the way to overcome temptations and worldliness:
  1. submit to God - accept His authority over your life
  2. resist the devil - decide to obey God and take a stand against sin. There is the promise if we resist the devil, he will flee from us.
  3. come near to God - turn from the world; There is the promise that God will draw near to us if we first draw near to Him.
  4. wash your hands - cease sinful actions
  5. purify hearts - the heart is cleansed from sinful attitudes. Note the ceasing of sinful actions and cleansing the heart of sinful attitudes can only occur after we have submitted to God, resisted the devil and drawn near to God. Steps 4 and 5 cannot be done without God's help.
  6. grieve, mourn and wail - show true remorse for sin and repent
  7. humble yourselves before the Lord - this is to know that you are in need of His mercy. The promise here is if you humble yourself before the Lord, He will lift you up.

Verses 11 and 12 - Criticism is a form of judging others; we elevate ourselves by putting others down. When we criticize and judge, we are acting like the world and are not glorifying God. Our words should help and build up others and not hurt them or tear them down. The only one who can judge mankind is God; we can't and don't need to do His job for Him.

Verses 13 through 17 - When we make plans we must be sure we are inside of God's will. We should not hold onto our aspirations for the future tightly, but always be aware that God can change them without warning. God has authority over all the world and that includes are future. A person's reaction to God altering their plans can be very telling of the person's spiritual maturity and their view of God's authority over their life. Our attitude should be "If it is the Lord's will, we will...(fill in the blank with what you have planned).

Verses 14 and 16 specifically warn us against procrastination by reminding us of the brevity of life and that if we know of a good deed, we should do it. Failure to know what is good and not do it is a sin.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Tongue - Controlling the Uncontrolable

James Chapter 3 contains many important points about controlling one's tongue.

In verse 1, James tells us that teachers will be held to a stricter judgment. This is because the words they speak can have a tremendous impact on the lives of those they are instructing. For this reason no one should seek to become a teacher unless they are being called by God. The responsibilities that teachers bear are too great to do otherwise.

In verse 2, James reminds us that "we all stumble in many ways". To not stumble in our speech shows spiritual maturity because the one who can control his tongue can exercise discipline over the rest of his body.

Verses 3 through 5 illustrates the power of the tongue. The tongue is a very small organ which can produce great effect, either for good, if it is controlled or for evil, if it is not controlled. Our speech not only influences our lives, but the lives of those around us. With very few words we can either destroy or build relationships and harm or help others, and the effects of those words can last a lifetime. The damage caused by an uncontrolled tongue is difficult to repair because the wounds cut deep within a person's soul and are hard to forget. An out of control tongue is a destructive force, and the one who possesses such a tongue is doing the work of Satan.

A vow of silence is not the solution because that does not fulfill God's purpose of giving us the ability to speak. He expects us to use our speech to be help others. To hold our tongue because we are afraid of saying the wrong thing is just as much a sin as it is to use our tongue for slander and gossip. The answer instead is to allow the Holy Spirit to control your tongue. If God can control your speech, He can control the rest of your behavior just like the one who controls the bit in the horse's mouth can control the whole animal.

Verses 7 and 8 state that "no man can control the tongue". What is needed to control one's tongue is the Holy Spirit's help, wisdom from God and a daily dependence on Him.

Verses 9 through 12 show the contradictory nature of the tongue. With our mouth we bless our Heavenly Father and curse our fellow man who is made in God's image. Blessings and curses that come out of the same mouth reveal inconsistencies in person's spiritual life. A consistent walk with Jesus will result in speech that consistently builds up others and is helpful. What is in your heart will always be revealed in your speech (Matthew 12:34). Thus, your speech is a good indication of your character.

A person's wisdom will be evident by their humility and good conduct (verse 13). Like faith, godly wisdom will result in good works, including good speech. A wise person also does not perform deeds in order to garner attention for himself; anyone seeking to promote himself and his status is not acting wisely.

Verses 14 through 16 identify characteristics of earthly wisdom which include envy and selfish ambition. Envy and selfish ambition also leading to sins committed with the tongue, such as bragging and lying. Such earthly wisdom will open the door to disorder and every kind of evil. "Earthly wisdom evaluates everything by worldly standards and makes personal gain life's highest goal."(Burdick) A Christian who is guided by earthly wisdom will lead a life that is filled with contradictions and confusion.

Verses 17 and 18 describes godly wisdom which is pure, peace loving, gentle, compliant, merciful, full of good fruit, impartial and without hypocrisy. True wisdom is willing to listen and to learn. We can know God's peace by exercising godly wisdom.

"Express yourself powerfully and effectively: say what you mean, mean what you say, without being mean when you say it." Meryl Runion

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Death & Lessons Learned

During the past several weeks there has been a lot of talk about various celebrities who have recently died, in particular a television host (Ed McMahon), an actress (Farrah Fawcett), a musician (Michael Jackson), an infomercial spokeman (Billy Mayes) and a football player (Steve McNair), which got me to thinking...

  • Even though these individuals enjoyed fame and fortune during their lifetimes, they were no different than you and me, when you get down to the basics. They all where created by God Almighty from dust (Genesis 2:7). They experienced diseases, pain, loneliness, worry, financial difficulties and made their fair share of poor decisions. No amount of money and luxury could protect them from the realities of life.
  • Judgments have been made in the media and aroung the watercooler about these celebrities. However, no one is in the position to judge anyone. Jesus said the one without sin could cast the first stone (John 8:7), and the fact is every man, woman and child is a sinner (Romans 3:23). So, no matter what you or I may think about the person on the supermarket tabloid magazine or our next door neighbor, we are not qualified to pass judgment about their behavior or where they will spend eternity. We have no way of knowing what is in their heart or what their relationship with Jesus is (1 Samuel 16:7).
  • When we hear of someone's death, whether we know them or not, it should remind us of our own morality. We should number our days (Psalm 90:12) so we can will the most of the time that God has granted us. The fact is if you are still breathing air on this earth, God has something for you to do and your work here is not finished yet.

Are you living your life to its fullest potential by being in the center of God's will? Are you giving God your very best? If not, what changes to you need to make today?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Meeting Expectations

Henry Ward Beecher once said, "Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anyone else expects of you." After reading that quote for the first time, I thought...reach for a higher standard...sounds good, but I kept coming back to this quote reading it and pondering it. I wasn't sure why at first, but in hindsight I realize that it was the Holy Spirit who did not want me to blindly accept the lie that is contained in this quote.

I cannot possibly meet the expectations of everyone I meet in the course of a day, and that's okay. I wasn't made to do so nor were you. If you are trying to please everyone, stop because you are fighting an impossible to win battle.


If I set a standard for myself that I am to uphold, my goal is likely to be self-centered, self-indulgent and confided to my personal comfort zone. How can I say this? I know myself, and I would probably excel at medocrity, if left alone to do my own thing. The only thing that would make my goal lofty would be my own arrogance and pride, and then I would only be fooling myself. Any standard I come up with is going to be inferior to what God has planned for me.


As a child of God the only expectations that I need to meet are those of my Heavenly Father. The Bible teaches me what God expects. He sets the standard; I don't. The standard that God sets is not all about me, and it constantly pushes me outside my comfort zone so I will grow spiritually. God helps me to reach His expectations so I can become all that He has planned for me to be. When I get off track and begin to set my own standards as I may do from time to time, He will do whatever is necessary to get me back on track because He loves me too much to leave me to my own devises.

So, what does God expect from His children? To fear Him; to live according to His will; to love, serve and worship Him wholeheartedly and to obey His commands (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

Who sets the standard that you are striving for on a daily basis? Whose expectations are you trying to meet?

As a sidenote, I did some research on Henry Ward Beecher and discovered that he was a well known Congregationalist preacher in the mid to late 19th century who viewed sin as a temporary ailment and who supported Darwinism.

Don't accept everything at face value, even if it is from someone who professes to be a Christian. Test their words against God's Word and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to the Truth.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

ABC's of Praise

While believers should praise God every day, I thought it only fitting to take some time this Easter Sunday to reflect on my Heavenly Father and give Him the praise that is due to Him!

A - God, you are AWESOME and AMAZING!
B - You have a BEAUTIFUL Spirit that is reflected in each of Your creations.
C - COMFORTER in times of trouble and distress.
D - You DWELL in light where truth and purity prevail.
E - EL-SHADDAI (God Almighty)
F - FREELY FORGIVING the sins of Your Children
G - Full of GRACE
H - HEAVEN is the home You are preparing for Your Children.
I - ILLUMINATING the Truth to those who love and obey You.
J - JEHOVAH ("the unchanging, eternal, self-existent God," the "I am that I am," a covenant-
keeping God)
K - KURIOS (Greek word meaning "supreme in authority")
L - You are LOVE
M - MIRACLES are Your speciality and You perform them daily, both large and small.
N - NEVER will You leave or forsake Your children.
O - OMNIPOTENT (has all power), OMNISCIENT (knows all that can be known) and OMNIPRESENT (is everywhere)
P - Provides PEACE to those who abide in You.
Q - You speak words of truth to Your children with your QUIET voice.
R - RULER over all as the Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords.
S - SAVIOR of all who will believe in You...the only true source of SALVATION.
T - TEACHER to Your Children of the things that they need to know so they can live for you.
U - UNSTOPPABLE - Your plans cannot be thwarted by anyone or anything.
V - VICTORIOUS over death
W - WRITER of the best selling novel ever (the Bible)
X - There is no XEROX of You because there has never been nor will there ever be anyone like You. You are a unique, one-of-a-kind Father!
Y - You YEARN for a deep friendship with Your children.
Z - You continue to revive the ZEAL of Your obedient children.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Miracle on the Hudson

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, an airline full of passengers made an emergency crash landing in the Hudson River after losing both engines due to being hit by a flock of Canadian geese shortly after takeoff. The miracle in all this is all aboard the aircraft survived.

Since that time there has been widespread media coverage delinating all the things that went right. Many questions have been asked from how did the impact feel when the aircraft touched down on the river to how often does bird-airplane collosions occur.

Despite the numerous questions that have been asked and answered about this event, I still have a few questions of my own that I have been pondering, namely:

How many prayers were said by those on the plane from the time they learned of a problem until they were on one of the commuter ferries that came to their rescue?

As the airplane crew reacted to the lose of the jet engines, were they also praying without ceasing?

How many unredeemed sinners were on board that plane? And did they realize how close they came to eternal damnation? Did any of them ask Jesus to come into their lives before crash landing?

How many backslidden believers were on board that plane? And did they take what they thought may be their last moments on this earth to turn back to God and seek forgiveness? Are they now living their lives in line with God's will for them?

How many believers had an inner peace that only comes from God because they knew without a doubt that if their lives ended in the minutes to come, they would be only minutes away from being in Jesus' presence, looking into His loving eyes and holding His nail-scarred hands?

How many of those involved in the crash and the rescue efforts praised God and thanked Him for the wonderful outcome?

How many people who survived the crash have told or will tell others about how God protected them that day?

I am never know the answers to these questions, but what I do know is this. God was always in control of that airplane and the lives of its passengers. He had a purpose for what happened.

Many miracles occured on January 15, 2009, but the one that happened in New York's Hudson River garnered the most attention. Many have acknowledged that what happened with the airplane and its passengers was a miracle, but I wonder how many acknowledge the One who is responsible for that miracle and all the other miracles that occur each and every day that we too often overlook.

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