The Scales in Paul’s Eyes – and Ours – September 9, 2019

I’m back after a pretty long hiatus.  Just life and stuff (including having another baby!) has gotten in the way of my writing, but I’m working my way back into it, as it’s something I enjoy immensely.

So here I am studying the book of Acts, and I was reading about the martyr of Stephen brought about ultimately by the widespread persecution of Christians spearheaded by Saul (who would later become the Apostle Paul) and Saul’s conversion, blindness, and restoration of his vision, in more ways than one (Acts 7:54-9:19).

In reading, I found myself wondering, “What were the scales that fell from Paul’s eyes?”  Verses 17 and 18 of Acts 9 read, “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.”(NKJV)

I’ve always been interested in medical subjects, so I wonder if Paul may have been afflicted with some sort of eye infection that blinded him for three days.  Believe it or not, I read several commentaries on this out of utter curiosity.  According to one, it stated an infection could have been possible, and that the scales that were removed were the “encrustations” formed around the eyes as a result  (really pretty picture there, eh?).  Another commentary postulated that there were no physical scales that came off when God opened Paul’s eyes, but that it was the sensation of his eyes being opened that felt as if something like scales fell from them.

We don’t know for sure what the physical scales were, but we are all born with spiritual scales that render us blinded to the truth of the word of God.  Those are the scales of sin that result from being born with a fallen nature in a fallen world.

Even those of us who are Christians whom God, through the power of the gospel has opened our once blinded eyes, can allow ourselves to get scales in our eyes in life, scales that infect our spiritual eyes and cloud our vision of God like unpleasant spiritual encrustations  (oh, what a gross word!).  They can be scales of pride, lies, injustice, hatred, unforgiveness, addictions, despair, selfishness, insecurity, the list goes on and on.

But the absolute beauty of what a loving God we serve, and His magnificent ability to make things new, is that He is able to remove those scales and restore our sight, just as He did with the apostle Paul.

Friend, if you’re reading this, walking in darkness, thinking you might never see a light at the end of the tunnel, or if the scales in this life have dimmed your light and made it hard to see God, know that He has the power to restore you and heal your spiritual blind spots.  He can open your eyes to the gift of His wonderful grace and love.  We can come boldly before His throne and find our Father waiting there with open arms.

“Father, I love You and I thank You for the gift of Your mercy, grace and restoration because of your Son, Jesus, who died on the cross and rose again three days later, who paid the price for our sins, so that our eyes can be opened, so we can see You and know of Your great mercy.  I am humbled to think about Your awesome love for us, and Your awesome power, Your amazing grace.  Please lift the scales from my eyes, Lord, where I have allowed my vision to get cloudy, heal my blind spots, Father.  Show me where I’ve allowed my vision to get foggy spiritually, and help me to change what needs changing to match up to what You want me to be.  Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see You better, I want to know You more.  I love You, and I praise You, and I thank You again.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

God With Us – November 4, 2017

Wow, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve written here.  I tend to be a slacker when it comes to my writing, but am trying to be more disciplined about it since writing is something I’ve loved to do since I learned how.  Anyhow, I had a baby last year, and have had such a busy time with family illness and issues to take care of that I’ve neglected my writing, and my Bible studies have not been what they should be either.  Neither is my house, it’s always a mess these days.  What can I say, I’m just grateful that God doesn’t judge based on merit! 🙂

Do you ever wonder why things happen the way they do?  Or where is God when all the craziness is going on all around us?  I confess, there have been times in my life when God has seemed silent. Like, I know in my heart that He’s there somewhere, but I can’t feel him.  Like being in a large darkened room (think living room or rec room) and feeling around for the light switch, only to find yourself walking around like you’re playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and still can’t find it, even though you know it’s there somewhere.

Well, with all the troubling stuff in life, be it on the news or things that happen on a personal level, I think those questions are easy to ask and wonder about from a human standpoint, and God knows we have those questions too.  He doesn’t always answer the why, but He promises never to leave us.

I was reading the book of Acts and in Chapter 14, beginning with verse 8, there is an account of where Paul and Barnabas are preaching at a city called Lystra.  God gave Paul the power to heal a man who had been crippled since birth.  When people saw it, they called Paul and Barnabas “Zeus” and “Hermes,” saying, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! (v.11)”

The passage goes on to say that when Paul and Barnabas heard this, they rushed in to the multitude and “crying out, saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways (vv. 14-16)”

Not always by any means, but could it be that sometimes God is allowing us to “walk in our own ways” while tugging at our hearts to “turn from these useless things to worship the living God”?

But I love this next part that says, “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (v.17).”

Wow, what an awesome verse to remind us what Thanksgiving is all about.  Even though I can’t see him, He provides for me.  He provides the food that I eat, the rain that waters the ground, the air that I breathe.  That’s one way I can know He’s there.

But the best news of all, is that He gave us Himself in His Son Jesus who is called Immanuel, literally meaning “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

In Hebrews 13:5-6, we are reminded of God’s promise.  “…For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?'”

Because of Jesus, we have the hope that He walks with us in every trial, in every season, in every storm of our lives.  Sometimes when it feels like He is silent, we can reach out in faith and find that the One who can calm our fears is always there.

“…and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Thank You Father, for the security we have that You will never leave us, Lord.  Thank You for Jesus, for His precious gift of salvation, for the fact that He is Immanuel, God with us.  I thank You that even when it feels dark and scary in this world, like you’re not here,  for reminding us that You are, and that You are walking beside us every step of the way.  Take my hand, Lord, and lead me in the path of righteousness, that I will follow you all of the days of my life.  Wrap your arms around us Lord and help us to be all that You intended us to be, without fear of the unknown.  Thank You for all you have provided for us, and for giving us life.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

God’s Words of Comfort in Times of Fear – January 3, 2016

I wrote a little bit the other day about the news of my pregnancy that we found out right before New Year’s Eve, and about living by faith in this New Year.  I write this as much for me as for my readers, and hope that these words can offer encouragement to the both of us.

I’ve had a lot of fear and anxiety the past few days, as I await speaking with my doctor’s office tomorrow to schedule my first prenatal appointment, as well as some scary symptoms that I have experienced off and on that have at times made me wonder if everything is okay.  Baby seems fine for now, but I’ve been doing a lot of praying and trying to keep God’s Word in my mind as I hope for the best, but try  to mentally prepare for the “what if” of something going wrong.  Because of the miscarriage that we suffered last August, it’s an intensely joyful yet angst-filled pregnancy this time around.

I’m studying some Bible verses on fear, and I’m finding comfort in knowing and remembering that no matter what, His strength is there, and that I am not walking alone.  Let’s take a look at some of the ones I’ve found so far:

Psalm 23:4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (NKJV).” – This one is a great encouragement because again, it lets me know that I’m not walking through the valley alone.  Our Shepherd watches over us with great care and leads us down the right path.

Psalm 115:11 “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” – Because of who God is, I can trust Him in the outcome.  He is my help and my shield.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – Here Jesus is talking to the disciples to let them know that it’s getting close to time for Him to be crucified and resurrected.  He is letting them know that though He is going away shortly to prepare a place for His people in Heaven, He is leaving with them His peace.  This encourages me today because I know that I can call on Him and receive His peace also.

Psalm 56:3 “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.” -This verse reminds me again of the word trust.  I can trust that God is good and that He knows best.

Psalm 112 begins with the verse, “Praise the Lord!  Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments.”  Then it goes on to say in verse 7, “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” – This tells me that I don’t have to be afraid of bad news because I can still trust that the Lord is good.

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness.  He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” – This shows the loving character of God, our Heavenly Father, and reminds me of His tender mercy, and also of the way in which He has already saved me through the cross.

Are all of these verses easier said than done?  Absolutely, as least for me they are.  But it’s a great comfort to know that through His Word, He has given us many reassurances that He is there, shepherding His flock and walking us through whatever life may throw at us.

Yes, I am going to keep on praying for my child, and having faith that everything will be all right, but I will commit to trust in Him no matter what because I can trust that He is good.  I will no doubt have more times of anxiety the further along I get, but I can have faith in a God who sees me, knows me, loves me and cares about the things and the people in my life.  After all, if my precious child means so much to my husband and I, how much more does he/she mean to the Creator?

I hope this has perhaps brought a little encouragement to you today, as writing this down did for me.  We serve a mighty God who loved us so much His own Son came down to endure the agony of the cross so that He could bring His children home.  And He’ll walk with you and me every step of the way along this rough and bumpy road called life.

“Heavenly Father, I thank You that You are always there, in good times and in bad.  Please forgive me when I fail to trust You.  Help me to have faith that You are good even in difficult circumstances.  Be with this pregnancy, Lord, for You know what’s best.  I pray that if it is possible, our baby would be born healthy with no complications.  Please draw me closer to You during this time, and for anyone reading this, please draw them closer to You also.  Ease our fears, Lord, and reassure us through Y0ur Word and Your Holy Spirit that You are here right beside us, going before us, in whatever we are walking through.  I pray that this situation in my life will glorify You, Father, and I thank You for Your overwhelming love and grace that You’ve already given me time and time again.  Help us to be filled with Your perfect love that casts out fear, Father.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Living by Faith in the New Year – December 31, 2015

In reading from Hebrews today, I read some words that spoke deeply to my heart.  It’s wonderful how God sometimes speaks through His Word the exact message we need to hear – of comfort, encouragement and just the motivation to keep on keeping on.

Hebrews 2:10-18 says, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying:

I will declare Your name to My brethren;  In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.’

And again:

I will put My trust in Him.’

And again:

‘Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.’

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (NKJV).”

These verses tell us that we can trust Him because He is faithful, and because He has conquered death, sin and temptation.  He’s been in our shoes, and He knows what it’s like to live here on Earth; yes, in Him is our victory.  So, I ask myself, “Why are there times when I’m still so afraid to trust?” and, “When trusting is hard, will I do it anyway?”

The reason these words speak to me today so poignantly is that my husband and I got some great news yesterday:  We are going to have another baby!  I feel a mixture of joy and outright fear, because we had a miscarriage in mid-August of this year during the 5th week of pregnancy.

So, when I read the words that the Lord spoke through the prophets, “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.  I will put my trust in Him.  Here am I and the children whom God has given Me,” I felt the challenge to make this my prayer for the New Year.

Trusting is very hard sometimes, and especially when the outcome is not what we’d like.  As I read the words above, I asked myself, “Do I really trust God with my life and the lives of my children?  I say I do, but do I really?”  I think sometimes I’m afraid to trust because the devil wants to remind me of everything that could go wrong now or in the future.  Yet, I know, in my heart of hearts and through His Word, that He has our best interests at heart.  He has shown me numerous times in both my life and the lives of my children that He is faithful beyond anything I can imagine.

At times when I’ve read in the Old Testament how the Israelites kept wandering from God after He proved Himself faithful over and over – He parted the Red Sea and made water come out of a rock for crying out loud! – I’ve shaken my head in disbelief that they could forget how God had provided.  Yet, I laugh as I write this because don’t we do the same thing?  I know I do.  No sooner does God get me out of one jam, and then something happens that wasn’t what I wanted or how I planned, and I’m wondering if God forgot about me or I’m shaking my fist at Him.

I pray in the coming year that God would remind me (and all of us) of the ways in which He’s blessed us, and that we would cling to His Word of faithfulness, so that when the storms of life come, we will put our hope and trust in a God that we know to be good, loving, merciful and faithful.  One who suffered so that we could have life abundantly – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).”

“Father, I thank You for Your faithfulness, Your love and Your mercy.  Thank You for being with me every step of the way this year, and help me to put my faith in You the way that Jesus did in His example, both through His Words and in His actions.  I pray that I will trust You with all of my heart, with my life and my family, and know that You are good, and will never leave my side.  Please bring to mind all of the times in which You’ve been faithful, both to us and to the people in the Bible, and throughout history, Father.  Grant us an abundance of faith, and peace that passes all understanding, that we may shine Your light into the lives of others.  I pray that in all things we might glorify You.  Thank You for Your Hope and Your salvation and help us to remember that victory is already ours through Jesus.  May we dedicate 2016 to You.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

A Father’s Delight – December 26, 2015

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!  It’s been a busy week around here, as our youngest son’s 10th birthday was three days before Christmas and I still hadn’t finished my shopping yet that day, so I was among the last-minute people braving the holiday crowds in the stores and parking lots.

All of the hustle and bustle was totally worth it, though.  Like the kids, I was looking forward to time for everyone to open presents.  I wanted to see the smiles on their faces and hear the squeals of delight as they got at least some of the things that were on their Christmas wish lists.

Do you think God does the same when He blesses us with something special?  I wonder if He watches in delight as we savor a special gift, or an opportunity that we’ve prayed for, like a pregnancy test that has two lines, or an announcement of a long-awaited job opportunity, or the moment you meet the person who will be your spouse.  I bet He’s smiling when we admire a beautiful sunset or when our eyes (especially our kids’) light up in the winter after we wake up to a snow-covered yard.  And I bet He cherishes those moments when we bow our heads or lift up our hands in prayer and say, “Thank You, Father,” and give Him a heavenly hug.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (NKJV).”

When we look at all of the beauty of nature, or into the face of a newborn child, His Love is written all over them.  His love was also written all over a blood-stained cross – and His love was the Hope that appeared to the disciples a few days later when they thought that Hope was lost.

After Jesus had been buried for three days, Mary Magdalene and another disciple named Mary (possibly Mary of Bethany) came to see the tomb, and were surprised to see an angel.  “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.  Behold, I have told you.’

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.  And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:5-9).”

Can you imagine the look of delight on His face as He shouted, “Rejoice!” and surprised them with His presence?  He had come to announce the greatest News yet:  that victory had been won.  And He gave us the greatest Gift of all: salvation.  We have good reason to rejoice, and Jesus told the disciples that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).”  He loves us so much that when we finally come “home” and ask Jesus into our hearts, He has a big celebration over each one of us!

A book by a Christian author once (can’t remember the author or title) stated that through His death and resurrection, not only did Jesus rescue us, but He also played the biggest practical joke in history on Satan!   It’s true if you think about it.   Just as the devil thought he’d won, Jesus got up and walked right out of that grave, even leaving the linen handkerchief that had been around His head folded neatly off to the side (John 20:7).

We can rejoice not only in knowing that victory is ours if we have placed our faith in Jesus, but that there are even greater things to come.  Jesus told the disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:3).”  He’s with us today, and we’ll physically be with Him in Heaven one day.  I can’t wait to see what great things He has prepared for us up there!

As we get ready to go to bed tonight, I hope we’ll pause and think of some of the greatest gifts/blessings that we’ve been given this year, and tell our Heavenly Father “Thank You,” and “I love You.”  I believe that will bring a big smile to His face, and to ours too!

“Father, I thank You so much for so many ways in which You’ve blessed me, big and small.  I thank You for Christmas, and for Jesus and His great Gift of hope and salvation, and for the victory that has permanently been won over sin and evil.  Please help us to keep the joy and wonder of Christmas in our hearts all year long, and to share that joy and wonder with others, Lord.  I pray that our faces will light up when we think of You and how good You are, and that we will smile more each day as we grow closer to You through Your Word, Father, and it becomes more and more real in our lives.  I thank You for grace, and for a brand new day each morning.  Help me to appreciate and make the most of the gifts that You’ve given me, and to offer You praise and glory.  Let me turn my blessings into praise to You, my King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Faithfully Serving – December 19, 2015

Sometimes I wish I had a maid…and a chauffeur, especially now that I have two teenagers…and when my kids were younger it would’ve been nice to have a nanny to change diapers and clean up the kids’ messes.

When we think about what it means to be extravagantly wealthy, often we think of having bodyguards, a butler and a maid.  We dream of getting rich and being waited on hand and foot, and not having to get our proverbial hands dirty with the menial things.  No, I know that when I get rich (ha!), I’m going to travel and enjoy life and not have to worry about bills or measly things like cleaning the toilet or doing laundry.  No more Hamburger Helper for me!

I say this in jest, of course, as the chances of that are actually pretty miniscule.  But I guess it all depends on how one defines wealth.

In the book of Nehemiah, the king gave Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls after they had been destroyed.  He led a team of people in the effort to reconstruct.  Chapter 3 lists the names of the people involved in this repair effort, including the names of some of the daughters and sons of those involved, who also joined in the construction.  Since these are included in the Bible, I figure these efforts must have been important to God.  Nothing that we do for Him goes unnoticed.

In verse 5, however, it says, “Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”  This is the only place in this chapter where it lists those who did not join in the effort.  It’s also of note that these men were nobles, higher-ups perhaps, who seemingly did not want to do the dirty work.

When we picture nobles and kings, we think of people being served.  That’s why the Kingdom Jesus described was such a foreign idea to people at that time, and even goes against our human tendencies and traditions today.

In Matthew 20, the Word says, “But Jesus called them over to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (vv 25-28 NKJV).”

Two of the disciples’ mother had just come to Jesus and asked that her sons be granted the privilege of sitting on either side of Jesus in the Heavenly Kingdom.  They misunderstood, still thinking of a kingdom the way we do, that it was about nobility, pomp and circumstance.  Yet, Jesus showed them and us a better way, and a better kingdom – one that would involve much sacrifice and service, but one that was immensely more rewarding.

In John, Chapter 13, when Jesus was washing Peter’s feet, Peter answered Him and said, “You shall never wash my feet! (v 8).

Then it says, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’

Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (vv 9-17).”

In essence, He is saying to the disciples that if they truly want to be great, they should serve one another.  By extension, He is saying the same thing to us today.  He came to be an example of the kind of servant leaders we should aspire to be.

I admit, it’s a hard concept for me to apply a lot of the time.  My natural desire is to want to be first in line, get ahead in traffic and in the workplace, and just generally get my way first, before I think about anyone else.  I think it’s just our human nature.  But Jesus admonished us to love other and put others first by serving them.  This is one way that we can bring His light into our dark world.

Let’s take a look at what it means to truly be rich.  Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  Further on in this chapter, it says in verse 7, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Jesus gave us the greatest Gift of all:  Himself.  He has promised to those who believe that we have been redeemed, forgiven, blessed with every spiritual blessing because of the riches of His grace.  We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but He loves us so much He wants to come and make His home in our hearts.  If you haven’t yet received this free gift, I would encourage you to talk to Him in prayer and ask Him to come into your heart and be Lord of your life.  He is waiting right there where you are with arms wide open.

Let’s think today of how we can serve someone close to us, or perhaps even a stranger, and show them a little of God’s love, as it draws closer to the Christmas holiday.  Then, let us keep Jesus’ example in mind all year long, as we go forward with the new year and think of new and creative ways that we can be of service.

Like the servant in Matthew 25, at the end of my life I want to hear God say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of our Lord (v 23).”

“Father, I thank You for Jesus’ example of service and love.  Let us today give all of the praise and honor to our King of Kings, who alone is worthy.  Please help us today to be a blessing to someone by serving them, and remind us during the holidays and all year long of ways that we can continue being of service.  I pray that You would raise us up as godly leaders in our homes, our families, our churches, our schools and our world to bring Your light to those that are in need of hope.  Show us how we can best honor You in the areas of service that You have for us.  Remind us each day how truly rich and blessed we are, perhaps not with money, but with so much more than just the material.  We have faith, hope, love, forgiveness and a Savior who never leaves our side.  I thank You once again for Your grace.  Let my life bring You honor.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Blessings Multiplied -December 18, 2015

Several stories I’ve read in the Bible talk of how things, when placed in the hands of God, can be multiplied.  The first example that comes to mind is where Jesus fed the five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two fish that were given to him by His disciples (Matthew 14:13-21).

I was reading today in the book of 2 Kings about the prophets Elijah and Elisha.  These two prophets foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah in many ways.  They were blessed with the Holy Spirit and were able to perform miracles to demonstrate the power of God.  Later, in the New Testament, God Himself would come down in the flesh and perform and preach a message of hope and salvation to the world – in fact, He would be the Message we all need to hear, and the Miracle the world was waiting for.

2 Kings 4:42-44 says, “Then a man came from Baal Shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack.  And he said, “Give it to the people, that they may eat.”  But his servant said, “What?  Shall I set this before one hundred men?”  He said again, “Give it to the people, that they may eat;  for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’  So he set it before them; and they ate and had some left over, according to the Word of the Lord (NKJV).”

The man wondered how twenty loaves of bread were going to be enough to feed one hundred people, just as the disciples didn’t think that the five loaves and two fish would be enough to feed the five thousand either.  But they forgot that God is a God of miracles.  God told Elisha to reassure the man that He would provide enough for the people to eat, and even have some left over.  Matthew 14:20 says that after Jesus fed the 5,000, “they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.”

When I was reading about this, I got to thinking – how often do we say, “God, all I have is a measly amount of money.  Shoot, I even live paycheck to paycheck.  How can my tiny offering really help anybody?” or, “Lord, I don’t feel like I have what it takes to get involved in ministry.  I’m not good at singing, I’m not a preacher, and I’m very shy.  How could You possibly use someone like me?”

I know I’ve said to myself, “How can God use a socially-awkward, self-proclaimed introvert and ex-drunk like me?”  But I forget that He can take even our measly offering and multiply it over and over.  Maybe you just have 30 minutes a week, or $10, or a beat-up car.  Did you know He can take that and use it for His glory, no matter how small or insignificant you think it is?

I’ve also had times where I’ve said to myself (and my husband), “There seems like no way we’re going to pay all of the bills on this,” and yet at those times, often God has stepped in and made a way where there seemed to be no way.  This month seemed to be like that for us.  My husband works as an electrician, and he came up short the week before last because they were waiting on a builder to finish a house. Consequently, he was short on his check last week for the couple of days that they couldn’t work.

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to work a couple of days part-time at my old job.  I’m not a regular employee, but they’ve graciously allowed me to fill in whenever someone goes on vacation or is sick, etc.  Sometimes I go months without getting an opportunity like this, depending on how busy or slow they are.  The hours are long, but I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity.  Times like this remind me that He is always faithful, just like His Word says, and that He cares about us and our bills and our lives, even to the smallest detail.

Jesus also encourages us to give of what we have to help others as well.  Like 7:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  God can multiply our blessings to others in both our lives and theirs.  And it’s such a joy to know when God has used you to make a difference, even in the smallest way.

We can be encouraged to know that in the hands of our Lord, the smallest offering can become the biggest blessing.  We don’t have to be afraid to offer our time, money, talents, possessions, words, deeds or prayers.  All that we have is given by God anyway, and really belongs to Him.  We can trust Him with all things because He is a loving Father.

“Lord, I thank You for all that You have provided, and continue to provide in my life.  Help me to use all that You have given me for Your glory.  Let us offer our lives, time and all that we have to You, to place them in Your hands to be multiplied, knowing that the very same God who fed the five thousand and healed the blind can make much out of little.  Help us to make much of You, Lord, for You are holy.  I pray that when blessings come, we would remember where they came from, and be reminded of how much You love us.  Let us boldly come to You with all of our needs, knowing that You are faithful to take care of us, and care about all of our concerns, no matter how small.  Thank You for being such a loving Father.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

Following the Good Shepherd – December 9, 2015

I’ve had times in my life when I’ve just flat-out felt like throwing in the towel.  When I’ve said, “God, I can’t do this anymore.  I’m not even going to try.”  I think a lot of us get to that point at one time or another, whether it’s as a result of burnout, or maybe because we’re discouraged that things aren’t going the way we hoped, or because we feel that we’ve been doing all the “right” things, like going to church and praying, and still we are experiencing hardship and tragedy.

In a recent study in our small group at church, our lesson asked the question, “Do you think sometimes we do good in the hopes of avoiding pain and suffering?  Sort of like trying in a way to bargain with God?”  That thought hit close to home because I know I have done this many times.  Earlier this year, when our family experienced the heartache of having a teen who was struggling with severe depression, and nothing that we were doing seemed to help, I began to get discouraged.  I was like, “God, I’m trying to do the right thing.  I’ve been praying.  I’ve been trying to get better about trusting You.  Why is this happening?”

I was reading today in the book of Jeremiah where the prophet Jeremiah was sent to a potter’s shop to warn of Jerusalem’s impending destruction.  Needless to say, his message was not popular, and because of his obedience, he was persecuted and endured a lot of ridicule and hardship.  Beginning in verse 7 of Chapter 20, he says, “O Lord, You induced me and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.  I am in derision daily;  Everyone mocks me.  For when I spoke, I cried out;  I shouted, ‘Violence and plunder!’ Because the word of the Lord was made to me a reproach and a derision daily (Jeremiah 20:7-8 NKJV).”

If anyone had a reason to be depressed, it was poor Jeremiah.  He was doing everything that the Lord had asked Him to do, but the message He preached put him on the haters’ top ten list of people they wanted to see destroyed.  What struck me though is in the next verse, he says, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’  But His word was in my heart like a burning fire; shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not (v9).”

Have you ever had times like that?  Where you just felt like saying, “God, I’m done with this whole Christian thing.  I’ve tried to follow You and it’s just too hard.”  I have too.  But I’ve found that even when I wanted to give up, even in the worst of times, His word was always there in my heart, “like a burning fire,” as Jeremiah describes.

See, the thing is, we can walk away from God, but He never walks away from us.  He is always there, calling and beckoning us to come to Him and find peace, rest and healing.  Sometimes we may experience suffering because of our obedience, and it’s not that we did or are doing something wrong.  Or suffering may come because of someone else’s bad choice, or simply because we live in a world that is imperfect, and there is sickness and pain as a result.  Doing good and obeying the Word is no guarantee that we won’t experience pain, but it is through his Word that we find strength to endure.  He does promise that He will walk beside us every step of the way.

Psalm 23 says in part, “The Lord is my shepherd;  I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;  For You are with me;  Your rod and Your staff they comfort me (vv 1-4).”

I found an interesting article describing the purpose of both the rod and the staff.  It can be found at:

 http://www.antipas.org/commentaries/articles/shepherd_psa23/shepherd_07.html

It says that shepherds use a rod to gently correct the sheep if they veer off the path, and for careful examination of the sheep, to make sure each sheep is okay and accounted for.  It is also used as an instrument of protection by the shepherd on behalf of the flock to drive off wolves and other predators.

A staff is used to draw sheep together in an intimate relationship.  Sometimes they use a staff to bring a newborn lamb back to its mother if they become separated, so that the ewe won’t reject the lamb because of the smell of the human’s hands.  It is also used to reach out and catch sheep so that they can be examined for injuries and to tend to their well-being, similar to the rod’s use at times.  The third use for the staff described in the article is that of guiding the sheep particularly onto a new path, or along rough, dangerous terrain, and to help free the sheep from entanglements in thorns and brambles.

When we get stuck in the “thorns and brambles” of this life, we can take comfort in knowing that we have a Shepherd who is always there to help us get free.  God keeps us on the right path, and takes a careful interest in our lives, even when the enemy tries to get us to give up.  His Word is like that “burning fire” there in our hearts, waiting to spill out on our lips into words of prayer.  Like the Good Shepherd that He is, He goes out to rescue His lost sheep, and bring us back safely into the fold.

“Father, I thank You that You are the Good Shepherd that never leaves us alone.  I am so grateful for the times that You have brought me or my loved ones out of the darkness of depression or hard times, and that You have been beside us every step of the way.  I pray for anyone who is struggling with depression right now.  Comfort and encourage them, Lord, as only You can, and fill them with the hope of Your presence through Your Son, Jesus.  I pray that Jesus’ gift of hope and salvation would be real in all of our lives, and that we will use the comfort and the hope that You provide us to comfort and provide hope to others.  May we all know the Way of Hope today, and be encouraged not to grow weary in following You and doing good.  Thank You for Your love and mercy, and may we praise the name of Jesus as the Name above all Names.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Hope in the Midst of Trouble – December 3, 2015

It’s easy to get discouraged with everything going on in the world today.  I’ve often asked myself, “Is it that crime is worse today, or just that we are more aware of it, thanks to satellites and 24-hour news coverage?”  I think it’s a little (or a lot) of both.

To an extent, I’ve always been aware of crime, as I didn’t grow up in the days where people could leave their doors unlocked, and where you didn’t have to watch your back to some degree.  As a kid, we were taught of “stranger danger,” and even had our parents check our Halloween candy because of news reports of candy being tampered with.   So, I can’t say that I was ever really naive of the realities of crime, but today, when I hear about the horrific realities of what happened yesterday in San Bernardino, I never fail to be saddened and wonder how people could be so cruel.

When I saw the headline above, of course as a Christian I was saddened by the hopelessness of the statement, but I can empathize and relate to the disillusionment and the questions surrounding the whys and how to stop all of the violence.  It’s easy for you or I to say, “God’s in control,” when it isn’t our child, or our spouse, or mother or friend that is a victim of some senseless crime such as this.  I get that.

I also know, and this from years of working in Tribal politics, that we can’t legislate morality and that the law can’t force us to love our neighbor and be decent human beings to one another.  This is not to say that I think guns are necessarily a good idea by any means.  But the root of the problem is with the condition of the hearts of those who choose to commit such violence, and with man’s inhumanity to man.

Where then do we find hope?  Or comfort?  Or help?  Jesus is still here, and He knows what it’s like to feel sorrow, pain, suffering and even to feel alone and abandoned.

Jesus told the disciples in John 16 that they would experience suffering.  He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.  They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them (John 16:1-4 NKJV).”

The Pharisees called for Jesus’ crucifixion too, deluding themselves into believing that they were doing God a favor.  They accused Jesus of blasphemy, but it was really to retain their political favor and status.

When He finishes letting the disciples know of His impending death and resurrection, He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

Sometimes we ask Him the question, “God why aren’t you fixing this?”  We’re not alone in that either.  The disciples were confused too.  They thought at first that when Jesus said He was going to establish a kingdom, that He was going to establish peace and prosperity for the Jews here on earth at that time.  So imagine how they felt when He was beaten, mocked and ultimately put to death by crucifixion.

Luke  24  tells of how two of Jesus’  followers were traveling on a road to a small village just outside of Jerusalem, when Jesus met them on the road and began walking with them.  Verse 16 says, “But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.”

In verse 17, Jesus asks them what they are talking about and why they are so sad.  They are surprised that this man they are speaking to hasn’t heard the news about the “things” everyone is talking about, so they tell Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.  Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.  Yes, and certain women of our company astonished us.  When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive (Luke 24:19-23).”

Yes, the people were disappointed that it appeared that Israel’s victory didn’t come as expected.  But they still had a glimmer of hope because of the empty tomb…

So I guess I have to ask myself when ask, “Why isn’t God fixing this?”, what if the victory and the solution is just different that I imagined?  What if I am looking at the wrong “this”?  When He says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” He means that He, like us, had to walk through a lot of pain, but He overcame it.  Not only that, but He gives us hope that this life is not all there is.  We may suffer in the here and now, but not only does He promise to walk with us through it, He promises that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see the Promised Land (heaven), where things will be set right.

Now, I don’t claim to understand all of Revelation, but I believe that John is talking about Heaven when he says beginning in verse 3 of Revelation chapter 21, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

I look forward to a place like that.  Jesus has promised us that we aren’t alone now, in whatever the world and our enemy may throw at us, and that we will be with Him when we pass from this world.  He tells us in John 14:1-6, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

What a comfort it is to know that Jesus is the Way and the Truth that lights our troubled world, and that there is a greater world to come.  I pray that we would all be comforted with this Truth, and know that even though we have troubles now, He is with us, walking beside us and in front of us every step of the way.  If we believe that He died to save us and that He lives today, we can also be confident that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

“Father, I pray for our troubled world.  I pray that those who are plotting evil in their hearts would be convicted of their sin and stopped from committing such evil, and I pray that we would all seek to do good to one another, rather than harm.  I pray most of all that everyone would know the Truth that will set them free, Lord, the truth of Your great love and salvation.  I pray that we as Christians may abide in the hope of Your promises never to leave us and that You will one day deliver us out of this present world into a heaven where there is no more sorrow.  I pray that if someone reading this right now feels hopeless or despairing, that You would strengthen and encourage them and let them know that You are right by their side and that You love them and want to heal them.  I pray that You would lead us as a country and as individuals down the right path.  Show us Your will, Lord, and help us to look to You for guidance and for the answers.  I pray for comfort, peace, and most of all, hope for those who have lost loved ones due to the terrible tragedy yesterday.  I pray for healing too, Lord, for all involved, from the injured, to the families of those injured and killed.  Thank You for the hope that is found in You, Your grace and most of all, Jesus’ gift of salvation.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

What is My Job?: Speaking the Truth In Love – December 2, 2015

Judge_meme

So I saw this online again today, and it bothers me because of the message it was used to convey within the context of a conversation that I was watching unfold.  A lady who is not a Christian took issue with another lady for posting about Jesus being the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So the lady who was chastised backtracked and posted this meme, and said that she needs to remind herself not to be so judgmental, that it is not her job to tell anyone what to believe.

So what does it mean to “judge”?  I think this is where things get misunderstood.  Is it “judging” if I see a good friend hurting themselves and I say, “Honey, your drinking has become a problem, and I am worried about you”?.  If the person really does have a problem, I believe that it is being a good friend or a caring neighbor.  I had loved ones do that for me at the height of my own problem, and though I didn’t get sober right then and there, it meant a lot that people cared enough to a) be concerned about me and b) tell me the truth.

When I tell people about the salvation of Jesus Christ, how He is the only One who could’ve paid for our sins, but that He did (praise the Lord!) and He paid for us in full so that we can know what true freedom in Christ is, I’m not telling them what heathens they are and how they need to be like me because I’m better (which I’m most certainly not).  Shoot, no!  If anything, I was probably one of the most heathen of the heatheny (I know, I made up that word, but I thought it sounded cool) and God loves me anyway!  So much, in fact, that He was willing to lay down His life for me, so that He could rescue me from that dark pit of despair and give me hope!  I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Yet, there have been times when I have been cowardly when I should have spoken up, and there have been other times when I’ve gotten angry and just run off at the mouth, spouting opinions and giving people a piece of my mind, when people don’t need to hear my opinion, they need to hear the Truth.  The Truth that really matters is Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:14-15 says that “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (NKJV)

Paul is speaking to Christians here, and telling us that a hallmark of being mature as believers is being able to avoid being swayed by petty arguments and tossed about by deceit, but being able to speak the truth in love.  Again, at the end of the passage, he reiterates this, speaking of how if we work together in Christ (not alone but by seeking His will), it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  The way that people are reached with the love of Christ and the good news of Jesus’ saving grace is not by shying away from the truth and reality of the fact that we are all sinners, but sharing (speaking) that truth in love.

Here is where I think some of us (including me) get tripped up sometimes.  1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”

It’s saying that even if you or I were the most articulate person in the world but we didn’t speak with love, all people are going to hear is blah, blah, blah.  I’ll use the analogy again of the friend who confronted me about my drinking problem.  Was she “judging” or was she speaking the truth?

According to the dictionary, the top 3 definitions of the word “judge” are:

  1. To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration
  2. To hear and decide on in a court of law; to pass sentence on/condemn; to act as one appointed to decide the winners of
  3. To determine or declare after consideration or deliberation

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/judging)

My friend was not stating an opinion.  She was stating a fact based on her repeated observations of my behavior and its effects.  She was not appointed, nor was she trying to make a determination in order to condemn me.  She was simply speaking the truth in love to me as a friend.

In Acts 5:30-32, Peter and some of the apostles were brought before the council and got into trouble for teaching about Jesus.  They answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are His witnesses to these things…”

We are witnesses too, once we have been changed by His love.  We can speak about how Jesus has changed us, and we can live a changed life.  This meme that I shared says, “You job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.”  Jesus says in Mark 29-31, “The first of all commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus is the One capable of lifting the fallen, restoring the broken and healing the hurting.  Our job is to love Him, and to love our neighbor enough to reach out and tell them the Good News of a Lord who came to save, heal and change their life.  May we have the courage to do so.

“Father, I humbly ask Your forgiveness for the times I’ve spoken harshly and when I’ve spouted off without thinking about things that in the long run don’t even really matter.  Help me and my life to be a good witness of Your love, Your power and all that You’ve done for me.  Grant me wisdom and courage, Lord, that I may know when to speak the truth in love, and let me not be afraid to tell others about You and Your Amazing Grace.  Help me to also know when to sit down and be quiet, such as in a pointless debate or argument.  Take my words and my life and use them for Your glory.  I love You and thank You for what You’ve done in my life, and simply for who You are.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”