Saturday, September 27, 2014

Quick Word Study

"Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
Bless His holy name."
Psalm 103:1


It's a common word among Christians:
  • We love our new car - we are so blessed!
  • God has blessed us with good health this winter…
  • (sneeze) Bless you!
  • Bless your heart, you are such a caring soul!
  • Bless this house
  • Bless the Lord
So, what in the world does the word "bless" mean?  After a quick turn on, here's what I discovered:
  • in the old English, bless means "to consecrate, to make holy, to give thanks"
  • in the old German, bless means "to hallow with blood, to mark with blood" - this was a from an ancient ritual of sprinkling blood on pagan altars
  • the latin words used in scripture for bless mean "to speak well of, to praise"
  • in the English dictionary, bless means several things - to make holy, to give honor, to extol or praise, to glorify and to call upon God for protection or favor
Now, let's define our uses from above:
  • We love our new car - we are so blessed! God's favor
  • God has blessed us with good health this winter… God's protection
  • (sneeze) Bless you! God's protection - sneezes were once thought of as an attack by an evil spirit and to say "Bless you" was to call on God's protection to ward of the spirits…hmmm…
  • Bless your heart, you are such a caring soul! God's favor
  • Bless this house God's favor and protection
  • Bless the Lord Glorify, praise and make holy
I think the most common understanding is the receiving of God's favor when we talk about being blessed.  But when we read verses that declare a blessing on God, it can be confusing if we don't understand that "bless" also means glorify and praise.

Probably the most interesting thing about this word study is the old German use - to mark with blood.  As a believer, this is probably the most accurate definition of "bless" we could have, when it comes to God's favor in our lives.  We are marked with blood - Christ's precious, perfect and powerful blood.  The imagery of protection throughout scripture that is connected with blood is clear:
  • blood sacrifices were required, all the way back to the garden to cover the sinfulness of man (Genesis 3)
  • God did not allow blood to be drank because it represented life (Genesis 9:4)
  • blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat and on the people for atonement of sins (Leviticus 16)
  • the precious blood of the Lamb is what cleanses (I Peter 1:19)
Even though the root may be pagan, don't be fooled - false religions have often stole or imitated truth to deceive.  We absolutely are blessed by being marked with Jesus' blood and this is a great image to have in your mind when you talk of God's blessing in your life.  So yes, God has greatly blessed all of us and we are called to bless Him - glorify, praise and set Him apart from the world.  He alone is God and He alone is to be blessed!

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Common Grace

"Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, 
turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 
and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him.  
And he was a Samaritan."
Luke 17:15,16

Do you know the story?  Ten lepers.  Ten outcasts with no hope.  Ten men bound together, not by race, religion, or choice but by disease, misfortune, and heartbreak.  They know of Jesus' reputation and cry out for mercy and He heals them all.  Yet only one falls on his knees and thanks Him.  

Only one glorified God in his healing.

So what do you know about common grace?  Have you ever heard of it before?  It's a theological concept that says all men, believers and unbelievers alike, are recipients of God's grace to a certain extent.  It is common because it is experienced by all humanity, and it's considered grace because it's something that mankind doesn't deserve but God in His rich compassion bestows His grace on us.

Let's flesh this out a bit:  In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says (Matt. 5:45) that God sends both sunshine and rain on the evil and the good.  So the basic ability to live is a gift from the Lord - true.  Life is not something we earn or deserve - God is the giver of life and guess what?  He doesn't just give life to His children but He gives life to all men. 

But His common grace goes beyond this.  He also blesses mankind with great wisdom (science, medicine, education) and with great physical talent (athleticism), and with immense creativity (musical and poetic, written and acted), but He doesn't just bless His followers. All humanity bears the image of their Creator, whether or not they recognize it, and because of this they are greatly blessed.

If God gave humanity what it deserved, if He left us to solely be consumed with our sinfulness, we would have destroyed ourselves ages ago.  But He restrains sin (another blessing), as seen in Genesis 20 when a pagan king took Sarah as his wife, not knowing she was married. Abimelech claims ignorance and God tells him that He personally restrained him from taking Sarah and did not let him touch her.  Here we see God not only graciously protecting Sarah but graciously keeping a pagan king from sinning.  He also directs the hearts of unbelievers to accomplish His will - this is seen in the story of Moses and Pharaoh, as well as a repeated theme in the book of Judges. God moves in the hearts of heathen nations to do His will.

But God is not mocked - we all reap the consequences of what we sow here on earth, believers and unbelievers alike.  Believers will not receive the punishment for our sin but God does not magically cause crop failure when we plant bad seeds, but gives grace to the humble to survive a bad harvest.

Believers today are criticized because when anything good happens to them they say, "God is good. He has blessed me."  Unbelievers think that we are claiming some kind of special grace that is not available to them.  But the truth is that God is good and has blessed all men - He heals their diseases, He prospers their companies, He grants success for their inventions and creations.  A big difference is that believers recognize that blessings comes from the Lord and they give Him glory for what He is doing, rather than denying God's existence and claiming the glory for themselves.

That being said, look at our leper story above again.  Do you see the common grace now?  All ten of the lepers were blessed by Jesus' grace, mercy and compassion.  However, only one recognized and glorified God for it.

Just for the record, there is a grace that is showered upon the believer that greatly surpasses common grace, but I believe that understanding God's love for all men and the grace that He bestows each day has great value.

So, are you one of the nine (just living life off of the common grace of God) or the one who recognizes Jesus for who He is?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Powerful Triplets

Sorry, this isn't about baby triplets, but that's a wonderfully cute picture, isn't it?

There is a literary style of using triplets as descriptors that makes reading flow.  For example if I were to describe my kitchen to you I would say, My kitchen is bright, comfortable and inviting.  Three descriptors that keep the sentence flowing.  Now I could have written four or five, or even just two, but there is something about three that just fits.

Same with decorating.  I have been told that you should never hang two pictures, there should always be three.  You should never put an even number of something on display - it should always be an odd number.  I am not sure why, and maybe it's outdated, but there is just something right about triplets.

So this morning I want to share a few power triplets from God's Word - I call them "powerful triplets" because any of these if purposefully and practically applied would be immediately life-transforming.  They are rich and deep enough to keep your mind engaged and if, by God's grace, we would strive every day for the rest of our lives to master these truths, it would be an honor to have these triplets put on our gravestones in memory of the lives we chose to live.

(wow…no pressure there…)

Triplet #1:

James 1:19 - "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger."

As a mother I have been known to interrupt my children's stories with solutions to their problems.  Here's why - I had six children.  Children do not tell stories quickly.  If I waited to hear all the details of every story from each one of them…well, there's just not enough time in the day.  So I would quickly throw out a solution and move on to the next.  Great parenting, right?

God says, Slow down.  Listen.  Mull over your response and don't lose your temper.  He is so different than my natural instincts.  But here's the truth - I was often solving a problem that didn't exist.  I needed to hear the whole story to find out what the need was.  I needed to ask questions, to listen better. Proverbs 18:13 says, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him."  Yes, I agree.  Through the years God has taught me to slow down, to listen, and to seek His wisdom before solving the world's problems.

There is great truth to this first triplet.  If we would write these down, tape them to the fridge and glance often on them during the day (notice the triplet), it would be life changing.

Triplet #2:

Ephesians 4:32 - "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

Kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.  What a great way to live your life.  I have often suggest to some of my counselees who are struggling in their marriages, when their husband is asleep, take a Sharpie and write these three words on his forehead.  Then every time you look at him, you will be reminded of how God wants you to love him.  I don't think anyone's done it, but it's a good mind picture.

Remember that God does not ask us to do anything that does not flow from His very character.  His kindness, His compassion, His forgiveness is on broad display at the cross.  That alone is enough motivation for me to work on this triplet.  My God is kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, so guess what? That's what I want to be.

Again, a great headstone, don't you think?

Triplet #3:

Micah 6:8 - "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Okay, the piece de resistance!  (That's French for noteworthy or prize feature!)  This triplet will take much more study than this blog has time for, but what a great road map for life:

  • Do justice - behavior - do what is right, lawful, moral - this is a daily battle in each of our lives, not to live by the flesh but to live by God's principles.  I use the word "battle" because if it came easy, we'd all do it.  But our flesh fights to sit on the throne and God wants that chair!  When we choose to live righteously, when we choose to live according to God's law - we are placing ourselves within His boundaries, which are there for protection, not for testing.  His ways are best, His ways are safest, and His ways are where the fruits of the Spirit flow freely
  • Love kindness - other translations say, "Love mercy."  Kindness means to be of a good or benevolent nature or disposition.  We need to love kindness but I think we tend to love justice. Let me explain the difference - justice disciplines law breakers.  Kindness shows mercy to law breakers.  We are instructed to do justice (live rightly) and love kindness (be happy when mercy is extended, not just to you but to others) but because we tend to think more highly of ourselves, we want to see people get what they deserve, rather than receive the mercy that we've been extended.  We need to stop that.  We need to start being kind, tenderhearted and forgiving because that is what has been given to us - we need to love kindness
  • Walk humbly with your God - and here's how we can do justice and love kindness - through a humble walk with the Lord.  Humility does not come from horizontal living - looking at and comparing ourselves to those around us.  Humility comes from vertical living - constantly keeping our eyes on Jesus, comparing ourselves to His holiness and perfection - that will humble us on a regular basis!  Humility is defined as not proud or arrogant; low in rank, importance, status and quality; courteously respectful; having a modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance.  Wow.  The only way to live a life of humility is to walk with God.  And here's an added bonus - Dave has pointed out that we have to humble ourselves - we are constantly instructed to humble ourselves, to be humble - it's a choice.
Powerful triplets - life changing instructions -  pick a set and start working on them!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Press On

"Brethren, I do not regard myself 
as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do
forgetting what lies behind 
and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 
press on toward the goal 
for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13,14

What lies behind can be life altering.  How many of us struggle to forget the past?  How can we forget it when it has shaped and molded us into the person we are today?  The past contains the keys to our thoughts - we dwell on past relationships, past conversations, past scenes, past could we forget what lies behind?  What in the world is Paul talking about?

It's no wonder we are a depressed society. 

Here are two scenarios for your consideration:

1.  You wake up in the morning and your first thought is a reminder of the argument you had with your husband before you fell asleep.  You turn over in bed and he's already up and gone.  Good, you don't have to deal with that.  In the shower, you remember the four things you forgot at Meijer and try to figure out when you're going to have time to pick them up later today.  You can feel a dull headache coming on, but brush it off in lieu of your morning cup of coffee - the caffeine will handle it.  Kids are running late, lunches aren't made yet and for some reason you've run out of hot water before the conditioner is out of your hair.  So much for a good shower.

You finally get the kids ready and off to school and your phone rings.  It's your mother and you just don't have the time to deal with her so you let it go to voice mail.  Her divorce from husband number 3 is still too fresh and you just don't feel like being a sounding board about how terrible all men are.  While you're thinking of it, your husband isn't rating so high either.  

Work is a pressure cooker today.  The new management doesn't like the way things were run in the past and you feel like it might be easier for them to just hire someone new, rather than train the old staff in their new ways.  You miss your old boss - he never worried about your schedule or your priorities - if you got it done, he was happy.  But this new boss has no patience for your personal limitations - he doesn't care that you never went to college and are self-taught. He expects you to be on top of the latest technology and makes it clear that there are many women younger than you who can do this in their sleep.  If only your mom and dad hadn't been so focussed on ruining their marriage, you might have gotten that education that was spent on their divorce instead.  

The after school babysitter just texted you that she's running a fever - now you'll have to call your mom and endure a 20 minute male bashing just to get the kids covered.  You're not going to call your husband because in the past, he's not very cordial the day after fights.  

Things continue to weigh down on you.  You forget the Meijer stop and as you walk in the front door, your son meets you with his cleats in hand - time to head out to soccer and it's your turn for treats.  No one ever considers the working mom when they schedule treats.  You're pretty sure you can drop him off at practice and grab some apples at the store and get back, but the unexpected low fuel light means you're late back to practice and the kids are almost all gone.  Once again you've proven yourself to be the unreliable mom.  But you'd hate to start something new and actually do what was expected of you for once...

Dinner is McDonalds, your husband rolls his eyes, you get the kids in bed and decide not to start the laundry, wipe down the kitchen, clean the bathroom or run the vacuum - all things on your to-do list from last week.  You're too tired, you're too unappreciated and you just want to go to bed.

2.  You wake up in the morning and your first thought is the argument you had with your husband before you fell asleep.  You reach over and he's already gone.  You grab your phone and type a quick text - "Call me when you have a free minute. I love you and hate when I go to bed mad."  You jump in the shower and immediately the praise song from Sunday is in your head. You sing full voice and even though you are apparently the last one to shower this morning because the water has turned cold, you're just glad the rest are up and moving.  You work on your memory verse that is taped to your mirror in the bathroom as you blow dry your hair, thankful for another day.

You whip up lunches and get the kids on the bus as your phone rings.  You chat with mom on the way to work, encouraging her to come to study with you tomorrow night.  When you hang up, you ask the Lord to move her heart to come - she needs a savior so bad and maybe now, after another failed marriage, she'll reach out to God.  You want a front row seat for that transformation!

Work is tense and though you might not be there forever, there are a few gals who need to see Jesus in you.  You run to Meijer at lunch, grab the apples that your son says are not a treat but a fruit, and head back to work.  Your husband calls you and things are headed in a better direction and in the car on the way home, you turn on last Sunday's message by Matt Chandler and grasp at a few minutes of wisdom.  You hit pause, load up the kids and sit in the parking lot at the practice, munching on an apple and finish the sermon.  

Dinner is McDonalds, there's snuggle time before bed and once the kids are tucked away, you spend another 45 minutes getting on top of some cleaning that was neglected over the weekend.  You fall into bed, thanking the Lord for another day, for a faithful husband, for children that keep you running and for the promise that one day you will be with Him in glory.

Which one of these gals is struggling to forget what lies behind?  Which is reaching forward to what lies ahead?  Can you see which one is on the road to depression?  Can you see why what goes on in your head during the day can wear you out?

Our past is a part of our history, but it is not our future - our future is in Christ - made whole, without sin, without struggles, in perfect communion.  We have a future.  We have a hope.  We have so many promises.  We must determine to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth - when we do this, it will set our focus in the right place and transform our lives rather than dwell on the past which is absolutely unchangeable.

So what will you do?  Hold on to the past or press on to towards the future?