Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cling



You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him;
 and you shall keep His commandments, 
listen to His voice, 
serve Him and CLING to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


What a great word:  cling.  This word defines relationship in this verse.  If we were only commanded to follow, fear, keep, listen and serve, we would conclude that our relationship to God was one of subservience, as with a slave status. But the fact that the Lord commands that we cling to Him, this reveals the heart of a father, doesn't it?

No one has to instruct a child to cling to their parent.  It is instinctual.  Safety is in the arms of the parent.  Try to pull a nine-month-old from their mother's arms at the nursery door at church.  What you get is instant clinging.

Clinging indicates safety and clinging indicates love.  In a crisis, the one you cling to is the one you love.  I heard an interview recently of one of the shooting victims from the Washington D.C. baseball practice this past June.  His name was Zach Barth and he was a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams.  When the shooting began, he was in the outfield shagging fly balls.  People were yelling, "Shooter! Run!", so he ran to a corner of the outfield but then the gunman started aiming at him. He was shot in the leg and decided he had to run back to the infield, so he limped his way back to the dugout, where he found Williams and they clung to each other until the shooting was done.  This man was not secret service - he wasn't trained to protect his boss.  But he loved his boss and found him, and they held on to each other for safety until the ordeal was over.

God wants us to cling to Him and in order to do that we have to have more than a Creator/created relationship with Him, more than a Master/slave, Employer/employee, Coach/player or King/citizen relationship with Him. We have to embrace that He is a good, good Father, our Heavenly Father, who loves us and wants what's best for us.  We have to trust Him and know that the safest place is in His arms.  We have to be close to Him, know Him, see Him and love Him, and then we'll cling to Him.

What do you cling to?  What do you hold tightly to in times of distress?  What do you hang on to as your greatest possession?  Your wealth? Your home? Your children? Your spouse? Your parents? Your education? Your job? What about your phone? Your free time? Your hobbies or your looks?  What is the greatest help in your life?  

Friend, Jesus wants you to cling to Him.  We've had a bat issue in our house lately and I've got to admit, trying to fall asleep while my ears are acutely hearing every crack or movement in the house is not much fun.  I want to cling to David at those times but there are a few problems with that - he really just wants to sleep and hanging on to him, buried under my covers, plus the occasional hot flash makes my body temp about 2,000 degrees. Not a great recipe for sleep and then both of us are cranky in the morning.  

Here's a plan:  How about I cling to the Lord?  Instead of lying in bed, waiting to hear the flutter of wings, I have gone into long conversations with the Lord each night until I fall asleep in His arms.  I have a lot to talk with Him about and knowing that He is there, that He loves me and that He isn't trying to fall asleep as well, makes the conversation much easier.  I did wake up to a bat in the room a few nights ago, but I didn't freak out and we caught the bat in the morning. Such is life - bats will come and go, but my Savior will be with me always.

By the way, we've just about got our bat problem solved, so please don't send me any bat videos or pictures.  I know what they look like and we're working with the Bat Man (seriously) and so we're just about done extracting the few hundred bats from my attic...true story.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Serve



You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him;
 and you shall keep His commandments, 
listen to His voice, 
SERVE Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4



Is your service to the Lord obligatory or voluntary?

The answer to that question should be "yes."  We are obligated to serve the one who redeemed or purchased us because He is our master now.  But our service should be out of love and not out of compulsion.  That's why I love the picture above because it's volunteering hands, not hands in chains, being drug into service.

Let's review our progression:
  • Follow - upon salvation, we surrender our life, our will, to the Lord and He becomes the leader
  • Fear - a proper awe and respect due to the magnitude of God's power and might - we must never forget Who He is and who we are
  • Keep - now that He's in charge, we must obey His commands, knowing that they are in our best interest and that in the middle of His will is the safest place to be - plus, obedience shows the Lord we love Him
  • Listen - we must fine tune our ears to hear Him amongst the competing voices in our head and the only way to do that is to know His Word - then we have a standard to compare all voices to
And now, serve.  Follow, fear and listen are instructions for our heart. Keep is an instruction for our actions.  Serve is an instruction for our attitude.  If our attitude is in the right place, it means we have the proper understanding of why we were created and why we were saved.  

Too many of us want to be the star of our show.  We want the spotlight.  We want people to think highly of us, praise us, like us, need us.  But we are believing a lie when we put ourselves in the center of the stage.  Our purpose for being here is to glorify the One Who made us.  He is the star of the show because He is God.  Period.  When I walk in a room and God walks in a room, He gets the attention. Every time. 

Now here's the awesome thing:  God has set His affection upon me.  Through His Spirit, He got my attention and through His Son, He paid the price for my redemption.  Not only has He purchased me, but He's made me His child - I am a fellow heir with His Son, Jesus. I am no longer dead or a slave to sin, but I am alive.  My eternity is one without sorrow, pain, suffering, fear or sin.  I am never alone.  I don't have to make decisions in a vacuum.  I can have deep joy and peace in the midst of the brokenness of this life because God has set His affection on me.

So when He tells me to do something, what should my attitude be?  Reluctant obedience so that everyone knows I am unhappy? Resentment for being bossed around? Willful disobedience because I know what's better for my life? Or burdened sorrow because what God wants of me is so hard?  

I think not.

We need to stop acting like a teenager who was just told to take out the garbage and serve the Lord with gladness. Our response to His affections should be joyful, immediate, and humble service.  We serve a good King.  We serve a loving Father.  We serve a gracious Master.  Our service is a delight and a joy because everything we do is to make more of Him.  When the Lord says, "Who will go?", our hands shoot shoot up as we cry, "Lord, send me!"  What a privilege to serve the Almighty God of the universe.  The fact that He has set His affection upon us is completely undeserved and simply unbelievable.  

Let's have an attitude check today.  Do you view your obedience to the Lord as an obligation or as service to One who loves you beyond words?  Do you see how your attitude can make a world of difference?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Listen


You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him;
 and you shall keep His commandments, 
LISTEN to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


There are a lot of voices in your head.  It sounds like just one, but the truth is there are a lot of competing influences that ring in your mind and it's hard to determine which ones are good and which ones are bad. The world is pretty loud and our flesh is pretty strong, so how do we know if the voice we are listening to is God's?

Let me start out by pointing out that God's initial command here is to FOLLOW, then FEAR and KEEP.  After these things, He says to LISTEN.  Unfortunately we tend to do these things in the wrong order.  We want to hear the voice of the Lord and then we'll decide whether or not we want to follow Him.  But it doesn't work that way.  The choice to follow must come first; a strong walk in surrender to His will, built on a healthy foundation of awe and respect for His character - these things must be in place in order for you to hear the voice of the Lord.

I had a woman once approach me after a Worship on the Waterfront concert I had been involved in.  I was directing a children's choir and our concert included a live band and adult praise team, plus 70 children.  This woman praised my efforts and told me that God had told her that because men were not stepping up and leading the way God had called them to, God was done with male leadership in the church and He was now going to raise up strong women to fill the void.  She had heard His voice and was His messenger.  The problem was that her message was contrary to God's Word.  If I didn't know the Word and understood God's design for church leadership, my flesh might have embraced this woman's message.  But I knew the Word and knew the voice she heard was not from God. As politely as I could I explained that to her and she didn't take it well.

We must know the Word, we must be actively walking closely to the Lord before we trust the voices in our head to be from God.  And even then, we must learn to listen and compare, before we act.

I know a gal who was very close to the Lord.  She walked with Him daily.  She relied on Him for her every need.  Her marriage was built on Him and I really don't know any other woman who lived in God's presence the way that she did.  Then one day she met someone...well, actually it was a talking snake...who told her that God was keeping something from her.  Then she assessed the information for herself and decided that he was right, and she broke her relationship with the Lord.  As a matter of fact, her actions along with her husband brought great destruction into the world.  

How did this happen to Eve?  She was in full fellowship with the Lord and didn't even have a sin nature to distort things!  The problem was that the voice in her head was not the Lord's and instead of comparing what God said to what the voice said, she acted on the voice.

When we listen to the voice of God, we must know His Word so that we know it is from Him.  All too often I hear people explain that they are hearing from the Lord and what they are hearing is contrary to His Word.  This is why FOLLOWING, FEARING and KEEPING must come first.  Then hearing will be a natural response to what we know about Him.

The flip side is this:  we just spent 8 months watching videos at church of people who listened to the voice of the Lord and had gospel moves all over the place!  The Lord would lay on their hearts to pray for hurting people around them, or to ask forgiveness when they were difficult at work, or to stand up for God's truth in a class, despite the negative response.  These are true examples of listening to the voice of God and acting on it.  By faith, they knew who God is and what His Word teaches, they knew the Gospel and what it means in life, and when the Lord nudged them to act, they obeyed.  What a wonderful example of LISTENING for all of us!  (to see the videos:  click here)

So what voice do you hear in your head and what is your process to determine if it is from the Lord or not?  We are commanded by God to listen to His voice, therefore we must commit to knowing His Word and surround ourselves with godly influences to determine if the nudging is from the Lord or from another source...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Keep


You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him;
 and you shall KEEP His commandments, 
listen to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


As we work our way through this verse, we have already seen the call to willingly place ourselves under God's authority (surrender at salvation) and the healthy fear of the power of God.  Today we are going to talk about "keeping."  The full instruction is "you shall keep His commandments."  

We tend to cringe when we hear the word "commandment."  That's for a few reasons.  First of all, we like the concept that we are free in Christ but commands do not equate to freedom.  In our mind, freedom equals the ability to do whatever we please, so the instruction to live within boundaries seems stifling.  Another reason is that keeping commandments sounds like we are earning our salvation and deep down we know we cannot perfectly keep God's commandments, so why is He telling us to do so?

I want to address both of these concerns.  First of all, we must understand what freedom in Christ means.  It DOES NOT mean that we are free to do whatever we want.  That would be foolishness.  That's what got us in trouble in the first place.  Remember, at salvation we are choosing to place ourselves UNDER GOD'S AUTHORITY - which means He is the boss of you.  Freedom in Christ means that we are no longer in bondage to sin, but have the freedom to please the Lord in whatever we do.  And what pleases the Lord the most?  Obedience to His commands. (I"ll explain why in just a minute...)

Secondly, the concern that God is instructing us to earn our salvation when He says that we are to keep HIs commands is inaccurate because of timing.  Remember, we are first called to FOLLOW - that's our salvation.  So how can this instruction save us more than what we already are?  Keeping God's commands has several purposes, but salvation is NOT one of them.  As Hebrews 11:1 tells us that the Law can never make us perfect, so there must be another reason for it.

So, why should we obey God's commands?  Let me give you three reasons. First, God's commands are in our best interest.  Just as a parent lovingly puts boundaries around their child for their protection, God places boundaries around us.  Sexual purity is a great example.  Do you know how simple it is for two virgins to marry?  There's no concern for disease and illness.  There's no partner baggage that comes into the marriage bed.  There are no competing memories or guilt trips.  There aren't any unwanted pregnancies or emotional and physical residue from abortions.  I have heard it said that high school girls who break up with boys they've slept with experience similar emotional loss to a divorce.  Purity guarantees none of that.  And yet, this is a boundary that no one wants to keep.  It's outdated, old fashioned and unreasonable.  Really? 

God's commands are a protection for us.  He is the author of life; He knows what is best.  To keep the commands of the Lord shows that you trust His goodness and love for you.

Second, it's a way to receive blessing from the Lord. Psalm 1 tells us that the person who walks in the ways of the Lord has abundant fruit.  Psalm 119 (all 176 verses) tells us of the blessings and benefits of walking in the Word of God.  Galatians 5 tells us that the flesh produces immorality, impurity, idolatry, jealousy, anger, fighting, envying, drunkenness and things like these, but the fruit of walking in the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control.  I would call those blessings.  If we keep God's commandments, deny our flesh and walk in the Spirit, blessing follows.

Finally, it's a way to show our love for Him.  Jesus said in John 14 that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  It's really that simple.  If you have WILLINGLY placed your life in His hands, why wouldn't you obey Him?  It just doesn't make sense to buck against His instruction.  In light of the price paid for our eternity, keeping the commandments of God should flow from an obvious trust in His character.  Would He sacrifice His Son only to leave you with ridiculous instructions to follow?  Come on, friend, we've got to think bigger than that!

So the logical question is this:  what are the commands of God?  Oh, dear!  There are many.  So get in the Word and find them yourself...read the Law of Moses, that's a good place to start!  In the Law you will see the heart of a holy and loving God.  Read the Epistles (the letters at the end of the New Testament) - there are tons of instructions there.  Or just read through a gospel - Jesus gave a lot of commands.  Oh - one more!  Why not just start with the BIG TEN?  You've got to start some place!

Follow.  Fear.  Keep.  

Halfway done.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fear



You shall follow the Lord your God and FEAR Him;
 and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


True or false:

God is scarier than this world.

Is He scarier than terrorists?  Is He scarier than public opinion? Is He scarier than your teachers or your nemesis or your neighbors or your boss? Is He scarier than the thugs that walk down the middle of the road? Is He scarier than your own father?  What do you think?

How you answer that will tell me if you understand what the fear of the Lord truly means. Most will tell you that to fear God is to have an awe and respect for Him, just as you would respect your earthly father.  Um...kinda but not really.  It goes much deeper than that.

When we relate our respect for God to our respect for another human, we're just not in the same ball park. We might do it as a reference point, but it's a pretty simple word picture, compared to reality.

So how do I explain what it means to fear the Lord?  It starts with recognizing Who He is.  I'm not talking about the God who destroyed the world with water, or the God who sent fiery serpents into Israel's camp, or the God who says He'll send hailstones mixed with blood and fire to the earth in the last days.  I'm talking about the God who said, Let there be light and suddenly reality was filled with bright, radiant whiteness.  The God who filled the seas with creatures beyond our wildest imaginations and the heavens with some of the most beautiful aerodynamic wonders.  The God who placed the earth on the exact orbit, in the exact position in our solar system, so that life could exist, who spoke the world into existence, who created humanity in His own image to live forever.  

When we realize that God is not in our category, that He's not a fallible man, with unreasonable outbursts and selfish ambitions, then we need to acknowledge our longing to know Him.  Like an orphan longs to know where he came from, God has set eternity in our hearts and created a longing that only the One whose image we bear can fill.  Not only can we see our Maker's handiwork in all that surrounds us, from the microscope to the stethoscope to the telescope, but we can see Him clearly in His Son.  The life He led, the path He took, the teachings He told, the miracles He performed all pointed to the heart of a loving God.

So, none of this is overly scary, is it?  Why do we call it "fear of the Lord" if it's not a little scary?  Truth be told, there is a scary aspect to it.  Because of our sin, we are born into eternal death.  Death is our destiny, eternally separated from our Creator, in torment, suffering for the rebellion in our hearts against Him.  The flooding, snake-infesting, hail-dropping God is still a reality, but we have to understand that His wrath is a consequence of our rebellion. 

Upon salvation, the wrath of God is appeased because Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient payment.  But we still live in a broken world, where sin and consequences abound.  Sometimes we bear the burden of other people's brokenness, but all too often we bear the consequences of our own sin.  As we walk in the Lord, growing and applying what we are learning about our God and His will for us, we become more vertical in our mindset, knowing that God blesses our obedience and He disciplines our disobedience.  

Knowing that God is loving and kind, gracious and merciful, patient and long-suffering, we can choose to live lives that bring Him glory because we also know He is completely present and involved with us on a daily basis.  Why would we choose to walk in rebellion when we know the goodness of the Lord?  Better yet, why would we choose to walk in rebellion when we know how God deals with sin? 

As believers, we must never forget the awesome power and magnitude of the Lord's strength.  We must not put ourselves even in the same category as Him.  We may bear His image but we are not made from the same materials.  He is God.  He is holy. He is awesome and He is to be feared.  Yes, it is awe and respect, but there is an aspect of understanding His power in His wrath, that although we will never experience it, we still are in fear of it.  This is why Christians are called "God-fearing" people.  We know that God will not sit idly by while sin rules and reigns, and because we fear the Lord, we choose to live lives that are honorable and God-glorifying. Because we fear the Lord, we don't cheat on our taxes or steal from our employers.  We don't cheat on our spouses and we don't lie to each other.  We know God is watching and we desire to live lives that bring glory to Him in all things.

So, is God scarier than terrorists, thugs or others?  He is scarier because He is more powerful and though incredibly, sacrificially loving, He is holy and will pour His wrath out upon sinful man.  Proverbs 9 tells us that fearing this God is the start of true wisdom.  Deut. 13 says that after choosing to follow God, we must fear Him - see Him as He truly is.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Follow

You shall FOLLOW the Lord your God and fear Him; 
and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


The first command is to FOLLOW the Lord your God.  This word defined means to go or come after; move or travel behind; strive after; aim at.  It implies that one is in front and one is behind, one is leading and one is following.  

I talk a lot about following when I counsel with women. Following is one of the hardest roles of the wife and it is perhaps the most important.  In Ephesians 5 Paul uses the military term "submit" when he instructs wives to follow their husbands.  This means to willingly place yourself under your husband's authority.  

In our context today, God is not instructing only women to follow Him, but men and women alike.  We are called to willingly place ourselves under God's authority, step aside and let Him lead.  In essence, this is what happens at salvation.

In our fleshly, sinful state, we were not following God but instead rebelling against Him and His lordship.  At salvation we recognize our need for a savior and we willingly place ourselves under God's authority.  When we accept His free gift of salvation, we are turning over the leadership to Him.  Our way is to failure, His way is to life.  We have a new Leader, a new Master and He is not only good, faithful and just, He is a worthy Master.  He proved His love for us when He took our punishment on Calvary.  

Following is an act of trust.  It says, I trust where you are taking me.  I trust what you are asking of me.  I trust that you will not hurt me, but that you love me.  When I was a young girl, my father took my older sister and I to a haunted house.  I thought I was tough enough for it but as I stood outside on that cold October evening, waiting to go in, my confidence started to get shaky.  By the time we entered the house, I knew I had made a big mistake.  So I put my full trust in my father and I followed him...literally.  I wrapped my arms around his waist from behind, dug my head into the back of his jacket and held on for dear life.  Occasionally I pulled away to see if it was as scary as it sounded, and the answer is, yes, it was.  In the end, I made it out of the house in one piece, much in part to my father's sheer strength of pulling me through that nightmare.

When following the Lord, sometimes it is that scary.  Sometimes we have to just hang on for dear life and let Him take us where He wants to. You see, the more you know your heavenly Father, the more you will understand that His heart is for you, not against you.  In Genesis, Joseph went on a journey that was miserable at times, being beaten and sold into slavery by his brothers, lied to and thrown in prison and forgotten for years.  But in the end, where that road took him was beyond anyone's imagination.  Only God could take this young Hebrew boy and place him second in command in Egypt.  What I admire about Joseph is that through it all, he willingly placed himself under God's authority, never doubting that God was good, faithful and that He loved him and had a plan for him.  It required a lot of patience and at times was even painful, but his choice to follow God brought great blessing in his life all along the way.

Colossians 3:1-3 says: 

Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

When we set our minds on the things above, we are seeking His face, seeking His will, living our lives with an eternal perspective.  Jesus said it pretty simply:  Follow Me.  The command to follow Jesus is the starting point of your life with Christ.  Willingly placing yourself under His authority - this puts order back into your life and gets you headed in the right direction.

How about reading through Joseph's story today?  I trust you will be encouraged as you see God's love and care, and great provision for this man of faith.  

Genesis 37, 39-45.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Christ


You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; 
and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, 
serve Him, and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


I love a good "In Christ" series, but this is not going to be the typical one.  The typical one looks at who we are in Christ - adopted, beloved, justified, redeemed, enlightened, saved, righteous, holy, chosen, etc.  Instead of looking at what Jesus has done for us in changing our identity, I want to study what is on our side of the table - what is our responsibility.  Now before any of you cry, "Heresy!", I want to assure you that our ability to be in Christ is solely through His actions, however we do have a response to His gift of salvation.  His redemptive work gives us the ability to respond and transform, but we don't simply wake up one morning, look in the mirror and realize we have become perfect.  Nope, we have some work to do and technically, perfection isn't a "this life" reality anyways...

So, what has been your experience? I know many who have been drawn to the church, moved by the worship and teaching, came forward with a prayer of decision and possibly even a baptism, and then went home and said, "Now what?" It's that question that I want to address. Now that I am in Christ, what do I do?

I have been studying the book of Exodus for our women's group this fall and that study has taken me into the Law.  Oh. My. Goodness!  The Law is WONDERFUL!  Yes, I said wonderful.  As I have studied the Law, I have seen the heart of God for broken man more clearly than ever before.  He understands how sin has infected the mind of man, which has diminished his ability to reason and live sensibly and lovingly, so God has patiently laid out instructions that not only bring Him glory, but also provide stability and justice for His people.  

By the time you get to Deuteronomy 13, God is addressing false prophets, who were alive and well 4,000 years ago, just as they still are today.  These people did not just promote chasing after false gods, but their messages were backed up with signs and wonders.  Now, if a miracle accompanies a message, it has to be from God, right?  But what if that message contradicts the Law?  Then the message must be rejected and the prophet must be put to death!  

It is interesting.  Not just the prophet is to be killed, but even the person who chases after his false god and wants others to do so, as well.  Listen to what the Lord says in verses 6-9:

If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you or your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him.  BUT YOU SHALL SURELY KILL HIM; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death and afterwards the hand of all the people." (emphasis mine)

Now, don't start planning the murder of the people in your life who worship false gods because we don't have a government that will allow that, but can you see the heart of God in this?  False prophets and even people interested in worshipping false gods are a threat to the purity of God's people.  God knows how easily our hearts are drawn away from Him and He wanted Israel on the alert, to keep their hearts completely set on Him and Him alone.  

It is in the midst of these verses that we get the answer to our question, "Now what?"  God clearly lays out our instructions for life, not just for Israel, but for believers who are IN CHRIST.  He says:

You shall FOLLOW the Lord your God and FEAR Him;  and you shall KEEP His commandments, LISTEN to His voice, SERVE Him and CLING to Him.  (Debt. 13:4, emphasis mine)

The child of God has clear instructions on how he is to live his life: follow, fear, keep, listen, serve and cling.  In doing these things the transformation process will enfold. Upon salvation, we are immediately transformed from dead to alive, but the sanctification or growth process happens as we follow, fear, keep, listen, serve and cling.  In one verse, we have the answer to "Now what?"

Over the next few blogs, I want to look at each one of these actions.  My hope is that as we work our way through this one verse, we will have greater understanding of the meaning of our lives and the purpose for which we were created, and that we will be inspired to roll up our sleeves and life the God-centered life He wants us to live.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Remembering


...and without the shedding of blood 
there is no remission of sins...
Hebrews 9:22


A heaviness comes over my heart every year at this time, as I am sure you feel the same.  It's almost a shameful heaviness because it seems that when I take a good look at the cross and see my sin, my guilt, my shame being punished, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes so much more personal.  I think I feel ashamed because it takes a holiday to remind me of my sin. But I am thankful that a "holiday" has been given, at least for now, to allow me to remember, just like all national holidays are intended to do:  
  • On Thanksgiving we remember the Pilgrim's, their struggle and their sacrifice to build a place where they could  freely worship God and raise their families
  • On Memorial Day we remember the soldiers who have given their lives so that our freedom could survive 
  • On Independence Day we remember the battle fought against Britain so that we could become a free nation 
  • On Veteran's Day we remember those who have served our nation, promoting freedom and democracy in the world and defending the rights of Americans to remain free 
On each of these days, we remember the sobering sacrifice made so that we can be...free.  Then we live however we want the rest of the year until we are reminded again.  But truth be known, I don't think our soldiers or our founders want us to live in a constant state of mourning, but instead, exercise and enjoy the freedom that is our because of their sacrifice.

I believe this is the heart of our heavenly Father, as well.  He wants us to understand that because of Jesus' sacrifice, we are free from the bondage and punishment that comes with sin.  He tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  He wants us to live life to the fullest, giving us His Spirit and His Word to teach us how to enjoy our new found freedom.

And yet, it is important to remember. Jesus wants us to remember.  That's why He established the communion table as a time to soberly remember His sacrifice.  And perhaps that's why all over the world this week people, who have no idea why, will pause to think about the cross.  But we know why.

Without the heaviness of Friday there is no joy on Sunday.

So let's remember this week.  Let's let the heaviness surround us. Let's read the accounts in scripture and slip our feet into the sandals of the characters.  Let's turn our heads away from the ghastly realities of the scourging and feel our chests heave when we see Jesus stumble on the Via Dolorosa.  Let's let the smells and the sounds of the cross hit us in waves.  Let's stay long enough to watch Joseph and Nicodemus take Jesus' body away and let's peer from behind a tree in the garden as the men struggle to push the rock over the grave opening.  Let's find time to feel the loss, the brokenness, the death of our Savior. Let's let the sights that confuse the world sink into our hearts, because we know that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission, no cancellation, no suspension, no forgiveness of sins.  

It's only for a few more days and when Sunday comes, I believe the heaviness of Friday enhances the glory of the sunrise on Sunday morning, the glory of the fact that the tomb is empty and that we are forgiven.  We serve a living God and He wants us to fully enjoy the fruits of His labors.  

It's Friday but Sunday is coming.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trust Issues


Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding...
Proverbs 3:5

trust - firm belief in the reliability, truth, 
ability or strength of someone or something


Here's the problem with forgiveness:  I can forgive someone and I can choose not to talk to others or myself about the offense, but does that mean that I have to actually trust them again?  

The best way to answer this question is to put it in spiritual terms.  So, I am imagining God, sitting on His throne in heaven, talking with Jesus, and pointing down at me. Here's how the conversation goes:

The Father:  Yeah, see Kristen right now?  I really love her but I've got to be honest with you, Jesus - I don't trust her as far as I can throw her.  You know how she keeps _______________ (fill in the blank with whichever sin in my life you want to use)?  I forgive and I forgive and she just keeps doing it again and again.

Jesus:  I know.  What a disappointment.  I don't blame you.  You can forgive but you'd be a fool to ever trust her again.  You're just setting yourself up for hurt again.  

The Father:  I've even applied the forgive 70x7 rule on her, but she passed 490 about two decades ago with this one.  (Shaking His head) Will she ever learn?

Jesus:  Pretty safe answer to that is, "No."  

Does that sound like a reasonable conversation between the Father and the Son?  Thankfully I don't have any scriptural support for that conversation, but rather I can look to the gospel to dispel any doubt that God not only forgives, but restores, rebuilds and transforms.  In Romans 7, Paul describes the conflict between his flesh and his new nature in Christ - they are constantly battling for his will. Sometimes he has success but often he fails. When he cries out for help, he turns to the cross:  "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me from from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v. 24, 25)  Jesus not only set us free from the bondage of sin, but He fights the battle so that we can have victory here and now.

One of the songs we sing at church says, "Our God is fighting for us always, Our God is fighting for us all" - the whole song is about the fact that God is mighty and strong to save.  It's not talking about fighting against persecution but rather sin's hold on us - if He doesn't give up, why would we?

Okay, back to forgiveness and trust. Now that we understand God is not disgusted with us in heaven, follow my train of thought:  
  • You have been hurt repeatedly
  • You choose to forgive, but in forgiving, it opens you up for more potential hurt
  • God demands that we be good forgivers, because He understands that if we don't forgive, it creates a root of bitterness in our hearts - bitterness, anger, frustration, and a lack of trust 
  • Though it's hard to trust a sinner, it's not hard to trust a faithful God - do a word study on "trust" in the Bible.  We are explicitly told to trust in the Lord over and over again...
  • When He tells us to do something, we can obey, fully putting our trust in the One who is conforming us into His own image
  • Because we trust the Lord, we can trust someone who has lost our trust - knowing that if they fail again, God will step in the gap and work through the circumstance for our own good and for His glory
I feel the need for a quick disclaimer - some sins have consequences we can't take away.  A father who sexually abuses his daughter can be forgiven but he has lost the right to a relationship with her or her children.  Sometimes sin brings consequences and if you are struggling right now about whether to restore trust to someone or if there are consequences that prevent that, then you need to talk with your small group leader or a pastor to make sure you are not trying to deal with someone's sin, rather than letting God do it.  

That being said, in MOST cases, we can willing place ourselves back into a vulnerable position, knowing that our trust is in the Lord, that we are walking in obedience to His will and that He alone has the ability to change the heart and actions of those who have hurt us.  And friends -  He can do that through the testimony of our ability to forgive!  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vacation on Your Mind



To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, 
brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, 
but giving a blessing instead;
 for you were called for the very purpose 
that you might inherit a blessing. 
I Peter 3:8,9

It's that time of year again...spring break is right around the corner.  Here in Michigan there are two kinds of people when it comes to spring break.  First there are those who have been planning since the first fall of snow for this vacation.  They've got their trip all mapped out. Whether flying or driving, nothing is going to stop them from getting on that beach.  And I mean, nothing.  Not long lines at the airport, not slow lanes around Atlanta, not even the 100th time "Are we there yet?" will be asked.  They have had their bags packed in their minds for months now, and all that is left is to throw in the latest Grishom novel and some sun screen.

The other group consists of those who can't stand traffic, lines and crowds. They wouldn't be caught dead at Disney over a holiday and travel mayhem is not worth the two week tan lines that boast a hot destination trip.  They plan on staying home, praying for a day over 50 degrees and finding "fun things to do right here in Michigan."  

They also can't stand the travelers.  And here's why:  because for the past few weeks, you can't get a good answer out of them.  You can't fluster them and you can't get their full attention.  You see, their mind is on that nearing vacation and not even an office meltdown will rattle them.  They have a future plan and it includes sand, sun and a lot of aloe for sunburn.  

In Peter's first letter to the church, he runs through a quick to-do list for the believer.  He tells us to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted and humble.  All of these words imply that they are not easy to do and the believer is sacrificing some rights to make peace.  He goes on to say, when being insulted, give a blessing - don't return insults.  Again, be the bigger person and keep the peace.  

This is very difficult to do and there are times that we will get tired of taking the blows and not getting even.  I can remember chatting with my children about difficult kids at school.  Today we call them bullies, back then they were just mean.  I would tell the kids not to respond to insults, not to engage in verbal battles, but to say something kind and walk away. That throws a bully off his game and it keeps you from having to ask forgiveness for saying something mean yourself.  My children didn't like this counsel.  It was hard.  It was humbling. It was sacrificial.  But it served them well, teaching them that God will deal with bullies, but He wants you to remember who you are (a child of the King) and what you are called to (a life that brings glory to Him).

This is the same counsel I give in the counseling rooms at church.  Over and over I hear stories about marriages that are hard, parents who are unfair, work conditions that are trying, and I am constantly telling my sister in Christ to humbly serve the ones God has placed in their lives.  Sacrificially put up with bad behavior just as Jesus did, not reviling in return but continually entrusting themselves to the One who will justly make things right one day.  This is hard counsel and as believers, it can be tiring to constantly take the high road.

But Peter doesn't just tell us what to do - he tells us why - because we are inheriting a blessing.  We are children of the King.  He is molding and shaping us into the image of His Son as we share in His sufferings.  And our future is bright.  We have heaven in our sights!  This broken life is not all we have and we'd better make the best of it.  No, we have eternity with unhindered fellowship with the Lord, in a recreated and restored Earth which will be greater than our imaginations can possibly imagine.  That is our destination, that is our heavenly focus.  

So just like those destination Spring Breakers, nothing can keep us from the joy of our destiny.  Nothing can shake us, nothing can take our joy.  It was purchased for us and the tickets are non-refundable.  Just like the ones who are anxiously awaiting the moment that they can say, "Good-by, Michigan!" and head out the door to a warmer destination, as believers we have even greater motivation to endure this life for God's glory.  Our minds are set on the things above, not on the things here on Earth. 

No matter which spring break personality you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ, when we live with an eternal perspective it changes our ability to do the hard things and live at peace with all men, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Good Works


Let your light shine before men in such a way
that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Okay, so this picture just makes me laugh, don't read anything into it.

I have been thinking about good works today.  Understanding that good works are not meritorious - in other words, they do nothing towards my standing before the Lord regarding salvation - we are still called to good works throughout the scriptures.  Ephesians 2:10 even says that we were created FOR good works, so they are definitely a part of life.

So what constitutes a good work?  Here's where the wrestling begins because I think in our humanity, we have made goods works a competitive system.  You might serve in the nursery on Sunday, but I read the Daily Bread every morning.  You might take fresh baked cookies to your neighbor, but I made them a whole meal.  You might pray every night when you go to sleep, but I not only pray, I journal, study, memorize a verse and listen to a worship song. Is prayer even a good work or are good works only something you do for others? Are good works earning something?  Maybe just brownie points, but is there value in getting more brownie points than other people?

As many of you know, David and I had six children, all with different needs, strengths and weaknesses.  When trying to run a household with that many children, I had to set up pretty narrow systems to make sure we got out the door in the morning with everything we needed.  For some of the kids, we had to lay out the clothes the night before, while others could manage that on their own.  We made lunches the night before, packed backpacks and had them lined up on the red cabinet, ready for lunches to be dropped in and zipped up.  Each child knew what was expected of them when I got them up - make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed before coming down to the kitchen.  There I would have their breakfast of choice ready to go (most of them wanted Eggo waffles) and when they were done, they put their dishes in the dishwasher.  Then bags were packed with lunches and pretty quickly, we were out the door.  

This was not too overwhelming to five of the kids, but one really struggled with their part of the expectations.  Their bed was rarely made, their room was a disaster, homework was a struggle.  It just took extra effort on my part to get this child with the program.  On days when this child was on top of things, I would cheer and make a big deal because of the success.  But quickly I became frustrated when I had to cheer for something the other 5 did without question or cheering.  Was I fostering a disobedience that would only be rectified through praise?

Here's the truth:  the other 5 children had privileges that were often taken away from the one.  They didn't need cheering - the blessing of obedience was a consistent, positive relationship with mom and dad, plus more freedom because they could be trusted to do what was expected (which is another way of saying "obey").  The other child was fully capable of obeying, but most of the time didn't feel like it.  Therefore that child had limited freedoms and privileges, until that child learned that with obedience came not only blessing, but good fellowship/relationship with mom and dad.

So what are good works?  Obviously they are good actions, good things - not evil or destructive.  But if you boil it down, good works are simply obedience.  God created us to walk in obedience to His Word. When we obey Him, like an earthly father, we are in good fellowship with Him.  When we reject His boundaries or refuse to obey, then like an earthly father, He will discipline us - choose to sin, choose to suffer, right? So good works are everything from kindness towards others, forgiving others, meeting other's needs, spiritual disciplines - anything that glorifies God and is within the boundaries that God has set for us.  When we extend our hands, we do it for Jesus.  We should never do anything that He wouldn't do.  Good works are works that are consistent with Jesus' character.

There are several benefits to good works. In addition to continual fellowship with God, it is the easiest way to show your gratitude for the cross. Willingly placing yourself under God's authority, with a good attitude, an attitude of gratitude, is a visible way to tell the Lord, "Thank you." Good works are also the most effective way to live out your faith.  If you don't put actions to your beliefs, then your faith is dead.  Good works show who you follow.  You also give testimony to those around you that God is real and that He loves you.  Your good works will bring glory to God.  And finally, good works produce spiritual fruit - the works of the flesh produce all sorts of negative and broken feelings, but good works, with your eyes set on Christ, produce fruit of the Spirit in your life.  

One final note:  we're not aiming for perfection here because we know in our flesh we are limited.  Think of it this way - who dreams of having a child so that you could discipline them constantly?  Instead you dream about the good times and the close relationship.  This is what the Father wants with you and the way to have a close relationship with Him is to willingly seek His will and obey. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hearts and Treasures


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, 
where moth and rust destroy, 
and where thieves break in and steal. 
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, 
where neither moth nor rust destroys, 
and where thieves do not break in or steal;  
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19,20

The center of our being, or what the Bible calls our heart, is our mind.  It is what moves us to action and from it flow our feelings and emotions. We are told in Colossians to set our minds on the things above, in Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and wicked, in Proverbs that the springs of life flow from our hearts, and in Romans, as we looked in the last blog, that we are to renew our mind for transforming power.  

So today, in Matthew 6, we see that what we treasure, what is really important to us, is what we set our heart or our mind upon. If our hearts are set on worldly treasures, we will be consumed with finances and possessions.  We'll spend much of our life working to attain them and the rest of our life protecting and maintaining them.  

For example, the person who dreams of owning a boat...this is not a bad desire, but it can become an all consuming acquisition.  First, you never buy the right boat as your first boat.  You start with a small one and move your way up the boating ladder.  You have to buy trailers to tow them and rent space to store them, unless you build a garage on your home big enough to hold your cars and your boat.  You spend time cleaning it after each use, you have to insure it because people do stupid things and if they do them on your boat, you'll be the fall guy.  And then you use your boat...a lot...because you've spent so much on that boat that you'd better get good use out of it.  I suppose the same could be said about houses and cars, as well.

Now here me, I know plenty of people who own boats and they manage things just fine, but I also know that a boat can become more of a burden than a pleasure, depending on how much of your heart/mind is consumed by this desire.

A personal example - Dave and I love salt water fish.  It started with a small tank that grew and grew  and grew, until it was several hundred gallons.  Salt water tanks aren't overly simple.  There are a lot of things that have to be just right in order for fish to live.  Let me put it this way, we've killed everything under the sea.  At one point, we decided not to let the kids name the fish anymore because it was traumatizing to see Nemo floating cock-eyed in the water, struggling with his last breaths, as the children sobbed. Eventually, the tank required more time than we could give it and we ended the hobby.  It was taking up too much of our time, thoughts and energy so we let it go.

When you set your heart on earthly treasures, then you have to worry about them, as well.  This is why Jesus said to turn your focus to heavenly treasures...ones that won't rust or die on you.  When we die, we won't have a trailer attached to our caboose with our boat on it as we walk through the pearly gates. Neither will we have our fish tank in one hand and a bag of salt in the other.  So what exactly are the treasures that we are to store up in heaven?  I thought we can't take anything with us?

Well, what has eternal value? I'll name three things:

1.  Souls - though only God saves, the time invested in soul saving is an eternal treasure. Jesus commanded us to "...Go therefore and make disciples..." (Matthew 28:19) Pouring into people spiritually has eternal value, because image bearers of God have eternal souls.  Giving your life to enlarge the kingdom of heaven has eternal worth.

2.  Generosity - In Luke 16:9 Jesus said, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings." Though we can't take our money, we can use our money here on earth to build the kingdom and bless other believers who are needy in this life.  In eternity, this will be remembered.

3.  Good works - I Corinthians 3:12,13 says, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work..." For some reason, no one likes to talk about this, but a day is coming when our works will be presented before the Lord and tested. The ones with eternal value - the ones which were done for the glory of our King - will stand the test of fire.  But the selfish good works will be burned up.  If we are storing up treasures in heaven, we must examine our motivation and say, am I serving the Lord to glorify myself, or is my mind set on the Lord and I am serving out of complete devotion to Him?

If we choose to store up treasures in heaven, where our treasure is, there you will find our mind.  A good test is to see what you spend the day thinking about. How much time does the boat, fish tank and finances to acquire your desires take up of your thoughts compared to the things of the Lord?  That number will be the indicator of where your heart is.

Remember, evangelism and discipleship, generosity with the needy and hurting, and plain old good works for the glory of our Savior are all efforts with eternal value.  So how are you going to spend your day?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Effort vs Heart


And do not be conformed to this world, 
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, 
so that you may prove what the will of God is, 
that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

What's on your mind today? Most likely what you are thinking about will shape your day.  If you are mulling over a tough conversation that needs to be had, your brow may already be furrowed and that tightness in your chest won't go away until it's accomplished.  If your running through a to-do list, you might feel your blood pressure rising, knowing there may not be time to get it all done.  If you're frustrated about the behavior of a child, that frustration may be accelerated as the day goes on, if that behavior continues to manifest itself today.

We all want transformation, don't we?  We watch the videos at church of how the Lord is meeting people and changing lives, and we write our own "God-at-Work" video in our heads and it's boring and super short.  So we set out at the hard work of transformation, committing a great amount of effort to change.  Our hearts may truly be in the right place - a desire to have a different life, different outcomes, different goals and values.  But in the end, old habits die hard and we find ourselves, efforts exhausted, back where we began.

As much as we try, real life happens and it's hard to control our minds all the time.  We worry about tough conversations, to-do lists and wayward children.  It's our reality and though we've put a lot of effort into transforming ourselves, we seem to be short on energy and creativity.  

Okay, so how about if we try doing things God's way? All the effort you've put into changing yourself, though it has been valiant, is more about your strength and not your mind.   If you notice in the verse above, there are six words that we tend to overlook.  Here's how we read it:  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed, so that you can prove what the will of God is, good, acceptable and perfect. Acting on this would be a fail without those six words - "by the renewing of your mind."  

It really is about your mind.  At church we sing, "I have set my heart, set my - set my heart on you." A better, more straightforward but less beautiful way of saying that would be, "I have set my mind, set my - set my mind on you."  Getting to the heart is getting to the mind, and if we want true transformation, we must focus on the act less and think more.  Trust me, the actions will follow the thoughts.

There was a man who worked for my father.  He was a retired State Police officer and he was a rough and tumble, no nonsense, you-can't-trust-anyone-because-they're-all-scumbags kind of guy.  And his language matched his attitude. Because of his employment for my father, he found himself hanging out at our church on Sunday mornings and after a few months, met with the pastor with a list of questions and surrendered his life to Christ.  And then, everything changed.  For the first time he was reading the Word and learning things about a loving God that he never knew before.

At his funeral, several, well, actually many of the state troopers who knew him way longer than I knew him, said to me that working for our family had changed LT (that's what we called him).  The first obvious sign that he was changing was his language. The cuss words were less and what he talked about had changed.  This had nothing to do with my family and everything to do with Jesus.  LT had set his mind on the Lord and it transformed him from the inside out.  If he had rolled up his sleeves and said, "I'm going to stop swearing like a sailor," it never would have worked.  But he was filling his mind with the things of the Lord and the language changed.

We must renew our mind in the Word.  We must listen to good music, listen to good preaching, immerse ourselves with the lovely truths in God's Word on a daily basis and I promise, that transformation that you long for will happen faster than you can imagine.  Yes, it will take effort, but when your mind is leading you and you're not just forcing yourself to act a certain way, the transformation part becomes a miraculous adventure where God takes over your heart and changes you from the inside out.

There will still be tough conversations ahead, mile-long to do lists and rebellious children in our future.  But when we frame our lives with the knowledge of who God is, what He has done and is doing in our lives, the beauty of His majesty, the future that awaits us in glory - when we set our hearts on Him, the reality of every day life will be handled in a different manner.  No longer will we marinade in the brokenness of today, but instead we will be renewing our mind in the truth that this is not all about us, but rather it's about Him and He's already handled everything to His glory.

Friday, February 17, 2017

For HBCSL Women's Study Gals



So...in my sheer excitement to explain the double Sabbath at the time of Christ's death, I totally skipped teaching how Jesus fulfilled the four spring festivals on the actual day of the festival.  I know I said it ten times, I just didn't expound.  So, please forgive my oversight and to finish what I started, here goes:

1. The Passover - On the actual day of Passover, Jesus became our Passover Lamb. This one is most easily understandable.  At sundown, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and to be arrested.  The trials ran through the night and by 9 am, Jesus was on the cross - the innocent shedding His blood to cover the guilty.

2.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread - this is the festival that deals with sin and ceremoniously cleans the house of leaven in order to present themselves sinless before the Lord - this begins the day after Passover and as we studied, it was a "holy convocation," as well.  This would have been Jesus' first day in the grave.  From Ephesians 4:8,9 we understand that upon His death Jesus went into Sheol and led those in Paradise into the presence of His Father.  He was finally dealing with sin, applying His sacrifice to the accounts of those who were waiting for the Messiah to come (Old Testament saints) and basically cleaned house.

3.  The Feast of First Fruits - this feast began on the first day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It was the feast to offer the first fruits of the first harvest.  This would have been the first day of the week - Sunday - when Jesus rose from the dead.  I Cor. 15:10 tells us that "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."  His resurrection is the first harvest of a greater harvest to come.  Fifty days later a much larger harvest would come in on Pentecost.

4.  The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost - this is 50 days after the resurrection and on Pentecost, the Lord added 3,000 to the church.  It was the second harvest celebration, three thousands souls brought back to life through the gospel.

Okay, I feel better.  Have a great weekend!