Are you growing concerned?

Are you becoming more aware of the news?  From financial issues, and suffering of those around us, to the world events – horrific news, startling, and possibly very overwhelming.

My husband and i have been a part of the prayer team of our church, and so we find ourselves filtering things through soft and purposeful conversation with God.  Painful bodies, fearful moms, unemployment, disobedient children, struggling marriages, and on and on.   Our needs as people are very great, and our dependence is growing greater and greater on God himself to provide and meet the needs.

But i must tell you that while i know our needs are important they seem to pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for their faith in Jesus.

As I stand to sing worship choruses these past Sundays I realize how privileged we are to gather publicly, to give voice to our hearts cry of worshiping our great God without fear of imprisonment, beatings, death.  So as i close my eyes, and lift my heart and my voice to God I find myself lifting those believers around the world to Jesus, and ask for his presence in their lives.

Remembering Al and Eileen – We have friends who are Pakistani nationals, and have lived around the world. They are believers in Jesus.  And these last 10 years their government has not permitted them to leave their nation.  They are surrounded by 99.5% of their fellow citizens who believe in radical Islam, or tribal factions.  They have a life that is constantly one word or one action from death.  Al told us the last time he was visiting in the states that we need to pray for the believers in Pakistan like this:

  • Lord grant them wisdom to know your word, your heart, your spirit
  • Lord grant them favor with their neighbors that those who do not know Jesus might see his love extended through your people in that place.
  • Lord give opportunities to love, help and share your word with those who do not know
  • Strength, courage, boldness, fearlessness, God’s favor.

As the news continues to churn out photos and video of Christians being executed for believing in Jesus I can;t just stand in church and sing a worship chorus.  I am compelled to cry out for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted.  And i am compelled to cry out against the acts of injustice, shocking violence, of global bullying on a massive scale.

The rising tide of hatred and hostility of Christians is joined by the growing antisemitism that is playing out in the world.  Many are saying these are times much like that of pre-WWII, where people were being fed propaganda, believing ideology that was filled with venemous hatred, doctrines of demons.

America is not the same nation it was 5 years, 10 years, 20 years ago.  The news media is whipping up a hostility toward Christianity, our government is embracing poor judgement, and the leadership of our nation is growing sketchy.  Being a Christian is becoming a dangerous decision, with frequent news of charges pressed, court cases, etc for simplly living out our faith.

The winds of change are blowing.  Are we there in prayer, standing firmly asking our Great God and King to meet us, change our hearts, accept our repentance, and heal our land?

I am growing concerned – not of God, because i know he holds everything in his great care, but i am growing concerned that fellow believers seem to have little sensitivity to the great need to pray, to seek God with everything in our souls, and to ask for the needs of our fellow believers that are hurting.

“Father, forgive us for our self focus.  Forgive us for not praying for our rulers, our government, or leaders.  And forgive us for letting your word slide from our lives.  We repent today, and ask you to fill our  hearts and minds with your spirit, your word, your strength.  And we bring our brothers and sisters who are being fiercely persecuted to you.  Please be their strength, glorify yourself in your people, strengthen and embolden your church to stand in the presence of evil, and know your plan is to bring many to salvation.  

We pray for those who are the persecutors… may they come to know they are persecuting your people, and that you know every thought and act.  May you show yourself to them in dreams, visions, and manifest fear in their very souls.  We ask for their salvation, we cry to you to turn your enemies to repentent believers.  In everything may we sense your spirit, your provision, your protection and your love.  And may the world sense this too.  Amen”

Glorious Day!

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Resurrection Sunday is here.  And we are the most blessed of all humans, to know the truth of the glorious love of our Savior, the willingness to endure the cruelty of humanity, and to lay his life down to pay for our sin. To be willing to lay aside his powers as God Almighty, and inhabit a tent of flesh, to live among us, and to understand our sorrows.

This is a glorious day. The tomb is still empty, and Jesus stands victorious over death and the grave.

Let us relish this day with great joy. Sing a bit louder, love a bit deeper and worship him with a lot more zeal.

Christ is risen, and our debt of sin is paid.
Christ is risen, and death is defeated.
Hallelujah! He is risen indeed.

Seasons Change and so do I

Recently we attended the wake of the mother of an old friend.  The inevitable place we all end up, burying our parents, and accepting that time passes, we age and this life is so short and fragile.  As we gathered at the funeral home we wondered how the evening would go.  In the early 1990s our friend lived with us for two years after returning from a 4 year mission trip to New Zealand.  During the time he lived with us we transitioned from a large church to a smaller inner city work that was reviving ministry in an old neighborhood.  So the friends that came last night were a blending of a few churches, over a span of years.  It was a bit surreal to see them all together.  And to see how the years have been, how life has changed us, molded us, directed us, aged us.

At some point last night the realization settled in again that people come and go from our lives.  Some are meant to be there for a long time, others for a short while.  Some are meant to be cheerleaders of our life, encouragers, bringing words of strength, or wisdom.  Others are meant to drive us to our knees, keeping us in prayer, and introspectively looking at our lives to fine tune. Old friends, able to pick up conversation where it last left off – yes that was nice.  But some of those memories of why our lives took different paths began to come into view.  The strong willed personalities that refuse to believe anyone else has any place in speaking about life.  Oddly that same emotion of perceiving that nothing I say would be heard came flooding back again from those many years ago.  Differences in how we respect and uphold each other was clear.  .  And the person who was so negative that even saying hello took us to dark places… aha, moving on could be a good thing.  But what could leave some people stuck in a patch of negative 24/7 thoughts?  Is life so harsh that you cant stop for a moment to say something lifegiving?

Last night I found myself sitting before the lord and asking him to clarify and bring to my memory any ways I was not a life giving believer last night.  Funeral homes are difficult for so many people, or at least awkward at best.  We prayed we would bring hope and comfort to those grieving, and words that speak life into their souls.  And I think we did that.  And we prayed that we would offer hope and encouragement to old friends who have taken different paths, gone to different churches, or remained while we moved on.

I dont want to rose color paint life’s memories but likewise i think it is human nature to either focus on the positive always, ignoring blatant stressful things, or the very opposite… getting stuck where everything is negative, and just being around such people exhausts us.  In that short time of visiting people from the past I realized again how critically the world needs people who are encouragers, life givers, who choose to speak peaceful things, supportive things, encouraging each other.

A long time ago my mom told me that you never know what people are carrying with them or going through, and often the person who is the most kind and encouraging has learned to be this way through deep sorry and struggle with life.  As a child that was lost to me, but as i age i see the virtue of the statement.

So this is my prayer for today, and beyond:

Lord, take my mind, my heart, my lips, my tongue, my fingers- may each effort to communicate with others be filled with kindness, grace, and love.  May others see in me the very presence of Christ in me, which is the hope of glory, and as each encounter ends may there be life, hope, refreshment and joy.  May me that instrument of peace, and use my lips, my tongue, my fingers to express your grace, your love, your passionate pursuit of us.

Lord forgive me for judgemental thoughts about old friends.  Help them to grow strong, live strong in you, and grant them large measures of love and grace.  Thank you that you are teaching me daily about grace, and your wonderous mercy.  Amen

The life of forgiveness

One of the big lessons of being a faithful follower of Jesus has been forgiveness. As a new believer one of the first lessons I learned was that the decision to seek revenge, or hold on to offenses committed was not ours, but God’s.  As humans we will expeience hurts, disappointments and sometimes even deal with people that intend harmfulness. Not everyone in this life is good, nor does everyone act fairly, love justice or walk humbly with God.

Now you have to know that I come from a solid Russian stock, and one of the strong characteristics of my family has been holding on to offenses.  “Sure I will forgive, but i will never forget!” was the motto.  But forgiveness of my family always seemed conditional, and the next time an offense occurred you had better believe there was a lot of discussion and chatter about it.  So as a young believer I had some serious reason to seek God in prayer for wisdom to change my heart, and teach me to forgive.

“If we confess our  sins , he is  faithful  and just  to forgive  us  [our] sins , and  to cleanse  us  from  all  unrighteousness .” – 1 John 1:9

Yes, forgiveness begins with us on our knees, confessing our sin to God.  He knows what we have done, but it is only when we humble ourselves and tell God how we have wronged him that our hearts are changed, and he wipes the slate clean.  Theology tells us that Christ died once for all of the sin of the world: past, present and future.  That Christ took upon himself on the cross the weight of all of our wrongs – that whispered gossip, that thought of harming someone, that act of betrayal, those wounding interactions with other people who live on this sin scarred earth.

We have Jesus’s very words on the cross while he was dying as an example:

“Then  said  Jesus , Father  forgive them ; for they know  not  what  they do.” – Luke 23:34

Jesus, God in flesh, spotless, perfect, sinless.  He was beaten and bruised, and tortured beyond what we can humanly stomach, and left to the agonizing death of crucifixion – slow and painful suffocation while enduring deeply painful neuro-muscular pain.  If there were ever a moment to consider this profound injustice, the cross was the place…. yet Jesus was faithful to the mission, asking his father to forgive all who did this to him.

I could go on with examples from scripture that clarify the essential need for forgiveness, for compassion, for surrendering to God of the end of the matter, and trusting that in God’s hands the issue will be resolved the best possible way.  That act of confession and the turning over of the offense does something inside us.  It changes us a little bit each time we deny our sin nature the right to the offense.  And it changes us to be a little bit more loving, a little bit more like the Lord.

All that said, I have had a few big moments in my life when the result of human interaction sent me to my knees before God, crushed by a sense of rejection, and a sin nature that wanted justice extracted now.  Havent we all been there.  My sin nature wants to be strong, and rise up to tell the world about the injustice.  Then the still small voice of God whispers “Vengence is mine- i shall repay”.  And in that still small voice I knew that the creator of the universe knows what happened, shares my pain, and wants health for my soul.  Almost as if to say “Give it over to me, let it go… I will handle it.  I will take care of you my child, and I will also take care of the situation. don’t be concerned for repaying the offense….because I have it in control.”. The only thing to do is confess, and forgive.

Aah, wrestling done, silently the offense, and the offender are yielded to God.  It is a decision made.  “One this day, and at this moment I surrender this.  I choose forgiveness.  I will move on, knowing this is in the capable hands of God.”. And I can remember the lifting of the weight of the sin and offense. Breathe in, slowly exhale…and let’s move on.

I decided to write about this because over the weekend I had the chance encounter with someone who hurt me so badly.  It was a deep and profound wound that sent me to my prayer closet, wanting God to tell me why this would happen, and what i am to do with it.  This offense actually sent me on a month long spiritual tailspin, which found me questioning my call, my faith, my life and my purpose.  God is good.. and in the right time he began to reassure me of my purpose, give me more faith to believe and show me the next step of my life. He wanted health for me, and focus on him. Matthew 6:33 echoed through my soul…”keep seeking God first and all the rest will be added to you.”. In time I knew God would refine the vision and purpose in my life…for now I need to keep spending quality time with the lord…

I know I spent serious and honest time in prayer confessing and determinedly forgiving that precious believer.  And a good amount of time passed… Then i ran into her…. and floods of thought came back.  And all I could think of was this “You are my child, you yielded this to me, love her, and move on.”  We exchanged common courtesy, and light chatter, and I knew something had changed in me.  God was on the move, changing my heart. I still remain guarded to pick up the friendship, but the war of thoughts was not there. Forgiven-yes, Surrendered to Jesus-yes….

Perhaps our paths will cross again. I am thankful that I obeyed Jesus and yielded  …relinquishing any right to revenge, or justice. And there days I have finally begun praying for her…that she would become all that God has designer her to be.  I ask Jesus to give her wisdom, and spare her from such profound wounding capabilities. May the Lord bring her fresh peace and grace. Prayer doesnt stop there… I ask daily for the capability to continue to forgive, to find love, to seek wisdom, and to find peace in this journey to heaven.

 

The hard lessons of Job in my life

Our Sunday morning series of teachings are on “Unlikely Heros”.   It has been wonderful teaching on some of the less known people tucked in the pages of God’s Word.  Each person brought to light a new facet of life, a new challenge, and a new opportunity to see the hand of God move on the situation.

We knew it was going to be a special time yesterday because the unlikely hero was Job, and the guest speaker, Julio, spoke from deep in his heart about the work God has done in his life and that of his wife.   He and his wife went through the sudden death of her mother, and shortly after that the still birth of their baby girl.

The book of Job is challenging to me.  I remember the first time I read through it.  I remember being both surprised and delighted to know that all things are in God’s control.  When satan presented himself before God he was ready to accuse, to judge, and to see one of God’s servants to fall, cave, give up and curse God.  God gave him permission to test Job, but he set boundaries on that permission.  While I have always known that God is sovereign, i did not realize how powerfully in control he is until i came across that nugget in Job.  It turned my “theology” upside down.  It was the first time I understood the magnitude of the spiritual battle raging through time.  And it was the first time that I could clearly see that God would even use deep trials to build character, and work the situations to point us to a deeper life in Christ.  Trials do that.    But it took many years to understand that the sovereign God would allow illness, natural disasters, and hard things to be his instrument to mold and shape our rough hewed characters into finely chisled works of his mighty hand.

I must tell you that when i read about Job’s loss…. his wealth, his family, his health, and his sense of purpose in life…. i wanted to run.  Yes, just run from that kind of character building.  I think i am not alone in saying that i want a life with minimal trial, predictable, constant.  But I am reminded that I am not my own, I was bought with a price, and called to glorify God through this earthly life.  And that life may mean loss, trial, struggle, and challenge which works as a tool to refine my focus and increase my dependence on God Almighty

As you may know from my blog, or possibly just knowing me in life we were a normal middle class working couple with a home in suburbia and 3 dogs.  Life was predictable, constant and like Job, we lived to honor God with our daily life.  We did not have Chaldean or Sabians run off with our wealth, but there was a series of events that brought us to our knees… Steve was diagnosed with Diabetes, then the loss of both of our jobs within 4 months of each other, financially we hit the rocks, spending most of our retirement savings to survive while finding the employment market impossible,and finally we were forced to declare bankruptcy.   It was  a series of grieving events… with the primary thing being the difficulty finding a new job and the lack of income to pay bills.  Waves of emotion came from treading the unknown, and stumbling in the new path God was taking us through.  Like Job, I just wanted to be quiet, and grieve through the time, come to some peace about the transition, and especially a sense.  And yes, there were a ton of people with comments and advice and instruction and admonition… Judgement was out there but I am thankful that God put strong people with His wisdom around us.  Unlike Job’s friends who offered all kinds of toxic advice, we found favor and grace with many.  And little by little God is showing his power to rebuild our broken lives.  But we know it is all in his time, with his favor, and for his purpose.

One of the biggest lessons i learned from Job, and our Job like experience is that control is nothing i have nor have i ever had it.   Everything in life taught me differently… so the complete sense of loss of control was surprising, and eye opening.  Job received messenger after messenger with news that was intense, difficult, beyond what seems humanly possible to bear.  This was the case in my life too… yet that still small voice of God reminded me that he promised wonderful things for me… that i am called, chosen, special, a priest of royal blood, his friend.  He even reminds us that he has a plan for us, to give us a future with hope. These snapshots of his character, and his truth about my life  are what made it possible to go through this trial.  Control is not mine to handle.  That did not stop me from feeling as though i had jumped off a cliff into the raging torrent of water, and was being swept downstream unable to navigate the river.  But each time it felt like i was going under somehow i did not, and there would be times when the rivers current became still, allowing for me to take my breath, and try to recover.

Mixed in the story of Job were so many lessons God was burnishing into my heart.

  • Forgiveness – Forgiveness, someone once told me, is a thinking decision that requires us to train our heart to follow.  I wrote in my journal on June 26, 2010 that I forgive my boss for her decision to lay off people, including myself.  I wrote “I have no right or authority to hold this over her head because I am a follower of Jesus.  I yield that right to judge to the Righteous Judge.  He knows this decision, and the motivations and impact it will have.  I yield to his authority, and wisdom.  Now Lord train my heart to accept this decision and bring closure.”  Three years later I continue to honor my decision to forgive her, and most of the time it is easy to accept.  But there are those moments when the renegade thoughts of how unjust her decision was, or how that one decision sent rippling effects through my life changing it forever.   It is at times like this that the only answer is prayer…. remaining in prayer until I no longer wish to think evil of anyone.  Forgiveness is healing.

I have read some of Spurgeon’s work, and one particular excerpt from his commentary on Romans 7 is caught in my thoughts regarding forgiveness:

The body of death = the old sinful nature that lives in every man born in Adam and also still lurks in the dying physical body of all who are born again in Christ. Christ delivers both from the body of death. The body is the scene of this contest. Sin living in the members brings spiritual death to the body, and man becomes aware that he needs outside help. Paul cries out not for deliverance from the body characterized by this spiritual death or the doing of that which is evil in opposition to his desire to do that which is good.

Regarding the body of this death, C H Spurgeon writes that…

It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that every day he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.

A horrifying idea to have a corpse strapped to you, but in truth when we think of the impact of holding a grudge, or refusing to forgive, we are setting ourselves up for this very idea.  Unforgiveness just drags us down, and it becomes difficult for us to live healthy lives.

  • Accepting Loss / Grief – Job received message after message… loss of his family, his wealth, his health…. and he needed time to just sit and grieve the losses.  I lost my career, my income, my ability to pay my bills, and the loss of a sense of purpose.  For me it seemed like wave after wave of news and devastation that was as difficult as when my mom died.  These were grievous times, my life was being turned upside down.  I did not want to let go of the comfort and ease of predictable life, consistent job, and the simple ability to pay my bills.  But change would happen with or without me and  I needed to recognize that i was in grief,  allow God to walk me through.    I have learned to be a better listener, slow to speak when someone is grieving.  When i buried my mother i know first hand that many of us speak and say things because we dont know what to say. They meant well, but some of the things they said were unsettling.  Silence, sitting silently with someone is a gift.  Part of accepting loss and grieving is knowing you are not alone, not abandoned.  God reminds us he will never leave us, but sometimes there needs to be a warm hug, or a kind smile, a cup of tea and a listening ear.  May I always be available, opened, and willing to be a good friend.  Julio spoke of Job’s friends and how many things they said to him that implied Job was guilty sin, of doing wrong and that the loss in  life was a result of something we have done.  No, a thousand times no…  And may i never speak like job’s friends did.
  • My Ebeneezer – This is the part of the process that is still working out in my life.  The idea of an Ebeneezer comes from 1 Samuel 7.  This short passage gives a clear description:

After a long period of sadness and trouble, a consequence of Israel’s disobedience, Israel repented under the leadership of a new priest and judge, Samuel. God restored their political security, and the people, for their part, re-committed their hearts and minds to their Lord.

Samuel placed a large stone at the place where this restoration began. He publicly dedicated it as a monument to God’s help, God’s faithfulness, God’s eternal covenant. And as the people got on with their lives, the stone stood there, visible to all who passed that way, a reminder of judgment and repentance, mercy and restoration.

The Ebeneezer stone represented a fresh beginning, a reversal of course for God’s people. It also said something important about God: his mercies are everlasting; his covenant is forever.

So it is my hope that this new work God is doing in our lives, giving us work, a business and a breath of fresh wind is the Ebeneezer stone I must raise as a memorial to this new work.  Steve and I have dedicated ourselves, our home, our marriage, our business and our lives to glorifying God.  God has seen us through three years of turbulent life, financial loss, and he is rebuilding.  I will trust him to our employment, finances, future

I was thinking about what i wanted to write in response to the sermon on Job, and last night i heard Joni Erickson Tada speaking about suffering, and grieving loss.  She confirmed the need to raise an Ebeneezer stone, to set memorials so that we can remember the works God is doing in our lives.   We hold the word of God and trust that the character of God is good, and his ways are not ours, but we can trust his goodness and steadfastness.

The story of Job is a difficult one, but the book ends with a full replacement of what was lost, and twice over.  May this be the truth in our lives.

Be strong – Joshua 1

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I love this read through the bible.  This year i decided to read through using an app on my smart phone.  And we arrived at Joshua chapter 1.  Joshua has been hand chosen by Moses to take over the leadership of his people, the Israelites.  They are moving toward the promised land, but have been wandering for years in the desert.  Moses has died, and Joshua is stepping into the leadership role.

I love breaking down the chapter, thinking through the passage more carefully.  Here are some of the take aways:

  • Joshua had a relationship with God – The first 9 verses of chapter 1 is God’s conversation with Joshua – here are the details
    • Moses is dead
    • You, Joshua, must arise and lead the people
    • Take the people to the promised land
    • Every place your foot touches will be yours
    • God has the power to give ownership of the land
    • God will give power over the inhabitants of the land
    • God will not fail or forsake Joshua, or his people
    • Be strong
    • Observe the law – follow it diligently
    • Don;t be afraid, or dismayed
  • Joshua responds by mustering his people and leading them forward.
  • The people honored and respected Joshua’s leadership by following him, blessing him, upholding his commands.

This chapter is the classic place we are taken to for lessons in leadership.  Hearing from God first, then taking decisive action, with no room for fear or discouragement.  But there is good solid wisdom to this model.  When we wait on God for his direction and calling we have clarity, and we know our purpose.

People look for a strong leader who is decisive, and shows no backing down.  At this point in the history of Israel there was need for decisive and clear direction.  The people longed to follow, yearned to take the promised land, and to find their rest from the wandering.  In our lives we too need clear leadership, that must start with hearing from God.  If the answer to your questions about life are unclear may i urge you to wait, wait until you hear from God and make your moves only after you have heard.  Like Joshua, there are great things to achieve, and the promise of success when we are in God’s timing, and yielded to his authority.

Walking in the sanctuary of sorrows

Grace [be] to you and peace from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

And whether we be afflicted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation.

And our hope of you [is] stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so [shall ye be] also of the consolation.

-2 Corinthians 1: 2-7

I love this passage.  I have applied this passage to my life, knowing that the journey i have walked is for a purpose greater than myself.  It is to take the messages and ways the Lord has reached into my life and use them for others who are in similar situations.  God allows us to share suffering, to share the comfort he has given us in these tribulations and to walk together in hope.

Grief stricken

Grief stricken (Photo credit: afagen)

Over the weekend i had the distinct privilege in meeting an artist that is creative, educated and very articulate.  As we spoke it was quite clear that the events of this year have impacted her forever.  She had been caregiver to her father, a physician, who was dying of cancer.  His wrestling with cancer ended in February.  Ten months later the imprint of grief is still very visible.  She will tell you that her grief was most intense when he was alive and she was watching the ravaging effects of disease transform her strong father into something much less than strong.  I remember those days, watching my own parents transform from strong and capable to shadows of themselves, disease and aging taking from them the strength and independence they had always known.  I remember well those days of caring for parents, only to return home feeling a deep and profound sense of grief over the losses of small things.  And I remember the nights filled with intense prayer, asking and begging God to halt the effects of arthritus, hearing loss, heart disease.  As if it were possible to assuage the waves of grief by waving a magic wand, and erasing the physical decline, i hoped for mighty and profound miracles.  I hoped i would have my parents much longer on this earth than God allowed.

It was in that crucible of caretaker that I found deep and profound comfort from God.  His word leaped from the pages, speaking deep to my wounded heart, offering hope, offering comfort, offering his very real presence to walk with me through these times.  Once i tasted his comfort, his wisdom, his grace i knew nothing else would substitute.  And i learned that his comfort would see me through even if the aging and disease would not reverse.  And if i looked for his hand, his gentle guidance through those rough emotionally challenging storms i would find it.  And i did.

And the first time i had an opportunity to speak with someone else going through this same process there was an immediate connection to their grief, their struggle, their sorrows.  I remember someone sharing this verse in 2 Corinthians, and reminding me that i now have a platform to speak to others… a voice that speaks from fact.  That same person told me the message is not as real until you have lived it, wrestled with God over it, struggled to find that place of peace and comfort in a difficult transition, and accepted the wisdom God alone can give.

So Saturday as i listened to this artist speak i was reminded again of the privilege to live for Jesus, the opportunity to share his love and grace with her, and the profound resonance of sharing the struggles with disease, aging parents, grief and loss.  She is a strong woman, searching and filling her faith tank with almost anything but Jesus.  So the opportunity is there for God to move in her heart.  What was interesting is the connection we made to each other… there was a hunger to assuage that grief.  There was a frustration with the world’s perception of how grief is dealt with, and that formula expectation that we get over it and get on with life.  We seldom allow one another to talk, to work through these things in our lives.  But we need to be there for them.  We need to allow the conversation about dying, disease, grief and loss to be voiced.

I know that is easier said than done.  People who we have loved, and who have been a pillar of strength in our lives make a deep and powerful impact when they leave us for the bright and blessed place called heaven.  The void left in their departure never is filled, and the loneliness in those places of our soul can only be comforted by God.  That can take a life time to overcome, and no one should tell us how long we should grieve, or what we should think.  Grief is personal, very personal.  Grief assuages for seasons, then it comes rumbling back in an instant, at the smell of something familiar, or the sight of something that jogs a memory.  It is only in loosing someone precious and dear that we learn an aspect of Jesus’s “fellowship of suffering”.  It is something completely out of our control, something that can break us, shake our normal lives, and leave us bitter if we do not allow the pain to build in us a strong dependence on Jesus.

My new friend is not certain about Jesus.  She seems to be running from the faith of her father, and exploring other religions.  It is my prayer that our conversation will spark in her a desire to search again the faith of her father, and discover the comforting love and grace of Jesus.

 

 

Study to show yourself approved

What’s on my mind tonight is the power of God’s Word, and the responsibility we as believers have to hold it forth as life to a lost and dying world.  Are we holding it out or are we offering other human philosophies in the place of God’s life giving Word?

 

English: Detail of a desk after studying.

English: Detail of a desk after studying. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Study to show thyself approved of God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.” (2Ti 2:15).

 

I love the concept of studying… taking time to read, assess and grow in both knowledge and understanding of the word of God, revealed in written form.

 

Study, the greek word spoudazō (σπουδάζω) is an active word that tells us to endeavor – to pursue, to do diligence with.  The idea means there is a labor involved.  Studying involves time spent, the willingness to learn, to follow hard after, to grow stronger.  

 

Studying has always been both a joy and a challenge.  As a child the time spent studying was sometimes half hearted because i wanted to be outside running and playing with other kids.  As an adult the idea of studying is both a serious and determined action.  It is a choice to pursue learning, working out my understanding, and laboring over the process.

 

But what is the reward of studying?  This verse tells us three benefits of studying:

 

  1. it is to be approved by God
  2. able to handle God’s word correctly
  3. no longer ashamed.

Approved by God- We all seek approval from some source.  Entertainers strive to receive the applause and recognition of their audience.  Doctors seek the approval and credentials of professional societies.  Waitresses seek the approval of their restaurant patrons so they can receive tips.  Each of us has been wired to look for approval… but there is only one type of approval that satisfies.  And that is the approval of God, the God who created us, knows us, and wants us to know Him.  As we study God’s word we begin to develop a deeper insight into this all powerful, all knowing and all wise God.

 

The word Approved in greek is dokimos, meaning one who is tried and tested in their faith, having integrity.  Like so many things in scripture, as we learn the real life circumstances that 1st century believers would have understood well the passage becomes very clear to us.  This quote from Donald Gray Barnhouse really opens the idea of approval or dokimos to us:

 

“In the ancient world there was no banking system as we know it today, and no paper money. All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into moulds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft, and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than eighty laws were passed in Athens to stop the practice of whittling down the coins then in circulation. But some money-changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money; they were men of honour who put only genuine, full-weight money into circulation. Such men were called dokimos, and this word is used here for the Christian as he is to be seen by the world.” (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: God’s Glory, p. 18.)
 

Our time spent studying will develop in us an integrity of God’s word, and integrity in our character.  As we grow and learn our faith will be tested… and it is through the trials and testing that we grow stronger in the Lord.

 

You will be able to handle God’s Word Correctly!  One of the first things I learned as a believer is that no one verse stands on its own, but that you must read the chapter, or the book to fully understand that verse “in context”.  There is an old story about a guy flipping through the bible, and finding one verse “Judas went out and hung himself”, then flipping again and coming across a completely different verse, out of context “And you, go and do likewise”.  This is an example of incorrect handling of God’s Word.  As we follow basic principles of context the passage begins to reveal the insight, the clarity, the purpose, the lesson.  In the KJV the words “rightly dividing” are a direct translation of the greek word orthotomeō which means to cut straight, or proceed in a straight course.  The power and depth of the treasury of truth contained in  the scripture come to life when they are presented with clarity, straightly.  

 

And finally you will not be ashamed.   Ashamed, or the greek word anepaischyntos means having no cause for shame.  Shame is a tough word – defined as the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous.  Shame is a result of not doing something right or correctly.  We all long to be praised and blessed for our actions and ways… 

 

In my 26 years of faith I can tell you that God’s word is where the power is… skills for living, having the mind of Christ, the knowledge of his character, his plan, his blessing, and his hope for our future.  In those same amount of years I have watched as the church, the believers of God have slowly allowed other things, thoughts, ways to creep into the sacred places that only God’s Word should go.  Knowing the power and wisdom that has come from God, how can we cheapen it with humanistic philosophy, pop psychology or any other number of “feel good” ways.  As workers we are charged to study so that we will be approved by God, not ashamed, able to present the Word of God in truth and clarity.

 

Here is the quick test:

 

1.  Am i spending time in God;s word, laying out my thoughts before the Lord, seeking out wisdom from the bible, and direction from those who have been believers and are known to handle the bible with integrity and straightforwardness?

 

2.  Am I having any feelings of shame?  If so, where is this coming from?  Am i shorting my study time in favor of worldly pursuits?  Confess this to God, and repent – turn away from doing that.

 

3. Do i handle the bible honestly, fairly and within the context of which the passage is written?  Do i take the time to research, understand and adequately explain the passage?

 

4.  Am i allowing philosophy, guided imagery, psychology and worldly thoughts to overshadow God’s Word in my life?  Repent, confess this to God and turn away from such vain philosophy.

 

The Word is sure, powerful, sharp and life changing.  When you have the opportunity to hold out something to others, study, and then hold out God’s Word in power, truth, honesty.  This is our mission.  This is what we have been called out of darkness to do.  The world is slowly dying, in need of the hope and truth we posess. Will you open your hand and share His Word with someone today?

 

Prayer – Lord, here am I, one of your children, called by your name, lead by your spirit, yielded and hungry to be filled by your Word, that I might be a worker for your glory.   Please open your word to me today, that I might be able to study and know your truth.  Please show me how to live with your word held out as truth and a beacon for all to follow.  Lord I yield all other philosophies to you and ask that you would cleanse your church, your bride, from the pollution that is humanistic thinking.  Take the shame of wrong studying, misunderstanding, and dillusion away from me now, and may I yield only to your Word and your Spirit.  May you continue to give us your light, your truth and your hope.  Amen

I yearn for those days when God’s word was the central and driving force of our lives, and the Church was powerful in the wisdom and knowledge of Scripture.  I am frankly saddened by the pop psychology, the feel good fluff that is gaining popularity. Time is short, and we are all like the grass of the field.  Our lives are here today and gone tomorrow.  But we can share the eternal word, and know that even the words of the bible will go forth, accomplishing what God would do with them.