Archive for September, 2013

I Have My Rights!…Don’t I?

Picture this: A man, deeply in hock, goes to see the loan shark. He drops to his knees and begs for patience. “If you just give me a little more time, I swear, I will pay you back!” The man’s empty billfold lies open on the floor, and the loan shark sees the pictures of wife and little children. Oddly enough, he takes pity on the man. Some weak spot way back in the recesses of his heart is touched, and the loan shark relents. “You have a wife. Children. I’m going to do something for you. I’m wiping the slate clean. Forget the money. You don’t owe me anything. Now go. Get outa here!”

The man is shocked! But he doesn’t dare wait around to see if the loan shark will change his mind. So he bows and scrapes and repeats, “thank you” over and over as he hurts out of the room. The second he exits the building, he turns and runs smack into his neighbor…who owes him 50 bucks. The man grabs the neighbor by the shirt collar and demands the money. But when the neighbor asks for more time, the man refuses, and beats him silly in the street.

This story should sound a little familiar to you. It is the story on forgiveness that Jesus told in Matthew 18, tweaked Mary-style.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I have read or heard this story. Always with the same response. Wow, that guy had a lot of nerve. Actually, he’s kind of a jerk. Here his debt is totally wiped clean, and yet he thinks he can turn around and demand the debt owed to him with no grace or patience what-so-ever. He didn’t deserve to have his own debt cleared.

Of course, in Jesus’ story, the man gets found out by his master and sent to jail…and of course, Jesus is not really talking about a debt of money. He is talking about a debt of sin, and we are the man who is forgiven, but refuses to forgive. The thing is that this should not be just a story that we sit back and say wow at the audacity of a man. We must realize that forgiveness is not an option for us. When we accepted the forgiveness of Christ, we gave up the right to bare a grudge against anyone else.

Anger, frustration, bitterness, resentment…unforgiveness. When we are hurt, no matter how deeply, we tend to want to hold on to that hurt in one form or another. It is so easy, too. Far easier than dealing with the hurt head on. And certainly more desirable than actually forgiving. But we started this life with a debt there was no way we could pay, and death was the only way out. Thankfully, God had mercy on us and forgave that debt. How can we, then, hold debt over the head of others who are no better or worse than ourselves? We can’t. We have no right to. Forgiveness is not just the nice thing to do. It is not just the right thing to do. It is the only choice for those of us who have already been forgiven.

Still Small Voice

Yesterday was one of those days. I had an unusually long work week. Ten-plus hour days three, maybe four of the days. On top of that we discovered that one of our boys was terribly behind in school work (partly my fault…long story), so in the little time I wasn’t at work, I was trying to help him figure things out and get caught up. My husband pitched in by making meals, and throwing in some laundry. I did bits and pieces of the dishes, whatever we needed to survive through the next day. Friday night is usually grocery night, so that I can spend Saturday catching up. But I worked so late Friday, I had to get groceries on Saturday. And getting groceries for a family with 5 men/boys for an entire week is no easy task. It literally takes hours. Then we can toss in the 2 younger boys who were with me on the trip because my husband and the 2 older boys were helping Grandma and Grandpa with work around their house. So now my grocery trip was extended by boys who would have much rather been playing…and found the way to do that in every aisle of the store.

I knew that if I didn’t spend time with God right away in the morning, I would be a hopeless cause. So I forced myself to sit and read, and attempt to pray…while the groceries, dishes and laundry waited. No matter how hard I tried, I could not give God the attention I usually strive to give. Finally I loaded the boys in the car and we started on the 20 minute drive to town. Actually, we went right through town, and another 10 miles to the pumpkin farm. Things went fairly well. We enjoyed wandering around the farm looking at the various pumpkins and gourds, pulling a large wagon behind and heaving the biggest ones on board. We loaded them in the front and back seat of the car because we needed to save the trunk for a week’s worth of groceries. Then back to town for lunch…and battle. Of course, by the time we actually got to the first store, I was viewing my watch with panic. I was edgy, impatient, and certainly did not look like a woman after God’s heart.

The grocery trip seemed to drag on and on. My attitude was horrible. I can’t say that I even tried to pray. I was so fixated on my list, the time, and the distractions my boys were making, that there was no way I could see Jesus in the chaos. I could hear Him calling to me, though. Way back at the back of my mind, where I had pushed Him. Ever-so-faintly. I couldn’t even make out what He was saying. It really was just a vague awareness of Him trying to reach me. I was too busy to stop and acknowledge Him. There was too much on my list to do to take a break and see what He wanted. Besides, I had already given Him His time in the morning.

By the time we arrived home, and unloaded the groceries from the car, I was softening just a bit. What I wanted most was to just plug in the Roku, turn on Star Trek Voyager, and let my mind get lost in another world while I started the laundry, put away the bags and bags of food, and wash the dishes. The boys went outside to play, and I wrestled with TV and Roku cords…until I gave up and grudgingly worked in silence. It was now 6:30 p.m.

God was still calling to me. I turned on the Christian radio station, thinking maybe singing some praises would help bring me out of this funk. It wasn’t really working. I knew my heart was not right, and I had treated my boys badly, so I called them in to apologize for being impatient and unkind. Now maybe I could move on. I sought God’s forgiveness…as I continued to rush through my work.

At 8:00 p.m. my husband and older boys arrived home, fed and tired. Now I needed to come up with something to feed the little boys, and I was just putting the finishing touches on the groceries (it takes longer when you work on the laundry and dishes at the same time). My husband said something to me…and I snapped. I cried that I was trying, and that I had been battling all day, and I was failing at every turn. Now, with food on the table for myself and the little ones, I finally dropped down to my chair and prayed. I confessed with a truly contrite heart, and did what I should have done hours before, give my list of to-do’s to Him, and ask Him to help me. The tears streamed down my face as I admitted, once again, that I can’t do this without Him. And I can’t change me. I need Him to change me. I surrendered…again…to Him. Sigh.

The irony is that God was getting me ready for this difficult day. He warned me. A day or so before, I read a blog post that I use in my devotions. The woman talked about how she was snapping at her husband while under stress…right after praising God in her devotion time. I nodded my head because I knew what that was like.

Later I read 1 Kings 19:11-13 when the discouraged prophet Elijah called out to God. “The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go, stand in front of me on the mountain, and I will pass by you.’ Then a very strong wind blew until it caused the mountains to fall apart and large rocks to break in front of The Lord. But The Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but The Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but The Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle sound. When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” [Some versions say ‘a still, small voice.’]

Then I read Psalm 46:10 – “God says, ‘Be quiet and know that I am God. I will be supreme over all the nations; I will be supreme in the earth.'”

Yesterday, I read the story in Matthew 14 of when Jesus walked on water. Peter joined him and was able to walk on the wind-blown waves…as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. As soon as he looked away, he began to sink.

If I need this many warnings, and more, it is a wonder God doesn’t give up on me! But He doesn’t. He didn’t. He called to me with patience, but persistence, until I returned. What I needed most of all was to keep my eyes on Him, through the strong wind, through the earthquake, and through the fire, so that I could be still and hear His still, small voice Then He could hold my feet up to walk on the waves. As soon as I did that, I had the peace that comes from the source of all peace. I also had the resources to fight the spiritual battle that took place afterwards, when Satan realized he lost.

I am so grateful that God does not show Himself in the strong wind, earthquake and fire when He calls to us! He is patient! He waits. And He allows us to chose to come to Him. He could force us, or frighten us into coming with His greatness and power. Instead, He comes to us in a whisper. Shhh. A still, small voice down in the deepest recesses of our beings, calling, gently, lovingly, patiently, unwaveringly. You hear Him. You know His voice. Come back, and walk on water!

The Naked Truth: Why Did Adam Really Hide From God?

“Then they heard the Lord God walking in the garden during the cool part of the day, and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees in the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said, ‘Where are you?’

“The man answered, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.'” (Genesis 3:8-10 NCV).

This was part of the passage we discussed in Sunday School today. And the question was, “Why did Adam and Eve hide from God?” Was it guilt and shame? Embarrassment? After all, they looked down for the first time and realized “Whoops! Yikes! We are naked as jay-birds! We can’t show up before God like this!”

Was nakedness really the reason that they hid, or was there something else? Of course there was. The very moment Eve, and then Adam, ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they not only understood the difference between right and wrong, but they had a full understanding of the gravity of what they had done. They heard God walking in the garden and knew that they had disobeyed the God of the universe. They felt guilt, and shame. But they also felt fear for the first time. God said that if they ate from that tree, they would die. Now God was looking for them. Did He know already? Was their any way they could hide this truth from Him? Would He kill them on the spot? Adam and Eve hid because more than their bodies were naked. Their souls were laid bare, and they were now vulnerable. They were afraid. Before they ate, they lived in the comfort and safety of God Almighty. Now, God was their enemy. I’d hide, too!

They had to wonder, who was this God? Was He a God of anger and revenge? Would He be filled with hatred, and regret over creating them? Adam and Eve suddenly realized that they no longer knew God. The One with whom they had spent countless hours strolling through the garden had become a stranger to them. Something had come between them and Him, and fear gripped their hearts like it was a physical vise. It was this fear that drove them to cower behind the bushes when God called for them. They did not dare to face Him.

Don’t we find ourselves in the same situation when we sin against God? The God we enjoyed communion with in prayer just hours before becomes a stranger. We feel separated from Him. Vulnerable. Afraid to show ourselves to Him. What will He do? How will He react? We doubt His goodness, and wonder if this is the time that God says, “Enough. This is the last time you will blow it. I am finished with you.” Satan feeds us one lie after another. He overruns our mind with doubts. And in so doing, strips us naked, leaving us vulnerable and afraid to turn our face toward God.

What was God’s response to Adam and Eve? Punishment? Perhaps. To be sure there were consequences for what they had done. But God didn’t fry them. He didn’t strike them with lightening. He didn’t vaporize them. And He didn’t hate them. God’s response was to care for them. He met their needs. They were naked and vulnerable. He covered them (vs. 21). He loved them.

What is God’s response to you when you sin? He does not condemn you (There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit – Romans 8:1 NKJV). Yes, there are natural consequences for our sins. But God loves us, and He covers our nakedness. He covered our nakedness once and for all when Jesus died on the cross. We sin and build a separation between us and God, but He comes calling for us. He wants us to return to Him. He wants us to trust in His love.

So God loves us. He does not condemn us when we disobey Him. He even comes looking for us to bring us back to Him. Why then would we fear Him? Because Satan wants us to, just as he wanted Adam and Eve to. As long as Satan can keep us away from God, filled with the fear of a response from God that he has contrived, he can keep us from being used by God. Our relationship with God is put on hold, and our service to God is paralyzed. Satan becomes the victor in our lives.

We will sin. No matter how hard we try not to. But we cannot allow Satan full victory in our lives! Our time here is short. God has a purpose for our lives, and when we allow Satan to make us ineffective by not returning to the God who offers us His own righteousness, we lose. We lose out on precious time in prayer and worship with God. We lose opportunities to reach others in His service. And we lose the blessing of being used by the God of all gods. God is not the God of fear. He is the God of love, and He wants you to return to Him the moment you realize your sin. Do not delay. Defeat the fear of the Devil. Instead, seek victory in Jesus!

What is Holding You Back?

It has come to my attention (thank You, God) that it is time to share my testimony with you.  But not necessarily my salvation testimony.  I don’t have a dramatic salvation story…I was only 4 when I invited Christ into my life, after all.

Like all Christians, I had my ups and downs trying to figure out what this Christian life was all about.  One thing I always had, though, was someone who was a true faith warrior.  It wasn’t always the same person.  Sometimes there were more than one.  But these were the people who always gave God the glory.  Always held strong to their faith.  Were deep in the Word, and anchored by prayer.  For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a Christian like them.  I wanted that relationship with Jesus that filled every part of my life.  I wanted to be in love with Jesus…but for some reason I just could never seem to get there.  I prayed.  I read my Bible.  I went to church.  I always served God in some capacity through my church.  Nothing seemed to work.  So what was holding me back?

Two things.  The first was the belief that God could not use me.  I’ve heard people use this argument when they have led a rather sordid life.  They have skeletons in their closet that would scare ghosts.  Not me.  For the most part, I was a pretty good kid growing up.  The kind of trouble I got into was fighting with my brother, and talking back to my mom.  No drugs.  No alcohol.  No illicit sex.  Even as an adult, I was tame.  I married, had children, and settled down to make the good Christian home.  We took the boys to church on Sunday.  Went to Sunday School and made sure they did, too.  I taught in Vacation Bible School every year.  Still, I didn’t believe God could use me.  Why?  Because I knew my heart.  I knew the thoughts that ran through my mind.  The judgments I made of others.  I knew how frustrated and angry I got with my boys when they misbehaved.  I knew the bitterness I held in my heart for some.  All the little secrets held inside me that no one else could see…but God.  God could see them.  I’m not perfect.  I’m not holy.  I’m pathetic.  There is no way God can use me.  I’m a living, breathing example of a hypocrite.

The second thing holding me back from that love relationship with Jesus was fear.  Oh yes!  Fear.  I was scared to death of what He would do in my life.  And maybe not even that as much as how He would do whatever He wanted to do.  What trial would He ask me to bear?  What pain would I suffer?  What, or even who, would He ask me to give up?  I guess I was afraid of the process of learning to love Jesus, more than the end result.

Still, I watched the faith warriors in my life, and longed for that same relationship.  That longing just became greater and greater over the years.  It never waned.  Always at the back of my heart was the call to draw closer to Jesus.  I know now, of course, that He was calling me.  Never giving up.  Because even though I couldn’t love Him completely, He loved me more completely than anyone else ever could.  A few short years ago God’s pull finally overcame my push.  And I realized that the only way I was going to have that relationship with Jesus was to completely surrender to him.  I had to believe that Almighty God could actually do something with my life that would bring glory to Him.  And I had to give over to Him all of me, and all those people and things that meant so much to me, and trust Him to do whatever He knew to be the best.  I had to lay it all on the line.  And I did that.  One day as I sat in a room alone, with the door locked shut, I cried out to God.  “I want that relationship with you, God.  The one that so-and-so has.  Please, take me and make me Yours.  Do with me as You please.  Just use me, please.”

Then came the change.  It wasn’t instantaneous.  But it has been steady.  I have found a deep desire to learn more and more about the God I serve.  I am drawn to read His Word like I am to eating sweets.  I crave the Bible, and find myself looking for opportunities to read it, even outside of my devotion time.  I have the same craving for my prayer time.  You might say I have a sweet tooth for Jesus.  And I finally have that I’m-in-love-with-Jesus kind of relationship with Him that I have longed for since I was four!  It has been a long time coming!

What about my fear and belief that God can use me?  The fear God has taken care of with His peace that passes all understanding.  Now and then I will hesitate, or even find myself gripped by fear, but I have learned to recognize that as Satan trying to pull me away from God.  The Bible tells us that God does not give us a spirit of fear.  So praying and praising will quickly dispel that trouble.

As for God not being able to use me, well, that is another story.  And it is one that you are reading right now.  Since my cry out to God, I have learned that He has given me the gift of prophecy.  And I am learning how He wants me to use it to lift up, encourage, and edify His people.  This blog is a direct result of His calling to me, and a demonstration of how God is using me.  Am I any more perfect or holy than I was before?  No.  Just ask my boys:-)  I still lose my temper.  I still wrestle to keep my thoughts controlled.  I still say and do things I shouldn’t.  And I’m sure there are still people who could look at my life and call me a hypocrite.  But I’m trying.  And I continually give myself over to God, asking Him to change me and make me the person He wants me to be.  God is using me in spite of myself.  I guess that is what makes this relationship so humbling.  God knows me better than I know myself, and yet He still loves me, wants a relationship with me, and wants to use me for His honor and glory.

The thing I want most in this world is what I hope to hear in the next.  I want desperately to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Someone out there is reading this blog post and longs for a deeper relationship with Jesus.  Someone is wrestling with the same fear that I did, and believing the lies that Satan is telling them.  I want you to believe that God can use you!  Heed His call in your life.  Cry out to Him!  He is waiting, longing to ease your fear, give you peace, and shower you with Himself.  And He will use you.  I don’t care who you are, what you have done, or what sins you still wrestle with.  God is God, for Pete’s sake!  Of course He can use you!  Nothing is impossible for Him, including you.

My prayer for you today is the courage and faith to surrender to God, and then all the blessings that come with being in love with your Lord and Savior.

A Priest Like Melchizedek: What is God saying??

During the school year, when I am driving from school to school to school, over miles and miles of land, I like to listen to Christian radio.  Music until I drive out of range of that station.  Then it is a mix of radio teachers/preachers and music, until I drive back into the music range.  There is one pastor in particular that I like to listen to.  Yesterday he spoke about Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God Most High, who blessed Abram after he rescued Lot from captivity.  I was extra tired that morning as I drove, and very little of the message made sense to me.  I really didn’t give it much thought, but I did catch that this was a priest about whom we are given very little information, including no genealogical information (odd, coming from the Old Testament).  Yet, from the 3 verses where he interacts with Abram (Genesis 14:18-20) he is linked to Jesus Christ.  There is one other verse that mentions Melchizedek in the Old Testament, Psalm 110:4.  There was a thousand years in between.  Then another thousand years passed, and lo and behold, the king-priest was mentioned again, and in reference to Jesus.  The author of Hebrews, in fact, gives him quite a bit of time.  He is mentioned in chapter 5, then briefly at the end of chapter 6, and totally compared to Jesus throughout chapter 7.  But aside from all of this, I really could not process the purpose of this message.

Three hours after this radio message, I arrived at my second school.  As I sat in the car writing down my mileage, the Christian radio station I had been playing was fazing in and out to another Christian radio station.  Weird, I know.  Weirder still?  Another radio pastor or speaker on the station that was breaking in was talking about guess who.  Yes.  Melchizedek!  What are the chances?  Obviously this was a God-thing because there is no such thing as coincidence, only God-incidence.  I knew instantly that God had a message for me in this.  I just needed the time to pray, search His Word, and allow Him to reveal it to me.  The rest of my day was completely planned out until I hit the pillow, though.  It was all I could do to keep from cancelling students and sit with my Bible.  I even pulled out the little pocket Bible I carry with me, but couldn’t bring myself to read and drive:-)  Here I am, finally, this afternoon, with a message to share with you.

Four times, that I caught, the phrase, “a priest like Melchizedek” is used in reference to Jesus (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:10, Hebrews 6:20, and Hebrews 7:17).  This drove me nuts, I confess!  How is Jesus a priest like Melchizedek?  Is it in his name?  Melchizedek means “king of goodness.”  Is it in is title?  Melchizedek was the king of Salem.  Salem means “king of peace.”  Melchizedek had no genealogy listed in the Bible.  Jesus did, He was from Joseph and Mary, a descendant of King David.  His entire genealogy is listed in Matthew all the way back to Abraham!  That couldn’t be the connection.  Melchizedek was obviously human, even though we don’t know when and where he was born, or when he died.  So what was it????  Why did God say the following about Jesus in Psalm 110:4b, “You are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek.”  I studied all morning.  And I prayed.  When I finally quit trying to be the research student, and opened up my heart and mind for God to show me the answers, He did.  Go figure!

Melchizedek and Jesus were priests (of course, Jesus still is) who book-ended the Old Testament agreement/covenant between God and the Israelites–the time of the Law of Moses, when the people could not approach God directly, but through a priest from the line of Levi.  A human, sinful priest who had to sacrifice for his own sins before he could sacrifice for the sins of the people.  The time of priests who’s genealogy could be traced to a line of mortal people.  When one died, another was appointed in his place.  The turnover rate was that of the average life span.  The people came to God for cleansing through a weak, sinful, fallible representative.  It would be like taking a mud bath to clean yourself.  It worked only because God determined that would be the only way until another, better way was provided.

Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18-20).  He was not a Levite.  Couldn’t have been.  Levi was Abraham’s great-grandson who was a long way from being born when Melchizedek blessed Abram.  He was before the Law of Moses began.  Because his genealogy is never listed, and his birth and death are unknown, his legacy as a priest lives forever.  Jesus is the Holy Priest who is, at the same time, God.  He is at the END of the Law of Moses.  The law that required sacrifices for sins and “muddy baths” through sinful priests in order to approach God Almighty was ended at the cross.  Jesus was not a Levite either.  He was from the tribe of Judah.  Yet He became the High Priest forever (Hebrews 6:20).  Jesus was perfectly obedient to God.  THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS ENDED THE TIME OF THE PRIESTS, FOREVER.

Jesus spoke many times of being the source of living water, water that would quench the thirst of the Spirit.  In other words, He is the only One who can satisfy the soul.  We are also commanded to be baptized in water, a sort of washing away of the old self.  Approaching God through the High Priest who is forever, Jesus, is approaching God through the blood of Jesus, the Living Water.  Instead of taking a “muddy bath” by approaching God through a sinful priest, we now approach God by bathing in the purity of the Living Water, Jesus.  This high priest who defeated both sin and death; who lived, and lives in perfect obedience to God; who will never die and pass down His post to another; who will never have to make a sacrifice for His own sin before bringing our petitions to God.  Jesus is the Living Water that we bath in, and then can approach the throne of God, clean, pure, righteous in His sight.

We no longer need an imperfect human to represent us before God, or to seek forgiveness of our sins.  We have the perfect Son of God now.  And I don’t know about you, but I would much, much rather trust my representation to Jesus than to someone who is as sinful as I.

Thank you, Jesus, for being my direct lifeline to God, my Creator!!

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