Stand Firm – Love Well

My church has been doing a sermon series on the book of Daniel.  At first glance you might wonder how a book written thousands of years ago has any relevance to today.  As I listened to the messages each week I found it clearly spoke to our current culture today.

As a Christ follower I often find myself in total disagreement with the values all around me.  Much of society speaks and acts in ways so opposed to the words of Jesus Christ.  Everywhere I look – entertainment, fashion and especially politics I find much to disagree with and can often find myself feeling overwhelmed.

How should I respond to my culture when I am so many times in disagreement with it?

Probably each generation thinks they are the first ones to face this perplexing situation – when our own values and lifestyle seem so different from the lifestyles about us.

But we are not the first.

Looking at Daniel we see a young man taken by force from his own home and placed forcefully into a totally alien culture.  The food was different, the religion was different, the customs were different.  Even his name was changed from a name that meant “God is My Judge” to Belteshazzar which meant “Bel protects his life.”  His very identity as a believer in the God of Israel was challenged by this new name honoring an idol god of the Babylonians.

I struggle with the friction between speaking the truth, not backing down from the principles I strongly believe to be right and showing the love of God to those whose beliefs are different than mine.

How do we “stand firm” but “love well.”

Daniel is a good example of that.

He and his friend stood firm on their foundation of faith refusing to bow down to idols and continuing to speak to God when the king said they could pray to no one but himself.  They were willing to lose their lives for their belief in God.

However, if you read Daniel’s interaction with the king he was always respectful and never spoke in anger or showed irritation with the king.  He served within the Babylonian government and obviously worked for the good of the government disobeying only when his basic belief in God was challenged.

We need to follow his example.

Stand firm – never compromise our principles even when it may led to persecution or difficulty.

Love well – never treat those who disagree with us with disrespect or hatred.

My pastor ended Sunday’s sermon with a powerful question:  Do we truly love our enemies as Jesus told us to do.  We often say to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” but in truth do we love the sinner?

A great example of this today I feel is how so many famous Christian ministers are calling for the church to pray for Donald Trump.  We should do so.  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us.

But where is the call for pray for Nancy Pelosi or Adam Schiff?  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who persecuted us.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum – which ever politician you would view as the enemy, I challenge you to pray for them.

Let us Stand firm but love well!

 

 

I’m Good Enough – I’m Not Good Enough

My husband and I are reading the book of Isaiah this month.  Chapter six is one we are very familiar with.  Anyone who grew up in church has no doubt heard the story of Isaiah’s vision of God.

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke…..Isaiah 6:1-4

 

Isaiah

Isaiah’s response is one I think most of us would have if we saw such a sight!

His immediate reaction was one of total sense of unworthiness.

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”….Isaiah 6:5

Interesting to me that he saw his sin as being connected to his lips and the lips of the people he lived with.  Why his lips?

There are probably many different takes on that, but here it is mine.

Words matter.  With words we can hurt, damage people’s reputations, discourage others, create division and hatred.  The Bible has much to say about our tongues.

James wrote that:

the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison….James

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless….James 1:26

Jesus told us:

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person….Matthew 15:11

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks….Matthew 12:34

Isaiah’s response is one we all should have when we recognize our need of forgiveness.  Sadly, many people never reach this conclusion.  They think they are “good enough.”  But if our standard for goodness is based on who God is, we cannot measure up.  Do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying that people who do not believe in God are not good.  I actually know some who are atheists that show more “goodness” than many of my fellow Christians.

But the standard is not how good we are compared to others.  It is how good we are compared to God.  Based on that gold standard, we are not good enough.

An illustration of this thought:

A group of people are going to see a movie.  The price of entrance is $5.00 When they get there, many are very short of the price having only a dollar or two, or maybe just fifty cents.  Clearly they will not get in.  Along comes someone who is sure they will get in because they have $4.99.  But the price is $5.00.  Although they are much closer to having the price of the ticket, they are still short and will not get in.

But wait!  God did not leave Isaiah bemoaning his unworthiness.

He had a solution.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”….Isaiah 6:6-7

Thank God for Jesus.  There is a solution.

So now we come to the second group of people’s response to the goodness of God.  Unlike Isaiah they never move beyond that initial sense of unworthiness.  Although many claim they know they are “not good enough” and question how God can love them, they are just like the first group – relying on their own goodness.

In this case they feel their own goodness is not enough, but they still are relying on it.  Because they continue to say they are “not good enough” they are judging themselves by their own goodness – or lack there of.

They have refused to accept the gift that God has given us though Jesus Christ.  We are not “good enough.”  That is the whole point of Christianity.  Because we are not “good enough” Jesus came and He gives us His goodness.

To continue to insist how unworthy we are, we are denying the whole message of the cross.  We are still relying on our goodness, or in this case, our lack of goodness.  We are rejecting the very Word of God that tells us through Him we are made worthy.

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him….John 3:16,17\

To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name….Acts 10:43

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

Going back to my illustration of the movie tickets:

The group are all standing there realizing they do not have enough to get in.  Along comes someone who offers to give them what they lack.  Those with only a dollar or two will probably jump at the chance to get some help.  But the person with $4.99 may very well think if they just look though their pockets again, or search in the car they will be able to find that penny they are lacking.  Sadly, some who are lacking the full price will probably refuse the stranger’s offer of help because they do not think they should taking something for which they have given nothing.

Only when we recognize our need of a savior and also realize how much He loves us – not because we somehow deserve His love, but because He just loves us, can we have the response Isaiah had.

After his lips were cleansed, he answered the call of God.

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

I said, “Here I am. Send me.”….Isaiah 6:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Have Sinned Against God?

My husband and I finished reading the book of 2 Samuel this morning.   Growing up I loved the stories of King David:

  • the young man who killed the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone
  • the shepherd boy writing beautiful Psalms
  • the mighty warrior king
  • the man who wanted to build a temple for God

One of the best known stories is his great sin when he coveted the wife of another man.  Psalm 51 is believed to have been the psalm he wrote after repenting of his terrible sins.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

 

Reading this I cannot help but think of al the people David sinned against.

  • Bathsheba who he seduced into betraying her husband
  • Her husband, Uriah, whose wife he stole and then had killed
  • His own family for who he set such a bad example
  • His military commander, Joab, who was forced into a compromising position in having Uriah killed

Yet David said he had sinned against God and God only.

Understanding how David must have felt when the full sense of what he had done hit him helps explain this I believe.  David had from his youth depended on God and reading the Psalms he wrote you can see the love he had for God.  When he fully realized how he had betrayed, not only Uriah and Bathsheba, but the very basis of his faith, he was devastated.

So when David says, “Against you and you only have I sinned,” I don’t think he means, “I didn’t wrong Uriah by killing him, and I didn’t wrong Bathsheba by raping her, and I didn’t wrong the baby by being the cause of its death.” He meant, “The horrible thing here, ultimately, is that I rebelled against God. I rejected God as my treasure. I scorned the word of God.” This is what Nathan said to him when he came and pointed the finger at him: “Why have you despised the word of God?” That’s what Nathan said. Nathan didn’t say, “Why have you killed a man, and why have you raped a woman?” He said, “Why have you despised the word of God?”

So David knows from the prophet that the worst thing that has happened here is that he has despised God. And so I think that’s what he means. He is simply drawing attention, not to the minimization of rape and murder, but to the maximization of the assault on God that happened in those acts.

They are not less horrible because he says this: they are more horrible because he says this….John Piper

When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife he resisted her by saying.

“My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

Of course such a sin would have been against Potiphar but Joseph placed his greater loyalty to God and God’s laws.  It was God he did not want to offend.

So, I ask myself – When I offend someone, when I harm someone, when I sin against someone, how do I sorry for that?

Do I just apologize to that person and move on?  Do I think that takes care of everything?  Or, do I realize that my sin is also rejecting the word of God?  Do I realize how I have counted my desire to “do my own thing” more important than my desire to remain true to my faith, my God?

Lord, help me to value my relationship with you and my loyalty to your Word that I will not regard my sins so ightly, but reconize my sins are against You and repent accordingly.

 

Do You Know These Women – Part IV

In past blogs I have written about women who have been neglected in our history books.  Women who played important roles in World War II, in the NASA program and in our political system.  Sadly it seems writers of history books have told of the brave and intelligent men of our country, but seem to have overlooked so many women who have also contributed to our nation’s success.

Reading with my husband through the Bible this year I realize this is also true in our churches.  Anyone who has attended Sunday School or Bible classes in the past or read a Bible storybook for children know about the great men of the Bible.

  • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
  • Moses and Joshua
  • Samson, Gideon
  • Samuel, Saul and David
  • Peter, John and the disciples
  • Paul

But how many know of

  • Deborah
  • Jael
  • Shiphrah
  • Puah
  • Huldah

We meet Deborah in the book of Judges.  She was a judge and a phophetess in Israel.  Interesting for a woman to be a judge in that time frame where women were often considered not much more than a man’s property.  The Lord gave Deborah instructions to call for a man named Barak and tell him he was to take 10,000 men and go to battle against the Canaanite army that was oppressing Israel.  Barak was afraid to go to battle against this powerful king and told Deborah he would not go unless she went with him.

Deborah agreed to go but told Barak:

Certainly I will go with you, But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

You can read the entire story in Judges 4 but a woman named Jael had the honor of killing the Canaanite king, Sisera.

In Sunday School we all heard the great story of Moses and how he was saved from death during the time Pharaoh had ordered all male babies to be killed.  The emphasis  in the story is usually how God moved miraculously to save this future leader.  However,  the fact that all those involved in his deliverance were women is usually not even mentioned.  First there were the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who refused to kill the male babies as Pharaoh had instructed them.  Next was Moses’ mother who by faith made a little boat coated with tar and placed Moses in the river trusting God to spare his life.  God even used Pharaoh’s daughter who had compassion when she saw Moses and adopted him.  His sister, Miriam, was wise and brave enough to quickly come out of hiding where she was watching to see what would happen to Moses.  She boldly suggested to Pharaoh’s daughter that she select a woman from the Israelites to nurse this little baby.  Without these women there might have been no Moses, no great deliver of Israel.  You can check this story out in Exodus 2

Hundreds of years later as Israel became a nation they turned from following the law of Moses and began worshiping idol gods.  Then a young king named Josiah came to the throne and began tearing down the idols built throughout the land and started repair to the temple.  In the process the high priest found the Law of Moses that had long been lost.  The priest and a scribe brought the book to Josiah

When the king read the book he tore his clothes as a sign of repentance and moaning.  He instructed these men to inquire of the Lord what they should do because it was clear that they were not following the Law.

You would think that these two men would have gone and began seeking God’s guidance.  After all, who would be closer to God than they were?  Who would better understand what God required?

The priest was the high priest – no one higher in the religious circle than he.  The scribe mentioned probably was at the head of the scribes as he came with the high priest to show Josiah the book they had found.

But these men were clearly aware that there was someone who had a better understanding of the will of God than they had.  And who was that?

A woman – Huldah.  She gave a message from God to the king regarding how the nation should respond to this crisis of faith.

That is all we hear of Huldah.  But without her message from God the revival Josiah had began might never have reached the entire nation and brought a return to God’s law.  You can check out Huldah’s story in 2 Chronicles 34.

Interesting that in the history of the church many refused to recognize that God could/did call women to minister His word.  There are still churches today that deny women the right to share the call of God on their lives.

Thankfully Israel did not reject the guidance of Deborah and Huldah and deny God’s call on their lives.

There are many other women in the Bible that played such an important part in the story of God.

Eve, Tamar, Rahab, Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, Naomi, Jehosheba, Esther, Mary, Anna,  Mary Magdalene. Lydia, Priscilla and Phoebe.

What really is interesting to me that when Jesus died, it was the women who stood at the cross.  It was the women who went to the tomb to properly prepare his body.  When Jesus arose from the dead the first person He called to share the good news was a woman.

Next time you read the Bible, play a little more attention to the women.  They are an important part of the story.

 

 

Does God Really Demand Obedience?

Most of us grew up seeing the Ten Commandments posted on walls of our schools, courthouses and churches.  Many have claimed these principles are the basis for our Judeo-Christian society.

no.jpg

My husband and I started 2019 by reading through the Bible – starting with Genesis.  The story was interesting at first as we read about creation, the flood and the beginning of the Israelite nation with patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then we got to the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus.  Here, Moses was given detailed instructions on how the tabernacle should be built and how the priests should conduct offerings used in worship of God.  There are rules about what to eat and what not to eat, a lot of rules regarding sexual relations and how to deal with skin diseases.

To be honest, this is difficult and somewhat boring reading.  But one thing I noticed throughout that portion of Scripture that over and over it was said that Moses did “just what the Lord had commanded.”

Throughout the Old Testament we read the story of how the Israelites did like we still seem to do today – sometimes obeying God – sometimes not.  The Old Testament ends with the nation of Israel exiled because of their failure to obey God’s commands.

Then we enter the New Testament.  We see Jesus who came to pay the price of our disobedience.  We live in what we call the period of grace.  What a blessing to not have to live in fear of breaking a command of God, of knowing that we are saved not by what we do, but by faith and acceptance of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

grace

So, does that mean we are no longer required to obey?  The loving picture of Jesus in the New Testament is certainly much more appealing than the demands of obedience in the Old Testament.

But a closer look at the words of Jesus shows He also demanded obedience if we would claim to be following Him.

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

Jesus summed up the commandments when He told his questioners:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

This all sounds pretty simple.  Really not too demanding.  Much easier than living under the Law.

Right?

I don’t think so.  I think the requirements of Jesus are much more demanding – and something we cannot do without His help.

Think about it:

  • The Law said not to murder.
  • Jesus said if you are angry and curse someone you are in danger of hell.  He said to not bring any sacrifice to Him until you made it right with the one you were angry with.

 

  • The Law said not to commit adultery.
  • Jesus said a person must not look at another with lust in their heart.

 

  • The Law said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
  • Jesus said to love your enemy and to even pray for them.

 

  • The Law was concerned with our outward appearance.
  • Jesus is concerned with our heart.

 

My heart grieves today as it seems many Christians feel they no longer have to obey the words of Jesus when it comes to loving and praying for their enemies.

But I note that He said He would love us and make Himself plain to us (in other words have a relationship with Him) IF we obey His commandments.

Without love for others, I fear we will, like the Israelites, find ourselves without God’s protection.

enemies.jpg

Lord God, thank you for loving us.  Help us to remember that as we experience your love and mercy we just give that love and mercy to others.  Even to those who disagree with us.  Even to those who hurt us.  Help us to love as you love and remember that you not only love us, but you love our enemies.

Abram! Are You Serious?

Growing up in church many times I heard the story of Abraham as told in Genesis.  This man who is referred to as “the friend of God” is also held up as a great example of faith.

abraham.jpg

Regarded by the Jewish people as their forefather through his son Isaac, he is also revered by the Arab nations who count him as their forefather through his son Ishmael.

Any who has heard the story of Abraham knows that his name was first Abram which means “exalted father.”   When he was 99 years old God appeared to him and repeated the promise He had made years before telling Abram

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

As a child I did not think too much of Abram making this name change.  I know he is pointed out as a man of faith because he obeyed God and left his home and country to go to a new place that God would show him.  Also his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, Isaac, trusting God to restore him to life is another example used by those who point him as our example of faith.

But as I read this week of this change of name I think this might have been the greatest example of his faith.

Think about it.

You are a rich man with lots of cattle and servants.  Many people look to you as their employer, their master, the one who supplies their daily needs.  You are now 99 years and your wife is also very old – clearly past the time to bear children.

You suddenly proclaim that from now on they are not to call you by your name Abram  but rather to call you by a new name Abraham which means “father of a multitude.”

I can almost imagine the comments made by the servants that night in their tents.

Father of a multitude?  Right!  He has not been able to have any children with his wife all these years – and now at 99 he’s going to have a multitude of children!  What does he plan to do – take a dozen wives?  

Yeah – even if he takes a dozen wives – a man his age – is he really capable of fathering a multitude?  Maybe he is losing his mind – old people do get crazy sometimes.

Yet Abraham believed God and made that change.

And how did that turn out?

  • Today there are about 14.5 million Jews in the world.
  • Statistics I could find show there are between 407 – 402 Arabs in the world.
  • There are 22 Arabs states in the world and Israel – what an amazing story there – is once again a nation after being destroyed by Rome in AD 70.
  • Abraham is also revered as the forefather of the Arab nations and Islam, as he was also the father of Ishmael, his son through Hagar, Sara’s Egyptian princess handmaiden. The Koran reports that Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped black stone structure in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is Islam’s holiest shrine. During the annual Haj pilgrimage, Moslems from all over the world circle the Kaaba, reinforcing the central role of Abraham and Ishmael in Islamic faith.
  • On Rosh Hashanah, the Jews recalled the story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice, which Jewish tradition states occurred on the first of Tishri and honor Abraham’s faith and obedience to God.
  • In Christians circles he is the acknowledged father of monotheism, progenitor of Western religion.  So many little children have sung that song

Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abrham.  And I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.

Thinking of the faith Abraham had to declare he was to be called, at age 99, “Father of a miultitude” makes me wonder how many times God speaks to us about something in our lives and we are afraid to share it.  Afraid others will think we are crazy, or maybe even being prideful.

I remember when God called my husband and I to sell our home and possessions and go to the Philippines to teach.  I thought my co-workers might think I was crazy but I was amazed at the response of my fellow Christians.

Some thought we were fools to sell everything and step out by faith.  Others thought we were boasting when we said God had called us to this.  Then, there were those who wondered how we could do that to our family.  Leave them alone and journey to the other side of the world.

Has God ever called you to a task that you were afraid to share?

Has God ever asked you to do something that others would consider foolish?

Always trust God and like Abraham declare that which seems foolish and impossible.