How to Obtain Success With God

success

Reading the book of Ezra recently I was struck by the expression found several times in the story of Ezra’s return from captivity to the city of Jerusalem.  Writing about his success in obtaining help from the Persia king to return to his hometown and help rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians years before, over and over he used this phrase to describe that success:

“the gracious hand of the LORD was on him.”

Wondering why the LORD was so gracious to Ezra, I found the answer in chapter seven where the writer of the book declares:

“This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.”

Many televisions evangelists today tell us if we just have enough faith, God will give us great success.  But I think Ezra had the right idea.  It is not in “my” faith that I manipulate God to give what I want.  His blessings come with the three things Ezra practiced.

Study the Word of God

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Reading the Bible on a consistent basis is a great thing to help a Christian in their daily walk with God.  During those devotional times as we meditate on a portion of Scripture we can gain encouragement and strength to meet whatever the day may bring.

However, if we only read the Bible, we miss the chance to really grow in our knowledge and complete understanding of God’s Word.  Note that in his letter to Timothy Paul said to study not read.  We sometimes resist during that because to really study God’s Word requires time and effort.  But it is in really digging deeper into God’s Word that we not only grow, but we will be protected against the false teaching that is so prevalent today.

Obey the Word of God

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It is not enough to study or to hear the Word of God.  The blessing comes when we obey it.  Many times I think we are guilty of just ignoring those scriptures that require something of us we don’t want to give.  My pastor husband used to say:

“Pick and choose, and you will lose.”

Teach the Word of God

teaching

Here’s where I lose some of you.  You think, “I can’t teach God’s Word.  That is for people who have degrees in Biblical Studies or are ordained ministers in their church.”  Granted, many of us are qualified to lead in-depth Bible studies, but we all can share with others what we have learned from our own study.

Whether you realize it or not, you are teaching others.  Your children, your coworkers, your neighbors are often taught about God by the way you live.  As the verse in Colossians indicates, if we let the word of God dwell in us (by studying it and applying it) we will be teaching others.

Study…obey…teach.

This was also the instruction given by God Himself to Joshua when he was appointed to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. 

Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

 

 

Seven Reasons to Ban the Lord’s Prayer

In 2015 the church in England had an advertisement which featured the Lord’s Prayer set to run before a Star Wars movie.  The cinemas banned the ad because they said it might be offensive to some.

In response Bishop Steven Croft wrote an article saying “from the perspective of the spirits of the age, there are very good reasons to ban the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas and culture and public life.”

Lord's sprayer

Here are Bishop Croft’s reasons:

  1.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”   –  It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time….We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human being who are therefore our sisters and brothers.
  2. “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  –  The world is not as it was meant to be.  It is distorted from its true purpose.  But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish His kingdom.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves.  It invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.
  3. “Give us this day our daily bread.” – This is not a prayer for more.  This is a prayer for only what we need.  It teaches contentment.  This one restrains our greed.
  4. “Forgive us our sins.” – This teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others.  The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily.  It offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily.  The way of forgiveness cannot be bought.  It is a gift.  Grace.
  5. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” – We are not meant to live in feud or hostity or rivalry.  We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other.
  6. “Lead us not into temptation.” – When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale.  We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where bad things happen for no clear reason.  We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the most challenging moments of our lives.  We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.
  7. “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen.” – The prayer returns as it begins to the praise and glory of the living God.  our hearts return to their origin and source, the one who created us.  Our lives are to be lived to God’s praise and glory, not to satisfy our own small desires.  We are beings with a higher calling and a greater purpose.

There are only 63 words in the Lord’s Prayer.  It takes less than a minute to say them.

Yet these words shape our identity, give purpose to our lives, check our greed, reminds us of our imperfections, offer a way of reconciliation, built resience in our spirits and call us to live to the glory of our creator.

No wonder many want to ban them from our consumer culture.

When a Flood Comes

Feeling overwhelmed?  Stressed out?  Facing a flood of sorrow, pain, economic problems?

flood

We all have those times in life.  Times when we may even question if God cares.  If God even exists.

When we are struggling through a difficult time we do not need a “Pollyanna” quoting scripture or telling us “it will be alright.”

pollyanna

While I certainly do not want to be guilty of that, I have been thinking of some of my friends who are currently going through tough times.  Remembering tough times that I have experienced.

Natural floods are terrible events, destroying homes, lives, communities.  For anyone who has been through such an event, I cannot begin to imagine how you must feel.  But in reading about floods, I have discovered that not everything about a flood is destructive.  There are good things that come from a flood.

Wetlands provide nutrient-rich sediments that give support to plant and animal life.  These wetlands, in return, affect air quality for humans and support healthy fisheries.

wetlands

Floods also deposit river sediments and these sediments replenish nutrients in topsoil.  These distribution of river sediments make farmland more fertile.  Think of the ancient civilizations that flourish along the floodplains of the Nile, the Tigris and the Yellow rivers.

Flood waters also absorb into the ground and recharge underground aquifers.  This brings fresh water to natural springs, wells, rivers and lakes.  Many populations depend upon ground water and this replenishes these sources of fresh water.

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As in the natural world, so in the spiritual.  Tough times are – well – tough.  No one would choose to go through those floods.  But when they come – and they do – it helps to know there are also blessings to be gained if we will remain steadfast in our faith in the Lord.

In my tough times I have found one of the best, if not the best, antidote to despair, depression, or giving up is the Word of God.

W. Phillip Keller said it best:

“For all of us there are bound to be formidable “floods” in the stream of life.  Just as Joshua and Israel faced a raging river that overflowed its banks and inundated its flood plain, so will we.  God does not try to hold us back from the          rampaging currents of life.  He does not ask us to retreat or withdraw from that threat which would seem to engulf us.  He does not urge us to try and find some way around the apparently impossible barriers before us.  Rather He asks us to believe quietly that:

* It is He who brought us here.

* It is He who will keep and preserve us here.

* It is He who will take us on from here.

This is faith in action.  This is the private, positive response of the person whose confidence reposes in Christ.”

I love this portion of scripture in 1 Corinthians.  If you are struggling right now, I hope it will encourage you.

“And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

 

 

To Be Blessed of God!

I recently wrote on the thought of being blessed.

Are You Blessed?

god bless

Our idea of being blessed of God often only looks at the physical or material aspects.  A nice home, a good marriage, a great job.  While these ARE blessings of God for which we should be thankful, the Bible is clear these kind of blessings are temporary.  The real blessings of God are those that will last throughout eternity.

And receiving those blessings require more than just a “God bless you” that we share with each other in passing.

Just a few thoughts on God’s blessings and how to obtain them.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither…..Psalm 1

It appears that receiving God’s blessings requires us to be careful whose advice we take and how much time we spend thinking of His Word.

God's word

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed…..1 Peter 3:14

Whoa!  Blessings from God might include suffering?  

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Wait a minute here!  Blessings from God might require trials?  And the blessing is not a promotion at work but eternal life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…..Matthew 5:9

Come on now!!!  When I seek to bring peace to others rather than pushing for my own agenda I will be blessed?  And the blessing is the privilege of being called a son of God?

peace

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Again, it seems God’s blessings are somehow connected to knowing His word – and obeying it.

God's word 2

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.  We Americans count blessings from God almost as a right rather than a privilege.  When we do not get that promotion at work, when we get that diagnosis of cancer, when someone makes fun of us for being a Christian, we are so quick to complain or feel like somehow God has failed us.

If God’s blessings are so tied to material things, how do we explain the Christians who live in a third world country and often wonder where their meal is coming from?  Who are persecuted, put in prison, even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ?

God is much more than a genie in a lamp.  He does love us, He does want to bless us (yes, even in material things) but more than that, He desires a real relationship with Him.  One that loves Him for who He is more than for what He does.

May God truly, really bless you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Blessed?

We love the idea of being blessed.

We greet one another with:

god bless

But what does all that mean?

Can we cause God’s blessings to be given to someone simply by saying “God bless you.”  Is God waiting around to hear us pronounce blessings on someone before He blesses them?  Is He obligated to bless someone because we say so?

We claim God’s blessings on our country:

god bless 2

When we say “God bless America” what are we wanting God to do for our country?  Give us peace?  Make us rich?  What exactly do we expect from God – what do we want from Him for our country?

We often declare:

blessed

What are the reasons that make us say we are blessed?  We have a good marriage, we just got a promotion, we brought a new car, we won the game.  We know God is the giver of good things and we certainly should thank Him.  However, are we reducing blessings from God just to material things, times when things go our way.  Do we feel blessed when our marriage falls on rough times, we lose our job, our car breaks down, we lose the game?

Often, we tell people they should:

blessings

Again, we should be a grateful people and it is always good to stop from time to time and really look at all God has given us.  But in counting our blessings, what is it we count?

Do we include those times when life felt apart – but God was there?

Do we count the privilege of being able to worship God freely without fear of being thrown into prison?

Do we count the joy of knowing we are forgiven?

Or do we again just think of material things we have been given?

And if we are going through a difficult time, do we feel like we have no blessings to count?

What does it really mean to be blessed of God?

What does His Word say about that concept?

Hope you will think on that question for a while.

question mark

Give me some feedback on what you think being blessed is really all about.

I’m taking a long look at what the Bible has to say about this subject and will write more in the days ahead.

But, give me your thoughts on this.

 

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Daddy Will Carry It For Me!

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My daughter recently spent several weeks in Sierra Leone tutoring the child of a missionary family that was returning to the states for a year and wanted to make sure their daughter was prepared for school in the USA.  My six-year-old granddaughter accompanied her mother on this trip.

It was a great opportunity for my young granddaughter to experience another culture, to try new foods and see how life is so different in other countries.  Hopefully, it has given her a better appreciation for the blessing of being born in the USA.

When she returns to school this fall and the teacher asks everyone what they did this summer, I doubt anyone will be able to top her story.  “I spent weeks in Africa.”  While there she kept a journal and my husband and I have enjoyed listening to her as she showed us the pictures she drew and read to us the comments she made in the journal.  Some of her comments we can read and some have to be “interpreted” as her spelling and printing are still in a “learning” process.

While she did well during her stay in Africa, as she and her mother began the journey back home, her excitement at the thought of seeing her daddy grew with each passing hour on the flight.  Because they were limited in the amount of luggage they could take, my granddaughter had her backpack filled to the brim with necessary items such as sunscreen and insect repellant but also with those items we Americans count as necessary such as an iPad.   The backpack became heavy as she carried it through the airport at each of their layovers.  But my granddaughter knew relief was in sight.  When they left Africa and she put the backpack on she told her mother with great confidence:

When I get home, Daddy will carry it for me.

After I calmed down from the excitement of knowing my daughter and granddaughter were back home safe and sound, I looked at the picture of my granddaughter with her daddy riding down the escalator at the airport.  My son-in-love had her backpack on his back and she was walking free of any burden.  Just as she knew, her daddy was carrying the load for her.

I began thinking of the confidence she had in her daddy.  How did she know he would carry the backpack for her?  Clearly in her six years of life she has found her daddy to be a faithful father.  He has always been there to pick her up when she fell as she learned to walk.  He has always been there to pick her up and swing her over his head and then safely put her down.  He has always been there to sooth her tears when something upset her.  He has always been there taking her to the zoo, to the park, playing games with her.  He has proven to her that he loves her, that he will take care of her and she has confidence in his ability to do just that.

Then I thought of my heavenly father.  How many times has He carried my load for me when it became too much for me?  When my earthly father deserted me, He was there.  When my first husband was accidentally killed, He was there.  When I was told that my cancer was very advanced and very aggressive and “the odds were not in my favor” He was there.  And just in the day-to-day cares of this life, He has always been there.

So I have to ask myself why is it when stressful times come, that I sometimes forget that? How sad it would have been if my granddaughter thought when she saw her daddy that he would refuse to carry her backpack but leave her to continue carrying the burden although she was exhausted from jet lag.

I keep looking at this picture of the two of them as they ride down the escalator with my granddaughter free of the load just comfortably riding down as her daddy manages the suit cases and has the backpack on his back.  He is not ashamed to wear a “My Pony” backpack.  He is not worried about someone laughing at a grown man with a child’s backpack.  His only thought is to help his daughter and to relieve her of her burden.

So Jesus went to the cross for me.  He was not afraid to bear the shame of the crucifixion.  His only thought was to help me (and the whole world) and relieve me of the burden of my sin.

So when problems come in the future, I will go back to this picture and I will say:

My Daddy will carry it for me!

 

 

The God Who Sees Me – Part 1

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In the book of Genesis we are told of the story of Hagar, the maid of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  When Sarah was not able to conceive, she gave her maid to Abraham in hopes that she would be able to bear a son who would then be considered Abraham and Sarah’s legal offspring.  This was often the custom in the ancient world – their version of our surrogate mother today.

After Hagar conceived it appears there was conflict between the two women.  No doubt Sarah felt jealous and perhaps afraid that Abraham would begin to love Hagar more for giving him a son.  The Bible indicates that Hagar may have also become a little arrogant because she had been able to do for her master while his wife had not been able to do.

In any event when Sarah began to treat Hagar harshly, Hagar fled into the desert. There, huddled by a stream of water, no doubt feeling all alone and wondering what would become of her and the child she carried, Hagar was visited by the Angel of the Lord.  From the promises the visitor made to Hagar and from her response, it is clear that this was none other than God Himself.

God instructed Hagar to return to Sarah and Abraham and submit to them.  He assured her that she was going to have a son and that this son’s descendants would be too numerous to count.  She was instructed by God to name her son Ishmael which means “God that hears.”  Hagar clearly realized who her visitor was and she called Him El-Roi, “the God who sees me.”

I have often read this story, even taught it in Sunday School, but recently as I read it, the name of God seemed to jump out to me off the pages of my Bible.

The God Who Sees Me

In the midst of her fear and suffering Hagar recognized that God saw her.  I began to think of times in my life when I experienced that same sense.  Times of my own fear or suffering when God ministered to me in a clear way that let me know He saw me.  He knew my distress and He gave me assurance that He was with me and would help me in this time of difficulty.

I sat down and began to make a list of those times when God let me know without any doubt that He saw me and He was there.

Does Jesus Care?

The first moment for me was when I was 14 years old.  My father had recently walked out on my mother and me, leaving to live with another woman.  My heart was broken as my father had been the one I looked up to and wanted to be like.  Unable to cope with her husband’s desertion, my mother became the child and I became the adult.  Instead of her trying to comfort me, I was called on to give her comfort.  Over and over she would repeat to me stories of the early days of their marriage long before I was born and would tell me terrible things about my father.  Things I did not want and should not have had to hear.

One day feeling so alone I sat down at the piano and began to play a song we sometimes sang at church.  As I played that song, it was a cry from my heart to God.  The words of the song spoke exactly what I felt.

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it ought to Him? Does He see?

After crying out to God through these words, I began to sing the chorus.  I was not sure if the words of that chorus were true,  Did God really see me?  A young girl living in a run-down small house in a tiny town.  What was I compared to the rest of the world?  Did He care?  As the tears ran down my face, I sang these words.

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

What I am about to say I know some will not believe or will say it was just the fancy of a young girl.  But to me it was so real, I will never doubt it.  As I sang the words of that chorus I felt a strong presence beside me.  Such a sense of peace came over me and I knew that the God who saw Hagar had seen me.  Afraid to turn and look for fear I would really see Him standing there and feeling how unworthy I was, I never turned.  But to this day, I know this was a moment when the Creator of the universe showed up to tell a young girl that He cared.

I have had other times of distress and problems but I have never doubted that God cares about me and that He sees me.

Have you had moments in your life when God “showed up” and let you know He was there?  If so, I would love to hear about them.