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.”

 

 

The Day I was Mad at God

I remember the moment I held my daughter in my arms.  It was overwhelming to realize I was a mother, personally responsible for this tiny baby.  Looking at her, I whispered that we were going to be the best of friends.  I shared with her my hopes and dreams of the hours we would spend reading, playing in the park and listening to music.  Four years later I once again held another daughter in my arms.  How happy I was – two beautiful daughters!

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My girls were my world.  As a mother, there was nothing I would not do to make them happy.  As time passed, my oldest daughter and her husband gave me the joy of being a grandmother.  Robert was born and his first year was filled with precious memories watching him beginning to walk and say his first words.  One year later a beautiful granddaughter was born.  As I walked into the room where my daughter lay holding this new grandchild, my heart skipped a beat when she held the baby out to me and said, “Mother, meet Barbara Rose!”  She was named Barbara after me!

In the midst of this joy, my heart was torn.  In just a few short weeks I would have the honor of dedicating this little child to God.  However, a few days after the dedication I would get on an airplane with my husband and youngest daughter and fly to the other side of the world to serve as a missionary in the Philippines.

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Several months before Rebekah had become pregnant with Barbara, God had opened a door for my husband and me to work in the Philippines for a couple of years teaching in a Bible College.  At the time I felt everything would be okay because by the time we left Robert would be over a year old and Rebekah and Rob would do fine as new parents with this little boy.  While I would miss Robert, I would have had that first year to share and treasure while we were gone.  But now my daughter, who had married very young, had not one, but two children less than twelve months apart.  She and her husband were both college students.

As I looked at them struggling to keep up with their home, their studies and two little babies, I wondered how can this young couple make it.  Holding Barbara Rose on dedication day, my heart ached as I realized I would not be there to see her sit up, take her first steps, and say her first words.  When I came back, she and her brother would not know who I was.

Yet, I knew God had called us to go.  I thought of the verse in the Bible that speaks of loving God so that in comparison it may seem we hate our family.

Rebekah and Rob went with us in the airport as far as they could go before security barred their way.  The last look I had was the two of them standing there, each with a baby in their arms, and the saddest, forlorn look on their faces.  I felt my heart would break.  I was deserting them when they really needed me.

We settled in the Philippines and while my heart still ached, I became busy in the work and prayed the time would pass fast for them.  A couple of months later, we had a call from my daughter.  Our little granddaughter was having digestive issues and it looked as if she might have to have surgery.  How I longed to go home, but we had just arrived and our budget did not really include money to make a trip home.  Rebekah assured me they would be fine and did not need us, but I could hear in her voice the longing for her mother.

Hanging up the phone, I went into my bedroom, laid on the bed and told God how mad I was at Him.  I said, “I sold everything I had, gave up my time with my grandchildren to obey You.  The least you could do is take care of them.  I feel as if I am turning my back on my daughter.”

God did not strike me with lightning for speaking that way.  That’s the beauty of a relationship with God.  He knows our hearts, He understands our pain and He loves us.  I have never understood those who feel we cannot be totally honest with God – as if He does not already know our very thoughts.  He understood the love of a mother for her children.  He loved me in spite of my hurt and anger.

But quietly I felt that “still small voice” of God speaking to me.  He said, “I turned my back on my Son for you.”

For the first time in my life I got a little idea of how much God really loved me when He sent His Son to die on that cross.  John 3:16 took on new meaning for me.

And the end of the story – Robert and Barbara quickly developed a love for Grandma and our relationship is very close.  God also has given me many more grandchildren and I believe the example we set putting God first in our lives has had a tremendous influence on my children.  Putting God first is sometime hard, but always in the end, brings great blessings.

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

Remember the fairy tale where the wicked stepmother would ask:

mirror

 

Last Sunday in church the speaker taught from the book of James where James wrote:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

As I reflected on these words from James, I thought how often I look in the mirror.  In the morning I look to see that my hair is in place.  I use the mirror to help me as I put on face lotion and makeup.  Depending on what my day brings, I may go back to the mirror to adjust my hair, put on lipstick or, if my husband and I are going on a date, to put on some earrings or other jewelry.

When I view myself in the mirror, if I see some hair sticking out-of-place, I get a comb and correct it.  Or, when putting on makeup if I notice that I have put on too much eye shadow I get a tissue and make corrections.  Fixing a scarf or a piece of jewelry I will use the mirror to make sure I get it just right.

In other words, I use the mirror to make sure I look my best before I venture out in the world – and make any corrections I feel are needed so that I do look my best.  (Of course the older I get, I less I really like to look in the mirror.  Seeing my reflection, I sometimes wonder :

 

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James, I believe is telling us that God’s Word should work like a mirror for us in our spiritual life.  As we read God’s Word if we see areas in our life that need a spiritual adjustment, we should make that correction.  Just as we would not look in the mirror, see our hair was a mess and walk away without fixing it, so we need to let God’s Word show us those areas where we need to draw closer to Him.

I think our question should not be:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Rather, it should be:

mirror 4

 

 

 

 

Say Yes or Say No –

A few years ago my husband and I took our granddaughter to a park by the Mississippi River near our house to feed the ducks.  Although she was only four years old she quickly realized we were only a few blocks from the John Deere Pavilion.  She loves this place with all the many tractors and farm implements

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After feeding the ducks, we headed back to the parking lot and she asked me if we would take her to see the tractors.  I told her to ask her Papa.

When she asked him, he replied he needed to think about it for a minute.  After only 30-45 seconds, she looked up at him and said,

“Say yes or yes no.”

After pausing to laugh he told her we would go see the tractors.  After all, does Papa ever say no to this little girl?

Reflecting back on this day, I thought how quickly she wanted an answer.  Whether it would be the answer she wanted or not, she wanted an answer.  She would not be content with Papa not making a decision.  The opportunity to go to the Pavilion was there – but Papa needed to give an answer, not keep her in suspense wondering if she would get her request.

My thought then turned to times when God has asked me to make a commitment to something.  To follow Him down a road that I do not really want to go.

To love someone I feel has really hurt me.

To give up my own time to minister to someone.

To sacrifice my own finances to help someone less fortunate than me.

To simply obey and do what His word directs me to do.

How many times do I waver between doing what He is asking of me and what I want to do?

I wonder how many times He is patiently saying

Say yes or say no!

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Jesus told us:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

Yet how often do I say “yes” to God but then not follow through in obedience when it conflicts with my own desires or wishes. God’s Word reminds me that I must:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

I cannot say yes with my mouth but no with my actions.  It’s either yes or no.

That old saying is true:

If you straddle the fence at some point you will come to a fence post and have to get off on one side or the other.

Say yes to God and no to sin!

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Little Word “If”

If

Definition of if

a – in the event that
b – allowing that
c – on the assumption that
d – on condition that
Doing a study on 1 John in the Bible, I noticed how many times John used the word “if.”  That started me thinking about all the “ifs” in the Word of God.  It seems to me that there are many promises of God that we claim without taking into account the “if” that is associated with it.
It is clear that we can never earn our salvation.  We can never do enough good on our own to earn that gift of eternal life.  John 3:16 makes it clear that if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he grants us forgiveness and eternal life.  Paul the Apostle also stated very plainly in Ephesians 2:8-9 that:
 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
But once we begin that walk with the Lord, it is clear that if our relationship is to grow and we are to develop as true disciples, there are conditions to be met.
The “ifs” seem to indicate that there is something required from us.  How we respond to these “ifs” will determine our receiving from God what He has offered.
Here are just a few for you to consider:

For IF you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…Matthew 6:14

forgiveness

We talk a lot about how God forgives us if we ask.  But we must remember that forgiveness is tied to our forgiving others.

IF you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples…John 8:31

OObeying Word

So — if we are not faithful to God’s Word, how can we claim to be His disciple?  And how can we be faithful to His Word, if we never read it, never study it, never really know what it says?

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another…John 13:35

 

One another

Interesting – the mark of a disciple according to Jesus is not all the great sacrifices we might make, the many talents we might use, but the love that we have for others.

IF anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our abode with him…John 14:23

obeying

We love to talk about desiring the presence of the Lord in our life, in our family, in our church.  Many of our worship songs are all about how much we love God.  But again, that big little word “if” says we only really love God and we only can expect His presence, if we keep His Word.

One of the biggest IF’s I think is found in Matthew 16:24

IF anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.

cross

Again, we love to talk about our commitment to Christ, but we are only committed when we truly deny our-self, take up the cross and follow Christ.  The idea about a cross is really lost to most in our society.  To us a cross is a decoration on the wall of the church or on the steeple.  It is a piece of jewelry we wear or hang on the wall of our home.  But to the society to which Jesus spoke these words, the cross represented death.  To truly follow Jesus requires a willingness to die to our own desires and be led by Him.

But one of the greatest “ifs” in the Bible is found in Revelation when Jesus said

Behold I stand at the door and knock.  IF anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him.

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What a great promise!  To open the door – to invite Him into our life, that is all we have to do and He will be glad to come in, to have a relationship with us.  Notice that we are the ones to open the door.  He is a gentleman and does not force Himself on us.  But he extends that wonderful invitation.

If you have not done so, I encourage you to open the door.

 

 

 

 

 

The First Christmas – Mary’s Story

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Christmas!  What a magical time!

We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a little baby who makes no crying and of a night where all is calm.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

What about Mary?

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What an honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Can you imagine the response of her parents to that announcement?

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Certainly he would have questions.  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.

Do I trust God?

Mary had to decide.

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

The trip to Bethlehem

How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would journey-to-bethlehem-1062729_jpg_1418849826391_journey-to-bethlehem-1062729come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

What a place to give birth!

I can’t imagine giving birth in a cold stable with possibly no help in delivery except my husband who is a carpenter and maybe some strangers who offered help.  To lay my new-born baby in a feeding trough for animals.

Baby Jesus did not cry?????

I find it hard to believe that baby Jesus just laid there quiet and calm.  After all, the Bible tells us that He came to “be like us,” to understand our weakness and frailty.

  • As He began His ministry, He experienced temptation just like us.
  • We see Him falling asleep after an exhaustive day ministering to the multitudes.
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried out for deliverance from the cross.
  • He felt the agony of feeling forsaken by the Father on the cross.

One of the main points the writer of the book of Hebrews makes is that Jesus experienced human life as we know it, so why would He as a baby not have felt the cold, the hunger?  Why would He not have cried as all new-born babies do?

Enter the shepherds!  Wake up Mary!

Imagine Mary, worn out from giving birth, quieting her baby and watching Joseph tenderly lay him in the manger.  Perhaps she thought about the visit from Gabriel and his words about this son she just gave birth to.  Perhaps she wondered why, if this boy was the savior of the world, they were sleeping in a stable and he was laying in the place where animals took their meals.

Finally, she leans back on the hay to try to get a little sleep when suddenly the stable is invaded by a group of shepherds straight from the hills where they had been tending their sheep.  Pos002-christmas-shepherdssibly they did not smell all that pleasant.  They no doubt were very excited and loudly proclaiming what they had seen and heard.  As they shared the stories of the angels, no doubt Mary remembered her visit from Gabriel.  What reassurance to know that others now had heard the wonderful message that this child was sent from God.  She and Joseph were not alone in knowing the wondrous news of this birth.

The visit to the temple

Soon it was time to take the little baby to the temple and present the sacrifices required after giving birth.  We can see from the gifts they brought of two turtledoves or two young pigeons that Mary and Joseph were among the poor of the land.  Leviticus 12 tells us requirements for this offering.

“These, then are the procedures after childbirth.  But if she is too poor to bring a lamb, then she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigoens.

Standing in the temple still reflecting on all the events of the past few days, Mary was again reminded of the importance of her son when a man named Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying

Lord, now I can die content!  For I have seen him as you promised me I would.  I have seen the Savior you have given o the world.

But Simeon’s next words must have given Mary pause as he told her

A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejcted by many in Israel, and this to their undoing.  But he will be the greatest joy of many others.  And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.

Mary’s first Christmas

How different Mary’s experience of Christmas is from ours.  But as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we go beyond the bright lights, the food, the music – may we, like Mary, experience the wonder of this miracuous birth.  May we trust this Savior and like Mary, may we say

I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything You say about me come true!