Do I Reflect Being With Jesus?

Every Sunday I meet after church with a small group to study the Bible and right now we have started walking through the book of Acts.

One story in chapter 4 of that book really makes me stop and examine my own Christian witness.

Peter and John had been brought before the religious leaders who were disturbed at the message they were sharing with the people.  A message that Jesus had risen from the dead.  A message of hope for salvation in those who believed their report.

After careful questioning they ordered them to never speak or teach again in the name of Jesus.  They answered that “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard. “

History tells us that they did not stop but later it is reported that in Thessalonica it was said of the followers of Jesus “they have turned the world upside down.”

What caught my eye in this passage of scripture is the religious leaders description of Peter and John.  They were amazed at the boldness of these ordinary men who had no special training in theology.  They recognized these two as men who had “been with Jesus.”

How was it these ordinary fishermen became bold and successful messengers of the Good News that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that belief in Him led to salvation?

They had spent time with Jesus.

Examination of my own life makes me question.

Does my witness to the goodness of Jesus reflect that I have spent time with Him?

My language, my attitude, my compassion, my awareness of the needs of others, how I spent my time and my money – would people say of me that “she has been with Jesus”?

That is my prayer today.

Heavenly Father, help me to spend time with you – in Your Word, in Your house, with fellow believers, in quiet times of worship.  Help me turn off the television, the internet, stop fussing about having a perfect house.  Keep me from the things that would distract me from time with you.  Then, help live in practice of what I profess to believe.  Help me treat others so that they will know I have been with You.

 

 

 

 

Two Questions – Two Different Perspectives

Reading the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke today I noticed the two questions in the story.

The first set of questions was from a young man who asked Jesus what were the requirements of obtaining eternal life.   Jesus said you could summarize the entire Law and Prophets with two basic commandments.

  1.  Love the Lord with all your heart, your soul, your strength and your mind.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

At that, the young man then asked “Who is my neighbor?”

What follows is a story told by Jesus that has been retold over the years.  Anyone who has attended church for any length of time has heard about the “Good Samaritan.”  This story has been shared as a lesson to show us who our neighbor really is.  The idea is anyone we come into contact with that needs help is our neighbor.  Our neighbor is more than just the people who live next door to us.

While that is all well and good today I compared that young man’s question to the one Jesus asked him after He finished telling the story.  When we look at Jesus’ question I think we might get a different take on the point of the story.

Jesus asked the young man “Which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”  When he answered it was the one who actually took the time and spent of his own finances to help the man, Jesus told him to “go and do the same.”

From the young man’s perspective, the question was:

Who is my neighbor?

From Jesus’ perspective, the question was:

What kind of person do you want to be?

Have you ever stopped to think about that?  What kind of person do you want to be?

It’s not just about acknowledging that everyone is my neighbor, but actually taking time to determine just what kind of person we desire to be.

 

How Do I Pray For My Family?

In my small group at church this week we talked a little about how we pray.  One of the members of our group mentioned reading Paul’s prayers for the church.

Knowing what to pray for my family has always been a topic of concern for me.

I confess most of my prayers are for their needs for the “here and now.”

  • Help this grandchild to find a good job
  • Provide the finances for this grandchild to pay for college
  • Heal this son/daughter
  • Take care of this difficult situation this child is experiencing right now

Looking at the ministry of Jesus on earth I do not think praying for their physical and financial needs in this life is wrong.  While on earth Jesus often spend time meeting the needs of those who followed Him.

  • He fed the hungry
  • He opened the eyes of the blind
  • He reached out and healed the leper
  • His very first miracle was actually supplying wine for a wedding party

Clearly He was and is concerned about all our needs, not just the “spiritual” ones.

Still, when I look at the prayers the early church prayed and the prayers of Peter and Paul in their writings it is clear that their main concern was not for the “here and now.” They were not so concerned for their own needs but for God’s kingdom to be advanced, for “eternal” things.

I say as a Christian I believe  there is life after this one on earth.  I say it is my desire that my children and grandchildren know and serve the Lord.  But do my prayers really reflect that?  Am I more concerned about the “here and now” than I am with the “eternal”?

One prayer the early church prayed which I think really reflects their focus on the kingdom of God rather than their own needs, is the one found in Acts 4.  Here, Peter and John had been in prison for preaching about Jesus.  Upon being released, they were warned to stop sharing the story of Jesus and threats were made if they did not refrain from doing so.

They immediately gathered with the other believers.  Now, today if this happened to our pastor, I believe our prayers would probably be for God to protect us or to change the hearts of the religious leaders.  But I love their prayer.

“And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.  Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

To help me focus my prayers more in line with the early church, I have been praying one of Paul’s prayers for my children and grandchildren.  It is found in Colossians 1.

“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.  We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.”

Truly I want all the best for my children and grandchildren.  It is my desire that they have great marriages, successful careers and good health.  But most of all, my greatest desire is that they will grow to know God better and better.

How do you pray for your family?

Thankful for the Lion – Thankful for the Lamb

In our worship today we sang about the Lion and the Lamb.  Those two terms are often used in Christian circles to describe Jesus.  But what a contrast!

Think of a lion.  The mighty king of the jungle.

lion

He is big, he has a tremendous roar.  He symbolizes power and strength.  Lions have often been used as symbols of royalty.  Many of the ancient palaces of kings and temples of pagan gods were decorated with statues of lions.

And these descriptions describe Jesus Christ in His role as king and resurrected Lord.

Old Testament prophets foretold of a coming Messiah who would be king.

Micah told us:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

Isaiah spoke of Him:

“There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

Daniel had a vision of this coming king and told us:

“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Jesus Himself accepted the title of “King” when confronted by Pilate:

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth”

But then there is the lamb.

lamb

Lambs are considered to be meek animals.  They have no sharp teeth, no claws, no physical way to defend themselves.  They run from what frightens them and the only protection they have from predators is to band together in large groups for protection.  Sheep were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated.  Dependent on protection from the shepherd, it is doubtful they could ever survive in the wild.

Yet the Bible often refers to Jesus as a lamb.

Isaiah in describing the coming suffering of the Messiah, described Him as a helpless lamb.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth;  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

When John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the one coming to deliver he referred to Him as a lamb.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And Peter spoke of Jesus as the lamb without blemish or spot.

“knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” !

I am so thankful that my Savior is both a lion and a lamb.

Powerful yet meek.

Majestic yet humble.

Calling for justice and righeousness yet standing for grace and mercy.

lamb 2

I’m glad my God is a powerful and mighty God.  So glad when I go to Him with my problems, I know I am going to a God that is able.  His strength is mine.  How often I have called on that strength –

  • When my father left my mother and me when I was only 14 – He became the source of strength and love I needed to go on with hope.
  • When my husband was killed in an accident and I was left to raise two little girls, He promised to never leave me and He gave me the wisdom and courage to go on with hope.
  • When the doctor said my cancer was very advanced and aggressive and there was not much hope I would live long, He assured Him that He would walk with me though this “valley of death” and gave me the determination to fight with all my might this dreadful disease with hope.

I am also glad He is a meek and loving God with mercy and grace.

  • When I became all stressed out about my future and my aging body, He assured me that just as He has been there for me in the past, He will not leave me now.  He understood my worry and concern and did not condemn me for my lack of faith.
  • In the many times I have allowed my own thoughts and feelings to lead me to gossip, not forgive others, to be disobedient, He has never stopped loving and drawing me back to where I need to be in Him.

It was His love (the lamb) that led Him to the cross – thank God for the Lamb!

It was His power (the lion) that brought Him out of the tomb – thank God for the Lion!

 

 

 

When the Teacher Becomes the Student

When my girls were growing up I tried to share with them from the Word of God and prayed they would love the Word as much as I did.  For years I was the teacher.

But that has changed now.

Phone rings.  The caller ID says it is my daughter, Jessica.  When I answer I hear, “Momma, I was just reading the Gospel of Matthew (or the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah or another book of the Bible), and did you know?

Then she begins talking almost non-stop on some new thought, some new idea on what she has been studying.  I lean back in my recliner and get comfortable because I know I am going to be on the phone for quite awhile.

All that is required of me in this conversation is to occasionally say “yes”, “oh”, or something to let her know I am listening.  She will talk on and on and I wonder if she is going to take a moment to breath as she shares with me a new insight to God’s Word.  Or, it might be a writer who has encouraged her to take a new look at Scriptures.

Sometimes what she shared I had already discovered myself years ago, but her enthusiasm at the truth is so good to hear – and often renews my desire to revisit that portion of scripture or rejoice in that truth.

However, most of the time she is opening to me a new observation, a new understanding of God’s Word.

Almost always when we end our conversation, I think to myself, “I have been teaching the Bible for years and I never saw that before.”

Then, I smile and thank God for this daughter who is wise beyond her years and who is teaching me to understand more of the width, the depth of God’s Word.

It’s humbling, but also a joyous time when my student becomes my teacher.

 

 

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.

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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.

How Quickly We Forget

Reading my Bible this week I came across the story of the great Old Testament prophet, Elijah.  I read of his great faith and courage as he confronted the 300 prophets of the idol Baal and challenged them to prove whose God was truly God.

They built an altar, placed wood on it and an animal to sacrifice.  All day they prayed to Baal to send down fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.  As they danced around the altar crying out and even cutting themselves with knives and swords, Elijah taunted them:

“You’ll have to shout louder for surely he is a god.  Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself.  Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be awakened!

As evening came, Elijah took his turn.  He dug a trench around the altar and had them fill four large jars with water and pour over the wood with the sacrifice.  Three times he had them pour water over the altar until the wood and the sacrifice were saturated with water.  It even filled the trench around the altar.

Then he cried out to the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and clearly show the people who was the true God.  As fire fell down from heaven it consumed not only the sacrifice but also the stones of the altar and all the water in the trench.

elijah.jpg

The people cried out:

The Lord He is God!  The Lord He is God!

They then joined Elijah in killing all the false prophets.

What a great victory!  What an example of a man with great faith in God!

But the story does not end there.  When the queen, Jezebel, heard that all the prophets of her false religion had been killed, she sent word to Elijah:

May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.

What does this great man of courage and faith do?  He runs for his life and hides in a cave.

As I read this I could not help but wonder how someone could have such faith and stand up to 300 false prophets and then run from a single woman.  What happened to his faith?  Where was his courage?

Then Sunday morning our guest speaker spoke about the coming year 2019.  He pointed out that we might see great victories, prayers answered, problems solved.  But in this life we might also see losses, prayers seemingly unanswered and more problems created than solved.  What should we do?

He encouraged us to look back and remember all the times God had sustained us and brought though difficult times.  He then asked us to list three times in our life when we knew for sure that God had intervened in our life.

Sitting with pen in hand, I found there were so many times God has intervened I did not know where to start.

I thought of the time when I was seven years old and there were some reported polio cases in our town.  Earlier my class had been vaccinated for polio but I had a severe reaction to the first shot (there were a series of three shots at that time) and my parents were told I should not take the other two shots which meant I was not protected against the disease.  One morning at school I went to the nurse complaining of pain in my legs and neck.  Checking me for a fever, the nurse called my mother to come get me from school as I was running a high fever.  Today my parents would probably have rushed me to the doctor’s office but they had no insurance and little money for doctor bills so they placed me on the couch, my mother gave me some aspirin and a cool cloth for my forehead.  By the next morning the pain in my legs was worse and mother wanted to take me to the doctor.  My dad asked that we give it one more day and if I was not better when he came home from work, they would take me to see the doctor.  As the day passed my fever grew worse and my neck began to be drawn to my shoulder.  I could not move it and the pain in my legs caused me to begin to cry.

In a panic, my mother called my dad at work and he said he would get home as quickly as possible and take me to the hospital.  Fears of polio filled their minds.  While waiting for my dad to get there we heard a knock on the door.  Opening the door my mother found two friends standing there who apologized for coming by unannounced but said in their time of Bible study and prayer they felt led that they should come to see mother.  They had no idea why.

When they saw me they asked if they could pray for me.  As they prayed for me, the pain in my legs instantly stopped.  After praying mother asked me if I could lift my head.  I could and in a few minutes my fever stopped.  Dad came home to find me sitting up feeling great.

Now a skeptic will say this was just a flute, or just mind over matter.  But I know as a seven year old girl I did not have “mind over matter” ability and I know the pain was severe, the fever was high and they both left instantly.

My mind raced ahead to many other times when God intervened in my life.  I would love to share them all but this blog would then become a book.

However if you are interested in how God intervened when I was receiving radiation for an advanced case of breast cancer, check out this post:

Coincidence or An Act of God?

So – I asked myself:  Am I like Elijah – forgetting all the moments of God’s intervention and His protection as I face a new problem?  Have I so quickly forgotten His blessings in the past that I fear a new situation that requires faith and courage?

I think we all are like that.  So quickly to forget – so quickly to worry and fret.

Forgive us Lord!

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Israel,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.