Old Testament Surprises

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Each time I delve into the Old Testament I’m struck by its relevance, even when my reading falls within the historical accounts of kings and tribes. If we met for tea today, and you asked what I’ve been studying, I’d tell you 1 Chronicles. Would you yawn? Perhaps, but let me share what I’ve been learning.

1 Chronicles 22

In this chapter, David charges his son Solomon with the Herculean tasks of assuming kingship over Israel and building a temple for the Lord. His primary advice?

  • Be careful to observe the decrees given through Moses.
  • Be strong and courageous, unafraid and never discouraged.

And to the leaders of Israel, ordered to help Solomon, David says, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19a).

There it is, the essence of a believer’s walk once again: trust and obey!

Moving back a few chapters to 1 Chronicles 5:20-22, I find God working for his people in the heat of battle. He “delivered…all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him…The battle was God’s.”

All our battles belong to God. We may be called to fight, but he is the one who does the winning.

While the Old Testament is chock full of encouragement, it warns us as well. Moving back just one book to 2 Kings 18, I was surprised by the passage condensed below:

“Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Wait, what? God used that bronze snake as a means of rescue for the Israelites. They turned it into an idol? Yes, they did. Anything can become an idol, even something that started out as an instrument of good. I asked myself, “Am I in danger of making something an idol?” The answer for all of us must surely be yes. 1 John 5:21 cautions, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” We must always be on our guard, asking God to keep our perspective and our loyalty in line with him.

What have you been learning? Whether from the New Testament or the Old, has God used his Word to surprise you lately?

Unsettled

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After nearly 30 years in the same house, I am moving. I’m not sure precisely where or when just yet. I don’t know who will buy our present home, nor which furnishings and possessions will “make the cut” and come along with us. I could spend another paragraph detailing the myriad of other uncertainties in my life. But then, you have a list of your own, don’t you?

You may, like me, sometimes be tempted to say, “I will be at peace when _____.”  Perhaps you would fill that blank with, “when the doctor gives me a clean slate” or “when my baby is born” or “when my next job review is over.” Of course, that will never work. By the time today’s list of uncertainties have cleared, a whole new crop of them will be headed our way. Our only hope for pervasive peace is to maintain our trust in the Lord within uncertainty.

I was thinking about my uncertainties as I washed the dishes this morning. (That’s usually Steve’s job. I don’t remember where he was!) Somehow, my thoughts landed on the Israelites. As they traveled the wilderness, they never knew what the next day would bring, whether they would be traveling or staying put.  If the cloud of God’s presence moved, they moved. If it settled, they settled. (See Numbers 9: 17.) But what of it? Their hope, their peace, was not in knowing what tomorrow would bring. It was in believing, believing that God would lead, provide, and protect.

Should we be any different? Do we really need to know what’s coming next in order to be at peace? Surely not, as that would mean we could never really be at peace. Today, I am looking squarely at my uncertainties and proclaiming, “I do not need to know. God knows. And that is enough!” I pray that you will do the same.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

 

Tangled

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The cord of my kitchen blind is twisted and tangled. I used to think a family member was doing this to mess with me. Not so. It just happens, little by little. If I don’t keep up, untwisting it day by day, the tangle becomes a snarl, a complicated mess that’s hard to set straight. Sin is that way. Have you noticed?

  • How did that bad habit take hold? Little by little.
  • How did that relationship become so sour? Little by little.
  • How did that close walk with the Lord evaporate? Little by little.

Hebrews 12 has a lot to say about keeping sin from becoming a snarl in our lives. Look at verse 1, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Perseverance is the straightening process that must be done day by day before our tangles become snarls. We may not all be hindered by the same temptations, but we all have a lot of “throwing off” to do. We can do it, though, because we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Hebrews 12 is a rich chapter, full of pointers on how to live well. Here’s an abbreviated version of the rest of the chapter:

  • Keep looking at Jesus, in order to keep from growing weary and losing heart.
  • Endure hardship as discipline. God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in his holiness.
  • Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.
  • See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.
  • See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless.
  • Be thankful, and worship God with reverence and awe.

And that’s plenty to chew on for this week!

May God let his Word sink deep into your soul!

 

No More Foolishness by Beth Smith

pulpit-590750_1280-pixabayReverend Henry Ward Beecher, a clergyman in the late 1800’s, is said to have entered Plymouth Church one Sunday morning, only to find that a letter addressed to him had been left on the pulpit. He opened it and read the single word “Fool.” Quietly, and with great seriousness, he told the congregation about the letter and then said, “I have known many an instance of a man writing a letter and forgetting to sign his name, but this is the only instance I have ever known of a man signing his name but forgetting to write the letter.” I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about fools and foolishness, and was amazed to find 49 references. For example:

  • Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
  • A fool’s heart blurts out folly” (Proverbs 12:23).

The greatest folly that fools blurt out is found in the first verse of Psalm 14 and again in Psalm 53, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

It seems to me that the opposite of foolishness is wisdom. Here’s just a bit of what the Bible says about wisdom.

  • Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. The rewards of wisdom come to all who obey him” (Psalm 111:10 NLT).
  • To acquire wisdom is to love yourself; people who cherish understanding will prosper (Proverbs 19:8 NLT).

These verses make me want to be a wise person. The question is, how do we get wisdom instead of becoming fools? James 1:5 tells us that if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God to supply it, because he gives generously to all. He’s already given us his wisdom in his Word, the Bible. How foolish we are when we don’t read it!

How will we recognize Godly wisdom when we get it? James 3:17 (NLT) says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” Those are real goals to hold up for our lives. If we want to be wise, we must be:

  • peace loving
  • gentle
  • considerate
  • merciful
  • impartial
  • full of good deeds

Of course, we can’t be all those things on our own. We are told by 1 Corinthians 1:24 that, “to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Our only hope for Biblical wisdom lies in our relationship with God through Christ. When we’re seeking wisdom, we’re really seeking to be like Christ. To do that, we have to know him. To know him we must read his Word (his wise instructions) and do what we find there, thus living wisely.

Let’s not be foolish! Let’s get wisdom by following Christ.

Yellow Ribbons (by Beth Smith)

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”Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” hit number one on the music charts in April 1973. (Perhaps you were just a baby at the time. Maybe you weren’t even born yet. Consider this a history lesson.) The song told the tale of a man who served a three-year prison sentence. When he was about to be released, he wrote a letter to his wife and explained that he would be taking a particular bus through their hometown. If she wanted him to get off the bus and come home, she was to tie a yellow ribbon around the oak tree in the city square.

Imagine the man’s anxiety as the bus got closer and closer. He asked the bus driver to be on the lookout in order to tell him what he saw. When the town came into view, there were yellow ribbons on every branch. He was forgiven. What a wonderful feeling!

We can all have that joy, that release from sin and regret, because God forgives us. We can come home to him, no matter what we’ve done.

  • In Matthew 26:28 (NIV), Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
  • Peter said of Christ in Acts 10:43 (NIV), “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

This is not an exclusive promise. It’s for everyone! We may be tempted to think, “Yeah, right. Sure it is. But nobody knows how bad I am, what evil thoughts I have, what terrible things I do. No way can I be forgiven.”

My answer is a wholehearted, “Yes. Way.” We are promised in 1 John that if we confess our sins, admitting them to God, he will forgive us. Then, we are to forgive others.

Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we think, “I can’t do that. What they did was too horrible.” The truth is, if God tells us in his Word to forgive, then we can forgive. He never tells us to do something without giving us the power to do it. Forgiving isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.

This very day, if there’s someone we haven’t forgiven, it’s time to get alone with God and do it, perhaps praying, “God, I don’t feel like I want to do this, but as an act of my will, by choice, I obey you. I choose to forgive this person. You can change my feelings. I will no longer rehearse the grievances and bitterness I have. I forgive them as you have forgiven me.”

The next step? When those old bitter feelings rise up, we have to say, “No Way! I have forgiven that person as I have been forgiven.” And when can we stop forgiving others? Never. Because God never stops forgiving us. Jesus has yellow ribbon tied around everything. He tells us, “All is forgiven. I’m waiting for you with open arms.”

The Candy Cane (By Beth Smith)

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(For the next four weeks, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at Etsy.com. )

Welcome to the Christmas season! Since candy canes are popping up in stores everywhere, I thought I’d share with you a few legends regarding their origin:

  • One story says that in 1670 a choirmaster at the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, handed out sticks of sugar to his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Nativity Ceremony at Christmas, bending them into shepherds’ crooks in honor of the occasion.
  • Another says that in 1847 a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small spruce tree with paper ornaments and white candy sticks.
  • We do know that, around 1920, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as Christmas gifts for his friends and family, twisting and bending each piece by hand. The story goes that in the 1950’s, a relative of Bob’s invented a machine that automated the candy cane’s production and made Bob’s Candies, Inc. one of the world’s largest producers of that Christmas treat.

I thought it would also be interesting to look at some of the Christian symbolism of the candy cane today:

  • Turned with the curve up, the candy does indeed look like a shepherd’s crook. We know that Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for us.
  • The “J” that the candy makes when the curve is down stands for the name of Jesus. And that is the greatest name of all. It calls us to worship and brings power to our prayers.
  • The hardness of the candy is a reminder that that Jesus is the Rock. He is stronger than anything the world can throw at us.
  • The white of the candy points to the purity of Jesus. Christ was without sin, even though he was tempted. Because of this, we can go to him for help with our own temptations.
  • The red stripes on the candy may stand for the blood Christ shed for us on the cross. In the words of an old hymn, “His blood can make the foulest clean.” His death, his blood, covers our sins so that we are made right with God.

Who does Jesus want to believe in Him? All of us. All of us! It is not his will that even one of us be lost. That’s what Christmas is all about.

So maybe it’s not “just a candy cane” any more. It’s a reminder of our Lord and his love for all of us. Merry Christmas!