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.

Like a Good Neighbor…

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The State Farm jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” was written by Barry Manilow in 1971. Can you hear it? Are you humming yet? And are you a good neighbor? Hmmm. Am I?

Not long ago, I attended two different churches over two weeks, and listened to two different pastors give two different sermons on—you guessed it—being a good neighbor. They both used the story of the Good Samaritan, found in the book of Luke. (You can read it here on Bible Gateway.) Thanks to Ty VanHorn and Jason Dohring, I came away with quite the bullet list:

  • Be living proof of a loving God to a watching world.
  • Be neighborly.
  • Don’t wait for someone else to be neighborly.
  • Share a card. Or a wave. (Or a text? Or an email? Or a cup of soup?)
  • Get messy.
  • Be inconvenienced.
  • Pay the price.
  • Pay attention.
  • Get involved.

And may I add a simple one? Be nice! My sister describes my husband this way, “He’s nice, but he’s not a wimp.” Being nice doesn’t equate to being weak. In fact, sometimes being nice—and being neighborly—means standing up in the face of injustice or unkindness and loving the less lovely. Why? Because we were loved first. As one of those two wise pastors said, “Being friendly takes little effort. Being a friend takes much.”

How have you been friendly, neighborly this week? We could all use a few good suggestions, so I hope you’ll post one here!

Mind the Gap

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If you ever travel to London, you’ll need to remember two key safety rules.

  1. When crossing the street: The traffic nearest you is coming from your right.
  2. As you step out of the underground train (or The Tube): Mind the gap.

“Mind the gap” is a phrase I hope will stick in your brain over the coming weeks. Here’s why. A few blog posts back, I quoted Matthew Kelly (paraphrased as accurately as I could remember) saying, “If I just lived out one Gospel reading 100%, my life would change radically. I need to work on the gap between that life and the life I am living now.”

Ah, that gap. We all face it. This morning I received news that made me really angry. I want to lash out, to use my wicked tongue to strike at those who have hurt me by making a decision with which I do not agree. But…probably not what Jesus would do.

We need to be fully schooled in salvation by grace, but we also need to stay fully aware of the gap. Are we measuring ourselves against the characters we see on TV? The characters that live down the street? Maybe the ones in our own family? Have we found someone, somewhere, who makes us look good by comparison?  Comparison is always a losing game, except when we compare ourselves to Christ. He is our model.

Romans 8:29 tells us God’s plan is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We are not there yet! The gap is where we pray for our lives to be transformed, but transformation can be a painful process. Sometimes we have to give up favorite habits or adopt new ones we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. (Sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and pray for those who have made us mad!) As with all things, this will only happen by the power of God, and is reason enough for us to begin each day with prayer. Sometimes I like to pray through song. I hope you’ll join me in listening to this musical prayer by Eddie Espinosa and continue to ask our Lord to help you mind the gap. Change My Heart, Oh God

 

 

Exhausted but Still in Pursuit

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Many of you know the story of Gideon. The Lord told him to go and fight the Midianites, promising victory. As a sign of this promise, the Angel of God instructed Gideon to put an offering of meat, bread, and broth on a rock. Before departing, the angel touched the offering, causing fire to rise from the rock and consume the food. Somehow, that miracle wasn’t enough to convince Gideon to follow instructions. He asked for two more signs. First a threshing floor remained dry all morning, while a fleece of wool was soaked full of dew. In a second test, the fleece was dry while the ground around it became wet.

Finally persuaded, Gideon amassed an army, but it was too big. Ours is the God of the impossible. A large army might have taken credit for the Midianite defeat, claiming that victory was by their own strength. The crowd had to be reduced. First Gideon told all who were fearful to go home. (And twenty-two thousand did just that.) Then he took the remaining ten thousand down to the water and watched them quench their thirst. Only those who drank by lifting their hands to their mouths, three hundred in all, were allowed to stay and fight.

God in his compassion assured Gideon of His plan one more time by allowing him to overhear a Midianite relating a dream and its interpretation—sure defeat of the Midian army by the hand of God through Gideon. Then Gideon did as the Lord commanded. By the blowing of trumpets, the breaking of torch-filled pitchers, and mighty shouts of faith, he and his band of three hundred secured the victory, pursuing their enemy army as they fled.

That’s enough of a story right there, chock full of important lessons:

·       God directs.

·       He asks the impossible.

·       He does the miraculous.

·       He is gracious when we ask for confirmation of his will.

That’s all I ever learned about Gideon until yesterday, when I read the rest of the story. Judges 8:4 teaches that, “Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.” There were more battles to be fought. The whole trumpet and jar thing was just the beginning. Eventually, but certainly not immediately, “Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years” (Judges 8:28).

Are you in the middle of a battle today, one that seems incredibly long and drawn out? Are you in a place where you are exhausted, yet must keep up the pursuit? I hope you will look at the story of Gideon and be reminded that, while God does indeed keep his promises, he may ask us to press on beyond what looks reasonable to us. May he give you the grace and strength to keep up the pursuits he has assigned to you this week!

 

Psalm 78

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I love to talk (and write) about trusting the Lord, worshipping him, honoring him. Today, though, my Bible reading covered the other side of the coin, the dark side, so to speak. The verses below, beginning with Psalm 78:40, point out what happens when we ignore the Lord our God:

“How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.”

I could try to pass these verses off as ancient history, a simple description of the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness, with no implications for my own life. I don’t believe that’s the only reason they are recorded in the book of Joshua, though. I can rebel. I can grieve him. I can vex the Holy One of Israel. How? I suppose there’s more than one way, but look at the very next verse. It’s the one that struck me this morning as an important reminder of what it means to serve the Lord.

“They did not remember his power—the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, the day he displayed his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Zoan…”

The Israelites lost sight of the power of God. Despite all he had done, all the ways he had revealed himself, they abandoned their faith in him. They fell into fear and a frenzy of complaints whenever the going got rough.

God makes it clear throughout the Bible that he does not ever want to be forgotten or ignored. He is to be the center of our lives and of our thoughts every single day. Do we benefit from that kind of faith and trust? Of course, but that’s not the reason we are to keep him as our focus. We are to remember his power because that is what he demands, what he commands us to do. And when we don’t, we have rebelled. We grieve and vex him. We walk in disobedience.

These are hard words, but only if we choose to ignore them. The brighter side of this coin is that the One who created us, who created all things, wants us to be in close, continuous relationship with him. Joshua had that, and so can we.