Sunday, December 1, 2019

Words to the Wise, Prosperity, Deceit, and the Bread of Life

Today's Reading:
  • Proverbs 13:2 - 13:8
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Proverbs 13:2 - 13:6

I cherish the words of wisdom found in the book of Proverbs.  Each verse in this book speaks to me as I read it.  Today I'm going to give my thoughts on each of these six verses.

13:2  Wise words will win you a good meal, but treacherous people have an appetite for violence. 
 I liken this verse to wise people who are eating the bread of life.  They are satisfied and fully fed spiritually. The treacherous and/or wicked have appetites that are never satisfied. The sinners just keep trying to satisfy their hunger with their own desires (sin) in vain, yet their souls can never be fully satisfied until they taste the bread of life.

13:3  Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.
 Do you ever watch a TV show or movie where a person catches a real break -- let's say a judge hands down a lightened sentence -- but then that character has to open his mouth and ruin everything?  Life is a lot like that, I think.  We allow our tongues to control us, instead of us controlling our tongues.  The bible is clear that the tongue is a dangerous weapon.  It is detrimental to our lives, to our souls, to our hearts.  If we do not have control of our own tongues, then we are not in control of our sinful flesh. 

13:4  Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.
I've met them.  They are the people who want to complain that life just isn't fair for them.  That they should have what so-and-so has.  That this other person doesn't deserve this or that.  Sometimes it might be true.  Bad things happen to all of us, we all fall on hard times.  But more often I see people who are always in a bind, and they always want to blame someone else for their problem.  I wish I could shake these people up -- tell them that life is yours to grab by the horns.  If you want something, work for it!  Achieve it!  Prosper!  The Lord is telling us this right here in this verse. 

13:5  The godly hate lies; the wicked cause shame and disgrace.
As people who are redeemed, we should hate lies.  Lies are of this world only; lies are of Satan only.  The Lord never lies to us.  The Lord does not deceive us.  The Lord does not trick us.  I used to pray fearfully, thinking that if I said the wrong thing I might create a "loop hole" or open up a means for something bad to happen.  And then I realized one day that I needn't be so fearful.  The Lord is not looking for a means in which to trick me, or deceive me. That is not the Lord's nature at all.  Instead, that is what Satan does to the Lord's followers.  The Lord is good, the Lord is awesome, the Lord is Holy and the Lord does not deceive.

13:6  Godliness guards the path of the blameless, but the evil are misled by sin.
Sin is like an entity that is alive.  It grows inside you, blackens your heart, takes over your soul.  It lies to you, it tells you to accept it, it blinds you to the truth. It helps you to reconcile the sin to yourself that you believe that you are justified in what you are doing.  You are not justified.  You are not an exception.  I am not an exception.  When we sin, we are blamed for our sin.  We are misled by our sin.  The Lord will judge us for our sin.  I would rather be godly and blameless before the Lord, though it is the hardest path of all to take -- and I am not even close to being there yet.  I will never be there, for I am human, but the important thing is repentance and forgiveness.  For the Lord will make us blameless, if we truly repent and change our ways.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Parable of the Shrewd Master - Being Faithful in the Little Things

Today's Reading:
  • Luke 16:1 - 18
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Luke 16:1 - 18
Today's passage contained the Parable of the Shrewd Master.  In this parable, a manager was fired for wasting his employer's money.  The manager then called in all the people who owed his employer money and lowered all their debts.  By doing this he ensured that he would have people to take him in when he lost his home.

Jesus goes on to say that children of the world (i.e., unsaved) are more shrewd in dealing with this world than the children of light (the saved).  He tells us to use our resources to benefit others and to make friends, and that way we will have an "eternal" home when all our earthly resources are gone.

I don't believe that Jesus is telling us to steal from others in order to make friends.  He's just pointing out how a shrewd child of the world would not hesitate in using his position to gain friends and resources.  Jesus is telling us to benefit others and gain friends, but in a generous way.

Jesus then goes on to say that those who are faithful in the small things will be faithful in the large things, and if you are untrustworthy with worldly wealth, then you wouldn't be trusted with the riches of heaven.  He also says that if we are not faithful with other people's things, how could we be faithful with our own things?

That single passage I described above has so many different meanings and implications to me.  First of all, it confirms that Jesus doesn't want us to steal to benefit others, as that would mean we were being unfaithful with the things of others.

The passage also tells me that we need to faithfully (and with a happy heart) manage the responsibilities that the Lord has given us.  For example, there are many people who expect that God has this BIG calling for their lives.  They keep passing up all the smaller opportunities around in search for that BIG one.  But if God cannot trust us to take on a small opportunity, how could we expect him to give us a large opportunity?

Another thing I see in that passage involves the management of our worldly wealth.  Jesus used the phrase (in my NLT translation) "untrustworthy of worldly wealth" (16:11).  So what would constitute being untrustworthy of our worldly wealth?  Well, to me that would mean failing to use our money (ie, our resources - as Jesus covered in the parable) to benefit others.  We need to be givers, we need to help others.  We need to tithe to our local church.  When we are faithful with our money we are given more responsibility to work with.  The more responsibility we are given, the more friends we make who will be with us should we suddenly lose all our own earthly possessions.

Should we lose our earthly possessions? That can be one of people's biggest fears.  And you would have to wonder, if I'm being faithful, why would I lose all my earthly possessions?  Well I can't answer that now, although it could be one of many reasons.  But it does tie in with the very last sentence Jesus speaks of this parable (16:13):
"You cannot serve both God and money."
While we might definitely be hurting if we lost our possessions and lost our money, it would be but temporary.  You can't live with the fear of losing your money (or giving it away to someone in need), because that would not be trusting in the Lord to provide for you should you need it, and then would be serving money.  And the Lord will provide for you, and quite possibility through those glorious friends you made along the way as you helped others out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Learning to Fear the Lord

Today's Reading:
  • Deuteronomy 28:1 - 68
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Deuteronomy 28:1 - 68
Deuteronomy chapter 28 is a really harsh one to get through.  It starts off with the Lord offering blessings for obedience.  He tells the people that if they obey his commands, they will be blessed in all things -- wherever they go and whatever they do, they will be blessed.

The Lord tells them that the rest of the world will stand in awe of this nation claimed by God (28:10).  That verse really struck me -- can you imagine how glorious a nation that is claimed by God and true to His word would be?  Think of the most kindhearted Christian you know -- the person whose light just fills the whole room.  If we were to be an entire nation of people who are truly letting the Lord's light shine, it would be an amazing sight.

The chapter starts to turn real dark at 28:15.  From there to the rest of chapter 28, the Lord talks about the horrible things that will happen if the nation disobeys the Lord.  It's hard to read the rest of the chapter because it so bad -- imagery of women eating the afterbirth and new born babies out of raw hunger (28:57); sons and daughters carted away forever into slavery (28:32); everything they've ever known taken from them and lacking in everything (28:48).  The things described in this chapter are horrifying.

There are some things I had to keep in mind while I read.  First off, I have to remember that I'm reading God's covenant with an individual nation.  Then I had to remember that the Lord took this people out of Egypt in the most miraculous way -- sending horrible plagues down on Egypt and even parting the Red Sea for the escape.  These people lived on food that fell from the sky magically every day and every night.  The presence of the Lord literally lived among them and guided them the entire way.  The Lord was right there among them -- how could they even dare disobey?  What reason would they have to?

And now I have to wonder, are we really that different from them?  We have the instructions of the Lord right in front of us.  I have at least a dozen copies of the word of God in my house.  The Lord lives inside me, and His works are evident throughout the world.  The Lord provides for me and my family -- He has blessed us greatly.  So what's the difference?  Why shouldn't we be as fearful as the Israelites when it comes to disobeying the Lord?

I guess the answer is that we should.  We should fear to disobey the Lord.  I have seen many references to fearing the Lord in the bible.  But I think that our culture focuses on the love -- which is a great thing.  I certainly focus on the love.  But perhaps I should be a bit more mindful about truly fearing the Lord. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Showcasing the Greatness of God through Weakest of Thee - How Gideon Conquered an Army of 135,000 with just 300 Men

Today's Reading:
  • Judges 6:1 - 8:35
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Judges 6:1 - 8:35

Today's reading covers the story of Gideon.  We meet Gideon at the bottom of a wine press, where he was threshing wheat (6:11).  Gideon threshed wheat in a wine press in order to hide grain. This is because the Israelites were greatly oppressed by the Midianites, who ravished their land continuously, purposely removing any and all sources of food that could be found. 

The Israelites found themselves in this predicament for the very same reasons that they had been struggling throughout the entire book of Judges (and pretty much for their entire history from the exodus forward) - because they "did evil in the Lord's sight" and the Lord eventually handed them over to the Midianites (6:1-2). When the Israelites had everything taken from them, when they were broken, when they were hiding in caves, when their entire population was starving - then they cried out to the Lord (6:6).

The Lord, ever and always faithful, heard their cries.  An angel of the Lord came to Gideon and told him Gideon would be used by the Lord to deliver the Israelites (6:14).  Gideon then said some words that I want you to remember: "But Lord, ... how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!" (6:15) 

Eventually Gideon was convinced he was truly hearing from the Lord and made a call to arms. He amassed an army of 32,000 soldiers (7:3), but the Lord said that was too many men.  If that many men fought, they would claim the victory lie within themselves, instead of with the Lord (7:2). So Gideon obeyed, following the Lord's instructions on how to whittle down the army, until he had a mere 300 men (7:7). 

So here is Gideon, part of the weakest tribe of Israel, the weakest man in his own family, with an army of 300 soldiers against a combined army of 135,000 (8:10).  Gideon had his doubts leading up until that moment (6:17-22, 7:36-40), but he obviously had incredible faith, for he did as the Lord said.  Gideon surrounded the opposing army in the middle of the night, and, following the instructions of the Lord, managed to cause mass chaos and confusion throughout the opposing forces, until the entirety of the enemy's army was killed or fled (7:17-22). Gideon and his 300 men pursued the remaining army until all were captured or killed (8:4-12). 

Whenever we think to ourselves that we are weak, that we are worthless, that we cannot achieve the tasks set upon us to achieve - think of Gideon. God does not value us the same way we esteem ourselves.  This does not just apply to those who feel weak, insignificant, or less than others; it also applies to those who are strong and boastful of themselves - but for the opposite reason. God does not want things done for our own glory, but for His. That is the reason God knocked Gideon's army down to a mere 300 men.

After the wars were finished, Gideon had a sacred ephod made from the plundered gold (8:27).  That in itself was likely done with good intention. Great men like David wore an ephod (2 Samuel 6:14); it was a priestly garment that could be worn while worshiping the Lord. In this case, however, the ephod soon became a thing of worship to the Israelites and a crutch to Gideon and his family (8:27). The Israelites reduced the sacred ephod to an idol. Like the previous stories read in the book of Judges, the people lived in peace with Gideon for about 40 years (8:28). History repeats itself, however - because as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites started worshiping other gods and idols. Again.

My study bible had a small piece on Gideon that caught my attention.  It said that Gideon, who was dependent on visible signs (6:17-22, 7:36-40), eventually turned from worshiping the invisible God to worshiping idols.  Before I read that I never understood how people could worship all these things made of gold - how they could bow down to objects created by man and treat these things as their gods?  I now understand, in part, how that could be.

As a New Covenant Christian, I have the blessing of the Holy Spirit residing within me.  To me, it is a tangible thing I can feel.  That was not so under the Old Covenant - those people were reliant on prophets and judges and various men of God to communicate His commandments and decrees.  Without the Holy Spirit dwelling within my soul, perhaps I might desire something visible to worship.  I would like to say that isn't the case.  Where we have the Holy Spirit, the Israelites had miraculous signs that I can barely fathom. God's presence hung in a visible cloud within their people during their exile in the desert. Later, the Jews had Jesus Christ in the flesh. Even so, masses of people turned away from the Lord.

I do not know what my faith would be in a time that I did not live and in situations I did not encounter. It's easy to look back and judge, but that is a trap that keeps us from examining ourselves. Therefore let us learn from the past, so that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of others, while examining ourselves at the same time so that we are not blind to our own unrighteous and unfaithful behavior.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Praying within the Parameters of God's Will

Today's Reading:
  • Luke 10:38 - 11:13
  • Proverbs 12:15 - 17
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Luke 10:38 - 11:13

In Luke chapter 11 verses 2-4, we are given the Lord's prayer.  This is the second time so far that I have read the Lord's Prayer in the bible - the first being in Matthew 6:9-13.  Jesus is responding to a disciple's request to learn how to pray when Jesus tells him the Lord's Prayer.

Jesus then tells his disciples that persistence is key when praying.  Jesus gives an analogy about a man who knocks on another man's door late in the evening.  Eventually the man answered the door and granted the request.  Jesus says the following in chapter 11:
 9 And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeing, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
10  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
I have the feeling that these verses get misused often, as an indication that you can get, well, anything your heart desires.  I would first like to point out that the parable that preceded these verses involved a man who needed bread to feed a guest.  The request was urgent enough that the man just kept knocking -- he needed that food so his guest wouldn't go hungry.  This was a prayer for provisioning, which the Lord WILL provide those who ask.  It might come in the midnight hour but it will come.   

As far as prayers for other things go, I believe that your prayers must align with the will of the Lord in order to be answered.  The Lord knows an infinite amount more than we ever do.  Sometimes we are pray for something with our whole heart; something that we think is in our best interest; something that we think aligns with the will of God; yet we don't receive it.  In those cases we just have to trust the Lord has our best interests in heart.  Many times, later in life, you finally see a blessing in the fact that X thing didn't happen, even though you prayed so hard for it.  It's at those times that catch a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the Lord's plan for you life.  So consider every unanswered prayer to be a blessing.

Right Thinking and Quick Tempers

Proverbs 12:15 - 17
15  Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.
16  A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.
17  An honest witness tells the truth;  a false witness tells lies.
I initially thought verse 17 was a bit ... erm, obvious?  But then I realized, maybe someone doesn't know what a false witness is.  Now if someone asks me, "What is a false witness?"  I can say "a false witness tells lies" and point out where it is defined in the bible instead of the dictionary. Pretty nifty, eh?

It is the first two verses of this reading that really catch my attention.  The subject is Fools -- and fools are taught about all throughout the bible.  It is a bad thing to be a fool, it is the opposite of being wise.  It carries death while wisdom carries life.  So I have learned to pay attention to all the bible says about fools.

Verse 15 really draws me in, because I have a big problem when it comes to thinking my way is right.  I tend to do a lot of research, research about everything and anything.  When someone needs an answer, I have it, right there.  If someone tries to tell me otherwise, I can point out in an instant where that is wrong.  Pretty foolish, eh?

Today I re-read Proverbs 3:3:7-8.  Those verses tell us not to be impressed with our own wisdom, and that listening to others will give us healing for our whole body.  Pretty powerful stuff, don't you think?  I really need to work on stepping back and not immediately throwing an answer at someone.  I need to learn to be humble and see what I can learn from another person, instead of only relying on what I can learn for myself.

As far as verse 16 goes, I try not to be quick tempered.  My temper has calmed down a lot over the years.  I still have plenty of room for improvement, though.  I am going to try to a silent chant when I start to get prematurely angry: "A fool is quick-tempered.  A fool is quick-tempered.  A fool is quick-tempered."  Wish me luck -- or better yet, wish the other person luck!