Sunday, July 14, 2019

Peace vs. No Peace, Learning to Recognize the Voice of the Holy Spirit

Today's Reading:
  • Proverbs 14:1 -14
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Proverbs 14:1 - 14
The book of Proverbs is probably my favorite book of the bible.  There is so much life-giving advice in this book.  Proverbs 3:18 in the NLT tells us that "Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly."  I feel joy each time I read from Proverbs, in embracing the wisdom imparted into this book.

One of the great things about Proverbs is that each proverb can be distinctly different from the one before it.  There are many themes each time I read from this book.  Today's reading is no different - 14 proverbs, but many different themes. 

Proverb 14:1 tells us that a wise woman builds her home and a foolish one destroys it with her own hands.  I asked myself, in what ways can a woman tear her own home apart?  Obvious answers came to mind - things like having an affair.  Then not so obvious thoughts popped up.  A woman could tear a home apart by undermining her husband, or perhaps by feeding and propagating gossip and lies. Perhaps she is not wise with money and overspends the family's finances. I suppose anything that would put a strain on her family could be considered tearing the home apart.

Proverb 14:4 has really perplexed me.  In the NLT version, it states "Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest."  I felt like there was something about this verse that I wasn't grasping, so I looked up a few different translations. The NLV put it in terms of grain - "There is no grain where there are no oxen, but much grain comes from the strength of the ox." The NKJV talks about increase coming from strong oxen.  I guess the moral of the story is that you need to work hard to increase the things in your life.  Yes, you can obtain a strong ox and have it do the hefty work, but you must still clean and care for that ox. There is always work involved in feeding and caring for your family. God expects us to work.

Verses 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 talk to us about fools and mockers.  Anytime I read about fools and mockers, my thoughts are immediately drawn to the heartless situation that has befallen our world. These fools and mockers are all over the place - blaming people instead of grieving with them, mocking online, gathering together to tear down symbols of faith and the last threads of open Christianity.  I feel like Christianity is slowly becoming a persecuted faith in the United States.  Yes, I am very aware we have it easy.  There are many countries where people are sentenced to prison and/or death for their faith.  We are not there yet.  But in the U.S., our rights are slowly being taken away.  We're being told that we can't stand up for our beliefs (even within our own businesses and lives) that are based on the unchanging word of God because they fall out of line with "love."  These people are truly deceived. Believing that something is a sin does not mean we hate the person behind it. It never has.  It's because we love them that we care.

The most profound verse that I read today was 4:12:
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.
We must be aware that Satan does exist. We must be aware that just because a thought goes through our head and seems right, doesn't mean it came from God.  That's easy to say, but hard to decipher, because how does one know the difference?  In my opinion, that is a lifelong struggle to learn. There is an obvious way to tell something did not come from God, and that is if it contradicts the word of God.  God simply will not instruct us to do something that is against the word of God. Plain and simple. The problem there comes if you don't truly know the word of God.  So many Christians today are deceived because they do not know the word of God. That is the bible - God's manual for our lives. I see a lot of Christians who are probably good people and probably truly believe on the Lord, vehemently argue against God's mandates based on a few verses taken out of context. They don't have the bible written on their hearts, and because of that they are vulnerable to being deceived. 

Testing against the word of God is the first test. That's the easy one.  After that it can become more difficult. Prayer is the next line of defense.  Prayer, however, still isn't the hard thing. Prayer can be and should be very easy.  There's a part of prayer, however, that many don't realize - prayer is a two way street of communication.  One must listen for the Lord's response. Listen and recognize when it is given. It doesn't always, or even usually, come right away. Sometimes it does and you have a firm understanding in your heart.  Other times it comes as a whisper of understanding when you aren't even thinking about what you asked. Recognizing the Holy Spirit inside you is a constant challenge, and that is what is imperative to understanding what God is telling us.

A final tool to use is what my pastor calls "Peace vs. No Peace." When you bring your question before the Lord, feel the Holy Spirit on the inside. Do you get a feeling of peace? Or do you get a feeling of no peace? Learn to listen to that - it will help you to bring a stronger revelation of what listening to the Holy Spirit entails, and it's a quick check for a "yes" or "no" question about your path.  Above all, be wise and avoid the path that leads in death.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Do you Truly Know the Word of God? Writing God's Word on our Hearts

Today's Reading:
  • Psalm 92
  • Psalm 93
  • Psalm 94
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Psalm 92-94
The three Psalms I read today together teach one complete lesson. In Psalm 92, we are told "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High" (92:1). The Psalm continues to tell us how the Lord deserves our praise for everything.  Even when we're in the midst of hardship and battles, our Lord has seen the destruction of our enemies.  No matter what is happening in lives - be it times of plenty or times of peril - the Lord deserves our praise and our thanks.

Psalm 93 is very short - only 5 verses. The first four verses give praise to the Lord, and remind us that He is everlasting and just.  Verses 93:5, however, leaves us with a very important message for today's time:  "Your royal laws cannot be changed. Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever." Your royal laws cannot be changed - we cannot rewrite God's word for today's times.  His laws cannot be changed. He is always just, He is our sovereign Lord, and He made the rules that teach us right from wrong.  If God calls something an abomination unto Him - whether it is in the Old Testament or the New Testament - it is and always will be sin.  Not just sin, but an abomination!  A word that says how much the Lord truly despises something.  We cannot cherry pick verses about love and forgiveness and apply them haphazardly to our lives.  We must apply God's word as a whole to our lives.  Our Lord is just and willing to forgive all our sins - once we truly repent of them.  After Jesus said "Let him without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7), he then said "now go forth and sin no more." How often do you hear that verse quoted?  How often is that verse applied haphazardly to a situation?  Now ask yourself how often do the words "now go forth and sin no more" follow? The Lord is very just to forgive us our unrighteousness - IF we repent. IF we go forth and change our ways.

I am thrilled that as a society we have a handle on God's love and his forgiveness. The is a very important concept, and it is the core foundation of our beliefs.  After all, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and loving our neighbors as ourselves are the two most important commandments (Matthew 22:36 - 40). Upon those commandments lay the foundation of Christianity.  Perhaps we need to think, if we love our neighbors as ourselves, then don't we have an obligation to let them know that their actions have eternal consequences?  If we truly love them, we want them to rejoice in Heaven with us.  This does not mean that we snub our noses at their faults, that we treat them as heathens.  Only God truly knows a person's heart.  This just means that we lovingly guide them, and at all times, remember that we too are sinners.  Some sin is less visible than others, but we all have sin.  The penalty of all sin - no matter how severe one might perceive it to be - is death.  Death is what is waiting for every single one of us. 

Furthermore, God does not tell us not to judge others.  He tells us not to judge others for the same sins we commit.  That is an important distinction.  Once again, people haphazardly quote from the bible: "Judge not lest ye be judged" (Matthew 7:1) while ignoring the rest of the relevant passages. We are called hypocrites when we judge others for the same things we do (Matthew 7:5). We are then told to clear our own sin before dealing with the sin of another (Matthew 7-5).  This is referring to sin of the same type.  Let's suppose you are committing a sexual sin - you are having sex outside of marriage.  It is not your place, then, to try to clear sexual sin from someone else's life. You must deal with the log in your eye before you can help someone else.  In the end, however, we should help others overcome their sins.  Take Galatians 6:1 for example:
"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."  
We should gently and humbly guide others - never thinking we are above someone else, and not treating them harshly because of it. Just because we do not sin the same as someone else does not mean we do not sin.  Deal with someone as gently and humbly as you would like to be dealt with. 

Psalm 94 is a fitting end to today's reading.  It tells us that God's justice will come forth upon the world.  No matter how surrounded we are by unbelievers and by those who do evil, the Lord will prevail.  Sinners and wickedness has its season, but in the end, God's justice will come upon every soul who has ever lived.  While we cannot assume that someone who has a visible sin is not saved, we are told that God is on the side of the righteous.  How do we know what is righteous to the Lord?  The answer is that we must study the Word of God. We must study the entire Word of God, write it in our hearts, and then we will know.

We cannot base our lives on cherry picked verses that do not convict us of our eternal sin - our eternal separation from the Lord.  Knowing the true meaning of righteousness is just the first step.  We must also remember that as a country, we are responsible for picking the leaders whom represent our entire nation before the Lord. How do we know whom to pick?  We choose those are the most righteous to the Word of the Lord. Anyone can and will claim to be a Christian, but the proof is in their actions and beliefs -- in how their lives match up to the Word of God.  If they are still cherry picking, if they are defending sin with partial haphazard quotes, then they likely have not laid the entire Word onto their hearts.  They do not have a conviction of how much our sin truly separates us from the will of God. I will leave you with excerpt from today's reading that gives some wisdom on choosing our leaders, Psalm 94:20-23:
"Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side -- leaders whose decrees permit injustice? They gang up against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide.  God will turn the sins of evil people back on them. He will destroy them for their sins. The Lord our God will destroy them."
Let us not be part of the "them" - part of the people who permit injustice and gang up against the righteous.  Have you been ganging up against the righteous?  Have you been cherry picking verses to defend your sins or the sins of others, while arguing against those who are condemning sin?  Do you truly know the Word of God?  The Word of God gives life.  The Word of God is embedded into our souls.  We are always a work in progress, for we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That is why we have the blood of Jesus Christ our savior.  If you do not truly know the Word of God, however, you make yourself susceptible to corruption, to propagating evil, and even to going to Hell.  Please don't make that fatal mistake.  The bible is the most accessible book ever written, and if you are reading this, then you most certainly have access to study it. Know your bible, know God's Word.  Be a part of those called righteous, and not of those who will be destroyed.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

TThe Faithfulness of the Lord

Today's Reading:
  • Judges 3:1 - 5:31
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Judges 3:1 - 5:31

These three chapters of Judges had a theme that repeated multiple times. First, the Israelites were left in peace. Then the Israelites increasingly began to sin and to forget the Lord. They began to worship other gods, and take on the evil practices of the rest of the world.  Next, as punishment, they were oppressed and given over to other kings. Then the people would ban together and cry out to the Lord. The Lord, ever faithful, would raise up and send a judge to successfully rescue them. They would live in peace, until they once again started to lose sight of the Lord.

Unfortunately I think that what we see out of the Israelites is reflective of Christian people all over the world. Why is it we only want to serve the Lord when we need Him to do things for us?  Shouldn't we always be cognizant of our Lord, of His commandments, of how He wants us to live?  Why do we wait until we're completely over our heads to cry out to the Lord for help?

What do we do in times of peace and prosperity? Is this the time for sinning and for leading ourselves astray of the Lord?  Or is this the time to grow in our relationship and closeness to the Lord? Thanking Him for His hand over our lives? Worshiping Him and remaining close? 

The Lord is more gracious than we deserve. Every single time the Israelites called out to the Lord, he delivered them. It didn't matter how far they had strayed, He was there to pick up the pieces. I can't help but wonder how much better our lives would be if we didn't wait until everything was a mess to rely on the Lord. If God is this good to us, even when we are so far away, how much better off would we be to just remain close to Him at all times, and never stray?  I don't want the Lord to have to pick up my pieces, I want to remain close to the Lord to avoid being shattered in the first place. No matter how close we are to the Lord, we will still become broken and cracked. That is the sin nature of the world we live in. But I'd rather have God holding me from the moment it happens, then wait and have to call out to him when all feels hopeless and lost. I know that the Lord is faithful, so it is on me to remain close to Him. He has given us everything - His Word, His Spirit, and His only Son - so it is on each of us to use those things to remain in Him. The Lord will do the rest, all we have to do is trust in Him.

The Faithfulness of the Lord

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Sacrificial Lamb of the Lord

Today's Reading:
  • Luke 22:14 -22:53
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Luke 22:14- 22:53
Today's reading starts with the last supper and ends with Jesus being arrested. The first thing that struck me today was the powerful circle that was so carefully constructed by the Lord. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating Passover for the last supper. Passover occurred during the time of the Israelites' slavery in Egypt. In the final and most terrible plague of all, the Lord ordered that all firstborn sons throughout the land be killed. The Israelites, however, were told to smear lamb's blood over their doorways to avoid that plague. The angel of death passed over every house that had been sanctified with the blood of the lamb.

Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover on the same night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Jesus laid the foundation for what would later be known to us as communion - a special, dedicated and holy breaking of bread and drinking of wine to be done in remembrance of the Lord. The bread was the body that was broken, and the wine was the blood that was spilled. This was all given to us so that we would have our truly deserved fates passed over, so that we could be washed in the sacrificial blood of the lamb. The parallels to Passover are awe-inspiring when you truly realize them for the first time, when you realize that events that took place thousands of years before were so beautifully woven together. God is the ultimate planner. God has a plan for each and every one of us. And nothing about that plan might ever seem to make sense when it is happening, but every step of the way has a purpose. A carefully crafted purpose.

Here's the kicker about God's plans - we have to let him use us to execute them. Later that night, after the Passover supper, before Jesus was betrayed, he was at the Mount of Olives. There he was praying fervently to the Lord. Verse 22:44 said that he was pouring sweat like great drops of blood upon the ground - that's how strongly he communing with the Lord. Jesus was praying that the cup of suffering be taken from him. Jesus knew what was in store for him. Jesus knew he was to be a human sacrifice. Jesus knew it was going to be terrible. Jesus was probably terrified. Jesus was 100% God and 100% man, and any man would be terrified of an impending terrible death.

Jesus, however, did not sin. He was torn up, he was anxious, he was scared, but through it all he prayed his famous words: "Yet I want your will to be done, not mine" (22:42). Even amidst the most difficult command that God had ever given him, Jesus recognized that God had a plan, and that Jesus was an integral part of that plan. Jesus fought back every inch of his flesh and surrendered completely to God's will and God's plan. And look what they accomplished together! Salvation for billions of people! A chance to be washed in the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ. To be washed free of all our sins. To become holy in the sight of the Lord. To no longer be separated by a veil. To invite the Holy Spirit to dwell within our hearts.  All of that is the result of a God who can craft the most masterful plan. So trust in the Lord when He has a plan for you. Pray that you not give into temptation. Pray that His will be done, so that the Lord can make the most beautiful thing out of your own life.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dwelling in the Shelter of the Lord Most High: A Psalm of Protection

Today's Reading:
  • Psalm 90
  • Psalm 91
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Psalm 90
My study bible states that this Psalm is a prayer from Moses, the great leader and godly man who led the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses starts the prayer by proclaiming the eternal nature of the Lord and emphasizing that the Lord created the entire earth (90:1-2). It seems that the people were under God's wrath at the time this psalm was written, for Moses cries out for the Lord to turn away from his anger and to come back to His people (90:13).

This psalm talks a lot about the brevity of life. Moses realizes that the length of the human life is minuscule to God when compared to His everlasting nature (90:10-12). Moses says that, to the Lord, a thousand years is like a day (90:4). So when we consider that, how long are our 70-90 years, really? Moses prays that people would understand the brevity of life and that we would live our lives according to the Lord, instead of the suffering that is caused by our sins. Moses says that those who walk in the Lord's unfailing love will sing for joy at the end of our lives (90:14), instead of those that live under the Lord's wrath, caused by sin, who end their lives with a groan (90:9). I pray that I continue to walk in the Lord's path, so that I might live my life through to the end with triumphant praise and joy in my heart.

Psalm 91
Psalm 91 is one of my favorite psalms. This is a very powerful psalm that speaks to the protection the Lord extends to his followers. This psalm tells us not to be afraid of anything, for the Lord's hand is always on us. Even if 10,000 are dying beside you, those who trust in the Lord will be safe (91:7).

There are so many awesome declarations of the many ways in which the Lord will protect those who trust in him. Every verse of this psalm is powerful, and I encourage everyone to go read it themselves and take it to heart. In fact, so many people declare this psalm when they are facing troubles. The problem is that this psalm comes with a precondition that most people skip right over. This precondition is the very first verse of Psalm 91. It reads like this (NLT version):

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty

Notice I have underlined the word "live". The precondition on this psalm is that we must already reside very closely with the Lord for all these protections to apply to us! Verse 91:14 tells us that the Lord rescues those who love him, and protects those who trust him, and verse 91:15 says that the Lord will answer when we call on Him. I believe that is very true. The Lord, in his infinite grace, continues to answer our cries, even when we have distanced ourselves far from Him.  Too often, once the cry for help has been answered, we turn our back and/or distance ourselves from Him once more.

To obtain the truly powerful continuous umbrella of protection from the Lord, one must live in the shelter of the Lord Most High. We must keep ourselves close and dwell in the holy of holies -- that secret place that you cannot enter until you have cleansed yourself of all wrong doing and resolved to live hand-in-hand with the Lord, constantly trusting in Him - versus suddenly trusting in Him when you need help, and when it might already be too late.

Again, the Lord is wonderful and gracious. He hears us when we cry, He is sympathetic to us.  I don't believe that He is like humans - refusing to validate a person's feelings because we believe they brought something upon themselves. The nature of the Lord is not like that. Because of this grace and understanding, the Lord does come to our rescue, even if we've been far away from Him. I just want to stress that to get that ultimate, powerhouse protection that is detailed in Psalm 91, you need to dwell constantly underneath the Lord's shelter. Then you will see the fullness of the Lord's amazing, powerful, awesome umbrella of protection on your lives.

Once again, the Lord is gracious ... so gracious. If you've slipped out of that shelter, the Lord will allow you back in as quick as you move to put yourself back in there. Slip in there before the tribulations of the world hit you, and you will be truly prepared to withstand anything, for the Lord will withstand it for you.