Encouragement

There have been many discussions about gifts and ministries within the church. We all know great preachers, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, worship leaders, singers and musicians, and we know people who say that they really don’t have anything special to bring to the church. If that’s you, I want you to know that God says you do, and He will always have something for you to do; something only you can do. Ephesians 2:10 says that “we are God’s handiwork, in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”That’s all of us.

However, I want to spend a few minutes talking about someone we all know. If you go to church on a regular basis, you know this person. You will probably know them even if you attend sporadically because they will come looking for you. They have different names, different, genders, different ages, and nationalities, but we can call them all by the same name: Encourager.

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Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

I bet you just thought of someone, didn’t you? That one person who always seems to go out of his or her way to tell you they are glad to see you, or that they appreciate something you did (even if it’s something that seems small and unimportant).

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas(which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37)

The man referred to as “Barnabas” throughout the rest of the New Testament, was, in fact, a man named Joseph. Barnabas was a nickname meaning “son of encouragement”. I wonder how he managed to earn that name? What did he do? How did he behave? What else do we know about him?

He was the one who sought Paul out and brought him to the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). He gave Mark another chance after he had deserted Barnabas and Paul on their first journey (Acts 15:37-40). Perhaps it was that encouragement that turned Mark into someone who Paul would later call useful (Phil 1:11).

I think we would have enjoyed spending time with Barnabas, don’t you?

Here is the thing. When we look in God’s Word, it is full of encouragement for us, so it shouldn’t be that difficult for us all to become encouragers. Yes, I know, some people just seem to be gifted with it, and that’s ok. We want to keep them doing just what they do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part too.

not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another (Heb 10:25)

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Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Part of our reason for going to church is to encourage one another, so look around you. Catch a kid doing something right, and tell them about it. Then tell their parents. Tell that elderly person you’re happy to see them. That young single mom may be in serious need of a hug. Do you know who cleans the bathrooms in your church, or who fills the communion trays? Tell them you appreciate what they do. Oh, and don’t forget about the Preacher, and especially the Preacher’s wife.

The point is that everyone needs encouragement at one time or another. You never know. Your words may be just what they need to keep going.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Be a Barnabus!

Connie

Great Joy

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“Shepherds Being Told of the Holy Birth” Walter Crane 1895

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

According to Bible Gateway.com the word “joy” is used in the Bible 242 times (in the NIV). Additionally, the word “rejoice” is used 154 times, and “joyful” 28 times. In Galatians, Paul lists “joy” as part of the fruit of the spirit, naming it second, after “love”.

So what does joy mean?

Dictionary.com defines joy as
“the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation”

The word translated as joy in Luke 2 is the Greek word, chara, which basically means gladness, but according to the Revell Bible Dictionary (p.590) “connotes an inner feeling of pleasure, satisfaction of well being.”

Here is the thing about the joy that would come from the birth (and later death, burial and resurrection) of the Christ child. For those who accept the gift, joy is an internal state that isn’t dependent on circumstances or feelings. You can be unhappy about a situation, but still remain in the “joy of the Lord”. As a matter of fact Nehemiah says …”the joy of the Lord is your strength. ” (Neh 8:10 b).

Why should we need joy to be our strength? Living a life in obedience to God through Jesus Christ makes us an enemy of the world, and subject to persecution on both the physical and spiritual level.

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)

Revell Bible Dictionary says

“In the NT (New Testament), joy often wells up in the most painful and desperate of situations. Such joy, known by those who are obedient to Jesus, is supernaturally produced as we look ahead with confidence, to reaffirm our faith in the goodness, and ultimate triumph of our God.” (p.590)

When we know who we are in Christ, and that our eternal home is with Him in heaven, we can have joy even when we are dealing with heartache and pain in this life. It’s the joy that comes from knowing that regardless of what happens, God is in control and is working it all out for our good and His glory.  I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of joy I want to have. I find it more and more, as I learn to lean on Him.

God is still offering the gift.

Have you accepted it?

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15)

Connie

All Have Sinned

We’ve talked about the literal definition of the word translated as “sin”, and we’ve talked about how Jesus came to save us from sin by dying on the cross. If you missed them, you can find them here and here. There are a few more things we need to clarify about sin and salvation. Why did Jesus need to save us from sin? What’s the big deal? What exactly constitutes a sin

We know “sin” can also be described as offense or transgression, and with a more literal meaning of “missing the mark”. The latter refers to aiming at a target as with spear, or an arrow. I think we can all understand the concept of missing that bulls eye.

Well, after God created human beings, he set down some rules. It was pretty simple really. God gave Adam “dominion”, which generally means control, over all the earth. God would come every day and walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. How cool is that? The Creator of the universe coming over every night to just hang out.

However, He told them they could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of life. He told them if they did, they would surely die.

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Image from page 18 of “The Bible panorama, or The Holy Scriptures in picture and story” (1891) Downloaded from Flikr

Well, without getting into the whole conversation between the serpent and Eve (we’ll save it for later), lets jump ahead to the fact that they, both Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a result, they were cast from the garden The whole earth was cursed, and death entered the world.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent,

Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said,

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said,

Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it,’

Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:7-19)

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Their sin infected all of us.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23)

Everything we do has a consequence. The long term consequence of sin is death.

The one who sins is the one who will die… (Ezekiel 18:20a)

The wages of sin is death…(Romans 6:23a)

It doesn’t mean immediate death, although sometimes a person’s sin leads to the end of their (or someone else’s) physical life here on earth. This death is even more permanent than that. It is a spiritual death that makes separation from God permanent. Jesus called this place the darkness, as well as the blazing furnace, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:12, 13:41-42) It is also called the lake of fire and Hell.

Sin separates us from God. After they were banished from the garden of Eden, the Scripture never records another conversation between God and Adam and Eve. I imagine they missed those walks in the cool of the evening. Think of the regret. Sin brings that too. The Bible doesn’t say how long Eve lived, but Adam lived for 930 years. That is a long time to think: “If only…”

I don’t pretend to understand exactly how sin separates us from our holy and righteous God, but it does. It makes us unclean and defiled. We cannot stand in God’s presence. No matter how good we think we are, we can never be “good enough”. There is no such thing as being a “good person” in God’s eyes.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Is 64:6)

All sin, in all of it’s forms, boils down to one thing: disobedience to God.

What exactly does that look like?

In a nutshell? If God said “no” and you did it; that’s sin. If God said, “Do it” and you didn’t, that also is sin. How do we know what He wants? Look in His word, the Bible.

The Ten Commandments? That’s a good place to start getting an idea about what God had in mind.

Or this from Proverbs:

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community
(Proverbs 6:16-19

Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:27-28)

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matt 15:18-19)

There are sins of commission (the things we do), and sins of omission (things we left undone).

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:17)

As far as God is concerned, there are no grades of sin. One sin is exactly like the other to Him. Human beings count one sin worse than the other, but God counts them all the same. If you have ever in your life had one bad thought (even if you didn’t act on it), you are just as guilty before God as someone like Charles Manson.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

Ok, so we know that sin (transgression, offense, trespass) is disobedience to God, and that disobedience makes us unfit to be in His presence. If we remain in that corrupted, defiled state, all that remains for us is the eternal spiritual death called Hell.

Thankfully, God didn’t want to leave us like that, and He had a plan.

God always has a plan, and His plan is always good.

Until next week.

Connie

The Unpopular Word

The word “sin” is unpopular; even in some churches. No one wants to hear what they are doing, or the way they are living their life, is wrong. We don’t want someone to point it out to us, and we definitely don’t want to hear that it will send us to hell.

Well, before we get into that, lets look at the word “sin” and see what it means.

According to Merriam-Webster.com, sin means
1. a : an offense against religious or moral law
b : an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible it’s a sin to waste food
c: an often serious shortcoming: fault
2 a : transgression of the law of God
b : a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God

Ok, so what does it mean according to the Bible? Well, lets’ find out.

Bible Gateway says sin is used 326 times in the Old Testament, and 104 times in the New Testament. That is the exact word “sin”. It does not include, sins, sinning, sinner, etc.

To get a clearer meaning of the word as it was intended, I looked in both Strong’s Exhaustive and Young’s Analytical Concordances. There are several different words, with slightly different meanings, translated as “sin”. Sometimes, a word may be translated as “sin” in one place, and something similar in another. For an explanation of how the concordances work, as well as better pictures, see this post about the word “glory”.

I dropped my camera a few weeks ago. It landed lens down, with the lens open, and has been unpredictable ever since. When I turn it on, it may work or it may not, especially if I need to adjust the focus. After several tries, I was able to get this shot. Then the camera shut itself off again, so this is what we have. I didn’t realize until I uploaded it that I didn’t get the whole entry.

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Page 966, second column, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

This picture is from Strong’s. You can see the heading for the word “sin”. Then there is a subheading that says “1. A Transgression”. That means this is the first definition for the word. So in all the following uses of the word “sin”, the general meaning is “transgression”. The other two definitions refer to a place (like the Desert of Sin), and don’t apply here. Under the “Transgression” subheading, each entry has a number that corresponds to the actual Hebrew word used.

The first entry is the first use of the word “sin” in the Bible. It is Genesis 4:7.

Here it is in the King James, since that is what both concordances use.

If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

The same verse in the NIV.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

The number listed at the end of the entry (which you cannot see in the picture), is 2403. It refers to the listing in Hebrew and Chaldee dictionary at the back of the concordance. This word is chattath (English spelling of course). It means “sin”. Ok, I was hoping for a little more than that. I looked up the same word in Young’s, and got the same meaning. Young’s however will also show you how the same word was translated different ways, and how many times that way was used.

For example, for chattath:
punishment 2 (the word chattath is translated as punishment two times)
punishment of sin 1
purification from sin 2
purifying 1
sin 169
sin offering 116
sinner 1

Not terribly helpful in this case, but you can see chattath is translated as “sin” 169 times.

Going back to Strong’s, under the dictionary entry for 2304, it said the root word was 2398. I remembered that number was also listed under the “transgression” subheading in the front of the book. As a matter of fact, of the 11 Hebrew words listed under the “transgression” subheading, six of them refer back to 2398. The word is chata, and it means “to sin, to err, to miss the mark.” Now, we’re getting somewhere.

Young’s listing for chata says:
be in fault 1
bear blame 2
commit (sin) 5
do sin 2
have done harm 1
offend 4
sin 165
trespass 1

Again the most frequent translation is “sin”.

A scripture reference for chata is Genesis 42:22.

Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.

Other Hebrew/Chaldee words translated “sin” mean
guilt
error
fault
iniquity
offense
trespass
transgression

The picture is getting clearer, isn’t it?

Moving to the New Testament, the number of Greek words translated as “sin” is significantly less. There are four. They mean:
offense
transgression
error
miss the mark and not share in the prize.

The last word in the Greek  is “hamartano”

Young’s listing says:
offend 1
sin 39
trespass 3

A scripture reference for hamartano is Matthew 18:21.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

No matter which word was used, it is plain to see that sin is a bad thing.

Now that we know what the word means, we can find out how it applies to us.

We’ll do that next week.

On a lighter note, I left the concordances on the dining room table while I was typing this post. I looked up from my laptop to see this, and the camera cooperated for a minute. They are so helpful!

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Adora and Bookworm saving my spots in the concordances.  Yes, this is why she is named Bookworm.

Connie

God, The Father

This is one of my favorite pictures. It’s my dad and I when I was about six months old. We were visiting my Mom’s grandparents in Colorado. The picture was taken at the Big Thompson River. My parents got divorced when I was four, and Dad moved halfway across the country two years later. That was 1970. We talk every Sunday evening, but I haven’t seen him in eight years. I hope to change that this summer.

Fishing with Dad

This Sunday is Father’s Day. It is a day that we have set aside to pay tribute to our fathers, grandfathers, and father figures. So, what better time to talk about God, the Father?

According to Bible Gateway, the word “father” is used 1103 times in the Bible. As you might imagine, many of those uses are “this person was the father of that person, and he was the father of the next person, etc”. I wondered though, how many times scripture refers to God as “Father”. Yes, I actually counted them, so my numbers might be a little off, but here is what I got.

Of the 753 times the word “father” is used in the Old Testament, it is used a reference to God only fifteen times. In the New Testament, 230 of the 350 uses of the word “father” refer to God.

That’s quite a difference.

God is YHWH (I AM), Elohim (Creator, Lord God), El Shaddai (The Almighty), and El Elyon (God Most High), but He is also Abba (Father). Let that sink in if you can.

For some of us, thinking of God as our Father doesn’t help us much. Some of us had fathers who were absent, emotionally distant, critical, or abusive. So the idea of having God for a father either doesn’t mean anything, because was have no experience, or it leaves us with a sickening sense of fear and dread.

So how do we get past that?

First ask God to open our hearts to what he wants us to know. Then get into His word. Ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Find believers who can share their experience with God the Father. I’ve also discovered that learning from people who have good earthly fathers, or are good earthly fathers can help me fill out that picture of God, the Father too.

For me, reading scripture out loud can help the words sink in better. Try it.

Let’s start here:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts
(Psalm 103: 1-18)

Wait, there’s more.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3)

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:9-11)

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”(Rom 8:15)

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.(Proverbs 3: 11-12)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Heb 13:5)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (1 Cor 1:3-4)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9)

Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts: 14:17)

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. (Psalm 36:5)

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam 3:22-23)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling (Psalm 68:5)

In this parable, often called “The Prodigal Son”, Jesus depicts God as a father who lets his son make his own choices and reap the consequences for those choices. Yet He waits for him to repent and come back; not so that He can say “I told you so,” or berate him for his mistakes, but to forgive him and joyfully welcome him Home.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32)

We could go on for days, but here is a final scripture.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14: 8-10)

I don’t know about you, but reading the first sentence of Jesus’ answer to Philip gives me goosebumps. I wonder how Philip felt? At the time, he probably didn’t really understand. He, and the other disciples, had been with Jesus for three years. They had seen Him heal the sick, raise the dead, bless children, and reach out to hurting people with love and compassion. They had been watching God the whole time!

God is a tender, compassionate Father, who loves us beyond measure, blesses us with good things, and disciplines us when we need it. He loves giving us gifts, and spending time with us. He wants us to talk to Him and He wants to comfort us as only He can. He is kind, patient, faithful, and He is Love.

Connie

Forgetful

I know I haven’t posted in a few weeks. Things just got away from me.

The week before Memorial Day, my daughter and I finished our homeschooling for the year. That Friday (May 26th), was her birthday, and we definitely needed some Mom and daughter time that didn’t involve school. We went to a movie, and then did some window shopping. We had a great day. I am so blessed to have a truly appreciative daughter. We spent Saturday cleaning house, getting ready for some of our extended family to arrive after church Sunday to “officially” celebrate her birthday. All that went well, and we had a nice visit with my mom, sister and nieces.  Yes, we also took the time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

Additionally, I’ve been dealing some health issues, including allergies that became an upper respiratory infection, and an umbilical hernia. I had surgery to repair the hernia on Wednesday. Trust me, pain meds and blog writing really do not belong together, so as much as I have been wanting to get back in here, I thought I should wait until my thoughts were a little more clear.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about rejoicing and giving thanks, and how those attitudes bless our lives and the lives of those around us. I would love to tell you that the epiphany lead to immediate and permanent change, but you would all know better.

Anyone who earnestly tries to walk with the Lord knows that there are a lot of missteps, stumbles, and falling flat on our faces. The best we can do this side of heaven is keep moving toward that goal, and trust the Lord to do what we cannot.

So why is it so hard?
Because we forget.

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Honestly, our forgetfulness is staggering. Think of the children of Israel, who watched the Egyptians experience the ten plagues while they remained unscathed. They crossed the Red Sea on dry land, were given manna and quail, and yet they had Aaron make them a golden calf. We shake our heads, and then we realize that we are just as forgetful.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the entire story, from the time their rebellion caused them to wander forty years in the wilderness, until the day they were ready to take possession of the land, and Moses would be “gathered to his people”

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them (Deut 4:9)

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deut 6:6-12)

Well, as you probably know, Israel did not heed Moses’ instructions and they forgot. The story is repeated over and over in the Old Testament. The people forget about God. God allows their enemies to attack them. The people remember God. God delivers them from their enemies. Some time passes. The people forget about God.

I can’t say much…I’ve done the same thing. I’m sure you have too. James says,

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:23-24)

Now, that’s forgetful.

I had been thinking about the whole frustrating topic of forgetfulness, as I was finishing Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts Devotional. On page 189 she says, “He keeps whispering to my trembling heart, to me who knows and then forgets:…” (Italics mine).

The phrase jumped off the page, and I wanted to say, “oh me too! I know…and then I forget.” Lord help me remember. I need to remember!

This is why it is so important to keep our heads in God’s word. We constantly need reminders of His goodness, His compassion, His forgiveness and His love. Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper so that we would remember what He did for us.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.(Luke 22:19-20)

Peter understood the importance of reminders.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (2 Pet 1:12-15)

We need to remember who God is and who we are in Him.

Connie

Rejoice and Give Thanks!

I started working on this post last week with every intention of posting it last Friday afternoon. Obviously I didn’t, and just barely got “Songs for Sunday” out. Last week’s song fit the kind of week I was having. You know the kind; when it seems that nothing goes right, and everything you put your hand to turns to slop. I was really getting discouraged. We all have times like that, but how we handle them can make a big difference in our lives, and the lives of those around us. This week wasn’t that much better, but my attitude has been, and that has made all the difference.

Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, probably when he was under house arrest in Rome. Philippians is a wonderfully encouraging letter from a man who was in difficult circumstances. If you haven’t read it recently, I encourage you to revisit. If you have never read it, you need to. God as a lot to say to you there. Toward the end of the letter, Paul writes,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)

This is about renewing our minds; changing the way we think. In Romans 12, Paul says,

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2)

That sounds challenging, doesn’t it?

Take another look at the passage from Philippians. While we are rejoicing, not being anxious, praying and petitioning, there is a little phrase that might get overlooked: “with thanksgiving”.  We’re supposed to be thankful.  In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul said that they should be

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)

and to the church in Thessalonica, he says,

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)

I know what you’re thinking. Always giving thanks? Rejoice Always? Only think about good things? Are you crazy?

No I’m not, and neither was Paul. He had discovered something, and so have many others in the two millennia since. I think I’m just starting to get it…Sometimes the key for me isn’t getting it, but remembering it for more than 30 seconds, but that’s another blog post.

When I started writing last week, I just had an inkling of what God was trying to tell me, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. (I’m so glad God is patient!) We had one of those “one thing after another” weeks. We had plumbing issues, animal issues, home school issues and work schedule issues. We were all tired and getting snappy.

Then, a few days ago, I was reading the devotional book based on Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, when I caught a glimmer of understanding. She writes about a time when her sons were fighting at the breakfast table, and she was super angry (I can relate to that), and at the same time she’s asking God for guidance (I can relate to that too…when you just want to wring their little necks, but you’re pretty sure that isn’t part of God’s plan). For two or three pages, she relives the struggle and then the epiphany. She writes,

“How did Jesus do it again? He turned His eyes. ‘And looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave…’ (Matthew 14:19) He looked up to heaven, to see where this moment comes from. Always first the eyes, the focus. I can’t leave crowds for mountaintop, daily blur for Walden Pond – but there is always the possibility of the singular vision. I remember: Contemplative simplicity isn’t a matter of circumstances, it’s a matter of focus. I take a deep breath, say nothing to them, but I look up to heaven, and give thanks aloud, in a whisper: ‘Father, thank You for these two sons. Thank You for here and now. Thank You that You don’t leave us in our mess.’ My heart rate slows. Something hard inside softens, opens and this thanks aloud feels mechanical. But I can feel the heart gears working. ‘Thank You for toast. Thank You for Cross-grace for this anger, for the hope of forgiveness, and brothers and new mercies.’ I look for the ugly-beautiful, count it as grace, transfigure the mess into joy with thanks and eucharisteo leaves the paper, finds the way to the eyes, the lips.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional, p. 155. If you’re not familiar with Ann Voskamp, you can check her out here.)

I finished with tears in my eyes. I understood. When we give thanks, our circumstances may not change, but we do. I said, “Lord, thank you that I can sit here and read Your word, and this book. Thank you that I have eyes to see and a mind to understand. Thank you that I can sit here in freedom. Thank you for this table and chair, for the pen in my hand.” Yes, I felt a little silly, but I also felt better.

I knew I needed to share this insight with my husband, but I also knew that his week was going like mine. We had some exasperating plumbing problems, but I decided to put what I had read in Philippians and in Ann’s book to practice. I said, “Lord, I thank you that we have indoor plumbing and running water. Thank you that we have the tools we need to fix the problem and the hands to use them.”

Ed may have thought that I had lost it for a minute, but I think the Lord enlightened him too. A little while later, he said that when he was a kid, he lived in a house with “four rooms and a path”, and that our home is a mansion by comparison. Yes, we are incredibly blessed. Now, we’re both trying give thanks always. I have a feeling its going to be one of those things we need to constantly remind each other about, like being mindful of what comes out of our mouths (Ephesians 4:29).

However, we need to give thanks in all things, including those things that we might not normally be thankful for.  That’s challenging too. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

The following YouTube video, posted by Route66EBC, is an excerpt from The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. The video is about ten minutes long, but it is a remarkable story about how God honors gratitude.

Have a wonderful week, and remember to give thanks!

Connie

 

Love Your Neighbor

This week, my husband and I have been working on a pet project of mine. We’re turning our living room into a library. Although there are more shelves to finish, we brought in several boxes of books that have been stored in the barn for the last two and half years so that I could start sorting them. Many of those books belonged to my grandpa who, as I’ve told you before, was a preacher. I’m talking Bible commentaries, sermon notes, books on Christian living, etc. What always surprises me is the number of books he kept, with whose authors he disagreed. I know this because he would often write a scathing one or two sentence commentary inside the front cover or on the end pages of the offending work. I think he didn’t want what he considered bad information getting into innocent hands. Any time I pick up one of his books, I always look for those remarks. Then I make a mental note to read it myself and see what the problem was. Grandpa came from a time when annotating books was commonplace, so I can sometimes see what he was thinking as he read these books. That goes for the “good” ones too. That is a treasure to me now because, while Grandpa is still living, his mind is a victim of dementia.

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One of Grandpa’s comments. He wrote, “This book is not fit for man or beast”. This is a three volume set from the 19th century. He wrote the same thing in all three volumes.

This week, as I was sorting through the books, I found a small book called “The Greatest Thing in the World” by a man called Henry Drummond. For some reason, I picked it up and flipped through it. It is a short book, only 63 pages, but what a powerful message. The subject of the book is 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the Love chapter. Mr. Drummond’s message is that the kind of love described in that chapter is indeed, the “greatest thing in the world”. The reason I am sharing this with you now, is because of one passage I read. I felt like God was telling me I was on the right track for this post which I had been working on since last week. It was a passage that Grandpa had also marked so he could find it again. Coincidence, you say? Maybe, but I was sorting close to a thousand books. What are the odds? I’ll post what I read further down. Oh, the book was written in the 1880’s.

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Last week, we talked about Loving God. Now we’re going to talk about loving others.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

The Old Testament command to “love your neighbor as yourself” comes from Leviticus 19.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Lev 19:18)

and

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:34)

What Jesus is saying, is that obeying those two commandments will cover all the rest of the law. If you love God, you will want to do what He says. You will do what he tells you to do, and not do what He forbids. Additionally, if you love your neighbor as yourself, you are going to treat them well, leaving you to, again, be obedient to the law.

This is what Mr. Drummond said in his little book.

 “And you remember the profound remark which Paul makes elsewhere, ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ Did you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were working their passage to Heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments, and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfil the whole law. And you can readily see for yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.’ If a man love God, you will not require to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. ‘Take not His name in vain.’ Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him? ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’ Would he not be too glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love would fulfil all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved Man, you would never think of telling him to honour his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal -.how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbour. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbours had. He would rather they possessed it than himself. In this way ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ’s one secret of the Christian life.” (The Greatest Thing in the World: pp 15-17)

See what I mean? By the way, you can read the entire text here.

In John 13, Jesus goes a little further. Speaking to His disciples during the last supper, He says,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John13:34-35)

As Christians, we love the Lord, and we love each other.

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, (1 John 5:2-3)

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love (2 John 1:6)

Yeah, I know. It sounds great, but the practice isn’t always easy. No, it isn’t. We live in a fallen world full of broken people. We are pulled by our own weaknesses. No one ever said it was easy. No one ever said that we would get it right every time this side of heaven.

So, how are we able to love God, our neighbor, and our brothers and sisters in Christ?

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

The last two thirds of the fourth chapter of 1 John is about how this love is possible.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. if anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:7-21)

It’s all about the relationship. When we truly understand how very much God loves us, the extending of that love to others begins to come naturally. God gave us His spirit to help us. It isn’t however, like flipping switch. It’s a growing process. One that will take the rest of our lives.

In his introduction to Mr. Drummond’s little book, evangelist D.L. Moody writes, “Would that we could all move into that Love chapter and live there.”

Amen!

Connie

Love The Lord Your God

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Photo by Mike Thorn

When someone mentions the commands of God, or the law of God, what comes to your mind? The book of Leviticus? The Ten Commandments? Hell fire and brimstone?
As we’ve discussed before, the Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20. In the midst of the do’s and don’ts, there is something interesting. Look at verses 4-6, paying particular attention to verse six

4.“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5.You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6.but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Do you see it?

but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Ex 20:6)

We know that God expects obedience to His commands, but did you realize He wants us to love Him?

Moses didn’t miss it. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell to the Israelites. He recounts their journey together from the time they left Egypt, repeats much of the law, and admonishes them to be faithful and obedient to God. Nine different times, he mentions loving God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut 6:5)

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, (Deut 10:12)

Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. (Deut 11:1)

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— (Deut 11:13)

If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— (Deut 11:22)

you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 13:3)

because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. (Deut 19:9)

The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut 30:6)

For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Deut 30:16)

and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deut 30:20)

When Moses died, Joshua took his place. He thought loving God was important too.

But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5)

So be very careful to love the Lord your God. (23:11)

There are 57 other verses that mention loving God. That isn’t much when you consider there word love is found over 600 times in the Bible. Many times it refers to God’s love for us, not our love for Him. So how does one go about loving God? Well, read the verses above again. You’ll notice that love and obedience are often mentioned together. Ten of those 57 verses were written by David in the Psalms, and he specifically says that he loves the actual commands of God. Most of the time however, loving God is mentioned before obedience to Him. Does obedience flow naturally from a love relationship? What happens when there is no love in obedience?

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. (Is 29:13)

Sadly, scriptures are full of examples of people who obeyed the law, but did not appear to love God. More sadly, the church is full of examples too. Why is that? Could it be that people are taught human rules about religion instead of being lead to a love relationship with God? God demands our obedience, but He would rather it come from a heart full of love than a heart full of fear and resentment. That isn’t the kind of relationship He wants with us. Did you only obey your parents because you feared punishment?

More about that next week.

Connie

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ death.

I’ve spent the last few days talking to the Lord, and trying to determine what He wanted me to say about it.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)

That’s it.

God intended for us to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve had it in the garden, before they disobeyed God’s word and put the whole Earth under a curse.

God longs to have that relationship with us again, but only the sacrifice of a sinless life could do that.  That’s a problem, because there isn’t one human being who can live a totally sinless life.

God, however had a plan. He would send His son to live that sinless life, so that he would be the perfect sacrifice.

That’s what He did.

He sent Jesus to live as a human being. The only difference was that He would live a perfect life, and then, when it was the right time, He would offer up His own life in our place.

And that is what Jesus did.

When the work was complete,

…Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

What was finished? Our redemption.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

Hold on though, that’s not the end of the story…it’s just the beginning.

Like this song performed by David Phelps

Connie