Fear God and Keep His Commandments

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I had a conversation the other day with a lady who said she did not believe in the Bible, but believed the 10 commandments.  She also said she did not believe in God.  She went on to tell me about the good points of the 10 commandments: “Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not murder.  Thou shall not take thy neighbor’s wife (commit adultery).”  I agreed with her that these were good.  When I asked her about the first few commandments, “Thou shall have no other gods before Me. Thou shall not make a graven image,” she did not have a response for this.  She also wanted to tell me that Moses wrote the 10 commandments, not God.  When I asked her how she could believe something written by fallible man rather than an infallible God, again no answer.  Since this conversation took place at Best Buy while we waited for our turn to have our broken computers repaired, we did not get to finish our conversation.  I wish I would have thought about getting her number so we could continue our conversation.

I just finished reading Ecclesiastes.   The book written by Solomon that contains his musings about life and what is of value.  At the end of this book after recanting all the things that are worthless, he writes his conclusion to his musings.

“The end of the matter, all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14).

Solomon had everything.

  • All the money he could possibly want.
  • All the wives he could possibly want.
  • All the power he could possibly want.
  • All the prestige he could possibly want.

Yet, with all of this he concluded that what mattered was to:

  • Fear God.
  • Keep His commandments.

The lady I spoke with the other day understood part of this, yet she missed the foundational point: fear God. 

All of the money, power, and prestige is empty.  Solomon says 10 times in the book of Ecclesiastes “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.” (1:14).  We cannot catch the wind.  Have you ever tried?  It always slips through our fingers heading in a direction directed by God. Solomon tried to find fulfillment in all of this and found every time he got to where he thought would bring fulfillment; it kept slipping through his fingers-just like the wind.

The only true fulfillment in our lives is to fear the Lord and keep His commandments.  Without fearing God, keeping God’s commandments will also be futile.  The foundation for keeping God’s commandments is to fear God. Without a relationship with the one true God, keeping God’s commandments will also not bring the fulfillment for which we strive.  This fulfillment only comes through a relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we near Christmas and enjoy the festivities of the season, we must remember that Jesus came to earth as a baby to bring us hope through His sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  No matter how hard we try to find fulfillment in “chasing after the wind” it will always be out of our grasp.

Stop striving after the wind.  Rather run to the Savior and find fulfillment in the peace that comes through a relationship with Him.  Relationship brings peace and fulfillment, not the empty promises of this world.

“Fear God and keep His commandments.”

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I’m Thankful For…

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Earlier this year, my daughter told me about something she had incorporated into her quiet time with God.  She had a special journal and as many days as she had time she would write in this journal seven things for which she was thankful.  I thought that was an idea worth replicating, so I had a journal that I was not using and began to do the same thing. I started this May 19, 2017.  Almost every day, I would write seven or more things for which I was thankful.  When I got to the last page dated October 28, 2017, I had recorded exactly 1,000 things for which I was thankful.  Every day, I included something about God for which I was thankful.

The things I included were not always magnificent things, but the things I wrote are not necessarily the point of the exercise.  The point of the exercise is to make me more aware of various circumstances and be thankful for them. The point of the exercise is to be aware of how God works in all the little things of our lives to fulfill His purposes.  The point of the exercise is to be thankful for the people in our lives that impact us or we have the opportunity to serve, encourage, and minister.

The point of the exercise is to BE THANKFUL!

But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come.   For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,   without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good,   traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;  holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power therefore. From these also turn away.  (II Timothy 3:1-5, ASV)

 

Being unthankful is in some pretty serious company.  It seems being unthankful is another indicator of the true intent of our heart.  Our gratitude shows what is in our hearts.  If we have ever kept company with someone who has these qualities (boastful, haughty, unthankful…) we know that the basis of these is because they are so in love with themselves.

 

A heart of thankfulness comes from a heart of humility.  When we are thankful, we realize that someone outside of ourselves did something for us.  When we notice the little things that people do and voice our gratitude, it could quite possibly turn their day around.  Sometimes, in making someone else’s day by being grateful, it also could make our day.

 

I challenge you as we focus on the festivities of Thanksgiving to remember the reason for this holiday.  It is not to get a day off work (at least for some of us).  It is not so we can become gluttons and see how much we can eat.  In your life it may have become something else.

 

Thanksgiving is about thanking God for what He has given us.  Whether He has given us plenty or we are in want, God is to be thanked.  Start a journal and write down the things for which you are thankful.  Begin to notice the little things in life and thank God for them, and then thank those around you who helped make those little things happen.  It will change you.  It will change your outlook.  It could quite possibly change your life.

 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7)

What’s Your View?

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“Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.”  (Chuck Swindoll).  This quote has always been one of my favorites.  The life of Joseph illustrates this quote perfectly.

As we read about the life of Joseph, the mistreatment does not seem to stop.  Brothers throw him in a pit.  Sold as a slave.  False accusations.  Prison in a pit.  Forgotten for 2 years.  Seems like enough mistreatment to make Joseph want to give up on life, his family, and even God.  BUT, he never does.  As a matter of fact, quite the opposite takes place.

If we took Joseph’s life and observed how he responded when the going got tough, we could see why he rose to positions of influence in Potiphar’s house and in the land of Egypt under Pharaoh.

  1. Joseph fled from sin “…He fled and got out of the house.” (Genesis 39:12).
  2. Joseph noticed the needs and hurts of others. “Why are your faces downcast today?” (Genesis 40:7).
  3. Joseph gave God the glory “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Genesis 41:16).
  4. Joseph had a proper perspective “God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:5).
  5. Joseph practiced forgiveness “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:5).
  6. Joseph didn’t complain or grumble
  7. Joseph was a willing servant in the hands of His God “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20).

Life is not always a challenge, but many days it is.  Many days we see all of the challenges in our day and choose not to see life through the eyes of our Heavenly Father.  Joseph did not deserve to get thrown into the pit, and yet his brothers took out their jealousy for Joseph on Joseph.  How many times do we have a pity party for ourselves because of the circumstances we did not deserve and yet we are left to deal with them?  If we look at Joseph’s life, we see he forgave his brothers.  He didn’t allow the bitterness of the past to eat up his future.

False accusation and prison.  While in prison, he did not have another pity party for himself.  Rather he noticed the needs of those around him and sought to meet those needs.  How often do we set aside our own pain and notice the pain of others?  Many times the best healing for ourselves is by helping others to heal.  Do we notice others needs or only focus on our own pain?

What side of the tapestry are we visualizing?  Joseph did not know how, but he did know God had a plan.  Even though Joseph could not see the entire tapestry of his life as God did, he trusted God’s vision for his life never doubting His plan.  He walked faithfully with God through every bend in the road.

Joseph was always ready to be a servant, and God lifted him to positions of leadership.  In Potiphar’s house, he was a servant.  In the prison, he was a servant.  In Pharaoh’s kingdom, he was a servant.

As we consider the injustices of life, do we pity ourselves and focus on the 10% that happens to us or do we focus on having a godly 90% response.

I have seen this from both sides.  You probably have too.

Events-10%        Response-90%

Events-90%        Response-10%

Which person would you rather be around?  We all know the answer. We would rather spend time with the Joseph’s of the world rather than the Jonah’s.  So if that is the case, who are you going to be?

What Do We Do When We Wait?

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Life is every day.  Sounds pretty stupid when we look at it this way, but the mountain top experiences and the valleys of life are interspersed with the every dayness of life.  We do a lot of everyday things that require some thought but they are not necessarily the highs and lows of life.

Getting up in the morning and getting ready for our day.

Eating.

Driving to work or school or the grocery store.

Yard work.

House work.

Our jobs.

Some of us may point to the highlights of life as the mountain top experiences or as the valley experiences.

If we look at the life of Joseph, I would pick out the following as the “highlights” of his life.

Coat of many colors.

Dream.

Bragging about his dream.

The pit.

Traveling in a caravan to Egypt.

Service to Potiphar.

False accusations from Potiphar’s wife

Prison

Interpretation of dreams

Prison for 2 more years in another pit

Interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream

Made 2nd in command

Plan that worked to save many lives from starvation

Reunited with his family

A happy ending to a sad story. And yet in Joseph’s own words, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:5).  Joseph told his brothers this three times in Genesis 45, and then the famous words we know from Genesis 50:20 when Jacob dies and the brothers are worried about their fate being in Joseph’s hands, Joseph comforts them with these words, “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”

And yet, Joseph did not stroll in with the caravan and announce to the Pharaoh, “Here, I am.”  No Joseph had to put in his time as a servant, as a prisoner, and as a forgotten prisoner.  Without family or friends, Joseph was seemingly forgotten in the depths of that prison pit.

Joseph waited for God’s timing.  He did not change who he was because he was seemingly abandoned.  Joseph continued to notice the needs of people around him, “Why are your faces downcast today?” (Genesis 40:7), and to honor God, “do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8).

And yet, the cupbearer forgot Joseph (Genesis 40:23), so he waited in a pit for two more years.

And when they finally remembered Joseph, he answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Genesis 41:16).  No anger.  No bitterness.  No animosity.  Just glorifying God.

Joseph remained faithful to God whether he was in Potiphar’s house being seduced by Potiphar’s wife or in a pit as a prisoner falsely accused.

We do not read about any grumbling.  We do not read about any complaining.  Joseph waited on the Lord for the good to come from his betrayal by his brothers, slavery, prison, and being forgotten.

So what do you do when you wait?  What do we do when we are given a test?  Joseph waited.  Joseph was given a test.  Joseph passed each test and yet he was not always rewarded.  How did he do it?

No matter where Joseph was, he was faithful to God in his thoughts, words, and actions.  This does not just happen, rather it happens as we spend time with our Creator.

“And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.” (Genesis 41:38, 39)

Having a wise and discerning spirit only comes one way-delighting and meditating on God’s Word.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1, 2).

So what do you do when you wait?  “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise…” (Proverbs 13:20).  Would Joseph walk with you?

Don’t Linger

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I don’t know why I am amazed when I read something in Scripture that I had never noticed before, but I am.  Many times we read something and are amazed at how God orchestrated our Bible reading for just that particular day with just that particular verse that we needed.  I am reading through Genesis right now and learned something that I had glazed over or missed in the many other times I had read Genesis.

The story is in Genesis 19.  God tells Abraham that He is going to destroy Sodom, and Abraham pleads with God to save it for 50 all the way down to 10 righteous people.  Only there are not 10 righteous people.  God sends angels to tell Lot to get his family out of Sodom since God is going to destroy it because of its great sinfulness.

“So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city,’ but he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting. As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.  But he lingered.  So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” (Genesis 19:14-16).

A few points to consider from this passage:

  1. Many times we do not heed warnings from others about the consequences of sin.  Lot’s daughters were to be married.  The future sons-in-law did not see the need to listen to the warning they were receiving from Lot.  “A wise man will hear and will increase in learning, and a man of understanding will obtain wise counsel.” (Proverbs 1:5).  These young men had spent time with Lot and his daughters and yet they had not learned anything from their time with them.  “But he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1). Maybe Lot and his daughters had not been good examples.
  2. The influence of sin is so powerful we need God’s strength through the ministry of others to pull us out. Lot and his daughters did not run when they heard the city was going to be destroyed because of its great sin.  They lingered. (v. 16).  Angels of the Lord had come to deliver this message of destruction, but they did not take the warning seriously.  How many are in jail or have a trail of broken relationships because of sin?  The warnings have been there.  If it were not for the angels taking Lot and his family and “seizing them by the hand,” they would have met the same fate as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companions of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
  3. We must seek God and be careful who we allow to influence our lives. We know the rest of the story.  Lot’s wife turns around, not heading the warning from the angels, and turns into a pillar of salt.  Lot’s daughters, not trusting God, but rather their own sick and distorted thoughts get their father drunk and got pregnant by him.  The sin of the culture in Sodom had so penetrated the hearts and minds of these women in Lot’s life that it influenced their thoughts and their actions.  Sin was a greater draw than life, according to Lot’s wife’s actions.  Sin was a greater draw than faith, according to Lot’s daughter’s actions.
  4. When sin is beckoning us, don’t linger! Rather run and grab whoever else is nearby by the hand and get them out.  They may never be thankful, but it may be that the actions of one, intent on saving someone else from a poor decision, may prevent another from making a stupid mistake.

                                           DON’T LINGER!  GET OUT! DON’T LOOK BACK!                                            GUARD YOUR MIND FROM EVIL INFLUENCES!

A Good Root System

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Last year, we had some friends over for dinner and they brought me this very lovely mum.  After the fall season was over, I planted the mum.  The mum grew throughout this summer and this fall it did not fail in providing some vivid yellow color to the flower bed.  I saw the givers of this beautiful mum a few weeks ago and thanked them again for this lovely mum and told them how beautiful it was this fall.  The givers replied, “It must have a good root system.”  I have pondered this comment and was brought to Psalm 1.

1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.  4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalms 1).

 

So the question before us is “How does a Christian develop a good root system?”

  1. Where do you walk, stand, or sit? Who do you keep close company with?  The people we are with influence our thoughts and actions.
  2. A person with a deep root system delights in the law of the Lord day and night. Delight means to desire.  It can also be looked at as to what brings us pleasure.  What is it we long for?  What satisfies us?  As I think about this concept a few math terms come to mind…mean, median, and mode.  As we lay out our life, what we spend our time doing, what we spend our time thinking about, who we spend our time with, what is the average?  What is seen the most (Mode)? Does spending time with the Lord cause the most pleasure in your life?  When we spend time with the Lord are we easily distracted by other things?
  3. A person with a deep root system not only delights in the Law of the LORD, they also meditate on it. What do we go to when we are not thinking about work or what we will fix for dinner?  Is it God’s Word?  What do we go to when we have a problem that needs to be solved?  Is it God’s Word?
  4. Trees need water. The metaphor here in this passage is the stream of water is the law of the Lord-God’s Word.  We need God’s Word to be our source of life giving wisdom. A stream that trickles or dries up will cause the tree to not flourish or even die.  So is our life with God.  If our time with the Word is only meant to check the box and not satisfy the deep longing of thirst in our souls to meet daily with our Creator, we will dry up, our fruit will be small or even non-existent.
  5. A tree planted by streams of water does not think about its fruit, rather it is a natural by-product of the water it is next to. As we diligently seek God and His Word, the fruit will come.  As I consider the yellow mum and other things that have grown in our yard and the garden this year, none of these things concentrate their efforts on the fruit.  Deep roots will produce good fruit.  Shallow roots produce little fruit.
  6. The Lord knows our ways. He knows our hearts.  He knows what we meditate on.  He sees what we delight in.  We may put on a show like the religious leaders did in Jesus’ day, but He saw their hearts. When He saw their hearts, He saw whitewashed tombs that were pretty on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones.  Tombs produce no fruit.  A lack of a strong and healthy root system produces no fruit.

God sees my heart.  He knows my fruit.  He knows what I delight in and how that is worked out in my everyday life.  What fruit does God see from your life?

Choice or Tarnished Silver

Sticks and stones may break my bones…As a young child, my mom sent me to the convenient store to buy her a newspaper.  She could see me walk the alley way to the store out the window.  She had visual sight on me until I rounded the corner to the store.  My sister and brother were very young and probably taking a nap when she decided to send me to the store.  I walked confidently down the alley way with my newspaper change in my hand…so many years ago it was probably only a dime maybe a quarter.  As I got closer to the store a group of big kids stood in my path and demanded my money.  I was scared so I turned around and ran towards home.  Those big kids picked up rocks from the alley and started throwing them at me.  Trying to get them to stop, I threw my money down and ran as fast as my young legs could carry me. Luckily, I was not harmed and my mom never sent me to the convenient store again.

Grand Rapids has an annual event called “Art Prize.”  The winning art piece receives a prize.  It is a great draw for the city and a wonderful cultural event for all who come.  One of the pieces are my pictures for this blog this week.  It reminded me of conversations I have had with people…sometimes I am the aggressor and other times I am on the other side being pushed verbally to the point of destroyed communication.

Proverbs speaks often about our tongues.  Our tongues are an indicator of our hearts.  Have you had those moments when you said something and as it was coming out your brain said to stop, but your tongue kept on wagging.  Maybe your words came out and only later as you evaluated your day, did the conviction of the Holy Spirit bring to your mind the unworthiness of your words.

Maybe you have been on the receiving end of these words and you feel like the sculpture at Art Prize, falling apart by the words that have been spoken to you.  Once words are said they can never be taken back, and those hurtful and aggressive words remain seared on our brain with the pain etched in our hearts.

Proverbs has much to say about our tongues.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.  Answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4, 5).

Often, someone has something negative to say to us and we try to retaliate with words of hurt.  They hurt me, so I will hurt them.  How does this usually turn out?  Nothing is resolved and our words come back to haunt us.  We all know people who try to control others with their words or actions.  “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2).  So when someone is being foolish with their words, we should “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 14:7).  Have nothing to do with those that are foolish.  Sometimes this is impossible. These people are in our families or we work with them. We are forced to deal with them.  So what do we do…

First of all, remember that they are fools.  Seek the Lord about how to deal with them and then put into practice other biblical principles. Seek to be wise.

“A soft answer turns away wrath…” (Proverbs 15:1)

“To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23)

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” (Proverbs 17:27)

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

“…a soft tongue will break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)

When you go back and replay conversations in your head, what is it you wish you would have said?  I always wish I had been more uplifting and encouraging.  Proverbs 31 has always been a challenge to me.  The impression of this woman is not a mousy doormat, but rather a savvy business woman and home maker.  Yet, what is said about her tongue? “…and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26).

My goal is not to allow communication to be destroyed by another’s aggressiveness, but rather to keep communication healthy because the “teaching of kindness” is so much a part of my nature and heart there is nothing else that comes from my tongue.

Stick and stones do break bones and names and ugly conversation does cause permanent harm.  But “the tongue of the righteous is choice silver…and the lips of the righteous feed many.” (Proverbs 10:20, 21).