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!

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A Good Root System

Bolthouse Mum

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).

Holy Change

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Change…we all seem to run from it hoping it will never touch us and yet it does.  When our girls were younger, much younger, we decided to paint the family room.  As we began to paint, our oldest daughter, Danielle, ran upstairs crying.  I followed her trying to understand why she was crying.  She didn’t like change.  She wanted the living room to stay the same color that it had always been for as long as she could remember.  For children, change is unsettling.  They feel like their world is not a safe place or it gives them a feeling of insecurity.  In the midst of these little changes, like painting a room, we must teach our children that some change is not bad and how to cope with change that inevitably does take place.

We each go through different changes in our lives.  Some we see as contributing nothing but pain in our lives and other change we see as a positive change.  A new and better job, a new car, new clothes, new friends…some changes brings us happiness while other changes bring us turmoil.  The loss of a friendship, a move, the loss of a job, children growing and moving away….

As I look back and consider the move we made over a year ago and the change that it brought in our lives, I will admit it was not easy for us to leave behind what we knew and the church family that had become our family.  I knew it was where the Lord would have us and I knew that God’s ways and the change He brings in our lives is always for our good, but sometimes it takes time to see all the good, even though by faith I knew it would be good.

As I realized the good God is doing though change in our lives, I see others that struggle with change.  They resist it.  They do not want to see the good that change can bring.  They want everything to stay the same.

This process of change is one of the ways that God brings about growth in our lives.  It reminds me of the process of progressive sanctification in the life of a believer.  As a believer we begin with positional sanctification at the moment of salvation.  We believe Christ paid the penalty for our sins and enter into a relationship with Christ, we are in the position of sanctification, set apart and holy unto God.  The remainder of our lives is the process of progressive sanctification which takes us from where we are positionally and progresses us to what we will be ultimately in heaven, progressing us to be “holy as Christ is holy.” (I Peter 1: 15, 16).  The process of progressive sanctification many times happens through the medium of change.

I am not advocating change for change sake, but I do believe as believers we should be pliable in the hand of our Creator as He brings challenges through change into our lives to bring about greater levels of holiness in our lives.

The striking contrast to this change in our lives that needs to be continually taking place is the changelessness of our Creator God.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8).  God does not change.  Nothing in His character ever needs to change because He is the perfectly holy God.  Modeling our character after the character of God is our goal.

As we face changes in our lives, rather than dig in our heels resisting the change, we must view it as a stepping stone in the process of our progressing sanctification.

“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15, 16)

The Fear of the Lord

Lilliy puppy

The fear of the Lord is not being afraid of God.  The fear of the Lord is so much greater than this.  It is awe, respect, reverence, which turns into love and devotion.

It has been fun and a challenge to train our new Leader Dog for the Blind puppy, Annie.  We have had her for 2 weeks now and she is certainly gaining in understanding of house training.  I have not used rewards in training her to house train, rather just praise and lots of love and some “no, no we don’t do that in the house.”  I am amazed that this has actually worked.  She is definitely not as treat driven as our other two puppies we have raised for Leader Dogs.

Psalm 112 tells us about the qualities in a person’s life who fears the Lord.  Being a list person, I like this Psalm.  It is clear and concise and reads like a list.

Psalm 112:1-10

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord (v. 1)

What are the qualities of a man or woman that fears the Lord?

  1. They greatly delight in God’s commandments (v.1)
  2. Gracious (v. 4)
  3. Merciful (v. 4)
  4. Righteous (v. 4)
  5. Deals generously (v. 5)
  6. Conducts affairs with justice (v. 5)
  7. Heart is steady (v. 8)
  8. Not afraid (v. 8)

As we fear the Lord and realize how awesome He is, we begin to have qualities that flow from our lives that show definitively to those around us that we are a child of the King.  We talk differently.  We act differently.  We give differently.  We live differently.

As Annie, our puppy, continues to grow in maturity it will not just be the bandanna she wears that declares that she is a service dog, it will hopefully also be her actions.  She will walk nicely on her leash.  She will listen for and obey commands.  She will look out for her owner and help guide them through life.  It will be her actions that will be define her as a service dog.  The bandanna is just a confirmation of what you see in her life.

As we fear the Lord, it is not the Bible we carry or the weekly church meetings we attend that declare we are Christians and fear the Lord. (We should regularly attending church).  Rather, it should be our delight in God’s commands, our graciousness, our mercy, our righteousness, our generosity, our justice, and our lack of fear.

Paul encourages in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” If we are living our lives with the qualities of someone who fears the Lord, then we have nothing to be ashamed of when we share the Gospel.

When the puppies we raise are obedient, I am not ashamed.  When they are a handful, I want to take off their bandannas and leave them at home.

“Blessed is the man or woman who fears the Lord.”  What would your actions, words, giving, and living convict you of?

Reciprocation

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I think we would all agree that it is certainly easier to have a friendship or a relationship with another person when that person likes us. When they treat us with respect, we are more apt to want to spend time with them.  When they do kind things for us, we want to return the favor and do kind things for them.  I met a lady last week that moved about the same time we did last year and has a daughter the same age as our youngest high school daughter.  We moved from similar areas.  As we were parting ways she said, “It would be nice to get together and have coffee sometime.”  I emailed her later and her response was again very pleasant and encouraging, “I was serious about getting coffee together.”  It certainly makes us want to reach out to someone that wants to spend time with us.

Why is it when God said in I Samuel 12:24, “Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you,” the Israelites did not follow His commands?

As we were reminded in the last blog post, the Israelites were in a constant routine of disobedience, punishment, cry for help, then obedience.  It seems easy for me to look at them and think, “What on earth was their problem?”  God had saved them from their Egyptian slavery, divided the Red Sea so they could cross on solid, dry ground, defeated numerous enemies, provided food for 40 years, and gave them a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

As we have looked at this passage in I Samuel 12:20-24, God has been giving the Israelites instructions through Samuel.  These instructions are summarized again in verse 24, “fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully.”  Two instructions that must be followed and why should the people do this?  “Consider how great things God has done for you.” (I Samuel 12:24).

It is much easier for me to have a relationship with someone who reciprocates.  Here is God saying to the people, “I have done all these things for you and all I ask is for you to do two things: Fear Me and serve Me faithfully.”

So why was it so hard?  Selfishness.  Pride. Desire to be like the others.  Desire for instant gratification.  Greed.  Do we not grapple with these same issues?

Fearing the Lord is having a deep respect and awe for the Lord.  It is having no other gods before the One True God.  We may not worship idols, but there are many other things we do place before God in our priority list that God would consider an idol.

One of the things that God desires in this area of fearing Him is having a relationship with Him.  It is hard to have a relationship with someone we do not spend time with.  It is also not a very meaningful relationship if all we ever do is ask for things.  Is your time with God each day time with the most important person in your life?  Is your time with God guarded from any interruptions?  Is your time with God put above anything else that seems to be pressing in on your day?  I have used these examples before but many great men of the faith such as George Mueller spent more time with God each morning the busier they were rather than less time.  We would be wise to follow suit.

One of the main purposes God created us is to have a relationship with Him.  After all He has done for us, we would be wise to plan our days around our time with the Lord, rather than fitting Him into the time we have left over.

Serving God faithfully looks different for each person.  God has a different plan for each of our lives.  He created each of us with different abilities.  Yet, whatever we do should be done in faithful service to Him.

After all that God has done for us, we should desire to fear Him and serve Him.  This is not just any ‘ole someone that desires this.  This is the God of the universe. He created you.

Rather than go to coffee with a friend, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or in my case brew a cup of tea), sit down with God’s Word, and seek His face.  There will be no regrets.

Keep Praying! Keep Teaching! Keep Doing Good!

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I have been on a mission for the last 15 months to improve my prayer life.  I do not think I have it all figured out.  For several weeks during the spring (2017), I went to a prayer time for the missionaries our church supports.  I enjoyed my time with those that were there praying with me immensely.  They were retired missionaries and other senior saints that blessed me and taught me.  As we sat talking about prayer before our actual prayer time one of these gentleman said, “I keep changing my prayer method trying to improve on what I had done previously.”  What a blessing to me to hear others that are far wiser than I struggle with the same things I do.

I Samuel 12:23 reminds me how important and integral prayer is to our lives.

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (I Samuel 12:23).

I have been writing about this section of Scripture for a few weeks now.  Just a little reminder of what we have learned. This is the conclusion of Samuel’s farewell address to the children of Israel.  They had asked for a king and God gave them a king.  Samuel reminded them that asking for a king was evil.  He reminded them, though, that now that they had a king they needed to remember a few things:

  1. Do not turn aside from following the Lord
  2. Serve the Lord with your whole heart
  3. Empty things do not profit
  4. Fear the Lord

As Samuel was reminding them of these key things, he told them that he also had a responsibility.  It was not just for them to follow God, he also had a responsibility: PRAY AND TEACH.  Samuel did not just instruct others.  He also informed the Israelites of his responsibility and if he did not fulfill his responsibilities, it was a sin against the Lord.  What was this sin against the Lord:  ceasing to pray for the Israelites.

The Israelites were a tough crowd.  They continued to follow after sinful things.  Even when instructed to do what is right and committing to do what is right, they still sinned.  They worshipped false gods.  They married foreigners.  They adopted pagan ways.  They forgot God who had brought them into the Promised Land.  They repeatedly were in a cycle of apostasy, judgment, servitude, crying out to the Lord for relief from their servitude, repentance, and rescue.  Then they would forget what God had done for them and start the cycle again.

I am sure Samuel would get discouraged with these people he was attempting to shepherd.  They had ears but did not listen.  Yet, he had a responsibility: pray and teach.  Samuel was challenging himself not to give up.  The way seemed uphill every day.  Easy to want to quit.  Since we know the rest of the Old Testament story of the Israelites, the other prophets continued to pray and teach the Israelites and they continued to have ears that did not hear.  God knew this, yet he kept sending prophets to teach them.

Do you feel like giving up on a good deed?  The Bible is full of stories of those who had insurmountable tasks.  Paul being one of those and yet he reminded the Thessalonians and he also reminds us

“Do not grow weary in doing good.” (I Thessalonians 3:13).

Let me challenge you along with challenging myself: Keep praying! Keep teaching!  Keep doing good!

“For in due season, we will reap if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9).