1 TIMOTHY 3:16-17

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us...God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

COLOSSIANS - God's Top Ten List

Don’t you sometimes wish that you had an owner’s manual for Christianity?

An easy little list of "do this/do that" to follow?

God’s Top Ten List???

Of course, the life of faith does not unfold in simplicity – and so, a list could never cover all of the circumstances that life throws our way…right?

And yet, God’s Word has SO many things to teach us about what it means to be believer.

When I read today’s "Bible Pick ‘Ems" I was struck with this thought – this sounds like a wonderful list! A wise guideline to follow. Good instructions from the "owner’s manual."

"Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Jesus Christ…Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should. Live wisely among those who are not believers…Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone." (Colossians 4:2, 3a, 4, 5a, 6)

Let’s explore this passage together.

Devote yourselves to prayer…

Do you ever get tired of praying for something or someone? In this passage, Paul is calling us to devoted prayer. Devotion – concentrated, committed, single-minded pursuit. We need to pray with persistence, expressing our faith that God answers our prayers – understanding that His answers might not look like what we had hoped for – and they might not arrive when we want them to. But, He is always listening, and He will answer in ways that He knows are best.

…with an alert mind and thankful heart.

Two key ingredients in our prayer life. First, be alert – to me that means checking our motives, asking for God’s wisdom and discernment, watching out for the enemy’s lies – keeping our eyes open to all the possibly distracting things that keep us from praying. The evil one does NOT want us to use this weapon. Second, have a thankful heart. It doesn’t do much good to come to God with a begrudging spirit, or a heart full of doubts. He isn’t a vending machine – plug in a prayer, out pops an answer. We should be mindful to be thankful – so very thankful – that He cares for us, that He listens to us – that He loves us enough to NOT give us everything we ask for.

Pray for us, too…

Intercessory prayer is so important. We need to marshal our resources, using prayer as a way to support each other in the Body of Christ. We can’t control all the circumstances of our lives, but we can pray about them. We can’t always fix the people we love – we often can’t even influence them much. But we can pray about them, pray for them – and we must.

…that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ.

It is good and right to pray for opportunities to tell others about the Good News. Salvation is a simple thing – and yet, it is mysterious. In this life, we will probably never understand the full gravity and wonder of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And yet, we know the result. We were made right with God. That is something worth talking about. And we should ask God for MANY opportunities to spread His Word to others.

Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.

Most people don’t need, and don’t want, a huge dissertation on God and His plan of salvation. That is what is so wonderfully good about the Good News. God chose to make His message "simple" – His wisdom chose profound simplicity. We need to ask God to give us the right words to say – clearly understood words. He will.

Live wisely among those who are not believers.

We’re all looking at "the other guy." We all evaluate those around us – comparing ourselves to others. It’s human nature. And when you identify yourself as a Christian, the stakes go up. We are being watched by the world. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we live according to the grace by which we’ve been called. God sends us out "into" the world, while at the same time commanding us to not be "of" the world. We are God’s representatives – we should live accordingly.

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive…

It is always important to be gracious in what we say. We lose our effectiveness if we are not courteous and respectful. Though we may not agree with another person’s views, we can be kind in our disagreement. Jesus did not "bash" people with His Truth. He made it attractive, compelling. The Greek word here for "attractive" means "seasoned with salt." Doesn’t that sum it up perfectly? Salt adds flavor, making something tastier. We want people to desire to know more about what we believe.

…so that you will have the right response for everyone.

It’s important to know what you’re talking about. It’s important to know Who you’re talking about. But it’s also vital to know who you’re talking to! The Holy Spirit is the one who speaks through us, and we need to seek after and claim His power. Right words, spoken at the right time, in the right manner, make for a message that reaches hearts. So we must be ready with a response when people ask us what and why we believe what we do.

You know, that’s a pretty good list!

Pray devotedly.
Be alert.
Be thankful.
Pray for others.
Ask for opportunities to spread the Good News.
Speak clearly.
Live wisely.
Be kind.
Be "salty."
Think about your audience.

And never forget, we do not labor alone. We have the Spirit of the Living God within us, and we have each other…

"When in doubt, search God out"

(I am linked up today with Super Sunday, hosted by Peggy - and Spiritual Sundays, hosted by Charlotte and Ginger!)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

JUDGES - Do Not Grieve the Lord

It can be difficult to follow God over the long haul.

Just look at the people of Israel.

They always seemed to forget God when things were going well. When they were rich, and there was peace in the land. When enemies were far away, and life was humming along "status quo."

The entire era of the judges shows what happens in God’s heart when His people repeatedly reject Him.

Today’s "Bible Pick ‘Ems" gives us a window on that…

"But the Israelites pleaded with the LORD and said, 'We have sinned. Punish us as you see fit, only rescue us from our enemies.' Then the Israelites put aside their foreign gods and served the LORD. And he was grieved by their misery." (Judges 10:15-16)

I’ve read this portion of the Bible so many times. But today, that one particular phrase just jumped out at me – "And he [GOD] was grieved…"

I was so intrigued by this thought, that I looked it up in a few other translations:

"And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel."
(New King James Version)

"And God took Israel’s troubles to heart." (The Message)

"He could bear the misery of Israel no longer." (New American Standard Bible)

"Finally, there came a time when the LORD could no longer stand to see them suffer." (Contemporary English Version)

"So he felt sorry for them when he saw their suffering." (New Century Version)

This is an incredible thought to me.

That my behavior, that the state of my heart could actually AFFECT the Almighty God of the Universe! Just as a loving parent feels rejected when a child rebels, so God feels great rejection, He feels grieved, when we ignore or neglect Him.

We act just like those pesky Israelites when we go about our daily lives, focusing on them and leaving God out of the center of them.

But despite being rejected by His own people, God never failed to rescue them. He never fails to rescue us either. That was the whole point of sending His Son, Jesus – who was the Ultimate Savior. God sent His Son when we were still sinners, still in rebellion against Him.

He did it to restore our relationship with Him.

God’s love is more powerful than His wrath, and His compassion surpasses His indignation. However, God’s love does not negate His justice.

One of the translations of today’s passage says this:

"…and he became impatient over the misery of Israel."
(English Standard Version)

There comes a time when God’s patience runs out. In today’s verses, that time had come.

What’s the history behind today’s passage?

It’s interesting – and it speaks volumes to the universal condition of the human heart.

Jair is the current judge of Israel. And again, the people had slid into apostasy. As the Scriptures put it, they again "did evil in the LORD’S sight…They abandoned the LORD and no longer served him at all."


Oh, boo hoo, we’re in trouble.

The LORD, who "burned with anger against Israel," had allowed crushing oppression to come to their land. The Israelites were in great distress. THEN, they turned to the LORD – verse 10 says, "Finally, they cried out to the LORD for help…"

God told them to go to their foreign gods for help. Cry out to their idols. Let them rescue you!

Have you ever had someone say they’re sorry for the SAME thing over and over again? After awhile, you stop believing that they mean it. It rings false. How sorry can they be if their behavior never changes?

This is my other incredible thought – do I really want to test God’s patience?

It was only by ridding themselves of their foreign gods (who were powerless to help them), and by submitting themselves to the LORD’S justice, that the Israelites had any hope of rescue…

Only AFTER they put aside all other things, and returned to Him with a repentant heart – only THEN did God again act to redeem them.

I can grieve the heart of God, and I can test His patience.


And yet, He still loves me.

"The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love." (Psalm 145:8)

We should strive to stay close to God, and worship ONLY Him, rather than see how far we can go before His judgment comes…

"Come close to God, and God will come close to you." (James 4:8)

Are you following Him wholeheartedly – or are you grieving His heart?

Are you serving Him completely – or are you testing His patience?

“When in doubt, search God out.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

LEVITICUS - You Must Be Holy

It had to happen.

Inevitably, one day "Bible Pick ‘Ems" would land me in the middle of Leviticus.

Today is that day.

I wasn’t sure what God was going to teach me in the middle of a seemingly endless list of rules.

But as I read, there it was – the reason for the list.

"The LORD also said to Moses, ‘Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.'" (Leviticus 19:2)

Leviticus is a revelation of God’s character.

God is giving clear instructions on how sinful people can relate to a holy God.

However, Leviticus represents so much more.

It isn’t just a list of things to do to make oneself "good." It isn’t an arbitrary accounting of do’s and don’ts. It isn’t the ranting of a despotic God with a persnickety nature – who sets forth the parameters of human interaction, knowing full-well that His list is impossible.

And yet, I think that IS the "hidden" reason for the laws in Levitcus. The most important part, I would venture to say. The sheer impossibility of keeping them. And the truth of a holy God who knows that fact.

The laws show us the seriousness of sin.

"Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are." (Romans 3:19-20)

"God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were." (Romans 5:20)

"In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin." (Romans 7:7)

I got to thinking about this word "holiness" and what it means. The dictionary defines it this way: "Exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness."

Perfect in goodness, righteous.

Holiness is the very definition, the very essence of God. It is His nature. And because of our sinful nature, there is no way we can breach the gap.
Holy cannot mix with unholy.

Trying to grasp this impossibility, I came up with this analogy.

Picture the ocean – the vast, powerful, deeply mysterious ocean. By its very nature, it is water.

I am a human being, and by my very nature, I was made to live on land.

And because of my nature, and because of the nature of the ocean, I am unable to breathe under water. I would die.

The ocean isn’t being unfair or cruel if I died – for the ocean, by its very nature, cannot be anything but itself. So, death is a result of the fundamental difference in our natures. I do not possess within myself the ability to breathe underwater.

God’s nature is holy, and my nature is sinful.

God cannot be anything but Himself. And He is utterly holy. I do not possess within myself the ability to be in His presence. I would die. For my sin completely separates me from His perfect goodness.

The purpose of the law is to demonstrate the standard of perfect holiness that God demands, by His very nature.

It is a "benchmark of behavior" – something to measure ourselves by – a benchmark from which we will always fall short.

Is God being cruel or unfair by setting a standard we have no hope of reaching? NO! I would argue that it is just the opposite. Only a loving God would care enough to show His creatures the IMPOSSIBILITY of reaching Him on their own. He desired to remove all illusions of human goodness – all illusions of a person’s power to save themselves.

It is only in this knowledge, that a human heart can understand its great need for God’s intervention.

And only a loving God would intervene. And that is just what He did – because love is also an undeniable part of His very nature.

So, He sent His Son. Jesus – who, by His very nature, was fully human and fully God.

He made the law obsolete, and He fulfilled it at the same time. He made the law a person. He took on the sin of the world to destroy its power. He overcame the great separation that no man could fix on His own. He bridged the gap between a perfectly holy God and His beloved unholy creatures.

It’s like Jesus made us able to breathe underwater!

When I first opened my Bible for today’s "Bible Pick ‘Ems," I wasn’t sure what God was going to say to me in the middle of Leviticus!

But what He said was this:

"For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin…God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus." (Romans 3:23-25, 26)

The law foreshadowed the Lamb – the rules paved the way for the Redeemer.

You know what, I LOVE Leviticus!!

“When in doubt, search God out!”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

ZECHARIAH - Have You Ever Been Lost?

My husband and I love exploring.

We love using his Jeep to go off-roading just to see what we can see!

Earlier last year, we went camping in Joshua Tree National Park in California. We love it out there. Nothing but scrubby land, a few undulating hills, and huge boulders scattered about. Lots to explore!

So, one morning, we packed up and headed out in the Jeep...

Armed with a topographical map of the area, and a bit of self-assured bravado, we bounced along enjoying the sights.

You can’t believe some of the cool stuff we saw – old mines, abandoned drilling equipment, discarded furniture and buildings, tons and tons of tin cans, and shards of broken bottles and pottery. Fascinating…

We spent most of the day like this – driving, stopping, exploring – the map made everything clear.

Until…all of a sudden...it didn’t.

Landmarks were unnamed, and it was difficult to tell which site we were at. No signs, no directions. When we thought we were at a certain point on the map, we became uncertain. The map showed a fork in the road – with only two directions to choose from. Easy, right? Not so much when the "fork" had at least 5 or 6 different directions to choose from - (and we weren't even sure it was the "correct" fork - that was still questionable).

Not panicked yet, we kept going in the direction we thought was right.

But then, we got really lost. And the sun was getting low in the sky.

At this point, we were traveling along a barely visible dirt "road" - (I use the word loosely!) - covered with very large boulders and treacherous ditches, moving along at a snail’s pace. All we knew was that we were in the mountainous area outside of the park boundariesand it was getting lateand we didn’t know exactly where we were.

I’m calling that – LOST!

Needless to say, we made it back – finally! A little luck, a lot of prayer – we arrived at our campsite at dusk. "Home" had never looked so good.

Feeling lost isn’t a good feeling.

And it REALLY isn’t a good feeling when it happens on our life’s journey. We think we’re heading in the right direction – we think we’re making all the right turns. We’re just coasting along enjoying the sights. But then, all of a sudden, we realize that we’re lost. Somewhere we’ve strayed off the right path we’ve traveled outside the boundaries of God’s will.

What to do?

Let’s turn to the only "road map" that will help – the Word of God. Today’s “Bible Pick ‘Ems” offers the only solution.

"Therefore, say to the people, 'This what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Return to me, and I will return to you…'" (Zechariah 1:3)

Zechariah was a prophet and a priest. Born in Babylon during the exile of the Jews, he returned to Jerusalem in 538 BC. He began his prophetic ministry in 520 BC. God used Zechariah to encourage the people to continue rebuilding the Temple, whose construction had been halted for nearly 10 years. It was no easy task. Zechariah had to combat the peoples’ spiritual apathy.

Through Zechariah, God warned Israel not to be like their forefathers, who disobeyed Him and reaped the consequencesHis punishment. His message was loud and clear –

Return to Me.

It’s wise advice. And it’s the only advice that makes sense, the only advice that will work, when we have wandered off, when we have disobeyed God, when we find ourselves lost…

Individually, we must repent of our waywardness, confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, and then return to the One who loves us, and follow Him wholeheartedly.

There will be many "forks" in the road of life. Times when the landmarks won’t be obvious. There might not be clearly marked signs. Directions will blur and become ambiguous. Which way to turn?

And if we rely on ourselves, it will become quite easy to get lost.

But when we become lost…all is not lost!

Even in times of discouragement and despair, God is working out His plan. He will protect and guide us. We must trust and follow Him.

"Return to Me," the Voice of God urges. "I know the Way. I AM the Way."

“When in doubt, search God out!”

Sunday, January 2, 2011

1 JOHN - To Tell the Truth

"Welcome, friends and neighbors, ladies and gents. Step right up. I have a miracle cure for you. You won’t be able to live without it…"

Back in the 1800’s, "snake oil salesmen" were notorious scam artists.

Their history is quite interesting.

When the Transcontinental Railroad was being built (the railroad that would eventually span North America from coast to coast), labor gangs gave snake oil to the Europeans they worked with. The snake oil was supposed to relieve joint pain. Rubbed on the painful site, snake oil claimed to bring much-needed relief.

Rival medicine salesmen, especially those selling patent medicines, ridiculed the claims. Eventually, "snake oil" became a catch-all term for many compounds marketed as miraculous remedies.

Since the FDA did not exist at this time, it was often impossible to analyze the contents of snake oil, and so the term came to symbolize a hoax, a swindle, a trick – a clever attempt to "pull the wool over somebody’s eyes."

The travelling salesman, often called "doctor," had dubious credentials. But what a great actor he was! His boisterous claims were often supported by an accomplice in the crowd – a "plant" who would attest to the value of the product in an effort to provoke enthusiastic buying.

Were these poor innocent people simply ignorant and naïve? Or were these "snake oil"salesmen simply VERY good at deception?

Things are different, and yet so very much the same, in today’s world. God’s Word warns against false teachers and prophets. It implores God’s children to be wary – to "test the spirit" of those proclaiming to speak the "truth."

Today’s "Bible Pick ‘Ems" is one of those warnings:

"Dear Friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world…But you belong to God…You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world." (1 John 4:1, 4)

What is being said here?

That we should not believe everything we hear just because someone says it’s a message from God.

False teaching is nothing new. The early Church had to guard itself against, and sometimes cleanse itself of, those who spoke something other than the true message of the Gospel.

We are particularly susceptible to false teaching these days because of the prevalence of instant media access for virtually every message anyone wants to speak. You can watch or read or listen to just about anything you can find.

False teachers are popular with the world because they tell people what they want to hear. And that’s why we are warned against them…and asked to test them.

So, how can we test the message and the messenger?

1) Check to see if their words line up with what GOD says in His Word – are
they speaking God’s truth?
2) Evaluate their commitment to the body of believers – are they working
for the good and spiritual growth of the community of Christians, or for
their own goals?
3) Look at their life-style – is it pure and righteous and above reproach?
4) Observe the fruit of their ministries – are they loved by the world (a
false teacher will be well-received by non-believers)?

And is their message "easy on the ears?" No one wants to hear their sins denounced. They don’t want to listen to demands that they change their behavior. People want a comfortable message that makes them "feel good." They want a "good word" that makes them happy. They want to be entertained. And never ever mention sin, or judgment, or punishment, or hell…

But, here's what MOST IMPORTANT of all – What do they believe about JESUS CHRIST? Do they teach that He is fully God and fully man?

False teachers - false messages.

It's easy to be overwhelmed – but have hope!

Our verses today hold a promise. We belong to God. We have won a victory through His Truth. God’s Spirit, living within us, is greater than the spirit of the enemy. God will give us the wisdom and discernment we need. He will guide us into all truth.

Just ask Him.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.”
(James 1:5)

“When in doubt, search God out!”