Month: July 2022

God Has Strengthened

Reference scripture: 2 Kings 20: 1-7

Hezekiah was one of only a few kings of Judah who “did what was right in in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3). His reign was characterized by trusting in the Lord, serving Him, praying to Him, and tearing down the pagan places and idols of worship which were an affront to His holiness- King Hezekiah walked humbly with his God. We find in our reference scripture that one day Hezekiah became gravely ill; and in fact, God sent His prophet Isaiah to instruct him to get his house in order because he was going to die (verse 1). Immediately the king turned his face to the wall and prayed this simple prayer:

“I beseech thee O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” Then he wept bitterly.

After he prayed this humble and brief prayer of faith, an astounding turn of events occurred: Before Isaiah could leave the king’s court, the Lord instructed him to turn around and deliver these words to Hezekiah, ” I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold I will heal thee…and I will add unto thy days 15 years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria and I will defend this city for mine own sake” (verses 4 & 5). Notice that in this particular prayer, Hezekiah did not ask for anything; he left everything in the hands of the Lord, whom he trusted to act justly and mercifully on his behalf. The name Hezekiah means “God has strengthened” and undoubtedly we witness this continual strengthening through God’s response to the king’s prayer- longer life, victory over Judah’s enemy, and protection for the city.

The overwhelming lesson here lies in the fact that prayer to our powerful God is, well- powerful! James 5:16 promises that, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth (accomplishes) much.” Furthermore, 1 John 5: 14 & 15 teach that God hears and answers prayers when we make our requests according to His will. Many times I have entered into prayer disheartened and weak, but have come away feeling hopeful and strengthened. How wonderful it is to know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8); and so we can rely on God’s mercy and grace, just as King Hezekiah did- we can be strengthened when we pray.

Fear Is Not From God

“For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Many of us have heard 2 Timothy 1:7 many times; however, have we considered implications of the word “but” in this verse? According to the literal Greek translation, but can mean “contrariwise, or in contrast to”; therefore, if we are full of fear, are we necessarily not filled with power, love, and soundness of mind? As someone who has wrestled with fear since childhood, I understand the paralyzing effect it can have on every aspect of life. Thankfully, the Lord has delivered me from the imprisonment of fear, but the Adversary never gives up in trying to stir it up in me. I have learned that everything in the Christian life boils down to the one in whom we place our faith: I can have faith in God who has given me power, love, and thinking based in truth, or I can surrender to fear, which is essentially faith in the power of Satan to cause calamity and destruction in my life.

Fear from the enemy is not the “fight or flight” fear that protects us from imminent danger, but the kind of fear that causes us to be timid in carrying out the will of God. Paul was admonishing Timothy to not be fearful of afflictions that might result from his obedience to God’s calling (purposes) in his life; and, as with Timothy, we should not allow fear to keep us from being obedient. In the past, I was holding my feelings in higher regard than the Lord’s purposes in the situation- I was giving the enemy victory. It was frustrating to feel unable to do what I knew I needed to do, but I lacked sufficient faith to overcome the anxiety and fear- I needed to keep building my faith in the Lord’s goodness and provision for me. It has been a journey of faith-building by the power of the Holy Spirit that still continues today:

  • Through reliance on the Holy Spirit, I resist fear from the enemy and renounce its power over me- 1 Peter 5: 9, “But resist him [the devil], firm in your faith.” NASB
  • I place trust in the POWER of God- 1 John 4:4, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them (spirits not from God, v.3): because greater is He that is within you than he (Satan) that is in this world.” KJV
  • I cling to God’s LOVE for me, which is perfect, unchanging, and empowering- 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love (God’s agape love) casts out fear; because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect (whole, completely equipped) in love.”
  • I keep on renewing my mind in God’s Word so that I can make sound judgments and believe/act based on the true and God-given perspective of the situation- a SOUND MIND. Romans 12:12, “…be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

What Does the Lord Require?

Micah, 6: 8, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?”

The Lord does not cause confusion ( 1 Corinthians 14:33) because His instructions to us are simple and clear- we do not need to wonder what He requires or expects from us:

  1. To do justice- Be fair and equitable in all our judgements and do what is right in God’s sight. Basically, we act in agreement with truth by the power/discernment of the Holy Spirit: Psalm 86:11, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in your truth.”
  2. Love kindness & mercy- Be kind even if the person is guilty. Loving mercy means that we delight in it and welcome opportunities to demonstrate compassion in our treatment of our offenders or adversaries. With the Lord’s help, we are able to administer grace and good will even to the guilty and undeserving; and, we do not require from them what we have a right to demand. Romans 12:17,” Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all.”
  3. Walk humbly with God- Be obedient and pleasing to the Lord. When we lower ourselves in our own estimation, we are able to properly exalt God and live willingly in obedience to Him. Proverbs 11:2,”…with the humble is wisdom.” Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Give ForGIVEness

I wonder if there is anyone in all of humanity that does not struggle with unforgiveness…

If we break down the word forgiveness, we find that give means “to bestow without a return” and for- is a prefix meaning “off or away with intense force.” Putting these meanings together, we find that to forgive literally means to intensely bestow something without expectation of getting anything in return. To put it another way, forgiving freely releases other people from the penalty of their offenses against us- there is no longer an expectation of payment back to us for their offense (e.g. an apology). Therefore, when we hold onto unforgiveness, we are refusing to let our offenders off the hook and in various ways we’re attempting to extract some sort of payment for their debt to us. These “payments” or punishment can be as mild as giving them the silent treatment or the cold shoulder, or simply refusing to forget the affront and move forward.

Colossians 3:13 commands that we, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of us has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The Savior provided the richest and most sobering example of forgiveness when He endured the cross, the cruelest of punishments that He did not deserve. Although He was completely innocent of His tormentors’ false accusations, Jesus asked the Lord to forgive them even while He was still hanging and suffering on the cross (Luke 23:34)! Let’s remember that Jesus also loved and died for us while we were still His enemies; that is, when we rejected Him and refused to place our faith in Him (Romans 5: 6-8). Furthermore, we ourselves are blessed when we release others, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Romans 4:7 teaches that we are blessed when our sins are covered and forgiven; therefore forgiving is a win-win act of obedience: We bless the ones we forgive, and at the same time, we ourselves obtain blessing and release from the burden of anger and resentment.

When offenses come- and they will (Luke 17:1)- we can determine to be like our Father, and remove the debt owed to us “as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). To put it another way, we can swing with the power of forgiveness and knock the offenses against us out of the park!

Not the Letter, But the Spirit

2 Corinthians 3: 6, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

What strange words given by Paul to the Corinthians, or so it seems at first glance. We might better understand what Paul was saying if we recall the account about Rahab in Joshua 2: 1-24, which describes how she welcomed Israelite enemy spies into her home, and then hid them on the rooftop. Although she was a harlot, Rahab believed in the power of Israel’s God; and in effect, lied to the men sent by Jericho’s king when they asked the whereabouts of the two spies. The “letter of the law” behavior was that Rahab would have truthfully revealed that they were hiding not far away; the “spirit of the law” behavior was that she chose to lie in order to save their lives. Hebrews 11:31 honors what Rahab did as a great act of faith; and in James 2:25 she is again given the distinction of being mentioned in the Bible. So, how are we to deal with the fact that in protecting the spies, she deceived the men sent to find them?

Jesus Himself summed up the “whole of the law” (the spirit of the law) in this manner: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37 & 39). The letter of the law represents strict adherence to every aspect of it no matter what; and, the spirit of the law is concerned with loving the people that the law is meant to serve. We might be compelled to ask, “Should believers always blindly comply with the letter of the law or, instead, act according to the intent of the law?” I believe the answer lies in the Mt. 22 passage: let love be supreme in all that we do so that we are ultimately guided (through dependence on the Holy Spirit) to express the charity of God in every situation. Our guiding question will undoubtedly become, “Will this administer to this person the love that Christ has shown me?”

Longing To Belong

Romans 15:7 : “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Have you ever experienced a sense of not belonging no matter how long you associated with a group of people, or how hard you tried to fit in? Perhaps it seemed that everyone else was in complete agreement about the specifics of their personal or social expectations- you may have felt like a “square peg” trying to fit into a round hole.

It is human nature to associate with people who are like us; and it seems that the more others are like us, the more accepting we feel towards them. However, it should not be this way within the body of Christ, since we should all strive to be more and more like our Heavenly Father who, as Peter understood, shows no partiality (favoring one party over another, Acts 10:34). Additionally, the body of Christ is united as one by way of faith in Jesus Christ and there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond or free, there is neither male nor female”(Galatians 3:28). That is, believers belong to the body of Christ through unity of faith in Christ by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, rather than fitting in based on those distinctions.

I believe it will be beneficial in this post to examine these concepts from a biblical perspective; thereby better equipping us to help others enjoy a sense of belonging as we fellowship with them:

FITTING IN:

  • It doesn’t seem to matter if I stay or leave; I find myself participating less and less.
  • I must be like everyone else to be accepted, and so I am constantly comparing myself to others; yet I know it is unwise to measure myself by others’ standards or opinions (2 Corinthians 10:12).
  • I must do what is expected in order to fit in. Instead of freely using the gifts I have been given, I feel compelled to participate in too many activities and programs I am not suited for.

BELONGING:

  • It is clear that I am missed when I am not in fellowship. Fellow believers act in accordance with 2 Corinthians 10:12 and seek me out until I can rejoice with them again.
  • I am accepted for just being me; fellow believers allow time for the Holy Spirit to help me make needed changes. However, I know others would gently and wisely help me back onto the right path if I strayed. Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you with all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another.”
  • I belong whether I conform to others’ expectations or not, because others make room for my gifting (Proverbs 18:16).

The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to focus on people-pleasing; instead, we should make our priority to please God and mature in our faith: Galatians 1:10, “For do I now pursue men or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ.”

*Thank you to my husband, Clyde for helping with the illustration!

Turn Your Eyes To Jesus

This past week, we visited Dix Park in Raleigh, NC, and found that it was filled with fields of sunflowers- all facing in the same direction; and, because they have large “faces” it was hard to miss their unity in turning toward the sun. Inspired by these remarkable flowers, I researched and discovered that young sunflowers track the sun during the day, but reorient during the night in anticipation of the dawn. Even more astounding, they continue to track the sun whether the day is rainy or cloudy.

The spiritual application from observance of these sunflowers is remarkable…Isaiah 32:2 states, “O Lord, be gracious to us; we have waited for you. Be [our] strength every morning.” Psalm 5:3 says, “In the morning, you will hear my voice.” Lastly, Hebrews 12:2 teaches that we are to run the race of life set before us, “looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Jesus and King David as well others in biblical accounts rose early in the morning to commune with the Father. Furthermore, if we can learn from observing the little ant (see Proverbs 6:6), it stands to reason these humble flowers have a lesson to teach:

Undoubtedly there are times when believers’ souls are weary and troubled, and the darkness of night can further increase anxiety and fear. However, like the sunflower, we can confidently anticipate the dawn, when God promises that His fresh mercies and compassion are awaiting us (Lamentations 3:22-23 ). And, just as the sunflower continues to follow the sun whether the day is rainy or cloudy, so we can remain faithful to turn our eyes to Jesus despite the stormy trials that surround us.

TO JESUS
TURN YOUR EYES…

Fully God, Yet Fully Man

The fact that Jesus was wholly human, and yet at the same time, wholly God is a difficult concept to grasp; and in fact, we cannot completely explain and understand it. Although scripture supports this concept in many ways, nevertheless, some have taught that Philippians 2:7, (“…but [Jesus] emptied Himself…being made in the likeness of men”) means that Jesus laid aside the divine attributes of God. In other words, it has frequently been taught that Jesus completely put aside being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (present everywhere).

Only recently, with the help of excellent commentaries, have I been able to come to a better understanding of the truly remarkable reality that our Savior was both fully human and at the same time, fully divine (God). He did not lay aside His deity; He temporarily gave up His positional place in heaven in order to veil the glory of His deity in a human body of flesh. Even so, this hidden glory did shine forth on occasion: In Matthew 17:2 we read about the transfiguration of Jesus in which “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” We read in John 1:46-50 that Jesus not only knew the moral character of Nathanael even before He met him, but He also had seen him under a fig tree without actually being in that same location. In Matthew 9:4 we learn that Jesus was able to read other people’s thoughts and look upon their hearts- “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Indisputably, Jesus demonstrated His Godhood by forgiving sins- something only God can do. These are only a few proofs that Jesus remained fully God as well as fully human while here on earth.

However, the most astounding and praise-worthy part is that He obediently humbled Himself to live on earth as a man- fully suffering unimaginable pain as He died on the cross for the sake of us all (John 3:16). A commentator has aptly expressed, “There was no depth to which He would not stoop to save our guilty souls.”

Do Not Weep

Reference: Luke 7: 11- 17

Jesus and His disciples had entered the city of Nain and came upon a funeral procession that was carrying out (for burial) the only son of a widow. When the Lord saw the mother, He immediately felt compassion for her- He was moved to act passionately (“com” or “with”-passion) on her behalf. Obviously, Jesus was aware of her great loss; yet He told the mother, who was also a widow, “Do not weep.” On the surface, it appears to be a strange offer of comfort- not what one would normally say to a grieving mother who had lost her entire family. But Jesus was no ordinary man, He was fully man while at the same time, fully God (we will examine this concept in the next post).

At this point, I will soberly and respectfully speculate about what might have been part of the motivation for these compassionate actions of Jesus:

Because Jesus was fully God, He knew that the son’s mother need not weep; He was about to raise her son and give him back to her! Also, because Jesus was God, He was able to know that He was going to the cross- a cursed tree that He would die upon. He also knew that He would be raised from the dead (see John 12:27 and Mark 10:33-34) and therefore His own mother would not need to weep. Furthermore, He even knew that while hanging on the cross, He would compassionately give His mother into the earthly care of His beloved disciple, John. We read in John 19:26-27 that Jesus looked down at His mother (who was with John) and said, “Behold your son!” and, to John, “behold thy mother!”

I wonder what deep emotions were in the heart of Jesus when He gave the widow’s only son back to her from the dead- could they have been similar to those He would feel as He gave His mother into the care of John? As God, He knew all that was going to happen; as a man, it might have been cathartic to raise the young man of Nain. Catharsis is defined as “a purifying or cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.” Perhaps this miracle was helpful to the man, Jesus, in preparing Him for the intense trials that lay ahead.

Be Angry, Yet Do Not Sin

Did you know that the biblical account of Jesus’ cleansing the temple is found in all four gospels? Yet it is only in the book of Mark that I discovered that Jesus entered the temple the day before He came back and drove out the money-changers. Mark 11:11 says, “And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when He had looked round about upon all things, and now evening was come, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” It was the next day when He returned to Jerusalem that He entered the temple a second time (see Mark 11: 12-17); and it was then that He cast out the buyers and sellers, overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and turned over the seats of the merchants who were selling doves.

In general, teachings about this narrative have depicted Jesus’ actions as intense and angry reactions to the situation in the temple. However, it is possible that Mark’s account might indicate a more controlled and methodical method by which Jesus addressed those conditions. Verse 11 specifically points out that Jesus looked over the entire situation- everything that was going on in His Father’s House- and then He left without doing or saying anything (as far as we can tell from the account). There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus fervently prayed before returning the next day. It would not be surprising that due to His humanity, Jesus’ initial emotional reaction might have played out differently if He had immediately reacted against the offense. Instead, Jesus was able to return fully confident of His father’s will and not only authoritatively drive the offenders out of God’s house, but aptly express the heart of His Father: His temple was to be a place of prayer and worship, not a den of thieves.

It is praiseworthy that Jesus provided a powerful example for us regarding anger: whenever possible, do not impulsively react out of intense anger even when the cause is a righteous one. Instead, take time for praying and seeking the Lord’s will and timing; allow the time to gain proper perspective. In other words, Jesus demonstrated that it is possible to be angry without sinning when we control our fleshly reactions and seek the Lord.

God’s Nature

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof…” (Psalm 24:1)

When our grown daughter was a child and someone threw trash on the ground, she would say, “They shouldn’t do that to God’s nature!” Nature is certainly the creation of the Lord, but one could speculate as to whether it is also reflective of His own personal nature. For example, have you ever been out in the “middle of nowhere” and discovered beautiful flowers, or a colorful bird which no one but yourself would likely ever encounter? If you are like me, you would ask in your mind why God would put such beauty where it might never be appreciated. I believe it is because it is in God’s very nature to create good: life, beauty, usefulness, harmony, growth and so much more; furthermore, it is His delight to do it. And so, it stands to reason since God has immeasurable power, creativity, and ability that inevitably, the beauty of nature must abound to overflowing and fill the entire earth.

Life and Blessing

Deuteronomy 30: 19-20, “…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…”

This instruction that was given to Israel in the the Old Testament still offers truthful insight for believers today because the freedom to make choices is taught throughout scripture- that is why the Bible is filled with commands and moral teachings.

This choice between life/blessing and death/curse, is like a stairway: Every time we choose life, we advance up the stairs; and when we choose death, we take a downward turn on the steps; therefore we need to keep choosing God’s way to advance upwards to life and blessing. It is interesting that the literal meaning of “blessing” in this verse means “to kneel: worship, praise, adore, and thank”; while “curse” literally means “to vilify or malign.” I wonder if we gain blessing as we choose to worship and speak well of our Savior, thereby experiencing life-giving restoration and wholeness (life); and, conversely, lose blessing when we choose to misrepresent or not speak well of Him.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name.” (Psalm 29:2)

What are your thoughts?

Get Wisdom

Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding.”

There seems to be a progression toward gaining wisdom: Obtain knowledge, get understanding, humbly seek God, and apply wisdom.

Knowledge involves learning facts, some of which may not be the complete truth, or not true at all; therefore, merely having a head full of knowledge does not necessarily mean that one can exercise “common sense” or make the best decisions.

Understanding allows for grasping the meaning, or getting the gist of facts and information. It seems to be the bridge between knowledge and wisdom in that once we “get” how a fact or piece of information can be used, we are better equipped to apply it.

Wisdom is the ability to see things from God’s perspective; it’s knowing how to apply the knowledge that we understand appropriately and effectively to our lives. The important thing to remember at this point is that according to Psalm 111:10, “The fear (profound respect mingled with love and awe) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is how that beginning looks: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives generously and without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). What a promise- once we give the Lord the respect He is due, then humbly ask for wisdom, He will give us the wisdom we need!

Freely Forgive

Some time ago, I experienced ongoing contention with someone close to me because of a disagreement that that seemed to have reached an impasse; however, one morning I woke up with this thought running over and over through my mind: “Forgivers forgive at any price.” As I pondered these words, more thoughts resounded in my spirit: “It (forgiveness) may cost you your pride; it may cost you entitlement to a fair outcome; and it may cost you the pleasure of being proven right.

As a believer, I knew I needed to be obedient to this command and pay the price of my pride to do it. Still, I had attempted calls that went unanswered and I simply did not know how to move forward. Over a year had passed and despite my prayers, the sadness of losing this important relationship was heavy on my heart. One day I accidentally dialed my friend’s number on my cell phone…and she answered! We were able to converse, and although it was a bit awkward, a healing process began that led to our reconciliation- without a doubt, we had needed the perfect timing of the Lord, the only One who could look upon our hearts (1Samuel 16:7, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart.)