My Excuses are Just That..Excuses ..and why I need God

Proverbs Image19 is one of those chapters that is written with a subliminal meaning whereby we must glean truths by “reading between the lines.”   We must step outside the box to truly gather what Solomon is saying.  The crux, a vital, decisive or pivotal point of this chapter lies in one word: knowledge. When I finally gleaned that point the meaning became crystal clear and also gave me the motivation to do what I need to do to be armed and ready for the battle before me…moment by moment and day by day.

As a wise teacher Solomon grabbed my attention with the usage of contrasts through the pictures of the fool, the poor, the sluggard and the scorner. How all of these pictures were intertwined was for me to unravel. Through vivid imagery, as I sat in the front row of this theatrical production I was a witness to how each faces life’s circumstances based upon their choices. It became so real as I watched my granddaughter in her latest play and how she reacted. It was surreal! This chapter was the same! It was surreal.

In addition I was not left wondering what happens but I vividly could see the results of these choices that I might learn wisdom and why Solomon keeps harping. Yes, Solomon has a way of doing that, chapter after chapter after chapter. It all boils down to this:  get wisdom/get knowledge. Proverbs: 1:5 “(Let the wise also hear and gain instruction, and let the discerning acquire guidance!)”

The verse in Peter stands as my benchmark. The “lion in the road” is the enemy of my soul. He has one thing on his agenda: deceive and destroy. If he can keep me ignorant or without wisdom he has mastered the first step into leading me down the garden path to the gate that leads only to one destination: outside the will of God. He seeks avenues where you and I are vulnerable and unprotected.  We must beware of his ways! If we want to know how to face adversity, wealth/luxury, relationships [public and private] then we need to pick up our shovels and dig into wisdom from the Word. 2Tim 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

We who are believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit as our teacher so we are truly without excuse to say “I didn’t know!” God’s Word is our blueprint for building lives that will honor Him as well as provide for us blessings here on earth. Therefore, take heed from this chapter the consequences of a lack of God’s most basic instructions. Some thoughts I gleaned:

  1. If we choose to walk in paths that do not include integrity as well as revealing that we are a teller of lies we are not only our own worst enemy but it leads to poverty of mind and spirit.
  2. If we make poor choices it may be because we have a zeal to do but lack knowledge of the how.
  3. If we choose to shirk knowledge it leads to folly and really, if truth be known, it is because we think we know better than God.
  4. Both wealth and poverty have their own reward…one with temporary friends (think of Adonijah IKings 1:49 and Naboth 1Kings21:1) and one left bereft of even family members to help in times of need (think of Joseph).
  5. If we choose to break one of the Ten Commandments such as Honor thy Father and Mother, who are we to blame? Not God!

Thus Solomon is saying that the result of many of life’s choices falls into my own laps. I am ultimately responsible because I have disregarded the most basic tenet which is to fear the Lord.

 The bottom line is that if you and I want God to guide us, bless us and make us fruitful for Him it begins with the fear of the Lord. Solomon ends his lengthy description with these cryptic words: If you stop listening to instruction, my child, you will stray from the words of knowledge.

Thus this is where I need to begin. Isa 55:6 Seek the Lord while he makes himself available; call to him while he is nearby!  

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Chasing Sleep…for the Umpteenth Time.

ImageLast night was one of those nights in which I chased sleep. If you have never had insomnia then you can forget Psalm 77 but if you are like me or you have ever spent a night chasing sleep, you might want to stop and think about what Asaph is teaching us through his experience.

Insomnia is defined by the dictionary as an inability to obtain sufficient sleep, especially when chronic; difficulty in falling or staying asleep; sleeplessness. This what Asaph experienced and I do quite often. Why is that? What is the cause? For some it is the worry syndrome, a sin for sure since we are commanded to not worry. For some it is a metabolic imbalance and for others it is being wired due to some exciting news. No matter the cause the results are the same: bone weariness upon arising.

In Ps 77 Asaph tells us what he does in those times. Note vs 1,2, 3, 5 and 10. He cries out to God, He recalls God and His attributes, He prays all night long, He consider a possible cause, and finally comes to the conclusion that if he verbalizes his frustration at the lack of sleep and its cause this too will pass. What do you do at times like this?

But more importantly than verbalizing his state of mind he begins to consider the character of God and how although himself has become a vagabond, God has been there even in the silence. He questions God’s character but then in vs. 10 realizes how futile an exercise this is because God is “Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it happen? It is when Asaph realizes this that he changes from “oh woe is me,” to “How Great Thou Art!”Image

George Rogers once wrote: A good man cannot rest upon his bed until his soul rests upon God. That is a truth we need to remember when we have nights when we are chasing sleep.

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Not Rejected….Redirected!~

Recently I  a precious friend posted this note after having lived through “hell and back.”

“I’ve been thinking that I’d been rejected these past two years. God told me today that wasn’t true, I’ve been redirected. His plans are always best and I always trust in His guidance and love. Feeling really in love with God and His Word lately. It’s a real good feeling.”

This captures in a nutshell the entire message of Ps 74 and exactly what Asaph was saying as he penned this psalm and is now here for us to ponder. As you ponder think about these words: 

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Listen to Asaph as he pleads for understanding from God. Three times he asks why and this is exactly what we are to do when we are facing a conundrum. Asaph rightly asks three questions:

Why have you permanently rejected us? Skip over to Rom 11:1 and see how Paul answered that question: 11:1 “So I ask, God has not rejected his people, has he? Absolutely not!” and again in Hebrews the author reminds us of this timeless truth: “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” Asaph surely knew this as a principle from Deut “he will be with you; he will not fail you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged!” But in his despair this is how he was viewing his nation’s predicament. Perhaps you too have felt this way because of some circumstance you are facing. Listen again to my friend’s words: God told me! When God speaks it is with words of lovingkindness to remind us of His steadfast and loyal love.

Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? Again Asaph implores God to remember his people as the sheep who are vulnerable, pitiful, without understanding and in need of direction. Asaph knew this principle: Joh 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. That is why he could be so bold to seek the attention of his king (note vs . 12…God is my king) The circumstance was still before him but as one of God’s own, God’s sheep he could trust in God’s leadership at the appointed time.

Why do you withdraw your hand, even your right hand? Asaph is asking God for understanding as to why God has not used his power and might as king of Israel to restore the nation from the barbarians. The psalmist pictures God as having placed his right hand (symbolic of activity and strength) inside his robe against his chest.  He prays that God would pull his hand out from under his robe and use it to destroy the enemy. That is the boldness of a believer. We can ask and seek God’s power to be revealed and He will. “Expect God to act and He will.”

From vs 11 onward Asaph comes to terms with his requests much like Job. “Indeed, I am completely unworthy – how could I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth to silence myself.” And yet as a child of God we have the blessing of being able to enter in to the holiest of holies. Heb 4:16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help. He pleads with God to reveal His power. Now, when we move to Ps 75 we see the answer to the prayer of Asaph: God says, “At the appointed times, I judge fairly…For I am the judge! I bring one down and exalt another.”And that is the total reason why we can trust in God and rely upon His timing and perfect plan.

Asaph now declares much like my friend: 75:9 As for me, I will continually tell what you have done; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob! That is the whole answer when we are faced with life’s challenges and find ourselves being drawn down into the pit of despond. Lifting up God and praising Him redirects our thinking and elevates our spirits to the highest level. Where are you feeling rejected? Ask God to reveal His redirection plan for you!

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An Invitation…Will You Accept?

ImageThe Parade is over and Jesus is in the Temple once again and is teaching, as he has so often, about the kingdom of heaven through parables. We remember that Jesus told the disciples that he would be using that approach: “I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand” thus fulfilling Isaiah’s 6:9-10 prophecy. Although this was Jesus’ method the Pharisees and chief priests knew not only was he directing his teaching at them but also they understood the implications of his teaching. That is why they wanted to arrest him as we found out in chapter 21.

Jesus spoke to them again in lest any should say they never understood. He has just told them that they were rejecting Him as the Chosen One and now He will emphasize it in greater detail through an illustration that they could all relate to which is a method that we must learn to utilize as well. Start with a common every day thought and use it as a spring board to the truth you want the audience to grasp. In this parable the listeners would have grasped the importance of the wedding banquet in their first century culture, but more importantly they would have been astounded that the king would invite any to his son’s banquet! This was thus not just any banquet–it was for his son! In that culture one received an invite and then when the banquet was ready the ‘king’ would send for them. Try to picture you receiving an invite to a head of state’s home for dinner. You receive it in advance and when the time is ready your limo arrives to pick you up. But, notice the responses of the invitees. They would NOT come! They were indifferent and turned their back even when he sent a second gracious summons! No wonder the king was furious! He had spared no expense nor the preparation.

What are we to learn? The king is God and He has a banquet prepared for Jesus, His Beloved Son. He has spared no expense; he sent his only son so that no one would perish but have eternal life. All have been invited to come and celebrate! Yet there were some then and some today who say no or some who are just too busy. In Matt 8 we read that many said they would go but they had many excuses as to why “not now.”  When he sent out the disciples he gave them orders to shake the dust off their shoes if the message they brought was ignored or rejected. We meet these same people today in the marketplace; in our workplace and even in our families. They are more concerned about their now than their eternal destiny. Felix said the same thing to Paul in Acts 24.

What about the intruder in the banquet? Who is he? And why is he even there? He is there because the invitation was to both good and bad but even with that there are rules of decorum to be followed and he chose to not do that. How often have we heard that the “I am the Way, The Truth, The Life” just doesn’t cut it for me? I will come to Jesus in my way. Note the consequence! Bound and sent packing to outer darkness. There will be some that will face this in the day of judgment.

Beloved, God has a plan and it includes you. He has issued His invitation and He has sent this message to you. What will you do with it? Will you come and celebrate or are you just too busy to do it now? Remember the intruder when this crosses your mind.

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The Parade of Jesus

ImageParades are gaudy and ostentatious but we all seem to love them…even Fido! But aside from dressing up to the fullest some of us just are happy to be merely spectators.

As a spectator, where do you like to stand in a parade?  Do you just enjoy sitting on the curb waiting for the many bands and floats to go by or do you join in and follow the parade? After the parade has finished where are you? Do you just pick up your chairs and go home and this day is forgotten?

Did you know that even Jesus had his own parade?  It is found in Matt 21 and came about so that Zech 9:9 could be fulfilled ” your king is coming on a donkey.”  Just as in our parades to day then there were several spectators who reveal to us of people’s responses to the “Son of David.”

First are the disciples who did Jesus’ bidding and prepared his “float” on which he would ride. They prepared the coverings and joined in the celebration, perhaps even leading the donkey and her colt. Perhaps they moved aside the crowds so Jesus could ride unimpeded.

The crowds: instead of being bystanders, they went ahead and kept shouting “Hosanna “Lord save us” to the Son of David.

The city: thrown into an uproar! They began to question each other…”who is this?” Others in the crowd said “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. We remember what Nathanael had said about this: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  and later the religious leaders taunted Nicodemus “you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!”

The blind and lame: came to him in the Temple and were healed. As he was busy there the children began to cry out in the Temple: “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

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The religious leaders: became indignant when they heard the children crying out and questioned Jesus who said “have you never read?” They feared the crowds because they believed John to be a prophet. Jesus asked them if the people believed why had not they? Again after telling two parables to the religious leaders he again said “have you never read the scriptures…” Instead of being repentant, they wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds who now were saying this Jesus was also a prophet.

All of this reminds us the parable of the soils. The four soils are four hearts and so today we have four hearts in our passage. The footpath: some heard and asked “who is this?”  but when the answer came back Satan snatched it away. The rocky soil: the blind and lame came but like many who came and experienced Jesus’ compassion, they did not endure after their healing (to our knowledge). The thorny soil: the religious leaders who heard, saw the evidence but the status of their position and the wealth that they had accumulated, like the rich young ruler, choked out the word. It produces nothing and so Jesus said that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to another. Lastly the cultivated soil : the children with humility proclaimed the Messiah as truly the Son of David. Later, the disciples who have yet to produce will come to realize the whole truth after the resurrection.

ImageSo where are you in the parade of life? Are you merely a spectator or are you a participant? Which soil reflects your heart today? 

 

 

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Is Life Fair? Find the Answer in Ps 73.

ImageIn Matthew 18, Jesus took time to quell the bickering of the disciples using the illustration of a child’s humility. He also gave them a stern warning to not be a stumbling block for ones who are new in their faith or just beginning to grow. Today we meet a man who long ago faced this same struggle. The musician and seer Asaph wisely teaches us how to handle temptations to be a stumbling block which is one of the enemy’s tools.  This is one of the wisdom psalms from which we learn practical points of life.

Asaph begins with extolling God for His goodness and purity of motives. But, he is struggling as he sees those who are wicked who are prosperous, proud, and popular. We too face that struggle when we look about us rather than looking at God. Asaph personalizes his struggles with his perspective on life for us and in it teaches us some wise principles.

Life is not fair. Asaph as a paid religious worker in Temple worship just didn’t seem to cut it. It is not fair. Others are materially prosperous also are proud and pompous, while I am poor and suffer adversity. They lack for nothing and live life with a “God owes me this” mentality. I am a man of integrity and yet like Job or Joseph I am facing problems. Where is my material prosperity God? Why do I face problems? If you are God why am I suffering? Today we see and hear the same refrain. It seems that this is a point that is ages old. The problem is failing to see life through the lens of the eternal perspective.

There are three keys we want to note: vs 3 “I envied” Envy is a sin that began in the Garden of Eden and is alive and well today. Secondly, notice how Asaph pondered what to do:  73:15 “If I had publicized these thoughts, I would have betrayed your loyal followers.” Translation: I would become a stumbling block! Today:  How often do we share via prayer requests our struggles without considering what those might do to a young believer’s faith? Thirdly, 73:17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, Asaph came to the sobering reality that first he harbored the sin of envy for which he needed cleansing. Secondly, Asaph pondered the consequences of being a stumbling block to others so wisely he sought the counsel of God.  Lastly in God’s presence he saw the reality: We are here for one purpose: to behold His beauty and to worship Him in all of His fullness. I think Lazarus might have had that perspective right and the rich man had the “God owes me mentality” in Luke 16. In the end, who was really blessed? Asaph comes to this same conclusion.

There is a praise hymn which seems to sum up our thoughts for today: “In the presence of Jehovah, God Almighty, Prince of Peace, Troubles vanish, hearts are mended, in the Presence of the King. Through His love the Lord provided….

That is the key. It is in the presence of Jehovah we find all our answers to life’s problems.

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What Lap Are You On?

ImageWe all know that when the Lord teaches us a lesson and we oft forget it, He sends us around the wilderness, so to speak, to re-learn it. Some of us “get it” and others are still out there wandering like the Pharisees and Sadducees who are blind and leading the blind into the pit. Maybe that is why  they are “sad you see.” They came seeking a sign, but this time they wanted a sign from heaven. It is hardly any different today as I can readily attest as I have spent the last 4 yrs discussing biblical truth with an atheist or a family member who says I will read the Bible when I find the true one. Like the Pharisees, they are seeking a heavenly sign when it is right in front of their noses! Friend, these are traps set by the enemy. Jesus rightly pronounced that it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks for a heavenly sign.

Moving on, Matthew now gives us a glimpse into the disciples thinking and Jesus irritation with them. Imagine His frustration with them. It is as if Jesus, after listening to their arguing, finally says to them “Hello!! Where have you been? You have such little faith! You saw the miracles and yet you are bickering about bread?” And then came the “aha” moment when the light bulb came on and they “got it.” How often are we like that as well. We hear the truth, we see the truth, but we get caught up in the nitpicky mundane extras rather than seeing the jewel of truth before us. Or how often have we experienced God’s truth only to forget it when we face a similar experience or read and then re-read and then finally it dawns on us what He is saying. No wonder we have to do laps!

It is time now for Jesus to see what is really within the disciples thinking. Who is He to the crowds? Who is he to them? He is asking us the same question. Who am I to you? Am I just a prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah? Am I just a man who was a good teacher as the rich young ruler said? Or am I the Son of God? Peter rightly answered You are the Son of the living God.  Where are you in your thinking? The Father in heaven will reveal Jesus to you if you do not know—just ask. He is who He said He was.

Go and read the entire Matt 16 chapter to get the context.

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The Lawyers of the Lip?

ImageIn Matthew 15 we meet the Lawyers of the Lips..that is the Pharisees and Scribes who lived by the Oral Law not the written Law. Many today follow the same code of rules. Do not taste, do not touch, do not…do not..you fill in the blank. Jesus rightly called them hypocrites. And so He might of me as well when I become so rule oriented that I am neither earthly good nor heavenly blessed. They were offended by what Jesus told them in Matt 15:8…their heart was far from God. They spoke the words but lived a lie. How often do I also hold the traditions and ways of my church or even my interpretation higher than what God says. God says “Obey Me, Follow Me, and I will bless you.”

Leaving the offended…even Jesus could not stomach these lip lawyers any more. Does Jesus find that I am too causing him a stomach ache? Is my heart rightly attune to the Father or more oriented to my “to do” list?

We find he retreats to Sidon and meets a woman who is “unclean.” The Lip Lawyers had called him Unclean because he did not wash his hands as “they did.” Now he meets a true “unclean person” …a Canaanite. The key word in this passage is “me.” The woman sought mercy for herself: “have mercy on me” and “Lord help me.” She did not live by the words of the lawyers but lived on faith alone as Jesus noted. Busy as a mom ministering to a child who was demon possessed she came and begged for help–not for the child but for herself. She asked Jesus: Help me to know what to do. Help me be strong in this adversity. Help me have wisdom to help my child. Sometimes it is not the healing, although that is a prayer we should offer and seek, but it is the present need for help in this difficulty that we should offer. Healing is secondary to our personal challenge of the present moment. Unlike the Pharisees her heart was near and dear to God. She not only honored God with her lips but also with her heart.

May I remember her faith and echo her words when I am at my wits end.

PS I love this drawing done by Pastor Jared Hollier. *jaredhollier.com* It captures it fully just as Jesus might have drawn it. 

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A Day in the Life of Jesus.

ImageEver wonder what a day was like for Jesus? Matthew 14 gives us a glimpse. First he received some news that caused him to change plans and move on across the Sea of Galilee due to Herod’s suspicions regarding Him. Also, Jesus needed time to grieve at hearing the news of John’s death. But, then a crowd of the hurting called for an impromptu picnic lunch for just a few—5000+ courtesy of a little boy whose Mama prepared a paper sack of fishes and loaves of bread. He willingly shared what he had and there were 12 baskets left over! Imagine his story when he returned home! Sensing the people wished to make him the “bread king” Jesus sends the disciples away and climbs the near mountain to converse with His Father.  On the 4th watch, between 3 and 6 a.m., Jesus descends the mountain and walks on the water to his disciples who are rowing for their life and getting nowhere. As he arrives near the boat their fears surface and they think they have seen a ghost. Impetuous Peter’s faith is tested and Jesus rescues him from the stormy sea.   And lastly, Jesus goes to Gennesaret and his healing ministry resumes.

When I look at my day and His day I wonder where he got the energy to meet each and every need!

Jesus used every opportunity in His day to meet the needs of others, and through each one teaches us important biblical principles. Jesus was teaching his disciples and us to see every interruption as a divine opportunity to serve others and in turn serve God. Think of every interruption as God’s test to see if we are ready, willing and able to do His work. Being alone with God teaches us that if Jesus needed to spend time in prayer we need to do it all the more! Also, Jesus was teaching the disciples that faith overcomes fear therefore we should be stop being afraid, He has promised to be with us and never to leave us.  

Guess I need to get busy…what is next on Your agenda for me Jesus?

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What Rule Book Are You Following…OUCH!

ImageIn any sport there are rules which are listed in a play book. Players need to memorize them and abide by them. The Pharisees had their rule book and to be a “righteous” Pharisee one studied it religiously!  In Matthew 12 it seems that the Pharisees and their religiosity or legalism surfaces more clearly than ever before. It is almost as if they ripped out the verse from Isaiah 28:10 “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” As they followed Jesus through the grain field they reminded him that we must be doing things in such and such a way. They whipped out their “rule book” to discipline the disciples, but failed to discipline themselves. They may have carried their rule book around with them as judgmental sticks but failed to see the context of Isaiah’s words. Their critical spirit is abundantly clear, in fact more so than ever before in the book of Matthew and our author has captured their critical eye as well as their vociferousness. According to their “rule book,” one may only walk 2000 paces on the Sabbath which leaves us to wonder—what they were doing in the middle of the grain field on the Sabbath?

But, moving on, the crux of this chapter is heard in our Master’s words: If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. From the grain field to the synagogue they follow our Lord. It is here, once again, that we see the lack of mercy all because Jesus spoke a word of healing…note that!!! Jesus spoke not touched the man with the withered hand…but again….*sigh* it was after all the Sabbath. Jesus asked them, where are your priorities? Is your  mercy greater for an animal that has no soul but you are unwilling to show mercy to a man so in need that he can work and take care of his family? Matthew leaves no doubt in our minds as to what the Pharisees were truly seeking. They really did not care about this man, they wanted  a way to assassinate the Lord of the Sabbath. They were unwilling to care for a man who thus would no longer be a burden to society but were willing to assassinate/murder Jesus.  They refused to show mercy but were willing to murder. This leaves us again to wondering why? Jesus has the answer:  they are blind and they are leading the blind…both will fall into the pit. Their hearts are governed by the rule book rather than the love of God.

After both of these incidents Jesus pointed to the real reason for their hatred and rejection. It lay in their heart. Jesus used the illustration of a fruit tree to capture this to the listening audience. He said: One could know one’s fruit by observing and listening to their words; For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. And then he added this warning: you will give an account for every worthless word and by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Out of this chapter there are several applications but one comes to mind that are applicable even now. It is my “ouch.” How often do I fail to show mercy just because it is inconvenient, it does not meet my time schedule? How often do I take verses out of context to show my reason why something should be thus and so? I have been called a “rule oriented” person! :-(Today may I demonstrate the Fruit of the Holy Spirit in showing God’s mercy and justice rather than a myriad of sacrifices, line upon line, precept upon precept, rules upon rules which are piling up on my altar thinking this is what God wants.

Thanking God for His mercies! They are new every morning…great is His faithfulness!

 

 

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