Saturday, October 3, 2009

9-12 Video

video

video

9-12 Tea Party in Washington DC part 2

Just some pictures that were taken that day



















9-12 March on DC part 1

When I found out about the tea parties earlier this year, I wanted to join in them here locally, but it seemed that I didn't know where they were or how to connect. I wanted to join not out of hostility toward our government, but because I am gravely concerned about the course of direction our country is taking. It did not start with our current president, but this has been growing over the years.

Here is my great concern: We are adopting a mentality that our problems are too large to be fixed by anyone but the government. The problem is: the government is us! We fund the government work so if we say we need something we are paying for it ourselves and at a higher cost than we could have achieved by going to private and personal solutions to our problems. The government adds the costs of administration that are higher than any private enterprise. What you get is a disconnect from the solution, because by adding layers and layers of administration, you almost guarantee mismanagement (you can blame the government for that later) but you also become removed from the solution as it is no longer personal.

If I know that you are in need, it would be wrong to ask someone else to help out when I am able. It would certainly be wrong to rob from someone else in order to meet your need. That was Robin Hood's gig. If your need is greater than what I can supply, then I can help to make your need known to those who can help, but you see in this scenario we are all becoming personally involved in seeing your need met. We are vested in your welfare and you then are accountable to us as your need is supplied. Not accountable that you are forced to repay; but that you use the resources to supply your need and you take personal action to secure your welfare for the future. If I am in need, I must honor your terms for receiving help.

If I send you to a government agency to receive help, they must create layers and layers of buracracy to ensure that your need is legitimate (because they don't know you) and they must create a mechanism to limit the flow to you to keep you from taking advantage of the resources. They may never see you again and have limited ways to hold the numbers of people needing help accountable for the help they receive. If I am in need I must play by their rules and they hold the power over my life.

Our country was founded on the principle that government should be limited and that the power should remain in the hands of the people. The more services you get from the government the more power you yield to them. We were founded on the concept that we should limit our times of need and work hard to maintain our independence, but our attitudes have shifted.

I remember my Dad's attitude toward credit. He saw going to a bank for a loan as an admission of failure. He saw that the lender then had power to influence your decisions and he would not live in servitude to the banker. Now we live in an age where the vast majority of American's have significant debt (Credit Card, Auto and Mortgage). Servitude is common, so it is not surprising that we would now look to the government to provide for our needs when we can no longer borrow to maintain the standard of living we enjoy. The cost of healthcare is great, but the loss of freedoms will be even greater if we allow the government to solve for our needs.

I am an oddball, I have never felt that Social Security was in my best interest. It was a temporary program to sustain the nation when the government created catastrophic financial failure. I don't believe that it ever should have continued. These social safety nets that we have like Social Security, Unemployment, Earned Income Tax Credit all take money from the pockets of tax paying citizens and redistribute wealth to those in need. I honestly think that we could have done better as Christians to help than the government can. Can you imagine the witness we would have? I am not suggesting a mission of social justice; I am suggesting that those who are truly poor and widowed should be able to look to us for a leg up.

My trip to the 9-12 tea party was amazing. There was not the hostility that people claim, though there were people who did not say kind words about our government or our President. I believe that even those leaders who are not godly are placed in office by God for a purpose. I think that purpose is to drive us back to our God and to seek his wisdom and strength. Israel asked for leaders like the other nations had and God granted their request. It eventually landed them in bondage, but God was faithful even then to see them through. I don't believe that tea party goers should compare Obama with Hitler (that is disrespectful), but I do think that we should all be alert to see the end of the path we are taking and to take action now before it is too late.

I think that we can honor our authorities and still speak out against abuses that we see and work to correct them. I think it means that we are writing to our representatives in government and sharing our concerns (respectfully).

At the tea party on 9-12, I was amazed that so many people could come together and be so kind toward one another. Though we were a crowd of at least a million I believe, people were gentle and kind. They said "pardon me" and "excuse me" when passing through the masses of people. People weren't prone to pushing and shoving. They were respectful, not hateful. I have been in crowds at fairs, in New York City, Rome Italy and even Washington DC as people were trying to get from one place to another and were not as gentle.

There were people who came from all over the United States. I understand that the garage at Union Station can hold 5000 buses and it was full. If each bus had 50 people, that is a sizeable crowd already. I also heard that you couldn't get train, plane or even car into the city due to the crowds. It was a huge mass of people to be sure. I was amazed at the number of citizens in walkers and wheel chairs who endured the physical challenges of being there who made the effort to come. Of all the people in the world who have a sense of the cost of healthcare, I am sure it was them. But they came in protest.

I got to thank one of the police officers for coming to work that day as I am sure that having any crowd that large is a job to manage. The officer replied to me that it wasn't a bad day at all. The police weren't concerned which tells me that this assembly was a peaceable one.

I travelled with a bus group from Richmond VA by myself. I was not concerned for my safety even once. On an average day in DC I can't say that would be true. In my next blog entry, look at some of the pictures and video I took.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nehemiah Chap 11-12

In Chapters 11 and 12, Nehemiah records the repopulation of the city of Jerusalem. One tenth of the populations from each of the tribes was to live in Jerusalem while the rest remained in their own towns caring for their ancestral property. Nehemiah records not only names but positions that were held. Each man passing on a legacy to future generations. It is easy to say that by the time you die that you would like to accomplish certain things…to talk of achievements as being in the distant future, but we don’t know how long we will live and we never know if today might be the day our name goes into the newspaper headlines. Each and every day we are faced with choices and those choices have long lasting consequences.

Occasionally, men get to have a legacy by virtue of some serendipitous event, but more often than not, our legacy is a function of our character which is built day after day as we choose to follow the Lord in the mundane. Today we are building our legacy that will be remembered into the future. God graciously allows us to choose for ourselves what kind of legacy we will leave. Will it be for good or evil? Will we depend on our own efforts or will we glorify God and draw on his strength to meet the challenges of the day?

We have only one life to live and we can live for ourselves, for someone else or for the Lord. In the end our daily choices will evidence our hearts passion. What will those choices say about you? From this passage we learn that God honors our acts done according to his instruction.

Nehemiah Chap 10

Imagine having your name written down for all of prosperity to read that you have affixed your seal to a binding agreement with God. Would you rejoice to be counted? Nehemiah carefully recorded the names of the men who had covenanted with God so everyone would know. I think that if it were me, the recording of my name would make me be very careful about my conduct so that I would not dishonor the covenant I made. But when you think about it, isn’t it true of all Christians? Our name has been written in the book of Life forever, we bear the name of Christ. That should make us more conscious of our conduct. In this chapter, we learn that God’s people must be holy because they bear his name.
Like the Israelites we are called to a Holy standard of conduct. We are not supposed to live like everyone else in the world who doesn’t know the Lord. Our choices should be honoring to God; we don’t live as if there is no accountability, but we live a life pleasing to the Lord knowing that we will one day give an account to Him. What would holy living look like in your home?
God commanded the Israelites to be a separate nation and to not mix with the surrounding countries. He did this not because the surrounding countries were less deserving of God’s love. The Israelites showed over and over again that they didn’t deserve the grace that God bestowed on them. It was to keep their focus on serving the Lord and living holy lives. This was foreign to the other nations and these surrounding nations would not be good influences on them.
The standard of living for the Lord is something that we don’t often see even solid Christian communities. God wanted his people to be completely loyal to him and to serve him alone. He had a standard of giving so that those in full time ministry would not lack. So often we bring God our leftovers. We pray as we drift into sleep at the end of a day, we put off Bible Study because we have a full and busy schedule. We excuse our raw words or selfishness as understandable given our conditions, but God has a much higher standard for us than we often have for ourselves.
God called the Israelites to consecrate to the Lord, their first and their best as an indication of their loyalty and commitment to service. We see the Israelites having confessed their sins rededicating themselves to the Lord. Thank God for his grace and mercy in our lives and his long suffering toward us as we sin, confess and rededicate ourselves over and over. What would I be willing to sacrifice as a token of my loyalty? Have I ever truly sacrificed at all? As I grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ I find that I learn more about how to live holy and what sacrifice really means. It makes me all the more grateful to be adopted by him and to want to live a holy life.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nehemiah 9

When I first completed my study of Nehemiah a few months ago, I was struck by chapter 9 and how much it seemed relevant to today. I wrote in my other blog about it. You can check it out here: http://happysteward.blogspot.com/2009/06/real-economic-stimulus.html. It seemed to me that so many of our economic stimulus efforts were ineffective and not long sighted.

In chapter 9 we find the people of Israel humbled by their sins and wanting to confess before God and restore fellowship with him. They pray acknowledging the faithfulness of God to his people and how unfaithful they themselves have been in the relationship. We need to have the same attitude when we come before the Lord in prayer. God has been faithful and has extended grace after grace in our lives, but so often we live without regard for him.

Israel acknowledges that this was the pattern of their lives as well and confessed their sin to God. They were so serious about their commitment to change that they made a binding agreement before God. Are we so serious about abandoning our sin that we would write our confession and make a binding pledge before God to change our ways? What would you write in your agreement?

As we see in this chapter, sin must be addressed in our lives to maintain fellowship with God. I pray we will all choose to see our sinful choices the same way God does and abandon them.

Nehmiah 8

Have you ever been humbled by your time in the word? You come to praise and worship God and open your Bible to drink in a word of encouragement or remembrance of God's faithfulness to his people and find yourself moved and convicted by the words you read? It is hard to keep an attitude of joy when you have tears streaming down your face. You want to kneel before the Lord and relieve yourself of the pain you feel in knowing you have dishonored God.

The people of Israel found themselves in exactly that position as they heard Ezra reading the law before the people after the census was taken. As the Priests and Levites explained the reading to the people, people were struck by how far their lifestyles had strayed from the standard God set for his people. Even though the people were mourning for their sins, Nehemiah tells them this is not the right time. There will be an opportunity for you to deal with the sins you have committed, but right now they are in the midst of celebrating the faithfulness of God and it is important that the people take their focus off themselves and really worship God.

Our relationship with God is multifaceted and we must not neglect it. First and foremost, we need to give God recognition for his wonderful power he has displayed. We have many records through scripture of how God intervened in creation to provide for mankind. He created the moon, the stars, and our earth. He provides us rain and sun; desire and provision. We must take time to see the hand of God and thank him for his wonderful power, grace and love he has displayed. Even beyond the records within the Bible, we know of God's faithfulness in our own lives as well. If we think about it we can see God's hand at work providing for our circumstances, and our provision. It is only right that we give God the high place he deserves.

Only after we recognize God's authority and greatness can we then confess our sins and recognize how far short we fall. There is a place for us to confess sins and we should do it often keeping a short list, but only after He receives our worship.

There is also a place for us to thank him for all he has done. Thankful hearts are humble hearts and they do not become bitter for things they do not have but are grateful for what they do. As a financial planner, I believe that our lack of gratitude to God for our provision is the greatest hindrance to our planning for the future. We seek what we don't have today and sacrifice our future in order to have something that God did not see fit to give us.

Finally, there is a place for us to bring our needs to God. He wants us to ask for his continued provision and to share our concerns before him. In bringing supplications, we acknowledge him again as our provider and we look to him to supply our every need. From this passage we see that God's word is able to pierce hearts and restore fellowship with him. Have you read his word for you today?

Nehemiah 7

If your story could be recorded for generations to read down through the ages, what would it say? How has God specifically gifted you for service and what have you done with the gifts he has provided? Nehemiah was a detailed record keeper. Thank God that he placed this on Nehemiah's heart to record the hard work that was done and the scope of work that had been accomplished.

Now that the work was done, it is important to make appointments to positions so that the work can be maintained into the future and history need not repeat itself. Nehemiah appoints persons of strong character to serve in places of leadership in Jerusalem. If God was looking down from Heaven today where would he find those people of strong character who will serve him?

Nehemiah had rebuilt the city, but now that the work was complete, it was time to bring back the residents, so he calls a census to be take. He records the numbers that had returned from exile back to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. Not only does he record the 42,360 people returning, but also their servants and their animals. He records the wealth that was given to the work of the priests.

Nehemiah makes it clear that there was a response to the work that had been done and a desire among the people to re-establish God's holy work in the land where they have returned. I wonder, when our story is written, will such a record be recorded for our lives? Will generations see us as having a desire to serve God or will he see us living among the residents here content with worldly living?

We leave a legacy for good or bad. Today may be the day that people remember for generations, what will it say about you?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nehemiah Chap 6

This chapter reminds me of a political campaign we might see. The opposition tries to openly oppose, intimidate and hinder their opponent, but when all else fails...malign them. Nehemiah is completing the wall and Sanballat hears about it. At first he calls for a meeting (come into my parlor said the spider to the fly). Nehemiah sees through the ploy and refuses several times. Then he receives a note from the enemy laying false charges to be sent to the king. In this passage we are going to see how God gives wisdom and strength to be victorious over the craftiest of enemies.

I don't know if you have ever been maligned before, but I have and it is hard to endure. I remember when my brother would say mean things about me as a child mostly just to stir me into a fight with him. (that's just how things were...just like Jacob and Esau we were). He was usually successful at getting to me; I felt the great need to defend my honor. I have operated much like that until a couple of years ago when the Lord helped me to see that I could trust him for my defense. I did and he did some wonderful things through that.

Nehemiah doesn't overreact like I have done in the past, but merely replies that the rumor is false and keeps on about his business. I love how he didn't become defensive but merely stood boldly in dismissing the allegation. Nehemiah had so well organized his mission that he did not lose his focus with the distractions from the enemy.

Let's make this a little personal. Are your projects well organized so as to keep you focused on the main thing without getting distracted by less important activity? One area where I see that I need to be on guard is in my Bible Study and prayer time. It is so easy for me to delay or get distracted by thoughts for my activities in the day and lose my focus on what I am reading or what I was praying about. Recently, I got an email from a missionary that I have come to know encouraging us to pray for the missionaries in the field and that it was the greatest support we could offer. I was so convicted of my inattention to prayer for them. They need me and depend on me to pray and I have let them down. I also sometimes forget to remember my unsaved loved ones in prayer before the Lord. Think about it; if we aren't praying for them, who is? Prayer and Bible Study should be on your project list; not that it has to be drudgery, but that it never gets neglected.

Nehemiah went to the Lord to ask him to strengthen his hands to complete the work. The enemy wanted to frighten them and sap their strength. Think about it...if you are focused on fear, you cannot focus on the tasks you are given.

In this passage we learn that the enemies were not necessarily from within. Tobiah had connections with the Israelites inside by virtue of marrying into the family. Letters were sent to him from the family reporting everything that was said. One of these letters came to the attention of Shemaiah who called to Nehemiah for a visit. He seemed concerned for Nehemiah and wanted to offer him protection because the enemy planned to kill him. Because Nehemiah was given great discernment from God he could see through the plot to discredit him and refused to hide in the temple. I would have made him look weak before the people and he needed the people to follow his leadership.

Again, Nehemiah goes to God in prayer and shares his frustrations and asks God to remember his enemies. When evil is done against you, how do you respond?

In verses 15 and 16, I love how Nehemiah documents the number of days it took to complete the wall. 52 days...Amazing. That is how the enemies could know that God's hand was on the work. When they realized they were not opposing Nehemiah but God himself, they became fearful themselves. Are our deeds done in such a way that they testify of God's greatness? Can people look at them and say, "it had to be God?" I think that the more I have learned to trust God and to lean on him for strength and wisdom, the more he has responded and given me the resources needed to do things his way. The more I do that, the more I can see God's hand and give him the glory for the project. Like Nehemiah, we can experience God's wisdom and strength to be victorious over the craftiest of enemies.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nehemiah Chap 5

So far in Nehemiah, we see how the enemies from outside the camp hindered the work, but in this chapter we learn that the injustice wasn't limited to the likes of Sanballat and Tobiah, but also there was injustice inside the camp. Nehemiah show us how to defend the oppressed and rules without harsh burdens on the people. When you see injustice around you, what do you do to respond to the need? We learn in chapter 5 that we should always do right out of reverence for God.

At the beginning of this chapter we find that men and women came to Nehemiah to make him aware of the mistreatment they were enduring at the hands of their Jewish brothers. They had great numbers, but didn't have enough to eat during the famine. In exchange for food, they mortgaged their homes, their fields and their vineyards. They had to borrow money to pay their taxes and sell their children into slavery. They incurred so much debt they had no hope of getting free and were perpetually being oppressed by the rulers of the people. They were powerless to do anything to save themselves as the fields were mortgaged and they were redirecting all their proceeds to pay their debts. They knew the truth of Proverbs 22:7 "just as the rich rule poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender."

The same strategies that keep people oppressed and enslaved today were used in the time Nehemiah. Think about this... whoever controls the purse strings controls your life. This passage in Nehemiah could be a page from our newspaper today. I was very encouraged to see that Nehemiah was a strong leader who was not afraid to confront wrong. I wonder if the same could be said for me. Do I go to the effort to make things right when I see wrongs being committed?

Nehemiah was outraged that the leaders would treat the people this way. He called them together to give them an opportunity to speak for themselves about the charges that were brought to him. When they were confronted they had nothing to say in their defense. I think they knew that what they were doing was wrong and they couldn't defend it. They were caught.

I think of the recent news with Governor Mark Sanford being caught in adultery. When he was caught by the media he didn't defend his actions, but renounced them. Interesting though that he didn't renounce them before being caught. Before we point our finger to others too much, how many times have we done the same thing justifying our wrong choices and rebellion. Have you ever said "I am sorry, officer when caught speeding?" Do you ever knowingly speed? Do you ever use your employer's materials and equipment for personal purposes? We go down a very slippery slope accusing others and evaluating ourselves by a lesser standard.

It demonstrates that we need enforcement to keep us honest. Nehemiah needed to stand against the wrongs being committed in order to correct the situation. If we merely say that we can't judge another's behavior, we will never stand for right and we will be guilty of allowing the wrong continue. People who are guilty of wrong do not want their deeds exposed because they know that they would have to change their behavior. What deeds are you doing that you don't want exposed. Change now before the light is shone on them. Encourage others to change their sinful ways before they stand before judgment with no defense as these leaders did.

Nehemiah had sufficient burdens as a leader just confronting the opposition of Sanballat and encouraging the workers to keep progressing in the face of the enemy. Now there is internal strife that must be dealt with. He needs to stand boldly against internal abuses. He is a true leader in that he forfeits what he could require as governor in order to strengthen the people and set the example for them to focus on the task of rebuilding.

Nehemiah was a man willing to do right out of reverence for God. He stood for justice, he had compassion for the oppressed and he led as a benevolent leader. Will you take courage to stand against the wrongs around you? Nehemiah kept his focus on the Lord and because he was strong in the Lord he was able to boldly confront wrongs and to enforce right. Can you?

Nehemiah Chap 4

When you encounter opposition how do you respond? When someone maligns you, do you counter back with choice words of your own; do you walk away in self pity? Nehemiah gives us some good guidance in Chapter 4 where he shows us that opposition tests our faith and increases our stamina as we live our lives for Jesus.

We start out chapter 4 with mockers speaking against the rebuilding. There are several rounds of threats each escalating in greater danger. At first it is just words but by the end, it is clear that annihilation is their objective. When the opposition wasn't successful in deterring the work of building the wall through mockery, threats turned to physical harassment and then open hostility.

Now here is Nehemiah's example to us in facing opposition: each threat Nehemiah repeatedly did two things; 1. prayer to God and 2. diligent activity to defend his work. So often I am guilty of one or the other, and frustrated when I had limited success or no success at all. In this passage we learn that faith in action stands against any foe.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer; that is how he could know that this was a mission of God that he was called to. It was also how he gained his focus and strength. Nehemiah could confidently proceed with the work because he had God's clear vision for the project. How often have I undertaken projects and felt frustrated or defeated because I did not pray and have God's clear direction and purpose. For Nehemiah, prayer was his first and foremost weapon. Nehemiah looked to the Lord for his defense, but he also prepared his men for battle at the same time knowing that God often uses his people to accomplish his purposes.

Nehemiah also encouraged the people to consider how God was greater than their enemy and to trust him to supply their need. As enemy threats increased, the people started to become discouraged and fearful. The hard work was taking its toll on their stamina. The project was huge without opposition. The threats made the completion of the wall virtually impossible. Nehemiah needed not only stand against the enemy, he needed to strengthen the resolve of his people to persevere.

Nehemiah not only relied on prayer, but he acted on his prayers, joining God in the defense of the building project. He outlined 5 strategies to prepare the people for battle:
1. 1/2 people worked while 1/2 defended the workers
2. workers and defenders were armed to stand against the enemy if needed
3. workers worked all day and then guarded their work at night
4. trumpet signal used to call the people to the location of a threat
5. men wore weapon at all time; even when getting water.

Every defense that could be made was. Nehemiah didn't go about his business and not prepare to address the threat; he looked to the Lord first and then prepared his people to join the Lord in battle against the enemy.

Whatever your opposition today, you can be assured that faith in action can stand against any foe. Your enemy may want to discourage you and make you feel insufficient to the task, but if you belong to the Lord, you have a defender on your side that is greater than any opposition you face. Look to him for your strength and then stand firm!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nehemiah Chapter 3

When is the last time you gave recognition to all those who have helped you in your work? Nehemiah is very careful to document all the people who have helped build the wall. He wanted there to be a good record. Section by section he lists out who did the work and the type of work they did.

Interestingly, Nehemiah also notes the people who didn't contribute. Look at verse 5... "their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors" I am not exactly sure what happened; was it pride that made the nobles think they shouldn't have to work or was it submission to the supervisors authority? In any case, we know that there were some who did not carry their load. I hope that when my work is written down, that no one will say that of me.

Here is another interesting thing I found...Hananiah and Malkijah show up twice once in verses 8 and 11 and then again in verses 30 and 31. Clearly there were some that carried more than their fair load. Nehemiah was faithful to record the work so that their names are forever examples for us today as we glean inspiration for our day today.

Another thing I noticed that Shallum who ruled a 1/2 district of Jerusalem was not only working hard, but also he got his daughters to help as well. We don't know their names, but clearly the work was not limited to the men.

There were also people who were not from Jerusalem who came to help with the project. In verse 13 we see the residents of Zanoah were helping out. A bold move considering the mounting opposition from other area forces, but they were written down in the record as helping out as well.

Even the priests who I would not have pegged for building walls were helping.

There were gates, towers and walls to be constructed and anyone who was willing was tagged for the work. Thank God Nehemiah recorded the help that he received. My application today is to make sure that I recognize someone who has been a help to me and thank God for them. No one should have to work without being given credit; but ultimately we need to credit God for all the work that is completed in the end. Let's be people looking to give credit where credit is due!

Nehemiah Chapter 2:11-20

I am a person of action. I love having a project and I like to dig right in and start making progress. In this section of Nehemiah, I find that jumping right into the middle is not always the best course of action. Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and doesn't begin the project immediately but surveys the work three days after his arrival. He didn't share God's calling with anyone immediately. He was clearly collecting data and learning about the needs and the resources that were available to him.

As I begin a new work that has been a large focus of what I am doing is learning about what programs exist in our area to help people in financial distress and what is the best way we can achieve financial stability. I need to make sure that I have completed the community assessment and developed some strong goals and assessed my resources before going off into action. I need to be careful about presenting my agenda before learning about the agenda's of others.

Nehemiah did his first survey of the city after dark with a few escorts to guide him around. I am sure that his heart was sorrowful as he saw first hand the destruction of Jerusalem.

After surveying the damage he went to the priests and nobles of the city to encourage them to join in the rebuilding. He told them about how God had granted him favor with the king and his calling to the project. Seeing only the upside of the project, the priests and nobles agreed. If Sanballat had been present that might have been another issue as they had lived under the oppression others for so long; I am sure they were weary and afraid.

I love how Nehemiah didn't shy away from confrontation of Sanballat, but gave glory to God even before the project was begun. Nehemiah was assured of his calling and therefore he was assured of it's success he could boldly say that God would complete the work and they would have no share or claim to the city after its completion.

As I consider applications for my own life, I think that first and foremost, I need to continually be praying to have the assurance of my calling and to know how to best direct my actions to see my own project through to its completion.

Secondly, I need not to begin a work until it is properly assessed and the survey is completed. Having a plan is important before the project begins not developing the plan as you go.

Third, I think that we need to bring others into our projects and allow them to share in the work and to lend their expertise.

Fourth, we need not fear or shy away from confrontation or opposition. We can know that our God is greater than any enemy we face and we don't need to be ashamed of our work done for him.

Finally, we need to give God the glory right from the get go. God's glory is our mission. Did God get glory for your day yesterday? If not, let's make sure he gets the glory for our work done today!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nehemiah Chapter 2: 1-10

At the beginning of Chapter 2, there is an interesting scenario. The King seems interested in the welfare of his cupbearer, Nehemiah; but clearly Nehemiah is nervous and afraid. We don't know him well at this point; but later we learn that Nehemiah is not easily taken off his game. If Nehemiah was afraid, I am sure there was history to substantiate negative responses toward requests. Nehemiah had prayed and clearly felt that he should bring the King into the matter of Jerusalem's devastation and request his support.

We are reading the story knowing the end from the beginning, but I think back to the times when God in response to my prayers has led me to do things that I was uncomfortable with (like making peace with an instigator in my life or asking for forgiveness when I was only 1/2 of the conflict or letting go of a particular means of security in favor of obedience) I am sympathetic to Nehemiah's position.

But look how God began moving before him... 1. He didn't introduce the matter, the King asked about his sad countenance, 2. the King asked him what he wanted - Nehemiah didn't have to ask.
Nehemiah didn't answer how the King could help without lifting up a quick prayer while he was there and about to speak. Nehemiah's reliance on prayer is amazing. He didn't do anything without putting the issue before the Lord and asking for help.

After praying he asks for some time off to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild. After getting a positive response he then asks for a little more - safe passage through all the nations he needs to pass throug and a little lumber for the job. I am impressed that God worked on Artaxeres heart even before the request...and gives even more than asked. Nehemiah got army officers and calvary to accompany him.

At the very end of this section we find the opposition identified setting the stage for the conflict that Nehemiah has to stand against in the upcoming chapters.

Now, what are the applications for our lives? I think the clear application from this is that if we will seek God's leading and follow it, He will order our steps and give favor to us in our service. Nehemiah was a man of prayer and service.

To be selected as a servant for his work, we need to be knowledgeable of God's commands and be walking with him daily. We can't just neglect study and prayer and expect to be found useful. What am I doing to improve my walk with the Lord and do I give prayer the precidence it needs?

Another application we can take is that if the Lord calls us to a work, he may take us out of our comfort zone, but he will still go with us and empower us to complete the task if we will be faithful.

Finally, I think we need to be aware that if the Lord calls us to an assignment, it is very likely we will encounter opposition. That is not an indication to turn back but to press forward. The enemy does not like seeing the Lord be victorious and get glory. He will use the means at his disposal to thwart God's projects.

Nehemiah is already an inspiration for me. I hope you find him an encouragement to your soul too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nehemiah Chapter 1

Nehemiah starts his story by giving you some background. Who he is, when this takes place, and who he works for. He was serving King Artaxerxes in his 20th year of reign when one of his brothers arrive with some friends to let him know the condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was brokenhearted to hear that the people were living in such disgrace and that the city of Jerusalem would be so destroyed and lying in ruins. His brothers had traveled a very long way to deliver the news. They had no way of knowing that Nehemiah could help but I am sure his brother knew that Nehemiah was a man who was resourceful and he worked for the king. His brother must have hoped that Nehemiah would be able to work some favors with his position.

Nehemiah's response is noteable. He first mourned. He was visibly shaken by the news and I am sure he started thinking about how to make things better. His first stop was in prayer to the Lord. I just loved the prayer. It starts at verse 5 and continues to the end of the chapter. He has a model for us.

1. Nehemiah recognizes the greatness of God and his relationship with his people.
2. He acknowledges that the covenant with the people looks to their love and obedience.
3. It is on the basis of the established covenant that he lays out his request before God.
4. Nehemiah confesses not only his own sin, but the sins of the entire nation of Israel
5. He refers to promises given to Moses and asks God to bring them back together from the places they were scattered.
6. He reminds God that the nation of Israel is his people who have been redeemed by him.
7. He asks for success with the king and God's favor to be upon him.

As I look at this chapter I am inspired to not look to human salvation as perhaps Nehemiah's brother hoped for but to go to God and acknowledge his might and our full dependence on him for our success. I think that I for one often don't confess my sin as I should. We humans often discount our own behavior and presume upon God's grace when we should be asking for forgiveness.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer and great faith in God. God needs more men and women like him who will first go to him in prayer before trying to solve the problem on our own. I need to end this so that I can go talk with my Lord. Do you want to too?

Nehemiah Study

This summer I have begun a study in Nehemiah. I think I was doing a devotional one day and realized how he had to endure a lot of opposition and had a lot of leadership challenges. I am beginning a new endeavor at work and am challenged with creating a program that will reach our entire region with tools to increase their financial stability. Since God opened this door for me, I realize that this is his endeavor and that whatever is done should glorify him. I am also humbled as this is a project bigger than anything I have ever done before; I know I need the Lord's help to make this a success. Nehemiah seemed to have a lot in common with me.

I am hoping that as I go through this study, that I will see principles I can apply to leadership and project management. I hope that the Lord will show me how I can increase in my reliance on the Lord and accomplish his purposes in my life and in the lives of those I meet along the way.

I am thrilled at the prospect that the Lord might use me to minister to others in need. I just know I can't do it in my own effort, that I need his wisdom, provision and strength to see this project through.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Blog

Check out my new blog at http://www.happysteward.blogspot.com/ It is called In God We Trust. I hope you enjoy.

I hope to encourage you to apply God's financial principals as you make spending and savings decisions throughout your days. Learn what God has to say about our money decisions!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Great Disconnect

I have pasted this excerpt into my blog because I believe that it has so much relevance for today. For me, for those I encounter. I hope you read and enjoy. It is a bit lengthy so you might just want to buy the book:

The Great Disconnect
By Andy StanleyExcerpted from The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, (Thomas Nelson, 2008).

I'm a reasonably smart person. College took me a year longer than most people, but I finally graduated with a three-point-something. However, when it comes to following directions, I'm definitely not smarter than a fifth grader. I get lost easily and often. My wife would attest to the fact that I've pretty much mastered the "art of lostness." It is so bad that when Sandra sends me on an errand, she carries her phone around the house with her, because she knows I'm going to call. This is in spite of the fact that she sends me out with a map with the route highlighted in yellow, along with a complete set of written directions. My intentions are good. I'm just lousy with directions. And she knows it. The kids know it. Heck, everybody who knows me knows it. I mean well. But my good intentions don't really make any difference. I still get turned around.

The upside to all of this is that I can speak as an authority on the art of getting and being lost. There are three things you should know about those of us who are directionally challenged. First, we don’t get lost on purpose. Nobody does that. In fact, just the opposite is true. Since we know we are likely to get lost, we work hard at paying attention and following directions. But we just don’t do well in unfamiliar territory.
The second thing I've learned from getting lost is that I never know exactly when it happens. I never know when I've crossed that line between I know exactly where I am and I have no idea where I am. I never know the precise moment in which I've made an incorrect turn or taken a wrong route. There is never a moment when a light goes off in my brain and I think, Gee, I just got lost. If I back up a hundred feet, I'll be un-lost. Being lost is something that dawns on me. Usually after I've been lost for-well, I don't know how long I'm lost before I realize I'm lost. Which I guess is the point I'm trying to make.
There's a third thing about getting lost. The road I'm on always determines where I end up. Pretty insightful, eh? It really doesn't matter where I intended to be; the path I take determines my ultimate destination. Plans, intentions, spousal expectations, none of that counts. I always end up where the road I've chosen takes me. And that, as you know by now, is the theme of this book.
From Where I Sit
My observation (and experience, for that matter) indicates that humans have a propensity for choosing paths that do not lead in the direction they want to go. For much of our decision-making, we lean hard into our intentions and pay very little attention to the direction of the path we've chosen. I see it all the time. Even with very smart people.
It breaks my heart how many people I speak with who don't connect the dots between the choices they make and the outcomes they experience. They've come to believe the popular notion that as long as their intentions are good, as long as their hearts are in the right place (whatever that means), as long as they do their best and try their hardest, it doesn’t matter which path they take. They believe somehow they will end up in a good place.
But life doesn’t work that way.
There is an amazing piece of literature tucked away in the book of Proverbs that illustrates this disconnect better than anything else I know of. In Proverbs 7, Solomon described an encounter that he witnessed from the vantage point of his upstairs window. Because he was physically removed from what he saw, he could not hear what the characters were saying to each other. But he provided us with their conversation as he imagined it. It's also possible that this account is a parable based upon his personal experience. Whether autobiographical or an observation, his story provides extraordinary insight into our tendency to disconnect direction from destination.
Solomon wrote:
At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice. I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. (Prov. 7:6-7)
Solomon looked out his window and saw a kid. We don't know how old this kid was, but from what we learn later, we know he was at least north of puberty. Solomon described this kid as "simple" and "lacking judgment"." We may be tempted to ask, "How did he know?" And the answer is, all youths lack judgment. They are all "simple" or naive. All youths lack judgment, because judgment requires time and experience. Young people haven't lived long enough to acquire the experience that can produce good judgment. I say can because experience doesn’t always lead to good judgment. But experience is certainly critical to good judgment.
Shaunti Feldhahn, in her fascinating book For Parents Only, cites a study claiming that the frontal lobe of the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the midtwenties. The frontal lobe is where our reasoning skills reside. This explains why adolescents often engage in high-risk activities, they don't make the connection between their choices and the potential consequences. The point is that all youths lack the judgment that can come from age and experience. This seemingly insignificant detail is actually important to the narrative, as you are about to discover.
He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. (vv. 8-9)
Now, you don't have to be a Bible scholar to anticipate where this story is heading, do you? A young guy cruising the streets at sunset, heading in the direction of a specific woman's home. As we will see in a second, he knew who this woman was, and he knew she was married. And apparently he knew that her husband was out of town and that she would be prowling around the street corner, looking for, well, just looking. That alone should have stopped him in his tracks. But it didn't. In fact, that was the very reason he was headed in her direction.
If we were able to get inside this kid's head and tap into the soundtrack he had chosen for this particular evening's activities, we might have heard "Party Like a Rock Star" or, if he was a fan of classic rock, perhaps "Born to Be Wild." Either way, he was confident that this was going to be a night to remember, and perhaps one to brag to his friends about the next day during PE.
Meanwhile, back at the window, Solomon was watching this young man, and there was a soundtrack playing in his head as well: the music from Jaws. Why? Because there was a marked contrast between what this kid was expecting to experience and what Solomon knew was in his future. Why? Because the older, wiser king understood from experience where this path would lead. The adolescent was preoccupied with what he believed would be an exciting event, a night of passion. A night disconnected from every other event in his life. But Solomon knew better. This night was not an isolated event disconnected from all the other events in this young man's life. This night was a step down a path. A path, like all paths, that leads somewhere. This particular path had a predictable destination. But you don’t need to be the wisest man in the world to know that. You could predict the outcome of this encounter with nothing to draw on but your own experience or the experience of someone you know. Funny how that works. What's so obvious to those watching often escapes us.
The story continues:
Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.) (vv. 10-12)
Solomon knew a thing or two about women. He made his share of poor choices in this arena. He knew from expertise that this woman was toxic. And having been there himself, he also understood why this young man couldn't see it.
She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows. So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and I have found you!" (vv. 13-15)
This section requires a bit of explanation. When this woman said she had fellowship offerings at home, she was essentially saying, "Look, I’m not a hooker. I have plenty of money at home. I'm not after your money, I want you!" She was also implying that she had been to the temple and had everything squared away with God. Having already taken her sin-bucket and dumped it out at the altar, she was ready to fill it up again, with him!
As extreme as that sounds, her version of religion is not too far removed from our approach. If you're like some of my Catholic friends, you go to confession, dump out all of your sin in a confessional booth, get absolved, and then the next week you feel free to pick up where you left off. We Protestants do the same thing, but with one difference: we skip the confessional booth. Instead, we go right to the source. We pray something along the lines of, "Dear heavenly Father, please forgive me of all my sins." We're taught that at that point, he takes out his big eraser and cleans our sin slates. Like the woman in the story, we are quick to ask for forgiveness but slow to actually repent and walk away from our sin. Granted, that whole approach is absurd when you think about it. And it is certainly an insult to God, but it works for us. We get both the relief that comes with forgiveness and the thrill that comes from sin.
Of course, this young man wasn't thinking about the absurdity of her religious system. He was thinking, If my friends could see me now. At that point he pumped up the volume of his soundtrack to a ten and pinched himself to be sure this wasn't a dream. Even if Solomon was to call down from the window and warn him, the kid wouldn't have heard him over the seductive words he heard next:
"I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my body with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love!" (vv. 16-18)
And just in case he was wondering, she added:
"My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon." (vv. 19-20)
Well, that pretty much clinched it right there. Not only did he not have to worry about her husband catching them but he could hang around for breakfast. Watch a little TV. Heck, he could spend the entire weekend. This just kept getting better. From his perspective, that is. But Solomon saw this situation in an entirely different light. Listen to his take.
With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter. (vv. 21-22)
What? An ox heading where? Wait a minute, Solomon. Don’t you mean "like a celebrity into a club?" An ox to the slaughter? It certainly doesn't look that way to the casual observer. And it certainly didn’t look that way to our young friend. But Solomon was not finished with his creative use of language. He had two more animal analogies for emphasis.
... like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. (vv. 22-23)
In case you didn't get the ox to the slaughter, how 'bout a deer stepping into a noose, with a bloodied arrow hanging from its bowels? Still don't get the picture? How about this: this kid was like a clueless bird caught in a snare. Solomon's point, as if he hadn't made it abundantly clear, was that this young man was throwing away his future. Possibly his life. Of course, were the young man able to read Solomon's mind, he would have shouted back, "You're sounding a lot like my dad! Besides, what does an old man know about love and passion anyway? This isn't just a date. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event. I'm not an ox, a deer, or a bird. Mind your own business."
At this point in Solomon's narrative, he turned a corner and addressed his broader audience. These next words are directed to you and me.
Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. (vv. 24-25)
There's our word. Paths. This was a path, not an event. Pay attention to this next observation:
Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. (v. 26)
Many. Solomon debunked the notion that there was anything unique about what this kid was experiencing. It may have been unique for him. But this experience represents a well-worn path: a path that leads to death in spite of what the naive kid may have wanted to argue. If Solomon could have called a time-out in the story and gotten this kid's undivided attention, he might have said something along the lines of, "Listen, buddy. I hate to break it to you, but there's nothing unique or special or rare about this. You may have never 'felt this way before,' but a lot of other people have. And if they were here to tell you their stories, you would think twice. You're part of a crowd. A herd. A flock. There is nothing new here. And the outcome is all too predictable. She's done more than capture your imagination. She's writing a script for your future. You are a dead man walking!"
Driving home the point, Solomon added:
Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death. (v. 27)
A highway? Yep. A four-lane interstate with an HOV lane. Again, there's nothing new about this. Nothing unique. Just another young man who has chosen a path that will take him precisely to where he doesn't want or plan to be. There was a disconnect. The disconnect in Solomon's scenario is easy to see, at least for us. A young man who wanted his life to be relationally richer chose a path that would ultimately undermine his relationships. A young man who yearned for something good chose a path that led to something not good. A youth striving to prove his independence chose a well-worn path that had the potential to strip him of his independence. There was a disconnect. Solomon saw it from his window. I've seen similar disconnects from my imaginary window as well. And so have you.
Nothing New
We all have propensity for choosing paths that do not lead in the direction we want to go. In a later chapter I will give you my take on what causes this apparent lapse in reason. But for now I want to focus on how this dynamic plays itself out in our world. Perhaps in your world. For example:
A single woman says, "I want to meet and one day marry a great Christian guy who's really got his act together" ... but then she dates whoever asks her out, as long as he's cute.
A single guy says, "I want a great sex life once I'm married" ... but he "practices" with every girl he dates along the way.
A married woman says, "I want to have a great relationship with my husband" ... but she makes the children a priority over him.
A husband says, "I want my kids to respect me as they grow up" ... and then he openly flirts with other women in the neighborhood.
A young Christian says, "I want to develop a deep and lasting intimacy with God" ... so he gets up every morning early and reads his newspaper.
A man says, "I want to grow old and invest the latter years of my life in my grandchildren" ... but then he neglects his health.
A couple says, "We'd like our children to develop a personal relationship with God and choose friends who have done the same" ... but then they skip church every weekend and head to the lake.
Newlyweds determine to be financially secure by the time they reach their parents' age ... then adopt a lifestyle sustained by debt and leverage assets.
A high school freshman intends to graduate with a GPA that will afford him options as he selects a college ... but neglects his studies.
Obviously the list could go on and on. And the people my list represents have legitimate goals and oftentimes every good intention of reaching them. But like the naive young man in Solomon's story, the paths they choose eventually bring them to a destination that is entirely different from the one they intended. And this isn't rocket science. We shouldn’t need someone to connect these dots for us. If your goal is to drop two dress sizes, you don't eat lunch at a donut shop. If you desire to remain faithful to your spouse, you don't linger in an online chat room with members of the opposite sex. Those aren't pastimes. Those are pathways. They lead somewhere.
As I have said throughout our time together, it is much easier to see these dynamics at work in other people than it is in ourselves. As you read through my list a few paragraphs back, no doubt specific faces and names came to mind. You might have even thought, So-and-so needs to read this. And you may be right. But before you start putting initials beside specific paragraphs in this book, perhaps you should pause and do a bit of self-examination:
Are there disconnects in your life?
Are there discrepancies between what you desire in your heart and what you are doing with your life?
Is there alignment between your intentions and your direction?
If you've ever gotten lost while driving (and who hasn't?), you know that if you backtrack far enough, you can usually get your bearings and be on your way. Worst case, you've wasted a few minutes or hours. But when you get lost in life, you can't backtrack. When you get lost in life, you don't waste minutes or hours. You can waste an entire season of your life. Choosing the wrong path in life will cost you precious years. Nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to wake up in his fifties and wish he had taken a different path in his thirties. Nobody wants to arrive at the end of a marriage and wish she had taken a different path during her dating years. Think about it. You only get to be twenty once. You get one senior year. You get one first marriage. The path we choose at those critical junctions doesn’t just determine our destination the following year, but for the following season of life.
The principle of the path is operating in your life every minute of every day. You are currently on a financial path of some kind. You are on a relational path. You are continuing down a moral and ethical path. And each of these paths has a destination. My hope is that by becoming aware of this powerful principle, you will have the wisdom to know which path to choose and the courage to stay the course.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Week

This week, I decided to take a break from my Bible Study Fellowship lessons and follow Jesus' activities from the point of the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to Resurrection. I guess I never focused on how busy he was. I thought about the key things that we celebrate in church like Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but Jesus was really very busy in addition to all of these activities.

There were crowds of people eager to hear everything he had to say and Pharisee's doing their best to trip up Jesus in front of the crowd and making themselves look foolish at the same time. Jesus even directly spoke against the Pharisees in the seven woes passage and taught a lot about what the Kingdom of Heaven was really like, what would happen to him in the coming days and about his second coming. He taught that his servants wouldn't know the time of his return so we should always be ready and should be prepared to give an accounting of the work done here in his name.

He talked about the King who gave the wedding feast for his son and the invitees refused to attend and went about their own business. Even one of the people from the street (second list of invitations issued) didn't even give the groom honor enough to dress appropriately for the occassion.

There are so many principles from the passages this week that I have read (I haven't even gotten through them all) but I have taken the following for action in my upcoming weeks, months and years to put into practice:

  • Am I investing what the Lord has given me with an eternal perspective? Am I investing my time, talents and resources in a way that would honor the Lord and bear fruit for his Kingdom?
  • Is there someone I can touch today to encourage a soul and help them trust in the Lord too?
  • Am I guilty of hiding my allegience to Jesus Christ and not boldly standing as one of his disciples?
  • Am I investing myself to learn about the Lord's character so that I can pattern my choices after his?
  • Am I willing to risk opposition in order to stand for Christ or will I be like the church leaders who believed but were afraid if they confessed their belief they would be thrown out of the synagogue?
  • Are their limits I have placed on what I am willing to yield for the Lord? Are there hindrances of self indulgence, comfort or pride that I am hanging on to that prevent God from fully using me as his servant?
  • Do I weep over the people who have not yet come to accept God's offer of salvation? Do I use opportunities to share God's character with those who don't have a clear understanding?
  • Am I guilty of being blind to the work of God in my own life? Have I acted without faith?
  • Am I content with a mere physical healing from pain or do I want the abundant life promised in scripture? Is it reflected in the prayers I offer? Do I go beyond the physical and ask for spiritual insight and forgiveness of my sins?
  • Faith allows for no doubt: am I asking for something in prayer and not acting in belief?
  • Am I bearing fruit for the Lord? Will I be proud to give an accounting of my work here?
  • Do I keep an eternal focus or do I let momentary trials and unkindnesses affect my responses?
  • How much of my faith is compromised: to keep a job? to keep peace at home? to keep friends? to maintain security? to be thought of well? Do I love the praise of men more than God?
  • Do I treat my Lord in a casual way and not give him the respect he deserves? Do I not do my best?
  • Do I allow anything to come between me and my love of the Lord? Are there any habits or idols that need to be removed from my life? When it comes time to pray and to spend time with the Lord, is there anything that comes to my mind that I would rather do? Is my time appropriately allocated to give the Lord priority place?
  • Do I give God all that belongs to him?
  • Are my thoughts and actions centered on loving the Lord my God with all my heart/soul/mind?
  • Do I really show love for my neighbor? How can I make my neighbors know they are loved?
  • If Jesus returned today, am I ready? Am I prepared like the virgins with the oil or have I allowed other distractions to consume me? Have I put off something that I should do to get ready?

As you can see there are a lot of applications to be taken from the instruction Jesus gave during his last week on earth before his crucifixion. More than can be learned or put into practice during a mere week.

God Bless you as you seek him and as you serve him!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who me? Submit?

As you know, I am so blessed to be involved in a Bible Study Fellowship study. This year we are studying the life of Moses. We have taken almost 30 weeks to get where we are, but we currently are finishing the book of Numbers. Chapter 30 discusses the importance of keeping a vow and how we are known by our word. BUT it also has a section for women who make a vow and then find that their father or their husband do not allow them to complete their vow.

God gives ALL of us principles about submission. Men are not exempt from submission; in fact they bear the greater accountability to God for their choices as they have been ordained by God to lead their households. Women are given exemptions by God if their father's or husband's mandate another course of action.

I feel compassion for Christian children who are under the authority of harsh parents who are overbearing and do not use their leadership responsibly. I also know that God sees their condition and intervenes on their behalf. I also know that God can use even unpleasant circumstances to accomplish his purposes in our lives. As grown women, we have much more freedom and enjoy more "grown up" priviledges, but I believe that God honors women who will obey his principle of submission to their husbands and will hold their husbands accountable for wrong choices.

If I only pick and choose the principles God gives me in scripture, how am I honoring him as Lord of my life? If I only choose the pleasant and do the things that I like to do, how am I growing in grace. How will I ever learn to put to death my flesh and my strong will and choose the things of the Spirit if I only do what I like and never subject myself to disciplines of the faith?

I do run the risk of being treated wrongly by those in authority (all authority), but like Joseph, I have a defender who is greater than any foe and able to overcome any circumstance that does not accomplish God's purpose in my life. Submission is not a terrible thing. I choose to submit out of love for my Lord Jesus Christ and in submitting to my husband, and other authorities (boss, government etc) I am following my Lord's commands becoming more pleasing to him.

Recently, I had a conversation with a woman in her 30's who is about to be married for the first time. She has enjoyed some independence and now struggles with the concept of submission to a husband. She want's to maintain her independence but enjoy the benefits of marriage. I don't believe that two people can become one if they both remain independently two people. When we marry we choose to become a unit and our actions become centered on making that unit successful.

In my own personal marriage, God knew that I was very strong willed, so he gave me a husband who is even stronger. God knew that I needed someone equally strong to counter my own selfish desires and to challenge my unholy behaviors. Sometimes it has felt as if he were overbearing, but God knew that if I were to become a Christian who really lives my faith that I would have to endure some chastening, some molding, some unpleasantness. My husband didn't create the unpleasantness as much as my selfish attitudes did. I thank God for giving me the husband that he did to grow me up and teach me what holiness, grace, forgiveness and love are really about. I know more about the depths of God's love for me because he has given me a strong willed husband to love. I know more about Christ's submission to the cross, because God has given me hardships to endure to make me a better servant for him.

If we always resist the unpleasant we may just be resisting the chastisement and the character building that God is putting in our lives to conform us into his image. If you are enduring unpleasant situations take heart! God knows your circumstances and is able to see you through your trials and bear you up. His grace is sufficient for all of our needs. Look to him and find the comfort you need.

God bless you as you seek him and as you serve him!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Manna Again?

The BSF study in the Life of Moses has uncovered a sin in my life that I hadn't considered long and hard before. I have learned that when I am complaining about whatever circumstance I am facing and let's face it, even when I do pray to God about my situations, I am also quick to let people know that I am suffering BIG time!

The Israelites were the same way. God provided for them time and time again and yet every time they encountered the next hardship they complained like they had no idea where their provision came from. Even when God provided, they weren't always happy with His solution and griped about it too. God provided manna to feed nearly 2-4 million people there in the desert; not just occassionally but consistently for 40 years. I sympathize with the Israelites in that there wasn't a lot of variety in their cuisine, but they were sustained by God's hand. Even so, they complained.

God made it clear to the Israelites and now to me that when we complain we are telling God that we are not satisfied with how he has provided for us. Complaining is not against our circumstances, or other people, it is against God himself since he is the author of our lives and brings the people and the circumstances we face. Complaining is anti-witnessing. We are telling the world that God is insufficient, not satisfactory. Why would anyone choose to follow a God like that.

Now we do have an appropriate response to unpleasant circumstances...we can take our cares to God himself and ask him to give us relief. THEN we can testify to how he provides for us. That is really witnessing. In my time in this section of scripture, God has shown me how I am a complainer and what impact it has on my relationship to God and how it impacts my testimony here for him.

I don't think that we should not let people know our struggles or give the impression that we don't have battles each day, but we should not allow bitter circumstances to give rise to a bad attitude in our lives. Too often I have allowed that and justified my poor behavior by attributing it to my unpleasant circumstances. After all, it is understandable how a person would not be joyful when all around is hardship.

Too often, I allow circumstances to dictate my mood. Too often the unbelieving world has looked to me to demonstrate how God is sustaining me through hard times and I have only shown them complaints and bitterness. Now that God has shown me this in my life, I am committed to changing the pattern (with his help) so that my life is a living testimony of the greatness of God, not just when I am being blessed, but also when I am being guided through my own wilderness of suffering and trial as well.

The Life of Moses

I have to tell you, my Bible Study Fellowship study on the Life of Moses is absolutely phenomenal! In August when I considered the prospect of spending a year in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, I can't say that I was filled with excited anticipation. I know the whole counsel of God is for my growth in my faith so I was glad to have a structured study to keep me focused.

Now that I have spent 6 months studying, I am thinking this is one of the best studies ever! No where in scripture is there a clearer picture of the Holiness of God and man's utter sinful state than in wanderings of the Israelite nation. No where else do we see how God cares for his people not because they are well behaved or are model people, but because they are his. His care for the Israelites and for us is a reflection on Him. He does it out of love for us and that the world may see his glory revealed because he started with a people who were utterly helpless without him and He did great things in their lives where all could see.

In Sunday School (a different study) we are studying apologetics and how do we help people know that Jesus is a savior for them too. I am thinking that the Life of Moses is the best way to show them how we have a faithful and holy God who cares for his people. Time and time again God did wonderful things to provide for his people. You would think that the Israelites would have learned their lesson that there was no nation too strong for them + God. You would think that when they were hungry and thirsty they would have looked to the same God that had provided for them the last time, but each time, they showed how faithless they really were. No where in scripture do we see a clearer picture of our need for salvation and our utter inability to do anything to accomplish our own salvation.

We see over and over again that every deliverance is all God. We see over and over again that God requires our obedience and does not abide rebellion. We see his forgiveness and how even when we fail him, he is merciful. We like the Israelites need deliverance (sometimes from our own foolishness). We Christians, like the Israelites have enjoyed the salvation, love, forgiveness and mercy of God. We Christians, like the Israelites are called to be a holy people with an allegience only to God alone. We Christians recognize that we cannot affect our own salvation no matter how many sacrifices we offer. Our sin is deeper than that and only God can make us reconciled with him.

Just as the Israelites were given a sacrificial system to atone for sin and to be given a clean slate, God provided his only son Jesus Christ to put an end to the sacrificial system and to deliver us from the penalty of sin. If there was any other way, Jesus' payment for us was pointless.

We are so much like the Israelites it is scary, but just as the Israelites were fed in the desert and guided to the promised land, so God does the same for us. My soul is full because of the rich lessons that are found in the Life of Moses. What greater assurance of our faith to know that we have a God who is able to see us through all adversity and while he could change hearts and keep us out of battle, he doesn't. In the battle his salvation is made known to those who don't know him and our faith is strengthened as we cling to him in the harshness of life!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

W. V. Grant Faith Healer

The popularity of the faith healing movement has always been a bit of a mystery to me. The Bible clearly says that signs and wonders are performed for the purpose of bringing unbelievers to a faith in God; why do so many believers chase after miracle signs and wonders?

A friend of mine recently invited me to a faith healing with her. She is a dear friend to me and my transport was her only hope of attendance. It seemed important to her and so I agreed. I think in her heart of hearts she was hoping that if I were to see miracles that I would be encouraged in my faith.

The miracle healer claimed to have a "special annointing" but that Jesus is the one who healed. If Jesus is the miracle healer why would an intermediary be needed? It almost suggests that the healer has already determined that my faith is not sufficient to approach the Father and ask for that which I need. It also suggests that if we have a thorn in our flesh it is not of God and that somehow Satan has some power in my life that God cannot thwart apart from an intervention by someone with a special annointing.

During the service he suggested that everyone would have an opportunity to be healed. It seemed to me that he was suggesting that everyone needed to be healed. Another person there at the healing had been to the revival services throughout the entire week Mr. Grant had been there and claimed to have received a healing himself. This person said that he had never heard of Mr. Grant and didn't know anything about him, but was convinced that he was the real deal. When I did a quick google search prior to the service, I found that Mr. Grant has been convicted of defrauding people in the past and falsefying miracles. Now that he is out of prison, these miracles that I am seeing now are legitimate because God saw fit to forgive him for the miracles he did fraudulently and now has given him "true" power?
http://http//en.allexperts.com/e/w/w/w.v._grant.htm

http://www.bible.ca/tongues-encyclopedia-pentecostal-preachers.htm#grant

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WV_Grant

In my studies of the Bible one of the greatest revelations I have had is that God is Holy and I along with all mankind are utterly sinful. Over my years of growing in grace, I have learned how pervasive my sin is. At first, I saw the sins that are offensive to all good church goers and recognized that I fell short of a churchy standard. The church's standard however is so much lower than God's standard of holiness. Jesus pointed that out to the Pharisees who prided themselves on their righteousness and exposed them for the vile sinners they were. God's holiness goes much deeper than external conduct - that is another blog perhaps.

My point is that God uses affliction to draw us in to repentence and into deeper dependence on him alone; sometimes affliction is just for the purpose of him growing his character in us and sometimes it is for his glory, but we don't see God's purpose. We are assured in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for good for those who are called according to God's purposes. Mr. Grant at no time in his presentation conveyed an exhortation to deeper fellowship with God, greater knowledge of scripture etc. He spoke out about the way that secular society lives and how it is an offense to God. Well Duh! There weren't a lot of secular society in the room only desperate Christians feeling defeated by affliction and longing for relief. His message could easily be confirmed by the people in the room and had no impact to change the lives that were there.

Faith healing seems to be a misnomer to me. Present are those whose faith is weak and they are longing for a confirmation that God cares and he is all powerful to handle their circumstances. God has shown over and over that he cares. The very fact that he adopted me as a Christian is evidence that he cares. I had no good in me that I should be selected by God. God is still all powerful and he is intimately aware of the afflictions I suffer. He is also able to remove them by a breath if it is his will. I can ask in faith and he has promised that if it is good for me, he will hear my prayer. If Faith healing involved special displays of God's power so that all can see, where is the faith? And where is our faith? Is it in God alone or in some man claiming to have a special prophesy or annointing?

Interesting to me that there were comments during the service about if you wanted your healing to be permanent, you should bring forth your best offering to this man. If it is a healing of God, wouldn't it be permanent? The Bible tells us that there will be false teachers and men claiming to have special power that will deceive even the elect if it were possible. Not all magic is of God and as Christians we need to be discerning in who we allow to influence our thinking.

The spectacle of the faith healing really isn't something that was promoted in the Bible. Jesus even chastised the people who just followed him for a special healing and were not interested in having their lives changed. Paul and the other apostles wrote extensively about the Christian life and it was a journey toward holy living and becoming a person of grace. As Christians we should leave the signs and wonders to the unbelievers. We have something much better; we have the Holy Spirit that lives in us and guides us in the development of the character of Jesus Christ in us. We become living sacrifices.

Following after miracle workers only leaves our faith defeated because we realize that we do not have that kind of power in our lives. If we did, there would be no sickness anywhere because out of love we would be healing them and saving tons of money on medical services. As soon as we have a need that God does not immediately resolve according to our word, we become discourage. What made us think that God is bound to do our bidding like that? I love the dear souls who were in attendance looking for some hope they could cling to in their lives and I have great news! Jesus alone is that hope and he can be found if we will look for him. His plan for our lives is well articulated in the Bible if we will study and his Spirit joins with ours in prayer interceding and convicting us of our sins. We have a great hope not only here but in the hereafter!

Going backwards in time

It has been a while since I posted last. So much has happened and so many lessons I have learned. I thought I would begin by working backwards a little and share some more recent events before spending some time sharing the former things.