Thursday, June 21, 2012

Loving the Failure of Me

Last night, I told Justin I was going to read a few pages and then turn out the light...about an hour later, I finished the book I was reading.  I sat in my reading chair, highly upset that my book was finished and full of energy.  I looked at Justin sleeping and thought, "Hey, I could do something really nice for him."  So I quietly sneaked out of the bedroom and went to work.  I made a sandwich for his lunch, put some chips in a bag, got down the toaster for his breakfast, a plate, the bagels, and a knife, and I even filled the water in the coffee pot and left him a sweet note telling him to enjoy his extra time this morning (somehow, he still didn't leave on time...).  I discovered his note in response this morning: "Thank you for laying out my morning.  Not sure what I did to deserve this!"

Deuteronomy 9:4-6 - 4Do not say in your heart when the Lord our God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. 5It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them our before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.

Pretty clear message here - it is not because of your righteousness. In these three verses, this is mentioned, not once or twice, but THREE times!  Why? "Because it is hard to bring people from a conceit of their own merit, and yet very necessary that it be done" (Henry).  

This passage ends with "for you are a stubborn people."  So we could interpret this whole passage as "Do not think that it is because of the righteousness of your heart that you are getting this because you are a stubborn people!"  (AKA - don't be proud)  Stubborn in the Hebrew from this passage is made up of two words, qasheh (kashay) meaning "hard, cruel, severe, obstinate" and 'oreph meaning "neck" or "back of the neck" (Strong's H7186H6203).  So what this is literally saying is "stiff-necked."  Wesley describes stiff-necked as "rebellious and perverse, and so destitute of all...righteousness."  

That is us, we are stubborn and rebellious, destitute of righteousness...  We have done nothing to deserve what God has done for us.  Like me setting out Justin's breakfast stuff and making his lunch - he didn't deserve it, I did it because I love him and want him to be happy.  God doesn't do things for us, He didn't give us salvation because we deserved it; He gave us salvation and more because He loves us and wants us to be happy!

You see, "In Christ we have both righteousness and strength" and "our gaining of the heavenly [kingdom] must be ascribed to God's power, not our own might, and to God's grace, not our own merit. In Him we must glory" (HenryWesley).  This is why salvation is by grace through faith, not works!  Our works cannot gain us access to the kingdom because no matter how much we do, we are still undeserving.  But the amazing truth - God doesn't love us any less!  It is because of His love and grace for us that we are able to enter the kingdom, nothing more.

Today, take a post-it, or piece of paper, or something and write: "Even though I am stubborn and rebellious and completely unrighteous, God still loves me!" Stick it in a place where you will see it at least twice a day.  Leave it there for at least a week.  When you read those words, take a moment to let the truth of those words sink in: I am completely undeserving but God STILL loves me!!!  That truth is absolutely amazing and life altering!  It makes you want to shout it from the roof top, "Hey, I fail everyday at being righteous and upright, but I am loved and accepted!"

Get the picture??  I think if we truly grasped this, people would stop trying to maintain "perfection" and we would all be a little more real...and so much happier.  :)

Thank you Lord for your relentless love!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gifts from Above

Note: The highlighting in this blog was not my own just happened and I couldn't get it to go away.  The only thing I could change and get to stay was the font color of the highlighted sections.  So yeah, now they're readable, but still not anymore important than the rest of the post.

He is rich.  She is super smart.  They have a gorgeous house.  His brother is a music genius.  Her cousin is amazing at planning and organizing. 

Deuteronomy 8:11-14: 11Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments...12otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you...out of the house of slavery...

Yep, quite the long section here, but I had to make sure it was all in context...or we wouldn't understand the whole thing.

Let's look at the first reference of the word "heart":

Deuteronomy 8:14 - then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God...

Two things come to mind here when looking at the entirety of this passage:
  1. Why will our hearts become proud?  Take a look at verses 12 and 13 - we will be satisfied (or fulfilled), we will have good houses (and not just good, but a good that is pleasant and agreeable, something you really like), and all that we have will be multiplied (or become great) (Strong's H7646H2896H7235).  In reality, just one of these things would make any man proud.
  2. What does it mean to forget? If we look back at verse 11, we see that we will forget the Lord "by not keeping His commandments."  The word "forget" in Hebrew is shakach (don't ask me how to pronounce that one...) - it means "to forget, ignore, wither" (Strong's H7911).  Any part of that definition really makes it sink in: We become proud so we ignore God and His commandments or our arrogance makes the idea of what God has done for us wither away.
When our hearts become proud, it becomes "as if [we did] receive and enjoy these [our own] wisdom, and valor, and industry" (Wesley).  But that isn't the case is it?  The passage goes onto say:

Deuteronomy 8:17-18: 17Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' 18But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant..." 

As verse 18 makes obvious, "It is God that giveth the power to get wealth" (Clarke).  This is not only applied to physical wealth, but spiritual wealth as well.  You see, "It is our duty to get get understanding; and yet it is God's grace that gives wisdom and when we have got it we must not say, It was the might of our hand that got it, but must own it was God that gave us power to get it" (Henry).  

Again, two things come to mind here:
  1.  Why does God give us gifts?  As verse 18 says, "that He may confirm His covenant."  In other words, "All God's gifts are in pursuance of His promise" (Henry).  Our wealth, our wisdom, our abilities - it all comes from God so that we can further His purpose, His kingdom!
  2. What does that mean for us? It means we have a great responsibility!  We have been given a great gift, or gifts - we need to use them appropriately!  After all, "to God the wealthy man must account for the manner in which he has expended the riches which God hath given Him" (Clarke).  

Today, I challenge you to look at the gifts you have been given: Is it wealth, a talent or ability, wisdom?  I want you to take 5 minutes today and think about how you are using that gift.  Write down the answer to a few questions:
  1. What gifts have I been given?
  2. How am I using those gifts?
  3. How can I better use those gifts to further God's purpose?
In my case, one of the gifts I have been given is extra time and a pretty flexible schedule.  Most of the time, I use that gift to take care of MY problems, MY to-do list.  Occasionally, I do use that extra time to do stuff like this blog.  I could be doing even more - volunteering my time for something greater than myself.  That could be baking for others, visiting the elderly/sick, lending a hand to someone else's to-do list, etc.

I hope my thoughts get you jump-started to do something God filled!  We must always remember in our hearts where our gifts come from: our wealth, our talents, our wisdom.  They came from Him, they belong to Him, we must use them...for Him! 

In my case, one of the gifts I have been given is extra time and a pretty flexible schedule.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

God as Father and Disciplinarian

I remember getting in trouble a few times when I was younger (okay, quite a few times).  A friend of my parents had made this paddle - a board, sanded down with a handle carved at one end - as a gift for my parents.  It was kept in a kitchen drawer.  It didn't matter what I was doing wrong, if I heard "go to the kitchen," I knew I was toast.  

(Now, before I go on...I'm adding a disclaimer here - I was NOT abused as a child.  My parents paddled me on occasion for disciplinary reasons.  I do not fear them now and do not hold it against them.  I think I turned out just fine.)  

Anyhow, back to my story.  Depending upon who sent me to the kitchen, my routine was a bit different.  My mom was the enforcer, I knew I couldn't get out of what I had done.  On the other hand, my dad was a little weaker.  He would send me to the kitchen and I would go...but the whole way, the tears were falling and I was doing everything I could to get out of it (even in my early teen years) - "Please don't Daddy, I'm really sorry, I promise I won't ever do it again.  I'm really, really, really, sorry.  *sob, sob* Please no Daddy."  Usually, the charade would work and I would get off with a "Go to your room" instead of a paddling.

I firmly believe that this isn't something either of my parents enjoyed or even remotely wanted to do, which is why I could usually talk Dad out of it.  He didn't want to hurt me, physically or emotionally.  But it was something they had to do.  They were teaching me a lesson - that I shouldn't misbehave or disobey.  It was for my own good.  

Deuteronomy 8:5 - Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son."

To clarify again, discipline is not something anyone wants to do.  God disciplines us, much like a good father, "unwillingly, being constrained by necessity,"  He does so "moderately...remembering mercy,"  and always "for [our] reformation not [our] destruction" (Wesley).  The Hebrew for "discipline" is yacar (ya sare) meaning "to dissuade from anything" (Lexicon H3256).  God disciplines us in order to dissuade us from sin, from doing the wrong thing.

We are to know this in our hearts.  But what does that mean?  "Know" in the Hebrew is yada', "to know...often by the mind and hence to understand" (Lexicon H3045).  So we are to understand this discipline in our hearts, "that is, [we] must own it from [our] own experience that God has corrected [us] with a fatherly love, for which [we] must return to Him a...reverence and compliance" (Henry).  Knowing, understanding, in our hearts that God disciplines us with a fatherly love will lead to respecting Him, revering Him, obeying Him, and loving Him with all of our hearts!

Today I challenge you to examine your view of God - do you view Him as more of a cop who is out to catch you or as a Father who only wants what is best for you?  If your view needs adjusting - spend some time in His word today in order to discover the true intentions of our Father God.  If you don't know where to start, my blog archives are listed on the right hand side of this page - each one deals with a different verse and each one shows a little more of God's true character!  I pray we learn more about Him each and every day!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Journey Home

Steven Curtis Chapman came out with a new song recently entitled "Long Way Home."  I love it.  Whether it is a good day or a bad day, there are lyrics in that song to remind us of where we're headed and the fact that God will never leave us because He is leading us home.  The first verse goes like this, 

"I set out on a great adventure 
the day my Father started leading me home.  
He said 'There's gonna be some mountains to climb 
and some valleys we're gonna go through.'  
But I had no way of knowing 
just how hard this journey could be. 
 Cause the valleys are deeper 
and the mountains are steeper 
than I every could have dreamed."

Deuteronomy 8:2 - "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."

This is another verse that has a lot of good stuff and I'm not entirely sure where to start.  *sigh*

I connected Chapman's song to this verse because of the idea of this "journey" that we're on.  As I read the verse I noticed that "way" wasn't pluralized and that bothered me.  Shouldn't it be "all the ways which the Lord your God has led you..."?  Then I looked up the definition.  The Hebrew word is derek which means "way, road, distance, journey, manner" (Strong's H1870). For me, it makes more sense to read, "You shall remember all the journey which the Lord your God has led you..."  

Then there is this matter of humbling and testing.  Nacah (nasa) means "to test, try...put to the proof" (Strong's H5254).  The Lexicon pointed out that "God is said to try or prove men by adversity, in order to prove their faith."  He wants to know what is truly in our heart and soul (Strong's H3824).  So that He knows we will keep, or rather, guard His commandments (Strong's H8104).  For more on the idea of guarding His commandments, check out my previous blog here.  

So we now know that along the journey God is leading us, He is testing us in order to prove our faith.  But let's go back to the beginning of the verse, "You shall remember..."  We are to remember the tests and trials of this journey, "the various dealings of God with you; the dangers and difficulties to which ye were exposed, and from which God delivered you; together with the various miracles which He wrought for you, and His longsuffering towards you" (Clarke).  But why?  Why do we need to remember?  You see, "It is very good for us to remember all the which He has led us" on this journey so "that we may trust Him and cheerfully serve Him" (HenryWesley).  I think that if we spent more time focusing on what the Lord has already done instead of focusing on what we think He hasn't done, we would be much better off.  This of all the times He pulled through when you thought it impossible, or the hundreds of times He has forgiven you for the same thing, or the hands that held you in the darkest of makes the here and now seem so much smaller.  He is leading us on the journey home!

"Well I know we're gonna make it.
And I know we're gonna get there soon.
So I keep on singing and believing...
cause our God has made a promise
and I know that everything He says is true.
And I know wherever we go 
He will never leave us.
Cause He's gonna lead us home,
every single step of the long way home."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Remember in Our Hearts

Deuteronomy 7:17-19 - 17 If you should say in your heart, "These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?" 18 you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh an to all Egypt: 19 the great trials which your eyes say and the signs and wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out.  So shall the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

My thoughts today are simple.  As Henry states, do "not be disheartened by the number and strength of [your] enemies."  All we need to do is remember in our hearts what God has already done.  He is bigger, greater, more magnificent and awesome than any enemy we will ever face!  With Christ we are already victorious!  

For a more detailed endeavor into these thoughts, check out my recent blog here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Love His Word...

Deuteronomy 6:6 - These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart."

Interesting that "this immediately follows upon the law of loving God with all your heart; for those that do so will lay up His word in their hearts both as an evidence and effect of that love and as a means to preserve and increase it. He that loves God loves his Bible" (Henry, emphasis added).  

I read that last sentence and it hit home.  How often do we say we love God, we have a relationship with Him, and then we never take the time to spend in HIS WORD, the word He gave us?  How can I love God with all of my heart and not want to take in everything He wants me to know?

Think about dating (whether you are now or you did 50 years ago) - when you first start falling for someone, you want to know all about them.  You spend hours discussing their likes and dislikes, their passions, their childhood as you fall deeper and deeper in love.  If they have something to say, you listen.  If they write you a letter, you read it.  Why?  Because you love them and you truly care about what they have to say.  You take everything they say and do to heart.

As Clarke puts it: "For where else can love be?  If it be not in the heart, it exists not.  And if these words be not in the heart - if they are not esteemed, prized and received as a high and most glorious privilege, what hope is there that this love shall ever reign there?"  In other words, if we do not treasure God's word in our heart how can His love ever be there?

Today I challenge you to spend some time in God's words - soak it up!  Dig into it, learn something new.  IF you're not sure what a word means or you don't understand a reference to the culture - look it up!  It is amazing how much you can learn from a single verse...even if you think you understood it in the first place.  Here is a list of the websites I use when studying:

  • Search Engine:
    • This is a simple search of the Bible.  Looking for a particular phrase?  Want to see where else that word is used throughout Scripture?  Can't remember what that reference is?  This is the place to find the answer.
  • Parallel Translations: Online Parallel Bible
    •  This is where I go to discover how other versions might word a verse differently.  If you search a passage, for instance, John 3:16, it pops up with over 10 different versions of that verse.  Sometimes this can help me understand something a little bit better or even help me see it a little differently.
  • Strong's Concordance/Lexicon: (must use NASB or KJV in order to access Strong's)
    • I believe this is a truly vital step when studying the Bible.  The languages used to write the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) were so very different from our modern day English.  One word can hold so many meanings and when we are reading, it is important to know which of those meaning are relevant.  For instance, there are four different words for 'love' in the New Testament Greek but we only have one word to translate for these.  Their different words easily distinguish what kind of love, for example, brotherly love (phileo) or unconditional love (agape).  The more I look into definitions of the Hebrew or Greek, the more I learn and the more I am amazed.  Isn't that what God wants for us? 
  • Commentaries:
    • Matthew Henry
    • Adam Clarke
    • Scofield (there are his reference notes, not quite a commentary)
    • John Wesley (again, considered reference notes, not a commentary)
    • The Expositor's Commentary  
      • As far as commentaries are concerned, sometimes they don't agree, sometimes you won't agree.  And that is okay!  For one, they will most often give you a better understanding of what you are reading, giving you the cultural contexts or pointing out something you may have missed.  If you disagree with their interpretation, than good!  That means you are learning to dig beneath the surface for yourself and have a firm grasp on what you believe.  Make note of these things, I always write down why I disagree and what I believe is a better view.
It may also be helpful to grab a Biblical atlas if you're a visual learner.  Then you can see where exactly what you are reading takes place.  I don't always do this, but it is a really neat addition to any Biblical study.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask!  I love being able to help someone learn more about our glorious savior!

Updated: July 15th, 2013

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Love the Lord Your God....

Perhaps one of the few verses that is known more than any others (besides John 3:16) is

Deuteronomy 6:5 - You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your might.

And even more interesting, the verse hardly varies between translations (OPB).  One or two version may substitute "whole" for "all" which is barely even a difference.  And a few translations use "strength" instead of "might" - the idea here (m@ 'od) is that we should love the Lord "to the highest degree" (Strong's H3966), both "strength" and "might" do justice in this case I believe.

Anyhow, now that I've crammed your brain full of more Hebrew...let's get to the basic principal of this verse.  This verse contains the "first principles of faith and obedience" (Henry).  After all, "this was made the first and great commandment of God's law that we love Him and that we perform all other parts of our duty to Him from a principle of love" (Henry, Matt. 22:36-38).  This brings two questions to my mind: Why is this the greatest commandment and what does this love look like?  What does it look like to love with all your heart and with all you mind and with all your might?

So, why is love the Lord's first and greatest commandment?  Henry provides what I believe to be a sufficient and simple answer: "for the warmer our affection to Him, the greater will be our veneration for Him."  I went ahead and found a definition of "veneration" - "a feeling or expression of awe or worship, revere" (  Think about the kids you know - if a child truly honors, respects, and obeys their parents, truly reveres them, most likely truly loves them.  The more you love someone, the more you want that person to be happy - so you do what they ask wholeheartedly and respect their decisions without qualm. 

The next question is a little bit more difficult.  What does this "love" look like?  Henry gives 5 aspects of this love, we must love with a:

1.   Sincere Love – “not in word and tongue only, saying we love Him when our hearts are not with Him, but inwardly and in truth, [comforting] ourselves in Him.”

2.   Strong Love -  “the heart must be carried out towards Him with great [passion] and [intense] affection.”  It my mind, this means it should be something that people notice about you.  When people are passionate about something, you generally know what it is because they talk about it all the time.  The passion infests their lives – they live, sleep, eat, and breath their passion.

3.   Superlative Love – “we must love God above any creature [human, item, idea] whatsoever…”  Simple as that.

4.   Intelligent Love – “for…to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, we must know Him and therefore love Him as those that see good cause to love Him.”  Basically, why would you love someone you don’t even know?  If you do it is a shallow kind of love.  True love means you know a vast amount about that person and each day you want to know more.

5.   Entire Love – “He is one, and therefore our hearts must be united in this love, and the whole stream of our affections must run towards Him.”

Love that comes from our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole might isn’t a simple love – it is complex and, at times, very difficult.  But our relationship with Christ calls for it, demands it.  What does a relationship with our Creator, our God, look like without just one of these aspects?  One missing brick, one hole, and the whole thing falls apart.

Today I challenge you to pick one of those 5 aspects that you need to work on the most.  Set time aside and journal why you need to work on that aspect and be honest!  Next write down 3 practical things you can do throughout the week to overcome that weak area and then do them! For example:

I think I struggle mostly with "entire love."  The stream of my affections goes in 1 million different directions - to crafting, blogging, reading, work, my to-do list, the list goes on and on and on.  There are days when I would much rather be reading a book or doing something crafty than spending time in God's word or going to church.  But if I can manage to stream my affections towards Him, I would be much better off.  How can I do this?
  1. Put my relationship with Him as a priority - do my devotions first and then start my to-do list.
  2. On busy days, set aside more than 5 minutes for God.  After all, Time is Love right?
  3. Check my motives.  Why am I making this craft?  For selfish purposes or because my passion for God is bubbling over?

Hopefully my transparency gives you the motivation or inspiration you need to make a change today!  Have a blessed week!