Leisure Born in Stillness

Isaiah assures those seeking deliverance that God has delivered before, and He will deliver again. That brings a sweet stillness to my heart.

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance—
    all who seek the Lord!
Consider the rock from which you were cut,
    the quarry from which you were mined.
Yes, think about Abraham, your ancestor,
    and Sarah, who gave birth to your nation.
Abraham was only one man when I called him.
    But when I blessed him, he became a great nation.”

The Lord will comfort Israel again
    and have pity on her ruins.
Her desert will blossom like Eden,
    her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found there.
    Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.

“Listen to me, my people.
    Hear me, Israel,
for my law will be proclaimed,
    and my justice will become a light to the nations.
My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Look up to the skies above,
    and gaze down on the earth below.
For the skies will disappear like smoke,
    and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.
The people of the earth will die like flies,
    but my salvation lasts forever.
    My righteous rule will never end!

“Listen to me, you who know right from wrong,
    you who cherish my law in your hearts.
Do not be afraid of people’s scorn,
    nor fear their insults.
For the moth will devour them as it devours clothing.
    The worm will eat at them as it eats wool.
But my righteousness will last forever.
    My salvation will continue from generation to generation.”

(Isaiah 51:1-8 NLT)

We’ve all heard a pep talk that begins with, “Remember who you are! Remember where you’ve been…You’ve done it before, and you can do it again!!”

Isaiah is saying, “Remember Who God is! Remember what He has done! He’s done it before, and He will do it again!!” By reminding Israel of the Rock from which they are forged, he brings calm to their troubled hearts.

Isaiah knew the earth would wear out and the people would die. Christ knew the same. His righteousness lasts forever, and His salvation continues from generation to generation. If I really believe that, I can live my life in a different way. I can be still and recognize God.

January has been a time of stillness. Being still hasn’t been easy, but the results have been amazing. I have a new sense of direction that doesn’t involve a new plan, agenda, or project.

I’m not sure what’s in store for February, but I hope to carry the stillness of January into it. Isaiah reminds me that the world isn’t all there is, and I have a loving God watching over me. That helps me find peace in the chaos and do what God places in my path with a leisure born in stillness.

Stillness in a Busy World Photo Credit: Joan Jerkovich
Stillness in a Busy World
Photo Credit: Joan Jerkovich

Absolutely!!!

Psalm 111 is filled with absolutes. As a middle school teacher, I warned my students about the dangers of overusing absolutes. If you know anything about middle school students, you know their world is absolutely wonderful or horrible depending upon the day, hour, or minute. Never, forever, always, all, none, everything, and nothing are ingrained into their vocabularies and their lives, and they love to pepper those words with exclamation points!! David used absolutes in his psalms because no other words will do when it comes to describing God.

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    as I meet with his godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
    All who delight in him should ponder them.
Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
    His righteousness never fails.
He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.
He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.
All he does is just and good,
    and all his commandments are trustworthy.
They are forever true,
    to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
He has paid a full ransom for his people.
    He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
    What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
    All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

Praise him forever! (NLT)

Psalm 111 shows why middle school students seek absolutes. We are all comforted by them, but they are rare in this world. My granddaughter Lilly is five, and she helped me start the week with an important absolute. She frequently spends the night with me, and we have the sweetest pillow talk. On Monday night, when she finished her prayer, I told her God loved her and so did I.

She said, “What about when I’m silly?”

I said, “God still loves you.”

“What about when I’m not nice?”

“He still loves you.”

“What about when I’m mean?”

“He still love you.”

“Gigi, when does God not love me?”

“Never.”

“God never loves me!”

“No, Lilly, there is never a time when God doesn’t love you.”

“Cool.”

“Yes, very cool!!”

My middle school students continued to use absolutes with abandon, and exclamation points filled their writing. They were searching for boundaries in their own lives, and their writing reflected a longing for something that is always true. So are we all.

David found his Absolute, and I’ve found mine. God will never leave me!! He always keeps His promises!!! He loves me, and He always will!!! Those absolutes bring comfort and hope. I’m working on loving God with all of my heart all of the time. I fall short, but God is always there to help me get back on the right track. He never tires of picking me up or helping me obey when I stumble and fall, and that gives me the courage to go forward.

Having an Absolute makes the journey a joy because I know when I fall from the high wires I get myself onto, God’s love is always there.

Photo Credit: Life Magazine
Photo Credit: Life Magazine

Love is the Answer

Folks who claim to have all the answers when it comes to God or religion don’t make effective missionaries, teachers, or ministers. In his letter to Corinth, Paul is offering advice regarding food that has been offered to idols. His point is the same point Christ conveyed to His followers. Rely on love rather than knowledge.

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NLT)

Knowlege is easy to acquire and easier to spread around. Love doesn’t come easily, and sharing it takes a great deal of strength and courage. That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for the church. The church is a family, not an organization or a university. It is a group of imperfect people who are willing to risk everything for love.

No one enjoys learning or research more than I do, but I make sure to keep knowledge in its place. Love comes first, and that means giving up my need to know and be right. Love cannot be defined or described, but it can be shared. Love isn’t about facts; it’s about being recognized. Those who love me, know and recognize me with delight. In verse eight, Paul told the folks at Corinth, “the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.” Those are powerful words.

Knowing and knowledge are not the same. Knowing and loving go hand in hand. Love allows me to know God, myself, and others. I get sidetracked by ego or lost in lust when I rely on my head knowledge instead of my heart knowing. A heart full of love is a heart filled with God. Paul isn’t saying to give up knowledge. He simply wants, what God wants, for me to put love first. When I do that, wisdom replaces knowledge, and love leads the way.

A Heart Full of Love

The Complacent Church

Comfort Zone

Hebrews 10:32-39 is a sobering reminder of the suffering early Christians endured. I’ve never been persecuted for my religious beliefs, so I can’t imagine their suffering. I must be mindful that many are still suffering because of their faith. As I write this, my heart goes out to all who have, are, and will continue to die because they are unwilling to deny what they believe. I’ve often wondered how I would react if my life depended upon denying my God. What if my son or his family were in danger of death because of my faith. Would I allow them to die or would I deny Christ. Peter was sure he would never betray Christ, but he did three times within hours of telling Jesus face to face that he would die before denying Him. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul asked them to remember when they first learned about Christ. That’s good advice for all of us.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

“For in just a little while,
    the Coming One will come and not delay.
And my righteous ones will live by faith.
    But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.”

But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. (NLT)

Paul knew a complacent church was more dangerous than a persecuted one. Christians in the United States are the most complacent on the planet and have been for a very long time. If we spent a tenth of the time we spend arguing about politics in whole-hearted worship, our country and our world would have a very different opinion of us. There are better things waiting for all of us, things that will last forever. The problem with the complacent church is that they like the way things are now. Easy. Comfortable.

I don’t want Christians in this country to ever be persecuted. God forbid that anyone anywhere should have to die because of their religious beliefs. I’m just saying that complacency kills more effectively than a bullet to the heart. When a Christian becomes complacent, only those nearest to them notice. Some even see it as a step in the right direction. The honeymoon is over, so we can get back to business as usual.

I believe Christ uses a bride to describe His church because a bride is anything but complacent. Her love and eager anticipation keep her heart focused upon love. Keeping my heart in honeymoon mode keeps me where God wants me to be. The only way to cure complacency is remembering when I first fell in love and being mindful of the suffering of the early church and the persecuted church of today.

Marriage counselors tell complacent couples to think back to their courtship days , remember what made them fall in love in the first place, and do it again. That’s a great strategy for Christ’s bride, as well.

Complacency

Does That Sound Like Me?

The language is Deuteronomy 18 may be harsh, but Moses clearly conveys God’s unwillingness to tolerate His name being used inappropriately. That isn’t only about adding His name to curses for emphasis. That is never appropriate, but it isn’t the biggest misuse of God’s name. Prophets, preachers, messengers, and all Christians must be mindful of using God for our purposes rather than His. When we do that, we become false prophets.

Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you yourselves requested of the Lord your God when you were assembled at Mount Sinai. You said, ‘Don’t let us hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore or see this blazing fire, for we will die.’

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘What they have said is right. I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf. But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’ (Deuteronomy 18:15-20 NLT)

The best way to discern false prophecy is to put the words of the prophet into God’s mouth and see how they sound. When I’m confused by false teaching, I ask the Holy Spirit for help. God quietly asks, “Does that sound like Me?” I almost always grin and say, “No, it doesn’t, Lord.”

The times I don’t grin and see the truth are times when I’m trying to convince myself. I want to be right. I want to retaliate. I want revenge. I want others to see my point. I want others to know how hard I work. God waits patiently for me to hear His truth; but His voice is the soft one, so the other voices must die down before I can hear His.

Moses knew the difficulty of hearing God, and he knew it was even harder to get the Israelites to hear God’s message from Him. The work of a prophet is the most difficult in the world. It’s tempting to use the position for personal gain, power, or sympathy. The false gods are powerful ones that are easy to hear. Satan always agrees and and says exactly what we want to hear. False prophets do the same.

Prophets are human. They make mistakes and feel the same emotions we all feel. God’s messengers make a beautiful difference in the world by giving hope to His children. They feed His sheep. When prophets do anything else, they are treading in very dangerous waters. God knows false gods are tempting, but He also knows their message will hurt His children. He doesn’t like for His children to be hurt, and that is especially true when the harm done is in His name. Every parent can relate to that. We know the dangers our children face, and we worry about the temptations in their paths.

God will not be used or abused by false prophets and teachers. I don’t believe verse 20 means God will strike down and kill those who use His name falsely. Otherwise, there would be no humans left on this planet. I think it means the words of false prophets must die before I can hear His truth.

I can’t discern false prophets without the help of the Holy Spirit. Evil’s greatest power is disguising itself as good. The truth isn’t always easy to hear, but the words of those who say what I want to hear is like sweet honey until it finds its way into my heart. There it becomes a bitter pill. False prophets hide the resentment and jealousy in their own hearts. Their messages are their messages, and they leave me as depleted as they are.

God’s messengers love Him and speak His truth with a love that makes me want to love Him too. Their messages feed and fill me with a sense of wonder that nudges me a little nearer to God.

A close relationship with Christ helps me see the wolf lurking under the sheep’s clothing of a false prophet, and it also helps me flush out any wolves who may be roaming around in my own heart.

false-prophet

 

Authentic Authority

Evil spirits haunting a man in the synagogue knew Jesus and asked why He was interfering with them. That made those in attendance stop and stare in disbelief. Jesus had performed  miracles before, but a conversation with evil spirits? When He told the spirits to be quiet and come out of the man, the crowd heard something they hadn’t heard before. They heard a man speaking with authority and wanted to know where He got that authority.

Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law.

Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.

Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” The news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28 NLT)

The crowds were used to being read to, lectured, and told how they should behave. They were not accustomed to hearing someone speak with God’s authority. Jesus exerted that authority to the evil spirits, and they obeyed Him because they had no choice. God gives me a choice because He wants my obedience to be out of love.

Religious leaders resented Jesus. They were, and wanted to remain, the authority when it came to God and His Word. Who did this rabbi think He was? To the Pharisees, authority meant control. To Christ, authority meant freedom. The evil sprits were forced to obey Christ’s commands, and He could make all of us obey in the same way, but He wants obedience born in freedom and carried out in love. That’s the way He obeyed, and it made a beautiful difference in the world.

Photo Credit:maxresdefault
Photo Credit:maxresdefault

The Best Witness of All

From start to finish, Psalm 103 reminds me that I can count on God’s lovingkindness. He forgives, redeems, crowns, fills, gives, and does all He does out of a deep love for me. That makes me want to praise Him with all that I am. It had the same effect upon David, a man truly after God’s own heart.

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

The Lord gives righteousness
    and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

He revealed his character to Moses
    and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
    nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
    as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
    with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
   of those who are faithful to his covenant,
    of those who obey his commandments!

The Lord has made the heavens his throne;
    from there he rules over everything.

Praise the Lord, you angels,
    you mighty ones who carry out his plans,
    listening for each of his commands.
Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels
    who serve him and do his will!
Praise the Lord, everything he has created,
    everything in all his kingdom.

Let all that I am praise the Lord. (NLT)

How can I read Psalm 103 and not understand the extent of God’s love for me? If I don’t read it with all that I am, I can do just that. All that I am is His, and that means the good and the bad. Love accepts both, and no one loves as God does. He is love and knowing that enables me to see Him and me in the light of His Son’s precious love. David knew the Messiah’s love would come one day. He couldn’t wait, so he sought God’s heart in a brazen way. His psalms are beautiful witnesses to intimacy he sought and found.

God has armies of angels at His command. He made the heavens and rules over everything, but lovingkindness is His greatest strength. His Son’s precious love redefined power and changed the world. David was a man after God’s own heart, and his pursuit paid off. He found love where most found fear. His awe of God inspired this, and many other, beautiful songs of praise that make me want to love God the way he did. That’s the best witness of all!

Photo Credit: heartlight.org
Photo Credit: heartlight.org