What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dealing With Disappointment in Ministry


Is it hard to move on after someone has disappointed us? We grieve and we hurt, but how long should we stay there? I’ve experienced this bitterly when someone I was working with to help them grow deeper with Christ and excel at their work just stopped coming around. I contacted them. I wrote them. I prayed earnestly for them, but they had turned away from the Lord and me. I was heartbroken. It paralyzed me from seeking out others who might be interested in learning more about God. I felt I had done something wrong. Maybe my sense of pride at “my” accomplishments in that person was attacked.
Possibly, Samuel felt this way about Saul. In 1 Samuel 14 Saul didn’t follow through on God’s command to him. In 1 Samuel 15 Samuel confronts Saul and asks for him to repent and put God first in his life. Saul thought he knew better and refused to repent. In 1n 1 Samuel 16 we see how Saul’s disobedience and turning away from God affected Samuel. Samuel was grieving over Saul (vs. 1). In the New Century Version (NCV) of the Bible it says that Samuel continued to feel sorry for Saul even though God had said He was done with him. The New International Version (NIV) says Samuel was mourning over Saul. “Now the Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul . . .?’” We don’t know how long Samuel was feeling bad for Saul. This verse seems to indicate that it had been awhile. Commentator Tom Bradford in his Torah Notes, thought that it happened pretty quickly and that there should be no chapter break between 15 and 16.
There are three possible lessons for me in this. First, I did not “make” someone follow God with his or her whole heart. Even if the person I’d been working with had continued to follow God, it wasn’t my doing – it is always God’s doing. As I didn’t make them faithful followers of Christ, I didn’t do something to make them make other choices. It’s always about individual choices. As a result, whatever happens with the people I’m working with, I need to let go and turn it all over to God. I need to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives and trust Him for the outcomes.
Second, whether it’s been a short time since a follower has wandered away from Christ or a long time, feeling some grief or regret is reasonable, even if it’s not desirable. I must use that grief to pray for those people. It’s okay to continue to love them, but a certain sense of detachment is needed, just like a parent with an adult child who wanders away from the Lord. (Side note: When opportunities arise where a parent can gently direct their child back to the ways of God, those opportunities should be taken. Key word: gently; not with heaping amounts of judgment.)
Third, God wants us to quickly take up His message again and push ahead with His agenda. I learned that there were others waiting and looking for some help in their relationships with God. If I stayed mourning too long, I might miss those needs. Staying focused on the past and on seeming failures, leads to depression or fear or discouragement, which lead us to inaction. Inaction is not God’s desire for His people. He expects us to be about doing His business. Doing so will lift our spirits and give us a new sense of purpose. We will be operating within God’s will. There’s still much to be done, and like Samuel, we need to be following God’s directives and keep moving ahead.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Healthy Fear


What do you think of when you hear the word, “fear?” Fearful? Afraid? Scary? Doom? Terror? Panic? Dread? Dismay? Distress? Horror? You might think I’m talking about watching horror movies or observing Halloween, but the way I think about fear is completely different.
I’m thinking about a different kind of fear – a Biblical definition of fear. There may be an element of feeling I need to fear the judgment of God, but that is a very small part of what it means to “fear God.” I once felt a dictionary definition when it came to fearing God. I knew I was a bad person who was unable to be the perfect person I felt the religion of my childhood expected me to be. Fear was wrapped up in having “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid” (dictionary.com). Yes, that was it. I was afraid of God and the sure punishment He would exact from me and toward me. That left me feeling hopeless, shameful, and depressed. I just knew that I could never please God.
The definition of fear does not end there when you look at it from a Biblical perspective. Online I found this quote by Robert B. Strimple: “There is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness, love, and yes, fear.” The article went on to say, “ . . . Some translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version, sometimes replace the work “fear” with “reverence.” Other translations use the word, “respect” instead of “fear.” A Biblical fear of God involves our recognition of His greatness. It involves recognizing His unique characteristics, such as omnipotence (all power), omnipresence (always present), and omniscience (all knowing). The Lord alone has these characteristics those (although some people may think they have these characteristics). God’s character is merciful and righteous at the same time whereas people sway between one and the other.
God’s characteristics create wonder in me. That wonder leads to the Biblical explanation of fear of Strimple’s definition above. I do have awe and reverence for God. I do adore Him and honor Him. I fall on my knees in worship and thankfulness. And, I have confidence in His love for me. That love that I cannot fully understand results from looking at God’s character and fearing Him. Each morning I pause and look at God’s character and fear Him. I worship Him. I give Him all the respect humanly possible for me to give. That’s a good place to start fearing God in the Biblical sense.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

True Success


What is a writer’s (or anybody else’s) measure of true success? Borrowing from Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young (https://www.writefromthedeep.com/), speakers at the Maranatha Christian Writers’ Conference, I’m going to talk about what being a successful writer means to me. These are principles for everyone to keep in mind.
Success doesn’t mean getting published. Of course, as a writer, that is a goal; it’s just not the goal. Other people have other goals – acquiring wealth, providing for their families, moving up the corporate ladder, a new car, a new house, getting married, having children, etc. Don’t get me wrong; those things are good and worthwhile to an extent. They may bring a measure of happiness to people’s lives, however, the thrill of achieving this kind of “success” will fade and people will want more. It’s that way with writing and getting published, also.
True success that lasts over long periods of time – may I even say, “over eternity” – comes from bringing God glory in all that is done. As a writer, my material or manuscript may be rejected by big publishing houses or by smaller publishing houses. That’s really out of my control, but I’m not going to measure my success by what publishers have to say. It would be nice to be appreciated and published, but that is not why or for whom I write. I write because God gave me this gift, this talent, and the mindset to pursue writing. It’s part of who I am – since childhood. It’s how I figure out what’s going on in my head and in my life. It helps me make sense of the world and my role in it.
Writing for God’s glory means I use the gifts and talents He’s given me to the best of my ability. Striving for excellence is part of it. I define “excellence” as doing the best possible with the resources, tools, and time available. Success is measured by how well, how often, and how lovingly I carry out the tasks God has given me. This is true for everyone no matter what gifts and talents God has given to an individual. If a person has the gift of being the perfect hostess (hospitality), let them exercise that skill by serving others. If a person has the gift of preaching, they better be about preaching. True success, again, is using the gifts God has given to minister to others. I do that through my writing.
Whether I ever get published or not, as long as I’m writing with God’s purposes in mind, I am being successful. If only one person reads my blog each week, if I have faithfully written as God has directed me, I am a success. That one person may be God’s intended audience. That gives new energy to my writing practices. It also gives me new motivation for doing what God has directed me to do: WRITE.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Partial Obedience


Is there such a thing as partial obedience to God? Saul felt so, but it greatly displeased God and Samuel, and cost Saul the kingdom. In 1 Samuel 15, God, through Samuel, gives Saul a direct order. This order was to be followed in every aspect.
God called for a war with Amalek because of the way Amalek had treated the Israelites when they first left Egypt and were crossing the desert on their way to the promise land. Amalek had attacked an unarmed Israel without cause. Now, several hundred years later, God passes judgment on Amalek. His order is to completely erase Amalek from the face of the earth: “Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated” (1 Samuel 15:18b). There was supposed to be nothing left of the Amalekites – no buildings, no people, no animals.
However, Saul only partially obeyed God’s orders. He kept the healthiest of the livestock and he captured Agag the king of Amalek, bringing Agag back to the camp. When Samuel confronts Saul, Saul says,
I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the kind of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgl (vs. 20-21).
Samuel laid out the offense Saul committed in verse 22: “Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’” God obviously was not impressed with Saul’s behavior. God saw right through Saul’s act of loving and serving Him. God’s penalty for Saul is found in verse 23 as Samuel relays God’s message to Saul. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
The chapter goes on to record more of Saul’s excuses and his false worship of Samuel’s God (Saul keeps saying to Samuel, “your God,” instead of submitting to Him for himself).
Saul’s example challenged me to look at my own life. Am I practicing “partial obedience?” I’d say that partial obedience is not obedience at all. God is not satisfied with His people picking and choosing which parts or phrases of Scripture we are going to do. He wants us to apply everything we know from the Word to our lives. One commentator said that “partial obedience” is actually an oxymoron (“a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction”). I believe making specific, measurable applications from what we read and hear from Scripture is the way to lay aside our partially following Christ and lead changed lives that show just how great God is.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Rash Decisions


In the second part of 1 Samuel 14 we see Saul making more impulsive decisions which affect Israel’s success in battle, their relationship with God, and created long-term consequences. Before we criticize Saul too much, we need to reflect on our own decisions because we are much like Saul.
The first impetuous oath we see from Saul happens in verse 24. This was after Jonathan had success, with only his armor bearer with him, in attacking the Philistines and before Saul decided to join in the battle. The oath or vow was this: “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” First, Saul was concerned about his success and reputation; he focused on himself avenging his enemies. Not God’s enemies, or Israel’s enemies, but he claimed the battle was his to win or lose. The long-term effect was that the warriors did not eat honey flowing from the ground when they came upon it and they were weary from the battle. This left them weakened and tired. What the army gained in time by not stopping to eat, they lost in strength and the victory was still not complete.
The second oath resulted from Jonathan, who had not made the oath because he was not present when Saul forced it upon his soldiers, eating the honey. When Saul thought to consult God, the priests were unable to get any answers, so Saul assumed someone had sinned or violated the oath to not eat. His oath this time, in verse 39, says, “For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” Was Saul really ready to forfeit his son over this? We find later that he was, whether out of maintaining his own pride or for some other reason, because Providence caused the lot to indicate the “sin” had fallen on Jonathan.
When Saul found out the “guilty” party was Jonathan (but not really since Jonathan had not been present for the oath and did not know he was not supposed to eat), he made another oath: “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan” (verse 44). Basically, what Saul asked is that God punish himself with the same consequence as Jonathan’s if he didn’t follow through on the second oath. Well the people spoke up and said they refused to let Jonathan die because Jonathan obviously was doing God’s work and brought great deliverance to Israel during this battle with the Philistines. As a result, Saul did eventually lose his throne and his life; and Jonathan also never gained the throne, dying at the same time Saul did (Chapter 31).
Aren’t we also fragile, insecure and ego-driven as Saul was? Saul failed to glorify God and to put God first, trusting in Him for everything. Saul made his own decisions, acted rashly, and there were severe consequences for doing that. I know if I’m not careful I make impulsive and not well thought out decisions that affect my relationship with God and with other people. Sometimes those decisions lead to long-term consequences that I have to deal with for the rest of my life. So, I should not look too harshly upon Saul or other people who seem to be acting impulsively. I am just like them.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Boundaries and Counselors


There were many lessons and applications to be had in 1 Samuel 14. I found two, with the help of a commentator, in the first several verses. One was about how God sets boundaries on the enemies we face. The other was about surrounding ourselves with people who will tell us what we need to know and not just what we want to hear.
The first thoughts came from the commentary by Matthew Henry as introduction to chapter 14. The Israelites had been holding back from the battle with the Philistines, partly because of Saul’s timidity and partly because Saul was left with only about 600 men. The other men (part of a 3,000 strong army) had deserted and hidden in the nearby mountains. The Philistines could have easily routed the Israelites. Why didn’t the Philistines attack?
The answer may be more complicated, but we cannot dismiss God’s role in this. God sets the boundaries. He held back the Philistines from attacking. God was protecting Israel from the enemy. Henry went on to say it’s the same for us today: “Invisible power sets bounds to the malice of the church’s enemies.” Reflecting on my life, I see that principle played out in my own life in various ways. One way has to do with my enemy of suicidal ideation. Thinking about and planning for suicide, at one time in my life, was a regular activity. I even attempted a few times. Some people might say I wasn’t serious about it or I’d have managed to actually die. Looking at the principles in this opening to 1 Samuel 14, I see that God was setting and holding the boundaries. He just would not let me die. The enemy was lurking, but God held it back and protected me.
This brings me to the second lesson and application. In verse three, we are told that Ahijah, a descendent of Eli (under whose tutorage Samuel was raised) was acting as a high priest. The problem with this is that Ahijah was not from the Levite family God designated to be the high priests, just as Eli had not been. Saul preferred Ahijah to Samuel. Henry, in his commentary, gives a possible reason for this, and it’s a reason or excuse many people still give for not choosing to listen to wise counsel. Saul wanted a high priest that would listen to him and do what he said. Saul sought someone who would tell him what he wanted to hear. From previous encounters with Samuel, Saul knew Samuel would not do this, but would confront him and reprove him according to God’s designs and will. Saul did not like what Samuel had to say.
I have fallen prey to this deception. I have sought out people I thought would agree with me. Making decisions based on what I wanted to hear often led to more trouble and struggles. At one point in my recovery from my mental illness, I decided to seek out wise and godly counsel hoping for better results. I did not like what my doctors and therapists had to say most of the time. They challenged me and confronted me and urged me to change the way I acted and thought. I did not fully trust them. It was often uncomfortable, however, as a result of heeding their wise instructions, I began to recover and my mental illness stabilized. Today, I may not like or agree with what my therapist and psychiatrist want me to do, but I do what they suggest anyway and am led back to right thinking, right living, and a right relationship with God.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Distractions


There are hoards of things that compete in my mind for the space God deserves. Unlike the Israelites at the beginning of Saul’s reign, my distractions are not responsible for the downfall of nations. They do get me sidetracked from serving God in the most productive ways possible.
The Israelites in 1 Samuel 13 had let the Philistines strip them of their skilled metal workers. At first it probably appeared that it was a small concession for peace to let the Philistines have all the metal workers. The Philistines had basically said, “You will send all your skilled iron craftsmen to us and we will make what you need for you, and we will not come against you in war.” The Israelites were lulled into thinking that it was a good trade. The Philistines, however, were being sneaky and taking away the opportunities for the Israelites to make anything out of metal for their use. This was especially dire when king Saul decided to fight against the Philistines and push them out of the Promised Land. The Israelites were left with wooden implements (mostly farming implements) as weapons, no match for the swords and spears the Philistines had available to them. It is likely that Israelite craftsmen were actually making the weapons that would destroy Israel!
While the Philistines were quietly making it impossible for the Israelites to make physical weapons of war that could be used to fight in God’s name, there are also subtle things sneaking into my life that render me less effective for God. Most of these things are time consumers or time wasters. Some are attitudes and things I allow to corrupt my thoughts and lead me away from God’s truth.
Can you think of any of those things in your own lives? Mindless activities serve a purpose – when they do not interfere with developing a closer walk with God. I enjoy watching television in the evenings when my mind is tired and I’m physically tired out from the day’s activities. Yet I also watch TV when I could be worshipping and praising God, when I could be praying for my concerns or the concerns of others. I often think I’ve done enough and God will let me off the hook for further learning about Him for the day. Yet I am not totally at peace within my soul and therefore there is more space for Him to fill me. That doesn’t happen by watching TV or playing solitaire on my phone.
I want to intentionally change and trust God to help me not let “sneaky” things interrupt my relationship with Him. I want to intentionally be filled with the Holy Spirit in such a way as to be more useful in God’s battles. I don’t want to be caught without my spears and swords.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An Assignment


God had appointed a king over Israel through His man, Samuel. With this appointment of Saul as king, Samuel’s role changed. Before, Samuel had been God’s spokesman in all aspects of the Israelites lives. He was the “political” leader, the “governmental” leader, the “judge,” and the spiritual connection to God. Now, in 1 Samuel 12, we see his role shifting. The political and governmental leadership (and the people’s allegiance in those areas) was placed on the person of Saul, the earthly king that made them just like the other nations. Saul would also be responsible to set up a system to judge the people when there were disputes or wrongdoing.
In 1 Samuel 12:23 Samuel explains his new role in the kingdom of Israel: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” Samuel’s ongoing assignment was to pray for the people, and instruct them, when asked, “in the good and right way.” He went on to give them some instruction in verses 24-25:
Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away.”
This caused me to consider what my assignment is. Samuel’s was to keep praying and listening to God. I think God gives Christians many “assignments” from studying His Word to being kind and considerate to others. One of these assignments is the same as it was for Samuel: to pray on behalf of people.
God has been bringing this issue to my attention for quite some time now. Back in January of 2016, I was prompted to start using a “prayer journal” again. I started one, writing prayer requests and answers down inconsistently from January to August. Then I started again in January 2017 writing a total of 7 requests down during 2017 (all in January). In 2018, I again opened my prayer journal beginning in April and was more consistent than in the previous years. Yet there are many missing days.
That’s not to say I didn’t pray. I pray all through my day, everyday; however, it’s not intentional, dedicated prayer time. These short, on-the-go prayers have been answered and I continue to pray many of them as I go about my days. I’m not saying that doing that is wrong – even if it’s the only kind of praying we do. I just feel that God has given me an assignment to be more intentional about my prayers. He wants me, for my own mental health, to write the prayers down, pray them through regularly, and make notes of answers to the prayers. When I do this, I am so encouraged and am able to trust God to a higher degree. And, in keeping with Philippians 4:6-7, God’s peace washes over me even as I wait for the prayers to be answered.
I want that kind of peace in my life. My intention is to be as committed to prayer as Samuel was. That starts today.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Anxiety and Trust


This week’s blog is going to deviate from the series on 1 Samuel. Due to a complicated life filled with trips to pick up and take back a daughter to college, a wedding shower, shopping and baking for the wedding shower, and dealing with a medical issue I did not have time to do my normal Bible study. It would’ve been on 1 Samuel 12, but that will have to wait until next week.
I am struggling with bucketfuls of anxiety these days. Due to my husband’s recent retirement, we have new medical insurance. I am very thankful we have a good retirement insurance plan, but it’s not great like the insurance we had before retirement. Thus there are some issues, which, at this point, are not being resolved in a favorable manner. I am working with my doctor to come up with alternate solutions, but it’s a slow process, and time is running out before things might turn into living in a hot frying pan.
Praise is my solution to my anxiety in this situation. Giving glory to God, recognizing Him for Who He is, has been a way to relieve the paralyzing fear and worry. This is what David faithfully did as shown in many of his Psalms. Those Psalms indicate David was worried, afraid, lonely, unsure, and facing trouble. David spoke to God about all these concerns even to the point of tears and suicidal depression. God wants us to bring all our concerns before Him; however, like David, He also wants us to look at the bigger picture remembering the obstacles God has overcome in the past and remembering His promises that He will do so again. We see that bigger picture when we praise God.
So in my attitude and posture, I bow before God and share all my struggles with Him (of course, He already knows all about what’s going on and is already working to see His plans come to fruition). I find myself acting and thinking like David. I just did it in the last sentence: I remember the truth about God and trust Him in each situation. I’m able to relax and find peace when I do it. Most often the peace does not last very long, sometimes only 10 minutes. The solution is to take notice again of God’s greatness and love by praising Him.
I am far from having this down pat. It is something I try to practice and I surround myself with people who remind me to stop, relax, praise God, and experience His peace. Someone is not always around; so then I rely on the Holy Spirit to nudge me in the direction of pausing and praising.
I will end these thoughts and stop and praise God, to gain peace in this moment. Maybe I will be able to concentrate for a time on some productive activity as a result of that peace.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Historical Patterns


As I studied 1 Samuel 11, I didn’t have any great insights leading to practical application for me. The notes I referenced, Tom Bradford’sTorah Class, told readers of the historical books to be looking for patterns that occur over time and throughout the books of the Bible.
His thoughts were that things and events in Scripture do not happen in isolation. The events in Scripture build upon one another. I think we should have started our study of these historical books in the book of Judges, but even then there are links and patterns dating even further back in history.
For instance, 1 Samuel 11:6-7 give us an account of the way Saul called all the people of Israel together – by cutting apart two oxen and sending parts to each of the tribes with the message to all the able-bodied warriors to meet Saul in Bezek. The purpose was to form an army strong enough to go out against the army of Ammon who had severely threatened a town in Benjamin.
It’s kind of gruesome; however, it was not done in isolation. It actually had occurred before where the individual cut up was a man’s concubine who had been murdered by the people. In that situation, the tribes were gathered together to avenge those who did this wrong to the woman. Here, in 1 Samuel, Saul is reminding the tribes of this incident and asking them to come defend the city where that man had lived, kind of as pay back. (See Judges 19-21 for the background and beginning of this pattern.)
There are many more examples of events that happened in this chapter that can be seen as a pattern throughout the history of Israel. Without the help of the commentators, they are sometimes hard to see. I think, as we do our daily reading of the Bible, we need to take into account the whole picture. This is why Bible reading is as important as daily excursions into individual passages or chapters (Quiet Times), and deep and devoted time spent in Bible study. We need the overview. We need to watching for patterns and repeated commands so we don’t see each event and situation in isolation from the rest of Scripture. If you are not currently doing an “overview” type of reading the Bible, just start somewhere, keep track of where you’ve been, and look for the patterns.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Salvation Before the Law


    1 Samuel 10 gives the account of how Saul was both privately and publicly announced as king of Israel. Part of Samuel’s conversation with Saul in private included a series of events that would happen to confirm to Saul that Samuel’s message was from God. These prophecies immediately occurred and, hopefully, confirmed to Saul that he was designated by God to be the first king of Israel, although Saul was initially not very excited about the idea.
     Samuel gathered all the tribes of Israel so God could reveal the anointing of Saul to them. After a process of elimination, Saul was the “chosen” one, however, Saul could not be found. He was hiding with the baggage. We are not told why he was doing this; it could be from humility, fear, reluctance, or something completely different.
Before the choosing process occurred, the Lord spoke to the people through Samuel. “Thus says, the Lord, The God of Israel, ‘I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But you have today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, ‘NO, but set a king over us!” (1 Samuel 10:18-19).
     The point I want to look at comes from the description God gave for what He did for the people: “delivered” and later, “delivers.” Some translations use the words “saved” and “saves.” This is an account of God’s salvation being freely offered to the people of Israel. The same salvation He offers to us. Notice, God said He saved them before they had one word of the Law. The Laws is not, then or now, the means of salvation. Salvation is a choice God makes and provides a way for us to access it through faith.
     This is an important truth for every person on this earth. Following the precepts and statutes of the Old Testament saves no one. That is not the purpose of the Old Testament, even the first five books, the Law. Romans 3:20 tells us the purpose of the Law: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” The Old Testament account here of the words of God reveals the same truth to us. This is the message of all of Scripture. This is the truth from the beginning of time. 
     Whether a Jew or Gentile we are saved apart from the Laws God gave Moses. It’s been salvation then Law since the beginning of time. Therefore, we should not expect people to follow the Laws (of society or of God) before they are saved. Obedience to the Law only becomes possible after being saved. Let me say it again: it is not the Law that saves us. It’s God’s grace and mercy and power.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Seek Wisdom


1 Samuel 9 gives us the account of the future king of Israel, Saul, meeting Samuel for the first time. Although Samuel’s circuit, described in 1 Samuel 7:15-17, brought Samuel close to where Saul lived, it seems from the text that Saul did not know of him. At least Saul did not recognize Samuel (1 Samuel 9:18).
This tells me something. It appears that Saul was not interested in spiritual matters. It appears that Saul did not attend any of the events hosted by Samuel or in Samuel’s honor when Samuel was nearby. We can’t tell if this meant that Saul was totally oblivious to God and His teachings, but it may be indicative of the state of the general population of Israel at the time.
Later, Saul is looking for some lost donkeys. His father had sent him on this mission. After a few days, when Saul and a servant had not yet found the donkeys, Saul was ready to give up. Granted, he did not want to be gone even longer and cause his father to be concerned (vs. 5). That’s to be admired; however, there is no record of Saul and the servant praying for guidance. Saul especially seemed to rely on his own wisdom and skills, and became discouraged when they could not find the donkeys.
This man that God picked to be king is not noted for his wisdom, virtue, leaning, or piety. No real accomplishments are even mentioned. Saul was probably around 40 at the time of these events, yet did not have servants of his own to send to find the donkeys. He was also still under the leadership of his father (this may have been cultural). It does not appear as though Saul had any distinguishing characteristics of a good leader. What Scripture does record are Saul’s physical characteristics, those characteristics that would appeal to the people as being someone fit for a king (vs. 2). Those are the characteristics that the kings of other nations displayed, and the people of Israel wanted a king like the other nations.
Back to the story of Saul meeting Samuel: While Saul was not inclined to seek wisdom from the spiritual leaders of his time, the servant did remember that there was a “seer” or “prophet” in a nearby town. The servant suggested they seek him out for advice. Saul had some objections, but the servant’s opinions prevailed and they went looking for the seer. So, even though Saul is not recorded as being a man of prayer, because it was convenient, they went to seek Samuel out.
My contention is that things may have gone differently if Saul and the servant had considered seeking wisdom out in the first place. I take this as a warning for me. I need to seek wisdom first in any decisions or endeavors I attempt. I also, unlike Saul, need to seek it even if it means going out of my way. Waiting for a convenient time should not be an option for me. I must seek out wisdom through prayer and wise counsel, right from the beginning of the decision-making process.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Each His Own Grace


At the beginning of 1 Samuel 8 we have a description of Samuel’s family. Scripture doesn’t tell us Samuel was married but we can make an assumption that he was because he had children. We don’t know what Samuel did as a father. We don’t know what kind of teacher he was for his children. We don’t know anything about his wife. What we do know is found in verses 1-5:
And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways . . .”

For whatever reason, Samuel’s sons did not turn out well. Was it Samuel’s fault? Did he fail to learn from Eli and his sons? Did he try to do the right things, but the sons were still disobedient and dishonest? We just don’t know.
What we do know is that the children of a good man and servant of God had turned aside from God’s ways. We know that the sons were in a town quite a distance from Samuel. Possibly Samuel sent them there because it was in an area Samuel’s regular circuit didn’t take him to and the people there needed judges. Maybe the power and influence the sons had in that area inflated their egos so they thought they were above the laws.
I learned two important things from this passage. First, honor and prestige can change men’s minds and hearts – and not usually for the better. We need to watch out for that in our own lives especially if we achieve some measure of earthly prominence in society. Second, God extends His grace to individuals, not families (or churches). It’s up to each person to recognize God’s grace and choose service to God over worldly possessions and prestige. Samuel’s faith could not blanket his children. They each have to make the decision to follow God on their own. That’s still true for us today. Whether we did all the right things in raising our children or not, ultimately, it’s up to each child to make a decision to do what is right in God’s eyes. Parents can’t force it on their offspring, and parents can’t make the decision for each individual under their care.
So, whether I did everything right or not, it’s up to my children to come to depend on divine grace for themselves. I hope my instructions and example influenced them in their decision-making process. I did the best I could. Still, ultimately, it’s up to them to depend on God and gain salvation for themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My Places of Worship


In rereading 1 Samuel 7 the last verse spoke to me: “But Samuel always went back to Ramah, where his home was. There he judged Israel and built an altar to the Lord” (New Century Version). I’m not sure why, but I have a fear of the idea of building an altar to the Lord as part of my spiritual practice. Maybe because many of the altars built in Scripture were to false gods and I don’t want to make that mistake.

Yet as I thought about this, I realized that in a way there is an “altar” in my heart. I’ve dedicated the core of my being to the Almighty God. This is not a stagnant place, but a growing, changing, dynamic aspect of my walk with God. As I bow before God, which I can do no matter where I am, I worship and remember Him. I can bring Him glory through my attitudes and behavior.

We are not required to offer Old Testament style sacrifices, so an actual altar built with stones and mortar is not necessary. This being said, God still desires our sacrifices – sacrifices of service. Romans 12:1 tells us about this kind of sacrifice: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” A living and holy, active and pure service to God is our new form of sacrifice. In order to follow through on the kind of sacrifices God wants from His New Testament followers, we need to be in service to Him.

Then I thought again about having an altar in my home. In a way I do have one. It’s my desk where I have my personal time with God each morning, use my prayer journal to pray, write my daily praises on Facebook, study God’s Word, and meditate and consider what to write in my weekly blog post. It’s where all my study materials are kept and used. It’s where I prayerfully conduct daily business, and write letters and work on writing books. I can’t approach my desk without thinking of and worshiping my God.

What’s the condition of your heart altar? Do you have a place set aside to worship and serve God? Consider making such altars in your world.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thanksgiving; 1 Samuel 7


In 1 Samuel 7, there’s the story of the Israelites gathering, at Samuel’s suggestion, to mark the occasion of returning to the Lord (20 years after the Ark had been returned to Israel). It took the people that long to “lament after the Lord” (vs. 2). Samuel’s recommendations were for the people to separate from their idols and to engage in service to God. As part of that service, Samuel had them “gather all Israel to Mizpah” (vs. 5), and he would pray for them.
The Philistines got worried thinking Israel had gathered as a rendezvous for war against them; however, they were just there to pray and worship God. The Israelites did not have weapons with them, and when they saw the Philistines posturing for battle against them, they became fearful. They asked Samuel to “cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (vs. 8). There’s a lesson here about relying on God as our only weapon, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about in this article.
God answered Samuel’s prayer and the Philistines ended up confused and routed by the Lord, without the Israelites doing a thing. The Israelites “pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car” (vs. 11). “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’” (vs. 12). So, even though there was unfinished business in the political arena and the future of Israel (and their obedience to God) was yet unfinished, Samuel made sure they acknowledged what God had already done.
One commentator, Matthew Henry, also directed us to Acts 26:22 to see Paul’s reaction to similar circumstances (seeing God work and waiting to see what else will happen): “Having therefore obtained help from God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great . . .” (KJV). I’m convicted that my lack of thankfulness for what God’s already done, especially in some recent issues in my life, is hindering me from proceeding in faith in other areas of my life and ministry. I don’t give thanks and I worry. I don’t acknowledge what God has already done and fail to recognize what He can do in the future. My anxiety level increases and my joy decreases.
This is contrary to what I learned studying Philippians 4:4-9 where in verses 6-7 we are given the “formula” for less/no anxiety: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” My prayers and supplications are not enough. They need to be done with thanksgiving – acknowledging what God has already accomplished in my life and situations – in order to experience the peace God offers. Also, doing that takes my mind off my own problems and allows me to better minister to others. So, I’m pausing right now to give thanks. Do you need to take the time to do the same?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Some Thoughts From 1 Samuel 5-6


As I reviewed my notes in preparation for my study of 1 Samuel 7, a couple of things jumped out at me. These thoughts, mostly contrasts between then and now, lead me to be thankful and full of praise.
First, the ancient peoples had gods. Many of them. They would incorporate any conquered nation’s gods into their own system of belief. They were afraid of offending any god and believed the more gods there were on their side, the better. They offered gifts, sacrifices and offerings to all the gods hoping it would bring favor upon them. Yet, they were never sure that any of that made any difference so they would increase the stakes and offer even more and more outrageous things (even to the point of sacrificing children). No matter what they offered, success and good fortune were still up for grabs and a matter of luck.
Fortunately, we have one God, who is able to act on our behalf. Our one God showed Himself to be infinitely more powerful than the god of the Philistines (without the help of humans, He knocked over their god and broke off its head and hands). God is truly at work in our world, then, throughout history, and today. He can act apart from our actions, but He wants to act in response to our steadfast and believing prayers. He can intervene on behalf of His own glory and honor, but He’s given us responsibility to call Him into action. That doesn’t mean He changes His mind because of our prayers, but it does mean when we pray we will see the “supernatural invade the natural” (Pastor Mark Wilson, June 2018).
Second, the ancient people had to worry about retaliation by the gods. They feared punishment. However, because of Christ’s sacrifice fulfilling all the rituals once and for all, we do not have to fear punishment from God. He doesn’t approve of disobedience to His commands (both those in the Old Testament and the New Testament), but He doesn’t mercilessly punish us. He does discipline us in hopes that the discipline (like that of a good Father) will lead us back into obedience and right living. We must also keep in mind that His commands are designed with our wellbeing in mind. Obedience leads to healthier lives, better relationships, and greater purposes as we go through life on this earth. Temptations will still come; we live in a sinful world. However, obedience lessens the impact of those temptations and gives us the tools we need to do the right things in spite of the temptations Satan throws at us.
I’m thankful there is a God who is powerful and at work in our world (and my life) today. I’m also thankful that my God is a merciful God who disciplines me so I can live a better, safer, happier, and healthier life.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Examine the Word


The next part of 1 Samuel I studied is chapter 6 where the Philistines decided to send the Ark of God back to the Israelites because of the illness and death the Ark had brought upon them. The leaders decided to consult their priests and diviners (verse 2) and asked them how to go about doing so. The plan included two untrained cows hitched to a previously unused cart (verse 7), and a guilt offering of gold (verse 8).

The Philistines were still not sure it was Israel’s God of the Ark that had caused all the trouble in their cities, so they were testing God to see if He could/would bring the cart into Israel even with no rider. Also the cows were untrained to pull a cart and they had calves at home they would be tempted to turn back for. They were trying to determine if the illnesses were just a coincidence and not related to the Ark.

The cart went true without going to the right or the left and arrived in Beth-shemesh safely. Beth-shemesh was one of the 48 cities allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:16). That’s important to note and a key element of my thoughts for today. The city had a large proportion of the Levites, those appointed priests to minister to God in Israel. Yet, Israel or its priests were not following God’s system very closely. While the Ark was in Beth-shemesh God “struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord” (verse 19). This was strictly forbidden; only the Levites from the family of Kohath were supposed to touch the Ark or carry it. However, it appears that the Levites in this city did not know the laws and statutes, nor did they bother to consult the Scriptures. They asked, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” They sent messengers to another town asking them to come down and get the Ark.

My application: Consult God’s Word when I want to know what God’s will is for my life. I do not know everything God has commanded us, so I am comparable to the Levites in Beth-shemesh in that regard. However, I do know God has rules to follow and I can verify what those rules are by studying and consulting His Word. A good practice for all of us to follow.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

God Alone


Continuing in my study of 1 Samuel this week, the behavior of the Philistines after “capturing” the ark of God from the Israelites was intriguing. The first thing they did was take the ark and place it at the feet of their stone God, Dagon, in Dagon’s temple in Ashdod. It was like a trophy to be displayed and a way to say, “Our god is better than your God.” They seemed to think that it was Dagon who had provided the victory over the Israelites and their God.

However, God had a different idea. The next morning when the Ashdodites arose early and went to Dagon’s temple, they found their god knocked over before the ark. They probably thought it was weird, but set Dagon back up. (As a side note, what kind of god is it that needs its followers to stand it up?) However, during the next night, God not only knocked Dagon down again, He went further. “And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold” (Verse 4). Furthermore, God “ravaged them and smote them with tumors” (Verse 6).

The Philistines acknowledge that, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is severed on us and on Dagon our god” (Verse 7). The surmised that God was acting, but they did not renounce Dagon as their God. They saw the power of God and decided to remove the ark from their midst by sending it to another of the Philistines’ cities. In that city, and the successive one as well, the people got ill with some dying and the others getting the same illness as those in Ashdod. So, the Philistines moved the ark again.

A key concept in the commentaries was that God is a jealous God. He will not tolerate other gods before Him, alongside Him, or anywhere near Him. One quote said, “God is not worshipped if He’s not worshipped alone.” Also, worship is more than a song sung in church. It’s about God Himself and our service to Him and Him alone. How do we see God working in and around us in our lives and yet, try to mingle worship of Him with worship of other things, ideas, people, etc.? That is a question each of us needs to answer for ourselves. We should not view it lightly.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Oops!


So, I don’t know if you noticed, but I didn’t post an article last week. The time just got away from me and on Friday I realized I hadn’t done it. So, even though this week is equally as busy, I’m going to write something. Exactly what I do not know. We will see what develops.
I’ve begun a study in the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel with my Bible study partner. We have covered chapters 1-4. One of the first things that stood out to me was a comment in the Reformation Study Bible on 1 Samuel 3:19. First, the verse says, “Thus Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fail.” The overall perspective of the books of Samuel leads us to understand that it is God’s presence with someone that makes the difference between success and failure.
The phrase “the Lord was with him” is used in several places throughout Scripture. Sometimes it’s used to say that God was with someone and the results were success. In other places, it includes the word, “not,” as in “the Lord was not with him.” The results were then failure. There are examples galore of men that were with the Lord and this phrase is applied to them. Many of the men are big names in the Bible and in history, and it starts right at the beginning with Abraham (Genesis 21:22). Other people it is said of include Jacob (Genesis 28:15), Joseph (Genesis 39:2), and David (1 Samuel 16:18; 18:12, 14, 28).
If we want success in our endeavors, we also must have the Lord with us. We know we have the Lord with us when we are seeking to do His revealed will. We find that revealed will in the Bible. I want it to be said of me, “the Lord was with her,” when my life is over. So as God reveals my thoughts and behaviors and how they agree with Scripture or not, I must act accordingly. However, the most important part in this process is having faith in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

God is Righteous and Just


Today in my time in God’s Word, I was presented with the righteousness and justice of God. Let’s not succumb to the idea that because God is love He is only forgiving. He does those things: loving and forgiving. However, He is also jealous and holy.
This is a hard subject to broach in today’s Christian churches. We focus on His salvation and love and caring spirit to attract others to the hope of salvation. However, if we leave out the part about separation and disobedience, what is there to be saved from? Let’s not be fooled into thinking that saying we believe in Jesus is enough. Even the demons believe in Jesus. Let’s not be fooled into thinking that God will save us and provide everything we want, just because we profess Him as Lord.
His plans are unsearchable to us. What we want may have nothing to do with His plans. As I discussed last week, our prayers need to be in line with His will. Our behavior also has to be in line with His will. His will is that we are intimate with Him. Not just saying the right things and sounding good, but truly knowing Him and serving Him. This doesn’t just happen because we prayed some prayer (although that’s a good start). Knowing Him means communicating with Him. Two-way communication. It’s not just praying to Him. And it’s not just reading His Word and listening for His Holy Spirit’s guidance. Both of those behaviors are essential for really getting to know Him.
Part of knowing Him is realizing that He’s a jealous God. He wants nothing or no one to come before Him in our lives. He does discipline those who fail to make Him the priority of their lives. I’m not just talking about those who are not Christians. He disciplines each and every one of us – possibly especially those who say they follow Him – when we don’t make Him the priority in our lives. The discipline can be harsh. In Old Testament times it meant He pruned away some of those He called His own. His character does not change. He will also prune away some of those that He now considers His own in faith. He does what is best for His plan.
I don’t pretend to understand exactly what He’s thinking. I just know He’s not easily fooled by good sounding words or self-serving service. We can volunteer at church, pray publicly in restaurants. We can proclaim Him to others, sound like we know the way. We can read His Word and study the commentators. We can be teaching Christ to our families, sharing Him with our friends. Yet we can still place other things before Him, and He will know. He is a jealous God! We need to examine our hearts and minds. We need to be doing all these things for His glory. We need to have no other “gods” before Him. He is righteous and a just judge. He will not be fooled by our thoughts, feelings, actions, or minds. He will discipline, even to the point of death, any who put other things ahead of Him.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Answered Prayer


On Tuesday, I will have/had hand surgery. Nothing major, however, it will prevent me from making posts for a week or so. I usually write my blog articles on Tuesdays and scheduled them to be posted on Thursday mornings at 2:00 am. This week, I’m writing this on Monday and scheduling it to be posted on Thursday. I don’t know when I will be able to post again but I’m aiming for a couple of weeks.
I’ve been reviewing some key passages of Scripture with a friend the last few weeks. With that review comes Scripture memory review of some foundational verses. The first one is entitled “Assurance of Salvation.” I shared that verse last week in my article about how to do Scripture memory. This week the verse is “Assurance of Answered Prayer.” John 16:24 says, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” The key is in asking according to His name and abiding by His standards and will. When we ask for the things He’s promised us in the Scriptures, He will answer. When we ask for things that are actually good for us, He will probably answer (however, sometimes the things we think are good for us may, in fact, be harmful for our walk and worship with God). When we ask for God’s will to be done, and trust He will work things out according to His plan, He most definitely will answer.
I’ve found the promise in this verse to be true. When we ask in His name, my joy is made full. I find peace and contentment in my life. I find things for which I am thankful. I am abundantly filled with rejoicing and praise. My life is grand and there is so much to look forward to. I wait expectantly to see just exactly how God answers my prayers.
There’s another reason I wait expectantly for the “answers.” Romans 8:26 tells us that the Spirit is praying for us when we don’t even know what to ask: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Since I don’t even know what to be praying for, and the Spirit is praying for me, I may get answers I never expected.
So, I will do what John 16:24 says and pray in Jesus’ name. Then I will wait expectantly to see the grand answers God gives me.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Scripture Memory


God’s Word tells us to hide His Word in our hearts. That could mean many things; however, for me it simply means memorizing Scripture. There are lots of reasons for doing this and many ways to attempt to do it. I’d like to share my thoughts on the matter.
First, why memorize? I don’t know any other way to have Scripture readily available to me than to have it in my mind. When Jesus was out in the desert alone for 40 days, He did not have the scrolls of written Scripture with Him. Yet, when Satan made his attacks on Jesus, Jesus quoted Scripture, like wielding a sword, to fight off the attacks. If Jesus is our example, we need to have Scripture readily available to us to fight off the attacks that are used against us to throw us off track in our life in Christ.
Also, having Scripture memorized is vital in accurately sharing the Word with others. It’s God’s Word that creates change in people – no matter how elegant one’s speech might be. I want my conversations, especially with those who don’t yet know Christ, to be filled with the truth. I’m not saying that I need to go around quoting Scripture to everyone all the time. What I’m saying is that when conversations turn spiritual in nature, I want to be saying only that which God would approve of. Having His Word foremost in my mind, I am more likely to do that.
Those are just two reasons; there are more. So, why is it so hard to memorize Scripture? I hear that question often when I’m trying to suggest to someone that they give it a try. I was introduced to a Scripture memory plan a long time ago, and I still use this plan today to memorize and review Scripture. I suggest trying it for yourself if you are just starting out on this aspect of your Christian walk or are having trouble memorizing Scripture.
First assign the verse a topic (topic ideas). Right now I’m working on a set of verses that give me assurances of different aspects of the Christian life. The first topic is “Assurance of Salvation.” The corresponding verse is 1 John 5:11-12. So to start memorizing it, I start by memorizing the topic and the reference. Once I’ve repeated those aspects several times, I ADD the first phrase of the verse and repeat until I can say the topic, reference, and first phrase aloud without making a mistake. Then I repeat the process adding a second phrase of the verse. Each time I review I start at the beginning with the topic and reference, then the parts of the verse I have memorized, adding phrases one at a time until it’s firmly established in my mind. I conclude with saying the reference again.
There are several key points to this process. For further explanation go to the discipleship tools web site of the Navigators. Another key thing for me has been writing the verse (with the topic and the reference before and after) on cards (I’m currently using mini flashcards on a ring available at Amazon). Having the verses on cards allows me to carry them in my purse or in my pocket so I can pull them out and review often. Repetition and review are keys to getting the verses firmly planted in our minds. I like to say that over-learning them is good. They become second nature like reciting your phone number or your address. When’s the last time you forgot your address?
I’ve found this system to work and the memorized verses have stayed with me. I can’t say I remember word for word every verse I’ve memorized, but as I work through the Assurance verses again with a friend, I’m amazed at how easily the verses come to mind and how little “re-learning” I have to do.
Several links are highlighted above for resources to some of the concepts included in this article.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Be Anxious for Nothing, Part 3


This week finishes up my study of Philippians 4:4-9. There  are just a few quotes from the book to highlight this week. Some of them were very convicting to me and they might challenge you also.
“Are you expecting God to move but not asking Him to do so?” One of the questions in this section asked to whom do you go to when you hear bad news? I listed several close friends and family, and my therapist. Guess who I left out?! God. I realized it’s not my first thought when I am facing a trial or hardship. That’s not the way it should be. I was convicted to seek Him first, to bring my needs and fears to God first. I often call someone and ask them to pray for me before I actually pray myself. God wants us to go to Him. He clearly stated that in Philippians 4:6: “. . . in everything with supplication and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God . . .” My goal for this week is to turn to God FIRST this week (and hopefully from now on)with my prayers, then ask for others to pray with me.
“Often our view of our problems looms larger than our view of God. How cn you start the day in a way that places the source of your anxiety in proper perspective relative to God’s magnanimous power?” The reading suggested prayerfully and praisefully reading Psalm 8 and Psalm 121. These Psalms identify who God is, what He’s already done, and who we are in relationship to God. Psalm 8:3-5 tells us about these things:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
When I meditate and contemplate the truths in these verses, my problems get put into perspective. The God who made everything has high regard for us. In view of this I am greatly encouraged by giving praise to Him every morning and throughout the day. I think it puts my day into perspective.
“Our assignment is not fruitfulness but faithfulness.” So, why do you do the things you do? Whether it’s your job, your sports, or your walk with God we are looking for results. Results are the product of our labors. However, God wants us to focus on the process not the product when it comes to our relationship with Him. It’s our job to faithfully cling to the vine (read John 15). As we hold on to the vine, God may cause growth and fruit. What He wants from us is to sit at His feet and take in everything about Him and learn from Him (Luke 10:39-42; Martha and Mary’s examples). Being busy for God is not the same thing as knowing God and having a relationship with God. If we are faithful, fruit might happen (most likely will happen), but it’s God causing that, not our efforts.
Anxiety lessens when we recognize God is near and that He is big enough to deal with every need we could possibly have. We just have to give praise and thanksgiving and take everything to Him knowing He can and will meet our every need. I’ve found a lot of peace through this study. I hope you can also gain some.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Be Anxious for Nothing, Part 2


More thoughts from Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing study follow for this week’s blog article. Starting with Chapter #3 for this week, the following quotes impressed me.
“Guilt frenzies the soul. Grace calms it.” First, there’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I did bad, and I can do something differently next time.” Shame says, “I am bad and nothing can change that; I’m always bad to the bone.” I learned that the hard way and over a period of years. I had my doubts that they were different things. Now I see just how different they are. I would amend this quote to say, “Guilt and/or shame frenzies the soul . . .” When I feel guilt, doing what I can to make the situation better and make appropriate amends to those I have harmed does lighten the turmoil in my soul. It involves making things as right as possible, but it also involves extending grace to myself. God has forgiven me through His great mercy. I need to also do the same for myself.
“Unresolved guilt will turn you into a miserable, weary, angry, stressed-out, fretful mess.” This goes right along with the quote above. I lived for many years with a frenzied soul. I was miserable, weary, angry and fretful. I can still get that way if I don’t deal quickly and appropriately with my guilt. In AA we have a saying, “It’s better to eat crow warm.” The quicker we make amends and let God’s forgiveness wash over us, the more we can feel better about ourselves (and the quicker we can rejoice in the mercy and compassion of God).
“A happy saint is one who at the same time is aware of the severity of sin and the immensity of grace.” We wouldn’t need grace if there were no sin. And sin, I’ve found, separates me from God. My personal spiritual journey is enmeshed with severe sins and grievous missteps. I recognize I’ve been forgiven much – but all of us has regardless of the level of sin we’ve been involved in. As a result I love much. In Luke 7:47, Jesus says of the woman who anointed His feet with perfume: "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." When we realize the nature of our sins – whether “great” or “small” – we cannot but help but love God for His grace toward us.
“Rejoicing doesn’t always look like what we may think. It doesn’t have to be a smiling face and an upbeat personality.” Thank God! There have been many times in my life when others, and myself, would not consider my personality “upbeat.” Words that have been used to describe my personality include things like “intense” and “serious.” I thought for a long time that meant I wasn’t spiritual enough. I somehow got the wrong message that all Christians should be upbeat and happy – all the time. There is a difference between our personalities and the inner peace and joy we can have in Christ. Saying that does not excuse my pessimism or grumpiness. I need to keep Christ first and foremost in mind at all times. When I do that, I can praise God and be thankful in the midst of trials and suffering. We have a hope no one can take away from us. Rejoice in that. That kind of joy may show others there is hope no matter what our circumstances may be.
I suspect as my Bible study partner and I finish up the study of Philippians 4:4-9 next week, I will have more thoughts based on various quotes. Actually, this may go on for a few more weeks, as there is much that got my attention as we summarize the lessons in this study.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Be Anxious for Nothing


As I finish up my study of Philippians 4:4-9, several of the sentences from Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing are worth exploring. I have another week or two before totally leaving this study (before starting on 1 and 2 Samuel), and I may make further comments as I come up with a summary of the lessons I’ve learned. However, for now, these are my thoughts.
“Anxiety is not a sin; it is an emotion.” Emotions are tricky things for me. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that feelings are to be avoided at all costs. After years of therapy, I’m beginning to see the value of the emotional aspects of our being – aspects God created us to have. Yet, I struggle when it comes to “negative” emotions. Somehow I got it into my head that feelings such as sadness, frustration, loneliness, guilt, anger, depression, and yes, anxiety/fear are not good and we shouldn’t have them. This quote reiterates what my therapists have been telling me all along. Emotions are just information. They are not sins. God knew we would have these feelings and thoughts. What we do with them, our behavior, determines whether we sin or not.
“Have I yielded sovereignty to God?” I’ve known and understood the concept that God is sovereign over everything: creation, spiritual battles, weather, people, etc. Yet, I still tried to hold onto the idea that I was self-determined and in control of my life. That it is up to me to effectively manage my world in order to get outcomes that are positive. Wrong! Everything is in God’s hands. I am sovereign (able to rule) over nothing in this world. Yielding my self-sovereign ideas to God’s sovereignty makes life so much easier and less stressful. When I truly believe that God is able and willing to take care of everything, I can freely go about serving Him and trust Him for the outcomes according to His plans. There’s peace in that. Outcomes are not my responsibility.
“The mind cannot at the same time be full of God and full of fear.” I’ve found that to be true. In the last year or so I’ve started everyday with a focus on God. I’ve opened my day with five minutes of praise. I’ve devoted myself to the study of Scripture. I’ve started a prayer journal again. And, throughout the day, I revisit those activities as often as possible (especially the praise). I’ve found my fear to cease as I reflect on God’s power and might and love and mercy and compassion, etc. Fear comes back of course, but I pause and praise and meditate on memorized Scripture, and calm returns. Sometimes, I have to do this many times a day. I’ve found that the more God there is in my thoughts, the less fear affects my attitudes and behaviors. Ultimately, the more peace I have.
“Your anxiety decreases as your understanding of your Father increases.” That goes right along with having a mind full of God. The best (and only?) way I’ve found to truly increase my understanding of my Father is to read, study, memorize, and meditate on His Word, the Bible. I can’t think myself into understanding God. I can’t wish myself into understanding God. I can’t really get an understanding of God by listening to other people’s experiences with God. I need to spend intimate time with Him and His words in order to get to know Him. I need to give Him at least as much time as I would give a person I’m hoping to develop a friendship with. It does require quiet, purposeful discussion and conversation. I can’t really hear God without knowing His Word. Also, I don’t want to know what other people think about God. I want to personally know Him. That means personal time with Him learning about Him through His words.
Hopefully, these thoughts have given you some things to think about. They’ve been great lessons for me, and great reminders of what can happen when I apply Philippians 4:4-9 to my behavior and thoughts.