Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Desperate Change

Jonah 3

This week I have been focusing on how fasting is a way that we can confess our sin to God and change our ways.  I also looked at how we need to get rid of the idols that we hold fast to and have a fast to symbolize the change in our heart.  Today, I want to look at the city of Nineveh at how they used a fast to repent.  Before you turn to Jonah, please picture in your mind a large city; a city with 120,000 citizens.  Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire; an empire known for its evil and cruelty.  Because of their wickedness, God wanted Jonah to go to them and pronounce God's judgement on them.  Chapter 3 opens when Jonah goes into Nineveh and begins to proclaim the impending judgement day.  Please read Jonah 3.

Those in Nineveh and the king took Jonah's message seriously and declared a fast.  The king called on all the citizens to give up their evil ways and to call on God during their fasting.  Picture a city that takes three days to travel through with 120,000 people all fasting and calling out to God.  Once again, this is a culture that is not quiet about their mourning; they cry out and tear their clothes.  In this culture, it was a very public scene.  Verse 10 tells us, "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened."  God saw their sincerity and chose to offer mercy instead of judgement.  What an incredible God we serve!


In this scripture reference, it seems as though the people used a fast to get God's attention so He could see that they were serious.  Have you ever changed something in desperation and wanted to have it noticed?  God always notices when there is a heart change that brings us closer to Him; no matter the reason it happens God will notice a change of heart.  A fast can teach us to seek after God because we realize that He is all we need.  He satisfies us.


Is it time for a desperate change?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Idols

1 Samuel 7

There are times when my children are arguing with each other and I find myself needing to intervene.  It is funny because it always ends with me saying, "You need to apologize to your brother (or sister)."  The next thing that happens is one of my children saying with as much contempt as they can muster in their voice, "I'M SORRY," either that or it is mumbled to the point of being inaudible.  So why do I bother?  Forcing an inauthentic apology doesn't do any good - they need to calm down before they can find it in themselves to produce a true apology.  When we confess and repent to God, He wants authenticity as well, and He can read our hearts.  Please read 1 Samuel 7.

I find it interesting that we are told in verse 2, "Then all the people turned back to the LORD."  It is interesting to me because Samuel then explains that they needed to serve only God and they needed to get rid of their Baal and Ashtoreth idols.  Don't we do that?  We like to follow God on our terms and be able to keep the human nature we like for comfort.  The problem is that God wants all of us, not part of us.  We may not have a physical idol in our home; however, we can have idols in our hearts.  Maybe it is security and comfort, maybe it is money, the possible idols are infinite.  God wants us to serve Him with our entire heart and in complete authenticity.

We are told in verse 6 that the Israelites fasted and confessed their sins before God.  It was as if they fasted to show God how sincere they were that they wanted to change and follow Him completely.  Perhaps the fast was for the Israelites to remind them that God is all they need.  Either way, the fast was a part of their confession of turning away from God.  I know that when I've fasted in the past, I was at a place where I could work on some of my personal issues that were keeping me from growing in my relationship with God.  It was there that I was able to confess and change my attitude.  Proverbs 1:23 says, "Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings."  God wants to share so much with us; He just wants repentance when our hearts are convicted.


Do you have any idols?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Confession Of Generational Sin

Nehemiah 9:1-3

I am often amazed by the maturity of my ten year old daughter.  She is very self-aware, yet on rare occasions she can have an ungrateful attitude.  This is not her normal way to operate, so when it happens it catches me off guard.  That isn't what amazes me; however, it is when she becomes aware of her attitude and how it is affecting me and my husband.  When she begins to notice that her attitude isn't matching what we are doing for her, she will humbly come to me and say, "I'm sorry for my bad attitude, Mom."  Of course my heart melts and I have to hug her and let her know how much I love her.  My love for her never stopped during her issues and attitude, but her confession and apology just makes me want to hold her.  Sometimes fasting is a way to humble ourselves before God and confess our sins.  Please look up Nehemiah 9:1-3.

Nehemiah is a rich book of how the wall around Jerusalem was built and how Nehemiah also used those events to bring reform to the community.  Leading up to chapter 9, the book explains the process of building the wall and how the Israelites that were allowed to return to Jerusalem were just becoming aware of the law. These were Jews who had lived all their life in captivity, so they had never heard the books of the Law read to them.  As they heard the Law, they began to realize how they had not been following the Law.  They wanted to make their relationship right with God and after the Festival of the Shelters (chapter 8) they gathered together to hear some more readings of the Law.  They prepared by fasting and confessing not only their sin, but the sins of their ancestors.

I believe there are generational sins that will have a hold on a family for several generations.  I think becoming aware of those generational sins and confessing and giving them to God is the only way that we can conquer those strongholds.  These sins may take the form of substance abuse, child or spouse abuse, racism, and the list can go on.  When we become aware of the strongholds those sins have on our family we can break the cycle of sin and come to God for healing.  The Israelites wanted to break the bondage of the generational sins of the nation and came humbly to God through fasting, praying, and worship.  In Nehemiah 9 :36-37, the Israelites verbalize why they have been living in captivity, "But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces.  Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress."  Fasting is a way where we can set our hearts right with God and He can come to us and show us where we need to change.  It is as if it prepares us for the work that God is about to do in our lives.


Do you have generational strongholds that God would like to take out of your life?

Monday, March 28, 2011

To Repent

Joel 2:12-17

Over the last two weeks, I have been studying about fasting; however, most of my studying has led me to read verses where God has told the Israelites that fasting wasn't what He wanted.  He told the Israelites that He wanted a change of heart and for them to truly love their neighbors.  I have found myself with more questions than answers when it comes to fasting, which is good because it makes me seek after God's heart all the more.  In my questions, I do believe that I understand at least a part of what God is saying to us today.  If we are to fast, God wants our hearts to be seeking after Him and not us just going through the motions.  Today, I want to look at a scripture where the Israelites were being warned of "the day of the Lord," and how they were being called to repentance.  Please look up Joel 2:12-17.

This passage really gives us some incredible word pictures with phrases like, "Rend your hearts and not your garments," in verse 13.  In verse 12 God tells them to come to Him with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  When the Israelites did those things, it was a very noticeable act because it often included tearing their clothes and pouring ashes on their heads.  In this section of scripture, God is telling them that He wants them to "rend" their hearts.  He wants their attitude to be one of brokenness and repentance.  He wanted them to really turn to Him with hearts that were seeking Him and changing what they were doing.

I think of the fact that God asked them to rend their hearts and how He wants us to do the same.  Sometimes, He needs us to be broken so that we realize that we need Him.  Last week on her blog, Beth Moore asked people to share when God became real to them.  It was amazing to read through the comments because so many people were at a place of brokenness when they met God.  God is not asking us to come to a place where we are unhealthy in our thoughts because we are to the point of devastation; He wants our hearts broken in the sense that we realize that there is so much more to life and we are not living it out the way He wants us to.

Will you rend your heart before God?

Friday, March 25, 2011

They Covered Their Ears

Zechariah 7

I remember growing up as the youngest of three, there were times when my older siblings overpowered me.  They didn't just overpower me physically; they also overpowered me in decisions for what we would play or do.  They could also overpower me in conversation.  It wasn't meant as a mean thing on their part; they were five and three years older than me, so they were older and knew what they wanted.  What often ended up happening would be me trying to express my opinion and them not even noticing.  Eventually, I would give up trying to give my opinion because they were not going to listen anyway.  It was the life of the younger, less-dominant sibling.  I think when God is explaining to the Israelites why they are in their situation, it is good for us to listen because we could find ourselves creating a similar situation in our hearts.  Please read through Zechariah 7 one last time.

Verses 11-14 have very strong statements about listening to God and we would be wise to heed what God was saying to the Israelites.  "But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears," verse 11.  Verse 13 says, “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the LORD Almighty."  I mentioned earlier this week how I pray that God would soften my heart so I could hear Him and learn from Him.  When I read these verses, it really reminds me the importance of listening to Him and obeying.  I need to be careful here because I don't want to delve into legalism, because we listen and obey because of our love for God.


In his book, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, Dallas Willard says, "Is it not, in fact, more presumptuous and dangerous to undertake human existence without hearing God?" (page 9).  I would have to agree because if I am left to my own devises, I would fall flat on my face on a daily basis.  We see what happened to the Israelites as a result of generations of not listening to God.  The good news is that God does speak to us in many ways!  We just need to tune our ears to hear His voice.  He speaks to us in many ways such as the Bible.  He can also use other people to say things to us that God wants us to hear.  He also speaks to our hearts.  Sometimes that is why people fast - to hear God more clearly.  The problem that we see in Zechariah 7 is that they were fasting and still not listening.  If you are struggling to hear God's voice, please read a book that helps guide you in that area such as The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond by Bill Hybels.


Are you listening for God's voice?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Cure For Self-Absorption

Zechariah 7

Yesterday, I looked at how God wants us to fast (or do anything) for Him and not for ourselves.  I looked at how we can do things that would be looked at as serving God; however, we find ourselves in the trap of considering how we appear to others or even to ourselves.  Oh, how I have been battling with thoughts of insecurity lately about what others may be thinking of me!  Really, when all is said and done, this is a form of pride because I am focused on me.  This is an issue I thought I had conquered long ago; isn't it just like our enemy to come back to a former weakness to build his attack?  Today, I found myself praying, "These thoughts are not from Christ!  In the Name of Jesus, go away!"  It did help clear the junk out of my head and allow me to focus on what God was wanting me to learn.  I was praying before reading Zechariah 7 today, I prayed that God would help me with this very struggle.  I looked at Zechariah 7 and I found God's answer!  Let's look at it together.

I want to focus in particular on verses 8-10 and see what God was asking the Israelites to do.  He said that they needed to administer true justice, and show mercy and compassion.  He wanted them to keep from oppressing the widows and the fatherless, the foreigner, or the poor.  He also added that they were not to plot evil against each other.  I really felt God impressing on my heart that when we do these things it takes our focus off ourselves.  I experienced that when I was in Zambia and saw the poverty stricken people in the remote villages and was humbled.  I saw people that struggled to survive every day.  It was overwhelming, but it also took my thoughts away from myself.  When we are helping the helpless, we focus on what God wants us to do rather than what people think.

The answer to self-absorption is basically helping others because it forces us to search for the things that breaks God's heart.  So, I am doing a self-examination at what experiences I have had in life and how I can use them all the better to help others.  There are a lot of hurting people out there, and we all have experienced something in our life that we can share how God brought us through.

Are you looking outside yourself?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Was It For Me Or You?

Zechariah 7

As a music major in college, I had a struggle to complete some of the required tasks to get my degree because I suffered from performance anxiety.  I could be in my practice room and play a piece with emotion and good technique, but sometimes my performance anxiety would even cause me to be unable to play with the same emotion and technique in front of my flute prof. during lessons.  With that said, as a musician there is always a part of me that enjoys the attention from the performance.  It is such an unusual mix of feelings - frightened of performing yet desiring to perform.  The desire for performance used to cause trouble for me in church as well because I wanted to worship using my flute yet I found myself desiring the accolades for playing my instrument.  I eventually learned to play in church with a heart of worship, but I really had to pray that God would change my heart in that area.  Believe it or not, participating in a fast can have a similar struggle.  Please look up Zechariah 7.

Verses 5-6 says, "'Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?'"  That's a question that can be piercing to have to hear, "Was it really for me?"  Have you ever had to face that question from God?  It is painful when we have to be honest and realize that something that seemed like a good thing to do had self-honoring motives.  Has He ever asked you, "Are you doing this for yourself or for me?"  Once again, we see how God is pointing out that the point of the fast isn't to act or look holy, it is to honor God.  Are we fasting to impress someone or even ourselves, or are we fasting to seek the heart of God?


Galatians 1:10 says, "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."  That is such a strong statement, and one I need to hear.  I have been putting myself in a position of worrying about what others think and I work harder to try to make sure they approve.  The end result is a job well done; however, is it well done in God's eyes?  Have I done it for my own glory or for His glory?  Was I just doing my job as a servant of Christ?  I can do a good thing; however, done with the wrong heart is not doing it for God.  Please, if you are fasting or about to fast, ask yourself if you are seeking approval from man.  A fast should be between you and God and with a heart that seeks to serve Him.


Are you aproaching your day to serve God or man?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Pleasant Land Desolate

Zechariah 7

You may find it interesting that as I have been blogging about fasting, that I have not felt called to fast.  I cannot explain it except to say that when I asked God if He wanted me to fast during the period of studying about fasting and I felt Him impress that wasn't what He wanted for me.  I know I can be slow at times, but I couldn't understand why I felt so strongly God leading me to study and write about it yet not have me fast.  Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a pastor I work with and found myself saying, "I don't understand.  Maybe He is preparing my heart for a fast later.  Maybe He is just trying to teach me something."  I have to chuckle at myself because isn't God always teaching us something?  Today, I attended a one day conference entitled, "Jesus, Justice, and the Church," at Houghton College in Houghton, NY.  At this conference I was challenged to take action on what I have been reading about over the last week and even as I blogged about Micah 6:8.  So, with that in mind, please turn to Zechariah 7.

Before writing each of my posts, I pray for my heart.  I pray that God would till up the soil in my heart and make it fertile land and plant His seeds there.  I ask Him to soften the hard soil in my heart so that I can continue to learn and grow from Him.  I never cease to be amazed that as I ask Him to open my ears so I can hear what He wants to tell me that He really directs my path with where I am to go.  Today, God answered my prayer by sending me to Zechariah 7.  Do you see the similar themes that Isaiah 58 brings to our attention?  I want to look at this scripture for a few days, so today I am just going to take a look at the entire chapter.

Verse 7 says, "Are these not the words the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?"    This is an important verse to keep in mind because the idea comes back at the end.  We know by verse 7 that when God was calling out to the Israelites to reform their ways they were still experiencing prosperity in the land.  Verses 13-14 tells us what the consequences became as a result of their refusal to listen to God, "'When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.'"  The words, "This is how they made the pleasant land desolate," keep ringing in my ears!


I don't want to make the soil in my heart desolate; I want it to be pleasant.  I want it to be bearing the fruit that God intends me to bear.  The thought that not loving others the way God wants us to could cause a desolation in my heart weighs heavy on me.  God has called us to justice, mercy, and compassion.  He has called us to do away with oppression.  He has called us to love which is going to require us to do more than talk about it.


Are you keeping the soil in your heart pleasant through obedience?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spiritual Milk


Last week I began a journey of studying about fasts.  All week, I focused on Isaiah 58, where God was explaining to the Israelites the kind of fasting He wants to see.  As I spent the week looking at Isaiah 58, I learned that the fast is more about how our hearts are supposed to be changing rather than the act of abstinence itself.  I saw that God wants to see our eyes looking at the world around us as He sees the world; He wants us to see the hurting and oppressed.  God wants us to help those who cannot help themselves.  Today, even before I began writing this post, I really felt God impressing on my heart the fact that we are to learn how much we need Him.  We can learn that God is everything we need.  Please look up 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Have you ever fed a hungry baby?  When a baby is very hungry and needs milk, they drink it voraciously as if there will never be another drop left on earth.  When that young baby is hungry, there is no comforting that baby until it receives its milk; the baby will continue to cry louder and louder until he/she is fed.  That is the same way that God wants us to desire His word, His truth.  He wants us to live life as though we would never make it through a day without it.  Peter wrote that we are to "crave spiritual milk" so that we can grow in our walk with God.

The Psalms gives us some references to "tasting" and delighting in God.  Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him."  Psalm 119:102-104 says, "I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path."  We can see that when we crave after God and His Word, we will be satisfied.

Dallan Forgaill, the author of the hymn, Be Thou My Vision, seemed to understand this thought.  Thanks to Mary E. Byrne and Eleanor H. Hull, Dallan's desire for God is something we can all sing today.  Please read through some of the beautiful verses:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise;
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Do you crave more of God?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Joy In the Lord

Isaiah 58:13-14

There is something to be said about a day of rest.  Have you allowed yourself a day where you are truly resting and not rushing around?  Our American culture is a very busy culture and we have managed to fill every moment of our day with something.  We have scheduled our lives to pieces, and often times were operating on little sleep.  Studies are now showing that less sleep equals greater health issues, which will then make us less productive rather than the desired effect of increased productivity.  Busyness is not good for us and running a 24/7 race is tiring and unhealthy.  We are even doing it to our children; we have them in sports, music, and art classes as well as dance and mid-week church and school, and the list really can go on.  The problem is that we are not a generation that recognizes the strength in rest and we are not raising our children to recognize it either.  Please look up Isaiah 58:13-14.

I have trouble with this; I let myself get caught up in errands on my day off and end up feeling like I worked just as hard any other day.  Over the last year or so, I have been better at making sure I spend time relaxing and resting in God, but I have to admit that it is not habitual.  God is showing us in this passage that we can look forward to our weekly rest in Him and not only honor Him, but we find our "joy in the Lord."  Please look up Exodus 20:8-11 and see why we should observe the Sabbath.  God made us in His image and He tells us that just as He rested on the seventh day, so should we.  Please look up Mark 2:27.  Jesus said this when the Pharisees were upset with Him and the disciples for picking grains of wheat on the Sabbath.  Jesus was reminding them that the Sabbath was made for our benefit.

God gave us the gift of a day of rest every week.  He gave us the day to rest in Him and be away from our stress and work and become refreshed.  Just as I mentioned earlier in the week, the heart behind the obedience in resting is important.  When we fast, we need to have a heart that is seeking God; when we are resting, we should be seeking to rest in God.  The command of the Sabbath wasn't meant for some crazy legalistic thing, it was meant to help us grow.

Will you find a day of rest this week?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Repairer Of Broken Walls

Isaiah 58:9-12

About five years ago, I broke and sprained my ankle.  Since I am not so young (although I'm also NOT old), it took some time to heal.  What I found was that the healing process actually can bring pain.  I dealt with a lot of swelling, which in some ways was a blessing because it kept my bones from shifting; however, the swelling caused a lot of discomfort.  After I was told that I could bear weight on that ankle I realized that weak muscles cause a lot of pain and swelling as well.  I had to exercise the ankle and leg every day to rebuild the muscle, which caused more pain and swelling (of course).  It seemed like a long time going through it, but the reality was that I was unable to bear weight for six weeks and had physical therapy for another six weeks.  Really that was only twelve weeks, but it sure felt longer.  God does the same with us spiritually.  Healing requires some spiritual exercise; please look at Isaiah 58:9-12.

God gives us a guide for healing that really works.  There are two things happening in this section of scripture with the first being a healing of the society and culture.  Imagine what would happen in America or even the world if we all followed what God is saying in this section of scripture.  Imagine a society with no oppression and people cared about the poor.  Imagine a world with no judgmental attitudes.  There really would be a healing in the land.  The other thing that I think is happening in this section of scripture is spiritual healing, but it takes work.  I have found that focusing on helping others brings a perspective and healing for our own lives.  We are able to heal from our own past hurts as we focus on the needs of others.  We repair the broken walls in our lives and relationships.

I love the promise in verses 11 and 12, "The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."  Are you as overwhelmed as I am at the promise in these verses?  God is promising not only a healing and satisfaction, but He is also promising that we will be a "repairer of broken walls."  We all have broken walls and ancient ruins that need restoration and repair around us.  God has given us the blueprints to repair the damage!

Do you want to be a "repairer of broken walls?"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More To This Life

Isaiah 58:6-9

As a music therapist, I would set goals and objectives for the people I was working with and they often didn't know or understand them because of a cognitive impairment or because they were too young (birth - 3 years old).  That was okay because I was often helping them learn and grow by using untraditional methods through music. If they were singing a silly song that had funny sounds in it; they were most likely working on a set of sounds they had difficulty producing.  If they were strumming my guitar; they were probably learning how to isolate their index finger.  My clients would eventually meet their goals and objectives because they were working on them through an unrelated task.  I think God does that with us sometimes; I think He teaches us something by using a seemingly unrelated event.  Let's explore this in Isaiah 58:6-9.

There is so much more to life than ourselves and I was definitely reminded of that truth when I went to Zambia and met the people who where living on one meal a day and dying of AIDS.  There is so much more to this life than me.  God wants so much more of me in life.  I'm going to write that again only because I need to let that soak into my heart!  There is so much more to this life than me and God wants so much more of me in this life.  What I am saying is that my wants, desires and perceived needs is nothing compared to the real needs in the world around me.  However, God wants me to play an active role in looking for the things that break His heart.  He did not put me here in America to be comfortable; perhaps He put me here to do something!  Perhaps we have all been put here to do something; imagine what would happen to the world around us if we did.

So what does this have to do with fasting?  Just like in music therapy where my clients were learning a new skill by doing something musical; God wants to use a fast to teach us something new.  Isaiah 58:6-9 tells us what is important to God.  If we are fasting from eating, we could use the food we are not eating to feed the hungry (verse 6).  If we are fasting from shopping, we could use that money to provide for someone else's needs like clothing.  The possibilities are endless.  The point is that the fast isn't just to make us hungry; it is to propel us into more action because there is so much more to this life than ourselves.  God could just fix the problems in the world by Himself, yet He chooses to use us!  He wants so much more of us in this life.

Are you willing to have more of yourself in this life?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Motives Examined

Isaiah 58

For those of you who are parents, I'm sure you have experienced times when your children ask for something that seems innocent; however, upon further examination you realize that their motives were not innocent.  We have all been there, whether it is our children, an employee, a boss, or a friend; someone was asking for something that seemed fine yet their motives were not pure.  Upon discovering their reasoning, you are then compelled not to grant their request.  The same can be said in our relationship with God; sometimes our requests have motives that just don't match with what God wants to see in our hearts.  Please look up Isaiah 58.

The first three verses of Isaiah 58 set the tone for the rest of the chapter.  It seems that the children of Israel have been fasting and sending their requests to God, yet they feel as though they have not been heard.  Verse 2 says, "For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them."  God is showing that He has noticed their actions, but as we read on in chapter 58 we can see that God is looking beyond their fasting.  He is noticing what is in their heart - God is trying to point out the problem to them so that they can come to Him without their rebellion (verse 1).

Proverbs 16:1-3 shows how God looks beyond the prayers and the fasting and inspects our hearts.  I have chosen Proverbs 16:3 as one of my memory verses for this year to remind myself that it is God's plans and not my own that I need to follow.  Proverbs 13:2 even shows us that we can think that we have good motives; however, God knows what is best.  He knows our hearts better than we do, which is why we always need to turn to God to search out our motives.  James 4:2-4 also shows how motives have an effect on how our prayers and fasting are noticed.  "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..."


Basically, when we fast, we need to spend time allowing God to search out our hearts and correct us.  He loves us and He wants our motives to be pure.  When we are truly pursuing God and in our hearts we are seeking to please Him, we will have pure motives.


Have you examined your heart with God?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fasting

Isaiah 58

Since we are in Lent, I wanted to write about Christ and His life; however, I really felt God leading me back to this scripture that I looked at a few weeks ago when I blogged about justice.  Even as I prayed this morning for God's guidance and direction I was still going to blog about Christ, but I felt that I would be walking in disobedience with my personal time with God.  After all, what good is spending time with God unless it is obedient time with God?  The scripture is about fasting and obedience, which is a topic that is on the top of many people's hearts during Lent.  I have to admit that I wonder if we fast out of tradition rather than thinking about why we are fasting.  So, lets dig in and look up Isaiah 58.

This is a tough section of scripture to read and I find it convicting my heart.  Have you ever fasted before?  I think during a fast it is easy to get caught in two different attitudes.  The first one being the thought of how holy we are for doing a fast and that we just may be closer to God than most people.  This is a very prideful attitude and it will not accomplish the purpose of the fast.  The second emotion can be one of dread and saying, "I can't wait for this day to be over!"  That attitude also misses out on the opportunity to hear from God because we are looking forward to the moment our abstinence is over.  The potential problem we face during fasting is our heart.

At a cursory look at Isaiah 58, we see that attitude of the heart is everything to God.  He doesn't want to see us fast without experiencing a closeness with Him that changes our heart, behavior and attitude.  Isaiah 58:5 says, "Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?"  God is telling us that the action of the fast is not what makes it acceptable; reading on in Isaiah 58 tells us that becoming the people He wants us to be should be the end result.  Abstinence from our human, sinful nature is what He wants to see.  Fasting from the things that take us away from God so we can spend time with Him and search our hearts is what He wants.

Are you spending time with God?  Are you allowing God to inspect your heart?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Under God's Mighty Hand

1 Peter 5:1-6

My husband is a "second career pastor," meaning that he did not originally go to school to become a pastor.  For the first seven years of our marriage, we both enjoyed serving in church and when God made it clear that my husband was to leave teaching music and go into full time ministry he was scared and excited.  Scared because it was a big responsibility; excited because he got to serve full time!  Since then, I've had the opportunity to listen to other second career pastors tell their testimonies about how God called them into ministry, and so many of them said it was strange to have a job where they got paid to serve God.  I am not diminishing the job of being a pastor; it doesn't take long to realize that there are some very difficult situations to deal with in ministry.  But when you have volunteered because you love serving God, it is amazing to think that God would put you in a place where it becomes your job.  The prayer then lifted to God is may it always be amazing not just a job.  Please look up 1 Peter 5:1-6.

If you are in any position of leadership, whether a full time pastor or an unpaid volunteer, one of the big things to remember is that God put us there not rule over things and people but to model humility.  He wants us to serve others not be served.  At the same time, those of us who are not in a position of leadership should also exercise humility by submitting to those that God has put in leadership.  God calls everyone in the body of Christ to "clothe ourselves in humility."  When we remember who we are in Christ, we don't need to worry about having power and glory here on Earth, it is God we should be seeking to please.  Please look up James 4:1-10.

James tells us that the biggest issues we have is because our pride wants more, yet God wants us to seek Him with a humble heart.  Pride will cause us to fight with our leaders or leaders to be harsh with those whom God entrusted to him.  I know for me, when I am most upset it is usually my pride getting in the way; I forget that I am serving God and not man.  We are told that the only way to fix those issues to to walk with God in humility.  Both Peter and James reminds us that we are to humble ourselves "under God's mighty hand" (1 Peter 5:6) and He will be the one to lift us up.  Really, is it worth sacrificing God's honor just so we can have honor by a few humans?

Who do you serve?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Humility of Christ

Philippians 2:1-11

Yesterday I looked at how God wants our relationships to be lived out so that we value others above ourselves. Today I want to look at the ultimate model of humility - Jesus.  As we re-read Philippians 2:1-11, please pray that God speaks to you in a fresh new way today.

In this section of scripture, we are told to have the same mindset as Christ.  We are then told about how He lived a life of humility just by the very act of becoming a man.  Not only did come to us as a human, but He was poor and He served everyone else.  He washed the disciple's feet!  He then sacrificed Himself and died on the cross.

My small group is currently doing the study, In Dust of the Rabbi by Ray Van der Laan where he explained what it meant in the Bible to be a disciple.  Basically, a disciple was someone who had studied the Tora (Bible) so intently that they had it memorized.  They went on to higher education to learn more and discuss more of the meaning of the Tora.  After that, the student who had a greater desire above any other desire to be like the Rabbi became their disciple.  I am not able to do justice to how great of an honor or how much work and dedication the student had to have in order to become a disciple, but please understand that only a few could get to this level.  The disciple lived, ate, and slept with the Rabbi so he could glean every bit of understanding the Rabbi had.  If we are to imitate Christ, we are to spend time with Him.

Humility is a heart issue - the actions that we live out reflect what is in our hearts.  When we behave in a way that values others above ourselves, it is because we have allowed God to change our hearts to be humble.  Oh that we could have hearts that please God through humility!  Oh that we can have the dedication that a disciple has to learn from Christ!

Are you using Christ as your model for humility?  Are you a disciple of Christ?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Same Mindset of Jesus

Phillipians 2:1-11

If you have children, it can seem like it is not human nature to be humble.  In fact, by nature, a young child appears very self-centered and their reaction always seems to be according to how something pleases them and not necessarily looking at the bigger picture.  They don't have the maturity to think outside themselves and consider how other people may be affected.  I learned that in some of the more recent brain research, that is one of the very things that makes our brain different from all animals; we are able to think about how someone else may be feeling or thinking about a situation.  Obviously that is something that is developed with age and maturity considering the child who is self-focused, but isn't it wonderful that we can see how science supports the idea that we have the ability to exercise humility!  Please look up Phillipians 2:1-11 and see how God wants us to use our ability to think beyond ourselves.

Don't you love how God puts so many gems in so few verses?  There is so much here that I am focusing on these verses for a few days to take a look at humility.  I just love the way Paul starts out with, "Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ..."  Last week, I blogged about how God's mercy should bring us to a place where we show mercy to others; in a sense we are motivated by mercy.  The same could be said about humility; we can have encouragement from being united with Christ and we can take comfort in His love which will empower us to be humble.  Look at verses 3-4, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."  Tomorrow I will look at how Christ modeled that for us, but consider today how we could consider others better than ourselves.


One thing that I am noticing the more I study about justice, mercy, and humility is that they are all dependent on one another.  If we are humble, we will be more likely to stand up for others in the fight for justice because we are considering other people.  Mercy will use humility to remember that we received even much more mercy from God.  God wants us to use the part of the brain that He fashioned for us to think about what the other person may be thinking and feeling.  He wants us to consider the feelings and comfort of others first - something that can be such a struggle for me when I am tired!  Praise God, we know that He gave us the ability to do it!

Where does God want you to practice humility with others?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wisdom From Humility

Proverbs 11:2

Some of the biggest mistakes I have made has stemmed from pride.  Currently my husband and I are paying off debt from financial mistakes we made years ago, which had really started in pride.  The reality is that there were times when we were making very little money; however, we were too embarrassed to tell our friends that we didn't have enough money to go out with them.  We let our pride take us away from sound financial decisions, which has caused years of stretching the dollar to pay off the debt.  Please turn to Proverbs 11:2.

I can say on the flip side, some of the best decisions I have made have been when I have humbly sought after God and asked for His wisdom.  When I am not worried about what others will think of me, I am able to make wise choices.  God tells us in this Proverb that when we are humble we will have wisdom.  It makes sense when you think about it.  When we are humbly seeking God's direction knowing that we are incapable of making wise choices on our own, God will give us the wisdom to know how to handle whatever situation we may be in.

Proverbs 15:32-33 gives us another connection between wisdom and humility.  We need God's correction to gain wisdom, and that wisdom will teach us to respect God.  That respect for God will show in our humility.  You have to admit, when you are corrected about something and truly listen, you are humbled.  It is like that with God.  We are reminded in our walk with Him that we are far from perfect which is very humbling.  I am not talking about an unhealthy humility where we feel worthless, because the Bible tells us that we are of great worth to God (Luke 12:4-8).  This is a humility that understands that without God, we would not be here.  Knowing who God is should bring us to a place of trust and respect that we will listen to His wisdom.

Are you making choices out of pride or humility?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Humility

Proverbs 22:4

When I first started blogging two weeks ago about Micah 6:8, I didn't realize God was going to send me on a three week study.  I'm glad He did because these are things I so desperately needed to be reminded of!  I need to be reminded that He has called me to act justly because there is a lot of injustice in this world.  I need to be reminded to love mercy because my human tendencies reverts to judgement and offence.  This week I am looking at humility which I pray will chip away at the pride in my heart.  Oh to remember that God is God and I am the created not the creator!  I found a great definition of humility in Proverbs 22:4; please look it up.


"Humility is the fear of the LORD."  I remember when I was a 4th grade student at a Lutheran school, I had to memorize parts of the Catechism, which included Martin Luther's definitions of the Ten Commandments.  Each definition began with, "We should fear and love God."  As I was working on memorizing the definitions, I asked my mom why we needed to be afraid of God; I couldn't understand why I had to be afraid of Him when I was taught that He loved me.  Trying to explain a complex thought to a nine year old, my mom finally said, "It means we need to respect Him."  I think C.S. Lewis sums it up well in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Lucy asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan is safe.  Mr. Beaver replies that he is a lion - a wild beast.  Even though he is good doesn't mean he is safe.

God loves us dearly; He created us!  But I think sometimes that we focus so much on how much He loves us, that we forget who He is.  He is all powerful and the King of all Kings; He is the creator of everything!  He is holy.  Don't forget Isaiah's reaction when he found himself in God's presence (Isaiah 6:5); he was undone.  Humility is remembering who God is.  God wants us to walk with Him, but He wants us to walk with Him in humility.

Have you thought about how amazing God is lately?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The One Who Had Mercy

Luke 10:25-37

On a trip through the grocery store while I was eight months pregnant with my youngest, I saw a very unusual scene in the store.  I was near the meat coolers and there was an elderly man leaning against the cooler and slowly sliding down.  With my grocery cart, I waddled up to him as fast as I could and asked him, "Sir, are you okay?"  He couldn't answer coherently and continued to slide down.  Realizing that he could be having a stroke, I began to think how I could keep him from hitting his head if he continued to fall.  Since I was eight months pregnant and having pain from a hernia I decided to wedge my shopping cart between myself and him.  I continued to try to get a coherent answer from him to no avail.  For some reason, the store was nearly empty, so we stayed in this predicament for several minutes before another man came by.  Beginning to feel a little panicked, I yelled out, "Excuse me sir!  Can you help?"  He looked at the man, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I already tried," and he walked away.  Already tried?!  What did that mean?  Finally, the store manager saw what was happening ran over and helped.  Please read Luke 10:25-37.

"The one who had mercy on him."  Do those words resonate in your heart?  When we are commanded to love our neighbor, mercy is a part of the picture.  It doesn't matter what race, gender, age, religion, or sexual preference our neighbor has, we are to have mercy!  Mercy doesn't look at those things, mercy takes action.  Think back to my story that I started with; perhaps that man attempted to talk to the man and became frustrated when he wouldn't answer.  I think that is sometimes how it can seem when we open our eyes to the needs in the world.  It can seem overwhelming; we give our money to a good cause and shake our heads when poverty isn't fixed and say, "I already tried."  In this story, the Samaritan kept working on this man by taking him to safety.  Homelessness in America is not going to just disappear by one attempt; it takes time and effort to reach out to the homeless.  It takes effort to figure out the roots of why the person is homeless; it really can be overwhelming!  But God doesn't want us to give up.  He doesn't want us to give up on the hopeless poverty in the world.  As a whole, the church really can make a difference and show God's mercy to the world.  I feel convicted when I remember how easy it is to give up.

Who is your neighbor?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Judgement Without Mercy

James 2:12-13

Have you ever experienced quick judgment with no mercy?  Maybe it was growing up in your family or in school or at a job.  Maybe it was an honest mistake that you learned from and you knew you would never do it again; however, there was no mercy extended and you found yourself facing harsh consequences.  It is disheartening to be in that situation; you feel like everyone lost faith in you and you just wish you could have a second chance.  God has strong feelings about judgment without mercy; please look up James 2:12-13.

I find verse 12 interesting, "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom..."  Throughout this week I have been exploring how we are changed when we realize that God desires to show us mercy.  We are changed so we share it with others; not just by what we say, but what we do.  Our behavior should reflect the fact that we have freedom, "because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful." God requires us to be merciful!  Why?  Because, "Mercy triumphs over judgment."  Praise God that mercy triumphs over judgment!

Listen, our good behavior doesn't save us; however, our faith changes our behavior if it is active.  James 2:14 says, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?"  James 2:18-19 says, "But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.'  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."  Believing in God is not enough!  Even the demons believe in God.  If we truly understand and accept that we are saved through Christ and His mercy we will be changed.  Therefore, our knowledge of the mercy that we have been freely given needs to turn into the action of being merciful.

Are you showing the world your faith by your deeds?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To Desire Mercy

Hosea 6:6

God has such a way of showing me when I am being judgmental - even if the person really has done something that hurt someone.  Over the years He has worked on me enough that when I find myself upset by someone's behavior I am able to be redirected and remind myself that I have no idea where that person's heart is.  I don't know their story and besides, I'm far from perfect.  Yesterday, I looked at how God expects us to be merciful toward others as a reaction to the mercy we were so freely given.  Today, I want to look again at how important this is to God; please look up Hosea 6:6.

Sacrifice and offerings were a part of the law that God spoke to Moses and everyone participated in it.  Sacrifices and offerings were a part of all the celebrations, holidays, and observances.  This was part of being an Israelite.  The problem was, the Israelites began to depend only on sacrifice and offerings as their justification and didn't exercise mercy and justice towards one another.  Think about how that had to sound to God's heart, "Please accept my offering and forgive me, but I don't think I need to forgive him over there."  God desires mercy from us more than rituals and rites of passage.  Please look up Matthew 9:9-13.

After hearing the Pharisees judge the "sinners" and wonder why Jesus would sit with them he explains that He came to Earth for the purpose of reaching the "sinners."  What He says next probably infuriated the Pharisees because He used a text that was familiar to them, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy not sacrifice.'"  Jesus wanted them to understand that God was all about mercy.  He wants to show us mercy and He wants us to be merciful.

Could you imagine stepping into a church and feeling nothing but judgement?  Think about it!  Isn't that what the church is for?  Aren't we supposed to be bringing people to Jesus?  How can we bring people to Christ if all they experience is judgement?  What brought you to Christ: judgement or mercy?

How can we as a church show more mercy to those that need Christ?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mercy On Others


Yesterday, I explored God's amazing mercy He has promised us.  Today, I am looking at how the realization of His great mercy is supposed to change our lifestyle and heart.  In fact, today's reading really brings home why God tells us it is important that we love mercy in Micah 6:8.  This is a matter very close to His heart because of the great sacrifice He made for us.  He extended us mercy and would like us to extend mercy toward others in as well.  Please look up Matthew 18:21-35.

Peter begins by asking Jesus how many times we are supposed to forgive a person; seven times seemed acceptable.  Jesus answered his question with, "seventy seven times," which almost seems as if He was saying to not bother counting.  He then told them the parable in this reading.  I want to explain the difference between a talent and a danarius.  Jesus started with a man that owed 10,000 bags of gold (or 10,000 talents).  Biblegateway.com explains that a talent is worth 20 years wages and this man owed 10,000 talents!  Basically, this was a debt that the man would never be able to repay.  A danarius is equal to one day's wage and the other servant owed 100 danarius, which was a lot of money but realistic to repay over time.  The master was enraged by the first servant's lack of mercy toward the second servant after his debt (a much larger debt) had been forgiven.

Because of sin, our debt to God is like the first servant who had an impossible debt to pay back.  We have received the ultimate pardon from the worst punishment and it is as if we had never known mercy when we cannot extend mercy to others.  This isn't always easy because sometimes we have had some very terrible things happen to us by other people, but we need to remember that if this is something that God requires of us then He has given us the ability to forgive.  When I have struggled to forgive someone, I have prayed that God would change my heart so that I could forgive.  It is like a weight taken off my back when I can let go of the bitterness and unforgiving heart.

Are you allowing God's amazing mercy to change your heart so you can show mercy to others?