Posted in Bible Study

Restart

January 1st often brings about resolutions and promises which the pessimistic side of me says are often broken before the end of January. The optimistic side though always looks forward to a new year because it feels like a new opportunity to restart. Maybe I’ve gotten slack on reading my Bible or maybe I’ve become lazy about getting some form of exercise. Maybe I just need a mental swipe to know that it’s an opportunity to make this year better.

God saw that the Israelites needed this sort of clean swipe. The Israelites weren’t living the life God intended for them to live, and Jeremiah spends his book mourning their behavior and pleading for change. In Jeremiah 25, God allows the Israelites to go into captivity by the Babylonians. I’m sure some of the Israelites were upset with God at this point, but God had a plan. This is exactly the sort of opportunity God was presenting to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, but he didn’t just present the opportunity. God presented the opportunity with a promise.

In Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon who were following God. He relays the words of God that basically tell them to keep heart. In the well-quoted verse eleven, God says, I have “plans to proper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.” Later he adds that the people will seek him and find him when they seek him with all of their heart (vs. 13). In this, God is saying that he is giving the people a chance to restart. He allowed them to go into captivity as an opportunity to seek him with their full heart. Some of the Israelites needed that.

This set of verses gave me hope in a world and country that seems to be going topsy-turvy. Sometimes I wonder why Jesus hasn’t returned yet, but then I remember that he has promised that he will return. The Israelites probably wondered why he didn’t rescue them sooner, but he promised them 70 years in captivity. God hasn’t given us a specific time frame to be on this earth, but he has promised that he will return and that he has plan that is good. In the meantime, we must continue living out the commands he has given us. If you’ve gotten slack in keeping the commands or even in your relationship with God, take this fresh year as an opportunity to restart. God forgives any time of the year.

 

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

Posted in Bible Study, Life

Still Heeding The Signs

A re-post from two years ago: Heed the Signs

As I re-read the Old Testament, I often wonder why Israel kept turning their back on God. Then I realize that they were simply choosing to ignore the signs. Then I look at my own life. Why do I continually struggle with the same sins over and over again? Why can’t I get my act together? The answer is the same. I sub-consciously think, “those rules are only a suggestion. I can do it my way just this once”. Just this once repeats itself over an over. The signs and rules are there for a reason.

And yes, I am still tempted to speed in a construction zone.

The drive back from my brother’s graduation was frustrating. In my mind, taking the Interstate means I can go between 70 and 75 mph. Today though, my route involved numerous sections of construction, which forced me to slow down to 55 and sometimes come to a complete halt. But before this becomes a rant session, let me get to my point.

It would have been very easy to ignore the 55 mph signs because I did not see any cops nearby and the other cars were going at whatever speed they wished. Only my conscience and integrity kept me hovering right below 60 mph. And maybe my paranoia of getting pulled over. If I had not heeded the sign, there could be so many negative consequences, such as tickets (double fine, eek!), wrecks, deaths, etc. It is true that the probability of those things happening is slim, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

The sign was there for a reason.

Recently, a note in my Bible told a story about a (fictional) shark sign at a beach. People get frustrated when they go to the beach and see a sign that says they shouldn’t swim because of potential sharks in the water. They might be angry at the sign itself for being there, when in reality the sign is only a warning and protection from something more dangerous. If they swam in the waters anyway, it is true that they might not encounter sharks at all, but they could also very well come across sharks. The sharks could feel threatened and attack, maiming or killing the swimmers who were simply mad at the sign.

The sign was there for a reason.

Similarly, many non-Christ followers and some Christ followers will complain that the law and rules laid out in the Bible are too constricting in our modern world. This is not a new complaint. Paul dealt with the same thing with the Christians in Rome to whom Romans is addressed. Some complained about the law being unimportant since Christ came, but Paul argues that the law is useful to show him his sin. (Romans 7: 7-8).

In the previous two stories the signs showed me and the beach goers the potential evils in the respective situation: wrecks, tickets, or death, and sharks. The law, written in the Old Testament and lived by Christ in the New Testament, shows us the evil of sin. Paul points out that he would have never have known that coveting is wrong if the law did not show him. The law is there because sin came into existence with Adam and Eve. The law is there to protect us from the consequence of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God.

The problem with this is that sin is so powerful that it warped the image of the law in our minds. Humans for a long time have seen it as something that constricts us from doing what is fun and pleasurable. Humans also sometimes see the law as something that dooms us to death and separation from God if we can’t live the law to a T (Romans 7:13). As Paul points out, the problem is not with the law, which is perfect and protects us if we follow it. The problem is that we are sinful beings. Adam and Eve proved that. They had one restrictive law: don’t eat the fruit on that tree. But they did. Sin is powerful and it rules us if we let it.

Thankfully, we have the laws of the Old and New Testament as a form of protection from sin. What is even better than that is that we have Christ/Holy Spirit/God also as our greatest Protection from sin (Romans 7:24-25). With His power, we are able to resist the power of sin. Thank God!

So now our job is to heed the signs to avoid the messes we get ourselves into when we sin. We can rely on God’s power and strength in order to keep the laws.

The signs (laws) are there for a reason.

 

Posted in Bible Study

Peter’s Lesson

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. 
Luke 22:54-62

The Denial
It was so easy for Peter to deny knowing Christ. He didn’t plan to do it, and I wonder if he even realized what he was doing in each of the three circumstances. He was acting out of fear for his life. For just a moment, his eyes were focused on his fears instead of focused on Jesus. Our fears reveal where we trust God the least and where we don’t understand God’s character. Peter’s fear showed that he didn’t trust God to take care of him and he didn’t understand that God had a plan for good in his life. Lately many of my fears have centered around being alone in the future, physically or emotionally. Those fears show me that I need to lean more on God and learn to trust that God will always be with me.

The Moment of Realization

Verse 61 says the Lord turned and looked at Peter, but it doesn’t say that Jesus said anything. It doesn’t even give any indication how close Peter was to Jesus. Words weren’t necessary, though. Because Peter had spent time with Jesus, Peter knew what that glance meant. He realized where he had gone wrong, and it caused him much sorrow to know what he had done. Hebrews 12:11 reminds us that “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” I didn’t enjoy the moment when I looked at my life and realized I was letting my fear of the future hinder me from trusting God. My fear of being lonely led to lashing out mentally at others for “abandoning me”, but God reminded me that I shouldn’t look to other people to satisfy my loneliness. God is the only one that can fill that need within me; He gives me friends and family as an addition to the joy He supplies not a substitute.

The Lesson Learned

Peter learns his lesson about being bold about his faith in Jesus and God. Instead of staying mired down in his failure, accounts in Acts show Peter speaking boldly. In Acts 4:8-12, Peter speaks to the officials about the power of Christ to heal. He put aside all of his fears and openly gave all credit to Jesus and fully claimed to know Christ. Later when he writes his first letter to the churches, he tells them to “always be ready to give a defense” (1 Peter 3:15). Reading this in the context of the earlier passage shows that Peter was speaking from experience. Be ready to defend your faith and to claim your faith because the discipline when you don’t is painful. Whatever lesson God is trying to reveal to you, be ready to learn it.

Posted in Bible Study

Do Not Be Anxious

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4: 4-9

It seems that modern society values two things: busyness and worries. We’re either too busy to have time with God or we’re worrying about everything that God already has under control*. The first part of Philippians 4:6 is a common catchphrase among Christians–“do not be anxious about anything”–yet we often fail to look to what book-ends this phrase.

Before the anxiousness comes rejoicing and then more rejoicing. Paul instructs the church at Philippi and the modern church likewise to “Rejoice always!” And what’s the cause of rejoicing? The Lord. We are instructed to rejoice in the Lord. That means look around and see God’s work and presence and be full of joy. We rejoice because we know that “the Lord is near”.

Following, or rather replacing, the anxiousness is prayer, but it’s not a grocery list prayer of all of your anxieties. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving. This is not to say that God doesn’t want to hear of your anxieties (see 1 Peter 5:7). After you’ve prayed and released your anxieties to God with thanksgiving, fill your mind with thoughts of things above. Paul instructs us to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, full of excellence, and worthy of praise. Most definitely this does not include your anxieties.

It’s not an empty command without reward though; God promises something in return for exchanging anxiety for prayer. Verse seven of this passage promises that the peace of God will come into your life if you give your cares over to God and think on the things of above. And that’s not the peace you see written on Christmas cards. This is a peace that passes all understanding. It’s the kind of peace that lets you stand in the middle of a hospital and thank God for life. It’s the kind of peace that allows you to sing songs of praise to God even when everything seems to be crashing down around you.

In conclusion, I encourage you to cast off your worries as if you’d cast off your winter coat on a blistering hot day. Fill your mind with prayers to God and always be on the lookout for the ways that He reveals your presence. Just slow down and breathe.

 

*I feel motivated to make the note that I do not think this passage is commenting on the mental disorder called anxiety. This passage seems to be referring to the nagging worries that we let control our minds and actions on a daily basis. Granted, those that are diagnosed with anxiety will receive relief through God’s power, so by no means do I say they are exempt from the power of prayer. God still heals.

Posted in Bible Study

Seeing with God’s Eyes

What do you think when you see this picture?

shutterstock_96134681

And this picture?

correctional-settings-400x210

Is there part of you that wants to make assumptions about how these people ended up in their situation? Do you find yourself stereotyping their personality? It’s okay to admit these thoughts are fluttering through your mind. It happened to me the first time I met John (name changed). He had tattoos on every inch of his body; I knew he had just gotten out of jail. I was scared of him just a bit, and I doubted that God had really changed his heart. It’s not something that’s easy to admit, but ignoring these judgmental thoughts only allows them to persist.

God has something different in mind when he sees people. He sees their potential with him. He sees a beautiful creation. God was creating the earth and after everything he made he declared it good. After he created humans, he declared them very good. It wasn’t just that moment, though. God further declared that ALL people are worthy when he allowed ALL people to have a relationship with Him. To God, we are all equal and worthy and full of dignity.

When God sends Samuel to anoint the next king, Samuel sees Jesse’s sons and thinks “surely it’s one of these guys.”

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Samuel only saw the outside of the sons. He wasn’t looking at the heart. He didn’t consider David because David was the youngest. God saw the dignity and worth of David and wanted him as the new king.

Today, something has to give in the way that we as humans interact with one another. We can’t keep making assumptions about one another. Even more so, we can’t speak those assumptions out loud. Also, we can’t keep putting one another down, even jokingly. We need to think individually about how we speak and act toward one another. Look at people with God’s eyes. Speak to people with God’s words.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This needs to start first within the church. How do you speak to those that you love? How do you treat your acquaintances? Treat both as if they are worth your time. Finally, think about how you treat visitors that are different than you. Show them the love of Jesus. We need to model for the rest of the world how Christ treated people. Jesus hung out with tax collectors, Samaritans, and even people whom he knew would betray him.

Even though John only passed through my life for a brief moment, I learned something from him. God changed his heart. I could tell in the way he was trying so hard to live differently, in the questions he asked, and in the way he treated the people in the church. He showed me that outside appearances don’t tell everything about a person.

Show everyone the love of Jesus, regardless of your initial reaction.

Posted in Bible Study

The Power of Words

 

Last night, some friends and I were having a conversation about Facebook interactions. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have mixed feelings about Facebook and you know that I’ve taken several breaks from the social media platform. This specific conversation was about how some people scroll and rarely make any indication that they’ve even seen posts. To me, that’s the creepy part of Facebook; I try to always keep in mind all of the friends I am speaking to when I post something because it is easy to forget the large audience of Facebook. Then the conversation shifted to the new emoji reactions that Facebook recently released. My input to this conversation is that comments are more valuable to me. I don’t get much satisfaction from seeing a notification that someone “liked” or “reacted to”. A comment is more cherished in my heart because of my strong connection with words.

As a book-lover, I wholeheartedly agree that words are powerful. Rudyard Kipling said that “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Or as James put it, “the tongue is a flame of fire….It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” James 3:6. Lately, God has been revealing to me about how to make everything about him, and specifically God has shown me that the words I choose to speak and write are powerful. It’s always been a problem of mine to speak and write what comes to mind and what I think others want to hear. Through painful discipline, I’m learning (over and over) to really apply James 1:19 by pondering my words very carefully.

In fact, God has quite a bit to say about words and how we use them. In Psalm 12, the psalmist makes the bold request that God cut off all flattering lips and the tongue that makes great boasts. Instead, the tongue should be used to spread wisdom, healing, and encouragement (Proverbs 12:18; Ephesians 4:29).

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19:14

If you also struggle with words, I don’t have any specific advice other than to prayfully submit to God. I’ve had to ask for forgiveness from God and people quite a bit, and I expect that I will more in the future. It’s been a lesson in patience as I’ve wanted to say something but realize that it’s not appropriate or uplifting. Ultimately, though, it will be worth the discipline and patience because I trust that God is changing me and using the words he gives me to say to encourage and challenge others. I only have to learn to listen to his guidance rather than spouting off whatever comes to my head.

In closing, I leave you with words from Roald Dahl:

“Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”
Roald Dahl, The BFG

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bible Study

New Year’s Resolutions

I usually refrain from setting New Year’s Resolutions because it seems like a lot of hubbub over another day. I also fear failure. This year, though, has me thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2016. I know the year holds the potential for a lot of change within me; hopefully I’ll be starting a teaching career, which I know will grow me as a person. I want to go at this year the right way, growing with God, not against him. For that reason, my resolution is to follow this chronological Bible reading plan.

Reading Genesis 1-3 on January 1 got me thinking about beginnings. This is the account of the beginning of everything that I know, excluding God (he already existed). There was nothing except God before this as far as I know. Then God resolved to create. Of course, he didn’t fear failure because He’s God. He set out to do something, a project that would last for eternity. It was all good for a while, but we know that there were a few bumps in the road. They weren’t failures on God’s part though; similarly, even if there are bumps in my path toward my goal this year, it doesn’t automatically mean I’ve failed. Fear of failure shouldn’t be what holds me back from setting a goal, especially if it’s a goal to seek after God.

In addition, I have set a few smaller goals to accomplish this year.

-Get a teaching job.

-Love more.

-Live in the present.

-Keep a gratitude journal.

-Get a live Christmas tree at Christmas.

I also hope to make more posts on this blog about what I’m reading and watching. As a teaser, you should know I brought all of my books from my mom’s house to my apartment, so I will probably be looking back at some of my childhood favorites while I work on reading whatever it is I am currently reading.

For now, cheers!

Happy reading in 2016.