Posted in Bible Study

God always provides

“and behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the such month with her who was called barren…. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:36, 41-42).

I can imagine that when Mary found out about her pregnancy she was scared, not only of being pregnant outside of marriage but simply of having her first child. I wonder if God provided Elizabeth a child not only for the fact that this child would proclaim about Jesus but also because God knew Mary would need a confidant. Mary would need someone who believed her claim about this baby being God and someone to share the pains and joys of having a child. 

This passage reminds me that God always provides exactly what we need when we need it. He’s given me friends when I’m lonely, rest when I’m weary, and reassurance when I’m feeling insecure. Notice though God provides what we need not what we want. Mary may have wanted everyone to believe her, but God only gave her one because that’s how his perfect plan worked. 

Advertisements
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

Temptations

Sometimes when temptations come our way, we tend to think something is terribly wrong with us or with our relationship with God. Based on the time when Jesus was tempted, this is not necessarily true. Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” Matthew’s telling says that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Now let’s clarify one thing before going any farther. God or the Holy Spirit are not doing the tempting here. The scripture only says that the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness. In fact, James reminds us that God does not tempt us because “temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away” (James 1:14).

The first thing to notice here about the temptation of Jesus is that it comes immediately after Jesus is completely obedient to God’s will through baptism. Jesus knew he needed to be baptized, and even though John protested, Jesus insisted. God said that he was well pleased with his Son. I was young when I accepted Christ, so I don’t remember all of my feelings, but I do remember occasionally thinking that I should be automatically able to overcome any fear. Of course that didn’t happen. Likewise I also wasn’t able to overcome every temptation, nor did the temptations stop coming. Temptations don’t even always come when we’re spiritually empty, though that’s not to say that they won’t come then; temptations can also come when we’re spiritually full. The difference is that when we’re spiritually empty, the temptations seem grander because they’re harder to fight. Jesus was spiritually full, yet he was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights. God used this time of temptation to bring glory to himself. Luke tells us that immediately following this time of temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee, where people were curious and praising of him (Luke 4:14-15).

Now let’s turn to the three ways that Jesus was tempted. All of these are temptations of the flesh. 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us that we should not love the world and what it has to offer.

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (vs 16).

  1. The first thing Satan says to Jesus is, “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread” This is a temptation for physical pleasures. Jesus had been fasting so food probably sounded really good. His response was that people don’t live by bread alone. He knew that God’s will is greater than our natural needs. When we’re tempted to want the next big gadget or a bigger house or car or whatever earthly possession tempts us, we should stop to consider how we can use that thing as a tool to bring glory to God or to share God’s love. That should always be our primary goal when acquiring more “stuff.”
  2. Secondly, Satan told Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, jump,” This is the temptation to take pride in our achievements and possessions. Satan tempted Jesus to do something miraculous and call on the angels. It was true that angels would protect him if he called on them, but Jesus knew that Satan wasn’t doing this to bring glory to God. By doing this feat, Jesus would only be showing off and thus falling prey to the temptation of pride. It’s okay to acknowledge that we have done something or are able to do something, but we need to be sure that we firstly acknowledge that God gave us that ability. God has to receive the glory first or it’s prideful.
  3. Finally Satan shows all the kingdoms to Jesus and says, “I will give it all to you if you will kneel and worship me.” This is the craving for everything we see. This is a Lion King moment when everything is shown to the Son, except this time it’s not the Father showing it to the Son. Jesus knew that he already had all of the kingdoms and did not need to worship Satan in order to gain glory. Likewise, we have so much through our relationship with God and don’t need to give in to the world’s offer of riches and wealth.

In all of these, Satan always began by questioning Jesus’ identity by saying “if you are the Son of God.” Satan does this to us as well when he puts lies in our heads about our relationship with God. He makes us wonder if God is even real or if God cares about us. Satan knows that if he can get us to question our security and identity, we will be Play-doh in his hands. This is why we must be grounded in the truths that God says about us.

Also in each of these temptations, Satan uses God’s Word to tempt Jesus. He twists the scriptures very subtly so say what he wants them to say. Jesus knew enough about God’s Words to refute Satan. Our strongest tool to resists Satan’s temptations is scripture. We must make sure we know the Words of God well enough so that when scripture is used to try to convince us to sin, we can point out the flaws in that thinking.

Temptations are meant to humble us and test us. They remind us that we are fragile and easily persuaded without the strength of God. They also prove our commitment to God by proving our obedience to his commands even in tough situations. James 4:7 reminds us to “humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” On the contrary, the next verse says to “come close to God, and God will come close to you.” We choose who we’ll follow, so next time temptations come your way, resist the devil and come close to God.

Posted in Bible Study, Life

He Paid It All

Recently I began living in the house of a lady I didn’t know. When I visited before moving in, I volunteered to help with the cost of keeping the house up, but she shushed me and said she wouldn’t let me do that. She explained that she’s blessed to be living in the house for free and that she wanted to share that blessing with me. Beyond being extremely grateful for this blessing, there are two lessons I see here.

The first lesson comes from Luke 3:10-11 when John is preaching to the crowd about Jesus’ coming.

The crowds asked, “What should we do? 

John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.

This lady I’m staying with lives that sort of life. She has an open wallet and an open heart. It’s exactly what Jesus came to show us about living. Nothing here belongs to you or me. Our blessings, however small, come from God, so we should use those blessings to point others toward Him. What better way to point someone to Christ than to share our blessing? I’ve been blessed with rent-free accommodations. That means I must strive to bless others in whatever way I can. This blessing chain gives me the opportunity to share God’s love and grace with people who might not otherwise make the connection.

That leads me to the second lesson. The lady I’m staying with had every right to ask for some sort of rent, especially when I offered. Instead she gave me something I didn’t deserve- a free bedroom and community. In the grander scheme of things, I owe so much to God for His forgiveness, mercy, and love that he shows. Yet, since He knows that I’ll never be able to repay him, he waived the cost. He sent his Son to pay the cost, and his Son was willing to do so because of love. I owe Christ everything for what he did on the cross, but he won’t let me pay anything.

So if you’re out there somewhere on the Internet and you feel like you’ve been blessed, pass along that blessing. It’s an opportunity to share Jesus’ love with someone else. Recently in my studies, I been learning about how the most effective way to share the Gospel message is to meet people where they are. This means that by providing something that someone needs, a door may be opened for a conversation about Jesus that might not have occurred otherwise. Therefore, don’t hoard your blessings– they won’t last here one Earth anyway– share those blessings with others because you remember that God chose to bless you first. He didn’t make you pay, so let someone else’s “payment” slide.

Posted in Bible Study

Feeling Salty: Part Three

Once again the verse in question is Matthew 5:13, but today I’d also like to add its counterparts, Luke 14:34-35 and Mark 9:50. If you’ve been reading my previous thoughts, you know I have discussed how Christians are supposed to point people toward God and we do that by living lives set apart from this world. This final post will ponder what happens when Christians find themselves feeling a little less than salty.

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” Matthew 5:13

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” Luke 14:34-35

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” Mark 9:50

Less Than Salty

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we can all find times in our lives when we are less than salty. These are our less-than-proud moments when our actions and words don’t point back to Jesus. For me, these moments happen when I let myself get a little too bothered by what people think about me. Someone will say something that strikes me as a bit abrasive or look at me in an odd way and I’ll just snap back with a sarcastic or angry statement. I feel guilty immediately but for me asking for forgiveness is sometimes harder than getting a cat to bark. Without even trying I’ve finished two actions that are less than salty; not only did I snap back at what could have been an innocent comment or glance but I also failed to show humility. While one situation like this probably doesn’t mean that I have lost my saltiness entirely, it was one opportunity where I could have pointed someone toward God. If I’m not careful those instances pile up quickly and I lose track of what I’m really here on Earth to do.

So what do we do when we’re feeling less than salty? Something must be done because Matthew bluntly reminds us that flavorless salt should be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Luke gets a bit harsher and says that flavorless salt isn’t even useful in the manure pile and should be quickly thrown out. Yikes! We better get our act together.

Mark mentions the qualities of salt which I think can most easily be summed up by looking at the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Firstly, when we find ourselves feeling less than salty, we should plead with the spirit to renew in us these gifts given so that we can be salt to the world. Thankfully, these are not attributes we have to produce within ourselves because we have the Holy Spirit to guide us toward these gifts. All we need a heart willing to be molded. We must give our desires over to Jesus and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As this set of verses finishes, we are reminded to be humble, kind toward one another, and not jealous. These are tall orders but thankfully there is Someone who can help us in these endeavors.

Secondly, Mark tells us to live in peace with one another. In Romans 5, Paul gives a few hints as to how to live at peace with one another. He says to “be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” (12:3) meaning that we should realize that as individuals we have faults. I equate this evaluation with humility. Pride would be thinking that your way is always the best way, so humility realizes that your way could be wrong. Paul also tells us to “really love one another” rather than just pretending to love each other (12:9). This may be harder at some times than others. Somewhere I have read or heard that when working with someone, always assume that the person has the best intentions. Many of our conflicts come about when we assume that someone else is out to get us. Not only is this prideful but also malicious. Many times these conflicts could be avoided if we assumed that the person’s intentions are honorable until they prove to be dishonorable. Finally Paul says to let God handle the revenge (12:14-21). Our response to injustice should be to bless those who persecute us and remember that God is in charge of delivering discipline and justice.

Can we be made salty again? I think so. The Bible gives many examples where someone falls prey to human desires and sins but God forgives that person and draws him/her back into the fold.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9

Thank God for his mercy. Now go be salty!

Posted in Bible Study

Re-imaging Christmas

Imagine a scene with me for a moment. There is a young couple named Mary and Joe in a jalopy riding down the interstate heading to somewhere, anywhere but where they come from. They’ve been sent on this journey because the government tells them they must register their identity in their hometown. They don’t have much money to travel and just hope and pray that their beaten up car will make it to their destination. Mary is pregnant, but the father is not Joe. At first Joe was angry and threatened to leave Mary, but a dream convinced him otherwise. The dream of an angel confirmed Mary’s story that she was carrying the son of God. Mary wasn’t one to lie, so he asked for her forgiveness and supported her. It had been a crazy few months that brought them to this moment in the middle of the night on the interstate. They’ve been shunned by many of their friends and hope to find a new start and some forgiveness after completing this requirement from the government.

At Mary’s insistence, Mary and Joe drive late into the night in hopes of avoiding the cost of a hotel. They arrive in the town of Bethel where they will complete the required paperwork the following day. Joe realizes that asking his pregnant wife to sleep in the car would not be kind so he begins looking for a hotel open late. All the hotels he checks are either closed for the night or full. Finally he comes to a small bed and breakfast that he would not be able to afford, but he decides to check since it’s his last option. The kind lady at the desk tells him that the rooms are all full but there is a small bed in the barn where her husband sometimes takes naps in the afternoon. She gives him several warm quilts and a space heater and apologizes for the inconvenience. Joe offers to pay, but the lady will not take any money from him.

When Joe and Mary step in the barn they are grateful for the warm quilts and space heater. The barn is smelly and drafty, but the small bed will be much better for Mary’s aching back than the cramped car. Shortly after Joe dozes, he awakes to hear Mary groaning in pain. He turns from his position on the floor to see Mary bent over double and realizes immediately that she is in labor. After Mary speaks a few calming words to him, he runs to the house to get the landlady and call an ambulance. The landlady comes and tells Joe that Mary will have that baby before the ambulance can make it. She quickly and efficiently gathers rags and water and prepares to act as midwife to this young girl. The baby arrives and the sweet face smiles so beautifully that the landlady knows this will be special child. Mary and Joe tell her their story and that the baby’s name is Jesus. He will save the world from their sins. It’s a special night.


The story above is not entirely Biblically accurate because Jesus was born in a different time when there weren’t ambulances and space heaters, but during this Christmas season I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the miracles that surrounded his birth. This year as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth given by Matthew and Luke, I was reminded of how God worked out every little detail to bring his son into the world. He used a poor couple who had to work through a tough situation. He showed a resolved struggle between the couple even before they were married. He supplied a place of humility for the baby to be born.

Many times during this season, we search for the most expensive gifts we can afford because we want the time to be special. We decorate our house with plenty of lights and light up our fires. We plan extravagant parties with more food than we could ever consume. We hope that just for a few moments there will be no fights. In reality, even the most humble of accommodations or gifts are special. Jesus was the example of that. He was born to poor parents in a barn where there was probably low light, stench, and a lack of fresh air. His parents almost split before he was even born or they were married. This year take some time to reflect on Jesus’ first Christmas as you go through the hustle and bustle that has become our modern Christmas. When your snacks don’t look like the ones in the magazine or your wrapping paper gets ripped on the way to the party, remember that it’s the time that matters the most. Take the time to thank God for his wonderful gift and for the people he keeps giving to you.

Merry Christmas Season!

Posted in Bible Study

Lessons from Martha

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. She was praised by Jesus and he said she made the right decision.

Martha welcomed Jesus into the home. She was distracted by what needed to be done. She was worried and upset that Mary wasn’t helping her. She complained about her situation and Jesus chastised her. He told her that Mary had chosen what was really needed.

What was it that Mary chose that Martha didn’t have?

An attitude of worship

Jesus saw Martha’s heart though. I believe he was speaking about more than her choice to serve; he was saying that Mary had chosen to worship while Martha was not worshipping. Neither action- kneeling or serving- was wrong but Jesus knew that Mary’s heart was in the right place in her action. This passage is not about the particular actions of these two ladies; it’s about their hearts.

I can imagine there was some sibling rivalry in this situation. Maybe Martha felt like she wasn’t being treated fairly. I wonder if she felt that Jesus didn’t care about her and that she was living in the shadow of her oh-so-holy sister, Mary. Jesus knew what was happening in Martha’s heart. He did care for Martha but she was too distracted to see that.

I can relate to Martha. She felt abandoned, and sometimes I feel like I’m living in the shadow of other people’s successes. I feel unappreciated. Like Martha, maybe I’m too busy feeling abandoned and pitying myself to see that Jesus does care for my heart and appreciates my attempts to serve him.

Martha’s actions weren’t wrong. The mistake is that Martha wasn’t content with her role in worship. In this situation, maybe Martha’s role was to serve the food but she wasn’t content there. Jesus wanted her to be content and worship him in whatever she chose to do. Likewise, I need to be content and find ways to worship God in whatever role I am playing- even if that is in the background.

The heart matters more to God than the actions performed. Like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “things which matter the most must never be at the mercy of things which matter the least.” Our heart for Jesus must never take back burner to the actions that we perform.

 

Luke 10:38-42