Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lenten series #3: Enoch

Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:22-24 NASB)

When Enoch was 65 years old, he became acquainted with God and began to walk with Him. He walked with God 300 years, and then God took him. Frank Pollard was my pastor in the late 1970's, and he explained this story so well. He said that every day God and Enoch walked together. For three hundred years, they walked together every day, and at the end of their walk, Enoch would always say, "Well, here's my house. I'll see you tomorrow."  One day, they walked as usual and, when they got to Enoch's house, they were deep in conversation. They were having such a grand time that neither of them wanted their time to end, so God said, "Enoch, why don't you go home with Me to My house today, and he did."

Enoch's always been my favorite Bible person (other than Jesus, of course). His entire life can be summed up by the four sweetest words. He walked with God. That's it. He didn't defeat a giant, lead an army, write a book, or accumulate great riches. He didn't do any of the things that are generally considered "important", and yet God favored him so much that he was "taken" to heaven without dying. While Enoch didn't do a thing that most people consider important, he clearly did the one thing that God considered most important. He walked with God.

The story of Enoch is not the usual Lenten devotional thought, but it should be. Sin was introduced into the world when two people wanted their own way rather than to walk with God. In case you don't remember, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden every evening until they disobeyed, then everything changed. Their story shows us the result of living our way.  Enoch's story shows us the result of living God's way. 

We are still early in the Lenten season. There is plenty of time to choose an Enoch faith walk and experience Lent in the most amazing way imaginable. You just have to do what Enoch did. Every morning, he woke up and said, "I'm going to walk with God today!" and every day that is exactly what He did. It was a decision he made on a daily basis, and one we would do well to make, too. 

What better epitaph than the one Enoch had? He walked with God. It wasn't too hard for Enoch, and it's not too hard for you. Why not start right now? Walk with God today!

Doing Good, Regardless (Luke 6:8-11)

But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward!" And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?" After looking around at them all, He said to him, "Stretch out your hand!" And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:8-11 NASB)

In case you missed the previous post, these events took place on the Sabbath. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and a man with a withered hand entered. The scribes and the Pharisees were ecstatic. By this time, they had realized that Jesus was very likely to heal this man, even though it was the Sabbath. Doing work on the Sabbath was forbidden, and they saw healing as work. They did not care about the suffering of the man with the withered hand. They cared about following rules and making sure everyone else did, too. 

Jesus, of course, knew what they were thinking. Being God as well as man, He knew where this was leading (the Cross), but He did not hold back. In fact, from the moment He left heaven, He was enroute to the Cross. All the teaching, all the healing, all the casting out of demons, all the miracles were just a preface for the real work, which would be done at Calvary. It's easy to think that Jesus was mostly a healer or mostly a miracle worker, but that is simply not true. Jesus was a God-payment for the sin of mankind. My sin. Your sin. That's why He came. 

Because He understood that this earth was not His home, and that He was heading home to Heaven only after the Cross and resurrection, He did not mince words or hold back, and we see that boldness in this passage. He looked at the man with the withered hand and invited him forward. With the man at His side, where everyone in the room could see his withered hand, Jesus asked a wonderfully difficult question. "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm, to save a life or to destroy it?" He knew that the scribes and Pharisees could not say it was right to do harm, but saying it was right to do good would validate His decision to heal the man, and they would not do that either. 

Jesus had put them in an impossible position with their question, and they knew it. There was nothing they could say. Jesus, of course, instructed the man to stretch out His hand, and when he did, it was healed. The scribes and Pharisees were furious. Scripture describes them as "filled with rage".  The Greek word for rage used here is "anoia" and indicates a kind of madness expressed as rage, a folly born from lack of understanding. That's exactly what happened. They did not understand the truth Jesus was demonstrating and, rather than make the effort to understand and allow change in their heart, they used their lack of understanding for folly that produced a mad rage. This is not a quick anger, but a slow burning rage that leads to action. Evil action. Right there in the synagogue, as that man with the withered hand stretched out his arm, these particular scribes and Pharisees began to plot. Can't you hear them? "Something has to be done!" led to "We have to do something!" which led to "He has got to go!" The plot was underway. 

What is really amazing here is that, in Luke 5 (one chapter back), Jesus healed the paralytic and everyone, including the scribes and Pharisees present that day, were "seized with astonishment and began glorifying God" (Luke 5:26). How quickly things changed!

The scribes and Pharisees were not stupid or ignorant. They were some of the best scholars in Israel. Their preconceived ideas about God, however, got in their way and prevented them from recognizing truth. The hardness of heart and the anger they quickly embraced kept them from the One who came to set them free. Those "preconceived ideas" about Christianity are still keeping people from the freedom Christ offers today. What preconceived ideas are limiting your relationship with Jesus? What about your loved ones?

Pray today that we and our loved ones will lay aside our notions about God and our preconceived prejudice and be open to the truth and freedom that only Christ can bring. 

I'm writing a Lenten series in the evenings. Be sure to check back tonight for that!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Maggie's Turn: The Sniff Test

I have had a break through with the THING, and Mama said I could tell you about it. Since it's a guest blog, I get to write what I want, but my mama said to tell you up front that she doesn't think my choice of topic is very lady like. I told her that I am just a dog, even if I am a Wonder Dog, so it's okay. It's a very good topic for a Wonder dog. So there!

You may have read already that my mama surprised me with something that was NOT jerky! I was not happy at all. It was a brown furry thing that looked like a Guinea pig, squeaked a lot, and poohed in the floor. I did not like this THING one bit! I have had to have some lessons from Jesus about it. My mama said I had a bad attitude and Jesus doesn't like bad attitudes. It turns out my mama was right. You should listen to my mama. She's pretty smart about Jesus stuff!

Anyway, my mama kept telling me this was my new 'dopted sister, but I could not believe a Guinea pig was my sister. No way!!  A few days ago, we were all walking to the barn. My friend Lou was walking with mama, and the THING, and me. I had told my friend Lou about the Guinea pig problem, and he said, "Woof! I'll check 'er out!"  He walked right up to the THING and sniffed her hiney. I could not believe it! I would not sniff a Guinea pig myself. Anyway, he looked up at me and said, "Whoa, Mags! (only Lou can call me that, so don't get any ideas). This ain't no Guinea pig.  It's one of them lil ole dogs! I don't think it's very old either.  Come sniff fer yerself!" Well, I was so surprised! I walked over to that supposed Guinea pig's coming-out end and took a big sniff. Lou was right!! It IS a little dog! My mama was right all the time, too! Can you believe it? 

Anyway, this little bitty baby dog is called a puppy and her name is Mamie. She bounces a lot, but she's not great at walking while she bounces. She kinda tumbles around a lot, and she is very pesty. My mama said baby sisters are always pesty. That doesn't seem like such a great plan to me, but she says you learn to love them in the end. I hope that's true. Right now, I've been really busy herding Mamie and letting mama know when she tries to sneak out of the kitchen. She's kept me busy barking to warn my mama. I've got to do it, though, because I know my mama doesn't want her to pooh on the floor, cute or not! A Wonder Dog's work is never done. 

You know, all the time I was mad about the Guinea Pig sister, I never did sniff her coming-out end to find out for sure. I just made up my mind on sight. My mama says people do that, too, sometimes, but that it's not a very good idea. She says that, if you want to know about someone, don't look at the outside. She said God looks at the inside, but since we can't do that, we have to look at how people act and how they treat other people. 

I don't know about all that, but I think it's kinda like what dogs do. We check out the coming-out part and we can tell for sure! That's what Lou did, and that's how I ended up with a baby sister after all!

Here's the Wonder Dog Lesson of the Day:
Check the coming-out part. It'll tell you all you need to know. 

(My mama got upset because she thought I was telling her readers to sniff hineys, but I told her you are all very smart and will know better than that! You know Wonder Dogs like very short lessons. I mean check the action part that comes out of people's hearts. That will tell you all you need to know!)

You can tell a lot more from what people do than what they look like. I don't know if that's true for puppies (because she just bounces, eats, sleeps, and POOH's), but I can tell she's a dog, and that's a good start!

The end. By Maggie the Wonder Dog

How far will you go for Jesus? (Luke 6:8)

But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward!" And he got up and came forward. (Luke 6:8 NASB)

We could take all these verses at once and cruise right through this story in one day, but we would miss the nuances here. The way the events unfold are just marvelous! The Sabbath police (aka scribes and Pharisees) were probably thrilled to see the man with the withered hand come into the synagogue that day. (I wonder if they arranged it as a trap, but there is no indication of that). They did not care a bit about the  suffering man. They cared about getting the upper hand with Jesus and catching Him in sin. Can't you just hear their thoughts? "Oh yeah! Jesus is gonna hang himself now with this withered hand!" It hadn't taken long for them to know Jesus. He was the same all the time. He IS the same all the time. He cares about suffering and He is eager to help, so they knew exactly what to expect. 

Jesus knew those scribes and Pharisees, too. He knew what they were thinking. He knew they saw the man's hand as a trap, and were just waiting for something to use against Him. Jesus, however, was far more concerned about doing good than worrying about the opinion of the authorities. We will see how He handled them tomorrow. Today, we see that Jesus knew they would be angry. He knew His decision to heal the man would be personally costly. He knew all that and called Him forward. No hesitation. No delay. Jesus saw a need and set about meeting it, regardless of the cost. 

In the United States, taking action in the name of Jesus to help those in need is not personally costly.  (At least not usually) In some countries, however, bearing the name of Christ costs the believer everything, yet our brothers and sisters around the world willingly preserve for the One who gave everything for them. How committed are we to Jesus? Are we willing to do what He would do for those in need, even if it is personally costly? 

In the summer of 1976, I was working as a summer missionary in Honduras. I was in a border village when, unexpectedly and quite suddenly, war erupted around me. We could hear the guns shooting in an adjacent village. They were headed our way. A decision had to be made and, as the youngest and most vulnerable, the decision was left to me. I had to decide whether or not I would stay, face whatever came, and risk suffering to do the will of God. Just to be sure that I understood, I was required to write a letter to my family explaining my decision. That letter is one of my most valued possessions. That dark night, filled with the sound of gunfire, was a refining fire for me. I stayed, and God protected me, but before that night was over, I knew the truth of the three Hebrews boys going into the fiery furnace. Our God could deliver, but if not, I would still stay. 

That refining fire nearly four decades ago makes all the difference today, because I know what I'm willing to give for Jesus. Today, spend some time thinking about our Lord's willingness to give everything for us. Consider your willingness to give all for Him. Consider your willingness to simply obey one little step at a time. If some changes in priority and commitment are needed, invite Him to help you do what must be done. There may come a time when you are called to hold firm for Him no matter the cost. Deciding in advance how far you will go for Jesus makes all the difference. 

Pray today that we and our loved ones would be so committed to Christ that we are willing to give all for Him who left Heaven to give Himself for us. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lenten #2: the beginning.

To understand Lent, we need to start at the beginning. That means we have to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God created everything above, below, and on the earth.  Man was the final part of His masterpiece.  God placed him in a lush garden, where he had everything he needed.  Well, he had everything except a wife, so God created her, too.  

When Adam, the first man, was put in charge of the garden, God gave him strict instructions. He could eat from every tree except the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If he did that, God said, he would die.  It was Adam's job to bring Eve, his new wife, up to date on the rules, but the transfer of information did  not go well. Either Eve didn't understand or she was a born drama queen, because she totally jumbled the rules.  When temptation came her way, she was quickly deceived, and did the one thing she was not supposed to do, then convinced naive Adam to join in her disobedience.

When God came to walk with Adam and Eve in the evening, as He always did, they were hiding, having just noticed that they were totally naked.  They ended up confessing the whole thing, both trying to place the blame elsewhere.  As a result, God assigned consequences and discipline.  To the tempter, God gave the first prophecy of Christ.  

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." (Genesis 3:15 NASB)

This verse indicates that the tempter (Satan) would cause an injury (bruise) to the man who would one day be born, but the man would deliver a fatal blow (head) to him.  We know that Jesus came, the enemy succeeded in bruising him by the crucifixion, but it was not a fatal blow, because Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.  One day, Jesus will return and He will defeat Satan and all his demons.  It will be a fatal blow.  

It is easy to focus on all the consequences and miss one important point.  When they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they gained the knowledge of good and evil.  In so doing, they recognized their sin and their nakedness before our sinless God, and they were ashamed.  Now, God did not have to do this, but He acted from love and mercy.  He made them clothes.  These were not just any clothes, though.  "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them."(Genesis 3:21 NASB). God killed an animal (we might call it the first blood sacrifice) and used the skin to make their clothing.  Blood was shed to cover their sin and shame.   

From the beginning of time on earth, sin has required a blood sacrifice as payment. Ultimately, the sin problem was so enormous that God, in yet another act of mercy, once again covered our sin with a blood sacrifice, this time using His own Son as a once-and-forever sacrifice. How could a Loving Father do that? He could see past the Cross all the way to Resurrection.  He knew it was a temporary terribleness that would bring a permanent solution to our sin problem. 

It's hard for me to understand that kind of mercy and grace, and far too easy to take it for granted.  God clothed Himself in frail flesh and walked among us, died to save us, and rose to redeem us.  As we begin our Lenten Journey, we start by recognizing that sin is the problem, we are the ones with the deadly sin affliction, and Jesus is the only solution.  It's mind boggling, and even though we cannot understand it, it demands a response of us.   You and I must respond to Jesus and His outrageous sacrifice on our behalf.  It's going to require change. You might as well know that from the start, and get ready. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Fast God Desires

In the evangelical churches I had attended, fasting was seldom, if ever mentioned, and all I knew about Lent was that it was somehow connected to Mardi Gras.  I had no idea what a powerful instrument of spiritual growth this discipline could be. 

Several years ago, however, I had a friend who was completely serious about her Lenten fast.  She prayed for weeks about what to give up, and her time of sacrifice became an opportunity to draw closer to her Lord.  One year she invited me to join her, and the experience radically changed my heart.  Over the years, I fasted everything from shopping to meat to everything except liquids.  

The year God called me to fast from sin was the most life changing of all.  I was studying Isaiah 58, and felt led to do “the fast He chose.”  God’s fast, Isaiah explained, involved loosening the bonds of wickedness, undoing the bands of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free.  It was dividing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the naked.  

“How do I do this fast, Lord?” I prayed.  Ever so gently, that still, small Voice explained that pride and selfishness were bonds of wickedness in my life that needed to be loosened.  It hurt to hear that, because I was so busy and focused on the needs of my family, I often overlooked the needs of those around me.  I had plenty of “good deeds” others could see, but few things only God could see.  
Isaiah 58:8-12 explains the benefit of such a fast.  God promises light in the darkness, guidance, contentment, and productivity.  Best of all, He promises intimacy beyond your wildest dreams.  “Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.”  

Just as He promised, God worked in me during that Lenten season, and became as intimately personal as my next breath.  When I cried out to Him, He answered, “I’m right here, dear one.”  At the end of those forty days, Easter was a glorious celebration of my life in Christ and the renewal my spirit had experienced.  

This Lenten season, why not ask God to reveal and remove your “bonds of wickedness”?   Your life, and your faith, will never be the same again.  

He Sees Our Need (Luke 6:6,7)

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. (Luke 6:6, 7 NASB)

This passage always makes me laugh out loud. When you read the first few words and find that there was a man with a withered hand in the synagogue that day, you can tell from the wording that Jesus will not only notice the man, but also intervene. Isn't that wonderful? Our Savior notices us and our infirmities. No matter how alone or insignificant we feel, we have not been overlooked by Jesus. 

In the broad range of illness and disability, paralysis and leprosy are certainly worse than a withered hand, but a withered hand is just as great a need as the more severe conditions. It is just as deserving of Sabbath intervention.  

What is wonderfully encouraging to me about these verses is that, even when Jesus was busy teaching, He noticed those in need around Him, viewed their need as a priority, and did not delay with intervention. This is the same way He responds to us today. When we approach Him with our need, He is not too busy to notice us, nor too busy to intervene on our behalf. Our need is not too small for Him, nor too great. 

For some of us, our loved ones are in desperate circumstances. Others are seeking to know God's will and trying hard to find His way. All the needs are important to Jesus, not just the most severe. As we pray today, take heart that our Lord KNOWS. He knows the needs, the severity, and the perfect intervention, and, at just the right time, He will intervene. In fact, at just the right time, Christ came and died for us! 

Pray today that Our Lord will intervene in every need and heal every wound. Be sure to thank Him for His faithfulness. 

Lenten devotionals start this evening. Be sure to check back

Persevering Priorities (Luke 6:6,7)

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. (Luke 6:6, 7 NASB)

These events happened on a different Sabbath from the grain field grazing, and, of course, the "Sabbath police" (the scribes and Pharisees) were watching to see what Jesus would do. They didn't care one bit about the man or his withered hand. All they cared about was continuing their argument with Jesus. The great thing is that Jesus didn't care one bit about their silly arguments. He cared about the man and his withered hand. 

What a picture of priority! Don't forget that Jesus, the God-man, already knew how things would turn out for Him. He already knew the cross was coming and that the scribes and Pharisees would be instrumental in nailing Him to that cross. Even so, he did not hold back. His priorities were the same, regardless of who was watching or what they had the power to do to Him. 

What priority do the needs of others have in your life?  In mine? Are we as concerned about those in need when others are watching as when they are not?  How does our behavior vary based on who is watching us?  

2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us, "For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." (2 Chronicles 16:9a NASB). The only eyes with which we should concern ourselves are the eyes of God. He's looking for those whose heart is totally available to Him. What will He see when He looks your way?

Pray today that our hearts would be so focused on our Lord and the things that concern Him that it will be apparent to all those who look our way. Pray, too, that our loved ones will recognize the concern of God for their situation, and will call out to Him for divine intervention. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Looking towards Lent

The monthly Blue Springs Board of Aldermen meeting was tonight. We had several members of the community who came as guests. They were interested in knowing about ordinances and wondered how they could keep informed if new laws and ordinances were being made. One nice lady wisely said, "I'm a law abiding citizen but I've realized if I don't know what the law is, I can't abide by it."
Well said! We explained the way things worked as well as the system for public notification. Our attorney explained that there were laws in place that governed the entire process. In our little town, we try hard to be sure we obey the law in the way we do business. It makes everything run smoother. 

After the meeting, I was thinking about how well our system works. There are checks and balances in place, but public participation works as a kind of check and balance, as well. I'm glad to see people be a part of the process (especially before a decision is reached rather than afte ).  In general, we have a great system of government that works because it's of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Citizen involvement is a critical part of the process, but it's surprising to me how few citizens actually get involved or bother to stay abreast of current law. 

I'm often surprised by how little many Christians actually know about God's Word. I feel like the lady who came to our meeting. I want to obey God's law and live the way He wants, but I can't do that if I don't know what He expects. That's why Bible study is so important. It's why you will often see a Greek word study in my morning devotions. I want to be sure that my teachings are as clear and accurate as possible so that those who read what I write will have a clear understanding of what God expects from us. 

With all that said, I've been thinking about the Lenten season. Christmas is really important, but Easter is where Christianity draws it's meaning. In fact, without Easter, there is no meaning. That's a pretty bold statement, I guess, but it's true. Over the next forty days (the Lenten season), I will be writing more evening devotions than confessions. I've spoken extensively over the years on the subjects of prayer and fasting. You can expect some evening lessons on fasting, as well as some posts about the journey to the cross. My goal is to help us understand what Lent is all about, what the cross means to us, and why resurrection is so critical to our faith. 

I realize today is Fat Tuesday and people use it as an excuse to indulge in all kinds of excess, but let me suggest you use this evening to consider a 40-day journey to the cross. Start with me tomorrow as we look deeper at this Jesus who came to earth in order to go to the cross. I'm praying this will be your best Easter ever because you will see resurrection morning in a whole new way. I can hardly wait! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Unexpected Surprises

There's a routine to feeding in my barn. Every morning, I head to the barn tack room, set out three buckets, scoop the feed into the buckets, grab all three, and head to the stalls. The closest stall gets feed first. The horse with the sweetest, most patient disposition, however, is in the last stall. She gets fed last every time. 

This morning was no different. As I opened her stall door, I thought, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first."  In an instant, the routine changed. Tomorrow, Belle will be fed first. A sweet, gentle spirit like hers should have a reward, don't you think? I smiled to myself as I headed back to the house. It's a little surprise she has coming, but a surprise nonetheless. 

I love unexpected surprises, don't you? Maybe Jesus does, too, because He said that, when we least expect it, He's coming back. It's going to be a sky-splitting surprise and everyone on earth will be utterly astounded. The last is still last now, but when Jesus comes back, everything will change. That's when the last will be first and we will be totally astounded by the order He arranges. I wonder if He might not be watching for those with sweet, gentle spirits to "move up the line".  Perhaps we should take a lesson from my very nice horse. The sweetest dispositions (those most like Jesus) will eventually get their own reward, and sometimes, even now, the last becomes first. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Son of Man: Sent to the Rebellious (Luke 6:5)

And He was saying to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Luke 6:5 NASB)

Son of Man. This term was often used by Jesus to describe Himself. It is also used several places in Scripture other than by Jesus. In Daniel, this phrase is used concerning the Messiah. In Ezekiel, God uses it repeatedly when speaking to Ezekiel, and almost always with instructions for Ezekiel to either do or say.  The passage in Ezekiel 2, though given as instructions for Ezekiel, is certainly descriptive of Jesus and His ministry on earth as well. 

He said, “Son of man, I’m sending you to the family of Israel, a rebellious nation if there ever was one. They and their ancestors have fomented rebellion right up to the present. They’re a hard case, these people to whom I’m sending you—hardened in their sin. Tell them, ‘This is the Message of God, the Master.’ They are a defiant bunch. Whether or not they listen, at least they’ll know that a prophet’s been here. But don’t be afraid of them, son of man, and don’t be afraid of anything they say. Don’t be afraid when living among them is like stepping on thorns or finding scorpions in your bed. Don’t be afraid of their mean words or their hard looks. They’re a bunch of rebels. Your job is to speak to them. Whether they listen is not your concern. They’re hardened rebels. (Ezekiel 2:3-7 MSG)

What a description of the people of God, given by God Himself! It makes me wonder how God sees us, how He sees me.  Read through the passage from Ezekiel again. Do you find yourself in that description? If the goal is perfect obedience (and it should be), then we can all find ourselves there in at least one area of our lives. 

Pray today that God would give us and our loved ones a glimpse of our heart the way He sees it. Pray that He will reveal any hardness and rebellion and that we will have hearts that are both receptive to truth and eager to change. Pray that we and our loved ones will listen and learn.