Saturday, April 9, 2016

Taking the Nazirite vow and having a Nazirite heart

Several years ago, I agreed to be the "lay director" for an upcoming women's retreat. The planning process took more than a year and was an overwhelming job. I had to decide about everything  from the members of the team to the speakers to the menu. Fortunately for me, I had a terrific team and they made the work easy.

At the beginning, though, I didn't know what kind of team God would send. All I knew was that the job was too big for me. I was deeply concerned. My great desire was to do a good job and please the Lord with my sacrifice.

About that time, I read the passage in Numbers that describes the Nazirite vow. Anyone who desired to be a "sanctified servant" could take this vow. It wasn't just for men. Women could take the vow, too.

I read those words and they burned in my heart. I wanted to dedicate myself to the Lord as it described, so I decided to take a Nazirite vow. 

The one taking the vow would abstain from strong wine and strong drink and from drinking vinegar or grape juice. I didn't have to worry about the drinking part, but not eating grapes and raisins was a bit of a sacrifice. 

Avoiding raisins was not the tough part, however. The hardest part was not cutting my hair for eighteen months. It grows fast and is very thick. I shudder to remember how my hair looked at the end of time. It was long.

I freely admit that I'm a prissy Southern woman. Hair is important to women like me. Bad hair is agony. It wasn't too bad at the start, but by the end of that eighteen months, I had a bad hair day every day

I sacrificed my pride of appearance on the altar of my heart every day for eighteen months. 

By the end of the vow, God had changed something in me. Hair wasn't so important. Appearance wasn't so important. What God saw on the inside of my heart had become much more important than what people saw on the outside. It still is.

You may remember that Samson was a lifelong Nazirite, as was John the Baptist. What I had forgotten until this morning was that Samuel was also a Nazirite. 

When Hannah was in the house of the Lord, she was greatly distressed by her infertility and wept bitterly as she prayed. (1 Samuel 1:10) She vowed that, if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord and "a razor shall never come on his head". 

Hannah made a Nazirite vow for Samuel.

God blessed her with a son, but God also blessed Samuel. He called him, He equipped him, and He sustained him. As a prophet, not one of his words failed. Everything Samuel said came to pass. 

The entire nation knew that God had confirmed Samuel as His spokesman.

The time of my Nazirite vow was one of the sweetest of my life. The intimacy with the Lord was unparalleled. The sacrifice of service was made easier because the Lord helped me in every task. 

I don't expect the body of Christ today to suddenly stop cutting their hair due to a Nazirite vow, but there would be great value in taking a Nazirite vow of the heart.

If we corporately decided to dedicate our hearts completely to the Lord, willingly allowing Him to remove the sin that so easily besets us, our churches would be different places. We would present a different face to the world. I suspect the change in our lives would make Jesus infinitely more attractive in this dark world. Our saltiness might have greater savor and greater effect.

"...When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the Lord... All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord." Numbers 6:1,8 nasb

I no longer have Nazirite hair, but I hope I always have a Nazirite heart. 

What about you? Will you dedicate your heart to the Lord? Will you allow Him to separate your heart from the things of the world? 

It might not be easy, but I can say for certain that it will be worth it.
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The Importance of Study: Bombs, Bill of Rights, and the Bible

If you're interested in participating in the new Bible study starting May 1, be sure to leave a comment or message me. I'm thrilled by the number of people who have already signed up. 

#Nazirite #ChristJesus #Word 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Importance of Study: Bombs, Bill of Rights, and the Bible

When I entered the world of fiction, I had no idea how much I would need to learn in order to write believable books. Stories in my genre of suspense/thrillers commonly include danger from a source that threatens the entire world, or at least a significant part of it. 

In one of the manuscripts currently underway, the threat includes a bomb. I have spent many hours researching how to make a bomb, what bombs are currently popular, and how to disarm a bomb. (NOT because I want to make a bomb, but because I need to know how it's done to make that section believable.) I've read graduate theses on explosives, reviewed the websites of government agencies, and an incredible number of white papers. 

It was a happy day when I heard from the bomb expert who reviewed what I'd written and learned that I've written it correctly. 

It took an insane amount of study to get it right, but I did it because I want this  book to be high quality. I want people to read it and feel the tension, to understand the risk. It's what writers do.

As an alderwoman, I swore to uphold the Constitution. I can't uphold a document I don't know, so I've studied both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I know what they say and, I believe, I know what they mean. I don't have the legal education of a constitutional law professor, but I've certainly studied more than the average citizen. 

Yes. Intense study is a lifelong practice for me. It's what I do, both in my professional life and in my spiritual life. Study, however, is not just for doctors and alderwomen.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about this very thing.

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15 nasb

In the King James Version, it says, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God..."

The principle here is one of diligent study to know what God says in order to obey. 

I am concerned about the Biblical literacy in the body of Christ. We, of all people, should hunger to know more about this faith we say we follow. We should know Scripture because we want to know our Lord.

How can we follow God's principles if we don't know what they are?

We can't. What's even worse is that failure to study Gods's word can result in behavior that misrepresents God to a dark and perishing world. It is critical that we, as believers, understand God's Word so that we can communicate it effectively.

I've tried multiple Bible studies before and had a hard time following through on something someone else has written. I need to dig it out for myself. I learn better that way and, I think, we all do.

With that in mind, I'm considering offering a new kind of Bible study that includes something of the inductive method I learned from Precepts Ministries but mostly helps you track down truth for yourself. 

It won't be fill-in-the-blank questions to answer. You'll have to mine for the treasure, but I'll give you links and the tools you need to learn. It will be an online study beginning in a few weeks. If you're interested in participating, message me or comment below. (If you're on mobile view you'll need to go to the bottom of the page and click on web version to access comments)

Whether we participate in the new study together or we study in our own way separately, it's critical that we take a step deeper into the Word of God so that we know our Lord in a new and fresh way.

I'm excited about this new project. We'll learn together and take a step deeper in our relationship with God. 

I'm all in. Are you? 

Let me know if you're interested. 
In case you missed the post yesterday, here's the link: Putting Up With Our Ridiculousness
#study #faith #Jesus #Biblestudy #linesfromleanna

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Putting Up with Our Ridiculousness

Last night at church, we gathered in small groups to pray. One of the people in the group I was in prayed the most beautiful prayer I've heard in a while. The words have been on my mind ever since.

"Thank you for putting up with our ridiculousness."

Those words resonated in my heart, and they continue to do so this morning, for God certainly does put up with our ridiculousness. 

Just to be sure we're on the same page here, the dictionary definition of ridiculous is "absurd, preposterous, laughable." This is not a complimentary word. It doesn't bring laughter in a good way. 

My grandmama would have called it "foolishness".

During a recent discussion of things Jesus said for us to do, someone flatly announced, "I'm not doing that." Those words sent chills through me. Jesus said to do it and this person had not only chosen to refuse to obey but had opted to announce it to any who would listen, yet they expected to be blessed.

I hear that a lot about following Jesus. "I'm not doing that." 

Whether it be fasting or loving those who are different, or embracing the lost, the followers of Jesus need to do what He did.

Jesus fasted.

Jesus spent hours in quiet prayer and meditation with His Father.

Jesus loved sinners like me.

Jesus embraced the lost and the prodigals and called them to come home to their Heavenly Father.

Jesus loved and spent time with thieves and drunkards and people who had spent years in horrible sexual sin. He loved them and, after they'd gotten to know Him, He told them to stop their sin, and they did. 

Why did they change? Because they knew they could trust Him. They knew He loved them as they were but wanted more for them. He inspired them to be better than they were and He helped them to change. 

You know who didn't change? The Pharisees. 

It was the people who were a part of the church establishment who heard Jesus' words and said, "I'm not doing that." 

They didn't want to love the lost. They didn't want to embrace the unlovely, or spend time with the people trapped in a lifestyle of sin. 

It turned out the Pharisees were the ones hopelessly trapped in a lifestyle of prejudice and hate and unrepentance.

I do not want to be a Pharisee.

I want to be the follower who says, "I'll do whatever you say, Jesus." 

There was a time when I was the person trapped in a sinful lifestyle who couldn't figure out why I wasn't happy. People probably didn't want to spend much time with me, either, for fear my sin would rub off on them.

Praise God someone cared enough to point me to Jesus and He saved me. I shudder to think where I'd be if there hadn't been a follower of Jesus who loved sinners like me. 

So, today, let's remember what Jesus said, and let's do it.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." (Even if they do things you don't like.) Mark 12:31

"Take up your cross and follow Me." (Even if you don't like where I'm going.) Luke 9:23

Being a disciple is not about what we want. It's about Jesus and what He wants. So let's abandon our ridiculousness and embrace our Savior who loves us all.

Let's trade "I won't" for "I will" and follow Him.

Then He said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow Me." Luke 9:23 NLT
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Value of a Life: We Are Deeply Loved
 #disciple #Jesus #obedience #Pharisee #sin

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Value of a Life: We are deeply loved

What is the value of a life?

My reading this morning took me to a shocking passage in Judges 19-21. 

A man had a concubine. The woman "played the harlot against him" and went to her father's house. When she didn't return after several months, the man went there to woo her home. She consented to return with him and they set out on their journey.

They stopped for the night in Gibeah. Initially, no one invited them into their home, even though the man had provisions for himself, the woman, and his animals. Finally, a man invited them to sleep at his house rather than on the town square.

During the night, the men of Gibeah demanded that the traveling man be released to them so that they could have relations with him. The homeowner refused. Finally, to stop their demands, he took the traveling man's concubine and gave her to the men.

They raped her all night long, then dumped her on the door of the homeowner, dead.

The next morning, the traveling man found her, loaded her body, and went home. He wasn't done with the crime, however. He contacted the other eleven tribes of Judah and demanded vengeance for the woman.

Israel joined together and fought against (and killed) the men of Gibeah. Tens of thousands of men died avenging the unfaithful concubine.

The story has shocked me every time I've ever read it, and it did again today. Was she worth it? 

What is the value of one life? Of one unfaithful concubine?

As I was pondering that question, the answer came to me.

Jesus is the value of one life. 

When the man with 100 sheep lost one, he left the 99 to seek for the lost one because there is great value in even one sheep.

When the woman with ten coins lost one, she searched until she found the lost one because there is great value in even one coin.

When the father with two sons lost one, he watched and waited until the son returned, then threw a giant party, because there is great value in even one son.

"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Luke 15:7 nasb

Every righteous man and woman is precious to God, but He loves sinners, too. So much that He gave His Son to save us. When a sinner finally repents, the joy in heaven, ever present, increases even more. 

God is so thrilled by repentance that He throws a heavenly party to celebrate.

The unfaithful concubine wasn't married to the man, yet she lived with him and was intimate with him. Some would condemn her as a sinner, but God cared about her.

God knows us by name and He cares deeply about every one of us, despite our sin and our failures. That knowledge gives me great comfort. 

Even when I fail, He loves me. Even when I stumble, He cares. 

God loves the prodigals among us. He loves the failures among us. He loves the discouraged, and the hopeless, and the depressed. He loves the frail and weak among us.

His love is not dependent upon our worthiness. His love is simply because He is love.

Take heart today in the fact that we are of great value to God. We are deeply loved. 

We matter to Him and, when we are trapped in our sin, our Heavenly Father waits with arms open wide for us to come to Him. 

Let us live, then, as those who are greatly cherished, because we are, and that love changes everything.

#valueofalife #weareloved #loveofGod #linesfromleanna

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Next Level

One of the trending topics on Twitter today is "The Next Level", and it made me think about all the ways we try to reach the next level. 

My peonies, pictured above, are a lush mass of flowers and heavenly fragrance. This fall, I'll take my peonies to the next level by dividing them and having two masses of flowers next spring.

When I ordered green coffee beans and a coffee roaster and learned to roast my own coffee beans, I took my coffee-drinking experience to the next level. There's no better coffee than that made with beans that have just been roasted and freshly ground. 

When I surrendered my life to follow Jesus, it took my fledgling faith to the next level, as well. Not instantly, of course, but over time, with one surrender after another, I've relinquished the ways of my old (and horridly sinful) life and placed myself in His loving hands. (Matthew 16:24)

That may sound like quite a sacrifice, but in exchange, I lost the regret and fear of my old life and gained the peace, love, joy, gentleness, patience, self-control that come as fruits of the Spirit. Although I am not yet the woman of God I'd like to be, I praise God I'm not the woman of the world I used to be. (Galatians 5:22 and 23)

How do we take our faith to the next level? We meet God where we are and begin to follow Him. We read the Bible to learn more about this God we serve, to understand what He requires of His people. We study the Bible as a text so that we can be the kind of follower that pleases God. (2 Timothy 2:15)

When we learn that He teaches us to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we attempt to do it. When we learn that He requires us to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves, we try to do it. (Matthew 22:34-40)

When we see in Scripture that we are to live a life of peace with all men, we make an effort to live in harmony. (Romans 12:18)

Of course, all those noble aspirations are more than one merely-human person can accomplish, so we must allow the Holy Spirit to change our heart, our desires, to more nearly match that of God. (John 14:16)

Moving to the next level in our faith presumes that we are willing to change, to get the sin out of our lives. We cannot maintain our judgmental spirit, anger, unforgiveness, pride, or sense of entitlement (or any of the other sins we enjoy) and enjoy the closeness to God we desire. (1 John 3:9)

Intimacy with God depends on our willingness to be changed in His image, and the understanding that it is only the blood of Jesus that can truly make us clean. (Hebrews 10:22)

Do you long to take faith to the next level? Begin by opening your Bible and reading. If you've never read the Bible before, the gospel of John is a good starting place. 

Read. Study. Follow. Obey. 

There's a song I learned as a child, "Trust and Obey", that sums up the way to the next level. "Trust and obey. For there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."

It's as true now as when the songwriter penned those words. Trust and obey. There's no other way to reach the next level but to trust and obey.
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Delay Does Not Always Mean Denial

#thenextlevel #Scripture #linesfromleanna #JesusChrist

Monday, April 4, 2016

Delay Does Not Always Mean Denial

The Hired Hand and I were talking a few days ago about an opportunity that had been discussed with enthusiasm initially, then seemingly dropped by the wayside. 

"It must not have been what God wanted."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that yet. God's delay is not necessarily the same as His denial. Maybe He's working something out." 

We pondered the ways of God for a while, then headed toward the garden, where we can easily see His ways in shades of green.

This morning, I read about Jotham and recalled our conversation.

When Gideon died, he had more than seventy sons. One of his sons, Abimelech, was the son of Gideon's concubine from Shechem. This was a complicated mess, but to sum it up (and vastly simplify it), Gideon's seventy sons judged Israel in Gideon's place. Abimelech, who was illegitimate, was left out and he was mad about it. 

He decided to take matters into his own hands. Abimelech convinced the men of Shechem that he should rule over them. They paid him seventy pieces of silver and he hired a crew of worthless fellows. They all went to Ophrah (Gideon's home) and killed the seventy sons, all except Jotham, who escaped.

Jotham went to the top of a mountain and pronounced a curse against Abimelech and the men of Shechem. "Fire will come out from you to him and him to you." (Leanna Paraphrase)

He hid out in Beer and waited for God to move.

Nothing happened.

He wanted one year, then two. Nothing happened. God didn't move.

He waited three years. It looked as if God wasn't going to avenge his brothers who had been slaughtered. 

After three years of Abimelech's rule over Israel, God abruptly moved against the men of Shechem and against Abimelech. It happened like Jotham had said.

Abimelech's rule came to a screeching halt. He burned the men of Shechem to death. In the midst of battle, a woman threw a millstone down from a tower onto his head and killed him. He was almost dead, but didn't want the dishonor of being killed by a rock-throwing woman, so he convinced his armor-bearer to stab him with a sword (and he did).

The seventy sons were avenged. Abimelech and the men of Shechem were disciplined for their evil ways. 

God moved at just the right time, but it wasn't on Jotham's timetable.

Perhaps you, like me, have had some experience in this area. 

I can't begin to count the times I've thought God would do something specific, waited patiently (or not so patiently), then waited some more. 

Whether He does what I expect or not, the waiting always has a purpose. Sometimes God uses the seeming delay to orchestrate events to work out perfectly. Sometime He uses the delay to refine something in me.

The time is never wasted.

There's a fun part of God's delays, and it's taught me that it's worth it to wait. By the time God moves, I've usually come to the point where I'm content with whatever He decides to do. When He moves, it surprises me and delights me. It's like double joy. First, at the possibility. Second, at the unfolding of the plan. 

Sometimes a delay is simply the anteroom to a divine delight.

I'm in one of those waiting places again. 

Decades of God-delays have prepared me for this place. Whatever my hand finds to do, I'm doing it with all my might. One day, hopefully this side of heaven, we'll see what God has been doing, find out what He has been orchestrating.

Until then, I'll work while I wait, serve while I surrender, pray while I'm patient, and let God refine me while He works out His plan.

Delays are never wasted. Sometimes they're denials, but many times those divine delays are nothing more than the orchestration of a YES that is so dramatically wonderful, it will make all the waiting worth it.

For those of us in God's Waiting Room, let's hold on. His timetable is not the same as ours. Divine delight may be just around the corner.

"But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord a day s like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Leaning to Listen

#divinedelay  #mondaymotivation #delayisnotdenial #linesfromleanna 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Leaning to Listen

My neighbor and dear friend, Sam, is 6'4" tall. That means he's a full foot taller than I am. (That's when I'm standing up very straight and stretching a little.) Since I'm fairly soft-spoken, and since he usually wants to hear what I say, he frequently has to lean over to hear my words.

When I read Psalm 116 this morning, I instantly thought of Sam. On those occasions when he doesn't catch my words the first time, he taps his right ear, shakes his head, and leans in close to be sure he hears what I'm saying.

"I love the Lord, because He hears my voice and my supplications. 
Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. 
Psalm 116:1-2 nasb

These verses tell us that God never misses what we say when we pray because he "inclines His ear" to us. That means He stretches forward and leans over to get His ear close to our voice. He doesn't miss a single word we say.

We are heard by God. Every single word.

What's even better is that God not only leans forward to listen to the words we pray aloud. He also hears the words we don't say aloud. He hears our "voice" and our "supplications". That phrase is used repeatedly in Scripture and I believe it means God hears our spoken and unspoken requests and words.

He knows us by heart. He knows our hearts.

There've been a few times when my heart was so burdened that the only prayer I could utter aloud was, "Jesus, Jesus." Psalm 116 tells me that prayer is enough, for God knows all the utterances that are too deep and painful for words. He never misses a thing.

A young man whose mother is one of my Facebook friends is non-verbal. I thought about that young man when I read the words of the Psalm today. He doesn't say a single word aloud, and never has. That makes it difficult for those around him to understand what he needs, but it's no problem for God.

Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, knows when that young, non-verbal man, cries out without words, and Our Lord leans forward, gets His ear close, and hears him.

He has no words, but he is heard by the One who matters most.

I take great hope in that knowledge. If He can hear those without words, and He can, He can hear me when I'm too burdened for words.

He knows us. He loves us. He hears us.

Take heart today in the knowledge that we are so loved that the One who scattered the stars in the sky and holds them in place is listening to you. To me.

He hears us.

How wonderful is that? 
If you want to read more, here's the link to a Maggie/Mamie story about God hearing (and answering) our prayers: Maggie, Mamie, and Answered Prayer
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Gideon and the Kindness of God

#SundayBlogShare #linesfromleanna #prayer #Godhears