Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lurking Serpent and the Biblical Application Challenge

One of our missionaries posted the picture (above) on Facebook. It's of a snake peeking in her window. It appeared to have crawled along the frame and down the screen, inside her house. 

It wasn’t the first time she’d had to deal with a snake in our short acquaintance. The first I remember was after a motorcycle accident when one arm was banged up and she had to use a machete in the other hand to kill a snake lurking in front of her toilet. 

The toilet snake was one too many for me. The one in the window was, I thought, a final straw. 

These are sneaky creatures, slithering into the most unlikely of places. The thought of them brings a sense of unease and, often, of abject fear, and well it should. They can be deadly.

I commented on her photo. “There are far too many snakes in your life.” 

"Let's see you apply that Biblically," she challenged.

It wouldn't be the first time I've applied a snake story Biblically, so I accepted. 

You know the story of the serpent in the garden, but here's the Leanna paraphrase...

The serpent saw Eve walking in the garden, so he sneaked around until he caught her by herself. This wasn't just any serpent, it was the devil himself, who had sneaked into the serpent's skin. 

Finally, he caught her alone and approached her. Since Eve hadn't used up all her words for the day, she decided to talk to him, even though he was a serpent, and very creepy.

He started in with a bunch of devil lies. "You can't trust God." "God lies." He twisted God's words around and made it sound as if he was right. He casted doubt on God and, before he was done, he promised what he couldn't provide. "You can be like God if you want. Eat that fruit and you'll be as smart as He is." As if that were possible.

Eve fell for it, hook line and sinker. She ate the fruit, introduced sin into the world, and convinced Adam to eat the fruit, too. Together, they doomed mankind with a sin nature that could only be overcome by the blood of Jesus.

It looked as if the serpent had won a great victory. And he had. But only temporarily

Since that dreadful day, snakes have come to represent those who are crafty and not to be trusted. They're a symbol of the evil one and his attacks on our hearts.

Metaphorically speaking, the constant lurking of snakes around the home of our missionary can be seen as representative of the wily tactics of the evil one, constantly seeking someone whom he can deceive.

The enemy of our soul knows who's making a difference in the kingdom of God. He does all he can do to stop them and, thus, stop the progress of Christ in the hearts of mankind. It's no surprise that the enemy would lurk around missionaries nonstop. 

If you are willing to sell almost everything you have, travel to another country to share the love of Christ, and spend years doing it, you are serious about your commitment to Christ. It should not come as a surprise that the enemy wants to stop you.

Our missionary has a problem with snakes lurking around the house, but we all have a problem with the enemy of our souls lurking around us, seeking an opportunity to catch us unaware. He will stop us by enticing us to sin if he can.

Our job, whether we choose to accept it or not, is to be alert to his schemes and stand firm in the face of his onslaught. We flee temptation but stand firm in battle. (The difference is a topic for another day.)

Today, pay attention to the temptations that come your way. Those are not from God. Think of them as the serpent trying to slither his way into your life. That thought's a game-changer for me. What about you?

Let's stop indulging temptations. Stop allowing the sin-serpent to slither into our hearts. Stop welcoming sin. 

"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." James 4:7 esv
p.s. - Our missionaries do not have an easy time of it. Their job is not glamorous or particularly comfortable. Snakes are only one of the hardships they face. The need our prayers, our encouragement, and our financial support. 
If you know a missionary, why not send them a note of encouragement today?
For those who have had a hard time downloading the James study to their phones, I've divided it into separate blog posts, and you can access it that way. Links are embedded. You won't need the BLB app, but you will need the electronic copy to have the links, even if you print it.
If you'd like to participate in the James study, here's how: More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living
If you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: James: The Hard Thanks Giving
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841
Thanks to Rhonda Criswell, Uruguay, for the photo.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

James: The Hard Thanks Giving

I'm not actually writing about having a hard Thanksgiving holiday today, but about giving thanks, even when it's hard. 

As you've probably seen in previous blog posts, I'm working my way through the James study that I finished writing a few days ago. It's a little unreal. Today's lesson was short, and I actually complained, "This is so short. What's up with that?" 

Then, I remembered. Oh, yeah. I wrote this. 

The objective in the brevity was to convey one single point, and leave it with us all day long.

There are blessings in the trials of life, and we should give thanks for them.

I remember, in my biggest trial, saying, "I only want to do this once, so I'm gonna do it the best I can." I meant it, too. 

When your heart is so broken it feels like your guts are being pulled out, you do not want a repeat performance. You want to be done with it. 

You do not want to be broken at the end of it. You want to emerge whole and healed.

That's what I determined to do. Truly, I was terrible at it. If God hadn't dragged me along, healed what I couldn't possible imagine could be healed, and grown that little bit of goodness I wasn't even sure existed, I don't know where I'd be.

But He did. And here I am, all these years later. Content. Healed. Full of peace, and hope, and joy.

When we encounter a trial, we can be certain it's designed and allowed by God to produce a deeper maturity in our lives. Our motivation to endure through the difficulty and suffering of our trial should be our love for Him and what He'll accomplish in us on the other side of it.

God never wastes suffering.


No matter how difficult our trial, no matter how intense the suffering, He is in there with us and He will always make it worth it.

We may not have the result we want, but we will always gain something worth having.

If you're in a trial today, take courage. God's in there with you. He's working in you to change you, make you more like His Son, Jesus. He'll do such a beautiful work in you that, years later, you will weep with gratitude. If you'll let Him.

You don't have to be good at going through a trial. No one's good at it. All you have to do is surrender to His perfect love and obey, every chance you get. Our sweet God can handle the rest.

I love what Paul said. This life of ours is a kind of marathon we run in order to receive a prize, one that will last forever. (1 Cor. 9:24-27) 

So run. And if you can't run, stumble along. Crawl if you must. But keep going and, before you know it, you'll make it through the trial and be a bit closer to that glorious day when we hear the words I most long to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

The short lesson this morning has pointed me back to gratitude, and I'll be giving thanks all day long. I hope you are, too.
For those who have had a hard time downloading the James study to their phones, I'll divide it into separate blog posts this morning and you can access it that way. Links will be embedded. You won't need the BLB app.
If you'd like to participate in the James study, here's how: More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living
If you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Dry Bones and New Life 
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dry Bones and New Life

I'm late getting started on the blog this morning because I've been praying with a group of missionaries about an area of the world where Christianity had its beginnings. Over the intervening centuries, the church there was strong and vibrant, until the last thirty years. 

The decline of faith in an area can be stunningly fast when belief is not passed on to the next generation. What remains is a struggling remnant and thousands of people who are Christian in name only. 

Our little group of missionaries hopes to change that. The first step is prayer. We know that, because it's what Jesus did. Every morning, He spent time with His Father, in effect getting His marching orders for the day. 

The church has become little more than a battleground of dry bones, but Ezekiel told us what God can do with bare bones, and it's beautiful.

You probably know this story, but here it is in a Leanna paraphrase.

God showed Ezekiel a valley full of bones. "Ezekiel, can these bones live?"

"You're the only One who knows, Lord. It doesn't look like it to me." 

"Start praying, Ezekiel. Prophesy over these bones," God told him, so he did. The bones started rattling, which much have been a horrendous noise, and the next thing Ezekiel knew, those bones were sinew-and-flesh covered, and God was blowing breath into them.

An army rose up. 

What God has done once, He can do again.

The area I'm concerned about is not the only place with dry, hopeless-looking bones. The church in America is filled with people who are Christian in name only.

But God...

God is so good with dry bones.

Today, I'm praying for the remnant on the other side of the world, and the one in this country, as well. 

I'm hoping you'll join me in praying over the valleys of bones. That God will bring a rattling movement, wrap the bones in sinew and flesh, and breathe the breath of the Spirit into what looks like a hopeless field of death.

God is good with dry bones... so let's ask Him to do it again. Here and around the world. Let's start praying now, and, with your help, God will raise up a multitude again.
If you'd like to participate in the James study, here's how: More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living
If you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: James: Crucibles That Keep Coming
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841
ps - the photo above is of the area around the Dead Sea

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

James: Crucibles That Keep Coming

As you probably know, a crucible is a vessel designed to withstand high temperatures. It's used for refining precious metals like silver and gold. The metal is placed in the crucible, then heated to the point of liquefaction. All the dross rises to the top and is burned off, or removed.

That's what the crucible times of our lives are designed to do. Difficulties combine to produce positive change in us. 

I've had a few crucible times. I always emerged a better person than I was, but I've never emerged flawless and perfect in all my ways. 

The point of the crucible, however, is to get all the dross out. If you want pure gold, you continue the crucible-treatment until purity is achieved. 

This morning, I pondered the fact that I've had quite a few crucible times over the years, and I realized a hard truth. I've needed more than one dose of "crucible" because there's so much dross to remove. 

24K purity has not been achieved yet, so I can look forward to more time in the crucible.

That brings me to another hard truth. If I allowed God to remove my sin and purify my heart at the beginning, I wouldn't need so many trips through the crucible. If I abandoned my sin, He wouldn't have to burn it out of me.

I'm beginning to understand King David's plea, "Create in me a clean heart, O God..." 

Today, let's ask God to help us let go of the sin that mars our purify. The attitudes that don't reflect Him. The desires for the world instead of the things above. Let's ask Him to help us put them down, rather than burn them out. 

Let's ask for clean hearts.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me," Psalm 51:10 esv
If you'd like to participate in the James study, here's how: More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living
If you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Trials, Endurance, and the James Bible Study
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#studyJames #Biblestudy #crucible 

Monday, January 16, 2017

James: The cause of Joy

I love James. I wasn't sure of that for a while, but now, I know I do.

Yesterday, I had a first. I began studying the James study I have just written. As a participant. It didn't seem odd, because the first day's assignment was to read through the book of James. It spoke to me again. 

Today's focus verse is James 1:2. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials." 

I found something in my study that I didn't include in my writing. JOY. Thayer's Greek Lexicon clarifies the Greek word chara. In this verse, it means more than joy or delight. It means "the cause or occasion of joy."(1)  

It's not intuitive, that's for sure. When we encounter various trials (piercings that allow all the not-like-Jesus parts of us to ooze out during the trial), we are to consider it cause for rejoicing.

Just recently, the automatic waterer for my horses' water trough broke (or wore out). When the horses drank the water out, the trough rolled down the hill and the hose connected to the automatic waterer began to pour water onto the ground. I was out of town, and returned to find my pasture well-watered. (AKA flooded) 

I arrived just in time to unload my suitcase and get ready to leave again for Wed. night Bible study. Dealing with a farm crisis was not on my schedule. My first response to the water situation was not exactly joy, but James 1:2 was fresh in my mind. 

Here's what letting a trial be an occasion for joy looks like...

 I started with prayer. "Lord, I don't want to be late. I'm supposed to meet a visitor at church. I need you to help me deal with this." He did. "I need you to show me something positive about this." He did.

Turning something negative into something positive, at least for me, begins in a conversation with God. It's the right place to start.

I retrieved the barrel-turned-water-trough from the pasture, where it had rolled. Water was pouring out of the wide-open hose, so I washed the trough out. All the dead leaves that accumulated came out in a flash, and somehow I managed not to get wet. Two blessings right there.

My farm hand was already home, but returned just in time to help me turn off the water. The faucet is faulty, and we've taken this occasion to repair it. Two more good blessings.

He turned the water off and stopped the flooding. Another blessing. The pasture was well watered. Blessing #6. 

Right away, I had more blessings than I could imagine from something that seemed like a trial at the start.

When we encounter a trial, we can whine like an infidel or look for joy in the midst of it. If we're to live as disciples of Christ, we'll do what James says. Look for the cause of joy and celebrate it.

Scripture promises that, if we seek, we will find, so let's seek joy.

Today, let's look for the chara (occasions for joy) in every situation we encounter and watch God turn our trials into wonderful blessings. 
(1) Thayer's Greek Lexicon Accessed 1/16/17
If you'd like to participate in the James study, here's how: More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living
If you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Trials, Endurance, and the James Bible Study
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#studyJames #Biblestudy #joy 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Trials, Endurance, and the James Bible Study

I'm not sure when I started writing the Bible study on James, but I began preparing to write it months ago. I read through James so many times that I started to memorize the words from the repetition. 

Finally, I actively memorized it because it was easier to have the words in my head. I didn't memorize it all, because there was writing to do, but I have a good start and I'm not quitting yet.

A pastor friend told me you're not ready to preach a sermon on a passage of Scripture until you've been through it forty times. It turns out you're not ready to write until you've been through it that many times, either.

I was up again this morning well before 4 am. I've been up that early for so long, trying to squeeze more writing time out of the day, that it's become a habit.

Writing this was hard. I worked eighty-plus hours a week, because the work of being a missionary doesn't stop while you're writing. I wept from conviction every day, despaired of getting through, cried over how hard the writing was, begged people to pray because I didn't think I could finish. 

God helped me. I made it to the end. Yesterday, when I wrote the last section, Praying Like a Prophet, I wept as I typed. I stood in my kitchen and cried like a baby. And typed.

When I typed the period at the end of the last sentence, I put my face in my hands and wept from pure joy. As I did, the words of James drifted through my head. "let endurance have its perfect result..."

I don't know that endurance has produced a perfect result in the Bible study, but it has done some serious refining in me. This was a kind of trial for me, and I counted it as joy while I did it, but I know it's a joy now.

This isn't the kind of trial most of us will have, but it was still hard, because trials are always hard. It seemed impossible to get through. Agonizing. Gut-wrenching. Intense soul-searching. Like all trials. 

I persevered and made it through.

And you can, too. No matter what you're facing, you take one step at a time, cry your way through if necessary, and keep going. You depend on God, who is the only One who can help, and you just keep going.

When you persevere, it produces endurance and refinement. It makes you more like Jesus, and that's the goal. You ask for wisdom and, in your desperation, you don't doubt, because what good would that be? You ask and receive, and it strengthens your faith.

Everything James wrote about how to live like his Big Brother is true. He grew up with Jesus. He knew him in a way few did. 

His words are not suggestions. They are rubber-meets-the-road truth about how the life of a disciple is to be lived. 

THIS is how our lives are supposed to look. Strong. Humble. Wise. Patient. Slow to anger. Generous. Respectful of all. In constant communication with our Lord. Demonstrating our faith with our good works. Bold. Brave. Kind.

Being a disciple of Christ is exciting, and hard, and gut-wrenching good. It's worth it.

If you put your whole heart and soul into this study, I believe you'll take a giant step toward being the disciple you were saved to be. I don't think you'll ever want to go back to the status quo.

I hope not.

So here it is. The refining fire that burned out so much sin in my heart. I hope it does the same for you.

Because I've completed the writing ahead of time with James, I'm giving you the entire file at the beginning. (and I'll be going through it with you as a participant.) The link below gives you view-only access to a dropbox file for the PDF. (That means you can download it, but you can't change my PDF.)

Don't forget about the Lessons in Discipleship closed Facebook page. If you're not my friend, friend me and ask to be added to the group. That's the place for discussion and questions.

When you click on the link, it will take you to the file. There's a download button at the upper right corner of the screen. If you click on it, it should download the file to your computer. Just check your downloads and you can open it as often as you want. 

There are links to click on in the James document that will take you directly to the reference mentioned in the text.

Here's the link to the study:

James/More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living

As before, this book is free. If God leads, here's a link to make a small (tax-deductible) donation to cover some of the cost of producing it. You don't have to make a donation. It's free, no matter what. 

Click here if you feel led to make a donation. 

ps - the photo is of my granddaddy's rose. I have a cutting that's grown and endured for so many years that it's become a symbol of endurance to me.
#studyJames #Biblestudy