Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday's with Jesus #158

#158 "Looks Can Be Deceiving"
July 29, 2008
"Soon she has him eating out of her hand,  bewitched by her honeyed speech. Before you know it, he's trotting behind her, like a calf led to the butcher shop, Like a stag lured into ambush and then shot with an arrow, Like a bird flying into a net not knowing that its flying life is over." (Proverbs 7: 21-23 MSG)
Most of you already know that I have my quiet time with the Lord early in the morning, weather-permitting, on my backyard patio. I guess there's just something about the eastern sky turning pink, the sound of gentle breezes in the trees, and the birds singing their praise songs to the Lord, that makes me feel as close to Heaven as is humanly possible. Creation testifies to the Father's faithfulness in the dawning of each day, and new mercies are visible in His creative handiwork. But I never expected the raccoons!
Sunday mornings are especially quiet. There's hardly any traffic on my normally very busy street and no one decides to cut their lawn at the crack of dawn. I was leaning forward and listening. Everything was so still in my backyard sanctuary. Just me and the breeze and the birds. Or so I thought. All of a sudden, what to my wandering eyes should appear? Not one, not two, not three, not four, but five raccoons, following one another in the yard behind me and heading right in my direction. Praises went forth from my lips for whoever invented fences. I have to admit that I was somewhat...well...terrified! These varmints were huge! They were bigger than my dog, Sylli...and obviously well fed. They were on the chunky side if I may say so myself.
You would have laughed so hard if you would've seen me! I didn't know which books or pen or coffee cup to grab first because I was certain they were going to get through that fence and devour me, PJ's and all. I needed to get into the house and fast...but not too fast...I might attract their attention and they might charge...slow down...no, work fast...get out of here...then...dadgummit! I don't want to go in the house!. I'm going to stay and put my trust in that fence to keep them at bay. Just then they started climbing the trees and one lone bandit sat at the fence line and looked straight at me. Right in the eyes. Then he (or she) would stoop down for a second, pop back up and look at me again. I kept my glasses on the tip of my nose because being near sighted, if I put them on properly my vision would be blurred and I still wasn't sure they weren't planning their attack on me at that very moment and that the one looking me in the eyes might've been the lookout bandit. I get a little short of breath just telling you the ghastly tale.
But they were SO cute! They were furry and pudgy and looked like they would be very cuddly to just pick up and hold. I knew better than that. Not one to ever mince words, my husband said that in spite of how cute they look, "they'll rip your throat out!" And according to my research on the web, he may just be right. Raccoons have sharp claws and sharp teeth. They are known to carry rabies and will turn and snap when threatened. They are extremely powerful and will attack if provoked. I know that I often stretch the analogies, but go with me here....those raccoons are kind of like sin, don't you think? Cute, cuddly and harmless looking on the outside, but deadly to the touch. 
As far back as the garden of Eden, Satan has been saying, "You will not surely die". (Genesis 3: 4) Go ahead and ask the first couple how well that logic worked for them. It was just a piece of fruit. It's just a little bit of gossip. It's just one look at a dirty picture. Just one little white lie. Just one harmless TV show. A little flirting never hurt anyone. I'll just have one drink. One snort. One night stand. It's all fine. I've got it all under control. I will not surely die! 
The voice of sin is persuasive. The words are seductive. (Proverbs 7: 21) They tell you that stolen things are sweet and secret things are delicious. (Proverbs 9: 17) Just a little, just once, it can't hurt you, everyone is doing it. Sound familiar? In the context of adultery in Proverbs 7, God's Word tells us the results of following that way of thinking. And I think we can apply these words to any type of sin. "All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life." "Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death." "..little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave". (Proverbs 7: 22-23; 26-27; 9: 18)  
Common sense tells me that if sin wasn't made to look attractive, I would never be attracted to it. Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11: 14). And to this very day he deceives us into believing that we will not surely die. Most times we know better. We're not ignorant. But we let ourselves be deceived and talked into sin and right out of what we know God would want for us. One of the important themes of Proverbs is that righteousness exalts, but sin is always a reproach. Get that? Always! Sorry, devil, but we WILL surely die. You are a liar and the father of lies. Maybe we won't die physically, though sometimes that may be true. But each time we give in to the seduction, a little piece of us dies on the inside and a moment of God's abundant life is lost. We suffer consequences that sometimes last for the rest of our lives. We can be forgiven...that's for sure..but we will still suffer the effects of our choices to sin.
Make a decision today to stop being deceived. One of my commentaries says this, "If you want to avoid the devil, stay away from his neighborhood. If you suspect you might be vulnerable to a particular sin, take steps to avoid it." Stay in God's neighborhood. Know His Word and ask Him to show you His standards of right and wrong. What the world thinks is acceptable surely isn't always acceptable to God. But the lines aren't always crystal clear. The promises that sin makes are often cute, cuddly and seemingly harmless like those raccoons, but sure as shootin' "they'll rip your throat out".
Halfway through my quiet time I watched the raccoons line up once again in single file, and go in the opposite direction. I even counted to be sure all five had left the premises. But I have kept my glasses on the tip of my nose ever since, just in case they come up for a sneak attack from another direction on another day. After all, that's the advice my friend Peter gave me when he said, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion (or a raccoon) looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5: 8)
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Tuesday's with Jesus #157

#157 "It's Your Turn"
July 22, 2008
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."
(1 Thessalonians 5: 11)
Today is the first entry for year number four of "Tuesday's with Jesus". Over the past three years, you have graciously and lovingly let me share my thoughts with you each week. I've heard from some of you faithfully about what a particular "Tuesday's" spoke to your heart. Others are occasional repliers, and some of you silently take it in without a response. Today, I'm feeling a little daring and want to mix things up a bit. Let me explain...
I know that I know that I know, that God doesn't just speak to me. Over the years He has spoken a word or two to you as well. And He's most likely speaking to you presently, during these hazy days of summer. I care deeply about each one of you, really I do. You are so important to me and I have considered it such a God given privilege to bring God's Word before you each and every week. But now...here it comes... brace yourself...I want to hear from you...that's right...you. And here's how I propose we do it...
During the next few days, think about what God has been speaking to your heart recently. It may be something from a series of sermons at your church. It may be something He's giving you in your daily quiet time with Him...Oh, how I hope you're taking that time! Maybe something in a devotional book you're reading that is penetrating the deep parts of your spirit, or in a Bible study that you're doing. Or perhaps you're going through a time of heartbreak or loss or emotional upheaval and God is ministering to you in some special way. Would you be willing to share whatever Word your Father is giving you with the likes of all of us?
Here's what I'd like you to do: Go to www.livingthewordministries.org/blog/ and you will find this same post dated July 21, 2008. Click on the comment bar after the post and share briefly what God is speaking to you. There are a good many of you receiving "Tuesday's", so keep it to one or two paragraphs so we can read them all. Maybe it's just a word like "surrender" or "simplify" or "trust". Give your word and take a few lines to explain. It's that simple. And if you've never "blogged" before, just follow the instructions and you won't go wrong. Then check back often to read the replies for yourself.
I think that we all have something to share with each other and we are commanded in Scripture to encourage one another. Who knows? Perhaps God will sovereignly work through this simple act of sharing and speak a word in due season to another precious brother or sister in the Lord. That's what it's all about. We could all use a word of encouragement every now and then, don't you think?
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give us a spirit of unity among ourselves as we follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15: 5-6) See you on the blog!!
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday's with Jesus #156

#156 "What Are You Worth?"
July 15, 2008
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10: 29-31)
What are you worth? According to the EPA, your life isn't worth what it used to be. According to cbsnews.com and other reporting news agencies, "the value of a statistical life is $6.9 million, a drop of nearly $1 million from just five years ago". I guess it's just not enough for parents to tell their children they'll never amount to anything. I guess it's not enough for white folk to treat black folk like they're a sub-species. I guess it's just not enough for rich folk to think they're steps above poor folk. Now the federal government is setting a value on my life and great news! ... I'm worth less than I was five years ago! How's that for a self-esteem booster?
Jesus says that we're worth more than many sparrows. I don't know about you, but just like I don't like it when I'm compared to dumb sheep, I'm not finding much comfort in the fact that I'm worth more than a sparrow. I'd feel much better if I were valued higher than the king of the forest or a majestic mountain. What about a priceless diamond or one of the wonders of the world? Now that would be worth something!
But it is what it is. Jesus said sparrows. He said that His Father has His eye on them and not one falls to the ground without Him knowing. He cares for them. And I think I may have figured out why. First, sparrows loved to nest in all the nooks and crannies of the Jerusalem temple, building their nests and taking care of their young near His altar. (see Psalm 84:3) Your Father in Heaven absolutely loves it when you nest in His presence. He is delighted when you make your home with Him and when you raise your young in His courts. Second, sparrows were usually found among other sparrows. But when their mate died they would stand alone and lament their loss on the rooftop. (see Psalm 102:7 KJV) Your Father wants you to cry out to Him in your pain, in your lack and in your deepest loss. That trait endears the sparrow to His heart, and when you look to your Abba with tears in your eyes, crying only to Him for comfort, that trait endears you to Him.  
The EPA says that your worth is in excess of $6 million, depreciating by the second. And if you're over 70, the value was 38% less than that of people under 70 in the year 2002. That idea proved so politically explosive that the agency ended up reversing itself. (cbsnews.com) Aren't you glad that God doesn't put a numerical value on your worth to Him? Whether you're nine or ninety, black or white, fat or skinny, rich or poor...you matter to Him. You are loved by Him. You are the apple of His eye. You are what makes His heart beat. 
You may not feel worth a whole lot today because of how people have treated you. You might have been dealt some serious blows through the circumstances of your life. Society may be shaping how you figure your own worth and value. Maybe you don't feel that you measure up. Like Jeff.
Jeff's mom tells the story of how her son played in a special Little League for kids with disabilities. After many seasons of watching from the bleachers and rooting while his big brother played ball, Jeff's opportunity finally arrived. When he received his uniform, he couldn't wait to get home to put it on. When he raced out from his bedroom, fully suited up, he announced to her, "Mom, now I'm a real boy!" Mom says,"Though his words pushed my heart to my throat, I assured him he had always been a "real boy."" 
God's heart is pushed to His throat when you don't understand just how much you are worth to Him. He has "loved you with an everlasting love." (Jeremiah 31: 3) With Paul, I pray that you would be so "rooted and established in that love, and that you would have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3: 17b-19) Be filled to overflowing, dear one, with knowing how much God loves you...yes, you! People can't place a value on your life. Your station and status in this world does not determine your worth. You are not defined by your economic status, what side of the tracks you were born on or what has happened along your journey. Your usefulness can't be measured by the EPA or any other government body. You are who God says that you are...in His Word. You are who God believes you are.. in His heart.
Everlasting Love displayed your life's worth on an old rugged cross to suffer unspeakable pain, humiliation and death. There can be no price tag on that. The Sacrifice was priceless because there was no price too high for your Heavenly Father to pay, so that you would belong to Him.
Worth of a sparrow...a half a penny.
Worth of a statistical life...$6.9 million.
Your worth and value to God...Priceless.
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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday's with Jesus #155

#155 "Storms-A-Comin'"
July 8, 2008
"You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat." (Isaiah 25: 4)
According to the Associated Press, "This year's Atlantic storm season has its first hurricane." And her name is Bertha. Forecasters say that it is much too early to determine if she will eventually affect any land areas. But they've certainly got their eyes on her. When I was growing up, we kind of had our own Weather Warning System, and her name was Grandma Lottie. She would run around the house yelling, "Storms-a-comin'...Storm's-a-comin'!"  
Wouldn't it be downright comforting if there was a National Center, or if everyone had a Grandma Lottie, who would track the storms that are threatening to make landfall right in the center of our lives? Maybe they'd send out a Severe Storm Warning so that we could hunker down and brace ourselves for what's ahead. Forewarned would be forearmed. Somebody out there would be watching out for us. Sirens would sound their alarms and somebody would tell us when to board up the windows or when it's going to be so devastating that we need to evacuate. They'd tell us how long we have. They'd yell, "Storms-a-comin'!"  
Jesus Himself warned us when He said, "In this world you will have trouble." (John 16: 33) Translation: Storms will come. Rains will come down, streams will rise, and winds will blow and beat against our houses. (Matthew 7: 24-27) We will go through the waters, pass through the rivers and walk through the fire and the flames. And according to Isaiah 43:2, it's not a matter of "if" it happens ....it's more like "when" it happens. And that's the problem...we just aren't sure about the when. There's no Weatherbug or Hurricane Center or Grandma Lottie to warn us ahead of time. In a split second, the lightning is flashing and the thunder is roaring and we're caught right in the middle of a hurricane force situation. We need to be prepared for the storms of life long before they reach our doorstep. The time to search for the batteries and the flashlights is NOT when you can see the tornado coming or feel the force of the winds.
In a split second, the doctor says it's cancer. In a flash, a loved one dies unexpectedly. Your meeting with the boss turns out to be the very moment that you get your walking papers. A child gets hurt or arrested, your spouse says that he doesn't love you anymore, something you've poured your heart and soul into fails. Every single facet of your earthly life could change in an instant...are you ready? 
Sure as shootin'...storms-a-comin'. But Jesus says that if you dig down deep and lay the foundation of your house on rock, it will be well built and nothing will be able to shake it. (Luke 6: 48) That's not saying that it won't hurt. That's not saying you won't lose a few shingles or shutters in the storm, but your house....your very life...will still be standing when the storm passes, if you start building now, during fair weather.  
The Lord is your Rock. (Psalm 18: 2) He is unmovable, unshakable, and He stands firm and steadfast through every storm. He is the only sure foundation that you can build your life on that will never move, no matter how furious the weather. Let Him be the place where you stand at all times, not a 911 call that you make when the storm is on top of you. He'll stand with you. He'll be your shelter. He'll hold you up when you're being tossed to and fro. And when the winds die down and the sun comes out again (I promise you, it will), He'll still be right there beside you because He never left. You'll look each other in the eye and say, "Whew...that was a big one...but look at us! We're still standing!"
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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday's with Jesus #154

#154 "All In Good Time"
July 1, 2008
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," (Deut. 32: 35) says the Lord." (Romans 12: 19)
Maybe because of some things that have happened in my life over the last few months, I was really drawn to a portion of Scripture tucked away in the book of 2 Samuel. I've never heard this passage preached by anyone before, and as many times as I've probably read it, I have no recollection of these words. God is awesome like that...revealing His right now word for the right now time. No wonder they say His ways are perfect!
2 Samuel 16: 5-14 tells the story of a man named Shimei, the son of Gera, from the clan of Saul's family. Not a name you've heard often, right? You don't find his name in the popular Bible stories, but his tale is a powerful one nonetheless. I pray that you will find comfort for today, or tuck it away for some future time when you encounter a Shimei situation of your own.
King David was met by Shimei when he reached Bahurim in his flight from Jerusalem, in the days when Absalom rebelled against him. Shimei ran along the ridge opposite David, cursing and throwing stones and dirt at him and his companions. He taunted David with false accusations. Researching this account today I was taken aback when I found out what Shimei's insults actually meant in the current vernacular. He called the king "a man of Belial or a man of blood."  It means "You are a good-for-nothing."
There are Shimei's in our own lives who run right alongside of us in life, yelling curses, throwing stones, and flinging dirt our way. They tell us that we're "no good, good-for-nothings". They falsely accuse. Let's look first at what the "man after God's own heart" did in response to his Shimei, and then I'll show you a couple more exciting things.
Abishai, David's bodyguard, begged the king to let him decapitate Shimei, but David said no. The king knew who the real King was. And He knew that God was sovereign. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, David believed that it was by God's permission that Shimei treated him in this hateful manner. His friends didn't see it that way. They knew that cursing the king was a capital offense (Psalm 105: 15) and they sought Shimei's death. But David believed that if he did not return evil for evil, God would one day repay him for his obedience. He saw Shimei as an instrument of God and believed that God would one day bring vindication. But for now, Shimei could continue cursing and throwing stones and showering him with dirt. Josephus said, "[David] went on his way without troubling himself with Shimei." The passage reads "...David and his men continued along the road...and arrived at their destination." Bless God! They arrived "exhausted", but you know what my friend? They arrived.
It can be exhausting when your Shimei is running right along side of you. You feel pain from the curses. You get some bruises from the stones. But if you do as David did and "not trouble yourself with Shimei" and continue along the road...you may arrive dirty and exhausted....but you'll arrive!
End of the story? I thought so when I first read it, but later I found out that this wasn't the end of the Shimei situation. Not by a long shot! (See 2 Samuel 19: 16-23) After the death of Absalom, the people of Judah invited David to come and rule over them and sent a delegation to the Jordan River to meet him and help him cross over. Lo and behold, who do you think came as part of the delegation? None other than Shimei. I think that he had to do some quick thinking because the king was coming and would surely remember Shimei's disrespect and despicable behavior, and punish him. He falls to the floor and begs the king for forgiveness. In his own words: "For I your servant (all of a sudden!) know that I have sinned (ya think!), but today I have come here as the first of the whole house of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king (pouring it on pretty thick)."   
Again, Abishai wants Shimei's head, but David grants mercy once more and vows that Shimei shall not die. And speaking of Joseph....I can't help but think of another situation where unjust harm had been done to a person and grace and mercy were granted in place of punishment. Remember when Joseph's brothers came to him after having thrown him into a pit and selling him into slavery? They begged for forgiveness and wanted to be Joseph's slaves. "But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Joseph provided for his brothers and their families, reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (See Genesis 50: 15-21)
There may come a day when your Shimei may come to you and ask forgiveness or need your help. Will you show them mercy and grace or will you exact revenge and cut off their head? What did Joseph do? What did David do? What will YOU do?
End of the story? Not quite yet. (See 1 Kings 2: 8-9) Before David was about to die, he was giving his charge to his son Solomon. David reminded the soon to be king that Shimei still dwelt among them. He reminded Solomon of Shimei's act of treason and while David had promised that he would not kill him THEN, he did not swear any farther than that. But Solomon was under no such obligation and Shimei may one day become a traitor to the throne again. David felt he needed to warn his son, as any good father would, and left the fate of Shimei first to God, and then to Solomon's wisdom.  
Solomon put Shimei under Jerusalem arrest. He could build a house and live there but he must never leave. He was seen as a dangerous man and might go back to his tribe and incite a rebellion against the king. Solomon was not being vindictive or unfair. He had previously granted mercy but would now punish for outright disobedience. The arrangement lasted three years and then Shimei left to find some runaway slaves. When Solomon found out about the offense, and as his father commanded, he ordered Shimei slain for this act of disobedience as well as the "wrong [he] did to David." Solomon said, "Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing."  (See 1 Kings 2: 36-46) Finally, the end of Shimei. Sometimes it may take years but... 
Delayed justice is not denied justice. Remember God says that it is His job to avenge and repay? Shimei may think he's secure when no immediate punishment is meted out for his stone/dirt hurling and cursing. He may think he's secure when you show him mercy and kindness instead of exacting your own revenge.
Don't trouble yourself with Shimei. Continue on the road with your eyes fixed on the Lord. You may be dirty and exhausted, but stay focused. You will arrive at God's intended destination for your life. In His perfect sovereignty He has allowed your situation. Nothing touches you without first going through Christ's nail-scarred hands. And get ready. One day Shimei may come to you and fall at your feet and beg for mercy. Give it to him. Forgive as the Lord forgave you, (Colossians 3: 13), graciously and freely. And always remember that your God is a just God. He will repay. In His own way. In His own time. Trust Him completely for that.  
PS....If you are struggling with your own personal Shimei(s), try reading Psalm 37 every day for a month. I promise that the living Word will minister to your wounded heart.
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