Give Careful Thought

I love deep Bible study, taking verses one at a time, researching the words and context, and mining for treasure. I’m in a writing group that is working through the biblical text in small sections to allow us to notice every word. The insight we’ve gained and shared is remarkable. But there is also a lot to be said for taking on bigger chunks of Scripture. Like the little book of Haggai. Grab your Bible first and read this book in its entirety – it’s only two chapters and 38 verses – then come back.

Haggai is set in post-Babylonian captivity. When the Hebrew people returned to Jerusalem they set to work first rebuilding the city walls (see Nehemiah), then began restoring the Temple – the house of the Lord (Ezra 1:2-6). But they faced opposition from their enemies and struggled with their own issues and needs. They were also discouraged because the new structure was much smaller than the original Temple built by King Solomon. Eventually, lethargy, disappointment, and interference brought the work to a halt. The Jews turned their focus from God’s house to build their own homes.

Enter the prophet Haggai to proclaim God’s message of gentle chastisement and strong encouragement. I found one phrase five times in this little book: “Give careful thought” (1:5,7; 2:15,18 twice). Guess what that means (you’ve heard it from me before)? “Pay attention.” He said, “You plant much, but harvest little,” (1:6). “You earn wages, and it falls through the holes in your purse” (v. 6). “You expect much, but it turns out to be little,” (v. 9). “What you bring home I blow away” (v. 9). Why? In their depressed state, they gave up on the work of the Lord.

Now, I’m not some great theologian or prophet, but I think it’s pretty clear that the church today needs to “give careful thought.” Our ministry efforts are failing. Evangelism is ineffective. Teaching and preaching are weak. Why? Because the attacks of the enemy and the culture have discouraged God’s people and we have turned our attention back on ourselves. And we’re focused on our own issues and needs. Like the Jews, we’re sitting at home licking our wounds while the church goes lacking.

But, God says when we give careful thought to our ways, when we make His priorities our priorities, when we humble ourselves under His authority, He “will grant peace in this place” and He “will bless you – from this day on” (2:9, 19). The Lord is calling His people back to Himself. Beloved, it’s time to put down the phone, turn off the t.v., and pay attention.

Be Patient

I ran across a quote I had posted several years ago that is tugging at my heart this morning. It is by Adel Bestavros, an Egyptian lawyer, teacher, scholar, and preacher:

Patience with others is love.

Patience with self is hope.

Patience with God is faith.

I love this. It is so simple and yet so profound. Love for others is expressed in patience. Hope comes when we are patient with ourselves and our struggles. But I was most intrigued by the last of the three statements: “Patience with God is faith.” But I’ve always taught that faith, by definition, is a belief that leads to action. Faith in God caused the Israelites to step between the walls of water and walk on dry ground. Faith had Joshua and the people march around the walls of Jericho to bring them down and take the city. Jesus said that “Faith as small as a mustard” can move mountains (Matt 17:20). Yes! That’s the kind of faith I want!

But then I looked more closely at the Scriptures and I discovered that faith also involves a lot of waiting. Noah waited in the ark. Abraham waited for God’s promised child. David waited for his throne. The disciples waited for the Holy Spirit. And they waited because they had faith. But faith in what? The psalmist said: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope” (Ps 130: 5). They waited for the Lord. They had faith in Him. They had patience with God.

Now I’m not by nature a patient person. I hate red lights. I tell the microwave to “Hurry up!” I tap my foot impatiently at the coffee pot. And when my laptop drags, and it does it a lot, I get very aggravated. But I’m learning to be more patient and my teacher is my granddaughter. She is in the “I want to do it myself” stage, and so I wait while she fumbles with her shoes and slowly climbs into her car seat and takes forever to do the things that I could do in a matter of minutes. I wait because that is how she learns, and it’s how you and I learn too.

We learn that God is trustworthy and faithful. We learn that He is good and kind. We learn that He is mighty and perfect in all His ways. And we learn most of all that He loves us. And that is why we can wait for Him. Beloved, do you have faith in God? Then be patient.

The Art of Gentleness

I was going in a whole other direction this morning, climbing up on my soapbox with my script in hand. Then the Holy Spirit drew my attention to a small yellow post-it tab peeking out of my Bible. “Hmmm – wonder what you were marking there?” I flipped to the page in Ephesians where I found a verse I had previously underlined: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). And I heard very clearly, “Remember Gentleness.” In case you missed it, “Gentle” is my “word for 2023.” Yes, I realize it’s the third time I’ve written about it since the beginning of the year – and it’s only the 25th of January, but that’s because God keeps bringing it up to me. Probably because I keep dropping the ball.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been chaffing at this call lately. I don’t always want to be patient and kind. I want my way. I want my time to be my own. I want to spend my money on what I want.  I want my priorities to be other people’s priorities. I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I hope that doesn’t make you think less of me, but that’s just my human nature coming out. You’ve got one too, you know.

My verse is sandwiched between a call to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger . . .” (v. 31) and the command to “live a life of love . . .” (5:2) This, Paul said, makes us “imitators of God” (5:1). Think about it – God has every right to be angry at us because we are sinners, but He instead offers us forgiveness and love. He is gracious and gentle with us – even though we don’t deserve it. Can we do any less for those who have hurt, used, and offended us?

The culture panders to our human nature. “You don’t have to take that. Put yourself first. Nice guys finish last.”  But God says, “Be gentle. Be gracious and kind and compassionate. Forgive. Be loving. Be like Me.” God keeps bringing to mind Romans 12:10 “Honor one another above yourselves.” What will you choose, Beloved? The world may look down on you for giving yourself away, but you will never be more like God than when you do.

Which Jesus Will You Choose?

The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus, the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like), the wise teacher Jesus, the stick-it-to-the-establishment Jesus, the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on. But they are not the Jesus we see in Scripture. 

Not that we can put Him in a clearly defined box. The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He was popular – until He wasn’t. The same crowd that greeted Him as Messiah later shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. From the most devout believer to the most spiteful atheist.

Yes, that means you too. You will bow and you will confess. The only question is, will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Whom you rejected?  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Have you, will you believe in the real Jesus?

Hebrews: Pray for Me

Pray for me. Yes, that is a request, but I’m also quoting the author of Hebrews as he nears the end of his letter. He asked his readers: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Heb 13:18). Scholars believe that the unknown writer may have been falsely accused of something that cast a shadow on his integrity and testimony. He wanted his readers to know without a doubt that he had “a clear conscience” and a heart to live for Christ. He had been separated in some way from his beloved friends and hoped to return to them. It was a matter he wanted to be covered in prayer.

Paul’s letters are filled with pleas for prayer for himself – and his prayers for others.  If you need some suggestions for how to pray for others, you would do well to search out his writings. Here are a few that I like to use:

I pray that in Him you will be enriched in every way and not lack any spiritual gift. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end (adapted from 1 Cor 1:4-9).

“I pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance, patience, Joy and gratitude” (Col 1:9-12).

And my favorite: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have 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” (Eph 3:17-19).

The Bible is filled with good words that can be turned into good prayers. Many of the Psalms are the prayers of David and the Levites. God declared, “My word that goes out of my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). Praying His Word back to Him has His divine power and authority behind it.

So pray for somebody today, Beloved. If you don’t know their specific needs, pray one of these Scriptures over them. Who knows what God may do in someone’s life through your prayers?

Wrestling

I know you think I write these devotionals every day for you. You are only partially correct. Some days I write for me and bring you along for the ride.   Writing is how I think and pray and wrestle things out. Today is one of those days. I shared with you earlier that my “word” for the year is “gentle.”  I believe that God is imprinting that word on my heart because I’m in a situation where gentleness is needed for the best outcome.

Gentleness seems so easy, the word even sounds simple as it rolls off my tongue. But it isn’t. Especially when I am tired. And I am tired. Inside and out. When I’m tired the “natural me” comes out. She is petulant and irritable. She wants her way. She grumbles. A lot. She is everything but gentle. And she is awake this morning.

The Lord reminded me of my word through His Word. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). Yes Lord, I hear You. Every one of those descriptions is counter to my natural self. I cannot produce them on my own. But they are the very character of Christ whom I claim to follow. One word, in particular, caught my attention: “completely.” That word means “all, each, every.” In every situation, with every person, at all times be humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving. Even when I’m tired. Even with people who are unfair and uncooperative. Even when I don’t want to be. Especially when I don’t want to be.

I told you, I’m wrestling this out this morning and so I asked God, “How?” “How do I do this when I’m tired and people are making life hard?” Do you know what He didn’t say? He didn’t say, “I’ll make them more agreeable.” He didn’t say, “I’ll change your situation.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make this easier for you.” The Spirit literally took my eyes across the page of my open Bible to another verse: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .” (3:14). He said, “Humble yourself before  me and ask for my help.” So I will as soon as I sign off. From one wrestler to another, maybe you need to as well Beloved.

Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

Be Gentle

I don’t usually do a “word for the year,” but in the last few days one word kept presenting itself to me over and over. I took that to mean God has chosen a word for me.  “Gentle.”

Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).  The most common definitions from the Scriptures are kindness, meekness, humility, patience, and consideration. And it is Jesus’ own self-description: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart . . . “ (Matt 11:29). If the goal of the Christian life is that I am “conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:29), then gentleness must be part of my character. If there is anything the world needs now it is gentleness. It is completely counter to the culture of today.  Gentleness doesn’t announce itself with a microphone. Gentleness doesn’t try to shout down others. Gentleness doesn’t overpower others and demand its rights. Gentleness considers others’ needs above its own wants. Gentleness speaks with soft and tender words. Gentleness takes the lesser seat, the smaller portion, the way of being second. Gentleness looks beyond a person’s actions to the wounded heart behind them. Gentleness chooses to serve rather than be served.

Several verses speak of gentleness, but the Scripture that God keeps speaking to me is Philippians 4:4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  All of these things are very needed in my life: Joy, Presence, prayer, gratitude, peace, and transcendence. But gentleness is the one that the Spirit keeps driving home. Probably because it is the one that is most needed in my home.

Real gentleness looks like Jesus and talks like Jesus and acts like Jesus – because it comes from Jesus. That’s the kind of gentleness that is evident to all. Beloved, will you show somebody Jesus today?

The Chasm

As this year comes to a close, I find myself wondering how much longer the human race can survive. With wars and violence and hatred and abuse all across the globe, and the rise of sexual perversion taking firm root in the culture. It seems we’ve turned right and wrong upside-down. But if you study the Bible you are not completely shocked. Isaiah prophesied a day when evil will be called good and good evil (Is 5:20).  Unless you’re living under a rock, you know we’re there – even in the church. Paul warned “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). We’ve seen this sad reality as every kind of sin has been welcomed and celebrated by the “church” in recent years. But where the line between “right and wrong” has been so blurred, it must become more clearly defined. The fence is getting to hot to sit on much longer.

Scripture tells us that the chasm between the people of God and the people of wickedness will get wider as the day draws near. And how does a chasm grow? Quakes and tremors deep in the earth. The same is true for the church. We are experiencing the “birth pains” of that chasm growing as faithful Christians are separating themselves from those on the side of wickedness. Again, if you know the Scriptures, you are not surprised. Daniel 12:10 says – “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked.” And Jesus said, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Rev. 22:11).

So what does that mean for you and me? We are the church. We are the Body of Christ. We must make a stand for what is right and true – but it must come from the conviction of our own hearts. It’s not enough to rant about the sin in the church or the world if we’re not ready to confess the sin in our lives.  Beloved, you and I must separate ourselves from sin and wickedness. The quakes and tremors have to start here. May we be a generation of faithful, holy people.

Come Glorify the Lord

The news shows and magazines are all doing their year-end reviews, looking over the storylines and headlines of the past 12 months.  While there are a few bright spots in the year, there was mostly tragedy, sadness, suffering, and sorrow.  We just celebrated the angel’s announcement “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).   But where is the “peace on earth?”  What happened to all the “goodwill?” What went wrong?

I believe the answer to these questions, in fact, the answer to all our questions about the state of the world can be satisfied in the first words of this verse:  “Glory to God in the highest.” The Westminster Catechism, created by the church in the 17th century declares that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When we fail to give God the glory He deserves, it diminishes our ability to enjoy Him and the life He has given us. Paul said that this is the sin of mankind: to know the truth of God but refuse to glorify Him (Rom 1:21). That arrogance sends us spiraling into the abyss of darkness and depravity.

 But if we glorify God, we can see and receive the Light of Life. Our hearts know the truth and we are set free to enjoy God as He intended. And that affects everything else.  It changes us and our human relationships. We think and act on the presence of God within us. We are kind and gracious. We are peaceful and loving. We are humble and compassionate. And the world takes notice.

David gave us both a pattern of worship and reasons for worship in 1 Chronicles 16: 7-36. We worship God when we give Him thanks, remember His goodness, seek Him, tell His story, hold Him in high esteem, sing to Him, and praise and worship Him. We glorify God because He is God and there is none like Him. He is faithful. He cares about us and for us. He is great and worthy of praise. He is splendid and majestic and mighty. He created all things – including you and me – and holds all things together. He is our Savor and Redeemer. He is eternal. And if all that wasn’t enough, He is good and His love endures forever.

Do you want to see peace on earth? Or maybe just peace in your life? Start by giving God the glory He deserves. Beloved nothing else will change your heart and your world more.