BEYOND THE MASK

My craft room has become a little mask factory, as we prepare for returning to public worship services and the need to supply masks. Some good friends have supplied fabric remnants and extra hands for the work, and I am grateful!

There’s been some confusion about how much our cloth masks really help in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and the prevailing reason for their use is to keep our own germs from others and train us to touch our own faces less. Object lessons abound these days!

At a certain time in Jesus public ministry, He got the crowd’s attention when He said, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes hm unclean.” (Matthew 15:10-20) So the most serious problem wasn’t what might be taken in, but what might be coming out!

You see, there had been nit picking from the religious about washing up, while other rules were conveniently being set aside. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy and quoted the prophet Isaiah:

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. (verses 8 and 9)

The disciples weren’t getting it, and Peter, specifically asked for an explanation. “Don’t you see,’ Jesus said, “that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’ but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.’ (v. 17)

In a spiritual sense, the “germs” we most need to be concerned with are those of the sin nature that infected all of Adam’s descendants. No amount of hand washing, mask wearing, or social distancing will remedy these matters of the heart. Only repentance will do.

In contrast to the Pharisees, the very next story in scripture is that of the Canaanite Woman who begged Jesus to deliver her demon-possessed daughter. (15:21-28) “Have mercy on me, Lord,….Help me!” Jesus responded to her faith and granted her request. He will do the same for all who sincerely cry out for mercy.

Decisions

Genesis 13 is a great text to consult when you are facing an important decision. Abraham and his nephew Lot had prospered to the point the land could no longer support them together, so they made a decision to part ways. As the elder, Abraham had the right to decide where wanted to live and order Lot to go in another direction, but he deferred to Lot’s choice of where to move. Verse 10 states Lot was drawn to the lush farming land near the Jordan River. Apparently not giving any thought to the decision

Lot did not give thought to the effect that decision would have on his family. He moved near Sodom, a community known as spiritually bankrupt, while Abraham remained in the area where God originally had directed him to live. A short time later, Abraham had to put himself and his household at risk to rescue Lot from danger. In a general sense, Lot got himself in trouble because he relied on what he saw, while Abraham remained blessed because he relied on what he knew God had already said.

When your business thrives, tough decision must be made. The easy part is deciding something must be done, the tough part is putting together a strategy to make the plan work.   We only need to look at the decision to shut down our country and economy in response to the pandemic as an example. Shutting everything down was the easy part, but managing the effects of that decision have been problematic. This is not a commentary on the merits of shutting down our country; I have my opinion and I am sure you do as well. I am merely illustrating that prayer and care that must be invested for important decisions.

There are successful Christian businessmen and women no doubt could add to what I have to say, but let me offer these suggestions we glean from Lot.

  • How does the decision fit into the overall plan of what you know God has called you to do?
  • Are you feeling pressured to make a decision quickly? Take as much time as you can in making this decision, knowing the will of God is usually verified over time. If your sense of peace grows over time, you may have your answer. If your peace wanes over time, it is probably the Holy Spirit telling you to slow down and go in a different direction.
  • Will this decision require you to compromise your character or values in any way?
  • Identify you safety net. Who is helping you pray about this decision? To whom are you accountable and who has the right to express their concerns about the decision you are facing?
  • How will this decision potentially impact your family in the long term? If you are married, are you and your spouse in agreement on the plan? If not, why?

Proverbs 19:21 There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’S counsel–that will stand.

A SIMPLE CHOICE

Three chapters of Genesis bear the tales of three people and their choices.

Eve doubted God’s word. The fall of Eve and Adam is summed up in a conversation between the serpent and Eve in Genesis 3. “Did God really say?” (V.1) was an attempt to get Eve to question what God said. The second statement was “you will not die” (V.4) which contradicted the Lord’s instruction in 2:16-17 stating that if Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. Doubting God’s word led to disobeying God’s word.

Cain ignored God’s word. In Genesis 4:7 the Lord said to Cain “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Cain ignored God’s word and suffered the consequences.

Noah obeyed God’s word. In Genesis 6 Noah is described as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (v.9); Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (V.22). Our appreciation for Noah’s testimony increases we read in verse 5 that he lived in a culture that was so vile God decided to destroy the human race and start over through Noah and his family. A great tribute to Noah is found in 6:22 & 7:5 where it says “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Eve doubted what God said, Cain ignored what God said and Noah obeyed what God said. In Genesis 9 it states that God blessed Noah and his family and established a covenant with him.

Doubting, ignoring or obeying God’s word – the choice seems simple enough.

IT TAKES A “DEBORAH”

Like a modern “Deborah” Linda Bottoms rose to the challenge, coordinating the technical details of online network council. Linda serves as Assistant Church Ministries Director for Rocky Mountain Ministry Network (The Assemblies of God in Colorado and Utah).

All kinds of things have been preempted by the current pandemic. Today’s notable interruption was our annual, regional church conference (Assemblies of God Network Council). Our in-person gathering would have included rich fellowship with co-laborers, plus inspirational worship and workshops. But it was not to be, and our network leaders did a masterful job of adapting and conducting all the business and even an ordination service by video conference. We are grateful for solid, insightful leaders to navigate the challenges.

“Surreal” is the word my friend used to describe these days, but we understand that resilient people have weathered much more through the ages. The Prophetess Deborah, in her victory song, described a period of Israel’s history as lifeless..  After twenty years under the oppression of the Canaanite King Jabin and his cruel general, Sisera, Deborah said, “Village life in Israel had ceased…”

In a predominantly backslidden culture, Deborah stood out as a wise and God-fearing leader, to whom people flocked for advice and help. As Israel’s fourth judge, she was anointed with prophetic gifts, which enabled her to hear messages from God and to communicate his will to the people.

The Bible records that she “sent for Barak” and outlined God’s battle plan to defeat Sisera. Deborah accompanied Barak and, together, they recruited ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. Their advance began with Deborah’s famous charge: “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands.” Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” (4:14)

Read the entire account in Judges, chapter four, including the gory details of Sisera’s demise at the hands of Jael, another female character in this dramatic story. The poetic fifth chapter that follows is the song of Deborah and Barak, praising God for his mercy and righteous acts on behalf of Israel.

Deborah marveled that God used her in bringing about this military victory.   “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.” It’s interesting that Deborah referred to herself, not as judge or prophet, but mother! (Side note: It may be the now home-schooling mothers, extra-motivated to return to some normalcy, who will rise to solve the current pandemic!)

Kidding aside, there are important lessons in Deborah’s story:

  • Don’t shrink back from challenges “Get up!” “Go!” (4:14; 5:7)
  • Continually seek God’s guidance and the path He has prepared. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you? (4:14)
  • Recognize God will respond when you obey. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera . . . (4:15)
  • Appreciate those who are going with you! “My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!” (5:9)

Not many are called to lead an army, but many are called to lead a family or to influence co-workers and peers. There are examples all around of every-day but resilient friends who are courageously serving beyond their comfort zones. (Like our neighbor, a nurse, who collected gifts on her front porch. The parents of a newborn in her care had to forego their baby shower when quarantined, so the nurse put out a call for help from strangers.)

When it seems that “village life has ceased”, it takes a “Deborah”, and she just may look like YOU!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“KNOWLEDGE” DOES NOT EQUAL “RELATIONSHIP”

Psalm 91:14-16 “Because he has set his love upon me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. 15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”

In these verses the Lord described the benefits of a personal an intimate relationship with Him. When we set our love upon Him, He delivers us. To set our love on Him means more than possessing knowledge of Him; it speaks of an intimate personal relationship, of being fully devoted to him, of binding or knitting oneself to him. I envision a wedding ceremony where the bride and groom vow to forsake all others and commit complete devotion to each other. In response, the Lord promised to deliver us. In verse 10 the psalmist declared no evil would come near the one who draws near to the Lord and yet in verse 14 God promised to deliver us. There is no contradiction in these two verses. The evil and sorrow we are exposed to here on earth will not touch the core of our faith which is based on our personal and intimate relationship with the Lord.

In verses 14-16 He promised to set us on high, to answer when we call out to Him, deliver and honor us, to satisfy us with long life and show us his salvation. I see the emphasis on a satisfying life more than a long life. Abraham Lincoln is credited with the old maxim, “in the end, it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years.” Well said. I envision sitting at the Lord’s table and enjoying the fellowship of His presence, refusing to leave the table to answer the door when trouble comes knocking.

My friend, a lifetime of formal and informal study of the Bible and all things related to God is no substitute for a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord. I am grateful for the many professors who poured into my life in college and seminary. I am grateful for the hundreds if not thousands of theological books and periodicals I have read through the years. But knowledge of God is no substitute for the relationship with God. A personal relationship with Him is as simple as ABC. First, admit you have sinned, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Then, believe on Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God who died on the cross for your sin.   Finally, confess Jesus Christ publicly. If you would like to talk with someone about this, please email me and we will talk and pray together.

GOD IS MY REFUGE

Psalm 91:9-13 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, 10 no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; 11  for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. 12 In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. 13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

When the Lord is your refuge and dwelling place, you are blessed. Some scholars view the two phrases “refuge” and “dwelling place” as interchangeable. The thought being, making the refuge a place of dwelling. The refuge is where you place all your treasures for safe keeping and nothing is more valuable than your soul. Our refuge is none other than the “Lord…the Most High.”

He is our refuge when we abide in His presence (see v.1). Because no evil nor plague can come near Him, we find protection in His presence. Our spirit draws near to him as we pray and worship, even while our body lives here on this earth that has been cursed by the effects of sin. The body is temporal but the spirit is eternal. While the body ages and deteriorates, the spirit thrives.

The psalmist wrote of angels having charge over us, keeping and protecting us. Scripture gives us a glimpse of God intervening on our behalf in times of great struggle. In Genesis 32, Jacob had an encounter with an angel and in the process was reminded how God had provided and protected him for more than 20 years. In Daniel 10, an angel told Daniel that there had been an intense battle with demons trying to prevent the angel from delivering a message to Daniel. The angels of Almighty God prevailed and the message from God was delivered. It is unwise for us to fixate on angels, as they are only messengers of God. Our full attention and devotion should be directed to Almighty God. But keep in mind, the angels of God are at His beck and call and are actively working on our behalf.  With the Lord as our refuge, we are safe from the roaring and slithering demonic forces intent on doing us harm.

Let’s sing: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing…”

SHELTERED IN

Psalm 91:5-8 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked.

In 1 Peter 5:8, the devil is described as our adversary. The phrases “terror by night…arrow that flies by day…pestilence that walks in darkness … destruction that lays waste at noonday” refer to attacks by the devil, and describe those assaults as acts of war. Some of his actions are on display in our culture, while others we deal with privately and daily.

But the child of God, sheltered in the presence of God (see 91:1-4) looks on at the events in our day with peace in his heart. I get the image of Jewish families looking from their homes on the Passover night, and seeing there is a God that judges evildoers and protects His own.

Consider the following passages:

Psalm 27:3-4 Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this I will be confident. 4 One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.

Psalm 46:1-2 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Proverbs 3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet.

Isaiah 12:2 Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’

Let’s sing: “So let the storms rage high, the dark clouds rise, they worry me for I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God…

 

Psalm 91:1-4 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 

Words and names of meaning. Consider the names of God referenced in our text. He is the Most High [the Supreme], Almighty [One whose power no foe can withstand], Lord [the self-existent and eternal One] is MY God [the Supreme God].

I join with the psalmist today and proclaim God is not just a god, He is my GOD, the refuge and fortress in whom I trust to “deliver” (snatch away, defend or recover), and “cover” (fence in, cover over and hedge in) in times of trouble.

Let me give you one more verse to meditate on: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).

 

 

 

TAKE A BRAIN BREAK!

Whatever things are lovely–especially to a Grammy!

Our plan (Jim & I) was to double team some blog posts about Cultivating Joy. Two special young ladies came aboard as surprise participants, illustrating (literally) joy in the midst of adverse circumstances. Yesterday’s post by Jim highlighted faithful perseverance that produces joy – the kind of joy that spills over onto others.

Just before I sat down to write my thoughts about the practicality of Philippians (a formula for joy), I received a photo of granddaughter Emilia creating some backyard art. Please indulge a little grandmotherly bragging and a side story. Some years ago, when Emi had drawn a particularly good picture, I said, “Emi, maybe you’ll be an artist when you grow up!” Her reply: “I’m an artist now!”

It’s the craziest of times and everyone is juggling so much. Families, like that of our daughter and son-in-law, are dealing with unique job stress, working from home, doing online school, taking turns on the household computers and managing all the responsibilities of a family of five plus pets! Both adults and kids are having to adapt to many challenges these days! Needing what her mom called a “brain break”, Emilia took paint brush and palette to the outdoors and used the wood pile as her canvas.

The Apostle Paul encouraged his friends at Philippi to take a brain break from their anxious thoughts, replacing them with positive meditations. His famous “Whatevers” map out a path to peace. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (4:8).

It takes some effort to discipline the mind in the middle of a crisis! A good exercise is to take pen and paper and list the specific “whatevers” that apply to the situation at hand. Regarding COVID-19, for example . . .

  • True: Sickness is part of our fallen world, but healing is provided in the atonement.
  • Noble: Self-sacrificing individuals, particularly those in health care, are working long, hard hours for the benefit of the entire community.
  • Right: I have the ability to do good for my neighbors, “preferring one another” with the love of Christ.
  • Pure: There are examples all around me of kindness that comes from compassionate, pure hearts. I am grateful for the kindness that has been shown to me.
  • Lovely: The virus has not overcome the blossoming Spring. All around me are signs of life.
  • Admirable: I admire the gifted minds that are researching this disease and developing strategies to overcome it. I pray for God to give them insight and understanding.
  • Excellent: I am grateful for businesses that have adapted efficiently and are providing me with good service under difficult circumstances.
  • Praiseworthy: Leaders at all levels of government are working hard at finding solutions to this pandemic. They are criticized and second guessed, and largely underappreciated, so I will acknowledge their efforts and pray for God to lead them.

Our wonderful Christa Mele, who fills so many ministry roles at Southwest Assembly of God, shared a video testimony of how God helps her in the struggle with anxiety. She, too, combats chaos with some “brain breaks”, specifically prayer, meditation and redirecting her attention to that which brings joy. You will find Christa’s message particularly inspiring for these times!

As he wrapped up his exhortation to the Philippians, Paul said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Cultivating Joy

The word joy appears at least 10 times in one form or another in the book of Philippians. That is surprising, considering Paul likely wrote the letter from a Roman prison cell. Through Paul’s example we learn that joy does not depend on our circumstances, and is something we can cultivate in our own life. Let’s take a look at what Paul had to say to the Philippians.

Philippians 1:4-5 “always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, or your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”

The Philippian church was founded by Paul and his ministry team on his second missionary journey (Acts 16). Through the years they partnered with Paul in ministry by providing financial aid to he and his ministry team, (2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:15-16) and by giving generously to help fellow Christians in Jerusalem experiencing financial hardship. The thought of their generosity was the source of Paul’s joy in our text.

My heart is filled with joy at the thought of church members who faithfully give tithes to help support the church, and give offerings to help us support missionaries and bless those in need of benevolent care. Additionally, there are many who partner with us by generously giving of their time and talents for the various ministries at our church. During the current stay-at-home orders from our government, you find these ministry partners providing on-line Bible studies, devotions, musicians leading us in worship and audio-visual techs helping us produce virtual services, as well those who connect with you by phone and email through the week.

Take a moment to think of the many ways you benefit from the individuals who use their time, tithe and talents for the glory of the Lord. Then, reach out to them via a phone call, text or email and let them know how you are blessed by their service.

For additional study on the subject of joy, consider Romans 16:4; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 1:3; and 1 Thessalonians 1:2;