Monthly Archives: September 2019

September 23; The Point of the Matter

Psalms 146-147; Nehemiah 7:73-9:37

Is God interested in you? Does He give a thought to the tiny details of your day, or consider those things that lay heavy on your heart? The writer of Psalm 146 tells us to praise the Lord, to put our trust in Him, that the Creator God blesses those whose hope is in Him alone.

Then the psalmist says this about God: He upholds the cause of the oppressed, feeds the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over aliens, and sustains orphans and widows. The psalmist assures us the Lord loves the righteous, and He is always faithful.

Let’s not hold God to being a God of material blessings only. We can look at the list above and argue that there are starving people and blind people in the world. There are prisoners and destitute orphans, so either the psalmist didn’t know what he was saying, or God is a liar.

Well, let me make this perfectly clear. The psalmist wrote the words God breathed through him, and God CANNOT lie.

I’m reminded of the account of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Mark 2, when a paralyzed man’s friends went to the extreme to bring him to Jesus who had been healing people’s physical ailments all day. The friends cut a hole in the roof above Jesus, and lowered the man right down in front of Him. Jesus took one look at the paralytic and said, “Your sins are forgiven.”

What? They expected the guy to get up and walk. No one said anything about sins.

Jesus used this situation to make an important point. The physical healing was a bi-product of His real purpose. He never came to earth to give sight to blind eyes, make broken bodies whole, or cure cancer. The point of the matter is Jesus came to save sinners. He came to forgive sin.

I go back to the psalm I read today and see an important word I almost overlooked. God loves the righteous. Not just nice people, not people who do good things and don’t break laws. We are righteous who wear Jesus’ righteousness.

God loves people who accept what Jesus’ blood bought us – forgiveness of our sin. Then and only then, our eyes are open, we are free and fed, no longer aliens and strangers. We are His children, loved, protected from Satan, with the assurance of eternity with Him. We place our trust in Him, our hope in Him alone.

Then yes, God cares about the tiniest detail in the lives of His children. He knows our thoughts, our struggles, our fears. And because we have heard Him say, “Your sins are forgiven,” we can get up and walk, trusting Him to do all things well.

And He does.

September 22; Out Of The Depths

Psalms 121, 122, 128, 130, 134-136

What does it mean to cry “out of the depths?” How low does one have to go in order to be considered being in the depths? The author of psalm 130 has come face to face with his past sins, and they seem to have him feeling pretty low. Now, looking at a Holy God, he realizes he has no hope.

I believe having no hope is what is meant by crying out of the depths. There is nothing left when there is no hope, only despair.

Yet the psalmist cries out to God, “Hear me. Be merciful to me.” He recognizes that what he needs, what he longs for is God’s forgiveness for his sins.

So the psalmist waits. He waits patiently, and puts his hope not in himself, not in good deeds or positive thoughts, but in the Lord. He knows that God’s love is unfailing, that God’s redemption is full. And he knows God will redeem Him.

I pray all of us will consider our past sins and know what the psalmist knew – that before we accepted God’s forgiveness we had no hope. I pray that if you have never asked God to forgive your sins, you will consider those sins and realize you have no hope, either. But know this: God loves to forgive our cries from the depths.

I know that, because He forgave mine.

September 21; A Layer At A Time

Psalm 119:73-176

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (verse 130)

I like the word the NIV uses as the “unfolding” of the understanding of God’s Word. The truth is, no one completely ¬†understood Scripture the first time they read it. No one. Not even Billy Graham or Ravi Zacharias. God unfolds understanding through His Word one layer at a time.

For years I would begin with Genesis 1:1 on January 1, determined to read it all by New Year’s Eve, only to find myself still in Exodus in May. Life, my job, stuff took priority over my time in God’s Word.

I began earnestly reading through the Bible every year when I retired in 2011. Before that I may have made it from Genesis to Revelation maybe four times total. But this year, before we welcome 2020 in January, I will have read the Bible cover to cover for the seventh time in eight years, God willing. (I slowed down in 2017-18 and read it through in two years. You can read that journey in the archive of this blog)

I have sat here and considered how God has unfolded understanding of His Word to me over the years. For many years I would read a passage and my thoughts would go to a sermon I had heard about those verses, or a lesson my Sunday School teacher had taught on the subject. I’d remember some author I’d read, and be assured that what I’d always heard was true, that my denomination had a lock on Scripture.

Even when I’d come across a verse that seemed to contradict what I’d always been taught, I’d get out a commentary from a like-minded theologian and rest in his or her take on it. I read the Bible through other people’s eyes.

But today as I consider what the psalmist said, I realize that isn’t the case so often any more. In fact, now when I am reading the Bible, instead of recalling a sermon I’ve heard, my thoughts often go to a parallel Bible verse I’ve read in the past. I recall a Bible story that illustrates the truth I’m reading. I realize God is unfolding understanding of His Word by His Word.

Verse 169 says:

May my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word.

According to your word.

Folks, I am not an intellectual. I was never in gifted classes in school. I graduated from college right in the middle of the academic standings. I am a simple woman.

But God is unfolding the understanding of His Word one layer at a time, because I’m reading it. I’m thinking about it, praying about it. I write about it, but even that is just my personal way of recording what I am learning. The point is God is helping me understand Scripture because I am reading Scripture.

I promise you, if you read the Bible asking God to unfold understanding – HE WILL! He wrote it with you in mind. Of course He wants to help you understand it.

Read it. Then read it again.

September 20; A Real Life Author

Psalms 111, 112, 117, 119:1-72

When I worked in the middle school, we invited one of our students’ favorite authors to come and spend a day with us. This woman had written a series of books about children which had captured the imagination of pre-teens all over the country. And she was coming to visit us!

The kids were in awe when that woman entered a classroom. I have to admit I was a bit awe-struck myself.

Here’s what I remember about that day. The students who had read the books were attentive, and asked great questions. It was almost like they already knew and loved her. They couldn’t get enough of this woman’s story. The students who hadn’t read the books looked bored, either didn’t participate or they asked silly, meaningless questions. And those who hadn’t read the books were the students who were first out of the door when class was over. The others had to be pried away from the author.

The author of Psalm 119 spends 176 verses writing about his love for God’s Word. He believes it, studies it, cherishes it, lives by it, considers it precious. The psalmist knows and loves the Author because he’s spent time reading and learning what the Author has written.

Sometimes I think we put so much emphasis on worshiping and serving God we forget to get to know Him. And the only way we can know Him is by reading what He wrote. I find that the more I read God’s Word, the more I love reading God’s Word. The more I get to know God through His Word, the more I love Him. The more time I spend in God’s Word, the more I want to worship Him in Truth, serve Him out of gratitude for the privilege of knowing Him through His Word.

As I look back on the day that real life author came to town, I realize some of the kids got to hear about her books, the plots and characters, through what other people said about them. But the kids who had spent time actually reading the books got to know the author, could understand the plots and characters because they had experienced them first hand on the pages of the books. It seemed they shared an inside secret with the author the others could not understand.

One day we will all meet the real life Author. Will I know Him as a result of having had the first hand experience of getting to know Him through His Word? Or will I look into His eyes and only know what others have told me about Him?

Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hit “publish,” and re-read these psalms today. I’m going to spend some more time with the real life Author.

 

September 19; Somebody Said…

Nehemiah 5-7; Psalms 1, 107

How do you act when you hear gossip? Do you automatically assume that what you’re hearing is the truth? What is your reaction if the gossip is about you? Can you feel your blood boil?

I think most of us could do with a lesson from Nehemiah. Look how many times his enemies tried to get him to react, tried to intimidate him with cunning words and gossip. Then look at how Nehemiah reacts.

I’m pretty sure reality TV and FaceBook would crumble if we did what Nehemiah did. And I’m even more sure we’d all be happier if we learned to keep our heads whenever we hear, “Somebody said…”

September 18; Beneath Me

Nehemiah 1-4

There are a lot of things required for the effective running of a local church. Of course we need pastors, deacons, teachers, singers, song leaders, and musicians. We need cooks and childcare workers.

But we also need people who sweep floors, clean toilets, mow grass and pull weeds. We need people who visit the sick, and move furniture for widows. Not all jobs in a church are glamorous.

I’ve often said the book of Nehemiah might be my favorite book of the Old Testament. It’s a beautiful picture of what a church should look like. But I saw something today I don’t remember ever noticing before. 3:5 says:

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

The thing that I love about Nehemiah’s book is how everyone chipped in and did their part in the building and repair of the wall around Jerusalem. Even some of the women got their hands dirty. But here we see the “nobles” refused to lend a hand.

Shame on them.

But as God often does when I begin to fill a little self-righteous and point my fingers at those obviously not doing the right thing, He places a hand on my shoulder. “Shame on who, Connie?” He seems to ask.

Have I declined a ministry I felt was beneath me? Am I too proud to work behind the scenes? Do I think someone less educated is better suited to some menial task than I who have gone to college? Am I afraid to get my designer clothes dirty?

Shame on me!

My thoughts went to Jesus. Was anything beneath my Savior? Was He ever too proud to get down and dirty with people who needed Him? Was He too dignified to be hanging on a cross stark naked?

If the God of the Creation stooped so low for me, there is nothing too low for me to do in response. I don’t want to be counted with the “nobles” we read about in Nehemiah who would not put their shoulders to the work. Count me in with Shalhum’s daughters, chipped and dirty fingernails and all.

I guess God may be speaking to me about this topic today as I get ready to serve on the Nominating Committee at my own local church. We will be talking to people about the various areas of service that keep our fellowship running smoothly. We will be asking people to consider serving on the food committee, the grounds committee, the congregational life committee, etc.

May we all remember that nothing done for the glory of God is beneath any of us. May I remember nothing done for God’s glory is beneath ME!

September 17; Hold Your Horses

Ezra 8:15-10:44

Ezra had the go-ahead from the king, and from God to gather the Jews and head home. Ezra immediately organized the people, but when he discovered there were no priests or Levites among them, he waited. He sent for the spiritual leaders, and didn’t move until they were present.

But Ezra didn’t move out the minute the priest got there, either. He led the Israelites in a time of fasting and prayer. They humbled themselves and asked God for a safe journey for all of them, men, women, and children.

Have you ever found yourself moving ahead of God, of jumping into service without really praying about it, of beginning a ministry before you humbly give it to God?

Hold your horses!

I think Ezra’s example is a good one for all of us excited about doing God’s will.

He knew upfront that God was in it. But Ezra still prayed. He surrounded himself with Godly people and they prayed. He humbled himself. He gave the journey to God, asked God to protect him, and to bless their efforts.

And God brought them all safely home. Sounds like a recipe for a successful ministry to me.