Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Verses that inspire

What a blessing it was to dwell on this verse recently:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)
When I compared the NIV (above) with the English Standard Version, I saw this:
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)
Here's what caught my eye and set the gears and rocks in my head to rumbling -- before we are saved, before Jesus' blood cleanses us from sin, whatever "good stuff" we do, is actually wasted time!

One translation says acts that lead to death, which could include sins. The other says dead works! Elsewhere, "works" are mentioned as things that people do for various reasons, which they feel will make them better people. Make them feel better about themselves. Many an unbeliever has pointed to "good stuff" that they have done, and they kinda feel like they are earning their way to heaven.
But that doesn't work....
We have all become like one who is unclean,    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.We all fade like a leaf,    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

It's not anything we can do.
It's not anything we can say.
It's totally our Savior.
Today, let's praise Him for His love, His mercy, and the salvation He gives us freely!

If you've a verse to share, I hope you will, in a comment below.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fear God because He is our judge

This week we are continuing to work our way through to fully understand Peter's phrase "fear God." Last week we noted that Peter called his readers' attention to the miracle of salvation, and then gave three explicit instructions....
                                                                  Be holy
                                                                 Fear God
                                                           Love one another

This week we are continuing on the middle one!
The last time we studied together, we saw that Peter told us one reason to have this fear or respectful love for God was because our time here on earth is short.
Today, we are looking at the fact that He is our judge.
Peter says that we call on a holy Father God Who judges impartially.
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (I Peter 1:17)
You know, to call God our Father is very comforting.
To say that He is our judge? Not so much.
Am I right?
It's the present tense -- He is watching us now, in the present, as we speak.  He is judging us at this very moment. And because He is the Great I Am, he judges impartially.
What do we mean by impartially?
Lawyers would tell us that it means "not partial or biased, treating or affecting all equally."

My commentaries tell me that the word here carries the implication of "without a mask." Think about that for a minute....When God looks at us, He sees right through the little masks that we put on. The ones that we use to make ourselves look better to others. Well, God isn't fooled!
“I the Lord search the heart    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,    according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:10)

He looks at our hearts. And He looks at our works. The things we do. The things we say. That bothers some people....they begin asking, "But we are saved by faith, right?" And the answer is a resounding "YES!" We are saved by faith, but we are judged by our works. Let's not fall into the trap of thinking that since we are saved by faith, it doesn't matter so much what we do, nor how we do it.

Remember these verses in James?
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
And this one in Hebrews?
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
And Paul told us this, too:
If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (I Corinthians 3:12-15)

A faith that is secure in the Father, and that pleases Him, will always produce a life of good works. You see, our works will be judged, not to determine our eternal destiny (heaven or hell), but to determine our rewards in heaven. I know that some folks don't agree with me here, but hear me out... Paul says the sad part is that some people will discover that they wasted some of their time here on earth. They built with wood, or hay, or stubble. They paid attention to things that were not important in the long run.
Others, who loved and respected God, built with gold, silver, and costly stones. Their faith produced a fruitful life for God, one in which they tried to help others, witness to them, and live "godly in Christ Jesus." Are we paying attention to the important things of life? Are we distracted by the unimportant?

Are our hands busy working for Him? Are our feet carrying us to places where we can witness or minister in His name?
Sometimes I fear that we (and that includes me, OK?) are living as if we don't fear God. Maybe as if we don't even believe in Him. Let me explain. Do we let hurtful words fly out of our mouths when we should consider what we say? Do we tell "white lies" to excuse our behavior or our mistakes, when we should take responsibility for them? Do we hang on to our treasures when we should give freely to someone who needs our assistance? Do we have to win every argument, every competition, and be A-Number 1? Do we complain about persecution, or about how hard we have it, or how easy someone else seems to have it? Oy vey. We are living then as if we don't believe in Him. We don't love and respect Him enough to behave generously, patiently, quietly, as we witness for Him.

Does anyone besides me remember this song?

That may be a kids' song, but it has a lot of truth there!

God does look down in love, and we should watch our hands, our feet, our lips.....we love and respect God, and one day will face Him as He judges what we have done, or have left undone!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday slowdown

Take the burden from my arms
Take the anchors off my lungs
Take me broken and make me one
Break the silence and make it a song

Life is short; I wanna live it well
One life, one story to tell
Life is short; I wanna live it well
And you're the one I'm living for
Awaken all my soul
Every breath that you take is a miracle
Life is short; I wanna live it well, yeah

I wanna sing with all my heart a lifelong song
Even if some notes come out right and some come out wrong
Cause I can't take none of that through the door
Yeah, I'm living for more than just a funeral
I wanna burn brighter than the dawn

Life is short; I wanna live it well
One life, one story to tell
Life is short; I wanna live it well
And you're the one I'm living for
Awaken all my soul
Every breath that you take is a miracle
Life is short; I wanna live it well, yeah

I got one life and one love
I got one voice, but maybe that's enough
Cause with one heartbeat and two hands to give
I got one shot and one life to live
One life to live, yeah
And every breath you take is a miracle

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fearing God, continued

This week, we are studying the fear of the Lord....not something that we often hear about in church, or in conversations with other believers. We'd rather focus on what makes us feel warm and fuzzy, right? And it's true, He is our Friend, our Savior, our loving Father. But He is also a holy and Almighty God.
Our focus passage is this one:
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (I Peter 1:17-21)

The first reason that Peter gave his readers for fearing God was that "time is short." Nowadays, there are lots of signs and humorous phrases about the short time we have on earth. Some of them encourage us to eat dessert first, others encourage us to do the most good that we can.

Life is indeed short. Peter uses the same word, "strangers," as he did in verse one. Some translations use "aliens" or "sojourners." Kinda brings to mind the words in the Old Testament....remember when the Hebrew children, the people of God, were in Egypt? They came to Egypt small in numbers, a large family that needed help in the famine. Their numbers grew as they were blessed by God with children and strong, healthy bodies. So much so, that the Egyptians grew apprehensive, thinking they might take over the land. They were led out of Egypt as an example of the grace and providence and guidance of the Almighty God. They were just "foreigners" or "sojourners" in the land of Egypt.

Well, our life here on earth is a short visit, too. Not to be depressing, but no one is going to live here on earth forever..... our mortal bodies only last so long. We are born; we may live thirty, forty, even sixty years. If we are blessed by God with strength and vigor, we may make it to eighty or ninety -- some may even see 100! (My great-grandma lived to be 105, so I hope those good genes are in my blood!)
But it doesn't matter how long we live, if the Lord doesn't come back beforehand, we are all eventually going to die.
The difference is this: some of us know it, and the rest act like we're going to live forever!
Which way are we looking at life?
I believe that we should live as if we knew we were going to pass away tomorrow.... what kind of changes would that make? Would some things not be as important anymore? Would other things suddenly seem "top priority?"
Moses looked at it like this:
Teach us to number our days,    that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
James told us this:
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
David talked about it, too:
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;    the span of my years is as nothing before you.Everyone is but a breath,    even those who seem secure. (Psalm 39:5)
A breath, a mist.
The old hymn tells us, " Only one life, twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last."
What does this have to do with fearing God? With the loving respect and the respectful love that we discussed last time?
That respectful love will keep us doing the things that He would have us do. We will look at our lives through His eyes and look for opportunities to be His hands, His voice to others.
What we should really fear is that we may waste our time on things that don't matter. Or that we will be so preoccupied with life here on earth, that when He calls us, we aren't listening....

I studied the life of Gladys Aylward years ago, and I was impressed by her openness to God's leading, and her willingness to go where He sent her. In an era when men were the missionaries, and women were not readily accepted in some roles, she stepped out on faith and made a huge difference in many lives in China.
Are we willing to listen to Him? Are we willing to go "wherever He leads"?
A respectful, loving heart, a heart that fears God in the best sense of the words, will be a heart that listens, hears His call, and responds with action.

Oh, that we would fear Him in this way! What a difference we could make in our world!

Our studies will continue next week.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fearing God (I Peter 1:17-21)

Yesterday we looked at a variety of verses about fearing God.
I think we can all agree on some things that fearing God is not.... it isn't a subservient kind of feeling, beaten down, mopey, no will of our own, no choice in anything.
It isn't a cringing, scared kind of feeling, either, like any moment we're going to be punished ferociously, so we look over our shoulder all the time, frightened.

So what IS fearing the Lord, our God?
I think it combines two things -- love and respect. And I think we must have both.
Let me clarify, OK, before you shake your head and say I'm bonkers?
I believe the fear of the Lord combines the two into loving respect and respectful love....in other words, we love and respect God at the same time.
If you turn it on its head, you can see it clearly: where there is no respect, there is no love.

Can't we see that in human relationships, too?
If there is no respect in a marriage, there is no real love, either. If there is no respect in a parent and child relationship, there is no love there, either.
And the same thing applies to our relationship with God, our Father. Remember this verse?
...since they hated knowledge    and did not choose to fear the Lord. (Proverbs 1:29)
There's the key! Sorry to shout, but I get excited when the Spirit makes something clear to me!
We make the choice to obey God -- why? because we love Him and want to please Him. The fear of the Lord is an ongoing, daily, ever-growing attitude of my heart....it causes me to choose (over and over again, each day) to obey God, even when it might be easier to do something else. So the fear of the Lord is not a cringing fear -- that would be respect without love. And the fear of God is not being flippant, or irreverent, which is love without respect. When we combine respect and love, we see the true fear of the Lord!

Perhaps we have a close relationship with an earthly parent. Even when they were strict on us, when we were young, we probably never truly doubted their love. Oh, there may have been times of crisis or of discipline when we thought they were just out to get us, but most of the time, even if they were not the type to be demonstrative, we knew their love was there. We tried to do the tasks they assigned, and we knew if we didn't, we'd be in trouble!
In much the same way, the fear of the Lord is not the opposite of love -- instead, it is what real love is all about. A healthy sense of fear (like when we didn't want our parents to punish us) can be a positive motivation for doing the right thing. That loving respect is the basis of our relationship with God, too. When we choose to fear Him, we are choosing out of respect and love to do the things that please Him. Everything that we do in our lives should really come back to this principle; it's the most positive attitude that we can have.

Let's think about it another way.....if the whole world rages at us, we'll get over it, right? But if we antagonize God, we have a real problem! One result of this is that Christians don't fear the same things that the world fears.....
Political unrest? No panic.
Rogue regime tossing missiles about? No worries.
Craziness in an election? No lost tempers here.
Many people get stressed out, depressed, angry at others. Believers need to be careful of that. If we get very angry or very uptight about world events, what does that anger or stress mean?
Doesn't it mean that we don't fear (love and respect) God very much?  I believe if we fear God as we should, we won't lose our temper when talking about politics. If we truly fear God, we won't stress about some country that is lighting fuses on rockets. We must do our part as citizens (vote and tell our representatives how we feel on issues) and then remember that all of this rests in the hands of Almighty God. If we feel ourselves getting uptight, or angry, perhaps a quick check of our own hearts is in order -- do we fear God as we should?

If we love and respect Him, we will remember all of His promises to us -- and that puts rogue regimes, elections, and more in the right perspective! If we respect and love Him, we can reverently pray and ask for His guidance and His protection.

In the next few verses, Peter offers us three reasons why we should fear God. We'll study these three principles, for they are motives for godly living, and truths that we help us take God seriously.

Join me next time, please!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Prayer requests

Today is our usual day for prayer requests, and I don't want to take away from that opportunity to share.
I'd like to continue our study, though, and then leave room for requests....
Our passage yesterday started like this:
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.  (I Peter 1:17)
Does Peter have in mind a cringing, subservient fear? Does he mean the irrational fear that causes paranoia? I don't believe so....Peter was raised and trained in the Hebrew way, and the rabbis would have tasked him with memorizing much of the Torah, the Proverbs, and the prophets. I think if we look at verses there, we may understand more fully what Peter means, because the fear of the Lord is a major theme!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,    but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
To fear the Lord is to hate evil; (Proverbs 8:13a)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress,    and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death. (Proverbs 14:26-27)
Humility is the fear of the Lord;    its wages are riches and honor and life. (Proverbs 22:4)
Rather than a cringing fear, we see a quality that is a key to long life, wisdom, and happiness. It's apparent that the writer of Proverbs saw it as a positive, not as a negative.
Two other verses can help us understand:
Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! (Deuteronomy 5:29)

So it's an attitude of our heart -- something that we don't approach lightly or flippantly.
And....it's a choice, too:
...since they hated knowledge    and did not choose to fear the Lord. (Proverbs 1:29)

It's a choice, and it's an attitude of the heart. This is getting more interesting by the minute, don't ya think?
Have you some verses that you found in your study that you can add?

Do you have a prayer request that we can join you in bearing up to the Lord? Allow us the privilege of praying with you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fearing God (I Peter 1:17-21)

We are diving back into our study of I Peter!
To refresh our memories, Peter is writing this letter to believers who are scattered across what we call today the country of Turkey. They were separated from each other and they were facing persecution, but Peter began his letter by encouraging them to stand fast in spite of their trials. He reminded them that God had caused them to be born again, and had given them an inheritance in heaven. Their fiery trials can't change any of that -- nor can the trials change the fact that in the future, they will see the Savior face-to-face! He told them that the prophets searched for this salvation, and the angels don't fully understand it, but nothing that happens to us here on earth can cause God to break His promises to us.
Whew! Anyone besides me saying "Amen!"? There's been a lot packed into this first chapter so far!

Because of that great salvation, Peter now writes three commands to the scattered believers:

Be holy
Fear God
Love one another

Last week we studied the "Be holy" portion.
This week we're going to talk about the "Fear God" part.....
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially,live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (I Peter 1:17-21)

I bet that if one of us were writing this letter, we would put things in a different order! Let me explain....I think we might list "love one another" first. We all understand that one, and we like it. It's warm and fuzzy and doesn't take a lot of discussion. We would probably put "be holy" in second place. We know it's important, and we understand it. We might put "fearing God" in the last slot. Why? We're not sure what it means, and we kinda don't like the sound of it. God is our Savior, our Friend, our comfort and our refuge. He loves us. Fearing God kinda sounds negative, no? Like He is angry, and He might do as the cartoons show, and "zap" us? (Grin)

To tell you the truth, I can't remember the last time I heard someone preach or teach on the fear of God. I feel a bit like a salmon swimming upstream, ya know? Going against the tide of modern church culture. It's not a popular topic -- we'd much rather talk about the love of God any day!

Ahh, but wait! If we only pay attention to the Scriptures that we like, will we ever grow? If we only read the warm and comfortable verses and promises, will we ever mature in faith? I believe that if we read only the comfortable passages, we will stay just as we are. If we want to grow as believers, we need to read the ones that tug us away from the comfort zone, and challenge us to grow. I want to grow! I want to examine this concept of fearing God, don't you?

We're going to dig deep on this one, and tomorrow's study will include a lot of different verses to consider....maybe we should dig on our own before we meet again. Let's look at our concordance or commentary and read some of the verses that contain the words "fear God."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Guided thoughts no. 25, conclusion

We said yesterday that we didn't want to be Christians who exemplified the phrase, "all flash and no substance." We want to have testimonies for God, not be looked at as hypocrites -- people who affirm their belief, but then their lives don't show it!

Kind of like the old commercial....we don't want to be the fluffy bun. We want to be the beef! The real thing!

So, how can we show the world we are real?
First, folks should be able to see in us that our hearts have changed:
I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. (Jeremiah 32:39)
I seek you with all my heart;    do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart    that I might not sin against you.  Praise be to you, Lord(Psalm 119:10-12a) 
True believers have true hearts that love God, that consider Him the treasure of this life and the next! We will keep His commandments not because we want to ease our consciences, but because we want to serve and know Him, and bring glory to the name of Jesus.

Next, as true believers, we will abandon all hope of righteousness in ourselves. Our hearts are broken as we consider our sin and our holy God. And then our hearts rejoice as we accept Christ's sacrifice and resurrection for those sins.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
With promises like these, how can we help but be inspired to be genuine! With happy hearts, we will reach out to others, to tell them the good news!
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:39)
Sharing Him with others is a vital part of our Christian life. Our testimony might not always be accepted, but with the Holy Spirit's help, we can receive power to live a victorious life: we can be consistent, be a good listener, and avoid arrogance or "preachiness." We can pray each day for people that He lays on our heart, and always ask Him for wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
If we can follow these guidelines, with the help of His Spirit, then we'll not be "all flash and no substance." We'll be the real thing!!