Tuesday, January 31, 2017
This week, I'd like to simply encourage everyone to leave a comment if you have something on your heart or your mind that we can pray about.
I know of one of our readers who is having some health issues that she has told me about; I hope you will join me in prayer for Caro (hopefully she won't mind my having said her name). Pray that as she has some procedures done and as she waits for results, that the peace that passes all understanding will be hers, and that she will feel His presence and comfort.
Do you have a praise to share? A prayer that has been answered? Then share that with us in a comment -- let us join you in thanking God for His mercy and blessings!
Let's pray . . .
Monday, January 30, 2017
Last week, we studied and learned from a donkey. Surprising? Yes, but true!
That got me thinking about more of the animals in the Bible. I remembered the donkey and the colt that featured significantly in the Palm Sunday story. So I hope you will bear with me, and study with me in the New Testament this week, as we look at another story from God's barnyard! (Grin)
First, let's check out two of the passages that mention this mommy and her baby:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; seated on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:14-15)
Some people get reaaaallllly excited about the fact that there were two animals, and which one was Jesus riding? Gee, wouldn't it have looked strange for Him to sit on both of them?
For the purposes of our study, I'm not going down that rabbit trail. (Grin) We don't typically "do" rabbit trails here. I'm thinking there's a possibility that He rode on the colt, and the mom donkey was there for comfort for the male that had never been ridden. Be that as it may, let's look at the Old Testament passages, and the meanings of some of the words, to lay the foundation for our study this week . . .
Here's the verse in Zechariah:
OK, so wonder why both animals were mentioned by the prophet? The Hebrew word for the female donkey is "athown" and is derived from another word that means "to continue, permanence, strong, or chieftain." The Hebrew word for the male colt is "chamor" and means "foul, red, or trouble."
Is it possible that Jesus wanted both to fulfill Scripture, and also to represent the characteristics of Himself at that point in His ministry?
Let's keep looking . . .
I read in a Bible dictionary that the donkey mentioned in the Bible is not like the European donkey, which is infamous for its stubbornness. The Eastern donkey is actually much desired, and well-known for its patience, gentleness, intelligence, and submission. It was thought of as an animal of peace, where in contrast, the horse was thought of as an animal of war. Bred and trained to carry soldiers or pull war-time chariots, the horse was synonymous with war and fighting.
Jesus could have ridden on either one of the animals, the donkey or her colt, but Israel was not ready to accept her Prince of Peace, so He chose to enter the city of Jerusalem on the colt. The colt represented "trouble" that awaited Jesus, and the sins of the world that He would bear on the cross. He also represented the red blood that the Lamb of God would shed to take away those sins.
Perhaps the donkey represents events to come -- perhaps she foreshadows the second entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; the time that Jesus will return as the Prince of Peace, noble, kingly, strong, and permanent, just as her name is defined in Hebrew.
I dug into some commentaries and was impressed by some lines from the Talmud that shed some more light on this. The Talmud is the generic term for the documents that comment and expand upon the written Scriptures of the Old Testament. I guess we could say that it's the commentaries for the Hebrew people as they study. (Grin)
In Daniel 7:13, we read that "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him." Then, in the Talmud, the commentary, we read that they thought "if Israel behaved worthily, the Messiah would come in the clouds of heaven; if otherwise, humbly riding on a donkey." So they were making reference to the verse in Zechariah there -- triumphant and victorious, but lowly and riding on a donkey.
Now, in Matthew and John (and Luke and Mark, too), we read that he came humbly and lowly as indicated by the colt. The Messiah Who was to be the Lamb of God will later return as the King of Kings.
Kinda makes you wonder . . . they really were not ready, were they? They had the prophecy and the reality, and still they "missed the boat."
Hopefully this week, we'll learn from this donkey, too! Join us next time?
Friday, January 27, 2017
Are we going to be like Balaam's donkey? Will we speak boldly the words that God puts in our mouth, when He gives us opportunity?
Praise God, He does give us opportunities!
Let's tell others about His love, and about the cross!
Praise God, He does give us opportunities!
Let's tell others about His love, and about the cross!
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Let's refresh our memory of our focus passage:
I love how Balaam talks to the donkey as if it were an everyday occurrence that she spoke to him! And she defends her record, too.
Balaam sees the error of his ways. And he sees the angel, too. The angel tells him that he should be grateful for his donkey trying to save his life. And Balaam realizes his sin, and repents; he says he will go back. The angel tells him, though, to go on to the king's court -- but say what God instructs him to say, nothing more, nothing less.
Balaam obeys, and in spite of continued persuasion from Balak, he stays true to his word and does not curse the Hebrew children. In fact, he blesses them!
We can learn from Balaam's donkey!
Balaam's donkey could see the unseen -- Balaam could not. Balaam was blind to the spiritual things.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:18)Paul was telling us that we live in two distinct worlds: the physical world that we can see, hear, smell, and touch with our hands, and the spiritual world that we cannot see with our eyes. Angels, the devil, and other spirits can only be perceived by those who are spiritually discerning. We humans think of the physical world as the only "reality," but Paul was insisting that it was just the opposite. According to Paul, when we look at someone, we are not seeing them, but their physical body they live in. Our bodies are just "houses" for our spirits; they will die and decompose one day, but our spirits will live on (II Corinthians 5:1). We believe in so many things we can't see . . . it should not be hard to believe in this spirit world. We can't see sound waves, but we know we hear each other and the radio. We can't see X-rays, but we see the results in the doctors' hands.
We can look back at an incident in the life of the prophet Elisha for a vivid example. In II Kings, an angry king sent a huge military force against the prophet. Elisha's servant panicked until Elisha prayed, and God opened the servant's eyes to see the multitude of angels protecting His prophet. We may never be blessed to see the angels as literally as Elisha's servant, but we should learn to perceive the spiritual world. Have we been in a worship service, or in our private study time, and felt the presence of our Father? Surely that is just as real as the Bible in our lap, or our hands folded in prayer.
Another thing we can learn from Balaam's donkey is to be brave and do what may be unpopular. She refused to give in, even though it wasn't the easiest thing to do. Usually when we think of stubbornness, we think of it as a negative, the way my grandma did when she got flustered with me. But when it comes to principles, and being determined to do what's right, it's a positive thing -- the Bible calls it perseverance, and faithfulness. The donkey stood her ground, even though Balaam beat her; he even threatened to kill her! She was threatened with his sword, and she suffered verbal and physical abuse. When we stand our ground, there will be times when our families may harass us; society may persecute us; even some Christians may threaten us. But the Lord honors those who stand up for Him:
Lastly, we can learn from the donkey to speak what is unexpected. The donkey was what we call a "dumb" animal; not gifted with speech. But God used her to speak a powerful message to Balaam. She spoke exactly what God wanted her to say. It wasn't earth-shattering. She didn't predict the outcome of the upcoming war for Balak, nor did she tell Balaam secrets about his past. She simply asked him three questions -- what have I done? Haven't I been faithful? Have I been in the habit of disobeying you?
God is probably not going to give us spectacular speeches to deliver when we are being persecuted, or when we have an opportunity to speak for Him. He wants us to state the simple truth, and that's often very, very powerful. We don't need to impress people with our vocabulary, or how glibly we talk. Just ask simple questions -- what do you think about Jesus? Do you know why He came? Would you like to know Him personally? Sometimes we excuse ourselves, and we think we can't be expected to speak out for Him because we aren't qualified, or we aren't trained. We feel we should know more about the Bible, or we're intimidated by what others might say.
Our friend the donkey simply spoke the truth as God told her to. The Scriptures remind us to speak the truth in love, and to be ambassadors for Christ. God has promised that when we speak out in faith, we can leave the rest to Him:
So, speak the unexpected! And be stubborn to do what may be unpopular. And watch for signs of the spiritual world. . . .
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
I feel like we kinda plunked down into the middle of the story on Monday, but it's because our focus is the donkey in the tale. Maybe we'd better refresh our memories on the beginning of the story, though, so we can fully understand the middle and the end!
The main human character in this passage is Balaam, and he's tough to figure out. The Bible doesn't tell us too much about him, and so we will have to use what we can find, and try not to step out too far with our assumptions. First of all, he was a Midianite, not a Hebrew. Secondly, he was renowned as a seer - a sort of a prophet. Balak, the king of Moab, was watching as the tremendous numbers of Hebrews were coming across the borders of lands in his region -- he had already seen them decimate the Amorites, and he was understandably worried that he was next! Military leaders often pray or seek supernatural guidance before battles, so Balak had an idea.
He came up with what he thought would be a brilliant plan. Since there was a fellow locally who was known as a seer, he'd tell him to curse the Hebrews, and then the battle would go Balak's way. He sent some of his high muckety-mucks and a large purse full of money:
The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said. (Numbers 22:7)Can we tell a little something already about Balaam? It seems that his reputation having spread to Balak, the king knew a little about him . . . our first clue is the word "divination." That means a consultation with the spirit world, through various means like astrology, tea leaves, palm reading, and such. The second clue is "fee." Balak expected Balaam to charge for his services. Looks like if Balaam started out as a prophet of God, he must have wandered some from his calling, and was dabbling in the occult and materialism. We'll reserve judgement on old Balaam for now, though.
When the important guests arrived, Balaam told them to stay the night, and he would "bring" them the message from the Lord in the morning. When I read Balaam's story recently, I was reminded of the woman whom Saul consulted . . . remember her? We found in our study that she was one of two things: either she was someone who actually got her answers from the occult, or she was a complete fraud. The answer seemed to be the latter, for she was totally surprised to actually see the form of the prophet Samuel - as if she had pretended, the other times that she "called up" someone. It made me wonder about Balaam, too. But when God spoke to Balaam and said don't you curse the Hebrew people, he didn't seem shocked to hear God's voice. In fact, he took the right answer back to the guests and shooed them out of the house.
Good thing, too.
This is what God said, many years earlier:
Ahhh, but Balak wasn't going to give up so easily. He sent even more impressive peeps and he stuffed more money into the purse. They asked again.
At first, we think Balaam is going to do the right thing. He tells them "no." BUT. He tells them to stay again. What is he thinking? That he can talk God into it, overnight? Oy vey. God tells him, OK, Balaam, you go ahead with them, but only do what I tell you. (Note to self . . . super example here of God's permitting us to do what we want to do, even if it is not in His perfect will. He may allow us to do something, but we will have to accept the consequences. He may permit us to do what is not in our own best interest or His, but we will have to reap that harvest.)
The next morning they set out on the way to King Balak. And the donkey turned out to be much more sensitive to God's leading and presence than Balaam was! Now, I think we all have experienced times that animals were more sensitive to sounds or sights than we were, no? Our pups have the ability to hear things that are inaudible to us, and frankly, my cat can hear a hawk in the sky long before I hear its keening cry. And they all have better "sniffers" than we do. This donkey was given the ability to see the angel of the Lord, standing in the pathway with a drawn sword. Wisely, she turned and started into the green pasture beside the road, but Balaam thought she was just being stubborn, and beat her until she went back on the path.
Again the angel was there, and she sidled up next to the wall in fear, hurting Balaam's foot in the process. She was beaten again by her irritated owner. Finally, she lay down in the pathway in front of the angel and sword, and Balaam loses all patience. Thinking she is showing sheer orneriness, he beats her again.
What was that?
The donkey just spoke to him.
The donkey did what?
Yes, she spoke to him.
Our God is a God of miracles . . . after all, if He can speak to Moses from a burning bush, He can choose to speak to a prophet through a donkey! Luke 1:37 tells us, "Nothing is impossible with God."
Perhaps the strangest part is that Balaam doesn't seem surprised by this. We'll continue tomorrow!
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
We've talked before about how the things we "let in" our ears are so very important. Usually we think about music, and how uplifting and positive it can be, or how soothed and comforted it can make us feel.
But I guess what we're listening to doesn't have to be music....it can be God's Word.
I love the idea of audiobooks, don't you?
It used to be that you got little cassette tapes (yeah, I know, I'm showing my age again. You younger peeps just don't know what you missed. Voices that sounded like people had breathed helium, searching eternally for your favorite section, and then who could forget the tapes that came out of the player looking like the curly ribbon we used for gift-wrapping? Oy. Times have indeed changed.) and you could listen to a professional reader, reading aloud from the book you wanted to read, but didn't have the time to do so. That way, the time in your car, or ironing, or whatever, could still be informative, or comedic, or inspiring, depending on your choice of genre.
Now we utilize compact discs, Blue Ray, thumb drives, or our handy-dandy smart phones. But the result is the same . . . we have ways to "let in" God's Word into our ears, just like we can let in our favorite hymns and Christian music.
Tell me. Do you like to listen to God's Word being read? Do you enjoy listening to teaching or preaching from recordings?
What are we listening to, today?
Monday, January 23, 2017
I know, y'all are shaking your heads in disbelief. We are supposed to be studying the women of the Bible, as we have for some time now. (Personally, I have enjoyed the studies, since it gave me a chance to really focus on some lesser-known ladies that I have always wanted to learn more about.) But this time, this "lady" is of the furry variety!
Hear me out.
Recently I spent some time convalescing from a bout with the flu. I was reading in the Old Testament, and I tend to get a little crazy when I find some new nuggets in the Old Testament. I mean, not many people really get hepped up when you mention you are studying there. Their perception is that it's kinda dull, has lots of "begats" in it, and is only punctuated by occasional cool stories of God's intervention in human affairs.
I'm here to tell you, that's just not true. And today's "woman" of the Bible is one example.
Ready to dive in?
I'd like to lay the ground work for our story by asking you to read a rather lengthy passage. I've placed it here for your convenience, but you may want to read in your own Bible or a different translation. That's cool, too.
In the NIV, which I pasted there, the donkey (ass) is referred to as an "it," In the KJV, the verses mention her repeatedly as a female:
I know it's a little out of the ordinary. But then y'all probably are not surprised at that, coming from me!
I figure this passage is definitely one that we should include. I hope you agree, and that you will join me next time!
Friday, January 20, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017
We're concluding our study on the sin of worry today. There are a couple more things that will help us to defeat our tendencies toward anxiety.
Many times we worry because our priorities have gotten messed up. This verse tells us to keep them straight: for believers, that means keeping our list of priorities like this . . . God, other people (especially our families), job, and self. If we can keep these in the correct order, God promises to supply our every need. But so often, we let our worry turn our list of priorities upside down -- our work becomes more important than our families, or our self becomes more important than others. It's no wonder that our responsibilities begin to overwhelm us, and our energies and peace of mind are stolen by worry.
When we truly trust God (walking the walk, not just talking the talk), our priorities naturally fall into place. We will go to worship the Father, even though being at the lake with our family seems really appealing. We will tell the truth, even though it could help us financially if we lied. We will put aside our work and listen carefully to our spouse or our child, who needs our counsel. The peace that these practices will bring to our hearts is amazing.
Then, in verse 34, Jesus gives us practical advice -- take life one day at a time! He didn't tell us not to worry about tomorrow because nothing bad was going to happen. He didn't say that nothing would ever make us sad, scare us, or cause us concern. There will be tragedies. There will be accidents. Companies will fail. People will fall ill. We are not promised a charmed life, with no problems. But we are promised enough spiritual resources to be able to cope with them! The children of Israel were gifted each day with manna -- they were told to gather just enough for their needs that day. In the same way, if our stresses today require four spiritual resources, then God will send those four "reinforcements" for us. If we use up three of today's resources worrying about tomorrow, we aren't left with enough to help us through this day! We need to master the art of living one day at a time.
Growing up, I was blessed to watch the Billy Graham crusades, to listen to the singing of Ethel Waters and George Beverly Shea, and to hear the stories of Corrie Ten Boom. I loved how Corrie took everyday happenings and turned them into life lessons for those of us who will never experience the horrors that she lived through. She told the story once of having heard that a close friend of hers had been persecuted for her faith in Christ. Terrified, she told her dad that she'd never be able to handle that. Her father assured her, "Oh, yes, you will be able to. If God allows you to be persecuted for His sake, you'll be able to do it."
"I just don't think I'll be strong enough," she told him.
Her dad said, "Corrie, do you remember when you were a little girl, and I took you to the train station? When did I give you the ticket for the train? Remember how I waited until just before we boarded the train, and then handed you the ticket? I had it in my pocket all along, but I waited to give it to you until you needed it. God will give you the resources you need, when the time comes."
So, let's remember . . .
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)I once knew someone who wore her "worrier badge" with pride. I guess she felt it meant that she truly loved those she worried about....but she never paused to think that it actually meant she was not showing her faith in God. She could have been more of a testimony for Him if she had not worried -- but instead had been an example of a believer who knew her Lord would provide. I pray that I will be an example of faith and trust in my Lord, and that I will say each day . . .
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Last time, we talked about keeping eternal things and earthly things in the right perspective, and that would help us defeat worry. Today, let's talk about learning to trust in God's care.
If you'll recall, much of our study this week and last has been "for the birds"! Remember we talked about the birds gathering on the wire, and we focused on this verse, too:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)Let's think about these feathered creatures . . . you may already be aware of this, but if you say that someone eats "like a bird" you are actually saying that they eat a lot! Some birds eat two or three times their weight in food each day. Think about it -- if a human being did that, they would need to eat several hundred pounds of food in a day; I sure wouldn't want to have to pay that grocery bill, would you? (Grin)
So each day, the birds are in a continual hunt for food. They hop about, listen for worms in the ground (ever watch those robins cock their heads and listen?), seek out those creepy crawly things that are such delicacies for them, and eat and eat.
But you hardly ever hear a bird at night. In the middle of the night, they are sleeping. They are building up their strength, resting up for tomorrow's hunting. They don't pace up and down the branches, worrying about where the next batch of seeds will be found. They don't agonize over whether or not there will be plenty of worms or moths to eat.
You know where we're going with this, right? We have just seen two things that the birds do, that we humans should imitate: first, they trust that their needs will be supplied, and secondly, they work to assist God in supplying their needs. They don't sit in their cozy nests, and expect their needs to be supplied. No one is going to come and drop food into their nests. They start out early in the morning, looking for that food that their instincts say God will provide. Humans should trust in the providence and care of God, too, and then work to assist Him.
We can see that trusting God doesn't mean we can be lazy or indifferent. It does mean realizing that God is taking care of us. Very few of us have had to scramble to find something to eat, or something to wear. We've usually had a roof over our heads, too. And even if we were lacking in one of these things, God helped us through those tough times. We must make a reasonable effort, and then trust in Him to provide for our needs. Here is where the rubber meets the road: we must believe His promises, and then in addition, we must be content with what He supplies.
Ah, so that is what makes worry such a serious matter; it's what makes worry a sin. Not believing in His promises is the same as accusing Him of being a liar. Ouch. Yes, it's true.
This is His promise:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)That is what God says. Worry says, "I'm frightened. I don't think He will really supply all my needs."
God says this, too:
(Romans 8:28)Worry raises its head and says, "I just can't believe that all this hardship will work to my good."
And God tell us this:
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)Worry takes a look around and says, "I feel so alone. I just don't believe He's here with me."
Perhaps, like me, when you read the Old Testament, and you see all the times that God rescued, provided for, and proved Himself to the children of Israel, you are astonished to recall their words when it was time to go in and claim the Promised Land. Eek! The people there are giants! We are like grasshoppers! How will we ever survive? What a bunch of complainers, right? What more evidence did they need?
But don't we do the same things in our own lives? God has supplied our needs and rescued us over and over, for many years. When will we become mature enough, and have enough faith to realize that His Word is true? That His promises are sure?
I don't know about you, but I feel the need for some prayer time right about now.....
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Two verses made an impression on me in my studies recently, and I wanted to share them with you. These seemed appropriate for a new year, and new beginnings:
I hope these verses will be inspiring to you, too. If you have a verse to share with us, won't you leave a comment and perhaps it will be a source of help and comfort to others!
Monday, January 16, 2017
How can we win over worry in 2017?
We've learned from our studies last week that worry is a serious sin, even though we might not have thought so, initially. It's one that many of us commit every week. Even daily.
We can see that it would be unrealistic to believe there will be an easy cure.
But we can overcome worry and anxiety.
Remember those birds sitting on the wire, last week? Jesus told us in Matthew 6:26 to "look at the birds" of the air. Observe them. Maybe we can learn from them . . .
(Matthew 6:26)People are way more important than birds, right? We read in Genesis that God created people in His own image. That He breathed into us the breath of life. And we've been promised eternal life, too.
But look at what Jesus also said about the birds:
God cares that much about the birds; and then we are told that we are worth much more than the sparrows. The things of this world are awfully important to those sparrows, no? How cold the night winds are, how plentiful (or scarce) the seeds left behind in the threshing floor will be, and so forth. But humans are spiritual beings. We are special, and made for a higher purpose. We should live with eternity in our view, not just the here and now. We need to remember what Jesus said about life being more important than food, and our bodies being more important than clothing. . .
Recently, there were wildfires in our area, and some folks had to be evacuated from their homes. They were told to leave the treasured places of their families' fun and memories. Leave behind much of the "things" that are considered precious. I don't think that these people spent time mopping the floors, or painting the hallway, or making sure the pictures were hanging straight. They were quickly loading their car or truck with only those things that were truly valuable, and truly special -- the irreplaceable things.
We know for a fact that this world will eventually be consumed with fire (I Peter 3:10), so our focus should be on the things that are eternal. If someone comes along a hundred years from now, they won't be dwelling on whether or not we were five pounds overweight, or if there was a dent in the fender on our car. They probably won't zone in on whether or not our child was in the highest rank of the band roster, nor if our purse and our shoes always coordinated. The things that will matter will be issues like whether or not we were generous and hospitable, if we spoke up for God and witnessed to folks, and if we were known for being gentle and kind.
Everyone can show a serene exterior when things are going well. But if the only time we are calm is when things are going great, we're going to live a very anxious life! Peace of mind comes mostly from keeping eternal things in perspective . . . as they say, not sweating the small stuff!
That is an important reason to worship regularly, and to have our own quiet times, too. We can be reminded that life is more important than food, and that humans are valued more than birds. We can focus on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, because we know all these other things will be provided when we need them.