Archive for August, 2009

We’ll spend much of September with the Prophet Jeremiah. He is the author of both Jeremiah and Lamentations. Jeremiah had a hard job — prophecying to a people who didn’t want to hear what he had to say. That made him unpopular and, in the world’s eyes, unsuccessful. I bet there are times that you feel that way. Times when it seems that you aren’t where you wish you were at this point in your life. Times when you look around at others and everyone seems to be doing better than you are. Well, as I said, Jeremiah had a hard job. But God dealt with him graciously and I think we can learn much from seeing the interaction between the two and from watching Jeremiah’s faithfulness in difficult times. Was he successful? You make the call!

We’ll also finish the book of Psalms, ending with the triumphant last verse:   

Let everything that has breath Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord
.
Psalms 150:6 (NIV)

Let everything that lives sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord
!
Psalms 150:6 (NLT)

We’ll also read 1 and 2 Peter, but I’ll leave discussion of those books for when we get to them.

Don’t give up, friends! I’m guessing you’ve made much progress toward reading the Bible this year – perhaps more than you ever have before! Congratulations! Keep at it!

Enjoy!

To download a PDF of September’s reading schedule, click here.

09SepReading

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If you are reading through the Bible following our Resting at the River’s Edge schedule, you will begin to read the book of Jeremiah today. The book of Jeremiah is many things, but one of the things I love about it is that it is such a primer on how prophecy “works” – how it happens – in other words, how God speaks to His people.

Now don’t think I’m saying that God always speaks to His people in a certain way. That’s not where I’m going. As you read through Jeremiah, though, watch how God gives Jeremiah prophetic words. Here’s an example from chapter 1:

13The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?”
“I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered.
14The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.

– Jeremiah 1:13-14

The Lord used the things around Jeremiah as illustrations to prophecy about things to come. Since learning this, when I am particularly distracted by or my attention is arrested by something, I often pray “Lord, are you trying to tell me something? Is there something in this? I see…..” I then begin to describe to the Lord what I see. Often while I describing the scene, I receive an interpretation of it.

For example, once I was at church worshiping. We met in a school auditorium, so the worship team was on the stage and there was a chair very near the edge of the stage. A little boy kept climbing on the chair, reaching forward to grasp something on the stage. As he did so, the chair would tip backwards and came dangerously close to tipping over, sending the child tumbling. Periodically his mother would see him, sit him in the chair with a short scolding. He would pout for a few minutes, then climb back up on the chair and begin to reach onto the stage again.

After a while I realized that I was thoroughly distracted from worship, but I remembered the “what do you see” lesson. So I began to ask God if he was saying something to me and I described what I saw. God didn’t waste any time in revealing to me that I was often like that little boy. Climbing to places I shouldn’t go yet, dangerously tipping my “chair” as I reached for things God hadn’t given me yet. (How thankful I became for God’s protection.) He didn’t stop there, though. He went on to say that I was also like that little boy in that when God did “sit me down” I would pout for a while, then turn around and begin to explore beyond my reach once again. Ouch! But how wonderful for God to speak to me about it!

Of course there are many other things in Jeremiah, but I’ll leave them to you to discover. Enjoy your reading this month! I pray that God speaks to you daily as you rest with Him at the river’s edge.

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Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.
Jonathan Edwards

Humility is the exhibition of the spirit of Jesus Christ and is the touchstone of saintliness.
Oswald Chambers

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James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings.
James 1:1

I am always struck by how the writers of the epistles begin their letters. In twenty-first century America, we typically begin our letters by addressing the person to whom it is written. In the early days of Christiandom, the culture was to first identify the writer of the letter, then to identify the receiver. Hence, we have greetings similar to that of James 1:1, as quoted above.

The greetings are not fly-over country, folks. They tells us something about both the author and the audience. Both are significant pieces of information if we are to properly understand the message the writer intends the readers to take away from his letter.

What always strikes me is the humility of the greeting. In this case, James identifies himself as “a servent of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Although there are three James’ identified in the New Testament, scholars are fairly certainly that the book was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus. So James could have written “James, brother of our Lord Jesus .” Instead he wrote “A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It challenges me to consider how I would begin such letters – how would I describe myself? I’m not sure taking the humble approach would be my first thought. I’d be more tempted to mention my credentials to establish my authority – to let you know why you should listen to me. But the truth is, James’ greeting provides those credentials – you should listen to him because he is a servant of the Lord and because that is the credential he considers most important to use in his greeting. That is the identity he embraces above all others.

How about you? Is your identity that of “servant of God?” Lord, keeps us in the mindset that we are Your servants. You are the master, you are the King. We are the servants.

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Hi folks — Yes, we’re still planning on creating an online study of Ephesians, but I’m putting it off a week or two. Watch for more details to come!

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In Saturday’s blog, one of the points I made is that when God wants to accomplish something on earth He usually inspires one person. What an awesome thing to be used by God to accomplish His purposes. Paul, in speaking to the Corinthians, goes so far as to refer to himself and his fellow workers for Christ as “partners with God.” I love that He doesn’t save us just to have us sit around and enjoy the free gift of salvation. I love sitting around and enjoying the free gift of salvation, but I love it even more that He values me enough to want me to partner with Him to accomplish eternal purposes while I am here on earth.

In the book of Ezra, we saw God use many people. The first (in this book) was King Cyrus, an unbeliever. God gave him the desire to help the Israelites rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But a King’s decree is just that – an order for something to be done. And building a temple is a huge job. So God inspired and enabled the leaders if the Israelites to move to Jerusalem, settle there and rebuild the temple. Zerubbabel emerged as a leader and lead the building effort and stood against Israel’s enemies when there must have been great temptation to let them join in the effort. (After all, more hands would have meant easier work for everyone.)

The rebuilding of the temple was not a short-term or easy assignment. It took seven months just for the people to relocate. Then the rebuilding began. After building for some period of time, opposition forced the work to stop…for about sixteen years! Imagine how disappointed Zerubbabel must have felt. Imagine how defeated he would have been tempted to feel. But it was Zerubbabel who again started the building process sixteen years later.

The outcome would have been much different if Zerubbabel had not been obedient to the call of God.Zerubbabel’s life would have been much different if he had not been obedient to God’s call. There were many places in the story when he could have said “Me? No thanks! I’ll let someone else do that job!” At the beginning it must have seemed like an insurmountable task. When facing the attacks of Israel’s enemies, he must have been as tempted to be discouraged as everyone else. When work stopped, it would have been easy to give up hope. When it was prophecied that they should begin to build again, it would have been so tempting to say “been there, done that! It didn’t work the first time, why should I stick my neck out and try it again? Find another sucker.” But that’s not Zerubbabel’s story. His story is one of faithful servanthood.

God changes the world through faithful servants. People like you and me who say “Yes!” to God. I’ve focused on Zerubbabel, but each person who moved to Jerusalem and helped rebuild the temple and each person who provided finances to make it possible were used by God to accomplish His purpose. In each case, the outcome would have been a bit different if they hadn’t said “Yes.” Maybe a portion of the temple would have been built differently or wrongly. Maybe some of the work would have been delayed or altered because of lack of finances. God desires to use all of us, according to our gifts and talents. But he gives us the option. We can be the faithful servant like Zerubbel or we can hinder God’s work by saying “I think I’ll sit this one out.”

I hope you won’t sit this one out. Say “Yes” when you feel God stirring your heart about something. That’s how He usually speaks – by starting a process in our hearts so that we begin to feel a draw toward something that maybe we wouldn’t naturally pursue. Like relocating and rebuilding a temple. Like giving offerings of money and personal property to see the work of the Gospel move forward.

God wants you to partner with Him on an upcoming project. Will you join Him? The results will be God-enabled. And that’s a pretty cool thing! No, that’s a WAY cool thing.

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As I have read through Ezra this week, I’ve been struck by two themes: The consistency of the process of building God’s Kingdom and the difference one man or woman, partnering with God, can make in changing the course of history. Today I’ll blog about the process. On Monday I’ll blog about the difference one man or woman can make. Both topics spoke quite loudly to me from the book of Ezra.

I’ve read the book of Ezra before, and I’ve heard my share of sermons that include parts of the story in Ezra. As I read it this week, however, it just screamed to me about the church planting process. The application is not nearly so focused, however, the process applies to anything God puts it in the heart of His people to do. Read on.

God Changes a Heart: In verse 1, “in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia.” When God wants to accomplish something in this earth, he plants an idea, a vision or a dream into someone’s heart. God accomplishes His purposes through humans. Yes, at times He uses nature to set things in motion, but usually He plants something in someone’s heart. He might use a believer or a non-believer. Despite Cyrus’s words in verses 2-4, historians believe that he was not a believer in the God acknowledges. Rather, he was a master manipulator and he knew that invoking the God of the Hebrews would inspire them to begin to rebuild the temple.

The vision is shared. Some join themselves to the work and others provide financial assistance.

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. Ezra 1:5-6

Imagine the excitement everyone must have felt as some took of on a great new adventure for God while others made it possible for them to go! Can you remember the beginning phases of a ministry you’ve been involved in? There was such faith and enthusiasm. So much trusting God. But then the enemy learned of your plans and things began to change.

The enemy tries to infiltrate and ruin the effort from the inside.

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” Ezra 4:1-2

Not all offers of help are sincere. But Israel had been tricked before (remember the Gibeonites in Joshua 9?), but this was not to be the case. The Israelites declined the offer of the deceivers and continued to build. In America today, it can be very easy for dissension to begin at this point as we tend to be a nation of many opinions and weak following. In other words, when we’re not happy with a decision our leader makes, we tend to move on instead of trust that they have discernment for the vision God has planted in their heart. Do people make mistakes. Of course, but that’s what grace (from God and from one another) is for. If you continue reading in chapter 4, you’ll see that it was the leaders, not the entire group that made the decision to build without the help that was offered.

The enemy tries to discourage God’s people and make them afraid.

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:4-5

I find it interesting that Israel’s enemies were even willing to pay counselors. The word used might also be translated consultants or advisors. Israel’s enemies went out and hired consultants to frustrate the Israelites plans! You can see this happening in our society today. God’s enemies are willing to go to great lengths to stop the message of Christ from being proclaimed.

This process is one that has happened over and over again throughout history, and it continues today. God speaks into the heart of someone to do something for Him. He (or she) shares the vision and others join him (or her). The enemy sees the plan beginning to work so he first tries to infiltrate the project. What a better way to ruin the work than from the inside! When that fails, he seeks to discourage and/or put fear into the heart of those who were once excited about God’s plan and being a part of it.

I’m reminded of the verse from my last blog:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, Ephesians 5:15-16a

(Isn’t it cool how the whole Bible fits together?)

Live carefully, friends. Don’t let the enemy frustrate your plans.

Monday: It all starts with one man or woman…could it be you?

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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity,
Ephesians 5:15-16a

It is so tempting to live carefree! Sometimes I just plain get tired. And the older I get, the more tired I get. But God’s Word applies to us whether we are 2, 22 or 102 years old. Now granted, a two year old doesn’t understand very much about living wisely. But it is certainly an age at which they can begin to learn. And the life of a 102 year old isn’t quite the same as the life of a 22 year old. And those of us that are somewhere in between – well, I’ve learned that each decade brings its own challenges to living carefully. In each age, there is a temptation to live carefree, the definition of carefree just changes a bit! At 2 it means don’t bite your sister! At 22 it means watch your entertainment! At 52 it means don’t grow weary in well-doing. At 102 it means watch your thoughts and attitudes. Or something like that. (Details may vary based on personal temptations.)

God’s Word, however, tells us to live “carefully”, not “carefree.” We are enjoined to “Make the most of every opportunity.” I need this encouragement, this urging on to greater things.

A television show I used to like (a couple of decades ago) was Hill Street Blues. It was a cop show that always began with the morning briefing. At the end of the briefing, the Sergeant always said, “And Hey! Let’s be very careful out there!” That’s what God is saying to us. The policemen and women were being charged to be careful because each day they faced danger. The same is true for us – each day we face temptation from the enemy who is trying to trip us up and cause us to fall into sin. Let’s not kid ourselves – yes, it is a fall into sin, but it is always a conscious choice to fall. The enemy can catch us by surprise if we’re not living carefully (and sometimes even when we are), but there is always a point at which we decide to no longer be careful and “allow” ourselves to fall.

Living carefully doesn’t mean not experiencing the freedom that living in Christ makes available. Living in Christ’s freedom is freedom from condemnation and guilt. It is freedom from religion. It is freedom from bondage to sin. And such living brings a lightness in one’s spirit that makes one feel carefree. That’s wonderful. I hope that we can all grasp that. The kind of carefree we ought to avoid is the kind that causes us not to care about how we are living.

Living carefully does not mean living in bondage. I’m not talking about a set of rules that we need to keep – being very careful not to break any of them. I’m talking about how we live so that we please God and allow Him to shine through us.

Living carefully does not mean being a workaholic – even if it’s being a workaholic for the Lord! God’s example to us and best plan for us is to work, then rest. His Word speaks strongly about honoring the Sabbath (as in considering it important enough to include in the Ten Commandments!). Science teaches us that resting allows our bodies to refresh and heal themselves regularly. Business studies show that creativity is greatly enhanced by regular times of rest. We will have more energy to live carefully if we rest regularly.

I want to represent Christ well in the world in which I live. That means I must be very careful in how I live.

Lord, help me because sometimes I just want to stop being vigilant. Help me to make the most of every opportunity and rest in between the opportunities, trusting you to handle them while I sleep.

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As I am reading through Ephesians two phrases seem to jump out at me because of their repetition: “In Him” and “In love.” I’m sure they are themes that will be a part of our Bible study. If you’d like to participate in our online, interactive Bible study of the book of Ephesians, e-mail me at Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com, or leave a comment to this blog. I can’t wait. I am trying to read through the entire book before I go back and study individual words, verses and paragraphs, but it’s so hard because I am arrested by the theme in each paragraph it seems. I’m confident God has wonderful things in store for us!

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:2 (NIV)

I love the way Paul starts his letters. Most of my letters (e-mails, really, since I haven’t written a real letter in many years) start with “How are you?” I think I’m being friendly – asking about them before I launch into my own news is the polite thing to do.

Besides, how weird would people think I am if I started my letters “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?

I’ve been wracking my brain for a similar phrase that might be appropriate today. I haven’t found one. I checked other translations. NLT and The Message are the most likely candidates, but they didn’t do it for me either:

May grace and peace be yours, sent to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ephesians 1:2, New Living Translation

I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:2, The Message

The problem is that all the translations properly translate the greeting, offering grace and peace to the reader from “God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” We live in a world in which it is no longer fashionable, or even acceptable in many venues, to offer such a greeting. We’ve become so much a part of that world that we no longer offer greetings that bless the hearer or reader with two of the greatest blessings God can give, outside of salvation: grace and peace. (See my blog “Grace, The Double-Powered Prayer; Peace, Restored to Oneness” for more on these words of blessing by Paul.)

There’s a fine line between acting in such a way that the world doesn’t dismiss us as a fool and living a life that blesses others and makes them thirsty for the One who makes you different. Well, maybe it’s not such a fine line. Maybe I’ve just convinced myself it is so that I don’t have to be so different in society.

I don’t know. I usually try to end blogs by embracing an action based on the content of the blog. But I don’t know what that action is in this case – because I haven’t figured it out yet. I do know, though, that I miss many, many, many opportunities to bless others and to praise God because my language reflects the culture of the world more than the culture of faith. I want to be willing to be different if that’s the right answer. I don’t want to be dismissed, for the sake of the Gospel, if there is an updated approach that carries the same message. I’m old school enough to believe the message must be carried in words, not just actions. Actions are greatly important because the words are meaningless without them; but words have power and I’m looking for a way to include the verbal blessing without losing my audience.

On the other hand, maybe I need to not be concerned about God’s reputation (and my own) and just make the blessing a natural part of my routine.

So this blog has gone around the block a few times, but here’s the deal:

Our challenge: To offer God’s blessings of grace and peace as we go through our daily lives.

The problem: Doing so in such a way that the message doesn’t alienate the hearer.

If you have any ideas, let me know. I welcome your input as I wrestle with this issue.

In the meantime…

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m considering beginning an online verse-by-verse Bible study of Ephesians that will begin next week. If you would like to participate, please e-mail me at Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com or by leaving a comment to this blog.

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