Archive for January, 2011

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Moses and the Hebrews

1And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are bound for heaven, think about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger and High Priest. 2For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God’s entire house. 3But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a fine house deserves more praise than the house itself. 4For every house has a builder, but God is the one who made everything.
5Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house, but only as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6But Christ, the faithful Son, was in charge of the entire household. And we are God’s household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
– Hebrews 3:1-6

Our February reading will have us read about Moses’ great leadership of the Israelites as God worked through him to bring God’s people out of bondage. We’ll find ourselves almost finishing the entire book of Exodus as we read throughout the month. While reading Exodus we’ll also read the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews was written to the New Testament Israelites. It begins by establishing a point of connection between the Old Testament Israelites and those living when the book was written.

1Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he made the universe and everything in it. 3The Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly. He sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command. After he died to cleanse us from the stain of sin, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God of heaven.
– Hebrews 1:1-3

Let me know what new things God speaks to you as you read these related passages in February. Enjoy!

Blessings, Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for February is below.

To download a PDF of February’s recommended reading plan, click here.

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When we think wrongly about forgiveness, our efforts to forgive are hampered.

Here’s a great article providing six misconceptions about forgiveness.

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Forgiving someone who has offended us is one of the hardest things most Christians face as the pursue living as Christ would have them live. It is in my life and as I look around the Body of Christ there often seems to be an epidemic of unforgiveness. People carry grudges that turn into bitterness and move from church to church to no longer fellowship with someone who has offended them. That’s not Christ’s best for any of us or for the Body of Christ as a whole.

Understandably, forgiving an offense is a difficult thing, especially a large offense. When we choose to live with unforgiveness, however, we leave a huge door open for the enemy. Here are ten specific actions you can take to help you journey toward forgiveness.

  1. Work at being unoffendable. In other words, don’t take offense in the first place. This is largely a change of perspective – to honor others more and extend more grace. Someone disagreeing with you is never a reason to take offense. Someone slighting you isn’t a reason to take offense. (You’ll find that most of the time the slight was imagined or unintended.)
  2. When you are offended, make the decision to forgive. If you don’t make a decision to forgive, it will never happen. A grudge will grow without you feeding it. (Satan will do that for you.) Forgiveness rarely does.
  3. Refuse to relive the offense in your mind.
  4. Pray blessings for the person who has offended you. It’s difficult to hate someone you are praying for.
  5. Ask God to change your heart. Don’t try to forgive in your own strength.
  6. Remember and acknowledge good things the person has done. (If you can’t think of any, ask God to reveal them.)
  7. Ask God to reveal your part in the offense. Often we are not free from sin in the situation that lead to the offense.
  8. Remember, God is working on that person, just as He is working on you. He will use all situations for good for those who continue to pursue Him.
  9. Give yourself some breathing room. The greater the offense, the more challenging it may be to forgive. Don’t condemn yourself because you don’t feel as close to your offender as you once did. Just as wounded parts of our body need time to heal, our hearts also need time to heal. Stick with your decision to forgive and continue praying for the offender.
  10. Keep at it. Don’t give up because you don’t feel forgiveness as soon as you think you should. Continue pursuing God and working at forgiving your offender.

Forgiving someone is easier when you don’t have misconceptions about what forgiveness means. That’s the subject of tomorrow’s blog.

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23Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
Matthew 18:23-27 (NKJV)

The Master is in a Gracious Mood Today!
Do you want all your debts canceled? The master seems to be in a gracious mood today – if you beg him, he’ll forgive all your debts! I can do that – I’m not too proud to beg if it means that my family members and I won’t be sold into slavery to pay the debt I owe. How about you? Would you let your family members be sold into slavery to pay your debts? Of course you wouldn’t!

But God did! He allowed His only son to be put to death as payment for our debts so that we and our family would not be sold into slavery. What debts you ask? The debts accumulated by our rebellion against God (yes, the very same God who paid those debts) and our other sins.

So when the master called in the debt of the servant, the servant begged for more time. The master was gracious toward him and not only said “ok, you have until next week” he said “let’s call it even – your debt is totally forgiven.”

The Servant – Not So Much
Hallelujah! Time to celebrate, right? One would think so, but this forgiven servant wasn’t so gracious.

28“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
Matthew 18:28-30 (NKJV)

After being forgiven a debt of $1,000, the servant refused to forgive the $100 debt owed to him. After being shown compassion, he showed no compassion to others. Well, as the saying goes, “your deeds will find you out.” Here’s what happened next:

31So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
Matthew 18:31-34 (NKJV)

When the master learned that the servant had treated others in such an unforgiving manner, he arrested and jailed him. I find it interesting here that the master still showed compassion on the servant’s family. He remained compassionate toward the family members, not selling them into slavery to repay the uncompassionate servant’s debts.

The kicker comes in Jesus’ concluding sentence. He teaches the lesson from the parable in this final sentence:

35“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Matthew 18:35 (NKJV)

The Kingdom of Heaven
In the Kingdom of God, forgiveness is not an option.  The first words of the parable are “the kingdom of heaven is like.” The Kingdom of Heaven has a King who is compassionate and wants to forgive all our debts. He expects us to respond with no less compassion. When we do not, He allows the jailer to torture us until that debt of compassion is paid.

Do I need to point out who the jailer is what kind of torture we’re talking about? The jailer is satan, of course. The torture may take many forms, but I find most commonly it is the torture of a mind that becomes controlled by our lack of forgiveness. It darkens our days and produces sleepless nights.

We can choose not to forgive, but at that point, we are not being practicing Christians. We are not putting into practice what God has defined as a basic element of our faith – to act toward others as God has acted toward us.

How About You? Are You in a Gracious Mood Today?
Friends, may I encourage you to pray with me as Jesus taught us to pray?

9b Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.

10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9b-13 (NKJV)

To be sure we don’t miss the message, Jesus follows the prayer with this statement:

14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

Lord, help us to forgive.

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When I read Matthew 13 yesterday, I was so blessed by the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  Later in the day when the opportunity to record our first-ever podcast presented itself, the lesson from the parable seemed like the best content. So instead of providing a written blog on the passage, I created a podcast of it. You can listen to it here. Click on this link and the podcast service will open. Typically, the podcast begins to play immediately, but if it doesn’t, simply click on the triangle “start” icon. Let me know how you enjoy the podcast. Be blessed!

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The last three blogs have looked at the Psalm devotionally. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. Today, however, we’re going to conclude by pulling out five treasures of practical advice from the Psalm. The writer of the Psalm encouraged and motivated me to have the same dwelling-with-God experience that he had, but find myself asking the practical questions like: How do I get to God’s presence? How do I live in His presence of God? How do I dwell with Him? Well, in the midst of this wonderful devotional Psalm there is some practical advice. Let’s look at five “best practices” the Psalmist identifies:

1) Verse 2 (“My soul yearns…”) – Desire the Lord. If you don’t have a desire for the Lord, ask for it. Remember, the end of the Psalm says that God doesn’t withhold any good thing from those who love Him. Is desiring the Lord a good thing? Absolutely. Consider these verses in 1 John:

14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
1 John5:14-15

Is desiring a better relationship with God in His will. Absolutely. If you don’t have that soul yearning to be near the Lord, ask for it.

2) Verse 4 (“Blessed are those who dwell…they are ever praising you”) – There is a connection between dwelling with God and praise. God dwells in the praises of His people. Don’t be shy about praising Him. Even in those situations that you think might be awkward – at school or at work – when you know that God deserves the praise but you are reluctant to verbally acknowledge Him because what will your friends think or what will your coworkers or customers or bosses think. You know what? I don’t know what they’ll think. But I know that God will dwell in those praises and I know that God in the midst of any situation is better than God not in the midst of it.

3) Verse 5 (“set their hearts on pilgrimage”) – Set your hearts on pilgrimage. Make a decision. Don’t just want it. Make a decision to have it. There are lots of things in this life that I want. But until I actually decide to pursue them, I don’t make the life changes necessary to have them. I might want a smaller house payment and less housework, but unless I am willing to give up lots of my stuff, I can’t have that smaller house that will give me the smaller payment and workload. Because all my stuff won’t fit in a smaller house. The same is true of every area of our lives. Pursuing any thing means turning away from other things. Make a decision to pursue God more. And then get rid of some of the stuff that keeps you from pursing Him.

4) Verse 6 (“As they pass through”) – Pass through the Valley of Baca, don’t camp there. Keep your feet (and heart) moving until you have gone from strength to strength. Continue your pilgrimage toward the heart of God.

5) Verses 8 and 9 (“Hear my prayer, O Lord”) – Pray often, simple prayers thrown in the midst of everything else you’re doing. Then have confidence in God. Know that He hears you and that His desires and plans are for your good.

Five practical tips from a Psalm that is, at its heart, a devotional Psalm. I love that God is a practical God who wants our hearts and our hands. Be blessed, friends, as you read and meditate not only on Psalm 84, but all other passages in God’s wonderful and amazing and calming and practical Word.

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Everyone needs to laugh sometimes. Enjoy!


Chonda Pierce, “Weird Things Happen to Me”

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Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, O God of Jacob.

Look upon our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
Psalm 84:8-9

I love the way the Psalmist throws a prayer into his Psalm. He has been writing (singing, actually) about how wonderful God’s dwelling place is and how He blesses those who walk His path. Then the Psalmist turns and directs a quick prayer to God. I want my life to reflect that. (What I really want is for my life to reflect this entire Psalm.) I want to be one who longs for His presence, who experiences His peace, who ever praises Him, and in the midst of it all, who turns my heart toward Him and whisper a prayer. “Hear my prayer, O Lord. Look upon our strength, O God. Look with favor upon your anointed one.”

The prayer seems to reflect a secret intimacy between the author and God. The Psalmist doesn’t dwell on his request or pray a long flowing prayer. He is in the midst of singing to the Lord about His wonderful fellowship, and He simply pauses to address God directly. It’s that pause and looking at God and asking for His blessing that carries the sense of intimacy for me. I’m reminded of conversations with my husband in which we are talking along about one subject, interrupt ourselves for a quick request, then move back to the original subject. No, my husband and I aren’t typically singing praises to one another (although we’ve been known to do that – try it some time, you’ll like it!), but the passage is reminiscent of a shared intimacy that allows for conversations to be interrupted and continued. Of course, the intimacy factor is ramped up in the Psalm because of the subject matter here.

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Psalm 84:10

The Psalmist returns to the theme he started with in verse 1. How lovely is God’s dwelling place! It is so lovely, that the Psalmist would rather spend one day with God than a thousand elsewhere. Lord, if I only have one day, let me spend it with you. Is that your heart’s cry?

Then the Psalmist goes a step further. The word translated “doorkeeper” is only used once in the Old Testament, and that usage is here in this verse. That makes providing a true definition difficult. It comes from a root word that used more commonly, however, and the root word can be translated “threshold.” The Psalmist may be saying that he would rather live one day in the thresholds of God’s courts – notice that’s just outside the temple – just outside, but very near the presence of God – the Psalmist would rather live there than inside the tents of the wicked. Again, it begs the question: Is that your heart’s cry? I so want it to be mine.

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

O LORD Almighty,
blessed is the man who trusts in you.

Psalm 84:11-12

The Psalmist ends speaking adoration and truth. The Lord is a sun and shield. He will enlighten and protect. He will bestow favor and honor. He will withhold no good thing. Truly, the person who trusts in this Lord is blessed.

Wow! What a Psalm! I said at the beginning of our meditation and I’ll repeat it here – it is a perfect psalm for calming frayed nerves, soothing weary souls, and bolstering waning faith. We live in a rapid-paced world (is that the understatement of the century?) and we have an enemy who seeks to defeat our faith at every opportunity. Psalm 84 is a place we can go to combat both those enemies of our soul. Its twelve verses whisper volumes to my spirit.

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Blessings for Those who Dwell with God and Pass Through Dry Valleys

In the previous blog, we looked how very sweet God’s presence is and how very much the writer of the Psalm longed for it. At the end of verse 3, however, the Psalmist begins to make a shift in his focus – turning from the dwelling place itself to created beings dwelling near God. In verse 3, he looks longingly at the swallow who is privileged to make her nest near God’s altar. Let’s see how verse 4 continues:

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Psalm 85:4

The shift is complete as the Psalmist turns to those who dwell in God’s house. He says “they are ever praising God.” Are you praising God, friend? If not, perhaps you are not dwelling in God’s house. Perhaps you are only visiting occasionally. The Psalmist says those who dwell in God’s house – who inhabit it, who live there – are ever (always) praising Him.

I am convicted because I recognize the truth and the reality of that statement. When I am dwelling with and in God, my focus isn’t on the problems of my life, but I become full of confidence in my God to deal with those problems for me.

A Journey of the Heart
Verse 5 describes two conditions which lead to us being blessed by God. “He blessed are those who…” That means we are and will be blessed if we meet the “those who” conditions. Let’s look at them.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

Psalm 85:5

We are blessed when our strength is in God. Just a few sentences ago I wrote that “When I am dwelling with and in God, my focus isn’t on the problems of my life, but I become full of confidence in my God to deal with those problems for me.” Such confidence gives me strength – He becomes my strength when I dwell in Him. And I am blessed.

I find the wording of the second half of the verse to be a bit curious. The word pilgrimage would better be amplified to mean “pathway, thoroughfare or course toward God.” So another way to translate this part of the verse would be “Those who have set their hearts on God’s path are blessed.” Notice it doesn’t say those who have set their feet on God’s path are blessed, but those who have set their hearts on God’s path. It is a heart journey to God, not a foot journey. God is and always has been after our hearts – your heart and my heart. Our feet will follow our heart.

He blesses those who have set their heart to follow Him.

The Valley of Dry Places and Tears
Having just written that those who have set their hearts on a journey toward God (or God’s dwelling place), the Psalmist again makes a big of a shift. He begins to discuss difficulties we’ll face along the journey.

As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

Psalm 85:6

Some translations render verse six as the “Valley of Weeping.” Baca means both “weeping” and “balsam tree.” The balsam tree is a tree which flourishes only in very dry, arid ground. So this “Valley of Baca” might also be called the “Valley of Dry Places and Tears.” The Psalmist says that as those who have set their hearts on God’s path pass through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears, tears will no lo longer fall from our eyes, they will spring forth like new life from the ground and they will fall from the heavens!

I love that imagery! The Valley of Dry Places and Tears will become a place of life-giving springs and refreshing rain-water pools. Oh, Lord, may we know your refreshment and life when our journey takes us through the Valley of Weeping. May our hearts be set on You, Lord, when we walk through the Valley of Dry Places.

There’s another key phrase in the verse: “pass through.” We are passing through the valley, because we are on the pilgrimage, the pathway, the journey toward God. May we ever remember that we are passing through the valley, we are not dwelling there. We are dwelling in the House of the Lord. Don’t dwell in the Valley of Weeping – don’t live in your despair. Dwell in the House of the Lord. Live in the love and knowledge of the Lord God Almighty. That is the place of blessings. God doesn’t bless dwelling in the Valley of Dry Places and Tears. He does bless passing through it, though.

I hope you see the difference between dwelling in Baca and passing through it. I preached this series of blogs once, and the title of my message was “Where are you living?” We choose where we live – let’s choose God’s dwelling place, not the Valley of Dry Places and Tears. We can only live in one place at a time. We may own multiple homes, but we’re only living in one at a time. Live in God’s dwelling place while you pass through the difficult times in your life.

Balsam TreeThere is an interesting phenomenon, that happens as we pass through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears. Baca means both “weeping” and “balsam tree.” I wondered what a balsam tree looked like, thinking perhaps it might be something like our weeping willow trees. Not even close. In the En Gedi region of Israel, they are spiny plants that grow in dry, arid places. However, they “produced valuable and highly sought-after cosmetics, perfumes and medicinal substances. Their value was of such great economic importance that wars were fought for their possession, as when Mark Anthony conquered the Dead Sea area for Cleopatra.” [From http://www.holidayinisrael.com/ViewPage.asp?lid=1&pid=362]

Hmmm. Do you see where I’m going? The time we spend passing through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears can be a place in which God develops in us beautiful things – qualities that makes us more like Christ (can there be anything more beautiful?) and that He will use to bring healing in our lives and the lives of others. Hallelujah! If the plant is a physical illustration of what God does, it means that He uses our sorrows. They are not wasted.

Strength to Strength
Verse 7 assures us that the balsam tree is, in fact, an illustration of the way God works.

They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

Psalm 85:7

Those who are dwelling in God’s house and who are journeying through the Valley of Dry Places and Tears go from strength to strength. Notice that our starting point isn’t the Valley of Weeping or the House of Blues. It’s the dwelling place of God – and we’ve already established that His dwelling place is filled with His sweet peace presence.

What a faithful God we serve, who turns our dry places and our tears into greater strength! There is also that promise in the second half of the verse – going from strength to strength until each of us appears before God. Hallelujah!

Friend, let me encourage you not to dwell in your dry places and not to dwell in your place of tears. Journey through them with your focus on the Lord and your confidence in Him. He will bring you into a new place of strength. He is that faithful and He is that good!

In our next blog, we’ll finish this meditation on Psalm 85, but for now and the next few days, let me encourage you to meditate on this portion of the Psalm and be blessed.

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God’s Sweet, Sweet Presence

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!

Psalm 84:1

If ever there was a great Psalm for meditation and for calming one’s nerves, heart and soul, it would be Psalm 84. And wanting to write a blog about it, it seems often I can do nothing other than quote or rephrase the Psalm. Yet I feel compelled to write. Let’s see where this leads.

How lovely, how pleasant, how loving, is the place that the Lord dwells — the place He lives, the place He inhabits. Lovely seems like an awfully weak word, yet it also seems perfect. If I were writing the Psalm, I would probably have written how awesome, how WOW, how incredibly WOW is the Lord’s dwelling place. (Not much of a writer, am I?) But in his word “lovely,” the writer of the Psalm has caught the very essence of being in God’s presence – sweet, peace that overrides and carries through everything else. Yes, God’s presence is awesome and full of the WOW factor, but when all is said and done it is the sweet peace of the Lord that remains. How lovely is the place that the Lord inhabits.

My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

Psalm 84:2

Having tasted that sweetness of the Lord, nothing else satisfies and we long for His presence again. Lord may I experience the sweetness of Your touch, the loveliness of Your presence so regularly that when I stray, I remember it and long to return. Lord, may my heart and flesh cry out for the Living God in the darkest of times and in the brightest of times.

Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Psalm 84:3

Can you hear the psalmist’s heart? I hear jealousy that even the sparrow and the swallow can dwell near God’s altar, living there when the Psalmist must leave to attend to life. I also hear reverence – a place near God’s altar where she may give birth to and raise her young. What a privilege to do so near the heart of God.

Notice, also, that the Psalmist has begun to make a shift here, from God’s dwelling place to created beings dwelling near God. We’ll see that shift fully materialize in next verse. First, I want to look at the concept of the altar a bit more.

What’s the purpose of an altar? Altars were where the sacrifices were made. We think of an altar as a nice clean kneeling bench or something similar, but it was a place where blood was shed for the temporary forgiveness of sin of the Israelites. It was a bloody, gory place…yet it was lovely to David because He had experienced the forgiveness of sins. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a lovely, sweet, place because it represents the presence of God as the One who forgives sins.

Do you know that mighty presence of God? Do you know that sweet Spirit that follows the “WOW” of God’s awesome presence? Do you know that your sins have been forgiven? Scripture teaches that God is faithful to forgive sins when we ask (1 John 1:9). If you’re unsure, ask today. He will faithfully forgive your sins and you can begin to experience the sweetness of peace with God.

Then spend some time in God’s dwelling place – His presence. Don’t wait for church on Sunday or prayer meeting on Wednesday night or your next small group meeting. Enjoy your own private audience with the Lord today.

The next blog will look at the blessings that come from dwelling with God according to verses 4 through 7.

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