Archive for November, 2011

1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. 

3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—4young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

6Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

8But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

11Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12“Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

17To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

18At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

21And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1

Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the conquering king’s rich food. That seems like a good thing…but notice how he went about it. I was quite taken with it when I read this chapter. Put yourself in Daniel’s place. His nation has been conquered. The priceless things in the temple of the Lord have been taken and placed in temples before other gods. Daniel, his friends and other Israelites were taken to serve the conquering king, King Nebuchadnezzar. They are given new names and are being taught a new language so that they can serve a new king.

Somehow I don’t think I’d be feeling very charitable. I would probably be  struggling not to feel resentful and angry…unless I’d given up the struggle and just settled into the anger and resentment. That’s certainly not God’s way of handling the situation, I’m just saying…

I was so impressed with Daniel’s response.

  • His heart remained pure – he made a commitment to not becoming unclean by eating the choice food the king offered.
  • He remained humble. This is what captured my attention as I read the passage. I was amazed at Daniel’s attitude. Instead of standing up for his religious practices or God’s way of living – “I refuse to defile myself with this pagan’s food” – he humbly asked the guard if he may not eat the food. He didn’t arrogantly stand up to the guard, declaring that his ways were better than the guard’s ways. He didn’t resentfully refuse to eat the food. He didn’t quietly eat the other food leaving the “choice” food on his plate. He “asked the chief official for permission.” That, my friend, is humility – displayed in a place and at a time when humility would not be a natural response.
  • He remained confident in his God and his God’s ways. After not demanding his own way (or the way he believed God wanted), Daniel asked the chief official for a trial – “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  Daniel was so confident in God’s ability to sustain them that he gave the official an opportunity to prove it to himself. Again, the suggestion was delivered with humility, not arrogance. In offering to let the official decide what is the best approach at the end of the trial, Daniel wasn’t saying “You’ll see – our ways are better than your ways.” Rather, he was saying “You can decide which is best.” His attitude was humble, but his heart was confident that God will honor and bless Daniel’s actions.

Notice that it was Daniel’s humility that peacefully opened the door to negotiations that allowed Daniel to eat the foods that he believed honored God, which then led to God’s blessing Daniel and his friends with supernatural favor and wisdom.

I’d like my life to be characterized by an attitude of humility and a heart of confidence. What an excellent picture of living our faith.

The Christmas season is upon us and you and I are likely to find ourselves in gatherings of people with whom we sometimes have difficulty – perhaps a parent or an in-law, a sibling or a competitive cousin. I wonder if practicing Daniel’s humility might help us gain favor with these people and open doors for the Gospel. As you think about upcoming gatherings, think about the conversations that often develop that end in conflict or frustration. Are there ways your behavior might mirror David’s? Are there ways you can practice humility while maintaining a heart that is confident in God’s power to change the situation? I’m praying there are because practicing Daniel’s humility just might be the way to bring those challenging people in your life closer to the Lord. Let’s give it a try!

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Help! I’ve Fallen Behind and I Can’t Catch Up!

As I prepare this last Resting at the River’s Edge recommended reading list for 2011, I somehow “all of a sudden” find myself 22 chapters behind! Now that translates to just about a week, but I like to stay a couple of days ahead so that I can write blogs related to passages you’re reading that day, the next day or you’ve just read the day before. And here I am in late November finding myself 22 chapters behind. Well, at the end of this blog you’ll find December’s reading schedule, but I think my own situation provides a perfect jumping off place for when you’ve fallen behind in your reading. (I’m guessing there a few of you out there who share my situation!) Here are some tips:

  • Don’t fret over it! Our pastor shared the definition of “fret” in his sermon last week. The definitions included:
    • Feel or express worry or discontent
    • Cause corrosion, gnaw into something
    • To become eaten, worn or corroded
    • Irritated state of mind, vexation

Wow! That’s certainly not a condition or state of mind conducive to meeting with God as you read His Word! Let it go.

  • Keep at it! Don’t let being behind schedule keep you from continuing to read. What’s the worst that can happen? Instead of reading through the Bible by December 31, 2011, you’ll finish some time in 2012. Sounds good to me! You will still have read through the Bible and that’s the important thing. It’s not the schedule, it’s the content and meeting with God.
  • Don’t rush through your reading just to stay on schedule! It’s not the schedule, it’s the content and meeting with God. (Is there an echo here?)
  • Realize that catching up just might be possible! Our reading plans schedule about three chapters a day. Here are some ways to catch up:
    • If you’re able to add one chapter each day, you’ll catch up almost two days each week.
    • Read three chapters on Saturday or Sunday (or both) and you’ll catch up one or two days each week.
    • Spend your lunchtime reading your Bible. You’ll catch up at least one day, perhaps more, each time you do this. You might even decided that it’s a great way to relax at lunch!
    • Arrive at an appointment about fifteen minutes early. Spend the time reading your Bible. You’ll catch up another day. This is a great thing to do on Sunday morning if there is a quiet place you can read before service. It really prepares you to enter into worship and the message.
    • Carve out some “me and God” time in your schedule. This is absolutely the best thing I’ve done in my walk with the Lord and I look forward to it each week.

Implement one or more of these things for a few weeks and you’ll find yourself catching up quickly.

  • December’s reading schedule is great for this season. Don’t hesitate to stop reading where you are, read along with us in the month of December (think Revelation and Psalms), then pick up where you left off in January. Or begin following the December schedule while you employ some catching up techniques to previous schedules.
  • Remember: It’s not the schedule, it’s the content and meeting with God!

So, friends, keep at it. I commend you for all the reading you’ve done – even if you’re three months behind schedule or more! The monthly schedules will continue to be available here all throughout the coming year. Enjoy your reading and your time with God.

Now before I get back to my reading, let me provide you with a short synopsis of our December reading:

  • We will begin the book of Revelation on November 29th  and we’ll finish it on December 29th. We will end the year reading about the future. I love that God’s Word doesn’t teach us only the Law and history and how to live in this life, but it gives us a glimpse into the future – some of which we can only imagine, and some that seems so bizarre that we can’t even imagine it. Still, He trusts us with such knowledge. Wow! Enjoy this book and if it gets too confusing don’t let it get to you! Just ask God to reveal what He wants you to understand and keep reading. What you can’t understand will simply begin to lodge itself in your spirit for the time it’s needed.
  • We’ll finish the minor prophets by reading Malachi on November 30th. Note that this is a slight change from the schedule that was published in November. I changed things up a bit to read the book of Malachi before finishing the Psalms instead of after.
  • We will begin reading the rest of the Psalms on December 1st and finish them on December 30th. I can’t think of a better way of ending the year than with Psalm 150 which begins and ends with the phrase “Praise the Lord.”

I know the month of December is a busy one for everyone, but friends – enjoy your reading throughout the month. Remember, it’s not the schedule, it’s the content and meeting with God!

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for December is below.

To download a PDF of the December 2011 recommended reading plan, click here.

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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 5 (Habakkuk 3:16-19)

In my last blog we looked at Habakkuk’s awesome prayer of intercession for his nation. “Lord, I’ve heard of your fame;” he prayed. “I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day.”  That prayer stirs my heart greatly. Habakkuk continued in prayer with a phenemonal recitation of God’s tremendous acts throughout Israel’s history. The language is powerful, building to a crescendo…and then suddenly in verse 16 he takes a turn.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Habakkuk 3:16

Habakkuk knows that Israel is headed for a “day of calamity” because of her sins. I didn’t blog about the meat of the prophecy Habakkuk received, but it was one of destruction for a nation that had turned its back on God. God began his description of what would happen with chapter 1, verse 6:

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
Habakkuk 1:6

Habakkuk returns to that Word from God as he ends his prayer in chapter 4, and he says his heart is pounding, his lips are quivering and his legs are trembling. “Yet, I will patiently for the day of calamity to fall on the nation that God uses to punish Israel.”  Notice Habakkuk’s confidence in God. He knows that God is true to His Word and the Babylonians would eventually be punished for their treatment of Israel. When we are confident of God’s faithfulness, we can wait patiently, without fear of the future – even when we know the future will bring calamity.

Then Habakkuk ends with this powerful prayer:

17Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Just as I have prayed Habakkuk’s opening prayer often, there are times when I repeat his closing prayer: “Lord, our income is low and our prospect for future work is dim. Our cupboards are being depleted and our bank account is drained. Yet we will rejoice in the Lord. We will be joyful in God our Savior. You, Sovereign Lord, are our strength. You give me strength and a lightness of foot to climb the highest mountains. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” OK, that last line is Philippians 4:13, but it fits, doesn’t it?

Friends, we serve a faithful God! No matter how bleak our circumstances, there is cause for rejoicing in Him. There is cause for being joyful in His presence. He has made it possible for us to spend eternity with Him. He has provided all we need for life and godliness. He is our comforter and our wisdom and our strength. He is our sustainer and enabler. He loves us with an everlasting and passionate love. Jesus gave up the glories of heaven to join us on earth to teach us how to live and then die so that we might live forever. Hallelujah! He is the Alpha and Omega. The everlasting One who existed before time began. He saw me and formed me in my mother’s womb and looked upon me and said “She is my chosen one. I’m not going to let anyone or anything separate her from me.”

Wow! The next time you are facing lack in any area of your life, remember Habakkuk’s closing prayer. “Even though I don’t have anything and the prospects are dim, I will rejoice in you, Lord.” It honors God and builds your faith. Give it a try!

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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 4 (Habakkuk 3:2)

We last left Habakkuk as God was revealing to the Old Testament prophet what the New Testament writers elaborated on: That “the righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

That’s the life I want to live. It’s the life Habakkuk wanted to live as well. Yet he found himself living in the midst of a country and culture that had forgotten their God. He was living in the midst of people who either ignored God or practiced “religion” instead of experiencing and living for the True God. Does that sound familiar? Yep. I am thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ and the church family that surrounds me, but when I step outside that circle, I am increasingly aware how far we have moved from God as a nation.

In the position of having his faith clash with his reality, Habakkuk prayed this awesome prayer:

      LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk 3:2

I love this prayer! Do you pray for revival? I hope you do – for revival in your own life, in your family, in your church and community, our nation and around the world! (That’ll keep you busy for awhile!) I often repeat Habakkuk’s prayer – “Lord, I’ve heard of your fame – I’ve heard what you’re doing in revivals in Africa, I’ve read in Scripture and history how you’ve sparked revival in whole cities and nations – I stand in awe of your deeds! I am truly amazed and awed by what you have done in the past, Lord. Renew them in our day, Lord! Do it again! Show yourself strong in our city. Make your deeds known in our time – here, now, LORD! In your wrath, remember mercy – we deserve only your wrath. Forgive us. Show us your mercy and do a miraculous thing in our city.”

Again, I love that prayer! Habakkuk had it right! Many know the prayer of Jabez because of the book that was written around it. That’s a good thing. I’d love to see everyone come to know Habakkuk’s prayer. “Lord, renew your deeds in our day. Do it again, Lord!”

There is a second part to Habakkuk’s awesome prayer, but I’m going to save it for a final blog on the book of Habakkuk. I don’t want to dilute this short message.

May I encourage you to pray Habakkuk’s prayer over the next few days (or weeks or months)? Ask God to renew His mighty deeds in your family over the holidays and in your town in the coming year. Oh, Lord, do it again! And all God’s people said…

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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 3 (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

In our study of Habakkuk so far, we’ve seen Habakkuk’s burden for his country and God’s response when Habakkuk poured out his heart. Remember, that God urged Habakkuk to “look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed.” Just as I wrote that I was again blessed that God so specifically told Habakkuk where to look and what to watch – He didn’t want Habakkuk to miss this! God is so good – when we take our complaints to Him and then listen for His answer to us, He will tell us where to look and what to watch for! Again, I am reminded of the verse Amos 3:7:

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7

We saw Habakkuk’s faith surge then falter again after God’s first response. So he poured out his heart again. After pouring out his burden to the Lord, he picked himself up and said:

I will climb up into my watchtower now and wait to see what the LORD will say to me and how he will answer my complaint.
Habakkuk 2:1 (NLT)

We have to do that sometimes, don’t we? After pouring our hearts out to God we kind of straighten our shoulders and say “OK, I’ve cried out about this enough. I’m going to quit talking and listen and watch for God’s answer.” Well, that’s where we left Habakkuk. Let’s begin to listen in on the Lord’s response by reading it in two translations:

2Then the LORD said to me, “Write my answer in large, clear letters on a tablet, so that a runner can read it and tell everyone else. 3But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.
Habakkuk 2:2-3 (NLT)

2Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:2-3 (NIV)

There may be some historical reference in this passage, that public announcements were engraved or written in large letters and posted in the marketplace for all to see and read, but there is great application to our own lives. When we have cried out to God, then set ourselves apart to hear His voice, we ought not to forget the important step of writing down God’s answers. In Habakkuk’s day, the messages were written so that a runner could read them and carry them on to others. In our lives, writing what God reveals to us serves several purposes:

  • Like the runners of Habakkuk’s day, we also run through life. Taking time to write the message causes us to pause and consider it. These are not simply messages about upcoming events. This is revelation from God. God is revealing Himself and His plans to us. Is there a thing more worthy of being put in permanent form? Notice that both translations use the words “tablets” – these are not messages to be written on parchment. These are messages that deserve a more permanent record
  • The process of writing the message often helps to clarify it. Notice that Habakkuk’s letters are to be large and clear. God wants everyone to understand. I often find that writing brings great clarity and understanding to what God has said.
  • Revelation from God that has been clearly written down serves as faith mile markers with which we can track our journey. When I read my old journal entries, I am reminded that there was a time when I didn’t know some of the things I know now. As I read about the struggles I went through to learn some lesson of faith (often struggles that have been long forgotten), I am encouraged that my current faith struggle will also lead to growth and a greater understanding of the goodness of God.
  • Writing the message makes it available to posterity. I have one of my grandmother’s old diaries. While much of it is filled with everyday kinds of things, what a blessing it is to read the entries that talk about her dreams for life and answers to her prayers.

I know that not everyone is a writer and the thought of writing the vision and making it plain almost paralyzes you. There are other ways to record the vision. Here are some ideas for those of you who are disinclined to write the vision:

  • Record the vision. Speak into a tape recorder or record it through your computer. There is a website that allows you to record messages and share them with your friends. I’ve used it in these blogs.
  • Create a pictorial record of the vision. If you’re an artist, draw the vision. You may even have received the revelation from God more as a vision than as words whispered in your spirit. Be careful to include enough in the picture that the vision will be clear when you look at it next week, next month or next year.
  • Create a scrapbook for the vision. This record may include images and words that bring to life the revelation God has given.
  • Create a “treasure box” for the vision. Spend some time filling a box with items that bring the revelation to life in your mind and spirit. If God spoke a specific Scripture, write it out and include it in your treasure box. Find objects or symbols that represent the completion of the revelation or the process that will bring it to pass.

The goal is to record the revelation, making it clear, so that it points toward what God has revealed that He will do. This step is important because God makes it clear in verse 3 that “these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.”

Our microwave generation doesn’t do “slowly and steadily” well. Having God’s revelation documented helps us in those times when we begin to wonder if He will ever move on our behalf.

Finally, God gives Habakkuk and us instruction and reassurance: “If the vision seems slow in becoming a reality, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Having just said that it would occur “slowly and steadily” God wants to make sure we understand that it is not being delayed. In other words, no one is stopping the flow of His plan. No person or demon is delaying His plan. The writer of Hebrews encourages us similarly:

35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 8But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
Hebrews 10 (NIV)

We’re not to lose confidence, but to live by faith. Our life journey as a Christian is a walk of faith. Paul writes the same thing:

16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Romans 1:17 (NIV)

Where is it written? In Habakkuk 2:4. In verses 2-3 we’ve seen God telling Habakkuk to write the revelation and make it clear. God then turns to the message He wants Habbakuk to communicate and He begins with this profound statement:

“See, [the proud or wicked man] is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous will live by his faith—
Habakkuk 2:4 (NIV)

Isn’t that wonderful – all the way back in the Old Testament, God’s message of salvation by faith is clear! While the Old Testament provides the Law – rules and regulations about how to live a life of holiness, it also clearly points to salvation being the result of faith, not the result of following the Law. That message is embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus and written and made clear in the New Testament epistles. I love how this Book we’re reading paints a consistent, cohesive story!

What a great passage! Are you seeking God for answers to your challenges? Are you documenting His answers clearly? Then are you holding on to the revelation He’s given as you walk toward its fulfillment? That’s living by faith. Walking in such a way that you are always preparing for and expecting the fulfillment of God’s revelation. It’s where I want to live my life – in the adventure of God’s revelation. Will you join me? As my pastor would say, “Cowabunga, Dude!”

 

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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 2 (Habakkuk 1:6 – 2:1)

In my previous blog we looked at the first five verses of Habakkuk. I was blessed by God’s response to Habakkuk’s burden – He urged Habakkuk to listen and watch closely because He was about to do amazing things. That’s just the kind of God we serve!

After the Lord urges Habakkuk to listen, He goes on to tell Habakkuk His plans. Habakkuk responds in faith…for all of one and a half verses (12 and 13a)! He then continues crying out about the evil around him and the Lord’s apparent delay in responding. Aren’t we so often like that? We so want to believe God, but our eyes quickly fall from heaven to earth and all we see is the sin around us. Lord, help us keep our eyes on you. Habakkuk concludes his second round of complaining to God in chapter two verse one:

I will climb up into my watchtower now and wait to see what the LORD will say to me and how he will answer my complaint.
Habakkuk 2:1 (NLT)

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t know how to interpret this verse. His attitude could have been that of a rebellious child who is going to pout in the corner because he hasn’t gotten his way, or it could be that of the faithful believer who is sitting and waiting upon God. It would be discernable in the inflection of the words, but I’m not sure from the words alone. It sounds like the former, but the latter seems more in character with the prophet.

I checked four different commentaries and they all agree that it is the latter – Habakkuk is pulling himself away to sincerely hear from God. Matthew Henry had such a wonderful commentary on this passage that I would like to share a long portion of it. The language is a big dated, but the message is timeless:

The prophet humbly gives his attendance upon God: “I will stand upon my watch, as a sentinel on the walls of a besieged city, or on the borders of an invaded country, that is very solicitous to gain intelligence. I will look up, will look round, will look within, and watch to see what he will say unto me, will listen attentively to the words of his mouth and carefully observe the steps of his providence, that I may not lose the least hint of instruction or direction. I will watch to see what he will say in me” (so it may be read), “what the Spirit of prophecy in me will dictate to me, by way of answer to my complaints.”

Even in a ordinary way, God not only speaks to us by his word, but speaks in us by our own consciences, whispering to us, This is the way, walk in it; and we must attend to the voice of God in both. The prophet’s standing upon his tower, or high place, intimates his prudence, in making use of the helps and means he had within his reach to know the mind of God, and to be instructed concerning it. Those that expect to hear from God must withdraw from the world, and get above it, must raise their attention, fix their thought, study the scriptures, consult experiences and the experienced, continue instant in prayer, and thus set themselves upon the tower.

His standing upon his watch intimates his patience, his constancy and resolution; he will wait the time, and weather the point, as a watchman does, but he will have an answer; he will know what God will say to him, not only for his own satisfaction, but to enable him as a prophet to give satisfaction to others, and answer their exceptions, when he is reproved or argued with. Herein the prophet is an example to us.

1. When we are tossed and perplexed with doubts concerning the methods of Providence, are tempted to think that it is fate, or fortune, and not a wise God, that governs the world, or that the church is abandoned, and God’s covenant with his people cancelled and laid aside, then we must take pains to furnish ourselves with considerations proper to clear this matter; we must stand upon our watch against the temptation, that it may not get ground upon us, must set ourselves upon the tower, to see if we can discover that which will silence the temptation and solve the objected difficulties, must do as the psalmist, consider the days of old and make a diligent search (Psalm 77:6), must go into the sanctuary of God, and there labour to understand the end of these things (Psalm 73:17); we must not give way to our doubts, but struggle to make the best of our way out of them.

2. When we have been at prayer, pouring out our complaints and requests before God, we must carefully observe what answers God gives by his word, his Spirit, and his providences, to our humble representations; when David says, I will direct my prayer unto thee, as an arrow to the mark, he adds, I will look up, will look after my prayer, as a man does after the arrow he has shot, Psalm 5:3. We must hear what God the Lord will speak, Psalm 85:8.

3. When we go to read and hear the word of God, and so to consult the lively oracles, we must set ourselves to observe what God will thereby say unto us, to suit our case, what word of conviction, caution, counsel, and comfort, he will bring to our souls, that we may receive it, and submit to the power of it, and may consider what we shall answer, what returns we shall make to the word of God, when we are reproved by it.

4. When we are attacked by such as quarrel with God and his providence as the prophet here seems to have been—beset, besieged, as in a tower, by hosts of objectors—we should consider how to answer them, fetch our instructions from God, hear what he says to us for our satisfaction, and have that ready to say to others, when we are reproved, to satisfy them, as a reason of the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and beg of God a mouth and wisdom, and that it may be given us in that same hour what we shall speak.
(Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Old Testament)

So many things to learn from one little verse! Thank you, Matthew Henry for your time-tested wisdom!

What do I take away from such a lengthy analysis? The need to set myself “above” and “apart” from the mess and wait to hear God. So often life rushes past and I have some challenges that I need God’s wisdom on, but I try to hear Him in the midst of the rushing. Lord, help me to remember to pull away.

I hope you’re enjoying Habakkuk! There’s more good stuff to come. In the meantime, be blessed, my friends.

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Lessons from Habakkuk, Part 1 (Habakkuk chapter 1)

I like the book of Habakkuk! It was part of our Resting at the River’s Edge reading this week and I was so blessed by it. The book records Habakkuk’s cries to God for justice and God’s responses. It is filled with despair and hope; Habakkuk’s reality in this world and His faith-filled response to it.

When I sat down to write several hours ago, I thought I would write a single blog that would pull a few verses from the book that bless me. As I began to study it more, however, and it soon became apparent that more than one blog would be needed to share Habakkuk’s world and faith with you. So as you begin to read this short series of blogs, my prayer is this:

Lord, open our spirits to hear His message for each of us – spoken through Your Word and Your Voice heard deep within our spirit. Teach us Your Ways and give us hearts to be transformed. For the glory of Your precious Son, Jesus. Amen.

Habakkuk sees the world around him and asks God “How long?” Ultimately his cry is not answered, but the prophet stands in faith waiting for it with great tenacity and hope. My breath is taken away by his closing prayer…but that’s a message you’ll read about a couple of blogs from now. Let’s start with Habakkuk’s first lament and the Lord’s response. If you are reading the King James Version, the first verse is translated like this:

The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
Habakkuk 1:1 (KJV)

Notice that what you are about to read is Habakkuk’s burden – it is his heart’s cry to see justice. Instead all he sees around him is destruction, violence, strife and conflict. The book isn’t recording the annoyance that Habakkuk is experiencing today. It is the burden of his heart and he brings it before the Lord. Let’s read a portion of what he says to God.

2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NIV)

I don’t want to diminish Habakkuk’s circumstances – he was looking at the nation of Israel and seeing destruction – but I when I read the verses I personalize them. There have been times in my life when I cried out to God “How long must I call for help but you don’t listen, Lord?” Perhaps you have experienced times when it feels like your life is falling apart around you and you’re about to fall with it. Perhaps there have been times when you’ve been on the receiving end of injustice, destruction and strife. Take heart! God answers Habakkuk’s cry:

Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

Habakkuk 1:5 (NIV)

It’s as if God whispers in Habakkuk’s ear – “Just watch this! I am about to do something you wouldn’t believe if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes!” Notice that God didn’t just start doing things in response to Habakkuk’s prayer – he simply told Habakkuk that He was going to do things. This teaches me several things about God and His ways:

1 – God wants to reveal His plans to us – He wants to draw our attention to what He is doing. Check out this verse:

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.

Amos 3:7 (NIV)

The Lord does nothing without first revealing His plans! That excites me! Let’s keep praying “Lord, show me Your ways! Draw my attention to the things You are doing so that I might give you glory.” That is my prayer during this month of thanksgiving – that He would open my eyes more and more to the things He is doing so that I can give Him glory. Our God is a God who constantly reveals Himself and His plans to us. Whether through His Word, the world He created around us, a conversation with a friend, or His whisper in our ear, He makes His ways known.

2 – God is actively involved in growing our faith muscle – our journey with the Lord is a walk of faith, not sight. We hear Him whisper in our ear “watch this” and then He shows us His awesome power and glory. He puts it into our heart to pray for something, but doesn’t answer immediately because to do so would reduce Him to a heavenly gumball machine – we put our prayers in and immediately receive gumball that satisfies our craving for sweetness and activity! Yes, God answers our prayers, but He answers them according to His will and His plans for us and for the world. Often times that means we wait for our answers. During the waiting, our faith is challenged and we are shaped into the image of Christ. We learn to curb that craving for sweet things and powerless activity while we wait for the richness of God’s presence and the powerful anointing of His Spirit.

3 – Our God is a God of hope. The time was not yet right for God to interrupt Habakkuk’s world. So instead of leaving Habakkuk to dwell in the midst of despair alone, God whispered in his ear “I’m coming…just a little while…and it’s going to be glorious!” When life is at its darkest, we can agree with the prophet Jeremiah:

21Yet there is one ray of hope: 22his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. 23Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. 24My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him. 25The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him, to those who seek for him. 26It is good both to hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:21-26 (TLB)

Whew! Three wonderful lessons about the nature of God which fill us with confidence and hope in the midst of the most dismal circumstances. What a great start in this small book of Habakkuk! Chapter 2 continues the lesson…but would make for quite a long blog, so I’m going to resist moving on. Let’s use the next couple of days to let God’s goodness work its way deep into our Spirit before moving on.

I pray, friends, that today and tomorrow you would experience God’s revelatory nature – that He would reveal Himself and His plans to you in a greater way than He has before. I pray that you would be aware of (and joyful in) is activity in your life. That you would know that you know that you know that He is a God of hope – His compassion never ends. I pray that you would experience the goodness in hoping and waiting quietly for God’s response to your challenging circumstances.

 

Looking forward in anticipation to hearing from you and sharing the next passage from Habakkuk with you.

In the meantime…Enjoy God!

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16I [Paul] pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19

Last week I blogged about Ephesians 3:20 and 21 – the blessing that Paul prayed to God after praying the above the above prayer for the Ephesians. Over the weekend, this passage caught my eye and I did a little bit of study on it. It’s an awesome prayer that becomes even better when you look at the meaning of a couple of the words. Let’s do it. First verses 16 and 17a:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a

“out of” his glorious riches – really means “according to the standard of” his glorious riches– so it’s not like God’s got a bag of glorious riches and He’s pulling some of them out to give to me and you, but rather He has this tremendous standard of blessings and gifts and enablements and He is ministering to us according to that standard. There is a huge difference in the connotations of these two perspectives – one is kind of like saying “I’m giving you this because my very nature is giving and you’re mine” which is a wonderful thing, but the other is “I am enabling you to come up to my high standards”.

“strengthen” means “be strong to overcome resistance”.

“power” is the word dunamis – you’ve probably heard that word before – it means “dynamic living power” or “power to perform miracles”.

“dwell” – The Bible Knowledge Commentary describes the word dwell as referring “not to the beginning of Christ’s indwelling at the moment of salvation. Instead it denotes the desire that Christ may, literally, “be at home in,” that is, at the very center of or deeply rooted in, believers’ lives. [Paul was praying that the Ephesians were ] to let Christ become the dominating factor in their attitudes and conduct.”

So let’s look at verse 16 again – Paul says he prays that according to the standard of God’s glorious riches he may strengthen you with dynamic living power to overcome resistance through His Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may be at home, deeply rooted and ruling in your life.

And then Paul pours on an even greater powerhouse prayer – he prays that we being rooted and established in love, we would have the power to grasp the immensity of God’s love is for us – a love that surpasses knowledge – so that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. WOW!

Let’s look at more words:

“rooted and established” – the tenses mean that it’s a done deal with continuing actions – we have been rooted and established in God’s love…it’s a done deal. Finished. And are continually being rooted and established – constant and ongoing. So since being rooted and established there is no time when we are not being rooted and established.

“power” – Although translated power here, it is a different word from the previous verse. The word translated power in the previous verse was dunamis – dynamic, living power; the word here really means “to take hold of as one’s own”I’ve taught this word before – it’s Katalambano. It means to apprehend or to seize. It’s used in Philippians 3:12, the verse that the name of this blog is taken from  – Paul says “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

“know”intimately know, experience

What an over the top prayer Paul prayed. Sometimes we have read something so many times or we read it so quickly because we have the rest of our day to get to that the enormity of it or the impact of it just flies by us. Paul is praying some heavy duty stuff for the Ephesians.

Stuff that is not only over-the-top, but also stuff that would have been a bit radical for his time. In verse 16, he prayed for God to “strengthen the believers through His Spirit in their inner being.” That’s radical because the Jews would not have prayed or believed for God working in them to resist temptation. They taught and believed of a more outwardly working God, not God dwelling in us and working from within.

What I find to be radical is the prayer for power for us to grasp the immensity of God’s love and filling to the measure of all the fullness God. Close your eyes for a minute. Now take a minute to think about someone that you love or have loved more than anything. Everyone has loved someone – a mother or father, sibling, friend or spouse. Think about the depth of the love you have for that person – what you would do for that person, how your life is enriched by that person. Now imagine that love purified to the nth degree and expanded beyond your ability to imagine in the natural. That’s God’s love for you. And Paul’s prayer is that you would not only be able to imagine, but to know – to experience – the unimaginable – how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is.

That’s the love Paul wants us to know. It’s the love he prayed the Ephesians would know. It’s the love God wants us to apprehend. Friends, I pray that you would know the deep, passionate, ongoing love that God has for you.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Have you caught our mistake in the Resting at the River’s Edge Schedule?

If you’re on schedule, you noticed yesterday and will notice today that we’ve turned the book of Ezekiel into a 52 chapter book! When God only inspired 48 chapters! Oops. The schedule has us reading chapters 49 through 52 this week. Sorry about that! We learn every day that only God is perfect! 🙂

This is actually the second mistake in this year’s schedule. The first mistake was forgetting to include 2 Thessalonians earlier in the year, so we nudged it into an open spot in the New Testament schedule later in the month. Unfortunately, that’s also a day when we are scheduled to read three chapters of Zechariah! So, may I make a suggestion? The book of 2 Thessalonians would make a great substitution for the never-written chapters of Ezekiel. Consider reading this short 3-chapter book this week and you’ll stay on a regular reading schedule.

BTW – I’m thinking of a schedule for 2012 that has us reading the Bible chronologically. What do you think?

In the meantime…Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

 

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in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

We live in the midst of a culture that specializes in complaining, but God encourages us to be counter-culture. No, that’s not correct. God does more than encourage us to be counter-culture – He makes it clear that it is His will for us. Did you catch that? God’s will for you is that you give thanks. Put another way, you are fulfilling God’s will for your life when you are giving thanks. OK, perhaps not God’s entire will for your life, but His will never-the-less.

Let’s take it to heart this month – in everything, give thanks – for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Many people are putting a daily message on Facebook proclaiming their thankfulness to God. Whether you make it public on Facebook, Tweet your thanks, add comments below this blog, or share your thanksgiving with your family – let’s make it a month of giving thanks – maybe it’ll turn into a lifestyle! Then we’ll be fulfilling God’s will for our lives.

Let me know how it goes!

As for me, I’ll start the month by being thankful to God for the purposes and plans He has for me and His enabling power to grow into those purposes and plans. I’m thankful that 32 years ago God opened my eyes to His great love for me and I invited Christ to be Savior of my life. What a good God He is!

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