Archive for February, 2012

Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. We’re following a two year plan (2012 and 2013) that has us reading the New Testament each year and the Old Testament stretched over the two years. Each month our reading plans also provide a column titled “Additional.” This column provides readings that will allow you to read through the entire Bible (that is, the complete Old and New Testaments) during the year 2012.

Join the conversation as we read together each month. E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog. God has treasures for each of us as we read. Let’s share them!

Also, NEW in 2012 are our RARE bookmarks. Click on the link below to download them. Each bookmark provides two months of Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules and is great for tracking your readings. (We found an “oops” in the bookmarks we uploaded last month – we forgot to include Feb 29 in the schedule. The bookmarks have been updated to reflect the additional day we get this year.)

Use the tracking method that works best for you – the schedule provided in this blog, the downloadable half-page PDF or bookmark. All provide the same schedule.

I pray that you enjoy your time with God as you read each day.
Sandy

Download All 2012 Bookmarks Here Download only the March/April 2012 Bookmark Here Download a Half-Page PDF of the March Reading Plan Here

Here’s March’s reading plan:

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Have you walked with God today? Have you rested in Him, heard His voice and followed His leading?

Check out this blog by Eden’s  Bridge about the mystery of walking in the spirit.

Make time to cultivate your relationship with God today.

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“God is still in heaven”… God immediately brought that phrase to my mind when I woke up at 4am this morning aware of several significant prayer requests for today. Yes, today is filled with sorrow and anxiety for many today. My uncle may go home to be with the Lord today. My heart grieves for my cousins. My step-mother travels to her hometown for her sister-in-law’s funeral. My heart grieves for the family. Another friend will have a double heart catheterization. She is still young in the Lord and I know she is scared. My heart is with her even though I can’t be there. I have a doctor’s appointment that was moved forward three weeks. My world was rocked a little when I got the phone call saying “the doctor would like to see you tomorrow.”

“Lord, it’s a day of big requests in my world, but I know that you are still in Your heaven and because of that, it is well with my soul.”

The verse comes from Psalm 115 and I’ve sometimes been disquieted by it:

2    Why do the nations say,
     “Where is their God?”

3    Our God is in heaven;
     he does whatever pleases him.
Psalm 115:2-3 (NIV)

When life seems to be falling apart, we are tempted to lay the disasters at the feet of God. Does what has just happened please God? What kind of God is pleased with such things? Can such a God really be good?

I am thankful that I came to the Lord in my early twenties – it gave me the opportunity to become well-grounded in the confidence of God’s goodness before the challenges of my life became overwhelming. You may or may not be in that situation – like my friend having heart surgery, perhaps you have recently come to the Lord and are facing serious situations. Let me reassure you of two things:

God is still in heaven and He does whatever pleases Him.

What pleases God is always for our ultimate good.

Let’s look at a couple of verses that tell us what pleases God.

19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], 20and through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Col 1:19 (NIV), 1:20 (NRSV)

It pleased God to have all His fullness dwell in Christ – even though Christ would come to earth and live as a human, never sin and yet submit to die a tortured death. How can that please God? Verse 20 answers that question. Scripture doesn’t say that God was pleased that Christ was crucified. It says He was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself through the blood of Christ. There is a big difference.

Crucifying Christ was a sinful act. God takes no pleasure in sin. What pleases God is our reconciliation with Him. Without the fullness of God dwelling in Christ, He could not have lived that perfect, sinless life. His death would not have been the acceptable sacrifice which reconciled us to God. So God was pleased to have His fullness dwell in Christ.

God does whatever pleases Him. What pleases Him is to make a way for us to spend eternity with Him.

A few verses later we learn something else that pleases God.

27For it has pleased God to tell his people that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. For this is the secret: Christ lives in you, and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory.
Col 1:27 (NLT)

It pleases God to share the riches and glory of Christ not only with the Jews, but also with the Gentiles. It pleases God to share the secrets of salvation with the world.

God is in heaven, and He does what pleases Him. It pleases Him to make the gift of salvation available to all people. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16a) it pleased Him to make salvation available to all.

Let’s read the Apostle Paul’s testimony to learn more about what pleases God:

13You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted the Christians. I did my best to get rid of them. 14I was one of the most religious Jews of my own age, and I tried as hard as possible to follow all the old traditions of my religion.

15But then something happened! For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! 16Then he revealed his Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.
Gal 1:13-16a (NLT)

It pleases God to show mercy to those who don’t deserve mercy. It pleases God to choose each of us and call each of us to know Him and serve Him. It pleases God to reveal His Son to each of us so that we can partner with Him in sharing the Good News.

God is still in His heaven, and He still does what pleases Him. It pleases Him to show mercy. It pleases Him to reveal His Son to us.

I’m so very thankful I serve such a God. And I’m so very thankful He is STILL in His heaven and that He does whatever pleases Him.

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34“So don’t worry about tomorrow…32bYour heavenly Father already knows…”
Matthew 6:34a, 32b (NLT)

I’m tired today. I’ve been tired for awhile. I’m having some medical tests done in a few weeks, but in the meantime, I’m tired. And frustrated that treatment for the tiredness won’t begin until the tests have been completed. So I feel like I am looking at a (small) tunnel of tiredness and lack of productivity.

Do I have faith that God can interrupt that cycle? Absolutely and I trust that He will. I just don’t know if it will be today, tomorrow or six weeks from today.

So today I’ve been reassessing – what can I reasonably expect to do over the coming weeks, what’s most important to God, what should I put at the bottom of the list? I’m sorry to admit that this exercise has brought me perilously close to worrying! If you’re a regular reader of ApprehendingGrace.com, you know that I work hard at not being a worrier. It is the antithesis of faith and there’s simply no profit in it.

Which brings me to laying my schedule for the week before the Lord and asking Him what gets weeded out. As I was doing that, I was scrolling through my journal backwards, looking from today back through previous days to review God’s lessons to me. I came to an entry from a few weeks ago in which I had copied Matthew 6:24-34 into my journal thinking I might blog on it. That blog never got written – I guess God was saving it for today because when I came to it, I was so comforted by the Holy Spirit I knew I had to begin to write. Our God is such a God of peace. There is no stress, no uncertainty and no busyness in Him.

Let me share with you how I read the passage.

Since I was scrolling upward in my word processing document, I came to the last verse of the passage first:

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

Sandy (the Holy Spirit said) – remember – don’t worry about tomorrow. I’ve got it covered. Don’t fret about that list of things you want to do and the list of things you have to do. I know about all of it, and I know about everything that hasn’t even hit your list yet. You deal with the immediate. Let’s talk about what you need to do right now. Let’s refocus.

Ahhh. I can let go of all my concerns for the week. I don’t have to keep track of it right now. I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to plan. I strongly believe that good planning honors God. But as I said, sometimes planning brings me perilously close to worrying and that’s what was happening today.

So I scrolled up a bit further…

32bYour heavenly Father already knows all your needs, 33and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
Matthew 6: 32b-33 (NLT)

Ahhhh. My heavenly Father is so good. He already knows my needs. Before I knew about the first thing that was going to be added to my schedule this week, He already knew about it. In fact, He’s on top of it – and has been since the beginning of time.

He already knows all my needs. Not just some of them, but all of them. He knows about those things that I don’t yet know about. He’s on top of those things, too. He’s got me covered. He will give me all I need each day.

Wait a minute…didn’t I just blog about this? Yep. Less than two weeks ago!

Give us our food for today,
Matthew 6:11

And going back to read that blog, I see that I quoted verses 25 and 26 of the passage we’re looking at today. OK, God. I’m getting the message. Slowly sometimes, but I’m getting it! (Yes, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that after writing and living that blog so recently I am in need of its lesson again today…but we all fall short of the glory of God and I’m SO thankful that He is gracious and forgiving of sins.)

God knows all our needs – even before we do – and he will give us all we need…if we live for Him and make the Kingdom of God our primary concern.

That surely defines our priorities, doesn’t it? As I look at my week, there are still as many tasks as there were when I started this blog, but I can begin to create a plan in faith that God will supply all that I need.

8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

Continuing my scroll up the passage, I see the beginning of verse:

Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things?
Matthew 6:32a (NLT)

Ouch! The Holy Spirit gently reminds me that pagans worry about what they will wear and what they will eat – because they have no God to trust. My God is faithful and worthy of my trust. Today, I can choose to trust in the Living God who will supply all my needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19, NIV)

Finally, I scroll up just a little farther:

28“And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!
Matthew 6:28-30 (NLT)

As I read this passage, I “felt” the care God has for the beautiful flowers. I was overcome with the emotion of an artist taking great care as He creates a great work. He or she moves slowly, tenderly, selecting the proper tools and shaping the work into something beautiful. Colors are mixed until they are the perfect shade and applied with the master’s touch. Things are worked and reworked until they are in complete harmony. God cares for the lilies of the field in this way. Scripture says He placed all the stars in the sky and knows them each by name. It’s not a far stretch of to say that He also placed each flower in the beautiful field of wild flowers. And He cares for me more than that.

As an added kiss on the cheek by the Holy Spirit, I remember that lilies are my favorite flower. I friend gave me some a few weeks ago. They are still beautiful in the middle of my table. God cares for me more than that.

Yes, even when my faith is strong, I have such little faith. Lord, increase my faith!

So I tell you, friends, as Jesus told His disciples – don’t worry about every day life – it consists of way more than whatever you’re worrying about. God has it under control. He knows all that you need and will meet (even surpass) them. Keep your focus on Him and His priorities. And when even those priorities are about to overwhelm you, take a step back and refocus. He’s got you covered!

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February 13-19, 2012 is RAKWeek – that’s Random Acts of Kindness Week for those of you who missed the memo.

I am a big fan of random acts of kindness, although I confess to not doing them as often as I’d like. I think they are a great way to soften people toward the Gospel. Christians are frequently viewed or portrayed as judgmental or negative (we shouldn’t be either, of course). Random acts of kindness combat that stereotype. That’s a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Proverbs 11 and learned that kindness has another great benefit:

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel.
Proverbs 11: 17 (NLT)

We can nourish our souls in many ways, but being kind has a double kick – when I practice kindness (whether planned or random), both my soul and the recipient of my kindness are benefited.

I love the word “nourished.” It has the connotation of caring for something so that it becomes healthier and more beautiful. Wilted or brown edges are restored. Strength is revived. Flowers bloom and fruit grows.

In the context of this verse – that is, nourishing our soul, it also carries the connotation of bringing an inner peace and joy – a resting from toil and strife. Say it with me…Aaaaahhhhhh.

All that can be yours and mine through the simple act of kindness. Want some creative ideas? I’ve included a few below, but check out the Random Acts of Kindness website for more.

Lack of kindness is a spiritual issue. It is conceived when one sees the world through earthly eyes instead of the eyes of Christ. It takes root when we focus more on ourselves than others and is watered by impatience, jealousy and pride. Each of these things is called sin. Each keeps us from stepping outside ourselves to show kindness to others.

Yet that’s exactly what we need to do –remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe, ask God to allow us to see others through His eyes, and commit to reaching out to others in kindness. It doesn’t take a lot of money, and it doesn’t even have to take a lot of time.

Show some kindness. Here are some ideas:

  • Smile – REALLY smile – at strangers.
  • Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or cut their grass.
  • Cut flowers from your yard and give them to someone.
  • Buy two pizzas the next time you order and give one to a friend.
  • Pay for the Starbucks of the person behind you in line.
  • Invite the child of a friend to help you create a scrapbook for another friend.
  • Leave a generous tip the next time you eat out.
  • Pick up a candy bar for your coworker the next time you hit the vending machines.
  • Pick up trash from your neighbor’s yard.
  • Play with your neighbor’s children for an afternoon.
  • Call someone who needs to hear from you.

God has lots of ideas – ask Him! He’ll bring them to your mind.

My mom (Happy Birthday, Mom!) lives in a heathcare facility and has been for more than a decade. Yet she finds ways to be kind to other residents every day. Often they can’t reciprocate and sometimes they can’t even show any appreciation. But mom knows that when you give kindness away, your own soul is nourished. She laughs every day in the midst of very difficult living circumstances. I know that her laughter comes from a well-nourished soul.

What fools we often are! We hurry through life and worry about so many things, when slowing down just a bit would enable us to see the needs of others, respond in kindness and receive nourishment for our own souls in the process.

The New King James Version translates our key verse with a slightly different slant:

The merciful man does good for his own soul,
But he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.
Proverbs 11:18 (NKJV)

Kindness and mercy go hand in hand – showing mercy is showing kindness. Both require seeing someone’s need and moving to meet it. God has shown all of us tremendous mercy. He’s forgiven our sins – all of them.

Lord, help us to respond to others as you have responded to us. Help us to show mercy – kindness – to those around us.

Let’s nourish our own souls – let’s perform random acts of kindness – not just this week, let’s make it a lifestyle! Feel free to share your ideas for random acts of kindness as a comment or on Facebook.

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9bOur Father in heaven,
may your name be honored.

10May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done here on earth,
just as it is in heaven.

11Give us our food for today,
12and forgive us our sins,
just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.

13And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9b-13 (NLT)

As I read Matthew 6 recently, the Holy Spirit whispered into my spirit “Do your prayers reflect Jesus’ Instructions?” I am sorry to admit that often my daily prayers do not reflect the same priorities as Jesus’ prayer. I so easily fall into the pattern of praying needs – my needs, the needs of family members and friends, and needs that touch my heart from around the world. Jesus includes a pray for God to meet our needs, but it’s almost incidental compared to the other elements of the prayer.

I am reading through the Bible in the New Living Translation this year. While I have a favorite translation, I like to read other translations because the different phraseology sometimes draws my attention in a new way. That can be especially true when I am reading well known passages like the Lord’s prayer. It’s easy for my eyes to skim over the words that I’ve heard and read so often. When I read the Lord’s prayer in the New Living Translation, it came to life in a new way.

Before looking at the prayer in more detail, however, let’s look at how the prayer was introduced in Luke’s gospel:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (NLT)

Luke tells us that it was after the disciplines saw Jesus praying that they asked Him to teach them to pray. What’s interesting is that the disciplines presumably knew how to pray. They had been raised in Jewish homes and were regular attendees at their local synagogue. Prayer was not something they were unfamiliar with. The disciples recognized something different about Jesus’ prayers, however. They saw prayers that were more vital than any they had seen before. They saw lives changed as people were healed – physically, emotionally and spiritually. They were stirred in their spirits when Jesus prayed. They recognized that their prayers didn’t carry the authority and power that Jesus’ prayers did…so they asked Him to teach them.

And the prayer He prayed in response to their request is surprising in its simplicity and power. Let’s look at it a bit more closely.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be honored.
Matthew 6:9

Jesus begins by exalting His Father in heaven. The New Living Translation says “may your name be honored.” The New International Version has a better translation: “Hallowed be your name.” The word translated “hallowed” or “honored” means holy, consecrated and sanctified and is derived from a word meaning “sacred.” In that single phrase, Jesus recognizes and declares God as above all things and completely holy.

I frequently begin my prayers with the simple statement “God, you are so good.” Somehow that beginning centers me – it’s like breathing in a breath of fresh peace and it pulls me from the chaos around me into the center of God’s presence. The beginning of my prayer isn’t meant to get God’s attention, it’s meant to place my full attention on God and His goodness. Jesus’ prayer goes a step further. It exalts the Lord beyond His goodness to His perfect holiness. “Oh, Father in heaven – hallowed be Your name.” The phrase itself steps me into worship.

An aside: I began this blog a couple of days ago. It got interrupted and I am now returning to finish it. It’s early in the morning and quiet in the house. The day hasn’t gone crazy yet. As I whispered the words I wrote – “Oh, Father in heaven – hallowed by Your name” – tremendous worship filled my heart. I am so glad we serve a holy God. It is His holiness that makes His goodness possible. If He were not perfectly holy, He would not be perfectly good. “Oh, Father in heaven – hallowed be Your name.” Wow!

May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done here on earth,
just as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10

After declaring God’s holiness, Jesus speaks into the spiritual realm and asks God to bring His Kingdom to earth – here and now. He asks for God’s will to be accomplished on the earth. Jesus knew two things as He prayed this prayer: That God’s will is good – it is His will that all be saved; and that God’s will meant great personal sacrifice for Jesus. Jesus knew He was praying into His journey to the cross and He knew He was praying into His journey of making it possible for all to be saved. When I pray God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” I don’t know what that means for my future. What I do know is that I serve a perfectly holy, just and good God. I can trust Him with my future.

So let’s step back from the immediacy of our lives and pray into the future. “Lord, I want Your will to be done.” Praying into that future affects the immediate. Lord, if You don’t want me to have this job, I don’t want it. If You don’t want me to have this ministry, I don’t want to have it. If You don’t want me to have this spouse, I don’t want him or her.

I know. Those things are easier to write than to live when we really want the job, the ministry or the spouse. What I really want more, though, is Jesus and His life for me. “Father, Your will, not mine.”

I think it’s very easy to make this portion of Jesus’ prayer over spiritual and not apply it to our own lives. When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are praying two aspects of the prayer. There will come a day when God’s Kingdom will be on earth so we’re praying “come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Until that time, however, it’s important to recognize that we’re praying for His will to be done through us. God isn’t just going to superimpose His great and glorious Kingdom here on earth (at least not yet) – he’s going to work it out in our lives. And that’s a good thing – what a glorious opportunity God gives us to live the life He (in all His holiness) has purposed for us!

Give us our food for today,
Matthew 6:11

God cares about our physical needs. In this simple phrase, Jesus’ prayer tells me two things: (1) ask God for what you need today, and (2) don’t worry about tomorrow’s needs. If we always trust for God to meet our needs today, is there any reason to worry about tomorrow’s needs? No. Yet we are very good at turning tomorrow’s needs into today’s worry, aren’t we? Just a few verses later Jesus encourages the disciples to trust God for everyday things:

25“So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? 26Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. 
Matthew 6:25-26 (NLT)

As Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He included one phrase “Give us our food for today.” Implied in that sentence is our trust that God will provided the food we need – every day. “Lord, give us the food we need for today and I will be satisfied.”

and forgive us our sins,
just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
Matthew 6:12

The phraseology in the New Living Translation is a little different from the more traditional phrasing of this verse. It puts our forgiveness of others in the past tense – “Lord, forgive my sins just as I have (already) forgiven others.” There is a relationship between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. Unforgiveness hinders our relationship with God.

In Matthew 18 and Luke 19 Scripture records one of Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and reinforces this point. A King had a servant who owed him a great debt but could not pay. The King forgave the servant’s debt. The servant then went to those who owed him money and insisted on payment. Even though they begged for more time to pay, the servant showed no forgiveness and had them thrown into prison. The King was not pleased:

32Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.
Matthew 18, 32-34 (NLT)

Christ died so that our sins (and they are many) could be forgiven. Shouldn’t we have mercy on our fellow servants as well?

Remember that previous line in Jesus’ prayer – “May Your kingdom come, may Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”? Forgiving one another is part of the working out of God’s Kingdom on earth.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:13 (NLT)

I like this translation of Matthew 6:13. It reinforces that I have a responsibility here – to resist temptation. James tells us to resist the devil and the devil will flee from us (James 4:7b). I like that verse!

God will deliver us from the evil one, but we must resist him. Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. Jesus had to resist the temptation. He battled it with the Word of God and satan fled.

As we walk purposefully through life, honoring God’s name and making His will our highest priority, yielding to temptation becomes less and less desirable. We will battle our fleshly nature as long as we are in the flesh, but the closer we draw to God, the less tempting those sinful natures become. The passage in James 4 continues with a key verse:

Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.
James 4:8 (NLT)

Draw close to God today – through the prayer His Son taught us to pray. Make it your own.

“Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. May Your kingdom come on earth, may Your will be done on earth – as it is done in heaven. I trust You today for the food, clothing and shelter I need. Forgive my sins, Lord. I forgive those who have sinned against me. Help me to resist the temptation to sin today – deliver me from satan’s snares.”

“For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

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Last week Phil and I visited The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, FL. We’d heard good things about it and we weren’t disappointed. We both experienced an increase in our love for God that we can’t contribute to any specific attraction – it was the overall, cumulative experience that had the impact.

Worship & The Bible
We started with outdoor worship in the Temple Plaza. After that it was a combination of watching live plays and looking at static displays. The first display we walked through was The Scriptorium. Filled with authentic and ancient artifacts from around the world this display provides a history of how we got to the Bible we have today. What a new respect it gave me for the Word of God! Prior to walking through the exhibit I knew most of what was presented, but seeing the artifacts as we walked from room to room, time period to time period had a greater impact than studying in a classroom. Here’s a tidbit for you: Did you know that the first Bible printed in the United States was printed in the Algonquin language? That tells me that as a nation, we have in our origin – in our roots – a love for God and a heart to share that love with others. Yes, we have made a mess of it at times, but our roots are strong and good.

Live Shows
The live shows were excellent. Phil particularly liked the production Four Women Who Loved Jesus. The scenes occur while Jesus is on trial and four women are see what’s being done with Jesus and to testify for Him. The widow of Nain, the woman with the issue of blood for twelve years, the woman caught in the act of adultery and Mary bring their stories to life as they share with the audience why they loved Jesus so passionately. God’s mercy, forgiveness and love was expressed in a way that touched Phil’s heart. And if God is that merciful, forgiving and loving to these women, He is no less merciful, forgiving and loving to each of us today.

I am not a person who typically focuses on the passion of Christ. Yes, I saw the movie The Passion of the Christ, but I don’t need to see it again. I understand the horrific death that my Savior experienced for me. I don’t need to see it graphically portrayed over and over again. So I was not looking forward to the live show titled We Shall Behold Him. It is performed in two parts, and both had great impact. In the first location, we see bits and pieces from Jesus’ life, trial and crucifixion. What impressed me the most about this play was the authentic joy and grief on the faces of Jesus’ disciples. When He performed miracles, they raced through the audience in jubilation. As He died on the cross, they stood grief-stricken at a distance watching. The emotion brought the Bible to life for me in a new way. After the crucifixion, we moved to the Temple Plaza and Christ returns with great fanfare from angels, praising saints and a robe that fills the temple. I couldn’t stay seated as He slowly walked down the aisle and angels knelt before Him. What a glorious time it will be when we truly see Jesus!

Exhibits and Closing Worship
There were other exhibits, walking areas, praying areas, a restaurant, food stands and of course gift shops. One comment that Phil made was how refreshing it was to be in a Christian theme park. The vibe was definitely good! We spoke with someone who had worked there about three months. He said he loved his job, viewed it as a ministry and that he had led about fifteen people to Christ in the last three months. Hallelujah. Since coming home, I told a friend about the park and she had a cousin who had come to the Lord while visiting the park.

Closing worship and ministry time was excellent. The song from that time of worship that has been playing in our hearts and on our lips since we left (a week ago) is How He Loves Us.

Yep, I guess this is an ad for The Holy Land Experience. I do recommend a visit there, but there’s an underlying message in our experience: Pursue God. We don’t always know what will increase our love for the Lord, so open yourself to new experiences. Visit places you haven’t visited before, attend a service at a church other than your own, put yourself in a place to experience a different kind of prayer or worship experience. Any of these things can touch your heart in a new way and grow your love for God. And that’s a very good thing!

BTW: We didn’t see anywhere on their site that mentions it, but if you visit The Holy Land Experience and have ministerial credentials, go to the customer service window instead of the ticket windows and you’ll receive a discount on admission.

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As we’ve read the final chapters of Genesis during our Resting at the River’s Edge readings this past week, we’ve been immersed in the life of Joseph. What a godly man he was! And what a man blessed by God! Phil and I have talked about him several times over the past week. It’s interesting that different elements of Joseph’s story impacted each of us. That’s one thing I love about the Bible. No matter how often you read it, God will always bring new things to your understanding or highlight different truths that specifically impact your current life situations. The Bible is truly a “God breathed,” living document.

Joseph’s Story
If ever there was a person who seemed to be a magnet for bad things it was Joseph. Ok, I can understand the jealousy of his brothers, but selling Joseph to traders was a bit over the top. If you’ve been reading with us, you know that Joseph was then sold to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharoah’s guard – essentially, his Chief of Security. Potiphar’s wife then falsely accused Joseph of raping her, so Potiphar put him in prison. While in prison, Joseph was joined by the Pharoah’s cupbearer and baker. After being in prison for “quite some time” (Genesis 40:4, NLT), both of these gentlemen had a dream. God gave Joseph the interpretation and the cupbearer promised to remember him when they were released from prison. It didn’t quite happen that way. The cupbearer “promptly forgot all about Joseph” (Genesis 40:23, NLT) and Joseph spent quite a bit more time in prison. Eventually Pharaoh had his dreams and the cupbearer remembered Joseph. God gave Joseph the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream and Joseph was promoted to Prime Minister of Egypt.

In all, it was thirteen years from the time Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery until he was made Prime Minister of Egypt. Quite a long thirteen years I imagine. But you would never know that from reading the story and watching Joseph’s forward and backward progress in life. We never see Joseph complaining, and we consistently see him honoring God.

How easy it would have been for Joseph to feel sorry for himself when betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. How easy it would have been for Joseph to succumb to an entitlement mentality when Potiphar’s wife begged him to sleep with her. After all, didn’t he deserve better than this? God had given him dreams of grandeur and he had been betrayed and sold into slavery. He had no family, no prospects of being married and Potiphar’s wife was beautiful and available. Scripture says that Potiphar’s wife “kept putting pressure on him day after day.” (Genesis 39:10, NLT). Didn’t he deserve some happiness? That’s how the world thinks. Joseph thought differently. “How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” (Genesis 39:9, NLT)

While in prison, “Joseph noticed the dejected look on [the cupbearer’s and baker’s] faces” (Genesis 40:6, NLT). After being sold by his brothers and then unjustly thrown into prison, Joseph was still showing concern for others. He wasn’t dwelling on how bad his own circumstances were, but was focused on those around him.

Life isn’t Fair!
Just ask Joseph. Yet God calls us to honor Him in our circumstances – whatever they are. And God blesses our obedience. I am impressed by several things beyond Joseph’s steadfast lifestyle. First, by not focusing on what was taken from him or how wrongly he was treated, Joseph’s life wasn’t consumed with bitterness, hatred or any kind of negativity. He accepted his circumstances and glorified God in the midst of them. Secondly, his life, then, was characterized by the blessing he was to others and the blessings he received from God, not by his unjust circumstances. He lived a life that wasn’t fair and he lived in the midst of blessing.

God Gives Wisdom
Phil read the same story I did, but God spoke differently to him. He was impressed that in each situation Joseph found himself, he excelled – because God gave him wisdom beyond human wisdom. God put things into his mind that he had no way of knowing. Sometimes it was the interpretation of a dream and sometimes it was simply knowledge about how to excel in a new position. As Phil meditated on this a bit, he became overwhelmed at the love God has for each of us individually. God treats each of us personally – the God who created the universe speaks to each one of us. We have His undivided attention. Words can’t express the awesomeness of that truth. He loves us! Wow! And beyond loving us, He interacts with us and gives us all we need to live for Him. He impacts our circumstances. He gives us knowledge.

I hope you were blessed by reading about Joseph’s life as much as we were. Let us know what impacted you the most. Comment below or on facebook. Blessings, friends.

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2Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. 3Cry out for insight and understanding. 4Search for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure. 
Proverbs 2:2-4 (NLT)

That which we tune our ears to is what we begin to hear. Mothers tune their ears to the cries of their children. Doctors tune their ears to hear abnormal sounds in our lungs and abdomen. I could listen through their stethoscopes and every sound would seem either normal or abnormal – but I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from another. In a room of crying babies I would not be able to distinguish one specific voice.

Similarly, with all the sounds that assault my hearing, unless I tune my ear to God’s wisdom I will not hear it. And I want to hear it. Proverbs 2 continues with some of the benefits of hearing God’s voice:

5Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God. 6For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7He grants a treasure of good sense to the godly. He is their shield, protecting those who walk with integrity. 8He guards the paths of justice and protects those who are faithful to him.

9Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time. 10For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. 11Wise planning will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.
Proverbs 2:5-11 (NLT)

What tremendous benefits await those who tune their ear to wisdom! They are benefits that are clearly worth the effort. The question is how does one tune their ear to something that we’ve never heard before? What is the “sound” of wisdom? How do we find it and how do we recognize it?

God is so good! He doesn’t tell us to do something without providing a way to do it. Our key verse provides God’s approach. Let’s break it down:

Verse 2a: Tune your ears to wisdom – I see two elements to this simple statement.First, is the imperative to take action. The verb isn’t passive, it is active. So let’s start by recognizing that it’s something we need to do and making a decision to do it! Too often we pursue education for our profession or vocation, but assume that we either have wisdom or don’t. That’s not consistent with Scripture. Scripture says clearly that we can gain wisdom, just as we might gain a college education. We don’t get a college degree without applying ourselves to our studies, and wisdom isn’t something that we gain by osmosis. Just as we can glean some knowledge by hanging around others who have invested in it, we can glean some wisdom by those who have already tuned their ear to it. But do you want just the little bit of God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding that you’ll gain from befriending a wise person, or do you want the whole gamut of wisdom God has for you? Do you want just a little of the good sense He has for you or all of it? Do you want just a little of His joy or all of it? I want it all (and I suspect you do, too).

The second element in this sentence is the kind of action we’re to take: Listen! You can’t tune your ear without listening closely. Each Sunday morning as our worship team tunes up, they strum their guitars, turn a knob or two, strum them again, turn the knobs again, and repeat this process until the strumming yields the sound they’re listening for. Quite frankly I don’t hear much difference between the first strumming and the last strumming. The musicians have tuned their ears – they’ve listened to their instruments over a period of time and know what it should sound like. We must listen closely, over a period of time, to learn the voice of the Lord. As we tune our ear to hear the Lord, sometimes we’ll get it wrong. That’s OK. God will correct us, and He loves that we are getting to know him.

Verse 2b: Concentrate on understanding – It’s not a lackadaisical approach that will tune your ear and give you understanding, it is the concentrated approach. Have you ever watched someone when they’re learning something new? Think of the child learning to tie his shoe. Or perhaps you’ve watched a great basketball player in slow motion as he concentrates on the basket as he sets up his shot. In both examples, you can see the concentration on the person’s face. They are focused on the task at hand, shutting out all outside influences that might ruin their concentration. God tells us to approach understanding like that – concentrate on it! Don’t just try it once, but concentrate on hearing God and understanding His ways. Block out the influences of this world and seek His wisdom.

Verse 3: Cry out for insight and understanding – Don’t go it alone! Cry out to God for insight and understanding. Ask God for it! He promises to give it:

If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.
James 1:5 (NLT)

Notice the word “gladly.” He doesn’t give it begrudgingly. But you must cry out for it!

Verse 4: Search for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure – Search high and low for it, as you would for money that you’ve lost or hidden treasure. Don’t give up easily! I lost my passport once. I emptied drawers and filing cabinets. I looked under furniture. I even cleaned off my desk – and I’m not a clean desk person. What have you searched for lately? Think about your search, then think about applying those same methods and intensity in finding wisdom, understanding and insight.

As I’ve been reading through Proverbs, God has been reminding me that I don’t seek His wisdom often enough. When I do the results are tremendous. Just today Phil was trying to do something on our website that he couldn’t figure out. He had spent quite a bit of time researching and trying various things, all to no avail. Then he started thinking about how God gave Joseph wisdom for succeeding in every position he held. So Phil paused to pray. He went back to working on the website, did a few things that made no sense to him and within minutes he had accomplished what he’d been trying to do for days! God’s wisdom is so good. We’ve had experiences like this in the past. Seeking God’s wisdom brings success. It was the topic of my last blog, and God is impressing it upon me enough for it to be the topic of this blog.

Let’s ask God for His wisdom before we waste time trying to live in our own wisdom (or lack thereof). He’s so good, He’ll give it generously! We have His promise.

 5Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

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