Archive for November, 2013

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

You’re almost there! This month’s schedule represents the last month of a two-year reading plan. If you’ve been with us for the whole time, you’ve read through the entire New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. If you read the additional readings each month, you completed the Old Testament twice. Congratulations!

We’ll start a new reading plan next month and I’m already looking forward to it. As I’ve read through this plan, I’ve identified things I’d like to change about next year’s plans. But that’s for another blog. If you have any ideas, please let me know. Comment on the blog, send me an email or past a message on our Facebook page.

In the meantime, don’t short-change this month’s readings. Read them with the Christmas season as a backdrop. Savor the final words of our Lord as you read through Revelation. Watch for all the prophecies about Jesus as you read through Isaiah. Enjoy and praise as you read the Psalms. Dwell in the love of God as you read 1, 2 and 3 John. I’m so looking forward to reading this month. Hope you are, too!

The following buttons will open PDFs of the November/December bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The December Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for December is below.

2013-12Dec RecRdg

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Worship.com has included on their blog the Thanksgiving proclamations by two of our greatest presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln . Each is quite short (451 and 531 words, respectively). Reading them gives insight into the origins of this holiday we celebrate each year as well as the presidents who wrote them.

You can read and use them as the basis for your own thanksgiving prayers using the links below:

President George Washington?s Thanksgiving Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln?s Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day

Have a great day! And pause to give thanks.

16Rejoice always; 17pray without ceasing; 18in everything give thanks: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)

 

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1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
2Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
Psalm 107:1-2 (NLT)

Do you remember the Jerry Seinfeld episode “Yada, Yada, Yada”? While he didn’t invent the phrase, he popularized it. You can YouTube it if you’re not familiar with it, but basically, it’s a way to shorten a story. “A friend of ours found a dog who had been abandoned, yada, yada, yada, and now we have a large dog cage in our kitchen.”

Well, the word translated “give thanks” above is the Hebrew word “yada.” Now technically it’s pronounced differently than the English “yada” – the Hebrew version puts the accent on the second syllable. But I’m using it as reminder to give thanks. Anytime I hear or am tempted to use the phrase “yada, yada, yada” – I’m giving thanks!

And that’s what this psalm is about…in part. It’s a lot about giving thanks. It’s also about the great love of our father who reaches down, involves Himself in our lives, and rescues us from whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Having begun the psalm with the encouragement to give thanks, He continued:

For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
Psalm 107:3

Friends – we’re included in that verse! We are described as being aliens and exiled from God in Ephesians 2 – having no hope and without God. But “give thanks for the wonderful things he has done” – He has gathered us; He has rescued us; He has brought us home, into His family. We were all once lonely – alone without God, but God…let’s continue in Psalm 107.

The Psalmist (King David) then goes on to look at different ways that the Israelites had become alienated from God or exiled. As you read each example, you’ll see a pattern develop:

Some people __________ (fill in the blank with how they became exiled). This is followed by a verse that is repeated:

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress.
Psalm 107:6, 13, 19 and 28

This was followed by a command that mirrors verse 1 of the psalm:

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Psalm 107: 8, 15, 21, 31

Finally, more details are given about how God saved His people.

Here’s the detail:

Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless, hungry and thirsty…

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery…

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

For he broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron.

Some were fools; they rebelled and suffered for their sins….

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

He sent out his word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death.

Some went off to sea in ships, plying the trade routes of the world. Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths; the sailors cringed in terror….

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.

The bottom line, friends is that God works to bring us back no matter what mess we get ourselves into.

And our proper response is what? “Let them praise the Lord for His great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.”

The word translated “praise in these verses is the same word translated as “give thanks” in verse 1 – “yada.”

Yada, yada, yada – praise, thanksgiving, praise! Thank you, Lord, for working to get me out of the jams I get myself into. Read verses 33 through 42 of the Psalm and you’ll see that God will turn dry lands into rivers and rivers into dry lands to bring us back to Him. The verses highlight that the God we serve is a powerful God who controls all of nature and uses that power to bring us to himself, whether through blessing or discipline. It is his heart to bless us, but he waits for us to turn to him. He waits for the humble cry, “Lord help!”, and then he turns and rescues and blesses.

Thank you Lord, for using both discipline and blessing to bring me back to you.

I love the final verse of the Psalm:

Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the LORD.
Psalm 107:43

When we stay close to God’s heart through thanksgiving and praise, we become wise and we see in our own history the faithful love of the Lord. The word translated “faithful love” encompasses mercy, kindness, lovingkindness, goodness and patience. It’s the same word used in the repeated verse “Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.”

Hallelujah! What a God we serve.

Friends, what is your history? Can you look back and see the faithful love of the Lord? More importantly, are you living that verse of praise – are you praising the Lord for His great love and for the wonderful things he has done for you?

This week is Thanksgiving and it provides a perfect opportunity to not be quiet in our praise and thanksgiving.

1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
2Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
Psalm 107:1-2 (NLT)

Grow your thanksgiving muscle as you speak out your praises and thanksgiving. As you do that, you will be better able to see God working in your history to continually bring you to Him. You will see His faithful love.

Enjoy your week! Enjoy God!

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In the Parable of the Lost Son, we’ve looked at the repentance of the prodigal son and the compassion and love of the father. That leaves the final character in the parable, the older son. I’ll start with the parable to refresh your memory of the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

Of the three characters, I find the older son to have the saddest story, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. He has been the obedient son. He stayed home and worked for the father during the years that his younger brother squandered his inheritance. Obedience is a good thing. Unfortunately in this case, it’s squandered obedience. The older son had a wonderful opportunity to grow in his relationship with the father during that time, but it doesn’t appear that he did. He clearly didn’t absorb the nature of his father – he showed neither compassion, love or mercy when his younger brother returned home. He was not ready to forgive. In fact, upon learning that the party was to celebrate his brother’s homecoming, he refused to go into the house.

He lacked a servant’s heart, instead using the phrase “all these years I’ve been slaving for you” to describe his efforts. The word translated “slaving” literally means “in bondage to.” The younger brother was enslaved to sin during his years of riotous living. The older son was enslaved to sin of a different kind. He had become a slave to his sense of duty and his belief that it was his own efforts that would earn him his father’s inheritance. He served his father out of obedience, not out of love. He was obedient out of duty. He viewed himself as working for his inheritance. What a drudgery those years must have been!

But there’s an even sadder element to his story. Read again the words of the father:

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Luke 15:31 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours.” The son had at his disposal all that belonged to the father and he never availed himself of it. He didn’t even realize it was his.

Friends, our heavenly Father says the same thing to us “Everything I have is yours.” Notice the words “everything” and “all” and “all things” in the following verses:

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done…19And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6, 19 (NLT)

2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:2-4 (NKJV)

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours,” says the Father.

Remember, the parable is an illustration of spiritual principles. The younger son is a perfect picture of willful rebellion and then humble repentance. The father beautifully illustrates the loving and compassionate Father we have in heaven, ready to forgive and celebrate with us. Now we have the older son, who I’m afraid is very much like us sometimes. We so easily fall into the trap of serving the Lord out of duty.

Obedience is important in the Kingdom of God, but it must be obedience out of love for all the Father has done for us and gives us. Obedience out of duty creates in us the same attitude it created in the older son – bitter jealousy.

The Father’s message is “Everything I have is yours.” Let’s not live like slaves but as the son or daughter who has been given the Kingdom.

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Studying the Parable of the Lost Son, in my previous blog we focused on the namesake of the parable, the lost or prodigal son. He is only one of the three main characters in the story. Today I want to study the actions of the father. First, let me repeat the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

It’s important to understand what it meant for the son to ask for his father for his inheritance. It was exceedingly hurtful and humiliating. Many fathers would respond in great anger at such a request. The son was saying “your money is more important to me than you.” The son was disgracing the family. I have no doubt that it was a very difficult thing for the father to hand over the son’s inheritance to him knowing that he would squander it. Yet he did that, perhaps also knowing that the son had to come to his own understanding about life and his father’s love for him.

Verse 20 tells us that while the son was still “a long way off”, his father saw him. I’m guessing that the father had an eye trained on the lane down which the son would return. That throughout his daily life he kept looking, watching and waiting. The father is a picture of our heavenly Father. I love knowing that he watches and waits for each sinner to return. That He hasn’t turned His back on them, but longs for them to return, just as this father longed for his lost son to return. God waits patiently, turned toward so that when we make the slightest move toward Him, He is there.

The lost son’s father was filled with compassion for his son. He wasn’t full of criticism. He wasn’t full of self-righteousness. He wasn’t ready to punish. He was filled with compassion. The son was undoubtedly dressed much differently from when he left. Having lost all his money and having been slopping pigs, his clothing would not have been the same as when he left with his inheritance. But it wasn’t only his clothing that had changed – his demeanor had changed at least as much. He was now defeated. And he was now repentant. And his father was filled with compassion. So much that he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. What a display of affection! What an act demonstrating his love and forgiveness.

And he didn’t stop there. Before the son even finished what I’m sure was his well-rehearsed speech, the father began to direct the servants to begin the celebration.

“Bring the best robe.” – The best robe most likely belonged to the father. He was effectively saying – welcome back, what’s mine is yours.

“Put a ring on his finger.” – The ring was a sign of the father’s authority and he was giving it to his repentant son.

“Put sandals on his feet.” – Servants were not given robes, rings and sandals. The father was making it clear that his son was part of the family.

“Bring the fattened calf. Let’s celebrate!” – The father was expressing his joy. His son was once lost, but now he is found. The father was mirroring the response of all of heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7; see my blog Helping Others Find Faith – Bringing Joy to Heaven.)

Jesus, in telling the story, was teaching about the Father’s love. This is the love the Psalmist wrote about:

10He [God] does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve….13The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
Psalm 103:10, 13 (NLT)

It is the love Paul wrote about and prayed for the Ephesians:

18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT)

All of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. God is watching for us to turn. He is waiting to run toward us and…

Put a robe around our shoulders – his robe of righteousness,

Put a ring on our finger – giving us His authority,

Put sandals on our feet – clothing us better than fields of lilies, and

Celebrate!

What a loving, gracious and forgiving Father we have!

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The Parable of the Lost Son, or the Prodigal Son as many call it, has three main characters: The father and his two sons. There are significant lessons that can be found when viewing the story from the perspective of each character. In this first blog we’ll look at the story through the eyes of the prodigal son. First, the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

The story begins with the words “Jesus continued.” This parable follows two other parables that make the same point – there is great rejoicing when a sinner repents.  I blogged about that in Helping Others Find Faith – Bringing Joy to Heaven.

The Parable of the Lost Son provides a visual, earthly picture of that same theme. The lost son is a perfect example of a rebellious, ungrateful, perhaps spoiled young man. He doesn’t want anything to do with hard work. He wants what is “rightfully” his, and he wants to do with it whatever he wants, with no consideration for others or his own future. I’m guessing many of us were in that same mindset to one degree or another at some point in our lives. It is the essence of our sin nature – it’s all about me. I want what I want and I want it now and I don’t want anyone (especially God) telling me what I can and can’t do with it.

So the father gave his son his inheritance and the son set off for a “distant land.” I’m reminded of Jonah who, in his desire to escape God’s will, ran as far away as he could (Jonah 1:3).

After squandering his inheritance, he found himself with no money, no place to live and nothing to eat. Jobs were scarce because the economy had crashed while the son was spending his money.

The Bible Exposition Commentary on the New Testament brings out this important point?

Sin promises freedom, but it only brings slavery (John 8:34); it promises success, but brings failure; it promises life, but “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The boy thought he would “find himself,” but he only lost himself! When God is left out of our lives, enjoyment becomes enslavement.
Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1

And that’s exactly what the lost son was experiencing. In his desperation, “He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.” (Luke 15:15, NLT) He’d gone from being the son of a man of means to living high on the hog (as they say in the south) to feeding the hogs. What a transition!

In the muck and mire of the hog pen (what a place to find a Jewish boy!), Scripture says the son “came to his senses.” The King James Version translates it as “he came to himself.” The lost son found himself – his true self. You see, we were not made for sin. We were made, created, to bring glory to our creator. We were made to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” according to the Westminster catechism. The lost son returned to the person he was created to be, recognized how far removed he had become from that person, and made a decision to return. He had been to the distant land and wanted to return home.

The definition of repent is “to change one’s mind.” That’s what the prodigal son did. He changed his mind. His selfish attitude became one of humility, as evidenced by his words and actions:

18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
Luke 15:18-19 (NIV)

The son had no expectation that his father would rejoice upon seeing him again. He had no expectation of a great welcome home party. He had only the humble request that he be allowed to work as a hired hand. He came to his senses and repented. He changed what he was doing and returned to his father. And there was great rejoicing.

Just as there is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to his or her heavenly Father.

Notice, though, that there would have been no party if the son hadn’t changed his behavior as well as his thinking. If he had simply acknowledged in the hog pen that his dad was right but he was still going to live his own life. True repentance requires a change in behavior as well as thinking. Do we sometimes fall after committing to that change. Yes. But it is in continually returning to the Father that we find our salvation.

What strikes me the most about the change in the son is the great humility required to return to the father and say “I was wrong. I’m not worthy to be your son. Will you hire me as a lowly servant?”

Lord, develop that attitude in my heart in a greater way. “I was wrong. (I am wrong.) I’m not worthy to be your daughter. Will you accept me as your lowly servant?”

Of course, our loving Father says “Yes. Child, come. And let’s celebrate together. Here, let me give you freedom (in the way of complete forgiveness) and then let me give you the Kingdom.”

Wow! What an exchange!

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7In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Luke 15:7 (NLT)

Jesus concludes His parable of the lost sheep with these words. He tells us that all of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. In fact, they rejoice more over the one who returns than the overwhelming majority who simply stay the course – finish well. My life is largely focused on finishing well and helping others to do so. My focus isn’t on the lost. It’s how I’m wired. It’s how I’m gifted. But that doesn’t excuse me from praying and participating in the seeking of the lost.

If my desire is to bring God joy (and it is), can there be a better activity to participate in? It sure doesn’t sound like it from this passage.

But as I said, I’m not wired for evangelism. I’m wired for teaching. Nevertheless, I can add activities to my everyday life that support evangelism without taking away from my spiritual passions and giftings. Here are some ideas:

  • Pray. Yes, this is the most obvious, but praying for the lost isn’t something I do regularly (forgive me, Lord). Discipline yourself to pray at those times when your mind tends to wander – for example, while driving or while doing household chores. There are a number of ways we can pray:
    • Pray specifically for the hearts of those who don’t know Christ to be softened.
    • Pray for specific people, by name.
    • Pray for God to put others in their path who will spark their interest in the spiritual realm.
    • Pray for the circumstances in their lives to bring them to recognize their need for God.
    • Pray for evangelistic activities that are occurring, such as Billy Graham’s broadcast, America My Hope, and local evangelistic outreaches (even if they’re done by other churches).
    • Pray that God would use you to spark an interest in Christ before attending events or functions where non-believers will be present.
    • Pray for courage to speak out for Christ and to have that word aptly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).
    • Pray to live a loving, joyful, righteous life.
  • Smile. Laugh easily. Confound their stereotype that Christians are serious and boring. I have to work at this. I am a serious person by nature. Yet I know God wants me to smile more. I want the peace and joy I experience in Him to be evident to others. One way that happens is by smiling and laughing.
  • Be friendly as you go about your everyday. It’s easier for God to open a door when you smile and nod to that person in front of you than when you’re staring down at the groceries in your cart or at your cell phone to read your friend’s latest Facebook post
  • Be helpful. When you see someone struggling to reach something in the store and you can get it for them, do so. When they’ve dropped something on the floor, help them pick it up.
  • Don’t be rude, distant or distracted. That feeds the stereotype of the self-righteous Christian. Be present in whatever situation you find yourself.
  • Be a good-finder. That’s a Zig Ziglar-ism. Be a good-finder in those around you. When your internal attitude is to be critical of that person near you – because they’re too unkempt or too fashionably dressed, because they have too many tattoos or look like a person that would never have a tattoo, because they’re too fat or too skinny, because they’re too loud or too timid, because they’ve filled their cart with junk food or the most expensive offerings in the store – when that thing (called sin) rises up in you to begin to be critical of that person, stop. Be a good-finder. Look at the person and ask God to show you the good in them and then pray into that. Perhaps even compliment them on it. Are you in your grunge clothes and the fashionably dressed person walks by and you’re tempted to be critical because she obviously spends too much money on clothes. Stop. Sincerely compliment her on her sweater or shoes or hair. You get the idea. Criticism doesn’t open the door to share Christ. (And it closes a door to God.)
  • Rehearse the Gospel. Be ready to share the Gospel in a number of different ways and in different timeframes.

15Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
1 Peter 3:15-16a (NLT)

  • Follow God’s promptings. If you’ve asked Him to use you, He will. If you are willing to be used. It’s one thing to pray; it’s quite another thing to be obedient when God gives opportunities in response to those prayers. I know that I have ignored the Lord’s promptings to pray with or speak to a stranger. (That’s where praying for courage comes in.) I want to follow God’s promptings. How amazing is it that He even asks me to be involved in eternal things? Pretty amazing I think. And humbling. Let’s be obedient and following His promptings.

What other ideas do you have for incorporating evangelism into your everyday life? Share your ideas on our Facebook page or as a comment to this post. Let’s help one another bring joy to all of heaven!

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In my previous blog, the subject was giving more of our time (and therefore heart and life) to God. God used Jeremiah 17:4-6 to challenge me to center my life around Him. Doing so positions us to receive His blessings, instead of putting ourselves in the place of being subject to His judgment. It’s about adjusting our lives to being God-centered instead of being centered around our own wants, needs and desires.

Here’s the passage we looked at:

4The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

Verse 5 is key: We put ourselves under God’s curse when we put our trust in ourselves or others. God can and does bless us, but not to the fullest that both He and we desire.

If you’ve been a Christian for very long, I doubt that you consciously choose to trust yourself instead of God. What I find, though, is that we often say we trust God, but we live our lives as pagans do – making our own plans, working our own schedules, and quite frequently forgetting to ask God for His plans and solutions (until we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and cry out in desperation).

The question the Holy Spirit asked me as I read the passage was “Who do you think you are to anticipate the blessings of God or expect to participate in His promises, without also being subject to His judgment?” As I wrote, I could just hear some people saying “Wait a minute! You’re reading from the Old Testament. We’re under grace, not the Law.” Yes, we are under grace, but the Apostle Paul recognized that and said this:

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)

Of course we shouldn’t go on sinning. Grace isn’t a license to sin.

So we come back to the question: Who do we think we are, that we can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to God’s judgment? Yes, we are under grace, but I would argue that the Israelites of the Old Testament were also under God’s grace.

A different kind of grace – our grace means that Jesus has paid the price for our sin – we are freely forgiven; the grace God gave the Israelites was the law which defined how they should live and worship. Jesus was clear that He has not done away with the law. He came to fulfill it. He fulfilled the part of the law that required sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. But the law still exists.

And of course the Israelites were under God’s grace because He didn’t destroy them. But He did discipline them – punish them for their sins.

So I ask again (or perhaps I should say, the Holy Spirit asks again), who are we to think that we can live as we want and not incur God’s punishment?

Friends, I think it’s important that the teaching from my last blog really find a home in our spirits. I absolutely love grace. Knowing that God loved me – really loved me – revolutionized my walk with Him many years ago. Still, I find that many, many Christians have come to that same understanding I did but in the process of living since discovering that truth have forgotten that our obedience significantly impacts our relationship with God (and how He blesses or disciplines us) and with others.

Jeremiah 17 teaches us something we too easily forget just a few verses later:

9“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NIV)

We too easily deceive ourselves into believing we are deserving of the many blessings God has promised. The promises it is God’s desire to “reward” us with. But when we trust in ourselves instead of Him, those blessings that He has stored up for us slip through our fingers (v4). Instead of trusting in our own efforts, God urges us to trust in Him.

How We Trust in Ourselves –The One Example God Cites
I found it interesting that just a few verses later God gives only one example of how the Israelites were trusting in themselves:

21This is what the LORD says: Listen to my warning! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day. 22Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors.”
Jeremiah 17:21-22 (NLT)

The only specific example God gave when judging the Israelites for relying on their own strength was that they violated the Sabbath. They continued living their own lives, especially their work lives, and following their own schedules instead of honoring God’s rhythm for living.

I’m not going to argue or prescribe that you must observe a Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday, but I will put forth that we’ve gotten away from setting aside one day a week to honor and glorify and enjoy the Lord, and it is to our detriment. The Israelites were judged severely for it. Can we expect that we won’t be?

As a nation, we live in a state of exhaustion. Perhaps if we observed a day of rest that would change.

As a nation we live in a state of greed. Perhaps if we observed a day each week in which we refuse to work but instead choose to trust that God will supply all our needs, that would change.

By choosing to follow our will on the Sabbath, we are trusting in ourselves, and when we do that, before we realize it, we have become like stunted shrubs in the desert, we live in the barren wilderness and our hope for the future becomes dim. Before we know it, our hearts have turned from God.

I don’t want to deceive myself into believing that I deserve God’s blessings when in reality I’ve turned from Him by pursuing things in my own strength. I don’t want to bring curses upon myself by trusting in my own strength.

Observing the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. I understand that whether or not Christians are “required” to observe a Sabbath (or the Sabbath) is a controversial subject. For me, I can’t help but believe that observing the spirit of the Sabbath – that is, setting aside a day which is holy to the Lord – honors God and helps me depend on Him instead of my own strength. I am convinced it puts me in a position to receive His blessings instead of pulling me out of that place of submission and obedience. And I know that the more time I spend with Him, the less likely I am to deceive myself.

It won’t happen unless you decide to make it happen and then ask Gods help in making it happen. Let me encourage you to do that. If you are not in the practice of setting one day aside each week as a day to honor God (all day), look at your calendar, pray, then ruthlessly pick a day in the next two weeks when you will do that. Then jealously guard that day. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the afternoon with your family. It does mean you will not work. You will not discuss family finances with your spouse (or children). You will not go grocery shopping. I’m sure you can identify other things that quickly move you from God’s holy presence to earthly cares. (You’ll find more “Do’s and Don’ts” in the blog Observe a Weekly Sabbath Part 3, Let’s Not be Legalistic About it!)

For more on the Sabbath, you can read a three-part blog I published back in 2010 as part of our Let’s Be PC (Practicing Christians) series:

Let’s Be PC…

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 1, The Commandment

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 2, 7 Reasons to Observe a Sabbath

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 3, Let’s Not be Legalistic About It!

Enjoy your Sabbath – it’s God’s gift to you!

Doing so positions us to receive His blessings, instead of putting ourselves in the place of being subject to His judgment.

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As I read through Jeremiah 17 a few weeks ago, this passage stopped me in my tracks:

4“The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

It’s not one of those verses that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not one of those verses you hang on to when things get tough. Nevertheless, it’s the Word of God – God-breathed “is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT). This would fall into the category of correcting us when we’re wrong. We need that sometimes. At least I do. I’m assuming you do, too.

As soon as I finished this paragraph, the Holy Spirit posed a question to me: “Who do you think you are that you can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to His judgment?” We stress the promises of God, but we turn our backs on the discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Discipleship requires obedience and discipline.

Verse 5 makes a strong statement “Cursed are those who put their trust in human effort.” Cursed. That’s a strong word. Think back to (or take a 60 second side trip to go read) Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of blessings and curses. There’s a long list of blessings that accompany obedience. There’s an even longer list of curses that follow those who are disobedient.

We put ourselves in that cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Be sure you get that sentence down – we put ourselves in the cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. We move ourselves out of position to receive it.

In what ways are we trusting in human effort? In the times we live, I believe the most significant way we rely on human strength is when we set our own agendas and determine how we will use our time, money and talents. When we make these decisions on our own, it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t have time to ask God how He wants me to spend my time.” Or put more bluntly, “I don’t have for the Lord.” Whether it’s not having enough time to worship, read, pray or serve, it all adds up to the same thing – we’re trusting in our own efforts or the efforts of others instead of subordinating our to do list to God’s priorities. We are trusting in mere humans.

As I considered this, I began to think about how much time I spend with God. Let me share with you the calculations I did. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say I spend 2 hours on Sunday morning and half an hour each day with God – that would be 5.5 hours each week. (Now in all honesty, I’m being a little generous because I don’t always spend 2 hours at church on Sunday morning and it’s not all that unusual for me to spend less than half an hour in morning devotions.) But if that were my pattern, I would be spending 5.5 hours with God each week. That’s less that 3.3% of my week! If your pattern is like mine, you spend less than 3.3% of your week with God!

Now you may say “but I pray throughout the day.” OK. But be honest with yourself and with God. How much time, really, are you in fellowship with God? My guess is that if you added up all the time throughout the day that you are praying – talking and listening – you’d have another half hour or so each day. So when we add that in, we’re up to spending about 5.5% of our week with God.

Do I really think God is honored by that? No, I don’t. What do you think?

Another important question to ask is “Do I really believe that God will bless that person?”

Out of His goodness, He will bless that person. But not in all the fullness and richness of blessings He offers.

Both the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament Church lived in community that centered around God and His presence and His commands. Today, our lives center around our jobs and our families and our hobbies with God attached on the side. Most of our lives don’t reflect God as the central focus.

What did the passage say? Verse 4 said “The wonderful possession He has reserved for us slips through our fingers.” And verse 6: “We live lives that are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

If you feel like that, perhaps it’s because you’re only giving God 3.5 or 5.5% of your time.

Friends, it’s not my intention or desire to bring condemnation on you. That’s not God’s desire either. It might, however, be His desire to bring conviction. If we want to see revival in our lives and in our land, it’s time to up our game. It’s time to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

I wrote most of this blog about three weeks ago. In the past week, I’ve read a letter and a blog from two very different sources – but they were on the same topic: The need for the church to feel a sense of urgency about our mission. I didn’t go looking for these articles. One came in a regular newsletter I get from a missionary. Another came through a Christian ministry group I belong to on LinkedIn.

Church, it’s time to set aside some of the good things in our lives for that which is better. I love the story of Mary and Martha. Scripture says that Mary chose the “better” part. Martha wasn’t choosing a bad thing, she just wasn’t choosing the better thing. She wasn’t choosing to spend her time with Jesus.

We can’t give more to God unless we specifically set aside those things that aren’t the better part – that is, sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can’t give more to God unless we specifically and purposefully schedule times throughout the week to be with Him and to serve Him. Pause to look at your calendar. When during the coming week can you sit at Jesus’ feet? Write it in ink on your calendar. Make it a “#1 priority” in your electronic calendar. Do whatever it takes to choose the better part.

Turning Our Hearts Away From God
There was another phrase in verse 5 that caught my attention: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”

Friends, the very act of relying on human strength turns our hearts away from the Lord. The two go together. One thing I’m learning is that there are actions that have the direct result of pulling us away from God. Worry is one of those things. We can’t hold on to faith when we are worried because worry is like a force that pulls the suction cups of faith loose from the hope to which it’s attached.

Trusting in ourself or others is like that as well. It has the direct result of pulling us away from the Lord. As your worry rises, your faith falls. As your trust in yourself rises, your trust in God falls.

You can make a conscious decision to turn your heart from the Lord, but what I think happens more often is that our hearts are turned from the Lord as a byproduct of placing our trust in what we can do on our own.

And that leaves us no hope for the future. There is no hope because we have put ourselves under a curse.

Curses or Blessings
In Deuteronomy 28, God identifies the blessings for those who follow God’s ways and then describes the curses for those who disobey. Jeremiah 17 follows the opposite pattern. We’ve just looked at the curses for those who trust in human effort instead of God. God’s prophecy to the Israelites balances them out those curses starting in verse 7.

7“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

This is a familiar passage that many people love: I’m guessing the earlier verses have been passed over by most of us. I love verse 8. I want to have roots that reach deep into the water. I don’t want to be bothered by my environment. I’d rather produce good fruit than be a stunted shrub. The key is trusting in God – putting all our hope and confidence in Him, not in our own effort.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. His desire is to bless us. When we trust Him, we put ourselves in the place of receiving His blessing, His Kingdom. God has been encouraging me and I want to encourage all of us to give more of your day to God, to give more of your week to Him. Challenge yourself this week – start with just a week – and this afternoon look at your calendar and carve out an evening or a morning to spend a longer period of time with God.

Don’t put yourself under a curse by relying on your own strength. Put yourself in a position to receive God’s tremendous blessings.

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