Posts Tagged “1 John”

Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. Here’s more details about the plan and our schedules.

Track your reading along with us using the table below, the downloadable half-page PDF or the September/October Bookmark.

September offers an opportunity to start anew as routines change with the changing weather. If your reading declined during the summer months, jump back in and join us. We’d love to have you share what God is teaching you. E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Word of God, speak to us this month!
Sandy

Download all 2012 bookmarks here Download only the September/October 2012 bookmark here

Download a half-page PDF of the September Reading Plan here

Here’s the September reading plan:

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19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Earthly trousseaus include things like linens and dishes and home accessories – treasures a young woman wants to take into her marriage. Yes, it’s an old fashioned idea and I don’t know anyone who does it anymore – at least not anyone in America – but it symbolizes the young bride’s hope for a beautiful life with her future prince.

Christ tells us not to worry about storing up earthly treasures, but to build up our trousseaus for our marriage to the King of Kings. What treasures would honor our future husband? What treasures should we be storing up in heaven? I read this passage a few months ago and these questions tickled in the back of my mind.

Before I share my thoughts on the question, let me approach it differently. There is a startling verse in Matthew 18:

And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

We are to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is so counter-culture to us and we often skip over this verse. Becoming childlike will be the topic of some future blog. For today, I just want us to understand that God values childlikeness. When we receive Christ, we become His children:

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
1 John 1:12-13 (NIV)

Let me ask you, then, what treasures do parents store? They store the precious attempts by their children to do things that are beyond their ability. The indistinguishable picture gets hung on the refrigerator. The nearly dead flowers that have been clutched too tightly in chubby little hands are placed in a vase in the middle of the table. God is no different from earthly parents. Well, yes, actually, He is quite different. But you get my point – He treasures our attempts to be like Him, even when those attempts fall short. Here are some of the things that build fill up our trousseau in heaven:

  • Every act of mercy
  • Every self-sacrificial act
  • Every act of humility – giving credit to others when you could have put the spotlight on yourself, showing deference to others
  • Every stand against satan, even those in which we get beat up a bit
  • Every act of forgiveness
  • Every act of kindness
  • Every step taken by faith, especially when there was no sight

I have come to believe that these things are greater treasures in God’s eyes than the writing of a tremendous book, leading a great organization or preaching the perfect sermon – all of which receive great acclaim within the Christian community. I’m not saying writing these things aren’t treasured by God – they are, and they will carry forward into eternity. I am saying that God honors what is done in secret and what is done at great personal expense without expecting glory in return.

Lord, help us to embrace the secret, sacrificial acts that bring glory only to You.

There is one other thing that I know builds up our heavenly trousseau. Read these verses from the book of Revelation:

8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

~~~~~~

3Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Rev 5:8, 8:3-4 (NIV)

Our prayers are so valued by God that they are stored up as incense in golden bowls in heaven. Our prayers for others, for revival, for the lost are sacrificial acts of mercy and humility. They take stands against satan and represent faith that overcomes lack of sight.

This week…pray for opportunities to build up your heavenly trousseau – and then walk through those open doors.

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Set Apart for Holiness

7So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the LORD, am your God. 8Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the LORD, who makes you holy….

23Do not live by the customs of the people whom I will expel before you. It is because they do these terrible things that I detest them so much. 24But I have promised that you will inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the LORD, am your God, who has set you apart from all other people.
Leviticus 20:7-8, 23-24 (NLT)

While these chapters may seem tedious, there are several things that I really like about them:

  • These chapters are all about God teaching the Israelites how to live a life worthy of being God’s chosen people. The repeated theme is “Be holy.” I love that God teaches us what we need to know. We aren’t expected to always know what is right and what is wrong. When we don’t know, we simply go to God who gives wisdom generously.
  • God tells the Israelites, and us by extension, to “set yourselves apart to be holy.” We are to live differently. We are to be proactive about it – we’re not to go with the flow, join the crowd or do our own thing. We’re to follow God’s approach to living. Sure, many of the verses in these chapters don’t apply to us today…but their underlying principles do. We’re to live more circumspectly, always aware that our God lives among us and He is a holy God.
  • Not only are we to set ourselves apart, God also makes it clear that He has set us apart. God is always the one who moves toward us first. He sent His Son so that we might have life…long before we were ever thinking of turning to Him. He set us apart to be His very own people…so we’re to set ourselves apart.

God is so good! He didn’t have to set us apart – He didn’t have to choose us. He doesn’t have to help me to become holy, but He does.

Loving Your Neighbor
These are the major principles of the chapters that I like, but there are also some individual verses that jump out at me. Did these verses wake you up as you read them?

“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Leviticus 19:18 (NLT)

A few words catch my attention…Neverbear a grudgeagainst anyone…OK, Lord. You’ll have to help me with that sometimes. I’ll agree with you, but…please help!

Notice the second half of this verse – This verse didn’t originate with Jesus in the Gospels. He is quoting this verse. You won’t find the phrase “love your neighbor” anywhere else in the Old Testament. Pretty cool, huh? That buried in the midst of all these laws in Leviticus is the law Jesus said was the second most important one (Mark 12:31).

It’s a Life-Giving Law

If you obey my laws and regulations, you will find life through them. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 18:5 (NLT)

Obeying God’s laws brings life. The stereotype, of course, is that God’s laws are restrictive and lead to a life that lacks joy. Not so. They bring life – LIFE! I’m reminded of this verse in the book of James:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:25 (NIV)

When are we going to get it through our heads (and hearts and wills) that making God-choices leads to blessing? I want the blessing. Lord, help me to make Your choices. Today we studied the book of 1 John with a group of friends. One of the promises this book carries is that if we pray anything according to God’s will, we can have confidence that He hears us and answers the prayer. (1 John 5:14-15) Asking God to help me make His choices is undoubtedly a prayer that is within His will. Praise God! I can have confidence that He is answering that prayer!

Living a set-apart life, pursuing holiness and seeking to make God-choices – three different ways of saying the same thing, actually – requires diligence and reliance on the Holy Spirit who is alive in us. He will teach us and enable us to live such a life. I want LIFE – how about you?

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The laws given in these chapters are quite some laws! It is probably my least favorite portion of the Bible. I typically eat breakfast while reading my Bible in the morning…except when I hit these chapters. I move to the New Testament reading, perhaps even reading a bit ahead…until I find an evening to read through this material. I appreciate that God is giving the Israelites laws for cleanliness, some I believe for healthy living and some to identify the Israelites as set apart from the nations around them.

Those who serve the God of the Israelites are to live differently – we are to live differently. Sometimes that means abstaining from certain foods or drinks, sometimes it means abstaining from certain activities. Always it means being more loving toward one another than those who don’ know our God.

I’m studying the book of 1 John with the folks at a local nursing home. This week we were in chapter 4.

“Beloved, let us love one another.” 1 John 4:7a

F.F. Bruce wrote the following about this verse in his commentary The Epistles of John:

“The love which the New Testament enjoins involves a consuming passion for the well-being of others.”

“A consuming passion for the well-being of others.”  That’s a radical way to live! It’s a biblical way to live!

As you can see, sometimes God uses Scripture to teach me, encourage me, convict me, or inspire me using the direct meaning of the text. Sometimes, as in the case of these chapters, He uses it circumspectly – to teach a tangential or underlying point – reminding me of another teaching that He wants to reinforce. All Scripture is profitable…

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It All Started with Edward
In 1855 there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward taught Sunday School at a church in Boston. There was a 17-year-old boy in his Sunday School class who Kimball described as having one of the darkest hearts he’d ever seen. One day Mr. Kimball felt lead to visit the boy outside of Sunday School, so he went to the store where the teenager worked. By his own admission, Mr. Kimball was unsure of himself. He wrote about it later:

“I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then during business hours,” he latter reported. “And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned, might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. Then, I decided to make a dash for it and have it over at once.”

Can you sense Mr. Kimball’s insecurity from his own words? He later described himself as having made a rather anemic presentation of the gospel with the young man. But the boy was ready. God had been working on him.

That young man’s name was Dwight L. Moody.

I see several things in this story…

  • We never know what is in another person’s heart or when they are ready
  • Trust the Spirit’s prompting
  • Believe that God is going to use you!

Dwight Moody was holding a meeting in the late 1870’s at Lake Forest College in a suburb of Chicago. After the service, he counseled a student who was struggling with the assurance of his salvation. That young man later became a friend and co-laborer with Dwight Moody.

That man was J. Wilbur Chapman.

Mr. Chapman was an evangelist like Dwight Moody and later hired a young man to assist him in his ministry.  That man was an former baseball player who had come to know Christ at a city mission in Chicago.

The man was Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday was saved in 1887. Many years later he told the story like this:

“Twenty-seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world … and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. … Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes and slide trombones – and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday school.

“And God painted on the canvas of my recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces.

“Many have long since turned to dust. I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, ‘We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission? I am sure you will enjoy it. You can hear drunkards tell how they have been saved and girls tell how they have been saved from the red-light district.’

“I arose and said to the boys, ‘I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ.”

His story tells me some things:

  • God uses seeds planted in our childhood.
  • God used the Christians playing various instruments and singing on a street corner to touch long-overlooked memories.
  • God used the gentle boldness, enthusiasm and compassion of some unknown person to bring Billy Sunday to the mission and another nameless person in history to bring Billy Sunday to Christ.

Billy Sunday became a well-known evangelist. He held a series of evangelistic meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1924.

Out of those meeting an organization of businessmen with a heart for evangelism was formed.

This group held an all day prayer meeting in the cow pasture of William and Morrow Graham. During that prayer meeting, someone prayed “Lord, raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

That summer the businessmen invited an evangelist named Mordecai Ham to hold evangelistic meetings in their town. During those meetings, a young man came forward and accepted Christ.

That man was Billy Graham, the oldest son of William and Morrow Graham.

Lots of Names, One Theme
Well, I’ve just thrown a lot of names and details at you, but the theme is that history full of people – people just like you and me – whom God has used in extraordinary ways.

Beginning with Mr. Kimball – he was a Sunday School teacher of teenage boys,  and by his own admission his presentation of the gospel was pretty weak – but God used him to bring one of the greatest evangelists of all time to the Lord, Dwight Moody. But Mr. Kimball’s influence didn’t end there. There is a direct line of influence from Dwight Moody all the way down to Billy Graham. And of course the influence continues. Billy Graham’s son Franklin leads an organization called Samaritan’s Purse that provides food, clothing, shelter and medicine to people in need all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands, perhaps millions of people have been impacted by this ministry.

And we can trace it back to Edward Kimball, a Sunday School teacher in a church in Boston. And we can trace it back to a young man who struggled to believe Scripture that says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)

And we can trace it back to men and women who played instruments and sang gospel songs on a street corner where drunk ball players took a break from their drinking.

And we can trace it back to some businessmen who attended an all-day prayer meeting.

We can even trace it back to that one individual who boldly prayed “Lord raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

The thing that stands out so clearly to me from all of this is that within this chain of historic events there are a number of Christians who had large ministries that were used by God to sweep multitudes into His kingdom, and there were a number of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived out their calling and obediently ministered to the few whom God put in their path. The chain of events would have broken down without the obedient and faithful action of the ordinary Christians. While Edward Kimball and the slide trombone player on the Chicago street corner were never called by God to have a worldwide ministry like that of Dwight Moody or Billy Graham, both of those great evangelists can trace their spiritual ancestry back to those faithful Christian workers.

God has a plan for each one of us. Scripture makes that clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking to Jeremiah) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

There was nothing extraordinarily special about Jeremiah. What God did for Jeremiah, He has done for each of us – not necessarily calling us to be prophets to the nation, but creating us for a purpose.

The Psalmist wrote this awesome passage that has the same message:

13    For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

15    My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place.
    When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16    Your eyes saw my unformed body.
    All the days ordained for me
    were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139: 13-16

The message is repeated in the New Testament:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

That’s an important sentence. God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

So, everyone in that chain of history that began with Edward Kimball and ended with Billy and Franklin Graham stepped up to the plate to swing at the pitch God threw them. They had given their time and their talents to God. Instead of staying home and watching the latest episode of their must-see-TV, they spent all day in prayer. Instead of going out drinking with his buddies, Billy Sunday said “Today, I’m going to Jesus.”

I want to encourage each of us to get in the game. Let’s not be satisfied with life as we know it, but allow God to use us in ways that leave a lasting impact on this world.

I want to see God move. I’m not going to see it without getting in the game. I’m not going to see my community won to Christ by just going to church every Sunday. I’m not going to see men and women grow in their faith by just enjoying fellowship with other believers. I’m not dissing those things. Both are very important. But we can’t change the world without being in it and being purposeful in it.

What has to change for you and me to accomplish the purposes that God has prepared in advance for us to do? Here are some ideas:

  • Believe that God wants to use us
  • Change our patterns and schedules
  • Know what He has called us to
  • Step out in faith, even when we don’t have all the answers

A Final Encouragement

Phil 1:4, 6 “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God will bring the work He’s started to completion, but we have a role to play. Your role may be large, but more likely it will be small. You may not be used by God to lead thousands to Christ, but you may be used by God to lead the world’s next great evangelist to Christ. You are a part of God’s chain of events in human history.

Others can’t keep us from accomplishing the things God has ordained for us to do, but we can. We can step out of the chain of events and not have that impact that God wants us to have. God will still accomplish His purposes on earth…He’ll just use someone else. Don’t let someone else receive the blessing of serving God that He has set aside for you. Get in the game. Step up to the plate. Start today!

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Christmas cookies…celebrations with friends…family dinners…special (once a year) foods…the dreaded or much anticipated fruit cake (depending on your perspective)…New Year toastings…Did I mention Christmas cookies? For the person who is learning to eat in a more healthy (and weight conscious) way, Christmas might also be known as the Season of Temptation. This week I have had such a longing for raisin cookies made using my great grandma’s recipe. They’re not your typical raisin cookies. Hers is a unique recipe that calls for coffee and lots of raisins and lots of flour. And my mom made them every year at Christmas. Earlier in our marriage I followed the tradition. I could make them now…but I’d eat them and my recent weight loss success would be undone.

I’ve weathered two Thanksgiving dinners and one Christmas party quite well. Then I got to thinking about those raisin cookies. Then came a trip over the weekend to a market with great prices on cheese and a sampling counter. That’s when the phrase “Season of Temptation” struck me.

Only one more Christmas lunch, two Christmas dinners, and one New Year’s Eve celebration. (sigh!) Oh, and the impromptu invitation to share an afternoon with friends.

A Perversion of the Christmas Season
It’s less than a week before Christmas and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to include holiday celebrations with friends and family in my healthy eating plan each week. Of course all those traditions and celebrations center around special (i.e., high fat, high calorie) foods. And my mind is becoming increasingly willing to justify bad choices. Hey, it’s only once a year – enjoy! When do you ever get to eat these things? That family member made this just for you, you have to have another serving! One taste won’t hurt! You deserve to treat yourself after the day/week you’ve had.

As I walked the aisles of the local market, I was struck by the phrase “season of temptation.” Here we are, in a season which celebrates the birth of our Savior and it has become a season of personal and societal overindulgence. How sad it must make Jesus feel sometimes!

Let me be clear – I believe Christmas should be a season of celebration. It’s just that somehow it doesn’t seem that all the celebration should be so self-centered. I want to eat all those things because I want to indulge my taste buds. I’ve learned that my stomach won’t be indulged – it will just feel over-full, bloated and perhaps even a bit queasy or acidic. But my mouth will sure enjoy it while I’m eating it!

Temptations Abound
The holiday season brings with it many different kinds of temptation. Notice that I called it the “holiday season.” Christmas – the celebration of Christ’s birth doesn’t bring those temptations. Rather, our enemy seeks to continually divert our attention away from the reason for the season and onto the “holiday” nature of the season. He tempts us in various ways, encouraging us to:

  • Over eat
  • Over spend
  • Drink to excess
  • Speak too much and widen that gap between you and a family member
  • Indulge in self-pity or entertain loneliness
  • Accept too many invitations and lose the time you would spend with the Lord
  • Choose to worry instead of rest in Christ

With less than a week before Christmas, I suspect that you, like me, are in the midst of your season of temptation. I’m praying you’ll take a step back with me to (1) consider your situation and (2) make a plan. Let’s do it.

Consider Your Situation
I am encouraged when I remember that Christ understands my temptation. Scripture says that He was tempted in all things.

Read this:

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:1-4

Matthew 4:1 says that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” This was done on purpose, folks! It didn’t just happen that Jesus was praying and fasting for forty days and then satan tempted Him. Part of his “assignment” here on earth was to experience our temptations. He was tempted to satisfy His earthly, human appetites for food, drink, power and riches by using supernatural power.

Were those powers rightfully His to use? Absolutely! He was God and never stopped being God while He lived life as a man on earth. But He voluntarily chose to suspend His supernatural powers and do only as He saw the Father doing.

The second, and perhaps more important question, is “Was it part of God’s plan for Jesus to use His supernatural power to satisfy His earthly appetites at that time?” Clearly the answer is no. Jesus’ temptation was much larger than any temptation we will ever face. He was fully capable of using His supernatural power to accomplish anything at any time. Yet He chose to not satisfy His desires, but those of His Father. And His Father had bigger things in mind for Him.

The same can be true of us – I am blessed because I have the power to eat most anything I want whenever I want. I have the money to buy the food and I have the capability to eat the food. The question is, is it part of God’s plan for me to use my power in that way? The answer is no, so I face a choice – obey God confident that He has bigger things in mind for me, or indulge myself.

That’s my situation. You have a similar situation. I don’t know what your temptation is, but recognizing it and the true reality of it is the first thing necessary to overcoming that temptation. So I encourage you, friends, to think about what you are or will be tempted by this week…ideally before that temptation has an opportunity to take you by surprise. There’s more to my situation and yours, and we’ll learn about it as we begin to plan.

Make a Plan – Add the Spiritual Element
In reading about Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we see that He overcame temptation by keeping His focus on the Truth and extinguishing satan’s fiery darts with Scripture.

The truth is that God’s plan for me is to have a greater impact for eternity than I can imagine and my ability to walk in that calling is directly tied to my submission to His will. Each time Jesus was tempted, He chose to stay in God’s will – He refocused His mind from the earthly temptation to the greater will of God. When I remind myself of the link between my temptation and God’s will it reframes the picture. My ability to resist the temptation takes on a spiritual dynamic that has so much more power than my faltering willpower.

Jesus replied to satan, “It is written…” – He used God’s Word in His battles with temptation. This goes beyond reframing the battle by bringing weapons into our arsenal that we don’t have in the natural. I can repeat in my mind, “I won’t eat that piece of cake, I won’t eat that piece of cake, I won’t eat that piece of cake,” for hours on end (which I did yesterday as I sat around a table visiting with friends while a half-eaten cake sat in the middle of the table just begging to be snacked on). Or I can remind myself of these Scriptures (I’m paraphrasing to personalize them):

I have overcome the world, because the One who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4:4

No temptation has seized me except what others have experienced. And God is faithful; He will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear, but when I am tempted He will also provide a way out so that I can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

Man (or woman) does not live on cake alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Matthew 4:4b

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

Which type of self-talk is more likely to lead to victory over the temptation? Obviously the scriptural one. Refocus your thoughts when tempted. Let the voice of God’s Word drown out the voice of the enemy.

Make a Plan – Practical Ideas
Don’t rely only on the spiritual element to bring victory. We live and interact in the natural world. God brings supernatural power to the battle, but we are foolish if we don’t also apply natural wisdom and practices to the battle. For example, not everyone at the gathering yesterday was sitting around the table with the half-eaten cake that was tempting me. Eventually I realized my foolishness, got up from the table and visited with others gathered in the living room. The temptation to eat more of the cake vanished almost immediately!

While each of us deal with our own temptations in different ways, here are some practical suggestions for curbing your overindulgence;

  • Identify the activities and events you will face in the coming week that will bring the most temptations with them. Identifying them in advance allows you to pray about them and develop a plan of attack. Our enemy has plans for attack. Let’s counter them with our own plans.
  • Pray about those anticipated activities and events. Pray about the people who will be there. Pray for ideas about how to escape the temptation. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 – with the temptation, God will provide a way of escape so that you may be able to bear it.
  • Can you avoid problematic events? Sometimes the answer is “absolutely yes.” We are not required to participate in every holiday celebration we’re invited to. We’re not required to have every minute of our schedule full – in fact, doing so makes us more vulnerable to temptation. Be sure your calendar includes time to spend with God and time to recharge your battery. Tired warriors are beaten warriors.
  • Remove yourself from activities that feed your temptation. Are you tempted to over spend? Leave the store and/or walk away from your computer Internet shopping. Do something different! Are you tempted to feel sorry for yourself? Make a plan to serve at a homeless shelter on Christmas eve or Christmas day or invite a friend to spend the day with you.
  • Is it possible to change the situation either by removing some element or adding a new element. For example, if you have required events that bring with them a temptation to drink to excess, bring your own beverage that sparkles with flavor – some sparkling water, juice or cider. Spend your time visiting with the sober crowd. Chew gum. Invite a family to take a walk around the block with you to escape the crowded house and catch up with what’s happening in their life.

Victory
There is victory over temptation, friends. Jesus’ temptation in the desert teaches me two things: Jesus understands our temptation and is able to help us when we are tempted. Hebrews says it this way:

10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering…

18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:10, 18

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“Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”
2 Timothy 1:12b

As I read that Scripture today, my mind drifted to the topic of needless worry. Even as I type the phrase, I realize that the word “needless” is…well, needless. It’s not necessary – because it is true of all worry. It’s not like some worry is needed and some is needless. All worry is needless. There is no worry that is justified.

What captured me about this verse is that it gives me both:

  • the reason that worry is never justified, and
  • the method for achieving a “don’t worry” lifestyle

The reason – He is able

“He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”

God is able. Period. He is able to guard whatever we’ve given to him. What value is worry? It doesn’t add one inch to my height (Matthew 6:27) and it doesn’t make me happy or content. More likely the weight of the worry slumps me over, gives me gray hairs and wrinkles, and fills my day with negativity.

You already know lots of verses about God’s faithfulness and capability, but let me remind you of just two:

My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory. (Philippians 4:19)

5Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  6So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

The method (1) – Entrust your life and life situations to Him

“He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”

What is He able to guard? That which I have entrusted to Him. What are you worred about today? Have you entrusted it to Him? Have you cast your cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7)? Or are you holding them in your heart…so that they leave no room for God? God’s perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18)! Use that perfect love to cast your fears back upon the Lord.

The method (2) – Know God

“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced…”

Do you really know God? Do you know Him well enough to be convinced that He is able? Further, do you allow that knowledge to convince you of it? Knowing something is different from being convinced of it. Being convinced of something generally requires either a testing of the knowledge we have to prove it as fact or an overwhelming stack of evidence that make the knowledge irrefutable.

I’ll be honest – the first time I said “yes” to God I didn’t know him very well. I knew the central points of the Gospel:

  • God was a reality (a major stepping stone for me because I had rejected that point most of my life)
  • That the Bible was the Word of God (not a book of Grimm’s fairy tales as I had been referring to it)
  • That I was a sinner (that was a pretty easy one)
  • That Jesus paid the penalty for my sins by dying on the cross
  • That I needed to accept Jesus’ gift of forgiveness of my sins in order to spend eternity in heaven (I didn’t quite know what this meant, but the alternative wasn’t at all appealing)
  • That if I rejected Jesus’ gift I would spend eternity in hell

For about a month before accepting Jesus as my Savior, I was convinced of all of these central points except the first one! I had read enough of the Bible and enough about the Bible that I was convinced it was not a book simply written by men to tell a story we wanted to hear. It was too full of fulfilled prophecies and the realities of life for that. The evidence was stacked up so high that I could no longer deny that Scripture is valid and true. Once I was convinced of that, the points that follow were no-brainers.

Yet still I struggled with that first point – truly believing that there is a God who existed before time began and will exist forever. Such a concept was (and still is) outside my ability to comprehend. It took an experience with God for me to be fully convinced that He existed and that He cared for me. I found myself in serious danger one night – in a situation in which I was totally defenseless. When I emerged from the situation totally unharmed, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had intervened. At that moment I became convinced that He was real and that He had intervened in my life, even if I didn’t understand or acknowledge His existence. (It has since dawned on me that if I could comprehend this God I serve, He wouldn’t be worth serving – duh!)

Since that time God has shown Himself to be real and alive and strong over and over again. Each experience I have with Him enables me to say as Job did “I know my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25) Often when this verse is quoted, the last half of that verse is left off. Let’s not do that! It is an affirmation just as Paul’s affirmation in 2 Timothy. Job knew that no matter what happened on this earth that one day his Redeemer would “win.” Paul says that he is convinced that His Redeemer is able to keep everything that he entrusts to Him – in other words, that Jesus will win over any and all that the devil throws at Him.

Do you know Him well enough to know that He will hold what you have entrusted to Him? I hope so. Yet we all have times when our faith waivers. Whether you’re just getting to know Him or have known Him for years but find your faith waivering, the process of knowing God and becoming convinced of His awesome power are the same: Spend time with Him in many ways every day.

  • Read His word.
  • Talk to Him.
  • Listen for His response.
  • Worship Him.
  • Serve Him.
  • Talk about Him with your friends.

Frends, I challenge you to give God a chance to further convince you of His faithfulness, power and great love by entrusting your biggest concern in life to Him today. Yep, today.

  • Stop for a moment here and consider what is the most pressing issue in your life.
  • Now take a few moments to entrust God with that issue. Go ahead – say it out loud so that you hear yourself giving it to God.
  • Now, rest in your confidence that He is able and begin to look forward to watching God move in that area of your life.

I think I’ll close and do that myself. Let me know how it goes for you!

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Love, The Gospel & The Law

This month we’ll read:

  • The three letters of John and the book of Philemon (think “love”)
  • The book of Luke (think “Gospel”)
  • Deuteronomy (think “Law”)

The exciting thing is that all reveal God’s purposes, His nature and His great love for us. Here’s a snippet from Deuteronomy, Luke and 1 John.

7“The LORD did not choose you and lavish his love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! 8It was simply because the LORD loves you, and because he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such amazing power… 9Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and constantly loves those who love him and obey his commands. Deuteronomy 7:-9

30b“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end….35b So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:30-35

1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him…. 3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 4Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins…. 1 John 3:1-5

If you don’t know this God, I encourage you to read with us this month. If you do know this God, I encourage you to read with us this month. He has something to say to each of us. I’m looking forward to it!

Blessings, Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for March is below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
1 Peter 1:1b-2 (NIV)

I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the lands of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia. 2God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood.
1 Peter 1:1b-2 (NLT)

I love the intros to many of the letters. There’s so much packed in those two and a half verses. Let’s unpack it a bit. It’s hard for me to be succinct because each phrase could be a whole sermon. Peter is writing to…

1) “God’s elect” or “God’s chosen people” – Those of us who have accepted Christ, those of us who bear the name Christian, are God’s elect or chosen people. It does something wonderful in my heart to know that God has chosen me, from the beginning of time, to be His. Wow! What encouragement that is to me. I am a chosen one of God and that ought to be the most significant piece of information and driving factor in my life.

“Lord, help me to make it so when I get misdirected.”

2) “Who are living as foreigners (strangers) in the world” – Our home is not this world, no matter where we live. Our home is in heaven with the Lord for all of eternity. Christ is preparing a special place for us there that will be perfectly suited to us. We are just passing through this world – let’s not get over attached to it! As strangers, this world ought to feel a bit “foreign” to us – we ought to be a bit uncomfortable in it. If we are comfortable in this world, it means that we’ve adjusted our actions, thoughts and deeds to conform to the standards and practices of this world instead of God’s world.

“Lord, remind me of my true home when I begin to get too comfortable in this one.”

3) “God chose you” – It is important to remember that it was God who did the choosing. Declaring with Joshua “me and my household will serve the Lord” is a good thing – but it is important that God chose us first. Otherwise, we can become prideful knowing that we made the correct, the best, decision, while some others still wander in darkness.

“Lord, as for me and my household, we will serve You…with humility and eternal gratitude for Your magnificent grace. Thank You for choosing me.”

4) “the Spirit has made you holy” – It is not our good works that makes us holy, or our regular attendance at church, or the wonderful time we had in worship this morning. It is the “sanctifying work of the Spirit.” He is the only one who can make us holy enough to stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit teaches and guides us into holy living. Even better than that (from a worldly perspective), the Spirit teaches and guides us into loving holy living. In the natural, we think that sin is fun and holiness is boring. We have bought into a horrible lie of satan. Sinful living is hurtful and carries many, many negative consequences. Conversely, holy living brings life in greater abundance and joy.

“Holy Spirit, thank You for your sanctifying work in my life. I give you full permission to change me and change my thinking to make me holy.”

5) “for obedience to Jesus Christ” – We were not chosen on a whim or for no reason – we were chosen for a specific purpose – for obedience to Jesus Christ. I like to forget that sometimes and prefer to act in obedience to my own wishes and desires. It is our obedience to Jesus Christ that sets us apart as foreigners in the world in which we live. The aim of the sanctifying work of the Spirit is to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ who learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8).

“Lord, I submit to You. I submit to Your will for my life. Help me to become a better servant in Your kingdom.”

6) “for…sprinkling by His blood” – The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sins (1 John 1:7-9). We have been chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ and for the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah! I am forgiven! No more shame, no more guilt. He has cleansed me.

“Lord, again – thank You! Thank You! Thank You for choosing me and for forgiving me of all my sins. I so need it because I am a sinner and cannot wash that sin away. But You can and You did. Thank You.”

Friends, have you been cleansed from your sins? Are you one of God’s chosen people?

If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you are, and all of this applies to you.

If you have never before recognized your need for a Savior, or don’t even understand what that phrase means, read more about it here. If you are feeling a tug at your heart or curiosity at what you’re reading, that is God motivating you to begin or continue your journey toward Him. He is calling you – He doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing Him – you need simply to respond. Pray simply –

“Lord, I want to know more about you. Come into my life, forgive me of my sins and send Your Holy Spirit to teach me how to live for You.”

If that’s the prayer of your heart, you are called and chosen by God. E-mail me (Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com) or send me a message through Facebook so that I can celebrate with you and help you get started on the right foot. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

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