Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jumping For Joy

Today is Beth’s 6th birthday, and one of the things I look forward to on her birthday is our Advent reading for December 4th which is Luke 1:11-14.

Luke 1:11-14. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”

We think it is pretty cool that on our Elizabeth Joy’s birthday that our advent reading extending years before she was born spoke on this day of Elizabeth’s joy when an angel spoke to Zacharias about the baby he and Elizabeth would have which would be the prophet (John the Baptist) who proclaimed the coming of our Lord. Later we will read that when Mary came to visit Elizabeth that the baby in her womb jumped for joy.

Both the birth of John and the birth of Jesus were unique in their own way, Elizabeth being beyond bearing years and Mary never having had sexual relations with a man. BUT GOD, this is how He chose to work, and we can look today and marvel about how He has worked and continues to work. Beyond that we can marvel that He chooses to reveal Himself to us both through His Word and through the indwelling of His Spirit, and that He calls us to come to Him and talk with Him and Him with us.

(By the way, we are not perfect in reading the advent verses. We missed yesterday and will make it up today (Luke 1:8-10))

Luke 1:8-10. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young

My thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways and thoughts higher than yours. Remember who I AM when you spend time with Me. Marvel at the wonder of being able to commune with the King of the universe – any time, any place. Never take this amazing privilege for granted!

Though I am vastly higher and greater than you, I am training you to think My thoughts. As you spend time in My Presence, My thoughts gradually form in your mind. My Spirit is the Director of this process. Sometimes He brings Bible verse to mind. Sometimes He enables you to hear Me “speak” directly to you. These communications strengthen you and prepare you for whatever is before you on your life-path. Take time to listen to My voice. Through your sacrifice of precious time, I bless you far more than you dare to ask.

Colossians 4:2. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Psalm 116:17. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.

Quoted earlier is Isaiah 55:8-9.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Being Reverent

Titus 2:3. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,
It might be very easy for guys to check out on this one and say that it does not apply. But here we have to be careful, both in the sense that the characteristics spoken of here do cross male/female lines, and also that husbands are charged with loving their wives and seeing that they are given support and encouragement in growing into the kind of woman spoken of here and who Paul refers to as one who “has no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”
I’ve been involved in the Boy Scouts for a long time and even as a leader I am expected to uphold the Scout Oath and Law. The Scout Law is a 12 point statement of attributes that Scouts are to strive for, where the last of them is that “a Scout is reverent.”  Here is how it is described for the scouts: “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”  While this does not carry the exact intent of the usage in Titus, it does reflect an institutionalized recognition that all people, men and women, are to be reverent in their behavior toward God and others.
One thing I noticed about the Scout Law and its influential source, the Bible, is that one cannot be reverent without being respectful. In Paul’s closing comment on marriage, Ephesians 5:33, we read that women are to be respectful toward their husbands. Peter even speaks of the wife winning her disobedient husband by her pure and respectful behavior (1 Peter 3:2). The New International Version, in translating this verse, speaks of the husband being won as he responds to the purity and reverence shown by his wife.
Exuding reverence is just the start of the list, but it is a critical start. All of the other character traits of the Titus woman stem from her living as one who is reverent toward God and toward others. One who is respectful will not gossip, something men do as well. One who is reserved will not lose control by diving into alcohol, again men are guilty here. And one who is focused on doing right, male or female, will be one who is able to show others how to do so as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

No Cloudiness With God

Titus 2:1-2 But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.

Some time ago I had a counseling appointment where the husband had stated that a friend scoffed at him because he was going to a Christian counselor rather than someone who would help him with his relationship. It seems that this friend of his had a concept that all Christian counselors do is hammer people with the Bible and beat them into submission no matter what their real heart desire might be.

This gave me an opportunity to share with the individual about our God of relationships who understands without any cloudiness what it takes to live a full and satisfying life filled with a joy that surpasses any daily happiness. And our primary way of learning about this God is to absorb ourselves into His Word and to take it fully to heart.

I was reminded of the movie “Fireproof” where the husband, Caleb, was challenged to take a 40 day dare by his father, and he only did it because his father insisted. His heart was not there, and there was a lot of discouragement along the way. But one day he learned that it was more than just jumping through hoops, but it was about the relationship and that relationship first and foremost was with the God he came to know. And as he came to know God and trust him, God’s Word came alive and God worked powerfully to change Caleb. In the movie Caleb’s marriage found newness not because of the hoops that were jumped through, but because of the hearts that were changed.

Titus tells us first and foremost to teach sound doctrine. The world does not have this and the world does not have the God who makes it powerful. And as we age in Christ we should evidence more and more of His character. The character traits expressed in verse two are those that should be continually growing in us and one day mark every one of us. But they don’t fully happen overnight, and once they begin to happen they don’t stay there without constant attention.

Someone who has experienced life and dealt with it properly before God is someone who can then be clear minded when things happen. He is someone who is worthy of respect and wrapped in self-control. He does not become sound in his faith by accident. He does not become sound in love by osmosis (absorption). And he does not become able to endure by hiding his head when situations arise. If you have an idea what you want to look like in the end (Christ), then you need to seek fully after Him now and submit yourself to His work in your life.

Joe Burgess (From 2009 02 08 Small Group blog and edited for posting)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

In Matthew 10:28 we are reminded that it is God and God alone who holds the key to heaven and hell. It is God alone who makes that determination, and His Word declares the basis upon which that decision has been made – the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. In the verses that follow Matthew 10:28 we get a view of how we are to respond to him in light of this truth. Salvation is not a thing to be taken lightly, and Scripture declares that of those who have received salvation much is expected.

There are many who give lip service to God, but who twist and distort truth to suit their own agenda or preference. The very words of Christ declare that the disciple is not above his master or the student above his teacher. We have no right to mishandle what God has given us. The results are dramatic when you live in proper submission to our most awesome God.

What does fearing God look like, and just how can we learn to fear Him in an appropriate way? Take time to consider your own life and what changes need to be made. Ask yourself, just how significant is the fear of God?

Today is Election Day in the United States, and there are a wide variety of motivations that people have in choosing who and what to vote for or even against. Some of these motivations can be a fear of what might happen if one person is elected or a bill is passed. But when it comes to the end of the day and all of the votes are counted we all have to live with the outcomes. And regardless of those outcomes, we need to always keep in mind that our real hope comes from the Lord, and it is only He who has us firmly wrapped in His hands and who is both our provider and protector.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fearing Man or Trusting and Following God

Fear is an interesting motivator. People tend to live their lives based upon their fears. Some fear negative reactions and act in compliant ways in order to avoid them. Some respond to the possibility of a negative reaction by running away, either internally or physically. Whether it is to please (or calm) a spouse, boss, parent, or even a pressing situation individuals are daily motivated to respond in accordance with their fears. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that this kind of fear is a trap, and I don’t think it takes much explanation or exploration to discover just how true this statement is.
At the same time, the Bible tells us of another kind of fear, one that in reality is incredibly freeing, and that is the fear of the Lord. Putting Matthew 10:28 and Proverbs 29:25 together we get an interesting contrast in comparison to our fearing man himself. In Matthew we are told to fear God instead of man, because all man can do is take your physical life (which on a human scale is no small thing). But it is God alone who is able to destroy our very souls and control eternal existence. It is God who created this small planet in the vastness of the universe, and it is God who can hold the entirety of the universe in His hand. It is the same God, who we read in Psalm 139, who has His hand on our shoulder, who is holding our hand, who is intimately acquainted with all of our ways, and who has ordained every day of our life before there was even one of them. Yes, our God is huge, but our God also cares for the smallest and most finite of details.
In Proverbs we read that “He who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” The New American has a good literal translation of this word. It means to be made high. But several of the other translations may have a clearer grasp on the intent of its usage.  In them we read words such as “protected” or “kept safe.” In thinking about this I am reminded of taking my little kids to the beach and standing in the waves. Every now and then one comes in that is a bit more aggressive than anticipated and the child starts to panic a bit. It is then that I simply lift then up above the water.
The question we daily have to answer is who are we going to fear and give our obedience to? Are we going to be people who are moved by fear of the negative, or loss, or of someone who only has the ability to take our physical lives? Or, are we going to be ones who fear and reverence through our worship, obedience , and service the one who gave us life, gave us eternal life, and who holds absolutely everything together? How big is our God? What changes do you need to make in your life to better reflect these truths?
Joe Burgess (Originally written in 2009 for small group discussion)