Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Our God Is an Awesome God!

Awesome.

It's a word that gets thrown around a lot these days.
  "That movie was awesome!"
  "You can come tomorrow? Awesome!"
  "Oh, there are some chips left. Awesome!"

But maybe we use this word too much, too flippantly. Maybe if we appreciated what this word truly means, then we might be a bit more careful what we apply it to. I say this because that is exactly what happened with me. I used to describe any number of random things as "awesome" on a daily basis. But when I understood "awesome" for what it really is, all of a sudden I found it escaping my mouth far less often. 

If you look up the definition of "awesome," you'll most likely come up with something along the lines of "inspiring or expressing awe." So what does "awe" mean then? "A feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful."

Take a minute and consider those words emphasized above. Respect... Reverence... Dread... Wonder... Majestic... Powerful...
What kind of images do those stir up in your mind? Certainly not any movie, get-together, or bag of chips, right? When I read those words, my mind can only go to one thought, and that is God. 

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the new generation of Israelites to go into Canaan. This was a people who had seen both God's love and justice exercised during the years of wandering in the wilderness. They had seen death come to those who had rebelled against God at Kadesh Barnea when they refused to go into the Promised Land for fear of those living within (Numbers 14). And now they are at the brink of crossing the Jordan River into the land themselves. As Moses stood before them, reminding them of the statutes, promises, and warnings of the Law, he tells them that they had no need to fear the inhabitants of the land,

"For the Lord your God, the great and awesome God, is among you." 
(Deuteronomy 7:21)

 They were not to be in awe of the people of the land - whether they be giants or stand within great fortified cities or encamp against them with a multitude of skilled fighters. No, they should have that respect and reverence for their God. They should stand in dread and wonder at His power and majesty. They had no need to fear because they were being led by and AWESOME God!
And what happened when they forgot this? 

"So the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel... When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths."
(Judges 2:7,10-13) 

Have we forgotten that we serve an awesome God? Have we let our reverence and respect for God wane so much that we use a term that really can only describe Him and His works to describe any old thing? Or is it perhaps a case where we should simply give more consideration to the words we choose to use? (Matthew 12:36-37) I tell you what, as a new parent I am giving these questions much more weight than I ever have before. Because what would I be conveying to my precious little boy if I used the word "awesome" to describe God in one sentence and some of his artwork in the next?

So what do I consider "awesome" now?
  • The beauty of the world around me is awesome. How everything works together according to the rules and boundaries laid out for them to create the wonders of nature that I see and experience every day blows my mind.
  • Witnessing a person put on Christ in baptism or attending the funeral of a faithful Christian is awesome. To see the joy there at both the beginning and end of a person's walk with Christ is a powerful reminder of the transforming nature of the gospel message and the hope of heaven.
  • I would certainly say that the life-changing events in the past year of my life that culminated in the birth of my baby boy were pretty awesome. And the responsibility I now hold as a parent is definitely awesome.
  • What is it that makes each of these things awesome, though? It is the hand of God in each!
Let me leave you with this thought...
The Jesus I serve is both the One of incredible power and glory as described in Revelation 1 and the humble servant and sacrificial lamb seen in the gospel accounts.
He holds full power and yet cares intimately for me. He truly cares about me and my eternal destiny and actually has the power to ensure full, final, and eternal victory.
How awesome a thought is this? :)

Thanks for stopping by! 

~Erin~ 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Suffering for Good or Evil?

"For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
- 1 Peter 3:17 -

Peter would certainly know, wouldn't he? He did, in fact, experience suffering both for doing good and for doing evil. A quick comparison at what he suffered and why, and especially his response in each case, clearly shows him living the truth of this statement out in his daily walk.

Let's look first at his suffering due to his sin. Perhaps the most well-known recorded instance of sin in Peter's life is the account of his denial of Jesus as he waited to see the outcome of the trial. Even with Christ's warning shortly before, Peter fell headlong into Satan's trap and denied his relationship with Jesus three times. But what did he suffer then? The people did not take him up and hang him next to the Lord he denied. In fact, it doesn't seem like there were any physical consequences for Peter's sin. Rather, he felt such shame and guilt over what he had done that he went out and wept bitterly. He knew his words had separated him from His Lord, even at His Lord's most difficult hour. Oh, Peter certainly suffered for doing evil in this case.

Now consider what we see of Peter in the book of Acts. He endures prison, beatings, and the threat of death for his stand for the truth. He would eventually be killed, just as Jesus had told him he would be.The physical suffering he faced was real and very serious. Yet, what do we find him doing all throughout the book of Acts? Rejoicing and carrying on in the work that Jesus gave him to do! He may have been suffering physically at the hands of those who stood against the gospel, but his conscience was clear. He knew he was in right standing with his Lord, so he could endure whatever the world threw at him.

I believe if Peter were here today he would tell us that the physical consequences suffered for living righteously are minute in comparison to the spiritual consequences - both temporal and eternal - suffered for living in wickedness. In fact, that is exactly what he said in 1 Peter 3:17. And doesn't this match exactly what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1? Paul describes the suffering he faced as "light affliction" when viewed with eyes set on eternity. (And lest we forget what Paul is calling "light affliction" here, read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for an account of things he had suffered.)

Yes, when we have eyes set on eternity (Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-4), we will be able to view our suffering for righteousness' sake a cause for joy and catalyst to further work (Acts 5:40-42). And with eyes set on eternity we will see sin for what it truly is and what it does to our soul and to the Lord that we love (Hebrews 10:260-31). And this realization will makes us weep tears of sorrow every bit as much as Peter did.

Let us not suffer so needlessly but rather heed Peter's words. If we are to suffer, let it be for righteousness' sake. Let us gladly endure these light afflictions, turning from wickedness and setting our eyes on heaven and the rest promised there.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Blessing Like Abigail

Then David said to Abigail: ‘Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand.”  (1 Samuel 25:32-33)

Are you a blessing to the people you come into contact with each day? Am I? How wonderful it would be if what David said of Abigail here could be said by those around us! I know I certainly want to be a blessing to those around me, but I’m afraid that far too often I fall short of the example that Abigail set many years ago.

A little context for those who might not be so familiar with the story… David is on the run from King Saul when he comes across the land of Nabal and asks for assistance. Nabal is very wealthy and could easily afford to spare some provisions for David and his men. It would have been only right for Nabal to help David, since David and his men had offered protection to Nabal’s servants and flocks while they were in the fields. More than that, David is the anointed of God. Nabal, however, is a very foolish man and rudely refuses to give any provisions. As a result of his foolishness, Nabal almost brings death upon himself and all of his men. Thankfully, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, is a great deal wiser than he is. When she is made aware of the situation, she sends out provisions for David and his men and goes before David herself to plead for mercy. In this display of great wisdom and humility, she spares the lives of her husband (though he is struck down by God a few days later) and his men, as well as sparing David from taking vengeance for himself. No wonder David said what he did! Abigail truly was a blessing to every one she came in contact with that day!

So now I must ask myself again: Am I a blessing to the people I encounter each day?

Am I a blessing to my husband? Do I use wisdom in my dealings both with him and for his sake? Do I look for opportunities to better serve him in our relationship? And if he is struggling with any personal weakness, do I help create an atmosphere that would encourage growth and improvement, or do I act in such a way to push him further down that path? Unlike Abigail, I have been blessed with a wonderful husband who daily seeks and works to become more the man that God wants him to be. Do I follow with all humility and submissiveness in these pursuits? If Abigail could humbly serve a foolish man like Nabal, surely I can serve a good and godly man like my husband! So do I?

Am I a blessing to those who rely on me? When the lives of Nabal’s men were on the line, they knew that they could safely trust in Abigail to save them. This tells me that she had proven herself to be wise, trustworthy, and compassionate to those men in times before. And she didn’t let them down when the stakes were so high. But what about me? At any point in my life, there have been people whose well-being or success depended on my choices and my actions. It might have been a partner on a school project, an employer, my Bible class students and their parents, those I worship with… and now there’s a little boy we are expecting to be born in less than three months. I have had any number of people put their trust in me to do what is right and to act in their best interests. Have I been worthy of this trust?

Am I a blessing to those who hear me speak? David clearly saw the wisdom of Abigail’s words and followed them, recognizing them for the blessing that they were. I think here of the Proverbs 31 woman who, “opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (v. 26). Each day brings a multitude of opportunities for me to express my opinion, whether vocally in-person or digitally through such things as email, Facebook, and this blog. These opportunities are only going to increase exponentially when I have a little child with me in the house all day. The question at the end of the day is, and will continue to be: Are those who heard me speak today any better for having done so? Or am I simply piling up idle words that will stand as a record of foolishness against me in judgment (Matthew 12:36-37)?

Am I a blessing to God? And do I bring others to give praise to God? This is the most important of them all, isn’t it? I would hope that every day of my existence would be a blessing and source of joy to God, but I know that there are so many days that I fall short of this. This saddens me, but it should also serve as a driving force for me to do better the next day (or the next hour, or even the next minute). In fact, every additional breath I take is another opportunity to step up and be the servant of God that He desires me to be. And this is what will enable me to be a blessing to all those I mentioned before – my words, actions, and example drawing them nearer to God as I draw nearer to Him myself.

We aren’t told very much at all about the rest of the days of Abigail’s life, but we know that on this day she was a true blessing to all around her. May I commit myself to have more days like the one we see from Abigail here. May I live such that I will be a blessing to all around me. And may God be praised for each and every moment that He gives me in this life to do so.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~ 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalm 23:5-6 – A Content Sheep with Hope of Eternity

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:5-6)

I am learning that consistency in posting with a series like this isn’t necessarily my strong point, so I’m going to finish up the posts on Psalm 23 today, covering the last two verses. Throughout the passage, David has emphasized the absolute completeness of his Shepherd’s care. (“I shall not want.”) These last two verses continue and finish out that thought by describing God’s overwhelming provision for His people at all times and in all places.

In his text, Mr. Keller again emphasizes here the work that it would require of the shepherd to provide such care to his sheep. He has led them to a place of sufficiency, often in the midst of various dangers, and now the sheep are able to enjoy his provisions. Even here, though, his work is not done. His is a job of constant vigilance – against the threat of predators, against the everyday ills that could wear down his sheep, and against the self-destructive tendencies of his own flock. For example, flies would swarm the sheep, and scab (caused by a parasite) would pass swiftly from sheep to sheep as they rubbed up against one another. The attentive shepherd would head off such nuisances with a liberal and continual application of oil upon the sheep’s head. Mr. Keller even speaks of his application of axle grease to the heads of his rams to prevent them from causing damage to one another as they fought during mating season. The shepherd’s work is hard, yet at the end of the day he is rewarded with sheep that are thriving under his care.

Now, consider the Shepherd that David is describing here. He is the perfect Shepherd. He knows His sheep’s every need before it arises, and He makes perfect provision for them – “my cup runs over.” And consider the confidence and utmost contentment of one who can say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” If you are a Christian, a faithful child of God, this is your Shepherd. This is the One you raise your voice to in the morning, the One you bow your knee before every night. This is the One you cry out to in your deepest distress and the One you sing praises and thanksgiving to in the midst of your joys. This is the One who knows your every need and has made perfect provision for each of them so that you can live a life of contentment and peace before Him. What a glorious blessing this is!

But you know what… The passage does not stop there.

A shepherd may be completely dedicated to caring for his flock, but at some point those sheep are going to die and his care for them will end. Not so with the Shepherd described in this passage. Rather, David says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This Shepherd’s care will not end at the death of His sheep but will continue on through all eternity. And as we gather together with our God in His heavenly home, we will have the full experience of all that He has offered us in this life – full rest, full peace, full sustenance, full protection from every threat or trial or heartbreak. And we will be forever in the presence of the One who guided us so faithfully through our life on earth into the life beyond.

As we go through our day, may we continually seek to follow the Lord as our Shepherd. May we submit ourselves to His will and follow the paths He laid out for us through His word. May we examine ourselves closely to be sure that we are actually sheep in His flock. If we find that we have never joined His flock or have wandered from it, may we not waste a single second in doing what is needed to come back to Him. The blessings of His care are too precious to forsake, and the risks of being outside His fold are too dangerous to ignore. And once we are a true and obedient member of His flock, may we be content in His care on this earth, with hearts set toward eternity with Him.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~ 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Psalm 23:4 – The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

It’s a little funny that the verse that speaks most clearly to the danger faced by the sheep is also the verse that contains perhaps the greatest promise of peace in the whole passage. Isn’t that true, though, that the ultimate peace that can be obtained in this life is not peace from the existence of trials but peace while in their midst? And this verse makes it abundantly clear that kind of peace is only available to me if God is walking by my side.

Mr. Keller (A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23) makes note in his book that shepherds would often have to lead their sheep through such valleys in order to reach higher ground and new food sources. Thus, in making application to our spiritual walk he states, “The disappointments, the frustrations, the discouragements, the dilemmas, the dark, difficult days, though they be shadowed valleys, need not be disasters. They can be the road to higher ground in our walk with God.”

What a beautiful and comforting thought! When we find ourselves struggling through those valleys of trials, temptations, and discouragements… When we see danger and death bearing down on us from all sides… When the darkest days of our lives weigh heavily on our souls, we need not be afraid! Like David, we can live above the fear of evil’s power over us by putting our full trust in God.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

We don’t even have to live in fear of death itself, since in Christ we have victory even over the grave.

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

So if we have God walking by our side, we really have no reason to fear evil. Even in the face of trials and torments, we can live the more abundant life that our Shepherd promised to give us (John 10:10). And we can live in anticipation of the time to come when we will be able to dwell in the courts of our God and enjoy the perfect peace He will provide us there.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Yes, David found peace and comfort and strength in the presence of God, but he doesn’t leave the thought there. He goes on to explain further what specifically brought him this peace and comfort and strength – the rod and the staff of God. The rod and the staff were the shepherd’s tools for guiding, examining, correcting, and protecting the sheep. Thus, the sheep that would need fear no evil was the one who could trust in its shepherd’s effective application of his rod and his staff, not just against approaching dangers but also against the sheep’s own self-destructive decisions.

God’s word acts as His rod and staff, revealing the temptations of this world for the lies they are and exposing the signs of weakness and sin within our own lives (Hebrews 4:12). Within the Bible, we can find everything we need for guidance, for self-examination, for correction, and for protection against the attacks of the devil (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Peter 5:8-9).

We cannot afford to walk through the shadowy, death-filled valleys of our life without God beside us. But we cannot expect His presence if we reject His word and all that it provides. Let us all commit to study His word, to do what it says, and then to realize the comfort of our Savior in all seasons of our lives.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Psalm 23:3 – Restoration & Guidance

He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

Have you ever heard of a cast sheep? Before I read Mr. Keller’s book, I had never heard of that term before. Basically, it’s a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot stand back up without help. The sheep will die if left that way for even a short amount of time, either from gas building up in its abdomen or as easy prey to a predator. All that is typically needed to save that sheep’s life, though, is for the shepherd to go over and help it back up.

What a simple but appropriate image of God’s restorative work in our lives! How many times have you found yourself down on the ground, unable to stand under your own power and calling out in desperation for your Shepherd to help you back up? I know I’ve found myself there more times than I would care to admit. Yet, the simple and enduring promise is there: “He restores my soul.” When I am tired or beaten down by sin or simply life in this world, when I am discouraged or lost as to which way to go, my Shepherd is right there waiting for me to turn to Him – to trust in Him – so that He might restore my soul and lead me in the ways of righteousness.

     He restores my soul from the stain of sin. – Isaiah 1:18; Acts 22:16

     He restores my soul from the weariness of this life. – Matthew 11:28-30

     He restores my soul with a hope of eternal life with Him. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8

It’s important to remember, though, that He restores my soul with the intent that I follow His lead in the paths of righteousness. If there are paths of righteousness, there are also paths of unrighteousness (Matthew 7:13-14). Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Jeremiah 10:23 adds, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” It’s quite clear from these passages that I am not able to determine on my own which paths are ones of righteousness and which are ones of unrighteousness. Yet, this is exactly what we try to do so often, isn’t it? This is how we get into trouble in the first place! 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

We tried to choose our own paths and found ourselves hopelessly mired in the pits of sin. We were that cast sheep, crying out for help. And Jesus suffered and died so that He could offer us the restoration we so desperately needed. And He continues to offer restoration to those who fall but cry out for His help. So why then would we not gladly follow His lead in the paths of righteousness? We have His word (Romans 1:16-17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and His example (1 Peter 2:21-24) to follow. Let us be diligent to follow faithfully!

Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Psalm 23:2 – Green Pastures & Still Waters

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2)

As was said in the last post, the rest of Psalm 23 expands on the basic truth stated in verse 1, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” For all those sheep who submit themselves to the loving care of the Good Shepherd, the blessings are bountiful and beyond compare. Here in verse 2, the focus is on the abundance and the superior quality of the sustenance that the Lord provides to His sheep. How great a blessing is it that our Lord does not just make provision but that He provides the very best!

In his book, Mr. Keller points out that the best areas for sheep are typically dry and semi-arid and that green pastures would require a lot of diligence to build up and maintain. Likewise, it would take some effort to either find or create such a good watering hole for the sheep. This is especially important since sheep, without guidance to a good water source, would simply find their own, quenching their thirst at polluted and parasite-infested watering holes and often ending up sick.

How familiar does that sound! How many times do we search out our own means of quenching our thirst for love, meaning, and happiness and find only misery as a result? This is a pattern long known to man: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The bulk of the book of Ecclesiastes focuses on this very thing. Yet, after pursuing desire upon desire and finding emptiness in every single one, the writer’s conclusion is this: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

This is why those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed (Matthew 5:6). They go to Jesus as the source of the living water (John 4) and the bread of life (John 6) and in Him find such fulfillment that could never be found in any other source. Jesus has done the work needed to provide His sheep those green pastures and still waters. He laid down His life so that all who are found in Him “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He makes provision for our every need, whether physical (Matthew 6:25-34) or spiritual (2 Peter 1:2-4).

But to enjoy His care I must accept His leadership. Going back to Psalm 23:1, I must submit myself as a trusting sheep in His fold. And so I must ask myself: Am I insistent on going my own way, or do I appreciate the leadership of my Shepherd and follow Him to the great blessings He provides? Do I turn to His word to fill my heart up with His rich spiritual sustenance and to find in Him a place of peaceful rest?

Mr. Keller points out that for sheep to choose to lie down means that they feel no fear, tension, aggravation, or hunger. They are content and at peace. What allows them to be this way? The presence of the shepherd in whom they trust. This reminds me of Peter who, although imprisoned and facing certain death at the hands of Herod and the Jews, was able to sleep (Acts 12:1-6). Whether he would awake to rescue (as he actually did, Acts 12:7-11) or death, he was at peace in the presence of his Shepherd. We too can have this peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7) as sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock. Praise be to God for His mercy and love!

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.