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Saturday, July 15, 2017

What Place Does Mercy Have in Your Life?

What Place Does Mercy Have in Your Life?
I read Pope Francis’ book “The Name of God is Mercy” and I was blessed by this book.  So I would like to share some of his deep thoughts concerning mercy with you. The Pope starts out by saying that mercy is God’s identity because He gives Himself to us, accepts us and promises to forgive if we repent.  Since mercy is part of who God is, He remains faithful to us even when we are very unfaithful because God cannot deny himself.  We are to be children of our merciful Father and follow in His forgiving footsteps.  
When Pope Francis was asked what mercy means for himself personally, he answered that when he is having trouble forgiving a person’s sins he remembers his own sins. The text from Ezekiel  16 teaches us to feel shame, he says. And we learn to confess our sins when we are ashamed. He believes that the tragedy of our age is that it has lost its sense of sin and shame. 
Pope Francis talks about the gift of confession.  1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Pope Francis states: “Sin is a wound: it needs to be treated, healed.”  If we are not ashamed of our sins, we will not confess them to God and receive this gift of cleansing and healing.  So that is why the gift of shame is so valuable to us.   Scripture does not teach us that God extends His mercy when we are not sorry for our sin!
The Pope says that there were times in the past when he as a priest would be listening to the confessions of members of his church, and he would worry that he could not offer God’s forgiveness.  A priest cannot forgive the sins of the one who is confessing unless that one says that he or she is sorry for their sin. The Pope said: “As a confessor, even when I found myself before a locked door (someone who may not be sorry for their sin)  I have always tried to find a crack, just a tiny opening so that I can pry open that door and grant forgiveness and mercy.”  The Pope adds: “When in doubt, decisions should be made in favor of the person being judged.”
Then the Pope tells the story of a priest who was listening to the confession of a young German soldier who was about to be sentenced to death by the French partisans.  The soldier confesses his love of women and the many amorous adventures he had had.  The young priest explains that he has to repent to obtain forgiveness and absolution.  The soldier answers, “How can I repent?  It was something that I enjoyed, and if I had the chance I would do it again, even now.  How can I repent? 
The priest who wants to absolve the soldier has a stroke of inspiration and asks, “But are you sorry that you are not sorry?”  The young man answers impulsively, “Yes, I am sorry that I am not sorry.”  In other words, he apologizes for not repenting.  The door was opened just a crack, allowing absolution to come in… “ 
Then Pope Francis adds: “That story is a good example of the lengths to which God goes to enter the heart of man, to find that small opening that will permit him to grant grace.  God does not want anyone to be lost.  His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that He has to heal.”   
Pope Francis talks about Peter and how he denies knowing his Lord Jesus three times the night when Jesus was taken prisoner before He was crucified. The next morning Peter weeps bitterly and feels terribly ashamed for denying his Lord. And yet, despite Peter’s sin, Jesus forgives and still asks Peter to “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16) Even though Peter betrayed Jesus, he was chosen.  That example is encouraging for those who serve God and tend His sheep even though they are reclaimed sinners. It shows us God’s mercy for us since He forgives and chooses us to serve even after we have sinned.  Can we not follow His example and extend mercy when people sin against us?
Pope Francis believes that God is not only a God of mercy but also a God of justice.  But God’s mercy goes beyond His justice, the Pope proclaims. Because of original sin, our whole humanity is wounded.  But the God of justice, our heavenly Father, didn’t judge us with only the strict rule of justice, He also added mercy to his justice and He went way beyond and sacrificed his Son to redeem us and heal our wound.  The Catholic church celebrates the guilt of our forefathers (that original sin of Adam and Eve) as a “felix culpa”, which translated into English is the “happy fault”.  The fault (our sin) is happy because it deserved such a redemption. 
We most likely know the story of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-31) The younger son of two brothers asked his father for his half of the inheritance and then the son left home and went far away to the big city where he wasted all of his father’s money on bad living, liquor and wild women.  Finally, when the younger son had no more money, in order to survive he was forced to take a job feeding hogs and he ate some of the food he fed the hogs.  The young son hit bottom and was ashamed of his reckless living and decided to go back home to his father and ask if he could be one of his father’s servants.  The boy felt that he did not deserve anything better after he had messed up his life and his fathers too.
Every day the boy had been gone the father, with a heavy heart, had looked down the long road hoping to see if perhaps his wayward son might be returning.  How the father had missed his boy! And then one day the father saw a person coming down the long road.  Could it be his son?  The father’s heart was pounding! The father started running to the son when he was still a long way off. 
The father was crying and breathless when he reached his son and he immediately threw his arms around his son and kissed him.  “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The boy tried to say to his father.  But the father didn’t hear a word.  “Go bring a robe and sandals for my son and put rings on his fingers.” The father shouted to his servants.  “Kill the fatted calf and we will throw a party tonight to celebrate my son’s homecoming!! My son was lost and now he is found! “
That night when the older son came home from working all day in his father’s fields, he wondered why he could hear music and partying coming from his father’s house.  He asked one of the servants and learned that his younger no good brother had come home and his father was throwing a big celebration in his honor! The good older son was furious! 
This faithful, hardworking older son refused to go in the house and join the party.  He stayed outside fuming.  The father went out and begged him to come in but the older son answered his father,” All these years I have been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fatted calf for him.”  
The older son is right.  He speaks the truth. But it seems that the truth isn’t enough.  Being right still doesn’t bring the family back together. But at the same time the older son disqualifies himself.  Pope Francis says that the good faithful older son disqualifies himself! Why is that?  How can it be?
The older son in our Bible story represents the “law.”  The father by law should have punished the sinful younger son.  But the father’s love for the younger son represents “grace”.  Only grace can bring the family back together.
The older son represents “justice.”  The older son was legally right.  His younger brother did not deserve to be received back home with a celebration.  But the father’s love for the younger son represents “mercy”.  Our broken families and our wounded world will not survive if “justice’ is the last word.  But when “mercy” follows justice the miracle occurs!  Mercy will make it happen every time!
The ideas and quotes in this blog were taken from Pope Francis’s book, “The Name of God is Mercy”.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

What is True Faith?

What is True Faith?
Everywhere in Scriptures we read about how important our faith is to God.  Hebrews 11:6 says: “Without “faith” it is impossible to please God.”  And having a viable faith is important to us too since Scripture says that we live our lives by “faith”. Romans 1:17 says that “The just shall live by faith.”  These are just two passages out of many thousands in the Bible that deal with this all-important thing called “faith”.  But what is “faith”? What does Biblical faith look like?
We Western Christians may have a problem understanding all that the Bible means when it speaks of “faith.”   Are we missing something? Our modern day Western society puts a lot of emphasis on the individual doing his or her own individual thing. The Western Christian’s ideas of “faith” is something like a single person intellectually agreeing with a specific set of religious doctrines.  
Believing the correct doctrines is certainly important.  But perhaps this view of faith is not enough. Perhaps it is still incomplete. The legalistic Pharisees and religious leaders of Israel who persecuted Jesus, believed all the correct Biblical doctrines. They said long prayers and fasted and went through all of the many religious rituals.  But they didn’t recognize their Messiah when He came to them. The Law without the Spirit is dead. 
I am not saying that our Christian doctrines are not vitally important!  They are.  But it is what we do with them that makes the difference. The Word of God is living and powerful.   Believing in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord has the power to change our lives.  But we have to be willing to let it change our lives. This faith opens the door for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and make us new creatures.  But true Biblical faith is not only an intellectual belief in Christ, but it includes a personal relationship with Christ, and a moral obligation to honor and obey Him.
 The word “faith” meant something more than belief in the right doctrines to the Jewish people of antiquity. Their culture and all the cultures of middle eastern peoples back then were different from our Western democratic societies today.  The land of Israel had what some might call an “honor-shame” culture when Jesus lived.  So when God called ancient Israel to have “faith” in Him, the word “faith” meant more than just believing that God existed. (The devil believes that God exists and he trembles)  Having real faith meant that they were to be committed to God to honor, obey and worship Him. 
Honor-shame cultures place a high value on members being committed and loyal to the group and to the leader of the group.  Leaders or kings provide safety and protection for their people.  And in return the members of honor-shame cultures reciprocate by honoring their leader.  And by pledging their allegiance and praise and loyalty to their leader.  Life runs on relationships, reciprocity, and honor.  These dynamics of honor and allegiance illuminate many aspects of the Bible.  And they are considered to be part of what God wanted from His people when He asked them to put their “faith” in Him. And He still wants that out of His people.
God does not demand that we put our faith in Him.  He asks for it.  The decision is ours.  He offers us eternal life through Christ. A free gift. But in exchange we are expected to follow Him.  That is part of what “faith” looks like.  In honor-shame cultures people perhaps understand this concept better.  A person’s reputation is all important and he or she earns a good reputation (honor) by being trustworthy and loyal.  By being faithful in his or her relationships.  People who flake out on their relationships are shamed. 
We visited our daughter and her family in Japan, which is an honor-shame culture. We discovered that the Japanese people do not steal from one another very often if ever.  Our daughter was able to leave her expensive baby stroller un- locked outside her apartment for years without any concern of it being stolen. Expensive bicycles and other strollers and valuables were also left outside in public places in Japan without any concern, and were not stolen.
 Japanese owners of small shops would leave their stores open when they were not able to be in the store.  They would leave the merchandise out for customers to take and a basket for them to leave their payment. A Japanese citizen would feel a great deal of shame and lose face if he or she were to steal.  The whole Japanese society seems to “help” their members do what they are supposed to do.
In these honor-shame cultures a person’s reputation as a reliable stable person that can be counted on is all important. There is a strong sense of family loyalty where a child’s obedience brings honor to his or her parents. Being reliable in their relationships is a supreme virtue. This sense of loyalty is spoken of as “pistos” in the New Testament, which we translate in English as “faith”.  Servants in Jesus’ parables are called “pistos” which was the word for ‘loyal’, ‘faithful’, or ‘trustworthy’.  (Matthew 24:45: 25:21: 1 Cor. 4:2)
This strong relational feeling of group loyalty is part of what Biblical “faith” looks like.  God wants us to belong to Him and He expects our loyalty and obedience and love in return.  We are not to run off to another!  We read the first command of the Ten Commandments which says: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3) Our God is a jealous God so Scripture tells us.  We are never to stray and give our attention to other gods. 
When early Christians confessed that “Jesus is Lord” they were declaring Jesus’ sovereign provision and their allegiance to Him.  They are to live for Him and not for themselves. “Jesus is Lord” was not just a statement of their personal devotion but a claim that Jesus is the One Way to the Father.  That He is the King who provides salvation to the whole world.  That we are never to bow to any other! 
We Westerners often value our independence and freedom more than we value community since we must give up some of our precious independence and freedom to be part of a community.  When “pistos” or family or group loyalty and respect are missing, the family or group falls apart. One in every four families are missing a father.  Sexual relationships are often casual or recreational and couples fear marriage and commitment. Songs of true love and romance are no longer popular as they were in past generations.
 All the rules have changed.  Parents are discarded by some grown children.  And children are abandoned by parents.  Families members sue one another over any misunderstanding, real or imagined! And many of the younger generation today are afraid to marry or become committed to parenthood.   
Teachers today often complain that the old relationships between student and teacher are gone.  The teacher or professor is no longer respected.  And the ability of the teacher to control the classroom has been replaced with anarchy.  We wonder why public education is having problems!  Violence on our streets along with the number of suicides have gone up astronomically.
There are still many strengths in Western society today, but individualism has replaced community in many areas of our lives leaving lonely desperate people. Is there an answer to all of this? Scripture tells us: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:39) We may be trying so hard to compete for our own individual reputation that we find ourselves overwhelmed and unsatisfied with life. But God asks us to put our faith in Him.  To give our allegiance and our lives to Him.  And He will give our lives back to us. And so much more too!
Some of the thoughts in this blog were taken from Jayson Georges article, “True Faith”  White Horse Inn


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Persevering Prayer

The Persevering Prayer
Many of our prayers are answered quickly, but some of our prayers require patience and an attitude that refuses to quit praying until God answers.  Sometimes we must keep on knocking  and knocking on the door of heaven with faith until the answer comes.  This is what persevering prayer is -to have a holy boldness that will not take “No” for an answer.  And to keep on waiting and praying until the break-through comes.
When we know what we are praying for is God’s will we need to keep on praying for however long it takes.  Sometimes we may feel that God has placed an assignment or a desire on our heart to keep praying about a certain person or problem.
We don’t know all of the reasons why some of our prayers aren’t answered quickly. God perhaps urges us to keep on praying because He may be developing our faith as we learn how to wait in patience and hope for the answer.
 Jesus said that if his disciples (and us too) had the faith the size of a tiny mustard seed that they (and we) could move mountains.  And nothing would be impossible to them.  (Matthew 17:20)   Do we sometimes have to wait patiently and pray while building up our faith to the size of a mustard seed so our mountain can be moved?  Our faith is all important to our heavenly Father.   
Scripture says that we have a heavenly Father who loves to give us good gifts.  A God who wants us to pray and wants to answer our prayers.  We are invited to ask. Scripture says: “Ask and it will be given to you: Seek, and you will find: Knock, and it will be opened to you.”  (Matthew 7:7) And the Bible also says that God will give us the desires of our hearts if we delight ourselves in Him.”  (Psalm37:4) 
If we delight ourselves in God, God will direct our desires to the things that we ought to want.   God will teach us our wants and desires. We are not meant to understand God, we are meant to trust Him. There is no such thing as trust without some unanswered questions in our lives. While we are here on earth the Bible says we are to “live by faith”.  But the day is coming when Jesus will come again and make everything new.  All the wrongs will be made right and what we see with the eyes of  faith now will finally become reality!   
 Sometimes we want things that are not good and we ask God to give those things to us.   God does not promise to answer those prayers.  Scripture says: “When you pray to God you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your worldly pleasures.” (James 4:3) But when we love God and delight in Him, the Holy Spirit begins teaching us to want the things that God wants.
I have a friend whose daughter became addicted to drugs and then stopped having any contact with her, saying she no longer wanted to be part of the family. My friend and her husband, the girl’s father, tried again and again to contact their beloved daughter but with no success. Years passed and their many letters, gifts and phone calls to their daughter were left unanswered.  My friend and her husband prayed each day that their beloved daughter would be reconciled to them. That she would be set free from her addictions. But there was no answer.
Because my friend and her husband knew that they were praying for something that was in God’s will, something that was good and right, they believed that someday God would answer their prayer.  Someday their daughter would come back to God and also to them. They prayed against the anger they felt because they had been rejected. And they kept picturing their daughter the way she would be when she became willing to fight her drug addiction. More years passed and these parents simply kept refusing to quit praying until God answered. What a deep mystery this is of persevering prayer!
And then one day, twenty- seven years after their daughter had become lost to drug addiction and had shut them out of her life, their prayers were suddenly answered and their daughter came back! Came back to them and came back to God!  She had successfully gone through a drug re-habilitation program. Their perseverance with God really had prevailed. And now their daughter had come to Christ and was a new person!  And a new daughter! It was a miracle!  They had believed all those years that God would answer their prayer for their daughter.  And it was awesome to pray and ask God for something, and believe Him to do it and see it come to pass!
Sometimes we do not approach God with confidence in prayer because we feel worthless or condemned or ashamed.  We feel that we are not good enough for God to answer our prayer.  But the Bible says that we do not come to God in our own strength, but we go to Him in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Scripture says: “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21) We can come boldly to the throne of grace because we are sons and daughters of God the Father and we are made righteous through the blood of Jesus.  
It's an exciting way to live, following the lead of the Holy Spirit and praying for those He leads us to pray for and those we care about.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit puts the burden to pray onto your heart so heavily that you can- not stop praying.
 Many years ago when I was young, a well- known Bible pastor visited my church and held a three- day retreat.  On the first night of the retreat, as the pastor was preaching, a still small voice seemed to speak inside my heart and I seemed to know that it must be the Holy Spirit speaking.  The message I seemed to feel, urged me to pray.  Pray for my friend Arlene who had come with me to the retreat. If I would pray diligently for her, then before the retreat was over my friend would accept Christ as her Savior.  The voice seemed to promise that!  My job was to pray. 
My friend, Arlene, was a member of a cult group.  She had no interest in becoming a Christian and she made fun of the Christian faith.  Arlene came to church with me because there were many eligible young men attending my church and Arlene came to church to flirt with them.
After this urging came to me to pray, I felt a deep desire to pray for Arlene and I just kept praying and praying.  I prayed that night and the nest morning.  I prayed in my bed at night and when I was going about my work the next day.  I prayed the next night as we went back to the retreat at church.  And again all the next day.  While I was eating and while I was studying. I felt such a heavy desire and burden to keep praying for Arlene.
 And then, on that last night of the retreat when the call was made to come to Christ, the break through happened! The miracle!  Arlene walked down the aisle and knelt at the altar and confessed that she wanted to follow Jesus.  I sat in the second-row crying.  I always felt close to Arlene after that and she never knew why.  I felt like God had allowed me to help bring her into the kingdom. To have a small part in this miracle! What a privilege!  The Holy Spirit guides us in our prayers, perhaps more than we realize.         
How many lives could be changed if we would continue praying when things look impossible.  When people hurt or when problems come.  If we would pray and not give up or become bitter.  If we would keep praying and watch God turn our problem into a miracle.  We can keep on praying because we know that God will answer. Even when we must wait a very long time.
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book “The Power of Simple Prayer”   

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Power of Prayer

The Power of Prayer
I believe that prayer is the greatest privilege of our lives.  It is fellowship with the Unseen God.  We can share our hearts with the living God and listen for His Voice.  And He promises to hear and answer our prayers. We come to God our loving Father through Jesus our Savior.
Prayer is simple.  It was not meant to be complicated. Charles Spurgeon, who was a great evangelist and theologian said: “When we pray, the simpler our prayers are, the better.” Prayer is simply talking and listening to our loving heavenly Father. Praying should be as natural as breathing.  We can go to God praying in faith, boldly and freely and confidently.  He promises to give believers in Christ what we ask for if it is in His will.  Scripture says: “Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) e He H
Jesus said: “When you pray, do not heap up words repeating the same words over and over as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.”  (Matthew 6:7)  I don’t believe Jesus was saying that it is wrong to pray long prayers, if we feel like it.  But I think He was telling us that we don’t need to repeat long prayers over and over thinking that God will answer them quicker because we have spent so much time speaking.  God is looking at your heart, not your eloquent words.  Just be yourself when you pray. 
We can be as close to God as we want to.  Scripture says; “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:8) We come closer to God by wanting to obey Him and by trusting Him.  And when we love and trust God we have a dynamic and vibrant prayer life.  God desires our love and our trust.  He loves it when we praise and thank Him. When we worship Him. He wants a relationship with us.  Scripture says: “For the eyes of the Lord search throughout the whole earth to find those whose hearts are committed to Him so He can strengthen them.”  (2 Chronicles 16:9)
Scripture says: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person makes tremendous power available.” (James 5:16b) You may be thinking that your prayers aren’t working because you are not righteous.  But Scripture says that if we believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord we are righteous.  We may not do everything right, but we are still “righteous” because Jesus has covered us with His righteousness!  Scripture says: “For God made Him(Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Jesus).” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Righteousness describes our position before God because we are covered with Jesus’ righteousness!  Isn’t that awesome?
The Bible tells us to pray in every circumstance.  When we are afraid, when we are sick, when we are glad or thankful.  Philippians 4:6-7 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends our understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  I am anxious about so many things: and this Bible passage has helped me remember always to pray instead of being anxious.  
For the last couple of days, I have been anxious!  Anxious about a baby bird, just three weeks old with a broken wing.  Day after day this bird with its long green legs and fuzzy baby face wandered back and forth in our front yard and around our neighbors’ tree right next to our yard. Sometimes the baby stood huddled in the yard not moving. This bird – a heron- with its hurt wing, couldn’t fly back up in the tree to its nest with the other baby birds at night to roost. The nest was on the top branch high up the tall tree. The poor little baby just slept alone in the dirt under the tree night after night with it’s wing flopping by it’s side. When the others flew off this little bird was left alone.
 Cats run around our neighborhood and coyotes roam our streets at night looking for a meal. We were afraid this baby with it’s drooping wing would be killed since it couldn’t fly away from a predator. We prayed for God’s guidance as to what to do for this hurt bird. And then we went to the internet and  found a bird doctor.  We called the bird doctor who promised to take care of the bird’s wing the next day if we could catch it.  The neighbor ran out and bought a net from a sporting goods store.  We would catch the bird in the net and put it in a box and take it to the bird doctor the next morning.
But when we woke the next morning all ready to catch our bird,the little bird was gone! Hours passed by and we feared the worst!  My neighbor drove around the neighborhood anxiously  looking for the bird.  And I walked around searching in every bush and under every rock but to no avail. My neighbor came back from her search crying . We stopped and both prayed together and asked God to save this silly bird. 
More hours passed by and then as the shadows of night were falling, without warning the baby bird was back again.  It just appeared under the neighbor’s tree just when the other baby birds were flying back to their nest for the night.  We sprang into action.  Caught the bird with the net.  Put it in a box and drove it down to the bird doctor.  Today the bird is having it’s wing operated on and in a few weeks it should be able to fly.  
I am telling this little bird story to get the point across that even a hurt little bird is worth holding up before God in prayer. We can pray short prayers about every situation that comes our way.  Ephesians 6:18 says: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. “ We can pray for people that cross our path each day. Pray God’s blessing on people that He leads us to pray for. And thank God and praise Him for the blessings and help He gives us each day. Ask Him for strength and help.  And worship Him in His holiness. If our first response to every problem or joy or illness can be to pray, we will experience major breakthroughs in our lives.
I believe that God wants us to live a lifestyle of prayer. He wants us to talk to Him every day and listen for His words and guidance.  He longs for our praise and prayers of thanksgiving and  worship too.   Prayer could possibly become  boring if we think of it as a chore or an obligation.  But we can ask the Holy Spirit to lead us in our prayers.  The Holy Spirit is full of creativity and life. Letting the Holy Spirit lead will bring freedom to our prayer lives.
Prayer opens the door for God to work.  We can pray when we need the power of heaven to come into our lives and bring guidance and help and breakthrough.  We are ordinary people with extraordinary power when we pray, and natural people who are living supernatural lives because we can pray. Down through the ages until now, people have experienced the power of prayer.  Prayer is the greatest power in the universe.   
Many of the ideas from this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “The Power of Simple Prayer.”    




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Living in the Shetler of the Most High God

Living in the Shelter of the Most High God
Psalm 91
The ninety-first Psalm is an old favorite.  It is a glowing testimony to the security of those who trust in God.  A writ of protection for all believers.  A great truth laid down for all those who  love God . The word “shelter” is sometimes translated “secret place”.   All those who love God are living in this wonderful secret place – this shelter of God’s protection.   
Let’s read Psalm 91 now. “The person who stays in the secret place of the Most High will rest under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
“Surely God will save you from the fowler’s snare, and from the deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.  His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.  The pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand.  But it will not come near you.  Only will you observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.”

If you make the Most High your dwelling even the Lord, who is my refuge, then no harm will befall you.  No disaster will come near your tent.  For He will command His angels concerning you.  To guard you in all your ways.  They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.  You will tread upon the lion and the cobra.  You will trample the great lion and the serpent.” 
“Because he/she loves Me,” says the Lord, I will rescue him/her.  I will protect him, for he acknowledges My Name.  He will call upon Me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble.  I will deliver him and honor him.  With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”  (Psalm 91:1-16)
These great promises of protection from God are sure for all those who make the Most High their habitation.  Whatever happens to them, none of it shall hurt them. (Romans 8:28)  God will be their Protector.  One of God’s many Names is “Jehovah Jireh”, which means “God provides”.   You may be questioning this.  Don’t those who love God have terrible accidents?  Aren’t their prayers sometimes left unanswered, at least for a long time? Believers die in battles and endure serious illnesses. Where is the God of Psalm 91 when these tragedies come? 
God promises His children total victory through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  But we will not see the complete fulfillment of this amazing victory until after we die.  God promises that He will in due time deliver His children out of trouble. (Psalm 91:14) He will be with us through our troubles and deliver us out of all of our troubles.  (But full deliverance happens after we die.) (Psalm 91:15)
 God promises that if we call upon Him, He will answer our prayers. (Psalm 91:15) But sometimes we have to wait long years for the answer. Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, but they had to wait until they were very old for their promised son, Isaac, to be born.  Was God testing Abraham and Sarah’s faith?  Does He test our faith?
 Our faith perhaps grows stronger with patience?  Is something else happening behind the scenes that we don’t understand when our prayers are not answered as quickly as we would like?  Our timing may not be God’s timing.  We don’t see the whole picture that God sees. God gives His children grace and strengthens their faith while they are waiting for His answers. Perhaps we would not develop a strong resilient faith if we never went through troubles. And our faith in God is worth so much! 
 St. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” and he prayed three times that God would remove this painful thorn.  We don’t know whether this “thorn” was a physical illness or a real thorn or an ugly problem in his life. But it seemed that his prayers concerning the removal of this dreaded “thorn” were still not answered for a long time.
 Paul asked God why his prayer had not been answered?  And why he still had his “thorn”?  And God answered Paul with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness.” ((2 Corinthians 12:9)  It would seem that  God gave Paul special grace to live with the thorn and also promised that His power in Paul would be perfect or strong for his weakness (thorn).  Can we trust God’ promised protection during the times when we don’t understand His reasons for waiting to answer our prayers?  Can we ask for His grace during our trials and believe that His strength can be made perfect in our weaknesses?  Can we keep trusting Him like Abraham and Sarah and Paul did even when His answers were long in coming? 
God has lessons for us to learn and spiritual gifts for us to receive. Often He calls us to follow Him through the wilderness before we get to the promised land.  Obey His Word and stay on the narrow path. We will be rejected by the world because of our faith.  Persecuted and laughed at. But when things get difficult and we tread on the lion and the serpent we are to remember that our God is right here with us and He will rescue us. He is our Refuge and our Fortress.  He will save us from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.  And He will cover us with His wings.
 Remember we are living in the Shelter – the Secret Place- of the Most High God and we are resting in the shadow of the Almighty.  That promise is to all those who believe.  To those who stay the course. To those who have faith in God.  Hold on to that precious faith in God and never let it go!      

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Bible's Strong Woman

The Bible’s Strong Woman
Proverbs 31
Recently in Manchester, England, a concert with Ariana Grande that attracted girls and young women was subject to a terrorist bombing and tragically twenty-two young women were killed.  It was reported that the terrorists might have targeted this concert because one of the purposes of Arian Grande’s concert was to empower young girls to become strong good women.  To send a message to a new generation of girls that they can “do it all.”  Since the terrorists seem to believe that all women should be uneducated and kept “in their place”, were these terrorists threatened by this dangerous message?  We will never know.
Western women today are struggling to break through barriers that have usually been in place in the past. Down through the generations there have been leadership positions and certain professions that usually only men were allowed to fill. But now women are working to change all of that.  Women have made some changes in society for the good, but perhaps have lost some along the way.
Sixty years ago, a woman’s place was in the home: cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.  She worked outside the home if she needed or wanted to but usually her husband’s pay check covered all the household expenses. Back then men and women were expected by society to marry and have children and most people followed those expectations.
 Sixty years ago, most women and men deeply wanted to find their “true love” and marry! Romance was always in the air!  Nearly all the themes of the movies and popular music were about love lost or found.  The ideal of a man and a woman being in love for a lifetime was everyone’s dream and most men and women actually found love and trust in their marriages which nourished and blessed their lives and the life of their community.  When you read the obituaries today you will find many men and women who lived out their lives enjoying the blessing of “true love” in a good 50-60 year marriage. It was the norm.
 In past generations women and men most often believed Scripture - that their marriage vows before God should not be broken unless there were very serious problems in the marriage like adultery, abandonment or mental cruelty.  So long loving marriages were the rule in a by-gone day.  
But now modernity has changed all of that!  We have questioned Scripture and tradition and now we march to a different drummer. Our music and our media reflect the beliefs of our society and today we have an individualistic society.  No longer do we have “romantic” music or movies about love and trust and no longer do we seem to value lifelong commitment or “true love”.  It seems our true love is to ourselves, our wishes.  We must be brave and strike out.  Make our own mark and insist on doing life our own way!
 Marriages are not as stable as in days gone by.  Today many women (and men) choose to remain single. Couples live together without getting married. And many children are raised by single parents. Abortion and child abuse are rampant with many couples choosing to remain childless.
There is a fear of commitment today with many afraid of marriage.  Even married persons want to be fluid and move on if they have grown apart or if the marriage partner hampers their freedom to be their own selves. We have lost the vision of “true love” today and we give many reasons why we believe that good marriages were never really a reality in the past. We have replaced our vision of “true love” with no vision at all! Depression and suicide rates are rampant. We will never know how much we are missing.
It seems that when women’s roles change, all of society changes!  Let’s read about what the Bible has to say about how a good woman can change her family and her society around her.  We find a definition of a good woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. “Where can one find a woman of noble character?  Such a woman is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and never has to be concerned.  She brings him good and not harm all the days of her life. 
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.  She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  She gets up early and provides food for her family and portions for her workers.  She considers a field and buys it.  Out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously: her arms are strong for her tasks.  She see that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hands she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 
When it snows, she has no fear for her household, for all of her children are clothed in scarlet.  She makes coverings for her bed, and she is clothed in fine linen and purple.  Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.  She is clothed with strength and dignity.  And she can laugh at the days to come. 
She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed: her husband also, and he praises her:  Many women do noble things, but she surpasses them all. 
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”  (Proverbs 31:10-31)
This ideal woman from antiquity described here in Scripture can be any woman from any generation.  This woman with her big heart and open arms.  She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction. (verse 26)  She is strong and not afraid of problems because she trusts in God.  She prepares ahead of time for problems and is enterprising. She works hard and enjoys life.
 She blesses her family and her community with her produce. She gives to the poor and needy and cares about those around her. She is not living just for herself since her whole life and work revolve around her family and community. She thrives in being productive and helpful to those around her.
You notice that this good woman depicted in Scripture has a husband that completely trusts in her.  And I doubt that she would work so long and hard for their household if she didn’t trust him in return. Her husband also blesses her with his work and love. They have a strong trusting caring marriage and probably a great love affair like so many couples have. She considers a field and buys it.  (verse 16) It doesn’t say that her husband had to approve of this bold move.  She seems to manage her own business. 
I believe this strong virtuous woman’s secret to her good life and strength is in verse 30.  It reads “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  With God’s help, she could “do it all.” This strong good woman from the Bible fears the Lord and that is her secret!  That is her joy and strength. And that has been the secret of many millions of strong women who have lived in every generation!  “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  It’s as simple as that!