Category Archives: Bible Study

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Down to the Small Details

I am having such a good time making quilts! Yesterday I finished piecing the top for a new one. I’ve ordered backing fabric and am thinking about how to quilt it while I wait for the delivery. The most enjoyable thing about quilting is that God actually speaks to me about it. He gives me patterns, even tells me how to construct them. Sometimes the idea for a quilt comes in a dream and other times it just comes to me. Then He guides me through the construction process, down to the last detail of colors, piecing, quilting, and binding. His guidance is not dramatic, not sensational or emotional — no trumpet fanfares or flashes of lightening. It is everyday casual, but it is God. That is a revelation in itself.

This morning I was reading in Exodus about the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The instructions God gave to Moses were very specific and detailed, right down to the colors and patterns and materials to be used. I have always assumed that the tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, were sacred places and that was why God spoke in such extraordinary detail about their construction.

Then I read about the priests that ministered in the tabernacle. They had extraordinary costumes to wear. God gave complicated and detailed instruction about those garments, right down to the underwear. I always figured those priests were special, holy people picked by God to minister to and for Him and that’s why He gave such detailed guidance for their clothing.

But consisder this: the New Testament tells us that every believer in Jesus Christ is a priest. Peter calls us “a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9).  He says we are “living stones” being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood” and are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). Our sacrifices as believers are not the slain animals of the Old Testament but a continual “sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). If God intimately guided the building of the tabernacle tent in the desert and if he gave detailed instructions concerning the brick and mortar temple in Jerusalem, shall He not also intimately guide us today in the building of His new temple, the Church of Jesus Christ? Is not the spiritual service of worship we are called to today at least as important as the sacrifices offered by those early priests?

I have not expected enough of God and he has come crashing into my low expectations by involving Himself in my making of quilts. There is precedent for this kind of guidance in the building of the Old Testament places of worship, but I would never have thought of myself as one of those special, holy priests except that God says I am oneBecause I am a priest of the Most High God, whatever I put my hands to matters. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ then you are a priest too and whatever you put your hands to matters.

God wants to be involved intimately and down to the fine details in everything I do. Whether I am making a quilt, cooking a meal, or working in an office, everything I do should be inspired by the Holy Spirit and bring glory to God. I can expect Him to guide me every step of the way, not just in the crises of my life or in those “mountain top” experiences of worship. He is an everyday, all the time God. He is teaching me to look for Him in the small details. I pray He will help all of us to look for and practice His Presence, to listen for His voice that is intimate and practical right down to our fingertips.

 

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When God Doesn’t Explain . . .

Have you ever been confused in God? When I was a young Christian, I was told that confusion was not ever from God but always from the enemy. I have learned that that statement is oversimplified to the point of being untrue. Yes, confusion is often a hallmark of demonic activity, but does God always explain Himself? Of course not! And when we don’t understand, we are confused, sometimes even baffled and dismayed. In fact, sometimes it feels like we just walked off the map! puzzlement3

The cause? He is God and we are not. The difference between us invites bafflement.

In Luke 11 Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them to pray. He gives them a prayer example which we now call The Lord’s Prayer, and then, to explain the prayer process, he tells a parable.

Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to  him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and from inside he answers and says, “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

Why would Jesus describe the Father as a friend who does not care for you and your needs? Perhaps it is because sometimes He appears that way to us. We cry out to Him about some need — in our lives or even in our service to others — and He does not answer. We may even cry out to Him for quite some time, years even — remember Hannah and Elizabeth and Abraham and Sarah? Our reasoning mind tells us He does not care or He is not paying attention or even He is stingy and withholding good things from me. Do not believe it! God Himself is the definition of unconditional love. It is His Nature to care for us.  He always hears us when we pray. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. He never withholds good things from His children.

But He sometimes is silent. He sometimes seems distant. He sometimes appears callous or indifferent. You will be tempted in those times to think He is an unkind friend. But He is not. He is after something you cannot see.

The next thing Jesus says after sharing this parable is

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

He is saying, “I want you to trust me and trust what I have said even when it looks like I am not paying attention.” Can I hang onto Him and believe in His love and goodness in the face of  His seeming indifference? Will I cling to Him and trust Him to provide for me even when He is not answering me? Can I continue to believe He is Who He says He is when it looks and feels like He is not?

Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:11-13)

He is reminding us that He is Who He says He is, that He will do all He has said He will do. He is better than we are. He is more loving than we expect. But there are times when God’s ways are so far beyond ours that we cannot possibly understand what He is doing. Perhaps we will understand in the future, but perhaps not. He is God and we are not. He wants us to trust Him, especially when we don’t understand. He wants us to have faith that He hears and answers and provides, especially when we do not hear Him and cannot see beyond our need. Look for the presence of the Holy Spirit in those times because He brings grace to stay close to God and faithful. And the Holy Spirit is always with us.

My friend, Katelyn Peers, from Christ Community Church in Brockport, NY, delivered a message recently about things that trip up our faith. She talks about the lies of the enemy, about making an idol of our experience, and about making an idol of our understanding. Aren’t those wonderfully descriptive phrases? I suggest that you take about 35 minutes to listen. She is one of Michael’s prophetic disciples and a marvelously gifted speaker. This message will take that convoluted string of your thinking and pull it straight again. Here’s the link, and there are even sermon notes you can download. Really, please listen. http://cccbrockport.org/sermons/where-is-your-faith-at-things-that-trip-us-up/

 

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That Forbidden Tree

Eve in the garden looked at the forbidden tree and saw that it was good to eat, not poison, that it was beautiful to look at, not ugly or repulsive, and that it would give her knowledge she did not possess. She wanted it.

Evaluating that tree out of her own powers of observation and understanding led her into disagreement and outright rebellion against God. The ONLY thing that told her that tree was bad was the word of God: God had said, “Do not eat from it or you will die.”

Eve said, “I think I will try it out and see for myself.”

Not only did Eve decide that she knew better than God, but she also came to the conclusion that God was not good— He was keeping something from her that would benefit her life. How quickly she rebelled in her heart, in her thinking, and in her action!

Human nature was shaped forever by the original sin of Adam and Eve in that garden. We too so often let some lack we see in our life bring discontentment and cause us to question God’s goodness. Why won’t God give me what I ask for? Why does God withhold from me? This would be so good for me; why does God not do something? I am following Him with my whole heart; why does God not bless me as I ask?

The end of such thinking is rebellion against God and bitterness of heart. Jesus said, “Only God is good.” (Luke 18:19) Anything, therefore, that brings into question His goodness is evil. God gives and withholds good things from His children according to the timetable of His choosing. Trusting Him is an act of faith, faith that is often unreasonable and contrary to my own evaluation of what is needful and good. Funny thing is, I can always find people who will agree with me concerning my lack . It’s human nature that goes back to that tree in the garden.

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Almost all the Christians I know are waiting for something in God. Whether it be freedom from a besetting sin or for a promise of God to be manifested in your life, almost nothing in God comes instantly. God is as interested in the process as in the fulfillment because our relationship with Him is formed in the process. Every wait is an opportunity to choose to trust God or to trust ourselves. May we all remember His goodness in the midst of our lack.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding;

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6.

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Worry, An Insidious Enemy

Human beings are natural worriers. In fact, not to worry is downright supernatural! We are attracted to worry like bees to honey. The only thing is, honey is sweet while worry is bitter indeed.

Worry is an insidious enemy. If it gains a foothold in our thinking it will worm its way into every nook and cranny, poisoning our outlook on life, disrupting peaceful sleep, eating away at our joy. Eventually it can give us a sense of dread about the future and cause us to live life in panic mode.

As Christians, we know the Bible says “be anxious for nothing” and “do not be worried about your life.” Even a cursory reading of the New Testament makes it clear that fear is never an appropriate response for a Christian. So now we are not only worried, we are worried about worrying!

So how do we quit worrying? The answer lies in the other half of the verses just quoted.

Matthew 6:25-33: “… do not be worried about your life as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on … for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

When I am worried I need to remember that God loves me. He really loves me! He cares about all the things that are concerning me.  As an action point, I can again choose to put Him first in my life, obey Him in the smallest detail, and renounce the things in my life that displease Him.

Philippians 4, the chapter from which the other quote comes, gives us lots of good, practical advice for living godly lives, but about worry, verses 6-7 give us the key.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Instead of worrying, I can take my concerns to God. I learned long ago that thanksgiving drives out a heart of despair, so I present my concerns to God with thanksgiving, knowing that I am leaving these worries in His capable hands. No matter the outcome of my worrisome situation, I can trust my sovereign God to have wisdom and love greater than mine!

The supernatural promise of these verses is that when I give my concerns to God, His totally irrational and unreasonable peace takes over my heart and mind. The dread and panic leave and I can stop striving and rest in Him. What I could not do in my own effort, stop worrying, God does for me.  The peace of God is supernatural and overcomes my natural tendency to worry.

 

The root problem in all these worry issues is unbelief. Yes, worry is a faith issue. Fear is faith in the wrong thing: faith that something bigger than God is going to happen. Dread is fear that God’s grace will not be sufficient if  this or that happens. Worry says, “I have to fix this because God might not.” It is always so much easier to do something than to trust God.

My worry will be in direct proportion to my lack of faith in God, His love, His power, His goodness. That makes worry pretty serious, doesn’t it? No wonder the New Testament talks about it so much! But the remedy is also clear:

  1. Repent for my unbelief.
  2. Put God first in my life
  3. Give thanks and pray.
  4. Receive forgiveness and peace.

May you receive the sufficiency of God’s grace and and the keeping power of His peace today.

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Set-up for Glory

“But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.'” Exodus 14:13

There they were, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, so to speak. Pharaoh’s army was chasing them and the Red Sea blocked their escape — no place to run, no place to hide. And everything they loved and all they owned was with them — they had everything to lose.

It looked bad, but it was a set-up for God to be glorified.

You know the story: Just at the last moment, God parted the Red Sea and the Children of Israel walked across on dry land. Then, as Pharaoh and his army tried to follow them, God released the sea and all the Egyptian army was drowned in the crashing waters. God not only rescued His people but He also destroyed their enemy. It was a set-up for the glory of God!

More information on modern exploration of the Red Sea, what we today know as the Sea of Aqaba, can be seen at this websitehttp://www.discoverynews.us/DISCOVERY%20MUSEUM/BibleLandsDisplay/Red_Sea_Chariot_Wheels/Red_Sea_Chariot_Wheels_1.html

The circumstances of life, daunting for us in the moment, are often divine set-ups for His glory to be manifested. Like the Children of Israel, we are, each of us, in the middle of a story written by God. We cannot see the end yet,  but God has told us that He has arranged our lives to bring glory to Himself.

It is so easy to lose faith in the middle of the story. When all we can see is the painful details of the set-up, we are tempted become angry at God and discouraged. We forget the promise and fall into fear, just like the Israelites.

God is honored and glorified in His supernatural rescues. As Christians we know the truth of that statement,  and most of us have experienced a rescue or two! God is exalted when, against all odds and when all of our attempts to rescue ourselves have failed, God saves us.  But we sometimes forget that in order for there to be a supernatural rescue, there must be a catastrophe! God is glorified when we receive His offered grace to persevere in faith as we wait for His rescue.

Our ultimate, bottom-line purpose is to glorify God in our lives here on earth. God is the One Who chooses and sets up the circumstances that will honor Him. Our part is to keep our eyes on Him and follow Him through to the end, trusting Him and obeying His every command.

Sometimes God’s set-ups are for a quick and dramatic resolution, like with the Children of Israel at the Red Sea. Other times they are more long term, as when a baby is born with permanent disabilities or when unrelenting illness strikes. But these persistent circumstances are also set-ups for God’s glory, worked out in the lives of everyone in the family. Whether it comes in healing or in grace to endure, God’s presence and intervention is powerful and personal and testifies to His faithfulness and love. No matter the circumstances of our lives, the prayer on our lips must be, “Let my life bring glory to Your name!”

Whatever the storm, we are covered by His grace and our lives are always a set-up for His glory. Remember: God gets glory from giving us grace.

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Introductions

I have two friends who didn’t know one another until recently. I have long thought that they reminded me of one another and that it would be a great idea to introduce them to one another. Last week I finally did something about it. I made lunch for the three of us. 

In the interim, I thought and prayed about what to tell them about one another. I wanted them to like each other and, knowing that they wouldn’t have but a few hours to talk, I wanted to give them the best chance to get to know one another quickly. So, after praying about it, I told each of them this truth about the other one: she has a deep commitment to Jesus, has learned to hear His voice, hungers for the Presence of the Holy Spirit, and strives to obey Him with her life

The lunch was a success. They did instantly like one another and conversation was rich. We even prayed for one another before they left. What a joy! 

The next day I was reading in my Bible during my devotional time and came upon John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus in Matthew 3:11. “As for Me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In every gospel, John’s introduction is quoted again. (Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:26-34) Every gospel introduces Jesus as the One Who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. 

John was the cousin of Jesus. They had grown up together and knew one another. John wanted people to know Jesus. He wanted them to have a relationship with Jesus, and John knew that Jesus would not be around very long. So I’m sure He considered carefully and prayed about what the people would need to know about Jesus in order to want to get to know Him. What was the most important thing they needed to know in the beginning about Jesus? 

At the end of Jesus’ time on earth, after his crucifixion and resurrection, He told His followers to go and “make disciples of all nations”; but He also told them “but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) He told them, “to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the HolySpirit, not many days from now.’” (Acts 1:4-5) Jesus quoted John the Baptist’s introduction again so that the first thing that was said about Jesus after He began His public ministry and the last thing that Jesus said about Himself as He was being taken up into heaven were the same: Jesus came to baptize believers in the Holy Spirit. Wait for it. That fact and exhortation must have great importance!   

John the Baptist and Jesus, knew something that we need to be continually reminded of: we can do nothing of any value, accomplish nothing of any lasting consequence, without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Put simply, we need God. We need God to save us from hell, to heal us, protect us, deliver us from evil, and guide us through the maze of our personal lives. But we also need God to enable us to live for Him, to have a part in advancing His Kingdom, to effectively touch the lives of others.

Jesus Himself said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative …” (John 5:30). He told the first disciples, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…” (John 6:63). It would seem, then, that the healthiest, most effective Christians are the ones who live their lives in the most dependence upon the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus’ followers gathered obediently in Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit. They waited and prayed for 40 days. Then the Holy Spirit came. (Acts 2 tells the story in detail.) After that, whenever people accepted Jesus, they were also given opportunity to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 8:17, Acts 10:44-46, Acts 19:1-6) Disciples of Jesus knew that they needed the power of God working in their lives by the Holy Spirt in order to live for God.

The same is true for us today. I don’t need to be smart, creative, intelligent, persuasive, competent, skillful, or articulate. What I need is the Holy Spirit indwelling my body! All of those things will be accomplished through me by the Holy Spirit, as needed, as I walk in obedient dependence on Him. May the cry of our hearts in 2012 be, “Come, Holy Spirit!” 

Cultivate the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Introduce someone to Jesus today.