Monday, July 31, 2017

Everything Bitter is Sweet

"One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet." Proverbs 27:7

This verse has been rolling around in my mind for the last few days. Well, the second part has. The verse is about food, but that's not where my thoughts have been taking it. I'm not sure this post should even be a devotional, but here it goes.

The World is hungry! It seeks satisfaction for that hunger, so it will try everything. Money or at  least pursuing money seems sweet, but ultimately it doesn't satisfy that hunger Recognition feels good for it's "fifteen minutes of fame" but it;s fleeting, so it doesn't satisfy. Some fame lasts longer, but with that fame comes a loss of privacy, of just being yourself. How can it be sweet to have your every bad hair day spread across the Internet. That certainly isn't sweet. Sex with anyone may seem like freedom, but since it is constantly seeking more sounds more like bondage than freedom. How about good things like friends. Friends are good right? In this social media society where Internet friend counts are so important, one has to wonder how many friends will it take to make it sweet enough? Friends can be great, don't misunderstand, but the lust for more friends, even people you barely know is unfulfilling. Then there are real life friends, as opposed to just Facebook friends. Do these people bring out the best in you or corrupt you? If they bring out the best, that is sweet, but if they don't it usually leads to trouble.The World is always seeking.

We, Christians, use the words "The World" a lot. Put as I was mulling over this verse I realized that I tend to forget the obvious fact that "The World" is people, individuals. People all around us are seeking to fill their hunger. As I sit at red lights, I often look at the others around me. I've caught cars full of people, who aren't saying a word to each other, and looking sullen. I've seen people wipe tears fro their eyes. I've seen the weary and the worried. I often will send up a quick prayer for them. I'm amazed at the fact that I know only a brief moment in their lives, but God knows them intimately. He knows if they are just having a bad day, or if their heart is eating bitter things in the hope that it will sweeten their lives. The World is full of people who know that the things they use to fill their hunger are really bitter, but it's better than nothing. The World is also full of people who seek and seek and seek but are never satisfied. Both these groups need to be filled. They need to know what truly is sweet, or rather Who is.

As Christians we do not need to stand on street corners declaring the Lord, but sometimes He will ask us to. Billy Sunday, one of the influential Christians of the early 20th century was converted by listening to the gospel being preached on a street corner. If the Lord, wishes you to speak on a street corner, then do it. You don't know how many Billy Sundays will hear and find the only One that satisfies that hunger. Living our daily lives brings people to Christ as well. It might only feel like seeds being sown, with someone else harvesting, but these seeds are needed to help fill the hunger. Show people what it means to be filled with something truly sweet. Stop complaining, stop gossiping, and stop publicly worrying about everything. (Yes, ask for prayer from others, but watch how much worry you show to those who are seeking.)  Don't seek the things you know don't bring the filling. Seek Him and others will see that, wonder, and hopefully seek out you to find out how you are being made full.

The World is hunger. People are starving for true satisfaction for their hunger. Listen to how God wants you to show them the One who satisfies that longing. Then follow Him into the way that He wants you to show them Him. Whether it's preaching to the masses or preaching their your everyday words and actions, lets point them to the One who is truly satisfies.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heaping Coals

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will be heaping coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." Proverbs 25:21-22

For the longest time I couldn't understand why heaping coals on someone's head was seen as a good thing. There is nothing in my experience that says, "place some hot, burning stones on someone and they'll be happy". It just seemed to be one of those confusing Scriptures that I would never really understand. Then it was explained to me, the history behind the words.

Many people of that day were travelers, whether temporary ones who were traveling for festivals; caravans that brought goods from one far away place to another; or nomads who moved with their flocks for greener grasses. It took a long time to get anywhere, and nightly camps needed to be set up. One thing that they did was carry hot coals from the previous night's fire with them to make the process go more quickly. In the morning, they would take some coals and place them in a container, and someone carried this upon their head. Another way that people would need such coals, was if their fire went out at home. People would bank their fires until they need to start a new one. This would keep the coals hot enough to start a new fire when needed each day. Sometimes a fire would go out, and they would go to a neighbor to request a coal to start their fire. The coal was placed in a box, basket, or pottery and carried in a similar way on one's head.

When someone needed coals, it was a kindness to place some of your coals into their box. It's equivalent to feeding the needy, as this proverb states, because it was life giving. Someone needed food or water, a true neighbor would share. But these verses aren't about being neighborly. These verses are talking about your enemy. If the one who is mean to you, ridicules you, or abandoned you is in need we are to give to meet their need. That's a different story! Why should I give to someone who has caused me grief or shame? Why should I give to someone who would never give to me? Because we are told to. That doesn't make it easy. It's one of the hardest things we are asked to do. Sometimes I have no idea how to give to my enemy, so I pray that God will heap coals upon their heads. He knows what they need, and when I pray that I believe He will provide what that person needs. I do not pray those words easily. They are usually pushed out through gritted teeth, at least in the beginning. As I continue to pray for my enemies I find it easier to ask that God provides for them, and even if they still see me as their enemy I see them less and less as mine.

Feeding, or giving drink, or heaping burning coals, or praying for my enemies I think is more about me than it is about them. Yes, it gives them what they need. It is also me letting go of my hurt or my anger and giving something undeserved to someone else. Hopefully it will have a changing effect on them, but I can't know for sure that it will. However, I do know that it will have a changing effect on me.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

But I Want To Know Now!

"And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority." Acts 1:7

Imagine a toddler having a complete meltdown: red faced, snot dripping down and mixing with tears, arms and legs flailing. Yup, I feel just like that sometimes. I want it now, whatever the it may be. I might not literally throw myself to the floor and hold my breath until I turn purple, but inside I can have a serious tantrum when I feel like God is making me wait for an unreasonable amount of time.

Anyone else been there?

Just like a toddler grows in maturity, and hopefully the tantrums less until they stop, I need to grow spiritually until the ones in me stop. Since God isn't required to tell me when anything is going to happen, the tantrum is pointless and exhausting. My flailing about and screaming isn't going to change anything. My tears will be counted, but they aren't going to get me my way. So what should I do?

Rest. Be still. Know that He is God. When it is the time or season that He has appointed it will happen. I can't hurry it up or even slow down it's coming. God will do it when He has it planned to be. Does that make it easy to wait? Not necessarily. But does it make it possible to wait? Yes!

Friday, June 23, 2017

I Don't Get It, But I'm In Pretty Good Company

"But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and that they did not grasp what was said." Luke 18:34

The they in this verse is the disciples. There are many verses in the New Testament just like this one. Jesus spoke and the disciples cocked their heads to the side like a confused puppy. They often talked among themselves about how they were confused. Sometimes they would ask questions and other times Jesus would tell them He knew they were confused.

When I was young and heard about these twelve confused followers I thought they must have been dumb. I pictured a bunch of grown men huddled around, cocking their heads to the side and scratching it with perplexed looks on their faces. The image I created would make me laugh. Little did I know back then, but I'm more often than not a confused disciple too.

God hasn't changed. He still shows us a part of what He is doing, but not all. Most times I walk through life with just enough light shining to show me the next step. I wonder what He is doing or why He is doing things a particular way. I spent plenty of time with my head cocked to the side, scratching at that spot, and being confused. This confusion I feel makes me have to listen more carefully, watch more perspective, and rely more on Him.

What would happen if He did show us everything clearly? I know me well enough that I would run ahead and skip some steps. I would end up bungling His plans. I would also take pride in what I know, like somehow I am so smart. I would be puffed up, let me ego soar, and think myself like God. I would do exactly what satan told Eve in the Garden. "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5 Too much knowledge leads me to believe I am like God. I'm not. None of us are like God, no matter how many people think they are. He shows us just enough to help us walk the next step or two, but the rest we have to trust Him for. We have to believe that He does indeed have a plan for our lives, and that he will lead us there.

I no longer look at those confused disciples and wonder how they couldn't figure it out. I know realize I have something that they didn't. I can read the next chapter of their lives. I can see what Jesus did. I know their outcome. There is no finished novel about my life that I can reference and understand. I need to walk the path that He has set before me, dimly lit as it may be, but with trust even in my most confused moments.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

He Hate Me

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." John 15:18-19

Do you remember the XFL? If you have no idea what I'm talking about then God spared you the truly awful experience of watching indoor football meets the World Wrestling Federation. It was a concept to have a league that played during the NFL's off-season. It was truly awful, and thankfully only lasted one season. Players could have just about anything put on their jerseys for their name, therefor one man chose "He Hate Me" as his name. He explained that he choose the name because when he would win the other team would hate him. He also stated that if the coach put someone in to play besides him it was because "he hate me". Um, or maybe he was just giving the other guy playing time? Part of him wanted to people to hate him, i.e. the other team after he beat them, and part of him believed people hated him because they didn't chose him.

If the world hates you there is no doubt as to why. It hates you because you reflect Him who lives in you. Jesus is telling His disciples that the world will hate them, and that it's okay because they hate Him too. Earlier in this chapter He tells them that He chose them. In this verse He goes further and explains that they were chose to be out of the world. We aren't hated by the world because we beat them at a game, or because they didn't pick us. Rather we are hated because God picked us.

I hesitate writing this next part, but here it goes anyway. Too many Christians in today's culture want to be loved more than they want to love. They want to be relevant. Isn't there even a Christian magazine called that? They want to be accepted, so they accept everything. They are tolerant. They don't wear the jersey "He Hate Me" but rather the one that states "I'll Accept Everything So The World Will Love Me". And do you know who rejoices as Christians find themselves loved more by the world? Satan. He doesn't want to see Christians as not being of this world, but rather as embracers of everything in this world, no matter how unholy it may be.

God called us to be in the world, but not of it. (John 17:16) We have been told to embrace what is holy, and yes to love others. Not accept sin. Jesus told the woman thrown at His feet to go and sin no ore after He showed her the love of forgiveness. By the Law, she should have been stoned to death, but He showed love to her and spared her, but He also told her to go and sin no more. Somehow I doubt she was ever in another man's bed again. She experienced His love and, hopefully, listened to His words and stop her sinful way.

When God speaks into my life to reveal sin, it hurts. Not because He is being mean, but because I feel awful. I see the sin and how unholy it is and know He could choose to cast me away. But His love is two-fold in that it exposed the sin to me and it forgave me. I can't just get up out of the dirt at His feet and go and continue that sin. I experienced His forgiveness, His love, so how could I possibly.

No I am not God, and I can't offer forgiveness of sin. But I can speak Truth into the lives of those around me who are acting of the world. They may hate me, the verse above tells me that. But they may also hear the Truth and be set free. They may feel the love and forgiveness of God and go and sin no more. We Christians, need to stop trying to live in this world by being of it, but rather live in this world by being of His Kingdom. We will be hated by those who hate Him. But I would rather be hated by them than not belong separated from the world and with Him.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"But I Chose You"

"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go an bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." John 15:16

I felt have heart-stinging pain of rejection. I believe everyone has experienced rejection in some form or another, whether it was from a business deal; or in a  friendship; or the rejection of a parent. All of us know what it's like not to be chosen. We weren't picked to play the game at recess. We were mocked for a physical difference that was out of our control. We come from the "wrong" side of the tracks. Our clothes aren't cool enough, or our family isn't good enough. Our skin is too dark or too light. And there are those times when rejection comes and we can't even figure out why.

I am a teacher of  5th graders. This is the year when drama seems to start for many children. I have witnessed students single out and exclude a child for no obvious reason. I have watched children change who they are to try to be included, accepted, chosen by others. How sad that they become someone else in order to be chosen.

What I love about this verse, what sends my heart soaring, is that He chose me! Nothing in this chapter explains my qualifications for being chosen by Jesus. Nowhere does it state that I was good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or come from the good side of town to be chosen by Him. Jesus just says "but I chose you"! He picked me! Not only did He pick me but He appointed me to bear fruit. He picked me to do the most intimate thing, that is to abide in Him. He doesn't say now that I've picked you, you must do X,Y, and Z to remain in Me. No, He says He chose me and appointed me to bear fruit. The fruit that grows because I get to abide in Him.

Will I mess up? Yes! Am I still chosen? Yes! Will I need to have pruning done in my life? Oh, yes! Does that mean I have to work, to strive, to stay in Him? No, I just need to abide. When I enter my house, I can sit down on my couch and just be home. I can enter into any room and just be there. There is nothing I need to do to remain there. I think abiding in Him is the same. We get to come in and be apart of who Jesus is, and we don't have to do anything to be let in or to remain. We couldn't do anything to force our way in, He had to choose us!

No matter who else didn't or doesn't choose you, rest in the assurance and love and peace of knowing that He chose you!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Necessary Fruit Analysis

"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned." John 15:6

"You will know them by their fruits..." Matthew 7:16 a

Often times the portion of Matthew 7:16 comes to me mind, both directed at me and others. Every once and awhile someone I know professes their faith in God, and yes, I start to analysis their fruit. In Matthew 7, Jesus is warning people to beware of false prophets. It's this chapter that we get the saying, "wolf in sheep's clothing" from, because they exist. So often we are told not to judge; people pull out the "judge not, that you be not judged" verse as their weapon of choice, which is the first verse of this chapter in Matthew. Please read, carefully, the entire chapter to see that you aren't told not to judge at all!

Sorry, I digress! Jesus goes on in Matthew 7 to talk about the fruit, how you can't get bad fruit from a good tree. So I wonder about the fruit that others produce. Is it good? Can I tell if they are really part of the Vine or do I suspect that they are just claiming branch-hood. Then I wonder if the lack of fruit I might see is actually one of those branches in their lives that needs to be pruned. Let's face it, we all have things in our lives, branches. that need pruning.

The verse from John is not about pruning though. It is about branch removal. If we produce no fruit that is evidence that we abide in Him, then we are cut off and thrown into the fire. God gives us many chance, Just check out the lives of those He called faithful and you'll see he gave them many! Yet there comes a point where one's not abiding in Him results in separation from God. Once the branch is burned it doesn't become a branch again. You can be pruned and produce even better fruit, but you can't be cut off and produce any.

 I wonder if there is anything that I do or say that shows fruit from abiding in Him more than not. I am definitely in that "needs-some-pruning" group. I wonder if others see too much bruised fruit in my life. I want people to know me by good fruit. Too often I get caught up in me and produce selfish fruit. That is one negative fruit I am know I produce. Mind you, God has pruned some of it away, I hope more is pruned than not, but I know some is still there. I don't want people to see selfish fruit when they look at me and my life. I want the to see fruit that is evident that I am part of the Vine.

We are part of the they in Matthew 7. We need to look at our own fruit to make sure that what is being produced is evidence of abiding in Him and not evidence of being a sheep in wolf's clothing. This makes me want to abide more deeply. I want to be known by the fruit of God.