God The Prosecutor

I am reading the book of Amos in the Old Testament today and I find so many similarities to current world events.  God is crying out to His people, the Jewish Nation, to repent or else the Day of the Lord will come upon them.  We see this theme throughout the Old Testament, when the nation of Israel would rebel against God and be punished for their rebellion.  What exactly is rebellion against God?  Let’s see what the dictionary says rebellion means.

1: opposition to one in authority or dominance

2 a: open, armed, and usually unsuccessful defiance of or resistance to an established government  b : an instance of such defiance or resistance               (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rebellion)

This makes sense, doesn’t it?  God has a set a right way of living and is the supreme authority over the nation of Israel and they are openly resisting God’s authority and prescribed way of life.  Hmmm.  Sounds like my world today.  People deny that God has any authority over them and certainly don’t live as if God even exists.  Today God’s name is used in vain and is mocked and anyone who believes in God is considered dumb and stupid and full of superstitions, and yes we are also mocked for our faith.  Let’s take a look at a passage from Amos to begin our study.

This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not relent.  Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, I will send fire on Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” 

This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent.  They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.  They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.  Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.  They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.  In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.  “Yet I destroyed the Amorites before them, though they were tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks.  I destroyed their fruit above and their roots below.  I brought you up out of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness to give you the land of the Amorites.  “I also raised up prophets from among your children and Nazirites from among your youths.  Is this not true, people of Israel?”  declares the Lord.

“But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.  “Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.  The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life. The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life.  Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares the Lord.

“Hear this and testify against the descendants of Jacob,” declares the Lord, the Lord God Almighty.  “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.  I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,” declares the Lord.  Amos 2:4-16 & 3:13-15, (New International Version or NIV).

God is pressing charges against the nation of Israel and says that there are three, or perhaps four, crimes committed.  First of all the nation has rejected the law of the Lord.   The second charge God holds against them is they have not kept his decrees.  The third charge is that they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed.  Notice how God describes some of the laws they have broken, selling human beings, but not just selling them but thinking humans so worthless as to trade them for sandals!  Cruel!  The ruling class treats the poor horribly and denies them any recourse for justice.  Evil!  There is sex in the family which profane God’s Holy Name.  Wicked!  No regard for the law or respect for each other and forbidding the prophets to speak the truth.  Sacrilegious!    So what will God do about this?

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”  The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.  You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon,” declares the Lord.

“Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more.  Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.  Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings—boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign Lord.

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another.  One field had rain; another had none and dried up.  People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew.  Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt.  I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses.  I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.  You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God.”  He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the Lord God Almighty is his name.  Amos 4:1-13, (NIV).

God, the prosecutor, has laid out the charges He holds against the nation of Israel as a lawyer lays out the charges of the criminal in a courtroom.  God is eloquent and thorough in this proceeding pleading the case that is pending.  Women are in charge of their husbands as well as those who are in need and it sounds to me like these women are merciless in their dealings.  This is charge number one or as this passage states declares the Lord.  Fake religion abounds and not true and authentic teachings are followed, charge number two declares the Lord.  God tried to bring these rebellious people to repentance by taking away their daily sustenance and yet they refused to repent, charge number three declares the Lord.  God limited the rains and caused a drought and water to become scarce in the hope that the people would turn to Him but they remained unrepentant, charge number four declares the Lord.  God sent pestilence and disease to destroy the crops in the hopes these people would repent and they did not, charge number five declares the Lord.  God sent plagues to kill many people hoping that this would turn their hearts back to Him but they still remained unrepentant, charge number six declares the Lord.  God destroyed whole cities of His people and still they refused to repent, charge number seven declares the Lord God gave them time and more time and much more time to repent and still these people had stubborn hearts that refused to acknowledge God.  This reminds me of so many people today who insist that science is more accurate than faith in God, people who believe that climate change is our responsibility and not God’s, that the increasingly turbulent weather has nothing to do with warnings from God to repent and turn back to Him.  Cities have been destroyed through war and earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and fire and floods and volcano eruptions and mudslides and tsunamis and avalanches and still people refuse to repent or even acknowledge that God exists.  I want to ask a simple question, which is more believable science having all the answers to all the mysteries of this life or that there is a God who is in charge?  I don’t know what your answer is but I sure do know what mine is.  God!

Until next time…Katherine

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Are You Walking In The Spirit Or The Flesh?

This week my son and I are finishing the book of Galatians in our reading of the scriptures together before he goes to school.   We had some extra time today and I spent a little more time explaining to him what we were reading.  There is such a contrast in the way that Christians are to live and the way that non-Christians live.  At least there is supposed to be a contrast.  I think it is a good refresher course for us to take asking ourselves whether we are walking in the Spirit or in the flesh.  First of all we need to understand some basic information.   Paul was writing to Christians who were a little confused on their theology.  Apparently someone was trying to tell them that if they were truly Christians that they would follow the Jewish law and be circumcised.  Paul tells them plainly that Jesus came to bring freedom and not the heavy burdens placed upon the Jewish people through the Jewish laws.   Freedom is a wonderful thing but can be used wrongly and Paul reminds these dear Christians of this, something I think we need to pay attention to as well.

  For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another, Galatians 5:13-15.  (New American Standard Bible 1977 or NASB77).

I have been reconnecting with classmates from high school days, this year we celebrate forty-five years since we graduated from high school.  Yes, I am old!  Anyway it has brought back many memories of these precious years and I can’t help but think about the freedom I felt, we all felt, when we finished our high school education, we were free!  I moved out from my parents’ home a month later and had my first apartment and boy did I feel free.  But freedom was not as sweet as I thought it would be.  I had to grow up and pay my rent and pay for my own food and gas money for my car and pay for having a telephone and so many more things that I took for granted living with my parents.  I also had to make many choices about life, something that I really hadn’t faced before.  Some of my choices were good, but some were not so good and I learned to walk in the freedom of becoming an adult.  When we become Christians we also are freed from sin but we also have to learn to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.  I think this is a lifelong walk and we will make mistakes but we are also forgiven if we repent and ask to be forgiven.  We battle fleshly desires daily but we don’t battle them alone as the Holy Spirit helps us greatly to overcome and win.  Most of us who have been Christians for a while can be patient with people who are new in their walk of faith and we can and should come alongside them and help them to grow up and mature in the Lord.  Having God’s love and not the world’s definition of love is the key.  God’s love is orderly and kind and helpful to others.  The world’s love is gratification of self for the most part.  Let’s see what Paul tells us about this contrast between flesh and Spirit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:16-24, (NASB77).

God created our bodies to procreate which is accomplished through sex between a man and a woman.  But when sin entered the world sex became perverted just like everything else was because sin taints everything it touches.  I can’t help but notice the contrast in words used by Paul: immorality, impurity, sensuality, verses love.  Love that comes from God is selfless but the concept of love from the flesh is so perverted.  Let’s see the next contrast: idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, verses joy, peace, patience, kindness.  Here’s another: outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying verses goodness, faithfulness, gentlenessAnd another: drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, verses self-control.  And one more thing that I notice here is that many on the list of the things of the flesh are against the law in most countries but Paul states that the list of things of the Spirit against such things there is no law.  Some may want to argue that the law Paul is talking about is the Law the Jewish people follow and this may be true but it also shows us that you can’t legislate morality because people will often be immoral.  I have seen countries that have banned the Bible and throw Christians in jail for meeting together and there are countries where Christians are persecuted and killed also but never have I seen any government laws against being kind or patient or living peacefully or being gentle and good filled with joy and self-control and a faithful friend have you?  Perhaps this is why Christians live in every country regardless of whether their governmental laws forbid Christianity.  However, if all people were Christians we would not need governmental laws because we would all get along together and there would be no disputes or law-breaking, but that is only in a world where sin no longer exists.  I look forward to heaven because it will be a world where sin no longer exists and that is something worth waiting for.  So how does Paul wrap this all up?

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.  Galatians 5:25-26, (NASB77).

Wow!  What a concept!  This is not the concept that you do your thing and I do my thing and we simply all get along like one big happy family.  No, this is the real deal and not the counterfeit theology of this world.  Since we have the power of the Holy Spirit residing in us then we need to act like we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  We don’t need to clamor for attention or envy those who are successful by our standards which are so often based upon the world’s standards.  No!  We live like Jesus, like Paul, like Peter, like James, like John, like Matthew, like thousands before us who lived with grace and kindness and self-control and all the rest of the fruits of the Spirit.  We are humble just as Jesus was humble.  We mourn over the lost souls condemned to hell as Jesus did.  Remember how He mourned?

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! “For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”  Matthew 23:37-39, (NASB77).

Just at that time some Pharisees came up, saying to Him, “Go away and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’ “Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”  Luke 13:31-35, (NASB77).

We all know someone who is lost and if they died today they will surely be condemned to hell.  Do we mourn over them?  Do we pray for them often?  Do we seek an opening to talk to them and warn them or instruct them or befriend them so that we are given more opportunities to talk to them about Jesus?  It takes courage to be so bold.  I have some people in my life that I can’t talk to any longer about their choices about living on into eternity with God or without God because of the circumstances that brought a close relationship to an end, but I can still pray for them and mourn for them and call upon God to continue working in their lives to bring them back into the fold through repentance.  Sometimes that is all we can do but then there are other times that we can do so much more.  We can send them a card with a scripture on it to remind them that God still loves them.  We can invite them to come to church.  We can be kind and compassionate when they are in need.  We can look for opportunities to talk to them about Jesus through our actions and deeds and words.  God brings people across our path often and we need to reach out to them and shine a little of Jesus in their faces.  That is what walking in the Spirit is all about.

Until next time…Katherine

Your Ministry

I love to read about the ministries that are going on all around the world.  Some are so fascinating and some sound like a ton of hard work and yet all are so very important.  I remember living in Germany as a military spouse and getting to know local missionaries who were working in German communities.  They were far from home and loved to hang with a few of us who were fellow Americans.  I asked one of the men what got him discouraged the most and he said it was the little things from home that he missed.  He told me that he always drank Dr. Pepper soda pop when growing up and in college however it wasn’t sold in German stores at that time.  He said that he missed some of the various chips and potato chips.  I understood how he felt and so I made an extra mental note to stock him up on the things he missed before he went back to his missionary community because I could buy those things in the military stores that he didn’t have access to.  He was so appreciative.  It was a small gift from my family to his but it was also one way to encourage him and his wife in their ministry.  I also remember the things we bought from German stores that we couldn’t purchase in America after returning home from duty overseas.  Of course these days most of those things can be purchased almost anywhere.  Times do change, seasons in our lives change, but the word of the Lord stands the span of eternity.  So I ask you, how is your ministry going?

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.  2 Corinthians 4:1-12, (New International Version or NIV).

When missionaries are far from home it is easy to lose heart.  I think it is easy for us within our countries to lose heart in our ministries as well.  The Apostle Paul knew that very well but he also understood that it was through God, clinging to God, worshipping God, focusing on God, that mercy comes from God and mercy is the key to not losing heart.  If we see people for their great need of mercy from God then we will be more compassionate to them and we will not lose heart, not become lazy, not become discouraged in working with them.  I have to admit there have been times in my own life when I certainly lost heart and became very discouraged.  I think you have as well.  We all go through times when we are discouraged and maybe even depressed because things are just not going as well as we had hoped or had expected.  And yet the only way that I have found to get out of such discouragement is to pray and read and meditate on what God’s word is saying.  Writing this blog has been a great way for me to keep in the Word and focused on Christ and on the things of God.  But there is more that Paul says here which is important to any ministry.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  Now this is a big one because when we are dealing with other people we must be honest and have integrity.  For instance if someone isn’t understanding what we are trying to teach them from the Bible then we have to take the time to help them clearly understand the meaning.  Mentoring young Christians or those who are about to become Christians is time-consuming and we have to be diligent and patient and clear in our answers.  Paul reminds us that The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  It is easy to forget this very important fact.  Satan has blinded people so that they can’t see truth especially the truth of God.  We needn’t become angry with the person because they can’t see the truth we are explaining as we see it, no, we need to be patient and let the Holy Spirit do the work within them.  God will open the mind of the unbeliever when the time is right and sometimes these things can’t be rushed.  But we must recognize that Satan has control of their hearts and minds even if they don’t personally believe in Satan.  It helps us to not become discouraged when we understand this fact.  So does this make us a super-saint because we can see the truth and all will go well with us forever and ever?  No!  Why?  Because we are still human, or as Paul puts it jars of clay

I have heard this passage preached several times and the pastor usually asks us to think of the various pots and pans and jars that we use.  Some are pretty basic like a tea-pot or a jar of jelly while others are saved for special occasions like my silver and crystal bowls.  But whether they are for daily use or for special occasions they are still just a vessel used in the grand scheme of life.  Now think about that one vessel from your daily life that is used and abused.  For me it would be my flour container, it is a large Tupperware canister that I have had a part of my kitchen for forty years or more.  It still keeps the flour fresh and yet it is yellowing rather than the bright white it once was and it has some melting marks on it from times when the cookie sheet was hot and touched the side, and yet I still use it often.  It may not look the greatest but it is still useful.  This is how we are also, notice how Paul puts it.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  In other passages Paul said this also.

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  2 Corinthians 1:5, (NIV).

From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.  Galatians 6:17, (NIV).

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:10-14, (NIV).

We are human and we suffer in this human body because Christ suffered.  We are guaranteed to have people who don’t like us or our message and we will be abused regularly and we will become beat up emotionally and perhaps physically however we will not stop rejoicing and we will not give up and we will keep on fighting the good fight and running the race of life to win the crown that is eternal.  It is worth it, dear Christian, so hang in there and keep going and don’t give up and get back in the race and put a smile on your face and be an encourager and be an example and be a witness for Jesus Christ!  Your ministry is here and now wherever you are and whatever you are doing.  Your ministry is your life so live it well!

Until next time…Katherine

Taking A Vow Seriously

Have you ever made a vow before God?  According to most dictionaries a vow is a promise but it is more than just any promise, it is a promise made as a pledge or a covenant or a bond.  Anyone who has ever married has done so when they took their marriage vows and promised to love each other until death parts them.  A vow is a serious matter to God.

If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.  Deuteronomy 23: 21-23, (New International Version or NIV).

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.  Ecclesiastes 5:4-7, (NIV).

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.  Matthew 5:33-37, (NIV).

As you can see from these passages God takes a vow you or I make very seriously.  In our modern times we seem to forget this and that can be rather dangerous for us.  If you are divorced like I am you have broken your marriage vow and God does not approve of broken vows.  I know that sounds old-fashioned and harsh but it is a truth we can’t escape on judgement day.  To be fair, many divorced persons did not break their marriage vow, rather the vow was broken by the other spouse, which is what happened in my case.  I want us to think about the vows that we make and how seriously God takes them.  There is an interesting story in the Old Testament concerning a warrior who made a vow to God and it cost him greatly to keep that vow.

Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.  Some time later, when the Ammonites were fighting against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”  Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”  The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.”  Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?”  The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.  Judges 11:1-11, (NIV).

The first thing that I notice from this passage is how dysfunctional Jephthah’s family was.  Notice that his dad was married and yet slept with a prostitute and she bore him a son that he apparently took home and raised with his family.  No wonder the boy was known as a warrior, he probably had been fighting for a place in the family all his life.  There are many people who have been born into difficult situations and they can still be used by God mightily, just as Jephthah was.  So this young warrior was chased out-of-town and started a gang of thugs.  Time goes by and the half-brothers of the warrior come for a visit and ask him to save them from a king who is bent on getting land back that had been taken from his people more than three hundred years prior.  It is amazing how families operate, isn’t it?  This sounds like something ripped from the headlines of today.  Jephthah finally agrees to come fight for his dysfunctional family only if they agree that he be their leader and they agree!  Wow!  He must have really been a great warrior to get them to agree to make him their commander.  Now what?  Well a lot of messages go back and forth between Jephthah and the other king and some insults are hurled and so forth and now we pick up the story to see what happens.

Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”  Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”  Judges 11:29-35, (NIV).

Oh boy!  The vow that Jephthah made was to give as a sacrificial offering the first thing that runs from his house?  Really?  Who was he expecting to come out of his house first, his wife?  His servant?  His dog?  He obviously wasn’t expecting his only child to run to greet him but that is what happened.  Now God heard the warrior make a vow.  God didn’t ask him to make one but once the promise was made God expected it to be fulfilled.  This is difficult for us to understand.  We often say things that we don’t really mean.  For instance you tell someone you will be praying for them, but do you really pray for them or do you get busy and forget to pray.  We say that we will be glad to do anything to help someone who is going through a tough time but do we really go and help them?  How many times did I hear someone say that to me when I was ill and I said, not joking, that if they really wanted to help me they would come clean my bathroom, but no one ever came over to clean it!  They took my comments as a joke!  Was this one of those times for Jephthah saying something grand but not really thinking that he would have to fulfil a vow to God?  If you give me victory in battle I will sacrifice the first thing out of my door!  Have you ever made such a promise to God during times of stress and trouble?  I have.  When I needed money desperately and I prayed and said that if God would help me I would be the best Christian I knew how to be.  Or the time I made a big mistake in life and begged God to get me out of the mess I was in and promised I would never make that mistake again.  So far I have been able to keep those vows but I wonder how many times I have not kept one.  God takes these things very seriously and so should we.  So what happens next?

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”  “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.  From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.  Judges 11:36-40, (NIV).

The day that Jephthah fulfilled his vow to God is something I can’t understand, he killed his only daughter.  To my modern mind I can’t really understand how he could do this, but God didn’t release him from the vow.  That should make us tremble concerning the many promises to God that we have broken, don’t you think?

Until next time…Katherine

 

Aging Gracefully

I was thinking about how my opinions on aging have changed over the years.  For instance when I was a teenager the age of thirty sounded old!  When I hit thirty I doubled it and said that sixty was old.  Now that I am past sixty I know it is old!  Well, at least I still have all my teeth which is something I guess!  Aging is a part of our life and I fully embrace it and will not fight it anymore.  There is something beautiful in watching a person grow old gracefully I think.  I watched my great-grandmother age gracefully and she never seemed old to me.  She was always up on the latest probably because she was such an avid reader and stayed engaged in life.  She was also an encourager and certainly the most positive person I have ever known.  My grandmother, on the other hand, rebelled against aging and never acted old, not until her disease caused her to be wheel chair bound and then she seemed to just give up.  She once said that there was no use in living if she couldn’t do the things she once did like riding horses, milking cows, planting and tending to the garden, and cooking.  She was such an active person until the end.  My mother was more like my great-grandmother than my grandmother.  She just gracefully slowed down but didn’t really fight it.  I want to be like these women and I think that I found their secret in how to age gracefully.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:13-18, (English Standard Version or ESV).

There it is, the secret to aging gracefully is knowing that this life is not the end.  As we see our bodies get older and flabber and wrinkler, and while our hair turns to grey and then to white and our steps become slower and less steady and our hearing and eyesight change we know that the wisdom we have gained is more important.  There are two parts to us, our outward body and our inward spirit which involves our personality and everything we have experienced and the lessons life has taught us, our opinions, our goals, our beliefs.  That second part, our spirit, is changing for the better while the first part, our physical body grows weaker and less active.  One day we will shed our earthly bodies as it dies but the spirit will live on for an eternity either with Jesus and God or separated from God and all things that are good.  My grandmothers and mother knew that when they died they would be with Jesus and that knowledge, that hope, that faith helped them to age gracefully.  This gave them joy!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  James 1:2-7, (ESV).

I don’t know about you but when I am struggling in life I find it hard to be joyful until I read this passage in James and am reminded that the struggles are what produce good things in my life.  It is during the struggles that I learn to lean fully upon God for strength and guidance.  It is in life struggles that I become stronger because of the challenging circumstances.  I grow and I mature in my spirit.  That is what brings us joy is that we are maturing and becoming more like Jesus and learning to give up our desires and do as God desires for us.  Aging is a trial for almost everyone.  The world hates to admit that death will come.  Worldly thinking has people tricked into thinking that there is nothing after death and that there will not be a judgement for the things we do here on earth.  Worldly thinking runs from the idea of death unless they can control it so they abort babies to control their own destiny and they kill the aged and infirmed with mercy-killings and assisted-suicides to not have to face reality that eternity awaits everyone and judgement will determine whether you are in heaven or in hell.  Worldly thinking runs from death and no wonder when you see how twisted their thinking really is.  But Christians know better than this and we should be leading the way in aging gracefully as a silent witness to the world that judgement is coming and we are not afraid!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  Galatians 5:22-26, (ESV).

I want to continue to work on the inner woman and not the outer woman.  I want to make certain that my heart and attitudes are right with God and that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is abundantly found in me.  My body will continue to age but my spirit is renewed daily by the Holy Spirit just as Paul said in the first passage we looked at today.  I love that, don’t you?  Aging gracefully is what I desire to continue and I had perfect role-models in the generations that came before me.  Thank you God for reminding us that no matter what stage of life we are in You are faithful to keep us on the path of righteousness.

Until next time…Katherine

Time For A Little Proverbs

As many of you may know my all-time favorite book in the Bible is the book of Proverbs.  I love the wisdom found in this book, often so simple that a child can understand it and yet so profound that you can meditate on it for hours.  Proverbs is definitely my go-to book when I need a lift in my spirit or help in solving a problem in life.  Today I want to look at Proverbs 12 for a while and simply mediate on the words.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid.   A good man will obtain favor from the LORD, But He will condemn a man who devises evil.  A man will not be established by wickedness, But the root of the righteous will not be moved.  Proverbs 12:1-3, (New American Standard Bible 1977 or NASB77).

I don’t know about you but when I was a child I certainly didn’t think that being disciplined by my parents was much fun.  As an adult my opinion hasn’t changed much and yet I know that discipline is important in our lives.  God disciplines those He loves (Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6) because we need to be reminded of what is right to do even as adults.  I don’t believe anyone is ever too old to be disciplined by God, do you?  And yet it is the discipline of God that reminds us that He loves us and takes care of us like a parent takes care of their children.  I love my son and little granddaughter but I also will discipline them when they need it.  My granddaughter has parents that also discipline her which makes my job as Grandma so much easier.  She knows how to behave and does so when she is at my home and I am glad that her parents teach her such good things.  My son is a teenager and doesn’t need as much discipline as when he was younger but still there are times when I have to remind him of the rules.  Discipline from God is important to us because often it is more of a protection from evil than it is a correction for sinning in the same way that my granddaughter knows the rules and obeys them when at my home.  Learning to obey is part of discipline, or so it seems to me.  Notice that if a person loves being guided by discipline that they will also love knowledge, of course this is an important fact to remember.  In order to have any kind of knowledge one must be self-disciplined enough to study as well as observe and learn.   I do see in people’s lives the proof of this effect, if you hate to be corrected or disciplined then you are stupid!  I think there are a lot of stupid people in this world, don’t you?

So if we love the discipline that God brings to us and we love knowledge then we will be given favor from our Lord.  I have often heard about the favor of the Lord and usually it is in connection to wealth.  I can see how God favored His people with wealth when granting them favor, think about Job and Abraham, they were wealthy men of God.  But not always is favor a tangible asset, sometimes God favors us with good health or a good marriage or a wise heart.  I think that the fact that God gives us eternal life rather than eternal damnation is a huge favor, and we see this contrast in the rest of the proverb.  If you plot and plan evil you will be condemned, which is also the end result of stupid in the first verse.  God doesn’t favor a person who is wicked and instigates wickedness because God can’t!  The very nature of God is everything good and righteous and so He will judge and condemn the wicked.  This is an important point because so often we see people who say that they are saved and think of themselves as Christians and yet they don’t live a life striving for good but actually do evil things to others.  That person is not saved no matter how much they believe that they are because God would discipline them and they would stop doing evil things to others if they were saved.  We see an example in the Bible concerning such situations, think of King Saul and how God revoked favor from him and gave favor to David to be next as King of Israel (1 Samuel 15).  King Saul also had mental problems after God removed His favor from him, and David was called upon to play music to soothe the king.  I do not want God to remove His favor from me and I imagine you don’t want that either.  I believe that we can glean from the account of King Saul that mental illness follows those who have had favor taken away from them by God, not a pretty sight to see this happen to someone you care about. That is why discipline is important even for adults because if we remain faithful to God even when He disciplines us we will be strong and nothing can move us or break us because God is with us!

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR THY SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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 8:31-39, (NASB77).

Now that is favor which is the result of following God even during times of His discipline of us.  We are not the stupid ones if we heed the discipline and apply what we have learned to our lives, we are in God’s favor!  I love that, don’t you?  Yes, the ones who are righteous can’t be moved unless God is the one doing the moving!  This should give us confidence to face any problems in life and overcome them.  So what else does Proverbs 12 teach about being righteous, which is the result of submitting to the Lord’s discipline and becoming the recipient of His favor?

The thoughts of the righteous are just, But the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.  Proverbs 12:5, (NASB77)

A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, But the compassion of the wicked is cruel.  Proverbs 12:10, (NASB77).

No harm befalls the righteous, But the wicked are filled with trouble.  Proverbs 12:21, (NASB77)

The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, But the way of the wicked leads them astray.  Proverbs 12:26, (NASB77).

In the way of righteousness is life, And in its pathway there is no death.  Proverbs 12:28, (NASB77).

We who are righteous will have pure thoughts and we will be fair and just in all our dealings with others as well as in the advice we give to others.  We will take care of our animals because we know that God created them as well and we will not be cruel to them.  We will also be protected from the harmful actions of others.  I can certainly testify to God’s protection as I have seen it in action in my own life.  We will also be watched by those around us and they will see that God’s way really is a better way to live and we show them a path to God in our daily living.  We will live not only in this life but on into eternity and death will not harm us because Jesus broke the chains of death when He rose triumphant and victorious over death!  What a joy for us, what remarkable favor for the ones who are righteous.  I hope this encourages you today.

Until next time…Katherine

Haggai Tells It Like It Is

I love to study the Bible and I am always looking for new passages to learn from.  It amazes me how I can read some part of the Bible and years later reread it and find something new in what is being said.  Perhaps that is why I never tire of reading the scriptures because something new is always inside just waiting for me to discover.  Today I am on a treasure hunt through the Bible and have found this pot of gold, take a look.

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.  Haggai 1:1-6, (English Standard Version or ESV).

First of all I can’t help but notice that God didn’t speak every day even to His prophets.  I truly can’t imagine life without the Holy Spirit guiding me and encouraging me daily, it must have been a difficult time before grace entered our world through the blood of Jesus Christ.  So Haggai was a prophet to Zerubbabel and to Joshua and God spoke to Haggai and basically said it is time to rebuild the house of the Lord!  It sounds to me like this nation of people could have been us today, don’t you think?  The people had beautiful and comfortable homes but wanted more beauty and more comfort.  The people were spending all their money on themselves and meeting their desires as it appears to me that they had already met their needs.  And yet the house of the Lord was not being rebuilt, the building fund was apparently nonexistent!  And God noticed.  God sees everything and takes note of it all and sometimes we humans please God and sometimes we don’t and this was one time God was not pleased.  God says it is time to evaluate the situation and does a smashing good job in the analysis.  People worked hard and yet they harvested very little.  Why?  People ate but still felt hungry, I sure know that feeling.  If I am not careful in choosing real food and not junk food or fast food I will not feel full and will most certainly overeat (and my waistline shows it too).  You drink but you still feel thirsty.  Why?  You have clothes to wear that might be stylish and look great on you but they aren’t practical and don’t keep you warm.  Boy can I relate to that, I see children walking to school in sub-zero weather with thin coats, no hat and no gloves which is not wise.  God finishes this analysis by saying that the people earn a good wage but they never can keep what they earn.  They must have been like me, a month-to-month financial survivor!  Again I ask why?  While this analysis is most definitely accurate why are things this way?  Let’s read on and see if God will tell us why.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”  Haggai 1:7-11, (ESV).

The nation was too busy looking after their own needs that they completely forgot about God and did not glorify God nor did they thank Him for the many blessings He bestowed upon them.  God does not tolerate this neglectful behavior for long and we can learn from this.  What does God do when we neglect to give Him praise and glory and honor?  God messes with the economy of a nation and then God messes with the weather and the land doesn’t yield produce and life becomes a great struggle for the people and why does God do all this?  To remind the people God is in control and not the government or the people.  We humans are so good at thinking we did it all on our own but that is not the truth.  It isn’t men who build nations into successes.  No, it is God’s favor that builds nations into success.  God is the one who controls the weather and the environment and the economy.  We need to understand that basic fact in life.  If you want to be financially successful you need to have the favor of God and you gain such favor by worshipping Him and giving Him the glory and honor and praise.  This is so simple and yet so profound.  So what did the people do?

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.  Haggai 1:12-15, ESV).

The people obeyed and built the house of the Lord.  We can learn much from this first chapter in Haggai.  If you are living paycheck to paycheck and not having enough to cover your monthly expenses then you need to take this lesson to heart.  Are you attending church?  Are you obeying God’s word?  Are you applying what you read to your life?  Are you putting God first in your life or yourself first?

Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”  Haggai 2:15-19, (ESV).

God withholds blessings from nations that do not honor Him.  God withholds blessings from people who do not seek the Lord and worship Him.  I have lived long enough in this world to see God’s favor withheld from certain nations and I have seen God’s favor poured out on other nations.  We must seek the Lord with all our hearts, fear God enough to obey Him and we must give thanks for all the blessings that come to us through so many avenues.  We have personal blessings from God.  We have corporate (as a country) blessings from God.  We have spiritual blessings from God that comes with being a part of a local church and church family.  Thank you Lord, for all that You do for us, for you, and for me.

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”  Haggai 2:9, (ESV).

Until next time…Katherine