The sequence of events…

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 9.26.59 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 9.27.54 AMMiriam graduates tonight. In some ways it is hard to believe time has flown by this fast. On the other hand, it has taken years for her to get this far, and she is now ready for the next step, college. It is the natural progression or sequence for many. Typically, the pattern is elementary school, high school, college, and then a job. One doesn’t go to college and then to elementary school-that certainly wouldn’t work out too well, would it?

Today we are shown the sequence for our spiritual growth and development in Scripture. God tells his people that he is going to put His spirit within them, they will then follow His statutes and ordinances, and they will live “in the land.” They will be His people and He will be their God.

Two observations: First, God ends this portion with the statement “I will be your God.” It seems to me I just keep reading this over and over and over in the Old Testament. This is God’s heart. His desire is that He would be our God. And, it is important to note, as you have heard many times I am sure, we will always have a god of some sort. Either it will be the one true living God, or a false god taking that place.

Secondly, spiritual growth occurs in this order: We are given God’s spirit, THEN we can obey Him with our whole heart, THEN we receive blessings . These things will be proof that we are truly His people and He is truly our God. This is the order. Without the Holy Spirit, none of the rest will occur.

Do you sense the Holy Spirit within you? Do you ever sense His leading you to obey God or warning you not to do something? Do you or I find ourselves being more obedient as time goes on? Are we truly “His people” and is He truly “our God?” These are always good questions for all of us to ask. God has shown us the marks of spiritual growth, and what to look for as proof that God really, truly is our God.  This is without a doubt His hearts desire…and always has been.

Job descriptions…

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 12.00.28 PMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 12.00.33 PMJob descriptions. When applying for a job, most likely you will read a job description, which is the formal account of an employee’s responsibilities.  An employee’s review is often based on meeting or exceeding the objectives set forth in his or her job description. A teacher’s job description would include daily lesson plan requirements, observations by department heads, and following grade input policies. A salesman’s job description might include the amount of days spent traveling, expense report requirements and monthly quotas to be met. Failing to meet the description and requirements could very likely lead to being fired.

Today’s Scripture in Ezekiel gives us the job description of God’s shepherds. They are to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up (bandage) the injured, bring back those who have gone astray, and seek the lost. Unfortunately, today  in Ezekiel, they are fired. They failed. They did not  fulfill their duties. In fact, God tells them they are fired, and He himself is now going to go out and set up one final Shepherd.  (see Ezekiel 34:11-31) This Shepherd will do what He is supposed to do, fulfilling all the requirements listed above. Of course, we know this to be Jesus.

But here is the part where we come in. Who are Jesus hands and feet right now in this world? His people, right? That means you and me. We generally read about shepherds and think of the pastor of a church or one of the other church leaders, like dad who was recently asked to be a part of the Shepherding Team. Today, though, I want us to think about our part. As part of the church and representatives of Christ, is there any way we are called to fulfill this job description in our lives? Are we to strengthen the weak? Let me rephrase that- are we to encourage our friends when they are discouraged or sad? What about healing the sick or bandaging the wounded? We certainly can not heal someone, but we can bring people like Jake Mercer or a sick friend before the Lord and pray for healing and wisdom for the doctors. What about bringing back those who have strayed or those who may be lost? Do you or I have any friends who seemed to know the Lord at some point, but have strayed far from Him? Do we have any unbelieving family members or friends? If so, then we can most certainly do our best to minister to them as a shepherd. We can reach out to them, invite them to activities that expose them again to God’s Word, we can ask questions that cause them to reconsider the path they are currently choosing and where it will truly lead. We can love them if that is what they need-someone who actually just cares about them and takes an interest.

We can be the hands and feet of the good Shepherd  today-here in Delaware. We can shepherd those in our own circle at our house, at school, online or even texting with friends. It is our job description and we ought to seek daily to do it to the best of our ability.

Just make the delivery…

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 9.45.09 AMPrintable15missionsKate left yesterday for her mission trip. Ashley Wagner is in Africa on a mission trip right now. Miriam, Rebekah, and Rachel went on one this year already. My friend’s daughter, Lindsay, leaves today for a 2 month stay in Hungary on missions. The goal in all of these: to spread the Gospel. To fulfill Acts 1:8 which says, “And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes. And you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

You know what Acts 1:8 does not say? It does not say “and make sure the people listen to you” or “and make sure they do what I tell them.” God doesn’t give instruction about the response, just about what the person sent is to do. Why is that? Because we are not in control of a person’s response to His Word. That is in God’s hands. It always has been. Look at the passage today in Ezekiel above. God actually describes to Ezekiel what the people’s response to his message is or will be. Could He be more blunt than to say, “…they will not do it?” But, despite the outcome for Ezekiel, he was still called to speak what God told him to… and so are we.

When my friends’ daughter is in Hungary, she is to be a witness to Jesus. She is to tell what she has seen Jesus do for her and for others. She is to speak truth. Given the opportunities, so is Kate. And so are you and I. Sometimes, it may not be received, or obeyed, but we can and should still share the truth.

We may be called to tell the truth of the Gospel itself-the truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We may be called to speak to a believing friend about an area in their life where we see disobedience to God’s Word-like a lack of spending daily time with Him or a lack of memorizing Scripture in their life. We may be given an opportunity to pray fervently and consistently for a friend who is dealing with cancer or pain or even a breakup, and to encourage them that God is still sovereign, He is in control and that He cares. Of course, all of God’s Word that we are led to share, should be said in love, at the right time, with the right motive. But as long as we are faithful to that calling, the rest we can leave in God’s hands. We will not be held accountable for another person’s response. We are only called to be obedient in delivering God’s Word to those He puts in our path.

Know who is Lord…

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 9.57.26 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 9.57.32 AMYikes! That was my first reaction to reading this verse. God states He will set fire to Egypt so that they will know He is Lord. I am not sure He could do anything much more drastic, are you? Clearly the Egyptians were doing something very wrong! They were not recognizing God as Lord. We probably all could guess as to what the signs were that they were not honoring God-idol worship, child sacrifice and surely much more. As the saying goes: “Desperate times call for desperate measures!

God wanted the Egyptians to “know” that He was Lord. Someone who knows God is Lord, that is-truly knows, lives differently. If God is Lord to someone-then they will have “no other gods before them.” In fact, we often read the 10 Commandments as “rules” to follow, but if we think of it the other way around, it also makes sense. Think of the Exodus 10:12 as an “if” statement: “If” I am the Lord your God, … “then” you will have no other gods before me.

Based on today’s Ezekiel passage, having other gods than God will come with a cost. God will do something that will force a person to see God is the Lord. It could be drastic. It could be painful. It may not necessarily turn ones heart towards God, but they will no longer deny Him. Pharaoh himself is an example of this.

Can you see any of this happening around you on a smaller scale at the moment? Do you know anyone who does not know God as Lord, the one and only God? Can you see things happening in their lives that might be God working to prove He is Lord? Have you ever seen disaster in someone’s life that has caused them to come back to God. It can happen.

God’s heart has always been to draw man back to Him after the break in the relationship due to Adam’s sin. He wants this so bad, He will never give up. He will never force someone to come to Him, but He will most definitely take drastic measures time and time again to keep trying to reach them. Perhaps, if we see this happening in a friend’s life, we can ask them about it. Ask questions. Ask them how things are going? Listen. Be attentive to God’s “still small voice” and obey it when we hear it.  Perhaps, we can be used by God to help a friend see the Lord, before they get “burned” by the “fire” of God.

No repeating history, please!

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 10.29.59 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 10.29.54 AMHistory is not my favorite subject, nor are politics or the government but I do know a few historical facts. I know Rome used to be a world leader in ancient days and fell. I know that Russia used to be a mighty power, they fell but seem to be very much on the rise again today. Babylon used to be a formidable power, but not anymore. In fact, it is odd how no nation seems to remain in power, no matter how strong or great they were at one time. What leads to their downfalls?

Generally, it was and is sin. If we were to study history, we could see that as nations walk further and further from godly standards,  they begin to crumble. It usually involves devaluing life (sacrificing children, abortion)  perversity being more and more accepted (homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, prostitution) and the downfall of the family-the basic unit of society. God points His finger today to one exact trait leading to the fall of the city of Tyre. This is written in the larger context of the nations that were oppressing the Israelites in one way or another-and He is pronouncing judgment on them. God’s point is that the country’s “beauty and splendor” led to the sin of pride. Their wisdom was corrupted and the rest is history. Somehow, “beauty” and “pride” played a big role in their own destruction.

I do think we are seeing this today in our own country. Pride of self and of America as a “super power” is evident. We see wisdom slipping away at top governmental levels. Already, our country is not what it used to be.

Can these traits hold true at the personal level as well, though? Does “beauty” lead to personal pride and corrupt our own wisdom? I would say so. Maybe it is pride in the “beauty” of my children doing “well”? The beauty of a comfortable life and that perhaps we have “earned” or “deserve” it? The beauty of even spiritual things (knowledge of Scripture, Bible Study or church attendance, etc.) I can see it creep up in my own life in so many areas. Maybe you can too.

I know that pride leads to destruction. I can see in today’s Scripture, the destruction was intentional judgment on God’s part. Clearly He has no room for pride anywhere. I read this as a warning to myself. Where am I taking pride and not really noticing it? What do I “brag” about? These would be areas I will consider  and be more watchful of so that the devil does not get a foothold-and lead me by my own hand down a path of destruction. No need to repeat history again.

This specific day…

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Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.22.35 AMToday our family’s schedule includes a job interview, school, a hair appointment and work. Each of us has a plan-at least a minimal plan. Our plans may or may not work out.

God has a plan too and His plan will work out. What He has planned for today will happen. I am reminded of this from today’s Scripture reading in Ezekiel. As seen in the verse above, Ezekiel is told to write down the name of the day. God specifically says, “This very day…”. My eye was caught by how specific this is. In the course of over 6000 years that have passed since creation, God narrowed things down to one specific day. This was the day that the the Babylonians would attack Jerusalem, which would lead to a siege lasting over 2 years and ultimately, destroying Jerusalem. God specified the day.

On what would seem a completely different subject this morning, I was listening to an Alistair Begg message. He was saying that instead of reading the Bible and seeing how it “applies to us”, to read looking for Jesus. Look for the Gospel. So, where do we see Jesus in the text above? Any ideas?

I am led to see the precision and timing of God in everything. As I read about this exact day, I immediately thought about the time when Jesus came to earth-and how God chose that specific day and time. He chose 2000 years ago, before electricity, before cell phones, computer and TV’s. That was the appointed time. It was the perfect time. It was the perfect place. It was the perfect parents for what He intended to accomplish and to reach those God intended to reach. It was His plan and it worked out perfectly.

We have a small plan for today. I honestly go through every day with a plan that basically is never accomplished. I never get done what I intended or hoped to, but I hope I am getting done what God wants me to do. Either way, I find today’s glimpse into the exact nature of God’s sovereignty down to the day, time and place a great comfort. In Ezekiel’s day, despite the state of affairs amongst His people in Jerusalem, He had not “lost” control. He was completely sovereign, and His will was being accomplished. Today, if I look around and feel like things are out of control or I am not checking off my to-do’s that are listed on my plan, it’s ok. God’s plan is being accomplished, and ultimately, that’s the plan I want to have happen. It will not be thwarted…and we can rest completely in that.

Getting “all decked out”?

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Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.22.46 AMWe all need time in the mornings to get ready-whether we are going to school, work or out with friends. How do you choose what to wear? Generally, you choose what is comfortable but sometimes also based on who will be seeing you or the setting. A girl would not wear a bathing suit to a church service, and a guy would not wear a tux to a baseball game.

Let’s focus on the “what for” of dressing a little more today. The reason I say this is based on today’s verse from Ezekiel. It is part of an allegorical description God is giving of Judah and Israel. He is describing how they wandered so far away from Him, who is pictured as the ‘groom’, that they were behaving like a “prostitute”-and dressing accordingly. They were “showering”, “putting on makeup” (painting) and “decking themselves” out for the “occasion.” This was their preparation and goal-to be attractive to those nations around them, to be like them and to fit in. To “enjoy” those things they saw those around them doing.

This was not what God had in mind for them. As His bride, He had many blessings planned for them, a future and a hope-which they decided they were not interested in and threw away.

We have the same choice to make. We choose each day whether we want to be appealing to the world, or pleasing to God. We choose where we want to fit in. The two are mutually exclusive-we can not be in both. We will either fit in with God’s family, or fit in with the world. We will either love what God loves and pursue that or love what the world loves, and pursue that with our time, energy and money. I like how my Life Application Bible puts it: “The Israelites went so far as to sacrifice their own children to idols, and then sacrifice to the Lord the same day…We cannot praise God and willfully sin at the same time. That would be like celebrating one’s wedding anniversary and then going to bed with a neighbor.”

What is the standard amongst your friends to be “accepted” and/or “successful”? Does it mean you need to wear clothes from PacSun? Would your friends make fun of you if you said no to a movie because it was too crude? Do you and your friends ever discuss spiritual things like difficulty with prayer, devotions or anything similar? Do you talk with your friends about how ridiculous your parents are or do you honor dad and I in the conversations we do not hear? Which world do you and I try to fit in to? We will only fit one place…the question is, which one are we “decking ourselves” out for?

Stay in “the” circle…

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Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 11.56.13 AM“Father and Mother are treated with contempt in you”- that could certainly be a headline in today’s news, couldn’t it? It is not difficult to find those who treat their fathers or mothers, or any authority for that matter, “with contempt”- or disrespect. God uses the verbs contempt, extortion and wronged. These are not “positive” verbs. These are negative actions towards others and God does not approve.

Sadly, these actions can start at a very young age. The words above were written specifically to the Israelites and their treatment of mothers, fathers, orphans and widows-but certainly don’t apply just to them.

Dad and I have taught you respect for authority in a number of ways. You were never allowed to say “no” to us as younger children. You know how many times we have reminded you that you are to call adults by “Mr.” or “Mrs.”. You have been taught the referee is always “right” no matter what. You all have done a good job with these guidelines and dad and I are thankful you have grown into respectful young adults.

Today, I would like to point out yet again, how  living by God’s standards is both eternally and currently advantageous to you. As mentioned earlier, Daddy and I see you respecting adults as you should. This includes your teachers, coaches, referees, and any other adults around you. In discussion yesterday with Jordan about some school issues, he mentioned it all really comes down to respect. He was right. You all seem to have good relationships with your teachers, the faculty and coaches at school. A large part of this is because you have always respected them. This does not mean you agree with them or like their choices every time, but you know God has placed them in a role of authority over you so you respect and obey them. The results: You may get to play in a varsity game as a middle schooler.  You have the “ear” of administration when there are concerns or requests that you would like them to consider. You have been selected in certain leadership roles or positions. By living by God’s standards, things have gone “well” for you in this area.

While this is not a “formula” promising material and physical blessing immediately, it is a principle. We need to see that living by God’s standards keeps us in His circle of blessing. As Joshua 1:8 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from  your mouths, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it, then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.” As you continue to be respectful towards others, and not treat them with “contempt”, you will then stay within God’s wonderful circle of blessing!

Don’t “hate” the gate!

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Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 9.51.38 AMEvery night we have to “close up” the house. That includes locking the doors and putting up the gates so the dogs can’t get out of the kitchen. The dogs are under our control, so we have the right to do so. It is for ours and their good.

God puts up barriers for His people too. He has the right, and He does it for our good and for His purposes as well. Today, Ezekiel quotes God saying; “What is in your mind shall never happen…” As I read this, it seems to say to me; “You may think you are going to do this but I am not going to let you.” Just like we are not going to let the dogs out of the kitchen at night-God is not going to let the Israelites be like the other nations and worship idols. They wanted to do this, but He put roadblock after roadblock in their way. He did whatever it took to turn them back to Him for His purposes and their good. He will do the same to us, if we are His.

As believers, we are God’s project. He has purposes for us, good works for us, and gifts He has given us. These are meant for our good, for His will and to bring Him glory and honor (which is the point after all-not our glory and honor). Once we have committed our lives to God, through Christ, we belong to Him. He has the right and the power. He will do what is best for us, He will protect us, and He will correct us, putting up the “gates” He has to, to keep us out of areas we should not go in to.

This should give us some security, but also be a warning. As Proverbs 16:9 states clearly, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Phil. 1:6 reminds us that “…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” We are to plan, but God is sovereignly in control-and may put up barriers if necessary. He is daily working in our lives to complete the good work of  transforming us into Christ’s image.

Is something in your life not working out? Are you trying to get a job, pursue a relationship, get a group together, head up an event…and the doors keep closing? Are there barriers at every corner? Consider if this is God protecting and guiding you. It may seem to be something you “really” want, but remember, the Israelites REALLY wanted to worship wood and stone, and in the end, that was a really stupid thing to want; trading wood and stone for a living God. Try to remind yourself during those hard times-that because you are God’s child, He is greatly at work in your life-and if He is preventing you from getting “somewhere” or from doing “something”, He has a  VERY good reason!

Give it a rest!

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Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.28.45 AMAs you know, I have tried to make at least part of Sunday a “tech sabbath” for myself. The intent is to not use technology (computer, phone, tablets) for at least half of the day.  One of the reasons I am doing this is because I am so heavily dependent on and tied to these devices. They could very easily slip into “god” status in my life-and I want to be careful. I think it will be a reminder to me not to elevate them to that position. It gives me a “break” from them-and very much of a ‘rest’. It allows me to give you 100% of my attention. It gives me time to do other things, like reading.

One more reason though, is the Sabbath itself. As I have read through the Bible over the years, I see the “sabbath” mentioned over and over again. God speaks about it yet again today in Ezekiel. In this particular case, He is telling the Israelites why He gave them the sabbath. As you can see, He says it was to be a sign between God and them showing that He sanctifies them. So, what does that mean?

“Sanctify” means to “set apart” or “declare holy.” Think about it. There are 7 days in a week. God has chosen one to be “different”, or “set apart.” He set this day forth to be a day of rest-unlike the other 6 days which were “working” days. So, just as they, the Israelites, were to be “different” or doing something different that day, God is reminding them AND those around them, that they as a people were different. No one else around them observed a sabbath. It was only the Israelites. They, as a people, were a sign to those around them. When they were doing this “different” or strange thing on one day, the others would wonder why in the world they did it. The answer? Because “their god” instructed them to. It pointed to God.

Now, back to my tech sabbath. I have not done so well on it to be honest, but I can tell you, on days I have been successful, the day HAS been different. It HAS caused me to think more about God-partially because I am not so distracted by everything else (texts, emails, websites), and partially because I am making a concerted effort to focus on God-through what I am reading or listening to. What about you? I am not saying you have to do a tech sabbath at all, but I am recommending each of us find a way to take a sabbath. The day does not matter, its the purpose that matters. This will not “earn” you or I points in God’s “record keeping” books, but it will greatly benefit us. It will help you for some period of time, to block out the normal distractions of life-and reflect on God. You will be choosing to do something different-which will remind you that you are different. You are set apart for God. You are special, just like the time will be special. You may think it is crazy, but I highly encourage it-even if it is just 1-2 hours on a certain day of the week. The Sabbath was not abandoned after the Old Testament was finished…and I don’t believe we should abandon it either!