Forget the leftovers…

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 9.43.36 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 9.43.42 AMI had a great time face-timing Miriam a few days ago. One of the things she told me was that in her first class on Monday, she sat next to John-Luke Robertson. No one was talking to him so she did. She talked to him about normal stuff. I doubt she had any desire to ignore him and just look at her phone the whole time. That would have been rude, and it is not every day she gets the chance to meet him. He is a celebrity, someone special-and that means generally people treat him differently.

So, what if it was God she (or you and I ) sat next to and not John Luke? I am pretty sure the same rules would apply. We would not ignore Him or be on our phone, talking to friends, etc. Pretty sure we would give Him our full attention, right? Usually, I don’t recommend comparisons, but today, I do. I recommend comparing the way we treat God to the way we treat others. I recommend it because I see that Malachi did a comparison in the Scripture today.

Look at today’s verse above. Malachi is coming down hard on the Jews because their treatment of God is atrocious at this point. The offerings they are bringing are the leftovers; lame, blind or sick animals -not their best. God doesn’t like and doesn’t deserve leftovers any more than you like it when you see that listed as our dinner for the night! He deserves much better. In fact, He deserves our best. He deserves perfection. He deserves things “without blemish”. If you wouldn’t sit next to a celebrity, or the President or the governor, as Malachi points out,  and ignore him or her,  we should certainly not do it to God!

Of course, we are not sacrificing any animals these day here in Bear, DE or elsewhere, so how does this apply to us? For me, I think it means that when I sit down in the morning for dedicated one-on-one time with God-that I commit to that. That I am not distracted by texts coming in or look something up on the internet or respond to emails-but that I give God my FULL attention in Bible reading, prayer and Scripture memory.  At least that is a start. I am not sure what it might be for you. Perhaps it is being serious about Scripture memory. Maybe it is determining a time you are committed to spending with God each day now that you have your school schedules. If you are not sure, ask God where in your life are you not giving Him your best. I am sure He will be faithful to show you and I where we can stop giving him the leftovers, and start honoring Him as we are called to do with our best!

Done any “hair-pulling” lately?

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.58.44 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.58.38 AMPicture this: We go into church next Sunday. Miriam is still with us. Pastor Curtis walks up, beats dad and I up and pulls Miriam’s hair out. Easy to picture? Not exactly. But, the Bible is real life, real people and real stories, and in what I read today in Nehemiah, something very similar really happened!

Did you read that verse above? That is Nehemiah-who cursed the people, beat some of them and pulled out their hair. A little bizarre if you ask me. We are in the last chapter of Nehemiah today. Consider what Nehemiah tells us. It is all about the rebuilding of the temple and restoring the Jews. At the very end, after all this work with the king’s permission, etc, Nehemiah had to go back to the king for a while. He then goes back to visit the temple and God’s people to find them having strayed WAY OFF from what God has called them to. The priests weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. The people were not abstaining from marrying foreigners as they were supposed to be doing. God’s people were not being God’s people. Nehemiah saw serious sin and got serious about it.

Today, we may see serious sin in our lives or those brothers in sisters in Christ around us. How do we react? Have you or I ever felt like beating  them up or pulling their hair out? I hope not-but I do feel we have lost the motivation behind Nehemiah’s action and we need to regain that. We need to have a sense of outrage when a brother or sister in Christ is living in gross sin under our noses. We should be offended. They are calling themselves servants of Christ, but completely disregarding it and misrepresenting our Lord. They need to be called out for it.

I am not advocating hair-pulling and fights here. I am advocating we as believers take our responsibility to address sin in our own life and the lives of those close to us seriously. It is not easy. It may make things “rougher” before they get better, but if we are the family of God, we need to help each other live as God’s children. If and when Dad sees me respond to something in an ungodly way, he needs to address me about it as my brother in Christ and as the spiritual leader of this house. I believe he does-in a gentle loving way. As you all start your new school year and gather with your friends again, I encourage you to develop close friendships with those who are willing to take the risk and “call you out”. The ones who are willing to do this are the ones who are your true friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are willing to do this with your brother or sister, than you are truly loving them. If we call ourselves believers, than it helps to have those around us hold us accountable to what we claim to be-maybe not by hair-pulling and punching, but we should be called out just the same!

Stiff-necks are really a pain-in more ways than one!

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Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 11.21.17 AMI have had many a stiff neck in my day, as you all know. Sometimes it goes away quickly, just lasting for a day-other times, like the one time in SC, I actually had to go to physical therapy for weeks and take muscle relaxants. That time it took a LONG time to go away. It was no fun.

That is not the kind of stiff neck I read about today though. The stiff necks in Nehemiah’s day weren’t in need of a good physical therapist or prescription medicine. Their “stiff-neck” was due to “presumption” and was actually a heart problem, not a neck problem.  It required the only surgeon who can do open heart surgery with precision and perfection every time. God had to be the surgeon.

Today, when I read Nehemiah the word “presumptuously” caught my attention right off the bat. I wasn’t sure of the definition so I looked it up. Various definitions include the words: bold, forward, arrogant, disrespectful, transgressing limits of what is permitted or appropriate. Reading this chapter in Nehemiah, and now having defined this word, I know what he is talking about. This chapter recounts the times the Israelites were arrogant, disobedient, and as he says above, “did not obey God’s commandments.” They were stiff-necked time and time again. God was always ready to forgive and show mercy. He was slow to anger and abounded in steadfast love (Neh. 9:17b) but He also did not let is “slide”. They were punished-time and time again. It talks about God giving them (by His choice) into the hands of their enemies and they suffered. (Neh. 9:27) They suffered to the point where they were driven to call out to God and come back to Him.

It seems to me acting “presumptuously” leads to a very serious stiff-neck problem and ultimately,  great suffering. This is scary to me. But, there is hope. There is not room above to include all the verses about how God warned the people, how He gave His good spirit to instruct them, how He heard them when they cried out, and how He saved them from their enemies once they turned back towards Him.  He still does all of this.

The start of the presumption in their lives was not obeying God’s commands. It still is. When we veer away from God’s standards for living, we act “presumptuously”. We become arrogant, bold, disrespectful and transgress limits. It results in a stiff-neck…and then suffering for all those around. Better to never get a stiff-neck in the  first place, then to have to seek treatment for healing from it. Trust me and trust Nehemiah.

Define “Christian”…

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Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 9.58.59 AMDonald Trump says he has “Christian” roots, President Obama has said he is a Christian. John Piper is a Christian and the folks on Duck Dynasty are also considered Christians. Many “Christian” churches have a pastor (male or female) who are homosexuals. There are “Christian” churches that don’t believe the Bible is inerrant or also may believe there are other ways to heaven besides the Savior, Jesus Christ. You and I both have gone to school with fellow classmates who happily and with confidence say they are Christians, yet do not attend church, bully other students, and do not visibly care the least bit about obeying anything God says in the Bible. So, what exactly is a “Christian” anyway?

The word “Christian” is first used in the Bible in Acts 11:26. We are told, “So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. “ The first “Christians” were the disciples. Disciples were followers of Christ. They were not perfect, but they followed Jesus, what he said, and they preached and believed that Jesus was the only way to be saved.  Jesus himself said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” I would say the clear definition of a Christian is one who claims Jesus as Savior and proof of this is their love for Him, shown by a strong desire and attempt to obey Him.

Today, I believe Nehemiah actually gives us another good “measuring” tool of sorts. We are told when he was choosing a commander to put in charge of the people he chose Hananiah, for “he was a faithful man and feared God more than many.” This, I believe might be a good partial definition for a Christian. A true Christian is faithful and fears God more than many. More than many who say they are a “Christian” but lack any evidence or fruit. We often encourage you to consider where your friends stand with the Lord. We use the term “godly”. I am thinking now, this might be a better phrase-do you or your friends “fear God”. Other translations use the words “god-fearing”, “revere God”, or “respect God”. I think all of those are good.

Of course, ultimately, the question is-what kind of Christian are we? Do we fear/revere/respect God. Is this evident to others. Is there enough “evidence” to “convict” us in a court of law? Is our life lived in a way that another person would choose us to lead because of our faithfulness to God, His Word, and the fact that we seem to love God more than anyone else they know? Are we kinder, more generous, more patient, more peaceful, or more faithful than those around us? These are the things that should be our goal. Let’s be part of showing the world what a true Christian lives like and for Whom they live.

Know your enemy!

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Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 1.36.03 PMIt is reported among the nations… and I am going to tell the king you plan to rebel” This is my version of a portion of Nehemiah (6:6)  which precedes the verse above. Today’s version might be “Someone told me…” or “I am going to tell ____” Different words, same old story. The point is, the source was unreliable,  untrustworthy and discouraging to Nehemiah, who received this so called “report”.

Here is more background in case you have forgotten. Nehemiah has been sent to lead in the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem. This is a difficult task physically and mentally as the leader. He has enemies who do not want this to happen, namely some guys named Sanballet and Geshem. They have already come up to Nehemiah and his co-workers 4 times to discourage them, and this 5th attempt involves sending a servant with a strong threat to get them in big trouble.  I would not have wanted to be Nehemiah or deal with this. What a pain to say the least!

But, it happened and he had to deal with it. And so will you and I. Nehemiah’s response is definitely something we can and should model. First, he saw it for what it was-the sole purpose was to “frighten” them. To make them stop. Nehemiah knew this. They were not there to give truth, to help, to encourage or with any wisdom. The intentions were bad from the get go.

Second, this “report” and threat came from his enemies. It was not from the king or his fellow workers and certainly not from God. He knew who his enemies were, and that weighed very heavily upon the weight he put on anything they had to say.

Third, he did not respond. He did not refute the information or declare his innocence. He knew it was false, but he did not argue with Sanballet and Geshem or the servant and get into it at all regarding this “report”. Instead, he went straight to God, and asked him to fight the battle. He asked him to strengthen his hands-to let him finish the work he was doing. He did not ever go to Sanballet or Geshem.

Sanballet and Geshem were true enemies. Their goals and their gods were not Nehemiah’s goals and his God. You and I have enemies as well. We have a great enemy in Satan, and he has servants who he is constantly sending with false reports to frighten us from the work God has given us. You will have people around you and you will read things posted on social media that will affect your decisions and mine. We need to always consider the source. Are they on our side or against us? Are their goals our goals? Is their god our God? These are the questions that we can ask and will help us decide whether it is truly something to fear, or just lies from the enemy disguised as a “friend.” Only then can we wisely decide whether to take the advice or if it is a situation we need to take directly to God, and leave the “arguing” and results in His hands! Then, we can just proceed on with the work He has given us-be it college, high school, or life in general walking in His ways and staying true to God’s word, instead of the enemies lies.

Don’t get “pulled over”…

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Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 9.52.52 AMHave you ever seen some one be pulled over to the side of the road by a police man? (Thankfully, you all have not yet experienced this!) Often when a person is pulled over for speeding and ticketed, once they are  done and drive away, they tend to drive very cautiously and obey all laws. There is an instantaneous “heightened” awareness of the driving laws and obeying them.

That is the feeling I get when I read about the Israelites in today’s portion of Scripture. They were at that “heightened awareness” point. Today’s verse is just one of an entire section regarding how the Israelites obeyed God’s laws precisely once they were permitted to return to rebuild the temple. They built altars and celebrated the God-prescribed festivals. I can’t put it any better than the Life Application Bible notes that say: “Almost immediately after arriving in the new land, the returning exiles built an alter… after many years in captivity, they had learned their lesson. They knew that God does not offer protection to people who ignore him. They had been carried off  by the Babylonians when they were strong; now they were few, weak, and surrounded by enemies. If ever they needed to rely on God’s power, it was now. They realized the importance of obeying God from the heart and not merely out of habit.”

It is good to have times of heightened awareness that bring us back to obedience, but far better to just stick to obedience. Wouldn’t it be better to not have to worry every time you see the police, than to fear them? It is very simple to reach this point: Drive the speed limit. Obey the law. It is not much different with God, but instead of fear of a ticket, obedience is to our advantage in that we will have God’s protection and blessing on our lives. Ignoring God and his commands has serious consequences. If we don’t stray from obeying-than there is no fear of “getting caught.” Instead, we can live in the joy of the Lord and freedom from fear.

 

Masks…

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.53.10 AMPrintable1511728793_10153421623307808_5645037722884639184_oPastor Betters senior posted some pictures on FB today. They are of objects used during persecution in Scotland back in the 1600’s. One item is thumb screws-which they would use on people to get them to “recant” their faith. Another is a mask that preachers would use to protect their identity during the persecution. Their lives were at stake-if they could cover up their identity, then they couldn’t be punished. The mask worn on the outside hid who they really were on the inside or behind the mask.

The masks worked to hide the preachers identity but masks don’t work to hide our identity or our “insides” from God. God points this out today in Zechariah. He is calling his people out. He asks rhetorical questions above to which he knows the answer. The people were NOT fasting for him, even though it may have looked like it. When they did eat and drink-they did it for themselves-despite what it looked like and/or what they were saying. This reinforces the basic principle we are told in I Samuel 16:7 that “The Lord does not see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Always. He always looks at the heart, the motive of what we are doing.

This is always a good reminder for me and hopefully for you too. When I read this I thought of two questions:
1) What are those things in my own life that “outwardly” may appear to be ‘good’, but where my motive is all wrong?

2) In some ways it seems to me that everything I do is for myself-so maybe the easier question to answer is do I do anything with a pure heart for God?

I am still contemplating these questions. In fact, I need God to really point these areas out to me so I can see where things need to change and where I need to repent. Perhaps this is the case for you as well.

Masks only cover up true identities. The real person is always behind the mask-whether it is a physical mask, or invisible mask of “actions.” Let’s pray God will help us remove any masks we are not aware that we are wearing.

Apple of all of our eyes!

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Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 10.43.03 AM“The apple of my eye” is such a strange saying to me. I think we all know it means a person of whom one is extremely fond and proud or something or someone that one cherishes above all others. But how did they come up with that expression? Apparently, in Old English, the pupil of the eye (the round, dark center) was called the ‘apple’. It was thought that the pupil was a round object much like an apple (a piece of fruit). When you look at someone, their reflection appears in your pupil. So if someone is the ‘apple of your eye’, he or she is someone that you look at a lot and enjoy seeing. This expression is used in today’s Scripture in Zechariah, reminding His people they are the apple of His eye. In fact, it is used in Scripture many times.

This morning as I was reading Zechariah and praying I was wondering if everyone had a good time this weekend in Wildwood. I was thinking how I hoped you did. How I wish and hope our family times are fun memories and times together. How I care so much about how you are doing, whether things are going well in your life for you, and how dad and I enjoy giving you things and opportunities for joy, hoping that is the outcome. As I thought about this I realized this is the exact picture of what it means for someone to be the “Apple of my eye”. The three of you are definitely the “Apples of our eyes”-just like God says we are the apple of His eye. I am sure this is why God talks about himself being our “Father”.  I am sure this is why He did not plan in the whole salvation plan for us to become his “sibling” or “cousin” or anything else.  There is really no better picture to use, than that of a parent and child. What does a parent love more than their child? You can almost visibly see the love. That is what God wants us to see and realize.

I thought of all the ways dad and I enjoy giving you things,  how we want things to go well for you, how we love to help you and increase joy in your life as much as possible. This is the same way God loves us all. It is so clear to me how throughout Scripture this is what God has always tried to do-show His love to his people every way He can-while protecting them, showing them the ways that He can bless them the most. It is his hearts desire that His “children” love Him with their whole heart, and that He loves us in thousands of ways. Of course, there is a difference between how God loves you and how Dad and I love you . God is perfect, and always loves perfectly. Dad and I are not-we make mistakes. We get it wrong sometimes and are saddened when that happens.

But for today, remember-you are all the apple of 3 people’s eyes: God’s, Dad’s and mine. We cherish you above all others-even if you may not always feel we do. Whoever “touches” you touches the “apple of our eyes”-all 3 of ours!

“Return to me”…and I am not referring to the movie!

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Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 1.11.34 PMThe valedictorian of my high school class I am pretty sure is now a proclaimed atheist. I heard another classmate of mine who was an “MK” (missionary’s kid)  is also an atheist. These are both very smart, nice people I grew up with who were raised in Christian homes and went to a Christian school. We have seen some of the same thing amongst some of your classmates and fellow graduates as well. Do you ever wonder how they got to this point in their life?

For some reason this ‘turning away” was the first thing I thought of when I read today’s Scripture in Zechariah. The claim is not exactly the same—but the end result is. You can see above this is a warning to the Israelites not to be like their ancestors. We know that throughout the Old Testament, prophets warned the people to turn back to God-but they did not “hear or heed” God’s instruction…they didn’t listen to the prophets who were speaking on God’s behalf. The people were living a certain way-obviously “evil ways” and “evil deeds” were involved-and they were told to turn back. To head the other direction. To turn away from these deeds and ways.

I wonder if any of my friends who have turned away have been approached by others and encouraged to “turn around”. I suspect they have, but I don’t know. Obviously there are those who do listen to God and heed His warnings and those who do not. This begs the question: Which category are we in?

Paul tells us to examine ourselves and maybe this is God’s reminder to us to think about it. When we read God’s Word, do you and I see areas God is pointing out in our lives that are “evil ways” or “evil deeds”? Have I been convicted about any sin in my life recently? If so, am I repenting and turning away from it or am I turning away from the conviction and continuing in the sin? Is there a pattern of humility in my life and am I accepting of  “constructive criticism” when someone points out an area in my life that needs to change or do I get very defensive instead?  Do I have any friend who would be bold enough to confront me with sin they may see in my life? Perhaps that is the place to start.

I don’t know what has lead some of my friends to fall away from Christ-but I do know somewhere along the line, they did not listen to God-whether He spoke through a parent, friend, or pastor and they did not turn from the path or “way” they were on. I suspect what they heard did not affirm what they wanted to do, and therefore, they did not listen because their desires were stronger than the desire to follow Christ-and be willing to die to self. The challenge to the Israelites thousands of years ago is the same to us today: Do not be like your ancestors (or perhaps in our case, some of our classmates) …who did not “hear or heed” God. Instead, “return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you.” (Zechariah 1:3a)

A Word to my faithful followers….

Email-List-buildingJust a quick note to my faithful followers:

I wanted to write a quick apology for the sporadic postings of late! I am thankful to say that so far it has been a wonderful summer for my family, but also very busy. God has blessed the kids with jobs and our family with surprise visitors and numerous opportunities for mini-vacations with friends and family. Due to all of these activities… routine has been disrupted to say the least! Lack of routine leads to lack of posting the devotions in this household, so I wanted to at least acknowledge this to you all. I suspect that this pattern will continue for the rest of the summer, so the devotional postings may vary through the weeks. In the meantime, I encourage all of us to stay in God’s Word, Scripture memorization and in prayer on our own daily-no matter how disrupted the routine gets. I know Satan rejoices anytime he can keep me away from those things, so I continue to try to be faithful and not let that slip too!

Have a wonderful and safe rest of the summer-I will post as often as I can in the coming weeks. I plan to be back to daily posting once school starts up again!

~Holly