Good soil requires prep work…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.10.51 AMI just bought seeds this week for tomatoes-beefsteak tomatoes. They are the big juicy ones. I hope I can successfully start them and get them to a good size before spring arrives so they will be ready to plant and bear much fruit for us! When I do plant them, I will need to pull out last year’s dead tomato plants and prepare the soil, or they will never grow.

Planting and growing things requires work. In my case, it will require destroying last year’s growth so that we have a place for this year’s plants. God does this will nations and peoples too-the “destroy… plant” cycle. In Jeremiah, we see God explaining what his “destroying” and “gardening” plans were. He had plans to plant and grow Israel into a nation that pointed others to Him, and to do that planting, other things needed to be destroyed. To accomplish this he needed to pull down, destroy and overthrow some nations. To be honest, as I was reading this chapter in Jeremiah, I couldn’t help but feel it could have been written about the US. The book of Jeremiah is an indictment on Judah. Part of the destroying was judgment on Judah—to get them to turn away from their sin and to God. I see this happening here too.

I see our nation being “destroyed” in some ways. I see laws being “overthrown”. But what I really see is truth and lies becoming clearer. God’s plan and the world’s plan are becoming more clearly defined. The lines are being drawn, no doubt.

What will the end result be? Growth. I truly believe this. I think Miriam will get a glimpse of this in Costa Rica. People who are going through very difficult times see God’s hand in their lives more clearly in some ways. They are desperate. He truly becomes their only hope. He daily sustains them spiritually and physically. She will be in orphanages-where children have no parents. God will be the only reliable father with them their whole lives. She will visit poor neighborhoods and deliver food-where people literally may be going hungry for days. They will thank God for his provision through the students. Their hearts are “fallow ground” for the seeds of faith to grow in.

Just as God appointed peoples and nations in Jeremiah’s days to serve as his instruments in the “garden”, He still at work in that garden. This week, he has appointed Miriam and her class to help in Costa Rica. In a few weeks, he will be using Rebekah and Rachel in Guatemala. There is a good chance, the way our country is going, others will receive their ‘calling’ to tend the garden here in the US, perhaps Bear, DE in particular. There will be more tearing down and destroying around us, but there will also be building and planting afterwards. You and I will play a part, and as long as we do what God calls us to do, the garden He has planned will bear MUCH fruit in the end!

Learn from mistakes…

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How do your teachers correct your tests? Do they write an “x” on the questions you got wrong? If it is a writing assignment, usually they will write where improvements could have been made or what the incorrect grammar usage was. What if they didn’t correct your tests-but just looked at them, saw the mistakes, and let you go, giving you an “A”? That sure would make school much easier, wouldn’t it? How do you think you would do on the SAT though? Not so well, I imagine. Without correction, you would continue in error.

Corrections on tests are not something we look forward to but they are necessary. Correction in life is also something we don’t look forward to, but it is also necessary. At school, you have no choice-your tests will be corrected and you have to accept the grade your teacher gives. In life, not so much.  If you are corrected-you get to choose whether you accept it or not and how you will respond.

Apparently, the people of Jerusalem received some correction of their own way back when. How did they respond? Not so well, based on what Zephaniah says above. We are told they did not listen…they did not accept the correction. They did not trust God, and did not draw near to Him. Bad move. The end result was a lot worse than a bad SAT grade, that is for sure! They should have accepted the correction, and they would have been spared much heartache, God’s judgment and wrath.

We, too, get to choose though, just like Jerusalem. So, think about it. How do you and I accept correction? Are we apologetic, and consider the correction and ways we could change in the future, or defensive, and reject the correction? If dad or I point out that you are using a “bad tone” with us, how do you respond? If dad suggests I not say something I feel is important to somebody, do I listen or say it anyway? If one of you mentions to the other to empty a trashcan, do you debate who did it last, whose responsibility it is, or just do it and try to notice next time so you don’t have to be told? These are all corrections. In the future, there may be more “difficult” corrections like to stop using foul language because it is sin and puts a bad mark on Christ’s image. It may be a correction to spend less time with a friend who is a bad influence on you. It may be a correction for me to put my phone down and not answer texts when you are talking to me.

We can either accept or reject godly correction. None of us are perfect. We are all being transformed daily more and more into the image of Christ. Part of that transformation comes through correction from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we listening and responding, or rejecting it? Just remember, it is not just a grade that depends on it, it’s the course of our life.

On mission…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 8.46.54 AMSo, tell me all you know about Zephaniah, since we are starting to look at that book today. Does anything come to mind? I can’t say I know much. I know the book is one of the minor prophets. That is about it.
But, I learned about it today. In the first verse of chapter 1, I see a name I recognize, do you? The name is  Josiah. I bet you recognize that too. Josiah was the 8 year old who became king, found God’s Word, and brought his people back to the Lord. So, just from verse 1 we can see that Nehemiah and Josiah lived around the same time. They both ministered to Judah-so were working towards the same goal-bringing the people back to God.

This is how God works. He places people where He needs them, when He needs them to do His work. They help to bring God’s will to come to pass.

I am sure it is no surprise to you to know God still does this. Sometimes people are in the same place, sometimes they are an ocean apart-but regardless of location-He is aiming them to accomplish His will. To spread the Good News to all nations that all might be saved. It happened then and it is still happening today. As a matter of fact, it will happen real close to home for us on Friday.

Miriam leaves for Costa Rica on Friday. Did you know Rachel and Rebekah are also going on a mission trip? They are going to Guatemala. God is sending them out. While Rebekah, Rachel and Miriam will not be at the exact same location at the same time, they will be serving the same purpose: fulfilling the will of God that all nations and people’s would come to know Him.

Acts 1:8 tells us that “When the Holy Spirit comes you shall receive power and you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Zephaniah and Josiah were part of that plan. Miriam, Rebekah and Rachel are part of that plan. They are to be witnesses.

A witness is one who sees something and tells others about it. In some ways, this is what it all boils down to-when we say “tell others about Jesus” sometimes we can make it harder than it should be. Really, we just need to be a “witness”. Tell what you know and have seen.

We really all are part of that bigger plan of God’s-from the minor prophets to the teens in Bear, DE and Atkinson, NH. Those of us not going, let’s be praying for these witnesses. Pray they would be bold, that God would use them greatly to fulfill His mission and that the Gospel would be spread. Pray those they come in contact with would have open hearts to the gospel-and maybe, even one day, they too will join in the group of witnesses for God.

Larger than a giant…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.14.22 PMYou all know I like the stories with ogres, giants and fairies. From Jack the Giant Slayer to  Once Upon A Time, I enjoy those type of characters. Giants in particular, are the characters that came to my mind today as I read the Scripture.

I think we all saw “Jack the Giant Slayer” last year together. The giants in that film remind me a little of the description God gives of himself today in Isaiah, although God takes a huge step further. He identifies heaven as his throne and the earth as His footstool. Just picture that in your mind. While I believe this is figurative (God is not “resting his feet” on the earth right now) it is literal in terms of how “big” God is. He is all encompassing. I am not sure we can really even give a size comparison, but that is not God’s point here.

God’s point is about “impressions”, as in “making good impressions”, heart attitudes and/or winning His favor. Reading Isaiah 66:1-2 we see God ask a question about building a house, or temple. God’s temple in the days of Solomon was an amazing work of architecture. Once it was destroyed, the Israelites consistently wanted to rebuild it-and they wanted to do a great job. A job that would truly honor God. But perhaps, God saw their hearts and had a few “comments” to make. Somewhere in somebody’s heart must have been the idea that if they succeeded, they were doing really well. That God would be impressed. That perhaps even He “needed” them to build His house, and they would gain favor from Him.

God is quick to dispel this idea. The Living Bible (a paraphrase) puts it this way: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What Temple can you build for me as good as that? What they were thinking was almost ludicrous. Their intentions to honor Him and follow His instruction regarding a temple were good, but somewhere along the way, their motivation deep in their hearts had strayed. and turned to pride. He brings them back to the truth that it is the humble heart and contrite (repentant) spirit He desires. The one who really reveres and understands the importance of His Word. They were to serve Him with their skills and gifts, realizing the ability to even complete the temple was only because God had given them the ability in the first place.

This is human kind. We are marred by sin in such a way that the talents and gifts God has given us we can easily start to take pride in. It does not take long-maybe one computer fix I do for someone, or one awesome lacrosse goal. Maybe its just one 102 on a test and our minds are off and running down the track of how great we are. It is our “natural” line of thinking. We need to always be praying and keep in mind that God is looking for the humble person, the contrite spirit, the person who “trembles” at His Word. If we can remember our creator in all we do, it will help guard us from the pitfall of pride. What we do will reflect glory back to Him, instead of us. In turn, we will remain humble servants of Christ who are ambassadors for His kingdom, which as we can see from this verse…is apparently very big!

Action verbs…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.00.26 AMWhen you begin writing your resume’s for jobs, you will learn it is good to use “action” verbs to describe what you have done. For instance, you “worked” somewhere, or your “received” a certain honor. You may say you “participated” in a certain club or “won” an athletic award. These all show some form of movement or action on somebodies part. It is “doing” something.

In today’s Scripture, we see action verbs as well-unfortunately, they are written to describe what the Israelites did NOT do, but were supposed to. In the second half of the verse in Isaiah we see the action verbs “called”, “answer”, “spoke”, “listen” and “chose”. God was describing what the Israelites had NOT done in response to Him. We have the luxury of looking at this verse and not repeating their history, not making the same mistakes they did. So, as believers, what are some simple clear ways to walk in “His” ways? Let’s look at these verbs and see.

“Called”. God says when He called, they did not answer. Let’s make sure we answer God’s call. He may call you to something small, like letting another person go in front of you or someday he may call you to something bigger, like a job that would require you to move.  Once you confirm it is something God is clearly leading you to, answer him. Do what He has called you to.

“Spoke”. God says He spoke and they did not listen. When God speaks, we need to listen. He speaks through His Word (A reminder again, if we are not in His Word daily, there is no way we will be able to listen!) He speaks sometimes through godly counsel of friends and family. He speaks through messages at church and others speakers. Listen. We need to consider what God is trying to tell us specifically through what He has spoken. For example, yesterday, the sermon was about Onesimus, and how as a believer, he now could contribute to the work of the church. How can we, too, be contributing to the church body as a believer?

Finally, chose, or “to choose.” This is used in a negative aspect-referring to what they did NOT choose. They did not choose the things of God. They did not choose what He delighted in. God delights in things that are holy, true, loving, kind, patient, helpful and much much more. We should choose these things, not the evil choices of lies, unkindness, disobedience, deception, evil and so on. Choose what delights God. Choose to live a life that would be a good representation of the King we serve. Choose actions that give others a glimpse of what Jesus is like.

We have the chance to learn from the Israelites mistakes. Let’s do it, and choose NOT to repeat their history!

Making His name known

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Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 12.05.02 PMI am still thinking about the Egyptians killed by Isis. It is a tragedy, and yet, at the same time, so “far away” from our life. One thing I do know-these Christians whose lives are at stake even as I type this, would speak the words of the verse above in a heartbeat. I am sure it is the desire of their heart that God would at this moment tear open the heavens and come down. It is surely their desire that the nations, or peoples (ISIS in particular) would tremble at God’s presence.

It would be an amazing thing to have God come down and His presence to be instantly seen by these evil men. He could do this in many ways, and He may or he may not at this time. But the purpose of his coming down is still in play. God will make His name known. He will make it known in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt-as well as in Newark, Middletown and Bear, DE. God set out from the beginning to make His name known through Adam and Eve, and still will accomplish this goal.

I was thinking about those in ISIS-they were all children long ago at one time. What if the ISIS leader had heard the gospel as a child and become a believer? How would that have changed things today? They were all children at one time. Even now, it is not too late for them to hear the gospel. Paul was the equivalent of any ISIS member and we all know how God used him for His kingdom like no other!

Today, we will be going to the show at school. There will be many families there-some from school, some not school families. There will be non-believers there who do not know the gospel. While the show is just the story of the Little Mermaid, there is a chance some child or adult who has never known Christ will talk to someone while in line at concessions, or consider Christ when someone prays. Tonight might be the night someone joins the family of God. We may be asked to play a part in that, by being kind, showing them where the bathrooms are, or just by being a “different” teenager who is not as concerned about looking cool as they are showing the love of Christ to strangers. And who knows, yours or my very act done in the name of Christ truly could change the course of history!

Look in the mirror…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 9.22.05 AMThere are many people “types”. There are athletes, artists, computer “geeks”, studious people, or musicians. We could also categorize people by the way they dress: preppy, jock, basic, goth, or grunge. If you had to label yourself by one of these categories, which would you pick? If Aaron said he was a musician, I would probably disagree-not because he couldn’t be, but because right now he is not. He does not spend time practicing a musical instrument. Would I use the word goth to describe Miriam? No, she doesn’t wear all black makeup and clothes all the time. Am I a computer geek-yes, to some degree. I spend a lot of time on computers and listening to technology podcasts. What you do determines which of these labels would most accurately fit you or me.

Our relationship to God can also be labeled, or described by others based on what we do. As Isaiah continues in the Scriptures today, he is actually praying for the Israelites and describing them by what they do. Do you see his description above? How he says they are behaving? His words tell us that they were like “those whom you do not rule, like those not called by your name.” What do you think he saw or was referring to? You know the history of Israel. They worshiped idols. They did not follow God’s law. They were acting like those who were not Israelites, those people who served other gods, not God the creator.

Now its our turn. What would Isaiah say about us? If he were to look at “those who are not called by God’s name” today, what do those people look like? They are be people who do not follow God’s instruction; People who take the Lord’s name in vain, slanderers, slaves to passions and pleasures-seeking them above all else, hating one another and the list could go on. These are people who specifically choose NOT to follow God-and their actions show this to be the case. God is not their master, they are not His servant. An atheist would clearly state he does not believe in God and would have nothing to do with the Bible.

We are called by God’s name. We are His children. The question is, do we look like it? In one sense, this is a tough one because we can ‘fake’ it. God is clear not to waste our time doing that. It is always good to examine ourselves from time to time and see what exactly influences us in making a decision? How do we decide what to say, what to do with our free time, what things to “seek” with our money and effort. Do we have a natural desire to help others or always focus on ourselves? Do we make a conscious effort to watch the words we say about others, to make sure we are not slandering someone? Are we kind? Are we truthful and obedient? Do we have a desire to obey God in all areas of our life?

It really is not hard to answer these questions and consider who we serve-ourselves or God. Who do we look like? Remember as you read the Scripture, and see God’s Word for his children to consider and pray that we will look more and more like Him each day. May God’s words through Isaiah never be used to describe us too!

A year of “favor”

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 7.32.44 AMSometimes in school, students will notice a teacher has a “favorite”. The teacher is especially kind to them,  may go “easy” on them when grading, or overlooks their mistakes. Some might also say they are the “favorite” in their family, or kids may jokingly ask their mom and dad “which of us is your favorite?” The root word of all of this is the word “favor”-and it connotes something good. To be someone’s ‘favorite’ would be good and to receive favor is something we all would like.

Did you know that we are in fact living in the “year of the Lord’s favor” right now? I don’t necessarily mean 2015 is the exact year of God’s favor-but this day and age, and in fact, the last 2000+ years have been the “year of the Lord’s favor”. The verse in Isaiah 61 today, speaks of a time when someone is sent with good news, and a time to proclaim the Lord’s favor. This verse can’t be completely understood without realizing Jesus, in Luke 4 quotes this verse… but stops midway through. He says the part about the year of the Lord’s favor and then says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) He was the fulfillment of the one bringing with good news. He was the good news.

But don’t miss the fact that he did NOT finish the verse. He did not say that the part about the day of vengeance of our God, and to comfort all who mourn. That day is still to come. Jesus did not fulfill that part yet.

So, two things to see today: First, we are living in a time of God’s favor. If you look around, you can see this. Sin is not immediately punished. God’s forgiveness for sin, the blood of Christ, is available to all right now. God’s restraining hand is on our world. Just consider the fact that there are weapons that could destroy this world multiple times over but they haven’t. Why not? Is there not anyone evil enough to do it? Of course not-anyone from Hitler to Saddam Hussein to the leader of N. Korea could do it in a heartbeat. But they haven’t…because they have been restrained.

Second, there is a day of vengeance coming. The ISIS killers, Hitlers, rapists of this world will have their day of judgment. Those who are mourning now will be comforted.

In the meantime, pray. Pray for our president. Pray for wisdom for him in this day and age and the decisions he has to make. Pray for the gospel to be spread, that one of the ISIS leaders would become a believer…imagine how that could change things. And consider the favor God has shown you and I, the comfortable lives we live here in America. It may not last forever, but He has given us much right now. Pray we will be more aware of the favor-both that we are saved and that we are protected. You are not worried of being shot at school today when you go, are you? This is only because of the grace of God and His current favor. Let’s never take these things for granted!

Don’t forget your lines!

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Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 11.05.14 AMYes! We finally got a snow day. This is good news for us, but I have a feeling the people preparing for the Little Mermaid Jr. play at school are a little nervous about missing a whole day of practice so close to the show. Just memorizing the lines to me seems like an impossible job on top of school work. I could never do it. I would forget the words, I am certain!

But there are other words that I found out will never be forgotten. Isaiah talks about them today. God made a covenant with his people, Israel, that when His spirit is upon them, His words would not depart from their mouth. They will not forget them. The words would not “leave” them. At first, I thought this meant us as believer’s, since we too are God’s children now. And perhaps (you will need to do further study to determine on your own) this is true for us, I hope so, but the context of this verse is prophecy to Israel. It is speaking specifically of God’s chosen people.

Do you see Jews today speaking the Word of God? Do you see Jewish children not forgetting all of God’s Word? I don’t think so. I had to read up a little on this, and it seems Isaiah is speaking to when Jesus comes back again. That there will be a time when His people will be a witness to Him as He intended them to be. That they will be a living testament to who He, God, is.

We are not there yet. We do not see this. But as you are watching what is going on in this world, keep your eyes open. Things are happening. The Prime Minister of Israel just invited the Jews to come back to Israel for protection, after the latest actions by ISIS in killing the Egyptian Christians. Don’t let this news just slip by. God’s plan is moving forward and the day is coming when Jesus will return.

Our job? Even though this verse may not be speaking about us, there are others that clearly do speak to how we are to be witnesses too-Acts 1:8 speaks of the disciples need to be witnesses “to the end of the earth.” We should be a living witness of who God is, his glory, his message. Our lives each day can attest to the goodness and love of the Creator by our words and deeds. Remember,  a witness is one who tells what they have seen.

What have you seen of Christ in your life? Has He protected you in certain circumstances? Has he opened doors that you never expected? I can’t wait to see the things He does for Miriam when she is in Costa Rica-and she will be able to be a “witness” to all of that, sharing with us and others when she returns. May these things all “never depart” from our mouths either-and may we be witnesses today to those we come in contact with, of who God is and what He is like.

Be revived!

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 8.45.44 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 8.46.16 AMBrian Williams, a famous news reporter, now finds himself unfortunately to be the news. He lied in his reporting many years ago, and it has finally caught up with him. There are people who are “for” him or “against” him now. I wonder if he regrets his choice. If he had the chance to do it over, would he do it differently? I imagine he would love people to just forgive him his mistake and let him continue reporting.

Brian Williams is public, and his failure is worldwide news, but really we are not too different. We all have failures, and I for one, am thankful that when my failures come to light (and they always do!), they at least, are not on the world news that night. These “failures” are really sins, and I have them. The ultimate question is what we do with our sin. Do we admit them? What do we do with the guilt?Does it drag us down or turn us towards God?

Hopefully, it turns us toward God. Hopefully, it makes us repent of our failure, or sin, and seek forgiveness for our sin, so that we can be cleansed. This act or attitude is called being “contrite”, repentant, or having a “contrite” heart. This is what God speaks about through Isaiah today.

God says He specifically ‘dwells’ with those who are contrite and humble in spirit. The two certainly go together, don’t they? When we sin and recognize it for what it is, there is certainly no reason to be proud of it, is there? Instead, it should and will humble us. Confessed sin that leads to repentance will also grow in us a humble spirit. Don’t miss this though: Something else happens with sin and the heart when one is not contrite.

Look at the end of the verse. We are told that God will “revive” the spirit of the humble and the heart of the contrite. This means that sin, left unconfessed, with no repentance, leads to a death. A “living” spirit and heart do not need reviving-only things that are dead need to be revived.

Consider your life as I consider mine. Look back at those times you and I fell into sin, and can you see any “death” that came of it. Was it death of “trust” with a friend? Was it death of a character trait? When you were very young, the sin of disobedience led to spanks, which were painful. It is a very good thing to develop a habit of confessing sin as soon as possible, repenting from it and seeking God’s help to turn away from it. As we do, we will be cleansed, God will dwell with us and He can revive us from the pending “death”!