Revisiting, Yet Still Relevant

Today, as I scrolled through old drafts deleting them, I ran across a two year old draft that caught my attention. It stands as a reminder that some struggles just circle back around again and make you wonder…

Amazing how when God is trying to teach me something new in my life or reinforce a truth, He causes it to recur in many different and unique ways, at unusual times,  and from the most surprising sources!! This seems to also happen when I slip into an old behavior that should have been put to death but rises up because of some trigger from the past that is a catalyst for an old fear or insecurity. This morning I ran across a virtual leadership conference and listened in. The first session was on Living in Freedom and began with the scripture from Deuteronomy 2:31b- “Begin to possess it, that you may inherit his land.’  The first speaker noted that one of the biggest hindrances to living in freedom is fear of man; the opinions of other humans. Other freedom topics included others expectations, and personal struggles.  We are all at one time or another subjected to differences of opinion, to the expectation of another person, or to a personal struggle we don’t care to have to face.   I began to think of a recent conversation I had with a loved one struggling because of another’s expectation and the pain it was causing. The following questions arose:  Why is it difficult to live in the freedom that has been given us? Do we allow our insecurities and our fears to affect us too deeply? How is it that some people  feel so free to cross boundary lines and cause havoc within another’s property lines? Could it be the gradual decline in moral absolutes over the years that has caused us to think we don’t need anyone else? Why do some demand that we see life through their lenses but are not willing to try to see through ours?

After thinking about this, I have some ideas and thoughts. Bare in mind that these are merely my musings and I am quite sure that there are as many opinions on each of these as there are people on our planet. When our Creator created man, He desired relationship. Thien He created woman, because it was not good for man to be alone. Humans were created in the image of God and to be relational beings. The serpent  came along as a tool of Satan whose sole goal was dividing and conquering; seeking to destroy the relationship between God and man, and between man and his wife. This is where fear of punishment and bl.aming others entered. Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve initially but ultimately blamed God because He had given Eve to  Adam. From then to now there has been blame shifting, denial, and decrease in personal responsibility when faced with the fear of facing the consequences of our mistakes or our rebellion. Perchance, could it result from the tunnel vision we sometimes get as we deal with life’s injustices and inequities and the pain and brokenness we suffer at our own hands and at the hands of others?

As I revisited the draft today, it brought back some of those old circumstances to mind-some resolved and some not. The truth is many times in the busyness of our lives we do not give healing a proper chance.   Instead of seeking resolution, restoration and wholeness In our times of brokenness and pain. sometimes we toss a small bandaid over the gaping wound. We try as best we can to move on and to forget about it. Usually some reminder comes up and when it does, the bandaid is ripped off exposing a wound that is un-healed and many times infected. When this happens, we can become so wrapped up in our freshly exposed pain that we can become the one who crosses those boundary lines and tramples on others. Our best option is to deal quickly and thoroughly with distructive issues and to keep short accounts so that as much as it depends on us we can walk in heath, wholeness, and peace.

Grace and peace to you!

Grace Gifts – Pondering the Precious

I no longer feel as I once did the tremendous pressure to perform or produce, oh it stills rears its head from time to time but it does not haunt me moment to moment as it once did! Why? Because I finally understood…I ran across Psalm 139 a number of years ago. The realization became clear. Jesus, God – knowing me fully before I was ever formed – loved me, loved us. Knowing before either you or I was formed EVERYTHING about us in advance – still He formed me, formed you. He knew I would fail, He knew I would blow it – just like now two days behind again  in my Christmas devotional reading, or something stupid or hurtful that I carelessly said to someone dear. Still, He loves me; He loves you! Knowing everything about us, in advance of our first breath, He lovingly formed us with a purpose, a plan…a specific place in time in His mind for us where we would be placed purposefully.  Knowing we would go our own way at times, get off track…yet He, in His great love, called forth my life and has walked every step with me  – the good, the bad and yes, even the ugly! Even before I was aware of His Presence, He was right there whispering, “Perform no more, walk with Me and be free to become who I created you to be… not someone else’s image or destiny but your own unique calling unlike any other – no cookie cutter image here!” He provides grace for the gaps; and there are gaps! Times of self-doubt; times of difficulty; times of comparison; times fear slips in that I am not enough, unworthy, unloved. He always steps in, His Words chase me with grace; compel me; woo me; draw me closer… His grace whispered… love lavished…drawing me back, closer… reminding me of His love – unconditional – the love He created me in, you also!

How grateful I feel for God’s gift, His ultimate gift… Salvation! Right standing, a chance for real life, full and abundant life… Not just about heaven, the after life. No it is not just about avoiding separation from God, or a fiery hell and eternal punishment. No, His salvation is so much more… It is about life, true life.  Full life, living water flowing in and through me; through you, overflowing that we might love  others with a love that is greater than ourselves. A love like His! Pure love, unselfish love. His salvation is about working it out in our lives while we are alive, Philippians 2:12, with fear and trembling.  Fear? Doesn’t perfect love cast out fear? Yes, this fear has a rich deep meaning of reverence and respect – not being afraid but a deep reverence and respect for the One who created us, loves us.  He is for us, Jeremiah 29:11. When we understand and believe His Word, when we know He is for us and not against us, then we are able to see God as a perfect and loving Father who is always seeking our best as we walk this planet; then the reverence and respect He desires from us follows naturally. It is then we stop seeing Him as the great rule maker; we stop seeing Him as out to limit our fun, control us. It is in this place we begin to see His loving and gentle hand protecting us, guiding us to be the best we can be; to reach toward our destiny. We begin to live life to the fullest and most abundant progressively moving forward in love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

Salvation and eternal life are found in Jesus, but it does not stop there! We work it out (Philippians 2:12) in our lives by seeking the Father and walking with Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our life – hearing God’s Word directing us in what He created us to be, wooing us, drawing us into the dance of our lives. His salvation is not just for eternity but for life here and now!  He makes it so simple a small child can understand, yet we complicate it. He loves us indescribably, exponentially!! Yes, He like any good father wants us to be obedient but not for His sake or for His satisfaction but for our protection, for our good so that we can have the richest and most satisfying life possible. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” He would not have taught them this if it we not possible, in fact all things are possible with God.  What would it look like if every one of us who God calls son or daughter walked in our destiny and fully understood who we are in Christ.   Can we even imagine? What would His kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven look like?

I am betting that just one glimpse and not one of us would ever be the same!!

He who observes the Wind

He who observes the wind [and waits for all conditions to be favorable] will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. As you know not what is the way of the wind, or how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a pregnant woman, even so you know not the work of God, Who does all. In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not your hands, for you know not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether both alike will be good. Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. (Ecclesiastes 11:4-7 AMP)

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After an incredible road trip filled with fun and laughter and only a few hours sleep, I awoke to the soft chime of my alarm. I then did something that I have not done in a while…I was responsible to wake up the other ladies so that we could enjoy a beautiful sunrise. What a beautiful reminder of how great our God is!! Above verse 5 says, “As you know not what is the way of the wind, or how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a pregnant woman, even so you know not the work of God,” I began to ponder the works of God all around us as we watched the sun peak over the horizon and bring warmth to our hearts and our bodies.

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We followed the beautiful adventure with with an early breakfast, followed by an amazing walk on the shore. I was completely stunned by the incomparable beauty surrounding us, by the great complexity of God’s creation all around us, and yet also by it’s surreal simplicity. All around us, creation was doing exactly what the Creator had purposeed! Nothing more and nothing less. What a wonderful lesson we humans can learn from such an observance.
  • What if we uncomplicated our lives by seeking out what our Creator’s purpose for us is?
  • What if we choose to Love God, love people, and seek that purpose and only that purpose?
  • What if we lay down our comparison of ourselves to others and quit striving and simply did what we were created to do?
  • How about we reflect on our expectations of others and their expectations of us and got rid of the unreasonable ones so that we could just our true selves?

Would this simplify our lives, decrease our stress, increase joy and happiness in our lives? I am betting the answer is unequivocally yes!! How much different life would be if we simply did just what we were created to do? Maybe you are already there but today I realized I am not. Can we take some time to realize we are not human doings but human beings? Today, I am taking time out by the pool, enjoying the shade and resting in Him, reflecting on who I am in Christ Jesus and being content to just be. No unreasonable expectations, no pressures, just resting in being His creation.

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Full Circle= (Remember. Reflect, Recuperate,Rededicate, Redirect)

This morning after my S.O.A.P. reading, I found myself looking ahead to tomorrows passage just to see what was coming up and to ask the Lord to prepare my heart for what He would have me learn from it. I skimmed over the chapter and not once but twice a word jumped out at me. That word was Gilgal.  I began to think back to a time in my life when this word or maybe I should say the significance of this word became very real in my life and quite significant as well.

Gilgal is first mentioned in the Bible in Deuteronomy 11 where God is describing the Promised land that He will be giving His people. Interestingly enough, it is contains the declaration of God to the Israelites, 26 Today I’m giving you the choice of a blessing or a curse. 27 You’ll be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I’m giving you today. 28 You’ll be cursed if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God, if you turn from the way I’m commanding you to live today, and if you worship other gods you never knew. 29 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you’re about to enter, recite the blessing from Mount Gerizim and the curse from Mount Ebal. 

I find that very interesting, considering the topic of my last entry was about choosing blessing or cursing, life or death, so this is the result of something I believe the Lord is trying to say to me or teach me. If it is helpful to someone else that is great, but most of the things I write about are things that I am learning or that I feel the Holy Spirit is teaching me.  This is my outlet and if you will since we are talking about Gilgal…my memorial stone to help me remember.

Back to Gilgal.  One of the most known and important times in Gilgal is found in Joshua when the Israelites have been instructed to cross the Jordan River to enter the promised land. Here the Lord parts the waters of the river for all the people following cross the river on dry ground while the priests stand in the middle with the ark of the covenant . God instructed Joshua that one man from each tribe be assigned to select one stone from the middle of the river where the priests had stood and take it to the place the Israelites would camp that night. As they did what God asked, Joshua explained, “4:21 He said to the people of Israel, “In the future when children ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 the children should be told that Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.23 The Lord your God dried up the Jordan ahead of you until you had crossed, as he did to the Red Sea until we had crossed. 24 The Lord did this so that everyone in the world would know his mighty power and that you would fear the Lord your God every day of your life.”  

In chapter 5, at this same time, all the men who were born in the wilderness were circumcised at Gilgal. Circumcision was a sign to them that they were set apart unto the Lord.  Here they remained in this new land until they were healed.  Also, at Gilgal, the Lord declared in Joshua 5:

The Lord then said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you.” Therefore, that place is called Gilgal to this day.

What does all this mean?  For me, I am sensing that Gilgal is the place where Israel has come full circle, it is a reminder of God’s salvation of Israel from Egyptian slavery, from the wrath of the Egyptians who were chasing them and were swallowed by the Red Sea; a reminder of His protection and provision for their 40 years of wandering in the desert, where they always had food and water and their clothes and shoes never wore out; it was a place of laying aside the flesh and consecrating themselves to God; laying down false beliefs and false gods that they were exposed to during slavery and being rededicated to the one True God. I believe Gilgal was a fresh start, a clean slate. It was also a great monument and reminder because of the twelve memorial stones. Human beings tend to over time forget or allow all that our God has done for us become a distant memory. These stones stood and still stand as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites, we would do well to note and remember all God has done for us! What a stabalizing factor and comforting peace we could enjoy when the storms of life come blowing us over, if we take time to set up remembrances of the times He has seen us through hardships and difficulties or rescued us from them. When we regularly celebrate His presence and provision in our lives we are much calmer and peaceful when the storms of life blow over us, sometimes blowing us over.  I want to come full circle, celebrating fresh starts, rededicating myself to Him, remembering His presence and provision in my life, letting go of the difficulties and pain of the past but remembering His faithfulness and love as a reminder not to return there; choosing life and blessing over death and the curse!

ImageNovember 16, 2012

Shalom,

It is with many emotions today that I leave Israel.  I am  flooded with gratitude to God  for this incredible opportunity! I have  missed our family very much and I  am grateful to be very close to seeing them again but also I am  overwhelmed with the desire to extend my stay in this land. I never imagined I would feel so at home here, be hit with such a depth of desire to stay here, nor did I realize the tears that I would shed because it was time to go!  What an exceptional group of people we have been blessed to travel with! Not only those from our Lifegate family, but also those who traveled from around the states to be with us and those who planned and executed our trip, especially our excellent driver. No one can maneuver a bus like Ami does.  It has been amazing to experience the Holy Land with such knowledgable and passionate guides. Huge gratitude to both Marc and Ilan!! The insight and understanding you brought to us was priceless. It is as Moshe  said when he spoke with us in his shop, ” None come to Israel unless it is by God’s hand.”  I am sure now more than ever, the longing to come here that I have carried for all these years was God given. I also believe the it was His perfect plan that this was the proper time for us to go. I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully express my gratitude for the ability to take this trip nor my perceptions in the land, but I will surely attempt to give it my best effort over time and it will forever change my understanding when I read God’s Word.  I can not wait to return.  Not only  have I left a large portion of my heart in Israel, I will forever carry a love for  Israel and it’s people in my heart!! As my wonderful friend Don says, ” This will change your life forever!”

November 20, 2012

The above was written at the airport last Friday. By the time we landed stateside, the attacks on Israel had escalated and continue to increase. This is a country surrounded but those who want to see it destroyed! Despite constant attacks, they use restraint in their defenses and as a rule only strike back when there are Israelis injured or killed.  This is a beautiful land with beautiful and diverse citizens who dwell together in peace. The attacks are coming at the hands of terrorist groups that want to see Israel and the Jewish people destroyed, please join me in praying for the peace of Jerusalem, Israel, and it’s people!

Psalm 122:5-7. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:  “May those who love you prosper; may there be peace within your walls, prosperity within your fortresses.”

   Unforsaken

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time reading in Deuteronomy in both our scripture reading plan and in another study I have been engaged in. It has been fascinating to dive in and study more deeply the roots of our faith. You can see a great deal about the Holy character of God and the depth of His love for His people when studying the words of the Old Testament. Moses was protected from a decree to kill all baby boys, he grew up with the wealth and education of a prince in his adopted family, he evaded punishment for taking up for the Hebrew people from which he was born fleeing to the desert because he took a life, he started his life over in the desert and had a family of his own. He was call by God at a burning bush at the age of eighty and began the part of his life he is most known for, and perhaps the hardest time in his life at a time when most are slowing down and enjoying the fruit of their labors, at least in our day. Moses was a man like any other. He had successes, failures, questions, concerns but he is most known for his faithfulness to God, his listening to God and in most cases his obedience to God. His is also known for his love great love for God’s people.

What I found today as I came to the close of Moses life was the beauty in God’s love and care for His servant. Moses, because of disobedience to God had been told he would not be allowed to enter the promised land with the people and now as Deuteronomy comes to an end Moses is approaching the time that he will say goodbye to his people and they will begin their journey into the land of promise. Moses is now 120 years old in perfect health and perfect eye sight. In Chapter 31 God tells Moses that he is about to rest with his fathers, He tells Moses the people will one day turn from God. He then calls Joshua forth to be commissioned and anointed the new leader of Israel. Moses speaks warnings and blessings over the people. Despite knowing his fate, he shows his love and concern for the people he has led by speaking warnings and blessings over them.  The very day that Moses spoke over the people of Israel, God spoke to Moses saying,  “49 “Go up Mount Nebo in the Abarim range in the land of Moab, across from Jericho, and view the land of Canaan I am giving the Israelites as a possession.50 Then you will die on the mountain that you go up, and you will be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.”   That is a lot of background summary to get to the heart of what has touched my heart so profoundly.  Moses in his last earthly act of obedience did just as the Lord said and went to Mount Nebo ascending to the top of Pisgah where the Lord spoke to him and  he was able to see at a distance the Promised land.  And having done as the Lord had instructed Moses.   34:So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab facing Beth-peor, and no one to this day knows where his grave is. Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eyes were not weak, and his vitality had not left him. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab 30 days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.”

Did you catch that, the Lord, his God buried him! God, Himself buried Moses!!  What a tender picture. God never left Moses! He took Moses from the mountain where he breathed his last breath and buried him in the valley in the land of Moab. God was with him in all aspects of his life, even in his disobedience that cost Moses the promised land. He was with him every step of the way! He was watching over him in the basket on the Nile, throughout his childhood, his time in the desert, his time of leadership over God’s people and even in his final hours! Moses died at the fullness of time as told in Genesis 6:3, “And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not  remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.”

We as believers also have great promises! Jesus also promised that He never leaves us or forsakes us. Deuteronomy 33:26-28 speaks of God coming down from over Moses, His everlasting arms beneath Moses, moving out the enemy from before him and in Isaiah 58:8 that He is our rear guard. We can count on these same promises in Christ, for we are grafted into the vine and are the seed of Abraham, we are joint heirs and heirs of the promise through Jesus Christ our Savior. We are truly blessed, Lord grant us the grace to walk in it!

Perfect Peace

Since I was a small girl, I have had a love for the land of Israel, for its people and a great desire to travel there. It has not been until the last  ten years that I began to have some understanding of that longing.  I became a follower or believer as Jesus Christ at a very young age, not because my family was regular church attenders and I was indoctrinated from birth but because  I had heard some Bible Stories and one day when a scary and traumatic event occurred in my pre-school life and I was filled with fear facing danger, I cried out to Jesus for help. He met me there and turned that terrifying situation around. He did this in answer to prayer many times during my childhood years and during my years as an adult. In Him, I found Jehovah (YHWH) Shalom long before I would ever understand the true meaning of the Lord is Peace.

So just what does this name for God mean?  Jehovah is the word used for the Hebrew word YHWH or Yahweh. It’s accepted meaning is Self-Existent One or Lord and comes from the root to be or to exist, one who reveals Himself unceasingly. 1  Shalom is often defined as peace but in Hebrew has a much deeper meaning.  Let’s explore.  According to Strong’s, Shalom holds with the meaning the concept of  to be or make peace, to make amends, to restore, to make good,  peace, prosperity and wellness. A friend of ours who speaks Hebrew has described it as being nothing broken, nothing missing, wholeness, complete.  How rich is the meaning of this name for God. He is the Self-Existent Lord, Who reveals Himself unceasingly, bringing or making possible  peace, restoration, prosperity and wellness, nothing missing  and nothing  broken.

One example of  shalom in scripture is:

When Gideon realized that He was the Angel of the Lord, he said, “Oh no, Lord God! I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face!” But the Lord said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”  So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it Yahweh Shalom. It is in Ophrah of the Abiezrites until today. (Judges 6:22-24 HCSB)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May those who love you prosper; may there be peace within your walls, prosperity within your fortresses.”Because of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be with you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. (Psalm 122:6-9 HCSB)  It also reads:  Sha’alu shalom Yerushalayim (pray for the peace of Jerusalem); they shall prosper that love thee. Shalom be within thy wall, and security within thy citadels. (Tehillim 122:6, 7 OJB) as found in the Jewish orthodox Bible.

You will guard him  and  keep him in  perfect  and  constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You,  and  hopes confidently in You. (Isaiah 26:3 AMP)                                                                                                                                                   Thou wilt keep him in shalom shalom, whose yetzer (mind-set) is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee. (Yeshayah 26:3 OJB)

May Yahweh bless you and protect you; may Yahweh make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may Yahweh look with favor on you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 HCSB)

Shalom!

1 from blue bible.org/names of God

     Beauty for Ashes

I am very blessed to be a part of a wonderful, life-giving church fellowship. Tonight was an unexpected reminder of so many blessings and of God”s great faithfulness. Today began with standing beside some very dear people in our life who were being challenged with a  difficult circumstance. It was what my husband would call a hard day, not necessarily a bad day, just a hard day for our friends. It was a day of struggles and victories, questions of which some went unanswered. At least for now, they are unanswered. We parted company for a short time and came together again to worship, pray and hear God”s Word.

It was during worship, I began to prayerfully go back over the day and consider the ways we had seen God’s fingerprints on this day. As I continued to reflect, a still small voice (not audible, no I’m not hearing voices) began to remind me of many instances of God’s faithfulness in our life over the past months. In just under 3 weeks, it will be the anniversary of our son- in- love’s accident which followed right on the edge of two of our grandchildren having a battle with ear infections for many months and culminating with each one having surgery for tubes. Both suffered some complications from long-term antibiotic use before surgery.

To fully understand what happened next would take much time to explain. Our daughter’s husband had an accident at work, falling 30 feet in a lift when the whole lift fell.  He suffered many broken ribs, a broken arm, sternum, pelvis, a back injury just to name part of the injuries. This required surgeries, a long hospital stay, in-patient and out-patient therapies both physical and occupational, frequent visits with a host of doctors and ministering to 3 children who missed their dad terribly. Did I mention our daughter was expecting their 4th child? You can imagine the worries and fears. Meanwhile, other immediate family member were struggling with health issues and dealing with an emergency surgery and a planned one.  I share all of this, not for sympathy or empathy but as I worshipped tonight, memories of these events and others flooded into my mind and I was overwhelmed with the goodness of God and how faithful He has been to our family!! It wasn’t easy, just like it was not easy for my friends today. But as I look back, I can see God’s hand all over these eighteen months. Could we have become overwhelmed, angry, given into the fears, been overtaken by what seemed for  to be insurmountable fears and worries? Oh, yes that would have been easy. Were we tempted? Honestly, yes at times. Did we? No. Just when one of us began down that road, the rest would come along and remind them of God’s love, mercy and grace.  We would recall past times of  His faithfulness and lift those struggling in prayer.

Deuteronomy 30: 14-16 says, ‘ But the message is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it. See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

I have watched this year as many of our family and spiritual family have struggled with great adversity. We have cried together, laughed together, struggled together and rejoiced together. The greatest blessing has been watching people choose life, choose faith, choose to believe the best and rally around each other. It has been watching them overcome fear and doubt and walking in faith, grace, determination, strength that they never imagined they had. It has been such a blessing to watch as both our children’s families and a number of great friends have overcome huge hurdles and have walked away more than conquers because they trusted in a merciful, loving God who has been so faithful.  How appropriate to end the time of worship with the beautiful chorus, “There is none like you. No one else can touch my heart like you do. I could search for all eternity long and find there is none like You!” There is still healing to be had and things left as yet unsettled,questions to be answered, but this I know: He who has proved Himself faithful time after time will once again “make all things work together for our good.” All things are not good, but God is able to do exceeding, abundantly above and beyond anything we can think or imagine, and in the process grow us in strength, character, faith and love! The choice is ours, Choose Life!

Isaiah 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Lord  is on Me( speaking prophetically of Jesus), because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair.  And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him.

    Counting My Blessings

Today, I am reflecting on how thankful I am for all the blessings the Lord has allowed in my life over the last eighteen months.  Those who know our family know that there has been many challenges during that time. Illnesses, surgeries, a serious accident, tests, more surgeries, sickness, and did I mention surgeries?   It would have been so easy to get discouraged, to become resentful and blame others for the events that lead to the accident, to rale against the illnesses that required surgeries and even to get angry at the repeated attacks that seem to go on endlessly against our close family. Some would even go so far as to blame God for all the mess and mishaps.

I have a very different take on what our family has experienced during this time. I won’t down play the difficulties and the pain and exhaustion of the experience for it is very real.  However, the benefits such as the love and faithfulness of God, the wonderful people who He graciously surrounded us with, seeing Him work in seemingly impossible situations and seeing His glory in our lives have made it not only bearable but a blessing.  We have been learning recently the importance of the blessing. We have joined some new friends along with our regular Bible study to do some Torah Studies in advance of a trip to Israel.  Our latest study was on the blessing. In Hebraic tradition the blessing is an important part of life. In our daily lives we may occasionally hear someone say God Bless You when someone sneezes but it isn’t really common for us to “Bless” one another.

This week we found that the Blessing was intentional and was a wonderful gift that we can give one another. The blessing was said whenever a loved one was going beyond sight. It’s purpose was to bring assurance, affirmations, protection, honor, and success. The Hebrew word barukh   (bless) means to be endowed by God with power for success, prosperity, long life and fruits that remain. The context of our lesson was the blessing that was spoken over the Israelites by Aaron:

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

24 “‘“The Lord bless you  and keep you;

25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

In a day like ours when words are tossed about carelessly and without forethought, what would happen if we set out to be intentional with our words? What if we chose our words carefully and did not miss the opportunity to bless our children, parents, spouses, friends? What effect would it have on them, and on our world if every time they were going beyond our sight, we spoke a blessing over them. The truth of the matter is we are not promised our next breath, how wonderful it would be to know you sent your loved one off to work, school, or into the world with an encouraging word, a blessing to keep in their heart until you are once again in each others company!

Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

 

My Thoughts on James 1

Recently, I have begun to study the Book of James anew and I am seeing some new things and being reminded of many lessons already learned; some of them forgotten or lost in the busyness of everyday life. The Word of God is so full of wisdom and practical advice that I find it hard to understand those who say that believing in God and Jesus is a crutch for the weak! Anyone who seriously considers what is found in the Word will find out very quickly that it can be simple enough for a small child and complex enough for the most intelligent.  Serious students or scholars of the Word continue to find useful and new nuggets even after a lifetime of study.

James open up his letter with a friendly greeting but wastes no time getting to the meat of what he has to say to the scattered Christian Jews and to us today.  He is addressing a people who have faced persecution and have scattered in many different directions, so it is not surprising that he begins by talking about trials. They were experiencing all kinds of trials- from loss of possessions, prison, to loss of life. He is clear in his words: he says when trials come not if! He continues to say “consider it joy” when trials come. Before you say, “REALLY?” remember this was written as a letter and was read aloud to the recipients and circulated among the dispersed believers, it didn’t have the verse divisions we see today.  It will help to read it as a continual thought rather than separate verses. Then we can see that he is encouraging us to actually look beyond the trial and know that it is an opportunity to believe God and trust Him resulting in an increase of faith leading to maturity and completeness. In the Message translation it is put this way:

     “2 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.3 You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. 4 So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

It is true that when we are pressed and under pressure, if we aren’t careful, we will act instinctively without giving much thought to what we are doing or saying. James is telling us to “consider” – pause and take some time before we panic or react in a way we may well regret. Take a moment to remember that what we are dealing with, though it is a surprise to us, does not surprise God or catch Him off guard. God is for us and not against us, so if this is really happening to me, there must be a higher purpose, something at stake or Glory to be won or lost based on how I handle myself in this situation.  Admittedly, this is not an easy or instinctive reaction to the pressures and troubles that come against us, but James is calling us to look at a larger picture. He goes on to tell us if we find ourselves needing wisdom in handling these troubles to ask God. He will give us freely and extravagantly the wisdom we need if we depend faithfully on Him! He warns us not to doubt, but have faith, Believe!

Please do not think I say any of this lightly, if I come across “preachy”, I am speaking to myself more than anyone.  I need to ask for wisdom more times than I can count, and neglect to ask more times than I’d like to admit or acknowledge!!  I love that James uses the word consider because it requires a portion of time to take something into consideration, to ponder over it and not make a snap decision or reaction. It takes a little patience and self-control not to react immediately or go into panic mode instantly when thing are getting turbulent and are not going our way.  Patience, self-control, taking time to ask for wisdom and wait for the answer all challenge our faith. Let’s draw a parallel to physical strength training here.  If you have an injury to a muscle, as you rest it and it heals, you lose some strength in that area. In the meantime, other muscles compensate for the injured muscle and are challenged to work harder. As the injured muscle gets well, in order to rebuild lost strength, you must challenge the muscle or work it. The more you work it the stronger it gets. This is also true for our faith. The more it is challenged and we respond appropriately, the more it grows! So, even when we are waiting for the wisdom and believing God for the answers, we are exercising our faith and faith exercised will grow!

There have been many times that I choose to react rather than consider and ended up right back where I started, but I have found beyond a shadow of a doubt, when I take time to consider, ask and wait I always land in a better place.  After the passage of time, I usually can look back objectively and see that God was working out something in me that was for the best and can be joyful for the journey that brought me to that place. I don’t really believe James want us to jump up and down and shout “hip-hip-hooray” when troubles come but to take the time to consider it, ask God for wisdom, follow what He says and joyfully know that though it may be difficult and we may suffer, in the end it will cause us to have more faith, be more mature and complete in Him and bring Glory to His name. We live in a fallen world rather than a perfect world and there are always going to be troubles, it is our choice what we will do with them and how they will influence and shape our character. May we always choose wisely, seeking wisdom from above!