Putting Ourselves Forward

When should we put ourselves forward?

Some years ago, a former pastor was speaking about the “selfie generation,” drawing parallels between self-promotion, self-interest, self-centeredness, etc. He mentioned in passing our youth pastor, a young man not long out of college who was very active on Facebook. The older pastor didn’t use the younger as a negative example. I think he just mentioned feeling a little awkward speaking about Facebook with one who knew how to use it so well.

It didn’t take long for the younger pastor to reduce his FaceBook presence. The only times he or his wife post anything any more is when they have a new baby. Of course, a growing family and ministry may have lessened his online time as much as the older pastor’s comment. But I miss hearing how the family is doing and seeing their updates. I suppose I could have, and should have, emailed or written them.

This is not a post for or against Facebook or selfies. Neither is sinful in itself. But incidents like these have caused me to wonder when talking about ourselves goes too far.

We’ve probably all known people who post more than we want to know or see on FaceBook.

On the other hand, we can’t help but speak about ourselves, our thoughts, opinions, etc. We can share examples of what other people have said, but mostly we can only share from our own frame of reference.

Sharing ourselves is part of being human, being a friend, ministering to others. 2 Corinthians 1: 4 tells us to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” What we write, speak, and share would sound clinical if we don’t put ourselves into it.

In my Christian college, each person in the dorms had to take turns sharing a devotional with the other members of their “prayer group,” which consisted of three rooms that met every evening. One particular roommate always struggled with what to share. Once she said, “I know what God has been teaching me, but how do I know if that’s what others need?” Well, we can only share out of what God has been teaching us. He’s probably showing us those things not only for our benefit, but also for those with whom we interact.

Once when a guest speaker was invited to speak at our church, he was in the middle of research for a book. He quipped, “If you want me to provide the meal, you’ll have to eat what’s cooking on my grill”—another way of saying he could only share what was primary in his own heart and mind at the time.

In Write Better by Andrew T. Le Peau, he suggests sharing something personal with one’s audience as a way to make a connection. But he acknowledges the difficulty:

Writing is a tightrope because on the one hand we are told as Christians not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and on the other we are told that as writers we should talk about ourselves so audiences can identify with us. By being vulnerable we can draw readers in and so help them benefit from our life and work (p. 190).

Here are some principles that I need to keep in mind.

God promises wisdom when we ask for it. I clearly need wisdom.

Do I listen before I respond? James says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us what we need to do when they clearly don’t understand the issue. Few things are more frustrating. I shouldn’t assume. Maybe I don’t even need to answer; maybe I just need to provide a listening ear or shoulder to lean on.

Do I show interest in others? I have one friend who asks lots of questions. After one time we were together, I realized that we had spent most of our time talking about what was going on in my life. Sure, I was mostly responding to her queries. But I neglected to ask about how she was doing. I have tried to rectify that in our subsequent visits.

Am I the star of my own narrative? Am I, in my own mind, the hero, the one who came up with the right answer or best solution and saved the day?

Now, sometimes we did come up with the best solution, and it’s not wrong to say so. Thomas Umstaddt, Jr. tells the story of Dr. Barry Marshall’s work on the cause and treatment of ulcers. His research led to a different theory than that of prevailing medical opinion. He was denied permission to conduct human trials. So he experimented on himself to prove his theory that ulcers could be treated with antibiotics. Thomas makes the point that it would have been wrong of Marshall to hold back his discovery because he didn’t want to put himself out there and promote his own work. He helped others by sharing his research.

In the apostle Paul’s writings, he had to stand fast on the truth and oppose false doctrine. He did so not because he couldn’t tolerate anyone else’s opinions, but because God’s glory and people’s souls were at stake.

So sometimes it’s right to share my research or solutions or whatever. But I need to make sure I don’t view every opinion or solution of mine in that way.

What is my motive? Am I seeking God’s glory or mine? Am I seeking to minister to people or seeking attention?

Am I operating from humility? As Andrew Le Peau stated above, the Bible does tell us, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). That doesn’t mean we put ourselves down. The verse goes on to say, “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” I like what C. S. Lewis said about humility: a truly humble man will “not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” Part of humility is acknowledging that all our gifts, talents, experiences, and the truth we know all comes from God.

Can I help? I have an inner, competitive, over-eager student who would squirm in my chair saying, “PIck me! Pick me!” if I weren’t so self-conscious. So, to combat that tendency, I often don’t answer in a group setting. But sometimes the poor teacher asks a simple question that she wants a quick answer to, and we’re all holding back because we don’t want to put ourselves forward. So going ahead and answering–as long as I am not monopolizing the conversation—is sometimes the best help to the situation. Or a hostess asks for people to help themselves to a buffet, but no one wants to go first. And we’re all holding up the evening’s activities and letting the food get cold. Sometimes it’s more self-forgetful in those situations to just do what’s needed. And sometimes God lays a burden to say something or brings a situation to our attention because He does want us to pitch in or share our perspective.

Some of us are like Peter: quick to jump in or to speak. Others of us are more like Moses or Gideon: we need a little convincing before we step out or speak up.

I’m drawn back to Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Letting our light shine involves letting others see us and what we do. But our motive is that they might see Him, not glorify us.

I’m sure there’s much more that could be said on the subject of when and whether to put ourselves forward. But these are the thoughts I have at this time.

How about you? Have you wrestled these issues? What principles help you?

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessing, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon)

Where Bible Reading Plans Go To Die

Our church uses a Bible reading plan that takes us through the whole Bible in about four and a half years. We discuss the week’s reading each Sunday morning. The man making the announcements last Sunday mentioned that we’d be starting Leviticus this week, “where Bible reading plans go to die.”

It’s true, isn’t it? How often have we begun January in Genesis with good intentions of reading the Bible, only to get bogged down by the time we get to Leviticus.

So we tell ourselves all those regulations don’t apply to us any more since the sacrificial system and feast days were fulfilled in Christ, and we move on to something more interesting. That is, if we haven’t given up our reading plan completely.

But there are several reasons New Testament Gentile Christians should still read Leviticus.

It’s inspired of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God gave it to us and it’s profitable for us even though we don’t observe all the rituals in it.

It’s instructive. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The New Testament quotes from Leviticus and refers to it over 100 times according to Warren Wiersbe in Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God.

Key biblical truths are better understood with Leviticus as a foundation. Imagine growing up repeatedly bringing sacrifices for sin to the tabernacle or temple. Then imagine being stunned by this news:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-13)

Or imagine reading that the lamb for a burnt offering had to be perfect and without blemish and then finding that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Or imagine having the whole burnt offering in Leviticus 1 in mind when reading Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Sure, we can get some of these concepts in the New Testament on their own, but we get a fuller picture and a deeper appreciation when we understand the background of them.

It emphasizes holiness. Dr. Wiersbe writes in Be Holy, “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.”

A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. One assignment was to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One student wrote:

Every day, I found myself focused on thinking about ritual purity and impurity. Partway through the week, I realized that I was thinking about these things all day long and in every aspect of my life, and that’s when it hit me: God cares a lot about our purity and holiness. Not just from a ritual perspective, but also from a moral perspective. All day long and in every aspect of life, the Lord wants me to pursue purity in my heart, in my life, in my actions. He wants me to reflect his holiness in all that I do. I have been treating holiness way too lightly! O Lord, help me to be holy!

It underscores the pervasiveness and seriousness of sin. We take sin too casually these days, maybe because we seem to be able to receive it easily. But we forget what it cost.

It encourages thankfulness and appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We not only appreciate all that He went through, but we’re thankful for His deliverance. Jay Sklar, the seminary professor mentioned earlier, said that after teaching Leviticus, he could hardly sing a hymn about Jesus’ sacrifice without tears of thankfulness.

Israel’s feasts helps us understand our Christian celebrations. The ESV Study Bible’s introductory notes to Leviticus say:

The festal calendar of Israel enumerated in Leviticus (Lev. 23:1-44) has strongly shaped the Christian church’s traditional calendar. The three main national pilgrim feasts of Israel are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Booths. For those churches that follow the traditional calendar, these celebrations find their climax in Good Friday,  Easter, and Pentecost. To fully understand the Christian celebrations, one must see their initial purpose in the OT (p. 213).

It teaches love for neighbors. Did you know that the first instance of the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” occurs in Leviticus 19:18? We see justice tempered with mercy in the regulations in Leviticus. Justice and fair treatment at large begins with justice and fair treatment on a personal level to our neighbors and acquaintances.

In Mark 12, a scribe asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The scribe responded, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:28-34).

Many hymns refer back to concepts in Leviticus, like “Is Your All on the Altar?” and “Whiter Than Snow.”

Sure, there are some difficulties in Leviticus. Some of the regulations or restrictions that seem most odd to us are thought to have connections with the pagan worship in Egypt that the Israelites had lived with for 400 years. There are a few passages that are hard to understand.

But by and large, Leviticus sheds light on much gospel truth. OT Israel practices these things looking ahead to Christ’s sacrifice, seeing much of it in symbolic form. As the NT church, we look back on the symbols and object lessons to more fully understand.

I’m approaching Leviticus this time with eager anticipation.

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessing, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot,
Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon,
Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

God’s Part, My Part

“Lord, change me.”

Do you ever pray that? And do you ever get frustrated with the slowness of change? Or even the lack of change?

I do. I pray for God to fill me with the fruit of His Holy Spirit, and not an hour later get impatient. I pray for victory over anger, and then lose my temper over something trivial. I pray for help with self-control, and then convince myself it really is okay to eat another cookie.

I can’t do anything without God’s help, so it’s good to ask for it. But sometimes He doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to take action—not by ourselves, but with Him.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2a)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

The Bible is full of action verbs. We don’t do any of these things to earn God’s love or favor, We’re saved by grace through faith. He loved us when we were His enemies. He already loves us abundantly—He’s not going to love us more if we get our act together.

Nor do we sanctify ourselves or make ourselves Christlike. He does that.

But He asks us to obey. To abide. To behold Him. To be transformed by renewing our mind with His truth. To participate. To respond. To cooperate.

1 Timothy 4:7 says to “train yourself for godliness.” Other translations use “discipline” or “exercise.” What happens when we exercise? We expend energy and effort to the point of aching and sweating. Paul goes on to say “For to this end we toil and strive,” not in order to earn God’s favor, but “because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). He tells the Corinthians, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). According to a note here, the Greek word translated “discipline” means “pummel”: “I pummel my body.” Grace doesn’t mean passiveness or a lack of effort.

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what’s God’s part and what’s my part in the Christian life. Someone once said, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.” I don’t know if that’s quite it. It helps me more to think of man with the withered hand or the paralyzed man whom Jesus told to rise, take up his bed, and walk. He told them to do exactly what they couldn’t do. But in taking Him at His Word and obeying, they were given grace and power to do what He said.

Maybe it doesn’t matter exactly where the lines are. Maybe it’s not a formula: God does those steps and then I do these. In many of those verses listed, God’s part and our part go hand in hand. We abide in Him, He abides in us, He produces fruit. We behold Him, He transforms us.

Do I abide in prayer, or do I race through a prayer list? Do I behold Him in His Word, or do I run my eyes down the day’s reading? Do I look for the promised escape from temptation or for an excuse to indulge?

So I pray. And by faith I abide, behold, renew. And I trust Him to transform. And I remember a walk is a series of steps to a destination. And I remember bearing fruit is a long process of growth.

(Sharing with Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon,
Inspire Me Monday, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

How Can We Love Like Jesus?

How can we love like Jesus

It’s hard to find a story that doesn’t have romance in it. I don’t mind as long as the story itself has a meaty plot line. But I don’t read many books that are primarily romance. They seem to focus on all the tingles and end when the couple finally declares their love to each other. Tingles and the mushy-gushy stuff are fun. But they’re not the main component of love. And the real test and depth of love usually occur more in the “for worse” part.

Jesus told us to “love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12). What’s more, He told us to go beyond loving those who please us or love us back, but also to love those who persecute us and hate us.

How can we do that? After all, He is God, and we are not. Oswald Chambers said in the My Utmost for His Highest reading for April 30, “The springs of love are in God, not in us. It is absurd to look for the love of God in our hearts naturally; it is only there when it has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Once a missionary was troubled because she didn’t love others the way she knew she should. For years she berated herself with the need to be more loving, but she continually failed, leaving her continually discouraged. Finally she started to meditate on God’s love for her, and without realizing it, her life was transformed so much that people asked her husband what had happened to her.

Though I’ve lost track of this story’s source (I believe it came from Rosalind Goforth), it has always inspired me because I can identify with it so well. I’m frequently appalled at my selfishness and often tell myself “I need to be more loving.” But, like the missionary, I continually fail.

How can we love more like Jesus?

Behold Him

We’re changed to be more like Him as we behold Him. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

What are aspects of His love?

Initiative God loved us even before we knew Him, before we turned to Him, even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6). “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)

Gracious. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He loved us when we were most unlovable and undeserving. He didn’t wait for us to “clean up” or get “good enough.”

Sacrificial. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God gave not just a pittance, not just a fraction, but rather what was most dear to Him.

Active. The Father and Son love not just in word, but in deed. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Giving. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). That giving involved inconvenience, weariness, misunderstandings, false rumors, humiliation, pain, and death. He ministered to others when He was the only One who deserved to be ministered to.

Forgiving. “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NLT).

Kind. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3-6).

Longsuffering. “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Numbers 14:18a).

Correcting. “My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12). God’s love is not indulgent. Sometimes love involves doing the hard thing of bringing sin to the surface so it can be dealt with.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man was forgiven a massive debt. However, instead of extending that same grace that he had received to others, he withheld forgiveness of someone’s very small debt and exacted a penalty. That story opened up to me the realization that my forgiveness towards another isn’t based on whether or not they “deserve it.” I did not deserve forgiveness, either. My forgiveness of others should be based on the fact that God has forgiven me so much more than anything I have had to forgive.

It’s the same with God’s love. My love for others should be an overflow of God’s great love for me. He took the first step in loving me, so I should not wait on others to make the first move. His love came at a great sacrifice, so I should not be surprised when love costs me. He loved me at my most unworthy and forgave a multitude of my offenses, so how can I withhold love from others? When I meditate on His love for me, His love flows through me to others.

Pray

Once, in an effort to be more loving, I compiled verses about love. I was delighted to find prayers in the Bible for more love, and I pray them for myself:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9).

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ (Colossians 2:2).

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

Be Filled with the Spirit

Ephesians 5:5 tells us, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Part of the fruit of the Spirit is love, so when we’re filled with Him, we’ll be filled with His love.

Abide in Him

Trying to love as Jesus did will show us soon enough that we can’t do it in our own power. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Obey

Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. . . . If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:21, 23-24a). We don’t obey in order to earn God’s love—as was said earlier, God loved us even when we were His enemies. But when we know Him, we show our love by obedience. That makes sense: if we say we love someone but do the opposite of what they want or don’t take their desires into account, our profession rings hollow. The verses about abiding in Him in John 15 are sandwiched in-between passages about showing our love by obedience.

May we continually learn more of His love and show it to others.

What helps you most to love like Jesus?

Ephesians 5:2. Walk in love as Jesus did.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday,Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Legacy Link-Up, Recharge Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

What is Success?

What is success in the Bible?

What does the word “success” bring to mind?

Money in the bank—enough to cover bills plus a little extra? A house and two cars? A desired promotion? A vibrant ministry with thousands of followers? Plans that turn out exactly as we wanted?

Sometimes people are smack dab in the center of God’s will, yet their lives don’t appear successful.

But wait—doesn’t God promise success if we follow Him? Doesn’t Joshua 1:8 say:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

And Psalm 1:3 says of the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

And Proverbs 3:3-4 says:

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

The very next verses in Proverbs 3 are the more well known, but we usually take them out of context:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all  your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (verses 5-7).

Look at John the Baptist. He had faithfully preached and prepared the way of the Messiah. He pointed others to the Lamb of God, not caring that he lost “followers” to Jesus. But he spent his last years in prison and then was beheaded by an evil ruler.

After God gave Jeremiah the message He wanted him to share with the people, God said, “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (Jeremiah 7:27).

When Elisabeth Elliot went to the mission field, she had every expectation that God would bless her work and that of other missionaries “in beautiful, demonstrable ways.”

Her words sounded naive. After all, she’d read missionary biographies; she knew the stories of men and women who had lost their lives, like John and Betty Stam, or lost their health, or lost their minds, in service of Christ. She was ready to pay any price to be obedient to His leading.

But, like many, she believed that God would surely take her sacrifices and make them into successes for His sake . . . glorious victories that human beings could see, that could be reported to supporters back home, bringing glory to God (Ellen Vaughn, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, pp 100-101).

Instead, during this period in her life, Elisabeth lost a vital coworker to murder, the results of several months of linguistic study to theft, her husband and four colleagues to spears from the very tribe they were trying to reach, and the ministry she thought God had been preparing her for to relationship issues.

Elisabeth titled the book about this period of life These Strange Ashes, words taken from an Amy Carmichael poem which begins:

But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?

For many years, people often asked Elisabeth “if the men’s mission on Palm Beach was a ‘success.'”

To her, the only measure of any human action came down to one thing: obedience. She’d look at an interviewer as if the “success” question was dull. Yes, yes, of course. After all, they knew God wanted them to go to the tribe, and they were obedient to His leading (Vaughn, p. 259).

Vaughn goes on to say that “If ‘success’ is defined not by obedience, but by measurable outcomes, then we’ve got to get into metrics” (p. 259)—how many people were saved or called to service, and how many people the men reached as opposed to what the men might have accomplished had they lived, etc. But we can never know those things. And God doesn’t always measure success in numbers.

Elisabeth wrote:

I believe with all my heart that God’s story has a happy ending. . . . But not yet, not necessarily yet. It takes faith to hold onto that in the face of the great burden of experience, which seems to prove otherwise. What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive (Vaughn, p. 260).

Success, basically, is doing the will of God and leaving the results to Him..

Sometimes He brings about visible results. Sometimes He turns things around, like He did for Joseph, who was the favorite son, then sold into slavery, then falsely accused and imprisoned before becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man and saving nations from starvation. Elisabeth went on to have a long and fruitful writing and speaking ministry, made all the richer and deeper by what she went through in her early adult life. A strong group of believers grew up among the tribe she worked with her husband died for, the Waodani, with a world-wide witness despite human foibles.

Sometimes the visible outcome doesn’t occur in this life. Lazarus–not the one whom Jesus raised from the dead—was a neglected beggar at the gate of a rich man. Things weren’t set “right” in his life til he went to “Abraham’s side” and was comforted. Poor, loyal Uriah, who was so faithful that he wouldn’t enjoy the pleasures of home while the king’s soldiers were in battle, was sent to the forefront of the battle to be killed off by the king who impregnated his wife.

Hebrews 11 tells wonderful success stories of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (verses 33-35). However, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (verses 35-38). Yet they were all “commended through their faith” (verse 39).

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 7:14).

The ultimate example of what looked like failure from a human standpoint is the life and death of Jesus

His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning. There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds. A baby was born – a Savior and King – but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him. His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion. Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled. Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory (Elisabeth Elliot, These Strange Ashes, p. 145).

The seeming failure was not a failure at all. Christ’s death accomplished salvation for all who will believe in Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

So those verses in Joshua and Psalms and other places about success are true. God does grant success to those who meditate on His Word and walk with Him. The circumstances may or may not look successful. If things seem to be going wrong, it’s good to pray and examine our hearts and actions for sin, for blind spots, for better ways to do things. But otherwise, we can leave the results to God.

The success Psalm 1 promises is that our “leaf does not wither.” We won’t “dry up” spiritually. God will continue to give grace and strength, no matter the circumstances.

But sometimes we look at outcomes in this life, seeking the reassurance of a happy ending, and it’s just not there. What then? As Betty put it, His ways are “inscrutable.” So we have to rest, not in the peace of a pretty story, but in the reality of faith in a Person we cannot see (Vaughn, p. 245).

Psalm 1:3

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot,
Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday,
Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday,
Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth.
Linking does not imply 100% agreement.)

Spiritual Sacrifices

Sacrifice doesn’t seem like a beautiful word. It conjures up images of animals, blood, and altars, or it makes us think of something we should give up that we don’t want to.

Definition.org has this as one meaning of sacrifice: “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.”

On the one hand I think of the sacrifices God made for us. Think of the trouble humanity has cost Him on an everyday basis for millennia. Yet He created us and He desires our fellowship. Amazing! And because He does, He sent only begotten sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to lay down His life and take on Himself our sin and the just punishment we deserved. Jesus, in full agreement and in full submission to His Father, willingly surrendered, sacrificed His life for us. If we repent of our sin and believe on Him, we can be saved, cleansed, forgiven, and made His own children. In addition, we have a home waiting for us in heaven and His grace, presence, and help here and now. We don’t merit that forgiveness and salvation by any kind of sacrifice we make: there’s nothing we could ever do that would be enough to earn it. It’s a free gift based on His sacrifice.

In His example, though, I think the definition doesn’t fit in the sense of surrendering something highly valuable for something of more value. We are certainly not of more value than God’s Son. But He did love us enough to give His greatest treasure for our redemption.

In light of that, any kind of sacrifice we might make for Him pales in comparison. I’ve known of dear folks who echo David Livingstone’s sentiments:

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Speech to students at Cambridge University, December 4, 1857)

I get what he’s saying. Jesus did so much for us, and we don’t appreciate it nearly enough. We should be so filled with love and gratitude that we can’t help giving back to Him.

And yet—the Bible calls us to sacrifice to God and acknowledges the high cost. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But God calls us to other kinds of sacrifice.

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5

What kind of spiritual sacrifices are we to make?

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

Even in Old Testament times, the sacrifices which were a picture of the coming perfect Sacrifice could be an empty ritual if one’s heart was not broken and contrite before God. I think this is the first sacrifice: our pride, our stubborn clinging to our “own” way, our laying aside of anything in our lives that is not pleasing to God. It’s also a continual sacrifice as we walk daily with the Lord, read His Word, grow in Him, and become more aware of how much that desire for our “own” way is ingrained in our thinking.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Not just our broken spirit and heart, but even our bodies are to be surrendered to Him. He reminds us that this is only our reasonable service in light of God’s mercies to us.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15

I’ve wondered why our praise to God would be called a sacrifice: perhaps because we have to get our attention off ourselves and our concerns.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16

Some years back my husband commented on the honesty of this verse, acknowledging that it does cost us something to do good to others.

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18

This and the previous verse indicate that sometimes those spiritual sacrifices manifest themselves in meeting physical needs. Paul’s response to the Philippians’ sacrifice shows forth some of the beauty of a sacrifice given and received.

Several years ago, my husband took our youngest son out to shop for my birthday. My son was excited about perhaps buying a little something for himself after getting Mom’s present. As my son chose the item he wanted to purchase for me, my husband told him that item would take all the money he had. It took my son a few moments to process the realization that if he bought that gift for me, he wouldn’t be able to buy anything for himself. Finally, though a little teary, he decided to go ahead with the purchase. I can’t tell you how that touched my heart to realize that he denied himself to do something special for me.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Philippians 2:17

Paul was willing for his life to be poured out in ministry to others.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Even more than Paul, Christ is our example of walking in love and giving oneself.

It’s okay to call a sacrifice a sacrifice. The Bible does. It’s even okay to say it hurts. Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. Hebrews 12:1-2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We can look ahead, too, to the time when every sacrifice will fade away for joy.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Often, what makes a sacrifice seem hard is the struggle to give up what we think is ours: our time, our schedule, our goods, our lives. But as David prayed after the people of Israel offered the things needed for the building of the temple, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). If we remember that anything we have is not our own but was given to us by God in the first place, and if we meditate on His mercies and all He has done for us, it doesn’t seem so hard then to surrender it back to Him. Back to our definition, whatever the value of what we sacrifice, it pales in comparison to the worth of the One to whom we are sacrificing.

The beauty of sacrifice is the humble surrender to God of what He freely gave us, in response to His great love and mercy, for use in His service in a life of love and ministry to others, which He regards as wellpleasing, as a “sweetsmelling savour.”

The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network, Faith on Fire)

The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Woman

The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Woman

“Oh, her.” Eye-roll.

That might be the reaction you get if you mention the Proverbs 31 woman these days.

I had not grown up with a lot of Biblical teaching. So when I read Proverbs 31 some time after becoming a Christian, I aspired to be like the woman described there. I never felt I’d “made it.” But I thought she was a worthy role model

I hear a lot of women expressing dismay or discouragement over this ideal woman. They feel they can never live up to her, and every reading or sermon on this passage only shows up their shortcomings all the more.

Well, she is an ideal woman. In context, a mother is advising her son about a virtuous woman (according to the KJV and NKJV. Many translations describe her as “excellent”; the NIV and CSB call her “a wife of noble character.”)

But this passage is more than just a mother’s high ideals for her son. Since “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), this passage is God speaking through this mother to us through the ages. And I don’t think He meant the passage as a discouragement or a stick to beat over our heads.

If you think about it, there is someone even higher that we’re supposed to be like.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Now, that can be discouraging! But this passage and others like it point out how far we fall short in order to alert us to our need for Christ’s righteousness and grace. We know we’re not perfect on our own and never can be. As the hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping all God’s law, and then died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and then rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When we believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord, His righteousness is attributed to us (imputed is the theological term). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So when we stand before God some day, He is not going to check off all the boxes of Proverbs 31. He’s going to look for the righteousness of Christ, which can only be received by faith.

When we believe on Christ, we’re changed. As we read His Word and grow in Him, we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). We might think of Proverbs 31 as what the righteousness of Christ would look like lived out in the home. Many of these traits are repeated for both men and women in the New Testament.

The Proverbs 31 woman didn’t do everything in this passage in a day. The picture is of her lifetime. Just like we’ll never be completely like Christ until we get to heaven, but we should be growing more like Him day by day, so we can grow more like this woman.

We have to remember, too, the context of the times in which this was written. A 21st-century virtuous woman’s activities will look different from a woman of King Solomon’s time.

There are scores (maybe hundreds) of books, messages, studies, etc. on this passage. So we won’t exhaust it here. But here are a few principles drawn from the life of this lady:

She loves and reverences God. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30). Though this aspect is mentioned last, it permeates the rest of the passage.

She is trustworthy. “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (verses 11-12). She doesn’t hide things from him or present a false front.

She’s industrious. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27). She “works with willing hands” (verse 13b). She’s active about the household and diligent in providing food and clothing for the family (verses 13-15, 18-19, 21-22, 24).

She’s kind. “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (verse 26b).

She ministers to those in need. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20).

She’s wise. “She opens her mouth with wisdom” (verse 26a).

She’s savvy. She can buy a field, she knows how to discern if merchandise is good (verses 16, 18, 24). In David Copperfield, his first wife is a sweet, pretty thing named Dora. But she couldn’t manage a household. She called herself a “child-wife.” I don’t know if I could buy a field—it’s a bit more complicated than it was in Old Testament times. We’ve bought and sold property—or rather, my husband has, and I have cosigned. I’ve been so thankful he understood all the paperwork. But whether I could buy a field or not, I don’t have to be a child-wife.

She plans ahead. “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (verse 21). The ESV note says “scarlet” could be translated as “in double thickness.”

She’s strong. “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. . . . Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (verses 17, 25). I wrote more on being a strong woman here.

She cares about her appearance. “Her clothing is fine linen and purple” (verse 22b). Purple was not a common clothing color in those days. In my younger years, I wondered if it was wrong to want to look attractive. This verse helped my thinking, as did the fact that God made the world beauitful when He could have made it just functional. Of course, we can go too far in this area. Peter reminds us that it’s “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” rather than “external adorning” (1 Peter 3:3-4). We have to be balanced. But at least the Proverbs 31 women isn’t slovenly in her home or clothing.

She’s respected. Her children call her blessed and her husband praises her (verses 28-29). OK, maybe not every day. Remember this is a summation of her whole life. Moms and children have their bad days. But over the course of life, her behavior and attitudes are such that her family should be able to see her value and respect her. Her husband sitting in the gates with the elders (verse 23) indicates a position of respect and leadership for that time as well. Her activities and demeanor help him rather than detract from his position.

Remember, this woman is a personification of the ideal. No real woman has everything together all the time. We can give ourselves grace even as we seek God’s help and strength to grow in these traits. Elisabeth Elliot said, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” I hope that, instead of dreading or disliking or fearing the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll look on her as a friend, a picture of what a “different kind of woman” looks like.

Proverbs 31:30

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

When It Looks Like Evil Is Winning

Sometimes when I am dismayed over the state of the world or a personal problem, I am tempted to think, “God, why aren’t you winning? You’re stronger than evil. You’re bigger than this problem. Why isn’t all of this taken care of? It would be nothing to You to right these things.”

The psalmists wrestled with this question in a slightly different way. In Psalm 73, Asaph struggled with not only the presence of the wicked, but the fact that they prospered. He even came to the point of thinking that his efforts to live purely had been in vain. Job’s friends’ asserted that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, and therefore Job must have done something wrong to be experiencing so much trouble. One of Job’s arguments against their theory was that the wicked often prosper in this life.

But nothing in Job’s circumstances indicated that God wasn’t “winning,” that He was absent, didn’t care, or had lost control of the situation. God was with Job all along, even though Job couldn’t sense His presence. God displayed mercy and compassion to Job, even though it looked different from what we might expect. All of the physical, material blessings that God restored to Job at the end of the book are items that he once again lost at the end of his life. But through the first loss of them, God taught him eternal truths and drew Job closer to Himself. Job’s relationship with God and the spiritual truths he learned would affect the rest of his life. Though it might have looked like Satan was winning, God was working out His purposes.

I love the Psalms for their honest emotion. Whether the psalmists faced personal danger or lamented the seeming triumph of evil in the world, they brought their own thoughts and those of their listeners back to the truth they knew about God. Psalm 10 (ESV) starts out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” But the psalmist reminded himself, “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.” He concludes back on solid ground:

 The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

When God seems far away, we remind ourselves of the truth we know about Him from His Word. He sees what is going on. He loves us. He will deal justly. He might be waiting to answer for a number of reasons. We ask Him to search us and show us anything that might be hindering His answer to our prayers. And we rest in His wisdom, love, righteousness, and strength.

Trusting that God has control of the situation doesn’t mean inaction on our part. Only God can take care of all the needs of the world, but He often works through people. A needy world is a call to pray and then to look for ways to help those in need. William Wilberforce and Hannah More not only prayed against the evil of slavery but fought against it. We may not be able to solve world pproblem, but we can help those within our sphere of influence.

In the May 19 selection of Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada, she wrote:

On the whole, the good that we are able to tally in this life doesn’t seem to outweigh the bad that we observe. We keep praying, but we don’t see some of the answers closest to our hearts. Only heaven will reveal a clear picture of how the sweet fragrance of our faith in Jesus, even in times of grief and loss, influenced the lives of those around us. Only eternity will show how our fainthearted prayers changed the destinies of people on our prayer list. Great faith believes in God even when He plays His hand close to the vest, not showing all His cards. God wants to increase your “measure of faith.” He does this whenever He conceals a matter and you trust Him nevertheless (p. 156).

The Bible tells us the world will get worse before the end. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3: 14-15).

God not only wins in the end. He is winning now. He’s working out His purposes even now.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

(From “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” by William Cowper, 1773)

Revised from the archives. I had another post in mind for today, but then was inclined to this one.

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, Legacy Link-Up, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

What’s Normal, Anyway?

God is faithful though any circumstances

The transition from December 31 to January 1 is just a change from one day to the next. But January 1 is not just a new day or even the start of a new month: it’s a whole new calendar of blank pages, full of hope and possibilities.

The most prevalent hope I hear is that life gets “back to normal,” especially in regard to the coronavirus. We’d love for it go away completely, or at lease recede to rare occurrences, like the swine flu or the bird flu. We want to go about our business without worrying about exposure and masks how many people are gathered in one place.

It’s harder to hope for some of the other issues prevalent during the last year. We still have a long way to go in race relations. And I don’t know if the political landscape will ever improve.

But desiring normalcy for the last several months has led me to wonder—what’s normal, anyway?

America has always had its troubles, but we’ve had it a good deal better than many. We have poverty here, but people who travel to third-world countries are often stunned by the breadth and depth of poverty in other places. Some countries are almost perpetually in a state of war. Some areas are rife with corruption. Armed guards regularly patrol some streets. Some citizens risk their lives to vote.

Through the Bible, Israel was in captivity to Egypt 400 years, Babylon 70 years. Most of their rulers were evil.

Early Christians were persecuted under wicked emperors. More recent believers suffered under Communist oppression. Many are persecuted in several countries even now.

The prophet Habakkuk complained to the Lord:

Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:3b-4)

He basically asked God, “What are you going to do about this?

God replied that he was sending the “dreaded and fearsome” Chaldean army (vv. 5-11).

Habakkuk wonders, “What? You can’t let that happen!”

But in their further conversation, God established that He can and He will. But, He says, “but the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4b).

By the end of chapter 3, Habakkuk concludes that, though his body trembles and lip quivers (3:16):

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places. (3:17-19)

I hope with everything in me that life improves on every front this year. But whatever happens, these are some of the truths I carry with me:

  • God is good, even if circumstances aren’t.
  • God is at work, even if it doesn’t look like it.
  • God loves me, even if life is hard.
  • My job is the same: trust in Him, live for Him, rejoice in Him, love Him, grow in Him, fortify and feed myself with His Word.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeated God’s instruction to Israel before they entered the promised land after 40 years of wilderness wandering. One of the things He promised them was:

But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:11-12)

Though our context is different, I think we can take comfort and courage in these same truths. Through the “hills and valleys” of the coming year, God eyes are on us and He cares for us.

The righteous shall live by his faith

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Selah, Tell His Story, Instaencouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

What God Tells Us to Remember

Many of us spend the last days of the year looking back at it. Maybe that reminiscence is sparked by the Christmas letters we wrote loved ones, or by the pause before putting up our shiny new calendars for the new year.

There used to be a saying on memes that went something like, “Don’t look back—you’re not going that way.” However, though we shouldn’t live in the past, we benefit from considering it at times.

I jotted down for my own remembrance the ESV Study Bible note for Isaiah 44:21, where God pointed out the futility of idols and told Israel to remember certain things:

Remember. God calls his people to focused thought, in contrast to the muddled delusions described in vv. 9-20 about “these things,” both the all-sufficiency of the God who makes true promises to his people and the emptiness of the false gods with their lies (p. 1321).

The note on Isaiah 46:8 says something similar:

Mental focus on who God is must be renewed, for the idolatrous culture of the world erodes clarity (p. 1326).

God calls us to remember, to exercise “focused thought.” Verses came floating to mind about what God tells us to remember. So I did a quick word study, which resulted in four pages of references. I can’t put all of them here, but I’ll share several.

“Remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.” (Numbers 15:39-40)

“Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)

“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

“Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you”. (Deuteronomy 32:7). (The rest of the chapter details God’s gracious dealings in Israel’s history.)

Remember God’s provision: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) (Jesus reminded his disciples, when they discussed having no bread, about his past provision of loaves and fishes. Matthew 16:5-12.)

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered.” (1 Chronicles 16:12)

“Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 9:7). (It’s not that God wanted to hold their past rebellion over their heads forever, but they needed to remember their tendency to sin so that they might be humbled and appreciative of His grace.)

Remember how God dealt with other people’s sin, to learn from their example. “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:9); “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

Remember his Word:

“Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” (1 Chronicles 16:15)

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Peter 3:1-2)

“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 17)

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:3)

Remember the nothingness of idols and the greatness of his salvation (Isaiah 44:9-26, “Remember these things,” v. 21; Isaiah 46, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,” vv. 8-9).

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3)

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

Besides imperative sentences, I noticed some sweet examples of focused remembrance about God, his truth, his ways, his past provision, and the effect of this remembrance. Some were in Psalm 77, Psalm 78, and Isaiah 63. One was in Psalm 63:5-7:

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” 

Another is in Psalm 143:3-6:

“For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”

One more in Lamentations 3:19-26:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,  “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Any time is a good time to remember God’s character and dealings with us. But I hope that before the year ends, you’re able to have some “focused thought” on his particular provision and expressions of love in your life.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Soul, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Remember Me Monday, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth)