Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Family Devotions

Kelly and I just spent a week with family at Black Butte Ranch in eastern Oregon. I’ve been going there for twenty-five years. This year we had four generations together and it was rich with blessings. We ride bikes, swim, play tennis, walk, hike around nearby Suttle Lake, play games, and watch movies. Last year we added golf, and this year our granddaughter Jolie went horseback riding. And did I mention how great the food was? I have to say, however, my favorite part of all is our family devotions.

 Everyone who is willing takes a turn. Each person brings something unique to the table. Since my dad and I are teacher types, we have fun preparing handouts and discussion questions. His lessons this year were on The Glory of the Lord and Standing in the Gap. Kelly threw out hard questions for us to discuss, which challenged us to dig in and find answers. Grae shared how God is challenging his trust in the middle of a job transition. Marlie-jo gave a lesson on Faith from the Bible Study she’s in and how God has stretched her understanding. Tara asked pertinent questions about submission in marriage and how it works in everyday life. Blessings, challenges, inspiration, and encouragement from three generations of God-followers.

 When I told a couple friends about this one, said, “I wish I could do that with my family!” So, just for fun, I’d like to invite you to grab your Bible and curl up on the couch. It’s time for family devotions. Today’s lesson is on Gideon, the reluctant warrior. I identify with his story so well.

Mighty Warrior! Who Me?
Read Judges 6:1-10:
Notice the Israelites didn’t cry out to God until they became impoverished by their enemies. Why did they wait so long? In what ways does sin impoverish us?

As soon as they asked for His help, God responded, after a reminder of how they ended up where they were - disobedience.

The ratio of oppression to deliverance was 7/10 - oppressed by their enemies for 7 years, but by God’s characteristic mercy, 40 years of peace under Gideon’s leadership.

Verses 11-12:
The angel of the LORD came to a man quaking with fear, hiding from the enemy, and  in a hurry to get a bite to eat, and calls him a mighty warrior. That is so God! He sees what we can be with His help, not what we are now.

Verse 13:
It’s funny that even though God just sent a prophet explain the situation, Gideon still asked: Why is this happening? Where has God been? Seems like the same things we ask, even when God’s already given the answer.

Verse 14:
But, like Jesus so often did, the angel didn’t answer his questions. Instead, he told him to go against the enemy with the strength that he had (which wasn’t much!).

Verse 15-16:
Gideon’s classic response: Who me? I’m unqualified! Do you ever feel inadequate for what God asks you to do? I know I do. That’s why I love Gideon’s story so much. God loves to use the puny to accomplish the impossible.

God’s answer to Gideon is the same one He gives us, “I will be with you.” When we fight against our spiritual enemies of doubt, fear, anger, impatience, unforgiveness, selfishness, lack of self-control and all the others, God’s Holy Spirit is with us in the fight.

Verses 17-24:
This is especially amazing. The angel of the LORD was willing to sit and wait while Gideon made an entire meal for Him. Then He revealed who He really was with a blaze of fire and smoke. Whoa!

Verses 25-26:
The first step to victory over the enemy was getting rid of his father’s idols and replacing them with God-worship. God will not coexist with any other god in our lives.

Verse 27:
Timid obedience – Gideon did what God asked, but he made 10 of his servants go with him, and they went at night. I love this. It was a beginning anyway.

Verse 28-32:
What prompted Gideon’s dad to stand up for him after he tore down his idols?
a.       He didn’t want his son to die
b.      A growing dissatisfaction with his gods
c.       He wanted to see the gods fight it out
d.      Something else

Verses 33-40:
In a spurt of confidence Gideon rallies an army, but is immediately filled with self-doubt. I’m glad God is so patient with us! God was willing to answer his specific requests.

Have you ever set out a fleece because you needed reassurance? What was the result?

What speaks to you most from this chapter?
a.       God’s patience
b.      Gideon’s insecurity
c.       That people would support such a timid leader
d.      God’s repeated encouragement and proofs

I’m glad you came for family devotions. I would love to hear your comments. And I hope you will carry on the tradition at your house.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lies We Believe: Because We Want To

This is the last entry of this series – one I’ve been both excited about and dreading. Excitement, because it’s God’s message and the means to life, dread, because I know many won’t like what I have to say. So, I steel myself for the backlash, anger, and cold rejection, but I cannot leave it unsaid. Too much is at stake.

This is the most dangerous category of lies, for they are the lies we tell ourselves on purpose. Deep down we know the truth, but choose to push it aside and believe lies instead. The longer we do this, the more we believe the lie, and even promote it to others as truth, taking them with us on the path to destruction.

Why would we believe lies in the first place? I think there are two basic reasons:

·         So we can keep doing what we want to do
·         So we can feel good about ourselves

During the years I struggled with food addiction I believed lies: I told myself I could control my bingeing; that eating relieved stress; that others were unaware of my secrecy and deceit; that I needed to binge to feel better; that I wasn’t hurting anyone else.

I wanted to believe these lies because I didn’t want to change. I wanted to continue my sinful behavior without experiencing the consequences. Guilt, however, made that impossible. I would beg God’s forgiveness, vow to stop, but then give in to temptation. I rejected His help to say ‘No,’ because I believed the lie that I needed food more than I needed God. I was miserable for years. It wasn’t until I got miserable enough to admit the lie wasn’t working that things changed. When I admitted only God could satisfy the hunger of my soul I was finally able to let go of the lie of addiction.

Another lie I chose to believe was that I have the power to rescue others. In recovery circles this is called Enabling or Codependency. If you asked me, I would have said only God can rescue someone from a sinful, destructive lifestyle. Yet I continued to turn my life inside out to “help” others who were not willing to work on their own recovery.

Why would I do this? It made me feel important, needed. I mistakenly thought this was Christlike love. However, love doesn’t make others comfortable in their sinful behavior. True love, God’s love, allows them to suffer painful consequences to move them toward healthier choices. Then they can reach out for God’s power to change from the inside out.

If we choose to believe our sins are not sin, we end up making a mess of our lives. Galatians 6:7-8 sums it up: “Don’t be misled (or deceived): No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life” (Message).

Satan wants us to believe lies because they keep us from experiencing God, both in this life and the one to come: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10).

The second reason we choose to believe lies is because we want to feel good about ourselves, so we pretend that God has somehow changed His mind about what’s right and wrong. The pure stream of Christianity has been muddied by lies. This is a frightening indicator. Paul prophesied this would be a sign of the end: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

God speaks very plainly in His Word that witchcraft, hatred, substance abuse, sex outside of marriage, homosexual relationships, divorce, slander, greed, using God’s name in vain, and other things are sins. If we continue to practice these things and do not turn to God for forgiveness we will miss out on the relationship with Him we were created to enjoy.

And yet our movies, our music, our homes, and our churches flaunt these behaviors and we no longer call them sin.  We “not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32). We excuse our behavior with lies:

·         It’s okay, we’re in love; we’re going to get married
·         This is the way God made me
·         This is power for doing good
·         Everybody does it
·         I can’t help it
·         I just want to have fun
·         God wants me to be happy

We want to believe God is okay with sin; that His commands were just for the olden days, but now that we’re modern, we don’t need them anymore. And we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; we want everyone to feel good about himself. The same lies were going around in Jeremiah’s day and he desperately tried to get people’s attention before it was too late, but they wouldn’t listen. “From the least to the greatest…all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” (Jer. 6:13-15). They comforted each other with false peace, until everything fell apart. By that time it was too late. 

There’s another lie being circulated on Facebook, in emails, movies, and almost everywhere you look. I hear the lie spoken by kind, well meaning people. But it is a lie of false comfort. The lie is that everyone goes to heaven; “nice” people go to heaven. But the truth is those who live without Christ - rejecting His forgiveness, His love, His guidance, His people, and His purpose do not go to heaven to live with Him forever when they die.

It’s true that God is love and doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, but we have to choose heaven in order to go there. That means seeing ourselves as sinners in need for forgiveness. That means believing that Jesus, the Son of God, came to sacrifice himself for us. That means asking Him to forgive our sins. That means living the rest of our lives loving and trusting Him, and telling others about Him. If that hasn’t happened, heaven is not their destination. Even free gifts have to be opened to be used.

In Ezekiel’s day, a watchman stood guard on the city wall in case an enemy came to attack. When they did, he was supposed to sound the alarm. God told Ezekiel to do that for his people. “He sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood’” (Ezek. 33:3-6, emphasis mine).

Every person who calls himself a Christian is a watchman. Our enemy is infiltrating our land not with a bold attack, but with lies. If I, as a watchman see them coming and say nothing I will be held accountable for their demise. And if I believe the lies I will go down as well. The only way we can be delivered from lies is by replacing them with God’s truth. The only place to find the truth is in the Bible. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32, emphasis mine).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Lies We Believe: Because We Trust the Messenger

I hope you like my photos of our local marshmallow fields. I never knew they grew here until my husband pointed it out. The conversation went something like this.

Kelly: “Oh, look, they’ve just harvested the marshmallows.

Me: “Hmm, aren’t marshmallows much smaller than that? And wasn’t that field green? Marshmallows aren’t green.”

“They cut them into smaller pieces at the factory. And, marshmallows are green when they’re growing, but they turn white in the sun. They have to dry out a while before they take them to the factory.”

“And I suppose they remove the seeds there too so we don’t get them in our teeth?”

“No, actually, this is a special seedless variety.”

And on it went. The first of many conversations we’ve had about the “marshmallow fields” by our home. We make it up as we go.

But what if I’d believed him? He’s lived here for years; surely he would know what they grow. What if, instead of a twinkle in his eye, he insisted it was true and got angry if I challenged his story? What if I didn’t have access to the dictionary which says marshmallows are, “a soft spongy candy made from sugar syrup, egg whites, and flavoring” - not an agricultural product. Would I believe the lie because I trust the messenger?

It happens all the time. Our parents, teachers, and pastors are authority figures and we want to believe what they tell us. The husband/wife relationship is built on trust and we want to believe our spouse. And when our sports hero or favorite movie star tells us how wonderful a special diet or product is we want to believe it’s true.

Admittedly, I could spend my lifetime believing marshmallows grow in the fields by our house and it wouldn’t affect my eternal destiny. But I would get laughed at. I could waste a lot of money buying worthless products advertised by stars, bankrupt our budget and anger my husband, but it still wouldn’t affect my eternal destiny. However, there are lies that can bankrupt our souls.

Three questions we do need the absolute correct answer to are:

·         Who is Jesus Christ?
·         How do I get to heaven?
·         What am I supposed to do until I get there?

Jesus asked His disciples the first question and Peter got an A for his answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:13). About himself Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

We don’t get to heaven by following rules, but when you “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

And once we’ve said He’s Lord, we spend the rest of our lives living as if it’s true, making “disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) and keeping His commands (John 14:15).

Any answers other than that are an automatic out.

As for other teachings, it takes discernment. Sometimes even those with the best intentions get it wrong. John, the beloved disciple gave a big clue when he said, “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ (Jesus Christ) but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:4).

Even worse, some people lie on purpose. Look at what happened in the Middle Ages. The average person couldn’t know what the truth was from scripture because it was written in Latin, which they couldn’t read. And even if they could have, Bibles were chained to church pulpits to prevent any stealthy studying.

Then John Huss, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther got the bright idea to translate the Bible into the language of the people. Church leaders didn’t agree. Andy Stanley says in his book Deep and Wide, ‘This shift led to an era of church history that can only be described as horrific. The atrocities carried out in the name of the church would be considered terrorism by modern standards. Cruelty wore a cross around its neck. Hypocrisy draped itself in priestly robes…Why were they so vehemently opposed to people having their own copies of the Scriptures? In a word, control.”

That’s when it gets scary; when people don’t want you to know the truth so they can control what you think and do. They do this because they’re power hungry, sexually depraved, or greedy (Acts 20:29-31 and 2 Peter 2:1-3).

So what do we do? Look carefully at both the message and the messenger. How does his message line up with what the Bible says? How does his life line up with what the Bible says? If you trust a liar, you will someday find that what you believed were fluffy, sweet marshmallows were actually bales of fermenting animal fodder. Or worse.