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Just in Case…

Wintertime! When you read this, you may have had some snow this winter, though at the time I’m writing, December brought us very little of the white stuff. Winter is so unpredictable, although weather forecasters try to make us believe they have a good idea what’ll happen before the first flakes fall. Truth is, the weather is always what the weather is. That’s why some people never worry about catching a meteorological report. They know that if it rains they’ll be wet. If it snows, they’ll be cold. They rejoice in the warm weather they encounter unexpectedly. Others sweat over the predictions, catching every broadcast they can. Just in case…

Where’s this leading? It’s an illustration to me of how easily we worry or fret. When the weather people tell us to expect a lot of snow, people worry about running out of supplies. So they race off and endure long grocery lines just to make certain they have enough bread and milk and batteries. Just in case…

It doesn’t take much to make some people worrywarts.

The winter doldrums strike many after the holidays. Family returns to their own homes. Loneliness, Christmas bills, an untidy house, snow, rain, clouds, barren trees, brown grass, ice… Everything adds up until anxiety lashes frostily at your mood and leaves you miserable. Depression is a common problem in January and February. What are you to do? It’s hard to visit people or even make it to church. Many of us have forgotten how to read or how to entertain ourselves, and television gets to be a bore during winter.

For me, the winter months have always been a time to re-charge. I don’t have outdoor work to do most of the time, so I spend a little more time reading Scripture, praying, and catching up with God. Other times of the year, I get busy and neglect him and the spiritual disciplines that help me grow. So I return to the practices of prayer and meditation during winter. Just in case…

Just in case I get busy again and forget to stop and listen to what the Lord wants to tell me. Winter is a time to draw into my thoughts, prayers, and private fellowship with Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit of holiness.

If the bad weather or the general dreariness of winter has you down, I suggest that you start looking up again! Just in case your mood needs to improve a little.

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Immersed in Words

None of us escapes being immersed in words. From the time your ears hear their first sounds until the final syllables you think, words are building blocks or stumbling blocks in your life. They articulate your happiness and define your chagrin. Words overlap all around you, a cacophony of personal shouts and whispers mingled with voices of loved ones, strangers, neighbors, and God.

Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed by verbiage, you seek silence, but even in secluded places with only the songs of birds and squirrels for company, language intrudes before you notice. Your mind starts a conversation that trips you up or directs you into new knowledge. Vocabulary is friend and foe, but always words are present. They’re the essence of your humanity. Almost without willing it to happen, human beings express themselves.

Not all the words in your life can be your own. Others have words you need to hear. What’s said may or may not be to your liking, and how the thoughts of others are couched may not suit your taste. You’d speak the thoughts differently, with less vehemence or more compassion. You’d stress different points, but regardless of how or why or where or when someone else’s words are delivered to you, an overarching obligation presses on you—the need to listen.

Words are spoken for a purpose. The speaker wishes to communicate with you. The information might be important, exciting, life-changing, hateful or boring. Yet you should listen. Words are the stuff of human existence. From the words that bubble around you comes the focus of your daily activities. Thus you must listen.

Those who don’t hear are soon devoid of friends or isolated from meaningful encounters. Life becomes humdrum, and the non-listening person slips into a mental, emotional, or spiritual coma. Words swim around, but they don’t make sense. They float in a rolling, dark emptiness. The person being addressed isn’t listening, isn’t awake.

Where’s this rambling headed? To the word of God. The Bible. If it should happen to be true that the words of scripture are God’s words to humanity, shouldn’t you and I listen carefully?

Below the surface of my Christian faith, the word of God rests as a major stone in the foundation. Without its presence the whole structure of my life would be immeasurably weakened. Through long experience reading, studying, and wrestling with the Bible, I’ve seen how precious its pages are. The words pouring from scripture immerse my mind and heart in God’s thoughts. He speaks to me! He doesn’t speak to me because I’m a saint or even a good person. God speaks to me through his word because he loves me.

His conversation is intended to be heard by everybody. He loves each human who reads his message. He loves those who ignore a holy book with ancient names they find hard to pronounce and so refuse to read. At the root of all the words God utters to humanity is his love for each person.

God wants us to know what’s in his mind and heart as well as our own. So he immersed us in words.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Why I Like Winter

Is winter ever mentioned in the bible? This question came to me. So I looked up the word winter in my Bible. In the New International Version, it occurs only seventeen times. God promised Noah, after the flood, that as long as the earth endured, he’d be certain to send humanity seedtime and harvest. He’d give us times of cold and heat, the seasons of summer and winter. Even day and night would never stop happening. (See Genesis 8:22.) Isn’t wonderful that we can count on the seasons to turn every year? It’s a sign of the Lord’s commitment to us.

The ancient poet who wrote Psalm 74 also considered how God watches over humanity:

          It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
                                                              Psalm 74:17 (NIV)

The psalmist praised God’s creativity, especially as it related to the seasons. The Lord made summer and winter.

And this is one reason I live in the northeastern United States. I love my seasons! One of my daughters has lived in Arizona for most of her adult life, and I love to visit her any time of year. But I’d rather live where frequently in winter the snow falls and the winds blow cold. (I know Arizona gets snow sometimes, but not often enough for me.)

With the ancient poet, I rejoice in God’s creativity.

When God was angry with Israel for its sinfulness, the seasons figured into the background. Through the prophet Amos the Almighty said:

           I will tear down the winter house
               along with the summer house;
           the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed
               and the mansions will be demolished,”
                                          
declares the Lord.
                                                      Amos 3:15 (NIV)

Owning a summer and a winter house was a sign of the luxury in which many Israelites lived, but when they forgot God, they’d have to surrender their summer and winter luxuries—a warning about the season of wrath and judgment. Even Jesus used winter as a warning of impending disaster. Speaking about the end times, the Savior said, “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Mt. 24:20, NIV).

I have no idea where these thoughts are leading, except to say that winter is a gauge for human spiritual vitality, just as much as it’s a sign that changes come. In winter, one day may be dreary or rainy, snowy or sunny. The only sure thing is that tomorrow will be different. Winter weather is difficult to predict. And so is life…and judgment…and much more.

Winter teaches me to trust God better, and to be prepared for the day of judgment by the goodness of my life now.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Temptation

G. Campbell Morgan wrote about the nature of temptation: “As to the purpose and method of Satan, his first purpose is to lure man into some position outside the will of God. His method is that of appealing to something perfectly lawful in itself, but suggesting that it should be satisfied by an unlawful method.”

 
 

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But What’s in a Word?

You’ll hear it again, I’m sure. All the flap about saying, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” People seem to bring it up every year. So what’s the big deal? What’s in a word? Can’t you say either phrase and mean the same thing by it?

Well, I’m not so sure. Happy holidays focuses on everything from Halloween through New Years. That’s four holidays…holidays that are quite different from each other. But even the phrase Happy holidays betrays itself. The word holiday is a shortened form of an older English phrase: “Holy Day.” So whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” you’re still referring primarily to a Christian holy day which celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth! Therefore, people who want to avoid reference to Christmas (a Christian holiday) should be consistent and invent a new phrase of their own. I suggest, “Have a happy day off work with your family,” because that’s all December 25 means to some people.

What’s in a word? A lot! Words convey meanings. They talk about what we want to say. When they don’t carry the significance of what we want to communicate, we should find a new way to phrase the point we’re making.

What does “Merry Christmas” mean? First, CHRISTmas is a reference to Jesus Christ, specifically the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as narrated in the Bible. Also, ChristMAS expresses thoughts associated with worship on the day when Christians celebrate Christ’s birth. MAS refers to the Roman Catholic Mass as practiced in the Middle Ages…a worshipful celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth which included the offering of the Lord’s Supper to Christian believers. Also, the word MERRY means happy, joyous, cheerful. Merry Christmas is a wish that others will celebrate the birth of Jesus with feelings of pleasure and delight. Say it to someone, and you’re wishing—praying?—that God will give them great satisfaction and eagerness while worshiping his Son. There’s a lot in this phrase for me. So…

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Have you read Nahum lately?

Nahum 1:1-3:19

Have you read Nahum lately? He’s another of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament who dealt with Nineveh, but his obedience was quicker than Jonah’s answer to God’s call. Nahum is regarded by some scholars as a sequel to Jonah. The Ninevites repented when Jonah preached, but their turn around was temporary. Years later, God raised up Nahum to condemn them and announce their doom.

Other scholars see Jonah as more of a short-story that deals with what God would do if Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, repented. It’s meant to explain the merciful nature of God. His grace reaches even people we hate. But Nahum’s prophecy is considered more realistic for the historical times. He proclaimed Nineveh’s end which was caused by its persecution of God’s people and others in the ancient world.

It seems to me that we need to separate the two prophets in our minds as well as in history. Jonah does have the character of a good story about a moral truth as opposed to a report of an historical, literal event. Nahum is a prophetic message in line with the rest of the Old Testament prophetic writings. His message both condemned the Assyrians (Nineveh was their capital city), and consoled the Israelites who suffered much at their hands.

In chapter one of his prophecy, Nahum expresses the vengeful nature of God. “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nah. 1:3, NIV). God is mightier than the forces of nature. A nation that is ruthless toward its neighbors, conquering them as Assyria had done, will experience his wrath.

In chapter two, Nahum narrates the coming siege of Nineveh. The city gates will be overrun. “Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away” (Nah. 2:8a, NIV). No one can stop her from being pillaged. The Almighty Lord is opposed to Assyria and her conquest. He will repay her plundering of other nations by plundering her.

In chapter three,  Nahum decries Nineveh as a “city of blood” and announces God’s unchangeable decree. The city will die. “‘I am against you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame’” (Nah.3:5, NIV). Nineveh could not be cured; she has been injured fatally.

Nahum presents God as an unstoppable terror to sinners. Those who treat their fellow human beings tragically will come to a tragic end themselves. This is not a book of grace, but wrath and judgment. Why? Because the Lord, despite his willingness to forgive, cannot forgive sin that continues and overwhelms with no genuine repentance on the part of people.

Is this a book for Christians? Definitely, it is written for any and all who wish to deal with God as he is, rather than as they wish him to be. God is holy and righteous. He cannot tolerate evil, and he will punish those who perpetrate evil on the earth. Sin is a genuine experience among humans, and God must eradicate it from our characters. For Christians, Peter spelled out an judgment’s reality: “…it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt. 4:17, NIV).

Our judgment is  tempered by grace. Can you imagine what it would be like to meet the just Judge of humanity without grace to buffer his harshness? Nahum will teach you.

 

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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Prayer Expresses a Relationship

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote about prayer: “What, then, is prayer? …I suggest that we must inevitably come to the conclusion that prayer, to the Christian, to God’s man, is something natural and almost instinctive; prayer is something which is expressive of the relationship between the child and the Father.”

 
 

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