The reason I started this blog just over two years ago, was to share what I learned through studying the Bible, and to encourage you to study with me. I know that there are some of you (and I have done it too) who start a reading plan in January with the intent to read through the Bible in one year. Genesis and Exodus are interesting, filled with stories of drama and suspense, but once you get to Leviticus, does your mind start to wander? Do you start to drift off? When you read through Numbers are you actually planning your summer vacation? How many of you have made it to Revelation? I know that before I changed my strategy two years ago, I had read Genesis more often than any other book. But when I started studying--not just reading--one or two verses at a time, without neglecting the larger context of course, I found myself more engaged and more interested.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s word is “living and active”. The New Living Translation says “alive and powerful”. Do you believe that? Or do you think that it is just a historical religious book that people keep printing and re-translating because there are still people who want to buy it? And why do they want to buy it? Why do you want to read it enough to start a reading plan every year? I believe that the same thing that draws many of us to The Bible, repels many as well. It is a representation of the power of God. It is God extending Himself to us through His written word.
The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword, able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) God has provided it for us, to teach us, to correct us and to prepare us for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17) It is there for us to be able to know God’s heart, and to determine if ours are right with His. The word of God is available to us for our benefit, so that we can know God, so that through faith in Him and obedience to Him we can be recipients of His grace, love, peace and mercy. What a gift!
Some of you prefer watching the movie to reading the book. Here is your chance! Though I recommend it as a supplement rather than a substitution, The Bible is coming to The History Channel as a mini-series beginning on Sunday, March 3, 2013 and continuing each Sunday evening until Easter Sunday. You can be sure that this will be a great production because it is being produced by Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice…) and Roma Downey (Touched By An Angel). Accuracy has been insured by Bible scholars, including Dr. Craig Evans of Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Find out more about The Bible Series at the official website, their Facebook page or on Twitter.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? This is a question that I happened to see on a Facebook page recently. The three most popular answers seemed to be:
1. Make coffee
2. Check my phone
Your need for coffee aside, which would you do? Are you more likely to check your phone for messages from friends, colleagues, clients and possibly strangers? Or do you take a few minutes to go to God first? A healthy relationship requires regular and honest communication; without it, the relationship suffers. We spend our time on the relationships that mean the most to us.
David, the psalmist, didn’t have the benefit (distraction?) of a smartphone, so perhaps his choice was easier: he went to God first. David made a habit of going to God regularly, not just when he wanted to extend a desperate plea for help. And although he often asked for help and protection from his enemies, he also praised God for His goodness and faithfulness. The pattern of his psalms often goes from complaint to praise.
Psalm 5 is one of David’s morning prayers. In this Psalm, he starts by asking God to hear and consider his prayer. He doesn’t tell God what to do, but presents his case and waits expectantly for God to answer. (Psalm 5:3) We can see that David is confident that God will not only hear his prayer, but also answer it according to His character. David knows that God is a God of love and mercy, but He is also a God of justice, and David appeals to God to protect him from his enemies. (Psalm 5:4-6, Psalm 5:10) David asks for God’s guidance through whatever obstacles he must face, (Psalm 5:8) and he also asks for God’s blessing. (Psalm 5:11-12) Even though David is asking for God’s favour toward him, so that his life will be safer and better, David approaches God with reverence and praise—honest, but respectful communication.
When you get up tomorrow morning, who will you go to first? How do you suppose your choice will affect the remainder of your day?
We all have at least one thing in common: we are facing an uncertain future. We may think that we have the course of our lives planned out, but we never know what might happen to change those plans. Sometimes, the evening news makes that all the more real. It might be a natural disaster, an accident, or the result of the evil acts of mankind, but there is always something happening that will put boulders in our path. This will be especially true if the path we are following is not God’s path.
The Israelites experienced this regularly; one specific example is their exile to Babylon. They spent 70 years there! I can tell you that I would feel forgotten by God long before that. But the Israelites were not forgotten and neither are we. In Isaiah 41:10, the Israelites are returning from exile and facing the prospect of starting over amid other nations. God tells the Israelites that they need not be afraid. He is with them; He is their God. It’s always nice to have a companion to help you face the tough times, but so much better when your companion is the all-powerful God of the universe. God promises to strengthen them, help them and uphold them with His righteous right hand. Righteous. That means that he notices when we disobey. The Israelites constantly disobeyed and God had done something about it. God had told the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:10 that they would be subject to Babylonian rule, and that He would get back to them in 70 years. But take note: that is the verse that comes right before the popular and well-loved verse of Jeremiah 29:11. I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you a hope and a future. The following verses (Jeremiah 29:12-13) assure them, and us, that God will hear our prayers and will be available to us when we seek Him with all our hearts.
Sometimes the challenge of this life seems like it is far too much to handle, and it probably is unless we have God’s help. He wants us to depend on Him, to trust Him to see us through the trials we face. He assures us over and over again in His Word that He is strong enough, He is able and He is willing. We need not fear; we just need to come to Him.
Here we are a week into the new year. Is it really a happy one for you? For some there have been almost inconceivable blessings; for others, it has been one frustration after another. Others are just getting back into the work and school routine after the holidays. Either they are feeling a little let down, or they are thankful to get back to “normal” life. Whatever the circumstances of our lives are, they will almost certainly be affecting our perception of whether or not this is going to be a Happy New Year. And most of us have probably realized by now that we truly have very little control over those circumstances. Sure we can make plans and work hard to try to control our lives, but there will always be events that are beyond our ability to manage and which will influence our degree of happiness.
But what of Jesus’ promise that our joy would be full? (John 15:11) First we need to realize that joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is an emotional reaction to circumstances. According to Kay Warren, author of Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”
Second, we need to look more closely at the context of that promise. This verse comes very soon after the parable of the vine and the branches, in which Jesus teaches us to abide in Him. It comes directly after Jesus tells us that He loves us just as the Father loves Him, and instructs us to remain in His love. (John 15:9) Then He tells us that the way to remain in His love is to obey His commandments (John 15:10), and that His commandment is to love each other the same way that He loves us. (John 15:12). So many people who don’t know Jesus think that following His commands would make life tedious, and would take all the fun out of living. Jesus promises just the opposite. Abiding in Him, loving Him and each other, this is what will make our joy complete.
I’m not sure how you feel about saying good-bye to 2012, but many people I know are glad to see it go. Several friends lost family members during the year; three lost their moms and another lost her dad. I can only begin to imagine their sadness, and am so thankful that both my parents are still alive and doing well. For those of you have been praying for Bella, I’m happy to tell you that her most recent tests show no evidence of disease, but it was certainly a challenging year for her family, and they were eager to see the end of it. Albert Chretien’s body was found a year and a half after he went missing in the Nevada wilderness. It meant closure for the family but reopened their tender hearts to the sadness.
These are the kinds of things that regularly happen in the broken world we live in, but often at the end of a year we look back with regret, and look toward the new year with hope. I, at least, always hope that the new year will be better than the last. Do we have any justifiable reason to do so? After all, the world we live in will still be broken until Christ returns. The good news: God is in the restoration business. In Joel’s prophecy, we read of God’s judgement, symbolized by a swarm of locusts devastating the land of Judah; they thunder ahead like war horses and they charge like an army of soldiers. (Joel 2: 4, Joel 2:7) But the Lord is willing to show mercy and compassion to those who humbly repent and return to Him. (Joel 2:12-13) Joel 2:25 is even more hopeful. Not only will God stop the attack of the locusts and show mercy to his people, but He will restore what has been destroyed. The story of Job is a prime example of how God does this. Job endured much suffering, lost his entire family and all his belongings, but God restored his health and returned to him double what he had lost. (Job 42:10)
No matter what regrettable things happened to you, or because of you, last year, God is able to make good come of even the worst circumstances. (Romans 8:28) We only need to stop striving to do things solely in our own strength, come humbly to Him and trust Him to take care of us. The devastating things that happened in the past cannot be changed, but the future can be brighter. God has told us that in this world we will have trouble, (John 16:33) but God has also promised us peace (John 14:27) and joy. (John 15:11) As this new year begins, I wish you, my readers, all of God’s best. May you be abundantly blessed.