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In my last post, I mentioned that God wants us to rely on Him. The prophet’s words in Jeremiah 17:5-6 make that clear. Those who rely on themselves or on other humans will be cursed. In Jeremiah 17:1-4, we see that the people of Judah were worshipping and relying on idols. They provoked God to anger which resulted in them being carried off into captivity. In verses 5 and 6, Jeremiah is warning the people that those who trust in any human, including themselves will not succeed. When you trust in others, you will be let down. When you trust in yourself, you will be let down. In fact, God’s words through Jeremiah are so much stronger than that. Only God is infallible. When you don’t trust in Him, you will be cursed.

You will remember, I hope, from a previous post (February 28, 2011), that God is slow to anger. (Nahum 1:3, Exodus 34:6, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13). It is not that the people of Judah slipped up just once. They repeatedly rejected the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt into the promised land. If you read about their journey, you will see the pattern repeat itself over and over again.

God is patient with us too, but what Jeremiah said to the people of Judah also applies to us. When we don’t invite God into our lives, not only our hearts, but our everyday activities, we will be like a shrub in a dry land. Our roots won’t be strong enough to get to the water, and we won’t be able to grow. We may get along for a little while, but we will not thrive.

I think the reason that many people reject God is that they want to be independent; they don’t want to give up control of their lives. They somehow think that if they surrender themselves to God, they will be giving up their freedom, and their lives will be dreary and dull. In fact, the opposite is true. Come back on Wednesday to see the other side of this coin.

There are so many scary things happening in our world lately: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes erupting, civil wars, governments being overthrown…. It is not surprising that people would be afraid, but the encouragement of II Timothy 1:7 came to my mind. I think we need to understand what is meant by fear in this verse. There is certainly a place for being cautious when we are facing dangerous situations, but we also need to be brave and trust in God’s power. Words like “Fear not” and “Be strong and courageous” are used often throughout the Bible. (Matthew 14:27, Luke 1:30, John 6:20, Jeremiah 1:8, Deuteronomy 31:23, I Corinthians 16:13)

When Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not in the context of natural disasters or political upheaval; he was exhorting him and encouraging him not to be timid or cowardly when facing people who would disagree with his ministry. In II Timothy 1:5 Paul expresses his confidence in Timothy’s faith, then in II Timothy 1:6 reminds him to make use of the gifts that God has given him. Paul knew that the spirit of fear did not come from God. This wasn’t just a theory for Paul; he had been through enough trials (II Corinthians 11:24-33) that it would have been perfectly understandable for him to be afraid. Instead he relied on the power of God.

You, too, have access to God’s power. That doesn’t mean that you won’t face hardships; it means that you have a source of strength and courage to get through them. If God has called us to do something, He will give us everything we need to do it. (Philippians 4:13). He desires for us to rely on Him. (Psalm 27:14) As Paul told Timothy, there is no need to be afraid.

The question asked in Psalm 119:9 is asked about a young person, but the answer would certainly apply to anyone at any age. The sooner you start the better, but it's never too late.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. It is divided into 22 sections, each with eight verses. Each of the sections is represented by a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the verses begins with the letter of that section. Psalm 119:9-16 is the second section and answers the question, “How can a young person maintain a pure life?” The answer is by following God's Word.

God gave us His Word as a gift. In this psalm, as elsewhere in the Bible, God’s word is sometimes also referred to as “law”, “testimonies”, “ways”, “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “judgements” and “ordinances”, but He did not give it to us to make our lives harder. He gave it to us so that things would go well with us, our days may be prolonged and that we may be blessed. (Deuteronomy 6:1-3)

Its mere existence is not enough however; we must have a part in making it useful in our lives. The psalmist sought the Lord with all his heart, prayed for the Lord’s help to keep His commands (Psalm 119:10), stored up His word (Psalm 119:11), praised the Lord (Psalm 119:12), proclaimed (Psalm 119:13), rejoiced in (Psalm 119:14), meditated on (Psalm 119:15) and delighted in (Psalm 119:16) His word. We need to do more than have a Bible sitting on our bookshelf. We need to read it, meditate on it and apply it to our lives.

Some people get a little confused about meditation because its meaning varies according to context. To meditate on the Word of God is to think about it, mull it over, keep it in our minds. It is a very good practice to memorize it. Then you will have it with you whether you have a Bible with you or not. Jesus didn’t have a scroll with Him when He was tempted in the desert, but He answered the devil by quoting scripture. (Luke 4:1-13) No matter what situation you are in, if you have God’s word in your heart, you will have a source of encouragement, hope and guidance. (Psalm 130:5, Psalm 119:11)

Tips for Memorizing Scripture
(This is my paraphrase of tips given by Robert J. Morgan, author of 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know By Heart.)

Choose your verse, decide how long until you want it memorized--a week, three days, whatever--then memorize one word at a time. The first word will be pretty easy. For example, John 3:16, the first word is "For". It won't take you long to memorize that! Then add the second word, the third, etc. Repeat each for however much time you've allowed yourself depending on your goal for completion and keeping in mind that successive words will need more time. The first word might only need a minute. By the time you get to "For this is the way God loved the world", you might need several hours. Keep repeating each section until you have it; then add the next to what you already know. Anyone can memorize anything if they do it one word at a time.

I often hear my friends say that they feel guilty about one thing or another. Why is it that we feel guilty? Are we brought up that way? If we are in Christ Jesus, there is no reason to feel guilty. (Romans 8:1)

Romans 8:33-34 asks us who can bring any charge against us. Who can condemn us? Since it is God who justifies us, no one can bring a charge against us. No one can overrule His verdict. There is no higher court of appeal. Since it was Christ who died as a penalty for our sins, and since the power to judge us has been given to Him, (John 5:27) only He can condemn us. But He does not. He is interceding for us. He is taking our requests to the Father even when we can’t articulate them. (Romans 8:26)

Don’t get me wrong. There are consequences to our actions when we do things that we shouldn’t, and we do still have to abide by the laws of our land. We have, however, already been forgiven for all of these things. The price has been paid, and there is no eternal condemnation. Yes, there will still be trials and struggles, but God has overcome all of these things, and they are temporary. We can have hope and assurance of salvation.

If we do our best to make decisions with a pure heart and right motives, we should have no reason to feel guilty. It is the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12) that are fighting against us and trying to make us less effective by deceiving us this way. If you are feeling guilty about anything, examine your reasons. Have you done something that you need to rectify? Do you need to ask forgiveness of someone? If so, remember that you are already forgiven by God, but you need to take the necessary steps to fix things with your friend or family member. (Matthew 18:15) If not, tell Satan to get out of your face. (Mark 8:33)

I believe that the grace of God is much more amazing than we as humans can comprehend, and yet it is available to each one of us. Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the dire situation that the human race was left in because of Adam’s sin. Then verse 4 starts with “But God”. It begins the explanation we find in Ephesians 2:4-7 of God’s mercy and grace. Mercy means that we are not given the punishment that we deserve. Grace means that we are given the salvation that we don’t deserve. Both are given to us because of Christ, a fact that is repeated three times in these four verses, and they are gifts that are available to anyone, even the thief who was minutes from death on the cross beside Jesus. Because of Christ we have been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. We have been raised up in Him, and when this life is over we will be with Him in the heavenly realms. Spiritually, we are already there. This was made possible only because He loved us enough to die as a sacrifice in our place. Can you even begin to imagine this?!

I am also encouraged by Ephesians 2:7 which tells us that the surpassing wealth of His grace will be demonstrated to us in the coming ages. It is only going to get better and better. We will continue to know God more and more, but what I find most uplifting is that we are not expected to know it all right now. God’s love and grace is beyond what we can fathom, but there is a lot that He has already made known to us as well. He has given us the gift of the scriptures, His Holy Word, so that we might learn more about Him and His great love at our own pace. No pressure. It’s a gift.

Are you old enough to remember what life was like before Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were created? Can you think back to a time before the Internet was a common term? If you are too young for that, you might not understand what I’m talking about, but life was different then. Now, people announce everywhere they go and every little thing they are doing. Things that never used to be considered important enough to mention to anyone now get shared with everyone.

That sheds a whole new light on Matthew 18:15-17. Decades ago, if someone had been offended by someone else, they may have been tempted to tell their close friends, and even though that was inadvisable, the matter would have still remained relatively quiet. Now, if someone is annoyed by something, it will very likely get posted to Facebook for hundreds of other people to see and share their opinions about.

The procedure given in Matthew 18:15-17 is probably intended for more serious infractions that may result in excommunication if taken to the bitter end, but I think that the principle is still valid for interpersonal grievances as well. If you are upset with someone because of something they did to offend you, and you wish to resolve the issue and preserve the relationship, announcing your frustration to the world is not likely to help your cause. It is possible that the other person has offended you without even realizing it. If that is so, that matter will be resolved quite easily once you share your hurt. If it was an intentional slight, you will at least know where you stand. We are asked to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 17:3-4), and we are asked to love our neighbour (Luke 10:27), but we are not required to remain friends with anyone who intentionally abuses us. We can be respectful to them. We can be gracious and civilized. We can follow God’s steps for reconciliation. But if, in the end, they don’t want to do their part to contribute to a healthy relationship, you do not have to continue to associate with them. If they are family members, of course, it may not be as easy as all that, and that’s where the graciousness and civility will be essential. Nonetheless, we don’t have to go out of our way to spend time with them. At the point where they are ready to adjust their behaviour, because you have already forgiven them, you will be ready to renew the relationship.

There are some people who think that God is love, and that He cares for everyone. Others think that God is a big meanie, living up in the heavens, ready to destroy us if we do anything wrong. The truth encompasses both.

Nahum 1:1-8 recounts Nahum’s prophecy against the city of Nineveh, declaring that it would be destroyed. The chapter starts out by telling us that God is zealous and angry, and He is going to pour out His rage on His enemies. Some translations use the term jealous which is a character of God that some find hard to understand. God is jealous in a way that a parent would be for a child: protective of His children and His authority.

In the midst of this passage is Nahum 1:7 which tells us that God is good and will protect those who take refuge in Him. Because God is good and just, He cannot withstand evil forever, but He is merciful. He will protect His own, those who choose to repent, but He will judge those who choose to remain His enemies. God does not have a bad temper, a short fuse as it were; He is slow to anger. (Nahum 1:3, Exodus 34:6, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13) He is not willing that any should perish. (II Peter 3:9) He is omniscient and knows right from wrong, and He would like us all to do the right thing, but He gives us a choice. And for those of us who choose to repent, God’s goodness is the best news of all. He will protect those who put their trust in Him. That is why Nineveh had to be destroyed, because God was protecting the people of Judah from the Assyrians. The people of Judah had to endure the trial for a time, but God was on their side. He is on our side too, and the trials that we face will be only for a time. Nahum predicted both judgement and hope. Which you receive depends on your response to God.

David Teems, author of Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible, has said, “God is not in the business of explaining things. He’s not obligated to explain anything to us. But we live in a generation today where we feel like we’re entitled to an explanation.” Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if God would let us in on His plan and tell us what our role is in it? Decision-making would be so much easier. Deuteronomy 29:29 lets us know that that won’t happen. God has all the answers, and He only gives us some of them. Sometimes He gives us answers in the form of thoughts or knowledge, but He most certainly gives us answers through the Bible. Because we have access to His Word, we have become responsible for the information that it contains.

Proverbs 25:2 indicates that we (even though we aren’t kings) should not only feel free, but obligated to search out the truth, to find the answers, to investigate the best way of doing things. The title of Proverbs 25 tells us that these proverbs were collected by King Hezekiah, so it is natural that he would be concerned about the responsibility of kings to lead and govern their people. Today, however, we are all required to lead and govern our own lives, and the wisdom of this passage is just as valid for us. Investigate, study and learn what it is that you can know, but realize that you can’t know it all. If we could know all that God knows, He wouldn’t be God. We can know enough, however, to have faith in His trustworthiness.

The passage in Deuteronomy says that we have this information so that we might obey God’s laws. James 4:17 tells us that because we know what is good, we are obligated to do it.

Did your mother ever tell you that you had to share? Most mothers do. I find it interesting that children are forced to share when it is not a habit that is practised by most adults. While discussing this with a friend the other day, the parable of the ten virgins came to mind. (Matthew 25:1-13). Five of the ten came prepared for the long wait with extra oil for their lamps, and five didn’t. The ones who were unprepared asked the others to share their oil. If that were to happen today, would the prepared virgins be criticized for not sharing? Would they be called mean, just because they prepared for themselves but not enough to also take care of others? After all, we know from other passages in the Bible that God likes us to care for the needy (James 1:27, Matthew 25:40) and He loves a cheerful giver. (II Corinthians 9:7)

To be honest, sharing was not really the point of the parable, but it is interesting that the five virgins who wouldn’t share were not condemned for it. They were commended for being prepared, while the ones who had not brought enough oil to get them through the night were called foolish and were banned from the wedding feast.

Preparation is the point of the parable. Since it is a parable, the focus is to be spiritually prepared for eternity. The oil is representative of the Holy Spirit. There are many who call themselves Christians, perhaps because their parents did or because that’s the kind of church they go to, but only those who have truly accepted Christ as Saviour will be invited to the eternal wedding feast. This is your own decision--something you have to do on your own. No one on earth can share eternal life with you, but you can accept it as a free gift from God.

Matthew 6:19-21 outlines for us what our attitude toward money and material possessions should be. It is not that we need to take a vow of poverty, but we need to prioritize what is important to us. It is not wrong to have money or material possessions, but it is wrong to rely on them as our source of provision, for all good gifts come from the Father above. (James 1:17) Anything that is of earthly value is temporal and subject to destruction or theft, but things of eternal value can never be taken away or destroyed. God, however, as in all things, gives us the freedom to choose what matters most to us.

Let me be clear: It is not wrong to work for earthly wealth. As a matter of fact the Bible warns us to be diligent rather than lazy. (Proverbs 19:15, Ecclesiastes 10:18) It is not wrong to have material possessions. God knows that we need clothing, food and shelter, (Matthew 6:32) and that we need money to negotiate our way through this life. The important point here is where our priorities are. The acquisition of material goods should not be our end goal; they should help us to reach our end goal which should be to live as God has called us to live. That doesn’t just mean putting some cash in the offering plate on Sunday. It means living in a way that pleases God. One of the ways we can do that is to provide for the less fortunate around us. (James 1:27)

Interestingly, Matthew 6:21 says that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. It is not the other way around. We can make a conscious choice about what we do with our treasures, and our hearts will follow. If we choose to use our treasures in the pursuit of God’s kingdom, He will provide the rest. (Matthew 6:33)