Who Has Seen The Wind?

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) was a British poet who wrote during Britain’s Victorian era. Although she penned many great poems, one of her most famous is titled: “Who Has Seen the Wind?” It’s a short poem with only two stanzas:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

The poem is so simple and so true, for the wind is only visible to us by those things in which it touches. The same is true of our faith.In James 2:17b-18 we read, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Who has seen faith? It’s not “visible,” yet it is. James penned: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say,“You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:17b-18). We can boast all day long that we have faith, but if our actions are not visibly revealing our faith, then, like the New Testament writer penned, it is dead. Think about the wind again; if there is no movement, there is no wind. If there are no works, there is no faith. In Ezekiel’s day, God spoke to the prophet, saying: “So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain” (Ezekiel 33:31). Jesus, quoting from the book of Isaiah, said: “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me’” (Matthew 15:8). We know that God is able to see through to our hearts, but are our non actions revealing the state of our faith to those around us? The famous saying, “Actions speak louder than words” became cliché for a reason—it’s true. We certainly expose our faith by our works!

How can we increase our faith?

Hear the word: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Persevere/Persist in it: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Stand in faith—do not depart: “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Walk in faith: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

 

Child-like Contentment!

Scanning through an old flash drive, I happened upon a few pictures of our youngest son, Micah. An immediate smile appeared simultaneously with tears as I recalled those priceless, yet fleeting days gone by. Looking intently at his content face then–and comparing it to the face I see today, I was able to account for some of the tears. What is it about growing up that seems to dissolve contentment within us; a dissolving that begins even in adolescence? As I pondered, I came up with three main reasons why—although I am confident you can come up with many more; they are:  1) Acknowledgment of and struggle with sin 2) Responsibilities 3) Disappointments.

Struggle with sin– While our struggle might be different, we all struggle. In our battle with sin, we must remember: a struggle exists because we are tempted and enticed to sin by our “own desires” (James 1:14). Two verses before that, it is written: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (1:12). Temptation is inevitable; but the prayer is to endure to be approved. Why? To be blessed and receive the crown of life! And who are those who have endured temptation, been approved by God, and have received the crown of life? Those who love Him! **The inevitable: temptation. Necessary action: endure. Result: approval. Promise: receive the crown of life. Who receives it: those who endure—who love God. ** In the struggle to endure temptation, do not forget 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

You are not alone in your struggle! God wants you to succeed; He wants you to receive the crown of life. The choice must be to love and trust Him each and every day!

Responsibilities– We can, and often do, become extremely overwhelmed by all our obligations. Responsibilities begin early and end when we leave this world, so instead of trying to eliminate them, we must learn how to juggle and perform them well. In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” Also, in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In Isaiah 40:6b-8, we, through beautiful poetic imagery, are refreshed with the truth about the brevity of life; reminding us that any responsibilities we have here on earth are fleeting—and therefore should not be allowed to consume us: “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field, The grasswithers, the flowerfades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grasswithers, the flowerfades, But the word of our God stands forever.”

So, when we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities, we should remember the truths from Isaiah 40:6-8 and perform our worldly responsibilities/obligations:

  1. With all our might (Ecc.9:10)
  2. Thankfully (Col. 3:17)
  3. In the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17)

Disappointments– As responsibilities, and our struggle with sin come early in life, so do disappointments. This is a rather difficult topic to discuss because of its complex, subjective nature, but it is good to be reminded of a few things on the topic: First, The Oxford Dictionary defines disappointment as, the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. ‘Nonfulfillment’ means that we had expected something to be fulfilled—maybe even unrealistic expectations that we ourselves cannot fulfill, so let’s recall Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “All” includes us. Let’s also recall Romans 5:6: “When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” That too includes all of us! We should only expect of others what we can also expect of ourselves; never forgetting that we are all sinners whom Christ died for—and He alone is our hope! To avoid disappointment, let us always look unto Him, the “author and finisher of our faith . . .” (Hebrews 12:2). We also need to remember that Christ alone is “our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). xo

Not that we would want to, but . . . We cannot relive our innocent childhood years; those years before the acknowledgement and struggle with sin began, or before responsibilities and disappointments crept in, but we can, with willing and active participation—and the help of Jesus Christ our savior, experience true child-like contentment once again! 🙂

The Balance of the Seasons

*This article was published in the Sept./Oct. 2017 Christian Woman Magazine. http://www.gospeladvocate.com

“This country loves to throw a party” eagerly shared my Chinese colleague, who spent one year teaching in the United States as part of a teacher exchange program. When I asked him to elaborate on his observation, he noted the national and local holidays we celebrate, personal family and work parties, and frequent ceremonies and celebrations within the schools. He was astounded by how bright and cheery the classrooms are, and what great lengths the teachers go through to make learning extra fun and exciting for the students. Now I know the American education mentality is lackadaisical compared to China’s—and I was a bit embarrassed by his observation—and exposure to our current system, but I mused more on his conclusion about the American’s frequent desire to celebrate everything—all the time. I began to really ponder the truthful, unbiased observation from my colleague and asked myself, Are we always celebrating? If so, why? Are we attempting to mask—or eliminate pain and sorrow? While there is nothing wrong with celebrating and being happy, maybe too much of a good time is not always so good.

The wisest man who ever lived—or ever will live (1Kings 3:12) said: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). How many people today would scour at that and turn it around to say that laughter is better than sorrow, for by a happy countenance the heart is made better. I mean it’s only natural that, ‘happy’ and ‘better’ go together. But not so said the wise man, for before that he said, “Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Consider: when we “feast,” we fill ourselves; but when we mourn, we empty ourselves. And, pride is full, yet empty; while humility is empty, yet overflowing. Such light, yet profoundly dense concepts can be fully understood only by the “Heart of the wise” (7:4), who, as Solomon says, are content to have taken up residence in the “house of mourning” (7:2,4). But where then are the others (he only lists two groups)? He concluded that the “Heart of the fools” (7:4) are occupying the “House of mirth” (mirth is translated ‘joy’).

Then, is it an error to be jolly? Absolutely not! The same wise man who said: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” (7:4a), also said: “In the day of prosperity be joyful” (7:14). We know that our God desires good for us, but His good is for our eternal benefit and does not necessarily mean we will always be happy as we endure; in another contrast, our own definition of good would almost never include sorrow. We must remember that our Father has made both a “Time to weep” and “Time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Why? He tells us: “Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, So that man can find out nothing that will come after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:14b). If life was good all the time, we would be weak and not know to guard ourselves; but if life was always bad (thankfully, our loving God would never do that to us), then we would lose all hope. So we see that there must be a balance—for our benefit. There is great contentment that comes from acknowledging a balance, but that contentment is not automatic. The apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:11-12). Twice in those two verses Paul said that he had learned to be content—whether he was full and abounding, or abased, suffering and hungry. He had acknowledged and accepted the balance—and was contented by it. We, like Paul, must learn, with Christ’s help (Philippians 4:13), to be content no matter what life situation we find ourselves in. After he learned to be peaceful, Paul went on to affirm Solomon’s wise words about the benefits of sorrow and sadness when he said, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Pleasure in suffering? That’s an oxymoron! For whose sake? Oh, how this passage affirms Paul’s closeness and deep sacrificial love for Christ. The passage also offers great hope in the ability to know that in great weakness, there is profound strength.

Not only did my Chinese colleague observe our celebratory nature, but he often spoke to me about his struggles with student involvement. He said the students didn’t seem to care and didn’t like to be told what to do. I couldn’t help but think that those two observations could be universal—to all the world; and not confined only to this country. Universally, people don’t like to be told what to do; that’s tied in with our human (sin) nature. Just as sorrow carries a negative connotation, so rebuke does as well. In fact, I am content to say that rebuke carries even more of a negative connotation, for with sorrow, one assumes pity; but with rebuke, one assumes judgement. In a contrast to this common way of thinking, Solomon taught, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise Than for a man to hear the song of fools” (7:5). “Song” is an interesting word choice to use in contrast to rebuke; for it assumes volume. Solomon had something to say about that, too: “Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard Rather than the shout of a ruler of fools” (Ecclesiastes 9:17). What can be quickly observed is: quiet rebuke flows from the wise while shouting and singing projects from the fools. Does that surprise us? Most likely it does not; we understand that things are heard better when there’s quiet in the periphery, but what if there’s noise all around? Can we still hear if we apply ourselves? Absolutely! Do you remember how God spoke to a desperate, discouraged and exhausted Elijah? The Lord was not in the terrible wind or tumultuous earthquake, nor was the Lord in a blazing fire; but it was in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that Elijah heard the voice of the Almighty. There is no coincidence in God’s choice to be heard in a whisper, for it is only when we still our soul among the noise of the world—and humble ourselves, that we can truly hear the wisdom that our Father desires to share with us. Also recall Jesus, who understood the importance and benefit of quiet stillness. In Luke 5:16 we read that, “He often withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed.” Is not that a lesson for us all to learn and apply? Consider: loud people are not always worth listening to; they are just easier to hear. If we desire to be taught: by the wise of the world, and the wisdom found in God’s word, we must be active in our pursuit to hear, and humble enough to apply the message to our lives! None of us like to be told what to do, but if we desire to please our Father, learning to hear quiet rebuke: from the word of God and from the wise, is not an option.

Whether or not my colleagues observations are true, God’s word is true; and if we apply His teachings to our lives, we will understand more clearly that there must be a balance of the emotional times and seasons of our lives. True, “Sorrow is better than laughter” (Ecclesiastes 7:3) because only in sorrow is the heart made better—through vital healing and growth. Our hearts desperately need to be tended to and protected (Proverbs 4:23). But also true is that enjoyment should be commended because “Man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). So, enjoyment is important too because, as previously mentioned, without enjoyment, we would lose hope. Solomon was not contradicting himself, nor was he promoting nonchalant celebratory thinking; rather, he was illustrating the importance of each season and the benefits each season supplies. The world cannot understand the necessary balance, so they may always strive to remain in a continual state of “happiness,” thereby masking their sorrow; but Christians have the ability—and duty to learn to see—and appreciate the balance of the seasons of life; being joyful in times of prosperity, yet being attentive to the lessons the heart learns in times of sorrow. Christians must also learn to silence pride and “walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8), so we may have the ability—and desire to hear and apply the wisdom of the Wise among the noise of this celebratory and unruly world.

God’s Love for the Unloved!

Jacob, whom God renamed Israel: prince with God (Genesis 32:28; 35:10) had twelve sons, also known as “The twelve tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49:28). His twelve sons were born from four women: wives, Leah and her sister, Rachel; and their maids: Zilpah, Leah’s maid; and Bilhah, Rachel’s maid.

Other than their names and occupations, very little is known about Zilpah and Bilhah. From observation, they were simply slaves; under the complete control of their female masters. They were given to Jacob (30:4,9) for childbearing; not even given the ability to name their own sons: 30:6,8,11,13. None of their words are recorded, so they remain silent mysteries, yet vital Bible women because they gave birth to four of the twelve sons of Israel: Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.

More is known of Leah and Rachel. Their father, Laban, was a brother to Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, which means that the three: Jacob, Leah and Rachel were first cousins. The sisters were also co-wives of Jacob’s and honestly, rivals.

The sisters, unlike their maids, were not left completely silent; and much can be learned about who they were simply by observing the words and actions we have been given.

Leah:

Leah, the “elder” (29:16) sister, was “unloved” (29:31) by Jacob. She had “delicate” (29:17) or weak eyes (which was considered a defect). She was given to Jacob in marriage by her father, through deceitful means, Gen. 29:25b. She gave birth to Jacob’s first four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. She also gave birth to his ninth and tenth sons, Issachar and Zebulun. From the meaningful names she gave her sons—and the words she uttered at the giving of them, one has the ability to peer into the soul of the unloved woman.

  • She was afflicted, yet gave glory to God as the One who sees: Son #1: Reuben: (See, a son): “The LORD has surely looked upon my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me” (29:32).
  • She knew she was unloved, yet gave glory to God as the One who hears: Son #2: Simeon: (Heard): “Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also” (29:33).
  • Yet through it all she remained hopeful: Son #3: Levi: (Attached):“Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (29:34).
  • She praised and gave glory to God: Son #4: Judah: (Praise): “Now I will praise the LORD” (29:35).
  • She was thankful and gave glory to God as the One who pays: Son #9: Issachar: (Wages): “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband” (30:18).
  • She gave glory to God as the One who gives generously: Son #10: Zebulun: (Dwelling) “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons” (30:20).

The following two sons were born to Jacob from Zilpah, Leah’s maid, after Leah had “Stopped bearing” (30:9) children. Leah named them.

  • (Ambiguous meaning), Jacob’s “Troop” (through her) was growing, so maybe she just acknowledged that?: Son #7: Gad (Troop or fortune): “A troop comes!” (30:11).
  • She was feeling blessed: Son #8: Asher (Happy): “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed” (30:13).

Apart from the names she gave to her sons, Leah’s words can only be observed twice more: Genesis 30:15-16; 31:14-16. In the first account, Leah responds to Rachel’s request for her son, Reuben’s, mandrakes: of the potato family (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 378-9): “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” (30:15). In such a response, one can observe Leah’s threatened; and therefore confrontational tone. Later that day, in a rather bizarre (to the modern society) exchange, Leah met Jacob, who was coming in from a day in the fields, and said: “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes” (30:16). If she had to “hire” him, then one can assume that she certainly did not spend a lot of intimate time with him. It is also easy to observe who controlled that time with Jacob:

Rachel:

Rachel, the younger sister, was “Beautiful of form and appearance” (29:17) and was greatly loved by Jacob. She was “Barren” (29:31). She was envious of her sister, who was able to bear children (Gen. 30:1). Her envy is what propelled her have two children through her maid, Bilhah. Her discontent is also what prompted her outburst to her husband: “Give me children, or else I die” (30:1).

Like Leah, Rachel can also be observed through her words and the names she gave to her and Bihah’s sons:

  • She had spoken to God and laid out her case; she knew that God had heard her: Son #5: Dan: (Judge): “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son” (30:6)
  • She was clearly in a competition with her sister: Son #6: Naphtali: (My wrestling): “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed” (30:8).

After Dan and Naphtali were born, the Bible tells us, “God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (30:22). She then gave birth to her first son:

  • She acknowledged God’s healing, then “added” another son: Son #11: Joseph: (He will add): “God has taken away my reproach . . . The LORD shall add to me another son” (30:23;24)
  • Rachel sorrowed greatly as she gave birth to her and Jacob’s youngest son, for she “Died and was buried on the way” (35:19) to Ephrath (Bethlehem) immediately after his birth. This son is the only one who was renamed by his father. The first name was given by Rachel as she died; the second name was given to him and was the one he kept: Son #12: Ben-Oni: (Son of My Sorrow) / Benjamin: (Son of the Right Hand).

God’s word gives us more information into the heart of the loved woman. From her words and actions, it is easily observed that this woman may not have been as internally beautiful as she was externally. In the account mentioned above regarding her nephew, Judah’s mandrakes, Rachel comes across polite when asking for the vegetables: “Please give me some of your sons mandrakes” (Genesis 30:14b); but after being confronted about deep personal issues, responds with manipulation: “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your sons mandrakes” (30:15b), thus revealing her control over their husband. Her tone when speaking to her husband (Genesis 30:1) also reveals the liberty she took with the man who loved her.

Recorded later, we observe Jacob’s large family leaving Laban, Leah and Rachel’s father, after working for him “twenty years” (Genesis 31:38). Upon leaving, the Bible records: “Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s” (31:19). After Laban goes after the troop and confronts an unsuspecting and innocent Jacob, asking: Why did you steal my gods?” (31:30b), Jacob responds by saying: “With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live” (3132a). Laban searches through all the tents, but finds nothing, why? “Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them” (31:34a). Then, when her father came near to her, she lied to him saying, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me” (31:35). While her actions reveal her character, her motive for stealing and lying to her father remains unclear.

Taken out of the Bible for observation are Rachel’s words: (You may place an adjective to describe the action–and possibly a character trait of Rachel–on the line):

  • “Give me children, or else I die” (30:1) “Rachel envied her sister” (30:1) ______________
  • “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her” (30:3). ______________
  • “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son” (30:6).  _______________
  • “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed” (30:8). ______________
  • “Please give me some of your sons mandrakes . . . Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes” (30:14b; 15b). _________________
  • “God has taken away my reproach . . . The LORD shall add to me another son” (30:23;24) _________________
  • “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me” (31:35). ____________________

The only time the sisters ever appeared to be unified is when they supported Jacob’s decision to leave their father’s land after “twenty years” (Genesis 31:38) and return to “His father Isaac in the land of Canaan” (31:18b). Observe the verbal exchange in 31:1-16.

It is my belief that the end of the story of these two sisters is very important; but I will not interject my opinion here; instead I will leave you to your own interpretation. Here are the facts:

  • Rachel “Died [immediately after giving birth to Benjamin] and was buried on the way” (35:19) to Ephrath (Bethlehem).
  • Jacob, giving instructions to his family regarding his eminent burial, stated: “Bury me with my fathers in the cave that it is the field of Ephron the Hittite,. . . There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah” (Genesis 49:29;31). Jacob did not give her a “wife” title—as he had for Sarah and Rebekah; but nonetheless, she is buried there, with him—and them!

No one really knows if Jacob ever grew to love Leah, but from observation—and our knowledge of Him, God took care of and loved the unloved; and I believe that is the lesson to be learned.

  • God blessed both the women, but through Leah was born six of the twelve tribes of Israel; and from those: Reuben (his firstborn), Levi (priestly tribe), and (most notably to me) Judah (lineage of Jesus)!
  • Leah was blessed with a longer life than her sister.
  • Leah was honored by being buried with her husband in the same tomb as Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah!

Jacob looked at the “Outward appearance” (1 Samuel 16:7)—as man often does, but God’s word reveals to us the hearts of these individuals. From what we observe about them, Leah’s inward beauty appeared to outlast that of the outward beauty of her little sister. Just as God taught through the example of the anointing of the shepherd boy, David, so I believe He teaches us through the example of the rival sisters, wives of Jacob, and mothers of the Israelite nation!

FACTS ABOUT LEAH:

  • “Elder” daughter (29:16)
  • “Delicate” eyes (29:17)
  • “When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb” (29:31).
  • “God listened to Leah” (30:17).
  • Buried in a tomb with Abraham & Sarah; Isaac & Rebekah; and Jacob!

FACTS ABOUT RACHEL:

  • “Younger” daughter (29:16)
  • “Beautiful of form and appearance” (29:17).
  • “Barren” (29:31b).
  • “Envied her sister” (30:1).
  • “God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (30:22).
  • “Died and was buried on the way” (35:19) to Ephrath (Bethlehem).

 

The TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL (in order):

(L) Reuben: (See, a son)

(L) Simeon: (Heard)

(L) Levi: (Attached)

(L) Judah: (Praise)

(B) Dan: (Judge)

(B) Naphtali: (My wrestling)

(Z) Gad: (Troop or fortune)

(Z) Asher: (Happy)

(L) Issachar: (Wages)

(L) Zebulun: (Dwelling)

(R) Joseph: (He will add)

(R) Ben-Oni: (Son of My Sorrow) / Benjamin: (Son of the Right Hand)

*(L) Leah, (B) Bilhah, (Z) Zilpah, (R) Rachel

To Those Who Have Received Christ . . .

Colossians 2:6-7 

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”

Because we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, we must . . .

  • Walk in Him– Such a task is a (very) active one. We must, while in this world, constantly keep ourselves (with Jesus’ help) on the narrow road. (Matthew 7:14) If you’ve ever driven in the mountains, you can recall the slender, winding roads. Such roads are difficult to navigate even in calm weather conditions, but when winter elements are present, the difficulty compounds. Living a life for Christ is a lot like driving on narrow mountain roads; such a life demands complete and continual attention.
  • Rooted and built up in Him– The word “rooted” means to “become stable.” My mind wanders to images of great oak tree in this scene. A newly planted oak tree is very un-stable, but over many years of being exposed to the harsh elements, the tree produces a great root system that creates an amazing stability for the tree; making it very unlikely that the tree will fall. We too are like the oak tree. When we are babes in Christ, we are un-stable, but as we lean upon Jesus in the storms of life, being “built up in Him,” we too will develop a great root system that will help keep us  . . . 
  • Established in the faith– The only way we can be established, or stabilized in the gospel of Christ is to allow ourselves to be rooted and built up in Him. For the oak tree to become stable, it must weather / endure the “challenges” it encounters. We are no different; if we want to be stabilized in “the faith,” we must weather / endure the challenges that we are faced with. And while the oak tree stands alone, we do not. Jesus knew we could never be fully stabilized on our own, so He died for us. He gave His life, so we could be established. Hear His words, spoken through the apostle Paul: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He died for us so that we might BECOME (it’s a process) the righteousness of God. But that’s not all. Our efforts must include us . . .
  • Abounding in the faith with thanksgiving (gratitude)- I love Strong’s definition of the prepositional phrase, “abounding in”: to superabound, excel. As we endure—becoming rooted, built-up and established, our faith increases, and our hearts overflow with thanksgiving. Then, with an increased faith and a thankful heart, we place more and more trust in the Lord; truly knowing that He who created the entire world, and all that’s in it, in six days; and He who sent His son in the flesh of man, allowed Him to become sin (2 Cor. 5:21), and raised Him from the dead can—and will—help us in anything and everything. May we, with thanksgiving, never neglect to ask! ~James 4:2b; Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Praise be to God for His abundant goodness! ❤

Three Actions of the Truly Desirous!

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). 

Jesus rebuked Peter for not being “mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33) after Peter “rebuked Him” (8:33) for teaching of His suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. Surely Peter’s censure was a result of earthly emotions, not spiritual truth. And while Peter’s “defense” exposes his worldly, physical concern for The Lord, Jesus’ immediate and stern reaction proves that His heavenly, spiritual task (for the salvation of mankind) was not to be held in, even ignorant, contempt, but handled with the utmost respect. In fact, not only did Jesus rebuke Peter for being mindful of the “things of men,” but before that statement was uttered, Jesus proclaimed a rather damning clause in the hearing of all present: His disciples and “the people” (8:34) from the towns of Caesarea Philippi: “Get behind Me, Satan!” (33).

Immediately after his verbal defense and chastisement, Jesus found great opportunity to elaborate on the importance of the person who desires to follow Jesus, being “mindful of the things of God.” From the scripture reference above, Mark 8:34, we observe three actions the truly desirous must perform:

  1. Must deny self – deny also means to utterly disown. Jesus is our greatest example of denial of self. He, who is God, “Made Himself of no reputation, taking on the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7). If He, who is God, denied Himself for us, sinners, how much more should we, sinners, deny ourselves for Him? Our attitude must be like that of John the Baptist, the “prophet of the Highest” (Luke 1:76), who humbly stated: “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
  2. Must take up [their] cross – The prepositional verb phrase, “take up” is paralleled with “sail away,” which, upon hearing, allows my mind to drift to scenes of a singular self sail(boat) drifting off into a lazy, late-day sunlit horizon, never to return. As peaceful an image as this mental scene depicts, the reality is much more chaotic. In fact, taking up / sailing away self is probably the most daunting task we will ever face! The “cross” we take up is figurative for our self denial; self death. Bearing up under our own cross—consenting to—even instrumenting our own self death is a conscious, deliberate action we must individually make (Phil. 4:13). As Daniel “Purposed in his heart” (Daniel 1:8a), so we must do if we truly desire to follow Christ.
  3. Must follow Jesus – The verb action, to follow is to be in the same way with; to accompany Christ. He leads—We follow! As we labor to deny self—taking up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23), we will learn to lean on Jesus more and more. As we force our self-sail to drift farther away from the self-shore, we will turn to look on the selfless shore of “life”—to our Savior, who leads us “in the paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3) toward home! There is no better One to lead than the One who knows the way, because He is the way; the only way! (John 14:6).

Peter could not have understood then what we struggle to comprehend now; that because of Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, the whole world has been given the ability to obtain eternal life! 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains the hopeful outcome that Christ’s suffering, refection, death and resurrection “might” accomplish: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

In His suffering, rejection, and death, Jesus became —epitomized sin. In His resurrection, He conquered death. Why did He do these things? So that we might (not certain) become (a process) the righteousness of God, in Jesus Christ.

Let us lose our life, setting the sail out (with His help) more and more  each day; let us also then turn toward the shore, where He waits for us—to lead us home! xo

 

Where He leads me I will follow, Where He leads me I will follow, Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way. He will give me grace and glory, He will give me grace and glory, He will give me grace and glory, And go with me, with me all the way.

 -Ernest W. Blandy, 1890

As We Have Opportunity

*This article was published in the Nov./Dec. 2015 Christian Woman Magazine. http://www.gospeladvocate.com

She was a petite, 94-year-old widow; delicate, as a butterfly’s wing; billowy, white iridescent hair; a servant of Christ. I was an impressionable 19-year-old; a newborn in Christ.

Twice, she invited me into her home for a meal; twice, I accepted. Each time, I wondered why she, a woman of advanced age and wisdom chose to “squander” precious, fleeting time with a me, an unlearned youth. The visits mirrored each other: after spending a few minutes looking through her old photo albums and admiring her many crocheted pieces, she would invite me to her small, distressed table, then proceed to serve me a delicious home-cooked meal. My requests to help her clean up were denied. She said she wanted me to sit, relax, and “enjoy simple company.” Although my heart would not permit me to utter all the love and appreciation I felt, I did frequently find opportunity to share what I was permitted. After our first meal together, I, feeling overwhelmingly inadequate to be her guest, ignorantly uttered, “I feel bad that you have done all this for me.” My fragile sister, looking at me with distraught eyes, quietly spoke, saying: “Why do you feel bad? I can’t do much anymore, but I can do a little. Please do not deprive me of a blessing . You being here blesses my life.” In that moment I experienced shame—and an epiphany: me being there was as beneficial to her as it was to me! Within the seconds it took her to utter those words, my young mind was eternally schooled on a vital lesson: the ones served—and the servant EQUALLY benefit from serving! My fragile sister died peacefully in her bed a few months after our meals together. Although she has been gone twenty years, her words still resonate in my heart, because she sewed them there with her love.

Because I was so greatly impacted by someone else’s “doing good,” Paul’s words, recorded in Galatians 6:10 resonate clearly and sensibly within me. He said: “ . . . as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those who are of the household of faith.For benefit, let’s dissect his words of wisdom:

As we have opportunity:  The word ‘opportunity’ in Galatians 6:10 is from the Greek, kairos (kī-ro’s), which translates, “a measure of time.” We all have been given an unknown (to us) measure of time by God. How will we use it? My 94-year-old sister in Christ, who was running out of “measured time” certainly did not waste it. If she had misused her final minutes, my spiritual journey would indeed be different. Her positive attitude about her time/opportunity was reflected in her words: “I can’t do much anymore, but I can do a little.” Oh how thankful I am for her little, for it still means so much to me.

Let us do good to all:  In the verse immediately preceding the one we are observing, Paul wrote: “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (6:9). “Good” in this verse ‘properly’ means “beautiful.” We know how beautiful/good God is to us, even though our behavior is ugly/poor a lot of the time. The difficulty in the task is in the “all,” but we must face the challenge we have been given.

Especially those who are of the household of faith:  In his letter to the saints of the church in Corinth, Paul wrote: “As the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually (1 Corinthians 12:12; 27 NKJV). Paul uses a familiar example: our physical bodies, to teach about how the Lord’s church is comprised. Christians, like the hands, feet, etc., are individual members of one body. Knowing this, how much should we care for our fellow members? We certainly nourish every member of our own physical body; therefore, we must nourish the church members the same.

Suggestions & Challenges: Only four, but there are so many more. How many can you think of?

  • Invite a sister (or non-Christian friend) over for a simple meal. One-on-one; maybe with someone you don’t know well. A babe in Christ? A widow (if possible)? Someone you know is struggling? Someone who doesn’t know the Lord? What about keeping the cell phone from being a hinderance? (do text messages, emails and social media have to be checked?) If it can wait, let it wait! We desperately need each other’s undivided attention. Talk, laugh, eat, pray and share together. You’ll be glad you did, and the rewards will be great! 🙂
  • Find a prayer partner. Praying is mutually beneficial and encouraging—and it draws us closer to each other. Recall Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Much good is accomplished in prayer!
  • Send a card. How simple an act, yet how profound an impact to the receiver—the receiver may have had a gloomy day, but a card (that took you minutes to write and send) can change it into a bright day! (And those not in the Lord’s church are especially grateful. Their curiosity about your random kindness may make them think about their own actions in life?)
  • Make a phone Call. I know we live in the “age of texting,” but there’s nothing like hearing someone’s voice. Texting can be impersonal; I know a call means more to me—what do you think? I know we are busy, but we all have a few minutes to call someone to ask about their day and tell them how much they mean to us.

Our aged sister definitely lived up to the challenge of Galatians 6:10. She was good toward me, a newborn in the household of faith, and she was blessed as I was blessed in her service. So, here I am, twenty years later, still replaying her words in my mind and thanking God for her in my heart. Do you know how much your sisters need you? Do you know how much you need them? Tremendously! Desperately! Be a blessing—and be blessed! Do Good to all; especially to those who, with you, make up the body of the Lord’s blessed church here on earth! You do not know what lifelong impact your good will have on others!  ”Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). XO

Mighty on the Mount

*This article was published in the July/August 2017 Christian Woman Magazine http://www.gospeladvocate.com

Mount Gilboa, located in the Lower Galilee region, is considered “One of Israel’s most beautiful spots . . . a stunning, tranquil area [with] pretty wildflowers” growing. A refreshing cool breeze on the mount offers its visitors a break from the “intense summer heat” (www.touristisrael.com). But, on a certain day, over 3,000 years ago, it wasn’t the mountain’s beauty, but the “Beauty of Israel” (2 Samuel 1:19) observed—perishing. It was there, on that mount, where Saul, the first king of Israel “Fell slain” (1 Samuel 31:1).

While the specific details of the tragic event that would claim the king’s life—and the lives of his three sons were not revealed to him beforehand, King Saul was not ignorant of his demise. In fact, just the night before, God told Saul that he and his sons were going to perish the next day at the hands of the Philistines. How his end happened is recorded rather simply: “The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers” (1 Samuel 31:3). Not wanting the Philistines to come and “Abuse” (31:4) him, He asked his armorbearer to kill him with his sword, but the lad was too afraid, so Saul took a sword and fell on it, killing himself. What a tragic way for “The mighty” (2 Samuel 1:19, 22,25,27) to fall! What exactly did the king do to perish in such a way; and what lessons can we learn from this mountaintop?

Saul died on the mountain “For his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:13-14).

Saul perished because he did not keep the word of the LORD. He “Turned back from following [God]” and “Did not perform [His] commandments” (1 Samuel 15:11). “The LORD sent [him] on a mission” (15:18); that mission was to “Go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them” (15:3). Why? Because hundreds of years before, the Amalekites “Ambushed” (15:2) the Israelites when they had come up from Egypt. God had not forgotten, and they were going to be punished! But, instead of heeding God’s command, Saul spared king Agag—and the “Best of the things” (15:21) that should have been destroyed. Blinded by arrogance—and ignorance, Saul set up a monument for himself! When Samuel saw him and asked about the mission, Saul boasted that he, in fact, did follow God’s commandment. He said that he saved the best of the livestock in order to “Sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal” (15:21). (It’s interesting to note Saul’s word choice: “your God,” not “our God.) Samuel quickly reminded him of a time when he wasn’t big, but “little” (15:17) in his own eyes; Samuel then responded to Saul’s futile and blind attempt at obedience. (15:22-23):

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Saul ignorantly thought that his way was better, but Samuel compared his actions to those in which they resembled: witchcraft, iniquity, and idolatry.

Saul told Samuel that he saved the king because he “Feared the people and obeyed their voice” (15:24). For Saul to be more afraid of people than God exposes a weakness in his relationship with God. In his foolish actions, Saul violated God’s requirement made at the beginning of his rein: to fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice (1 Samuel 12:14).

Saul also perished because he “consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Interestingly, it is written that Saul did inquire of the LORD, but the “LORD did not answer him” (28:6,15), so he went to the medium for help. It is then, through her, that Saul speaks to God—through the deceased Samuel, who tells him of his fate the following day—and reminds him of the why: “Because [he] did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek” (28:18).  Saul violated God’s requirement: to fear, serve and obey Him, so Saul’s fate fell after the “If”: “If you do not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Samuel 12:15).  And from that time forward, God’s hand was indeed against king Saul. At that same meeting, Saul was reminded: “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (15:28).

The first king of Israel perished on Mount Gilboa for his unfaithfulness to God; for not trusting in God. What lessons can we learn today from this mountaintop record?

We, like Saul, must keep the word of the LORD!

“Saul died For his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD” (1Chronicles 10:13).

None of us desire to perish for unfaithfulness; for not keeping the word of the LORD; for failing to do that which He has told His children to do. And what is that? Oh, it seems so simple, yet it requires so much sacrifice: L-O-V-E. He has told us to love—everyone on the face of the earth—as He does! But that four letter, one syllable word has an enemy; it’s another four letter, one syllable word: S-E-L-F! Self is what keeps us from being faithful to God’s command—and that is where the challenge lies. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). The struggle is in the denying of self; learning to love God more—that’s a lifetime challenge! Jesus also said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Notice the conditional “if” in that clause. We can only keep His commandments, if we love Him. And in order to love Him, we must know Him. In order to know Him, we must spend time with HIm.Many people claim to “love” the LORD, but love is only a four letter, one syllable word sitting there unless it has been cared for—nurtured and allowed to grow by the grace of God.

We must consult God alone! 

“Saul died . . . because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him . . . (1 Chronicles 10:13-14).

In our modern day of instant information, it is easy to consult anyone for guidance on any life problem. “Answers,” whether good or bad, are literally right at our fingertips. But God, through the sweet psalmist of Israel, tells us:“Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the paths of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). The blessings are received only by those who delight in and meditate always on the law of God. Such purposeful actions require the close relationship previously mentioned. Consulting God for all of life’s problems is a gracious gift we have been given, but sadly, many never open the gift. It just sits there, gathering dust; and the people who either refuse to open it, or don’t know it’s there, suffer. It is only through a relationship that we gain knowledge of and trust in Him. We must put in the effort!

We must work, or our job will be given to someone “better.” 

“The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent” (15:28-29).

Because God desires “All men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4); and because He does not show partiality, but all are equal to Him (Job 34:19:20), His word will continue to go forth—and produce (Isaiah 5511); His glory will continue to be seen by all (Psalm 19:1-2). To be used by Him, we must be usable! To be effective workers, we must spend time with Him: studying to show ourselves approved—workers of His that do not need to be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). We must pray, meditate on Him and His word (Psalm 1:2); and do good unto all (Galatians 6:10).

Saul simply did not have a good relationship with God: he did not trust Him, or love Him enough to obey the command that God gave him: to fear, serve and obey the voice of the LORD (1 Samuel 12:14). So, because of that, the LORD’s hand was against the “Beauty of Israel” and without protection, the “Shield of the mighty” (2 Samuel 1:21) lay cold and useless on the blood-soaked ground. God has not changed (Hebrews 13:8); to fear, serve and obey the voice of the LORD is certainly the lesson we must learn from the mighty one slain on the mount.