To Sum It Up:

“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (“Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit.” – PSALMS 34:13‭) – 1 PETER 3:8-‬10 NASB

Peter uses these verses (including v. 11-12) to summarize chapters 1 and 2, and the first few verses of chapter 3. He was writing to a group of exiled Jews who were living far outside of their homeland (“foreigners, aliens, and exiles,” 1 Peter 1:1, depending on the translation), who were under pressure because of their status (1 Peter 1:6). He wants us to see that there is a good life for us here on earth, regardless of the problems we are facing. When we follow these suggestions, our hearts are able to enjoy the good in our lives rather than being focused on whatever is happening externally. The psalm Peter quotes, Psalm 34, was written by King David after he had to pretend madness in order to escape from those who were prepared to kill him (1 Samuel 21). We don’t have it so bad when we look at things in context!

We always have a choice as to how we react and resond to the events in our lives. We can choose to see the good and love life; to enjoy what we have, or we can endure it, or we can attempt to escape it. I’ve tried enduring, and it is just that – enduring. No joy. Escaping doesn’t work, either. I promise you, no matter how you try to escape, distance or mind-altering substances or food or sex or shopping or work, it is all right there, still the same! Choose joy, because it is a choice! I was recently having a conversation with a pastor about my current situation (it isn’t all that pretty….) and I ended it by saying that I am very blessed. He expressed some surprise, saying that few people say that. I choose joy, because I have lived the alternatives, and I don’t like them. I’m not a saint! I admit to being depressed and feeling sorry for myself at times, but then I look around and see others who have it so much worse than me. If you are struggling, stop looking at what you don’t have, and see what you do have. It can be eye-opening. Don’t miss the good life GOD has given you!

Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – JOHN 10:10 NASB

Choose JESUS and choose Life Abundant!

Disclaimer: I often use my notes from our pastor’s sermons (with his permission). Dr. Hitchcock brings the gospel alive for me, answering questions I have and bringing more questions to my mind. The thoughts I carry away cause me to read and research the scripture and Bible commentaries, and I always come away with something new! If you would like to hear the original sermons (without any mistakes I might bring!), go to Sermon Archives at http://faithbibleok.com/ The Good Life – we are currently in the Still Standing series by Dr. Mark Hitchcock. We are truly blessed with all of the Bible teachers and books and commentaries that are available for us.

In The Eye of The Storm

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” – Isaiah 55:6 NIV

In The Eye of The Storm is a song by Ryan Stevenson that really speaks to me right now. It’s not my walk, necessarily, that is stormy, but that doesn’t make it less real – or deadly. Whenever someone close to us finds out they are dealing with cancer or another health issue, we feel so helpless. What can we do? I’ve heard people say “I can’t do anything else, so I’ll pray…..” (or some variation of it). I wonder why we say that?

Praying is the most powerful thing we can possibly do, especially when the affected person might not be a Christian!

Seek the LORD. Call His Name. Search the scriptures. Pray. Pray more. Talk to GOD. He is there. Always. Whether you whisper to Him, or scream at Him; carry on a conversation…. all He wants, all He is waiting for, is us asking for Him. Of course we all want our loved one healed, the sooner the better. Isn’t that what we ask for, plead for? I don’t know why we have to go through these things – only, wait, I do know.

It’s called consequences, and just for the record, I despise that word. I hate that we have sin and evil in the world. So am I saying that that the person who has a diagnosis deserves it? Well…… yes, actually. Even the tiniest baby, the newest newborn. We are flawed, sinful beings, and we deserve much worse than anything we see on this earth. Why? Because we have taken the free will our Creator gave us, and we have rejected Him and chosen the world. Thank GOD that He has seen fit to deliver us from what we deserve through the sacrifice of His Son for each of us!

Truly, GOD doesn’t want any of His Creation to suffer, especially the innocent. When we ask for His deliverance from our consequences, He always answers. Always. His answer may be yes, it may be wait, and it may be no. We don’t ever want to hear anything but yes! As harsh as it may seem to you, we don’t often (ever?) get our happily ever after on this earth. We will suffer. I hate it, but it’s true. There is only one way to get the real happy ever after. Ready?

“JESUS answered, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6 NIV

“For GOD so Loved the world that He gave His ONE AND ONLY SON, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For GOD did not send His SON into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” – John 3:16‭-‬17 NIV

Once more, the words of JESUS. He doesn’t want us to suffer, but He knows that we will because of where we live (i.e. earth).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have Peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NIV

Like Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…… that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of GOD. In the same way, the SPIRIT helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the SPIRIT Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And we know that in all things GOD works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:18‭, ‬21‭-‬21‭, ‬26‭, ‬28 NIV

AMEN.


Hurricane Irma. Image from the Daily Express.

The LORD Is My Portion

The author of the book of Lamentations is disputed, but regardless of whether it was Jeremiah, his scribe, or someone else, it is a book expressing deep torment. It was written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC. At one particularly bleak period in my life, had I the eloquence of Jeremiah, I could have written this about my own life. These verses can apply to both our physical lives and our spiritual lives. Can you relate it to your life?

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.” – Lamentations 3:19‭ NRSV

Despite his sorrow and angst, Jeremiah doesn’t lose his trust in the LORD. Like David, Jeremiah suffered through soul wrenching sorrow, but his faith didn’t waver ….. unlike mine. I questioned GOD, I blamed GOD, and I cursed the situations I found myself in. I know – my choices, my consequences. When I finally said, “Enough! I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!” Then I could call out to JESUS, LORD, and allow Him to pull me out of the muck and he mire and the just plain ugliness of my life. Am I always thankful of GOD’s Mercies? Do I always accept His Portion and let contentment into my life? The answer is a resounding “No, I do not.” I am human, and my ‘feelings’ and emotions can overwhelm me. Sometimes I prefer to wallow in my self-pity, but a mentor said to me, “Feel sorry for yourself for 5 minutes, then get up and get on with your life.’ Don’t let the ‘shoulda coulda woulda’s’ run your life, because they will ruin your life!

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have Hope: The steadfast Love of the LORD never ceases, His Mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your Faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will Hope in Him.” ” – Lamentations 3:20-24 NRSV

I have HOPE in the LORD, AMEN!

Image of the prophet Jeremiah from Wikipedia Commons

Do Whatever He Tells You

Have you ever considered the life of Mary, the girl whom the Almighty Creator, GOD of the Universe chose to be the mother of His Son on earth? This girl, probably a teenager, who believed and followed Him without question? The angel of the LORD came to her – not in a dream, but while she was awake and she knew it was real!

“And he [the angel of the LORD] came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The LORD is with you.” ” – Luke 1:28 NRSV

I would have fainted, straight out! Not Mary. She listened to the message, and thought about it before answering – that’s not my strong suit, to ponder a thing before reacting or responding. She did wonder at the message, even asking the angel, “How can this be…?” That’s more like me – I want to know the What, the Why, the How?

Because she believed, and accepted GOD’s Will in her life – even though it looked impossible to her – she knew the Truth about her son, JESUS, from the moment of His conception, and steadfastly believed in Him throughout His life. When others scoffed, she praised. When He was tortured and killed, she cried for His pain. She supported everything He did with His life. His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
John 2:5 NRSV

Oh, to have faith like Mary, and to be able to say to myself, without reservation, “I will do whatever He tells me.” Easy to say; difficult to put into action for me, because I’m a ‘bottom line” kind of person. I want to see the whole picture before I commit. How does it affect me personally? Our GOD doesn’t work that way…. or maybe He does, and in our human-ness we just can’t see it? What I forget is that He is watching out for me, not sometimes, but all of the time. He knows the bottom line, and He knows the turmoil, the frustration, and the sorrow we are dealing with. I forget that I am not alone, ever. He is with me to catch me when I fall, steady me when I stumble, and pick me up when I can no longer walk.

Is today a bad day? Are you frustrated, almost to tears? Are you worried to the point of being sick? Lately, I’ve had several of those days. Besides having a running conversation with GOD, what can we do? I recite the first couple of lines from the 23rd Psalm, “The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” and sing with Hillary Scott and the Scott family “Thy Will Be Done.” The anxiety may still be there, but I find a wonderful Peace when I let GOD take the fear. “What A Friend We Have In JESUS,” sung by Matt Maher – great reminder!!

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My Steadfast LOVE shall not depart from you, and My Covenant of Peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, Who has Compassion on you.” – Isaiah 54:10 NRSV

Forever and ever, AMEN.

Image from http://www.fanpop.com

Does GOD Care About ME?

GOD said, “I Will be with you ….. ” – Exodus 3:12a NRSV

In Exodus 3:1-9, GOD shows He cares about Moses and the Israelites, even though He allowed them to spend 400 years in slavery. Verse 7: The LORD spoke to Moses through the burning bush, I have observed the misery of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings …..” GOD cared enough about them to step down from heaven so that He could meet Moses on his level, because it isn’t possible for us as humans to meet GOD on His level. He cared enough about us to send JESUS to us, to live among us and instruct us on how much He Loves us, and on how to remain close to Him.

Psalms 94:9, 14-15 NRSV tells us of GOD’s care for us – “He Who planted the ear, does He not hear? He Who formed the eye, does He not see? For the LORD will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.”

He cares and He comes down to meet us – in the Garden, in the burning bush, in the giant fish that swallowed Jonah. He sent angels to Abraham and Issac and others to show His care and protection. When we focus on the issues/problems of our lives and not on the blessings that surround us – yes, even when – especially when – we are in the valley of the shadows, we don’t see His Presence. The binding of sin; frustration with circumstances, anger, jealousy, and etcetera: these things are blinders that the enemy uses to keep our eyes off of the LORD.

“The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for YOU are with me …..” – Psalms 23:1‭, ‬4 NRSV

A portion of my daily talks with GOD contain that first verse, and I have to remind myself that it has no room for any “buts” at the end of the sentence. I constantly remind myself to trust GOD to know the very best who, what, when, and how for me, not myself. – because my track record in life of choosing the “best” for myself is a huge fail!

Psalms 13 starts as a lament, and it is a prayer most of us have prayed in our lives. Verse 1: “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your Face from me?”
I love how it ends in verses 5-6: “But I trusted in Your Steadfast LOVE; my heart shall rejoice in Your Salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”

Yes, He cares! He cares enough for us that He left heaven and His Throne to live and die for us, and in doing so He conquered death and hell for us. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”Matthew 1:23 NRSV

He is with us. What a fabulous thought!

Photo credit NewChristianBibleStudy.org

‘Perfect’ Christians

Perfect Christians don’t exist, nor do perfect churches, and anyone who tries to say differently is a liar and possibly a fool.

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His [JESUS’] disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” JESUS answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30‭-‬32 NIV

Do you find a sense of relief in this passage? I do! Knowing that JESUS came for me, the bruised and the broken, full of faults and cracks, it’s amazing, …. and unbelievable??? Why would the King of Heaven, Who created this amazing universe, care about an insignificant being like me? I say inappropriate things, I want to be the center of attention, I keep getting involved with men who just want to use me. I’m selfish and self centered. All these faults, and JESUS Loves me??? I used to be one of those people who thought that I had to be perfect for GOD to Love me. You know, wear the ‘right’ clothes, act the ‘right’ ways, don’t smoke or drink or curse or dance. Be in church for Sunday school and training union (Sunday evening classes) and services, and Wednesday prayer meetings. I was pretty self-righteous and judgemental, and it can still creep up on me at times – I have to be on guard against it.

There’s a song from Hilary Scott (of the group Lady Antebellum) called “Thy Will” that seems so appropriate for me – and probably many others – right now. Here’s the first verse:

I’m so confused
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here
I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Sound like anything you’ve been through, like feelings you’ve felt, thoughts you’ve had? Then I follow it with this beautiful song by Lauren Dagle, who sings from her heart:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory,

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

I think that sometimes we think, we believe we are following GOD’s Will, but maybe it becomes more what we want more than what He wills for us, and maybe, sometimes, it is His Will that we go through the hard time so that we remember that He is GOD, not me or you. I don’t like being told I’m wrong, or that what I’ve done wasn’t correct, and I’ve never liked being called out or disciplined. It makes me bristle and want to argue, to show that I was right, dadgummit, even when it’s the LORD GOD Who is doing the discipling! Really, do I honestly think the CREATOR is wrong? Yeah, oops. I think it’s pretty obvious that I am far, far from perfect! But, perfection – and perfectionism – aside, the GLORIOUS Truth is that our GOD, our LORD and KING of Heaven, LOVES me, Loves us, anyway! He Loves us through our imperfections and our brokenness, He Loves us regardless of our silliness and stubbornness – HALLELUJAH! Remember what JESUS said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

I thank my GOD every day for the gift of His Salvation, even when I’m felling down because of the situation! Can you say the same? Oh, I pray that you can! All the brokenness, all the junk and bad times probably won’t meticulously change for the better, although our LORD can do anything, especially the things that we see as impossible.

This is what God says to us, and whispers in our ear:

Contentment

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him Who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:12‭-‬13 NIV

I struggled with this yesterday. I’m wasn’t feeling the contentment that I know comes from my LORD, and I admit to wallowing a bit in self-pity. A friend used to say to me “It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself for a minute, then get up and move on.” It took me a few minutes…..

As a representative of my LORD, feeling down and discouraged makes me feel like I’m failing Him. I think I should always be content, no matter what. Is that realistic? Any pastor or teacher, if they are being honest, will admit to struggles in this area. It’s simply human nature. The real question becomes, what do we do when it happens to us? Having a support system helps (I’m working on that!). Turning to GOD’s Word is a great way to find support, too. I’m not the first person to feel discouraged! Every great person in the Bible, starting with Adam, to Moses and the great kings David and Solomon, even Mary, mother of our LORD, and all of His disciples, dealt with discouragement and frustration in their lives! Why should we mere mortals be any different?

Listen to what JESUS tells His followers:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25‭, ‬34 NIV

Words to live by! He isn’t saying that we shouldn’t plan for our future, but that our planning shouldn’t consume our thoughts and our lives. Our lives should focus on Him, rather than on earthly things. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and Pharaoh’s army pursued them, it looked hopeless for the unarmed and baggage-laden Israelites. Surely they would be slaughtered as they ran from the Egyptians in fear! But the LORD spoke, and the impossible happened: the sea opened up in front of the Israelites, providing a dry path across the seabed.

“When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.” – Exodus 15:19 NIV

“LORD, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.” “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward JESUS. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “LORD, save me!” Immediately JESUS reached out His Hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14:28‭-‬31 NIV

I hear JESUS saying this to me: “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”

Good question! Do you find yourself doubting? Take these words then, and hold them close to your heart (as I do!).

“Who shall separate us from the Love of CHRIST? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who Loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the Love of GOD that is in CHRIST JESUS our LORD.” – Romans 8:35‭-‬39 NIV

Listen to “Wherever I Go” by Dan Bremnes.