Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Love & Justice

Love and justice. Sounds like the latest series on prime time TV, right? Actually, I found these two concepts clearly demonstrated in the Old Testament. In the book of Numbers, of all places. You know, the book that recounts the story of the children of Israel's opportunity to enter the Promised Land? But they chose to disobey God, and boy were there consequences! They had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until the entire generation of those who disobeyed God passed away. The final chapters of Numbers find the new generation standing poised on the threshold of Canaan, ready to try again.

As the children of Israel prepare to enter the land, God gives Moses explicit instructions to pass on to the people. Once in the Promised Land, each tribe is to give some of their land to the Levites - the ministers of God. Makes sense, since these men didn't have a specific inheritance of their own. But now it gets interesting: God told the Levites to designate six of their cities as 'cities of refuge.' Places that were set up specifically to protect a person who had killed someone. Confused yet? Hang on!

The traditional customs of justice called for revenge when a loved one or relative was killed. The punishment fit the crime, "And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again," (Leviticus 24:19-20; KJV). But there were times when someone was killed unintentionally. Entirely by accident. The person who had caused the death was able to run to a city of refuge, and be protected until a trial was held.

"The Levites would hold a preliminary hearing outside the gates: then the accused person was kept in the city until the time of his trial. If the killing was judged accidental, the person stayed in the city until the death of the High Priest. At that time, he was allowed to go free. He could start a new life without worrying about avengers. If it was not accidental, the person was delivered to the slain person's avengers," (Life Application Study Bible, notes on Numbers 35:6). What a beautiful picture of God's love. And His justice. He made a way of escape for the one who hadn't intentionally committed the crime, while allowing the consequences to stand for the one who did.

God's character hasn't changed. I see Him use these same principles in my life every day. He demonstrates His love for me on a daily basis. He has already provided a way for me to spend eternity with Him (John 3:16). Every day He's kind, gracious, and patient with me. He's given me an entire instruction book designed to give guidance and set boundaries for my life. He desires a close relationship with me.

Just like a parent's love for a child includes discipline, God's love cannot be separated from His justice. He's holy and cannot tolerate sin. His Word reminds me, "Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people," (Hebrews 10:30). His discipline is for my good. "Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness," (Hebrews 12:9-10).

When I choose to disobey God's directives, there will be consequences. Yet His love for me doesn't end. He graciously gives me the opportunity to ask forgiveness and run back to the shelter of His arms, where fellowship is restored.

How have you seen God's love and justice demonstrated in your life? I'd love to hear from you!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your love and justice. I realize You are a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Help me to walk in Your ways. When I sin, help me to understand that Your chastisement is for my good. Help me to be quick to ask forgiveness and for our fellowship to be restored. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Progress - One Day at a Time

The list is long. A compilation of home projects that need to be addressed. Some are simple tasks that my husband and I can handle, others require getting several estimates and hiring the experts. Over the last few weeks, we've been able to check a few things off our master list.

I'm anxiously awaiting the day when we can call in the paint crew. My favorite projects are the ones that make the biggest impact. You know, getting the house painted, or doing some dramatic landscaping. But we're not there yet. The projects we've focused on so far, are the more practical ones. Cleaning out our pond so the water can flow freely. And having several massive trees taken down to avoid any potential damage to our home.

As we work down our list, there are several more practical things that need to be taken care of before we'll finally be able to concentrate on the projects that create the 'wow' factor. Things like replacing the garage door opener. And having the sprinkler system fixed. Details that may go unnoticed by passers-by, but are important nonetheless. In spite of these seemingly 'ho-hum' projects, my husband and I know that progress is being made.

My spiritual life is very similar. I'm a work in progress. And the Lord is the Master Builder. He knows when repair work is needed, and He addresses the heart of each issue in just the right order. Oftentimes I'm impatient, wanting that fresh coat of 'paint' in order to impress others, when what I really need is an overhaul in my attitude. I want Him to hurry up and move on to the next 'project,' but my Heavenly Father reminds me that His desire is for true transformation - from the inside, out. He whispers, "Be still, and know that I am God," (Psalms 46:10a; KJV).

God's Word is a lifeline of truth. The Apostle Peter gives clear instructions for growth, "Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby," (1 Peter 2:1-2). When I have a heart to read and study the Bible, growth is the direct result. The goal is evident, I'm to, "...grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," (2 Peter 3:18).

The process may be slow and tedious at times, but satisfaction comes from knowing that there IS progress. I AM growing. His Word offers me proof, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ," (Philippians 1:6). He WILL be faithful to do His part in the transformation process. With His help, I'm determined to allow Him to complete the work He has so graciously begun!

Are you willing to let God have access to the 'projects' that need to be addressed in your life? What do you need to do today to see growth take place?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I know You desire true transformation in my life. Help me to be patient with the process when it gets difficult, and to listen and be obedient when You call for me to make changes. Thank You for Your faithfulness. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Power of the Tongue

Anger got the best of me. The realization that we had been taken advantage of was an unpleasant feeling. Some workers had stopped by our house asking if we needed additional pine straw for our yard. And the truth of the matter was, we did. They agreed to install the pine straw for the price we typically paid for just the straw. Good deal, right? Wrong.

We made a crucial mistake. We didn't count the number of bales of pine straw they actually laid, and when it was time to pay the workers, the bill they handed us was outrageous. Having laid hundreds of bales of pine straw over the years, and seeing the trailer they were hauling, we knew there was no way they had installed the number of bales they claimed to have laid. But we had no way to prove it...

Hindsight is always 20/20. We tried to question the workers politely, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had made an honest mistake. But they stuck to their story that, yes indeed, they had laid 265 bales of pine straw in less than two hours. In fact, the man who was the head of the crew assured me that he could lay 100 bales of pine straw in one hour - no problem.

As the tales got taller, I could feel my pulse quicken. Did this man honestly think I believed him? I told him in no uncertain terms that I knew he had cheated us. By now, my emotions had kicked into high gear. All rational thinking out the window, I wanted this crew to know we were onto their charade.

In the midst of my tirade, I disregarded the fact that I wasn't living up to who I am in Christ. The reality that my unkind words were just as wrong as their lies, didn't even cross my mind. I have to admit that I wasn't seeing them as Christ does. People who needed to be pointed to the Savior. I was more concerned about the money we were losing.

I was ashamed of myself. When all was said and done, we ended up paying the outrageous bill and I apologized for my behavior. Did we get ripped off? Yes! Did we have a reason to be upset? Absolutely! But in spite of the injustice, I could have chosen to respond differently. God's Word is clear about the results of anger, "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," (James 1:20; KJV).

Over and over, I'm reminded that God's way is to be slow to anger, "He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly," (Proverbs 14:29). Again, King Solomon writes, "A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife," (Proverbs 15:18).

I'm thankful for a God who is patient with me, and is described as, "...merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy," (Psalms 103:8). Although my tongue got the better of me in this particular situation, today I choose to submit myself to the Lord, allowing Him to renew my mind with His Word. The truth of the Proverbs rings clear, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue..." (Proverbs 18:21a). Today I choose life-giving words!

Do you struggle with anger? What will you do differently in order to be slow to anger?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your forgiveness when I fail. Help me to submit to Your Holy Spirit so I can speak words that draw others to You. When I'm focused on my 'rights,' remind me that life's not about me, but each encounter with others is an opportunity to point them to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stick To It

He knew things were pretty bad. But the extent of the evil was shocking to him. It seemed that neighbors and relatives didn't want anything to do with the God of creation. They lived as if He didn't even exist. Noah's heart was broken. He knew that God's patience was running out. God had let Noah in on His plan, "The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth," (Genesis 6:13; KJV).

Noah would follow God's instructions and build a huge ark that would be sturdy enough to house he and his immediate family, in addition to many animals. Although he didn't understand what rain was, or how the large boat would float, he had faith in the God of his fathers, and he would do as he was told. Noah had to smile. The structure he was to build would take over one hundred years to complete. It was just like the God of the universe to continue giving people the opportunity to repent and turn back to Him!

As Noah and his family worked to build the enormous structure, they had plenty of opportunities to encourage curious on-lookers to turn back to God. Day after day turned into year after year. The people continued to mock Noah and refused to turn from their wicked ways. There must have been days when discouragement threatened to halt the massive project. Not a single person believed that the holy God of heaven was going to destroy the earth with a flood. But in spite of being laughed at and ridiculed for their faith, Noah and his family continued to follow the plan that God had given them.

Just as in Noah's day, life can look pretty bleak to me. Reading the local news proves that sin and wickedness is alive and well today, too. When heartache and loss are waiting outside my door, I'm faced with a decision. Will I lose hope and cave in to circumstances? Or cling to the hope I have in Christ, trusting that He is still in control? Will I decide to quit, choosing to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over my head? Or will I continue to follow the plan He's laid out for me?

Noah's story is encouraging. He continued to do the right thing, even when difficult circumstances didn't change. After 120 years, Noah didn't have a single neighbor or relative join him on the ark. Only he and his immediate family were saved from the flood waters. He was so secure in his relationship with God that he was able to keep his eyes focused on his Master. He refused to let the actions of others discourage him from the work God had called him to do.

When challenges surround me and there's no light at the end of the tunnel, I can lean on the words of the Apostle Paul, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not," (Galatians 6:9). My job is to continue doing what the Lord has called me to do, trusting my Heavenly Father with the outcome.

Are you easily discouraged when circumstances are challenging and they stay that way? What needs to change in order for you to keep your eyes on the Lord?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I'm so grateful that You are in control. When circumstances seem bleak, help me draw on Your strength and continue doing what You've given me to do. I know the outcome is in Your hands. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Purpose and a Plan

Favored by his father. Hated by his brothers. Joseph was the youngest of eleven children. His brothers were well aware that Joseph was the favorite son - after all, Dad HAD given him a multicolored coat, fit for royalty. In comparison, their coats were plain and ordinary.

Joseph didn't have to work like they did, either. While they slaved away in the fields taking care of their Dad's sheep, Joseph got to stay at home. Sure he ran an occasional errand or two, but it was easy to see, the boy was spoiled. All his talk of dreams didn't help either. His latest tale had the entire family bowing down to him. How ridiculous!

The day Joseph came to check up on them was the last straw. They spotted him in his outrageous coat from a long distance away. Far enough away to have time to hatch a plan. A plan to get rid of him. They hated him enough to kill him, but selling him was definitely a more profitable idea. With the transaction complete, the brothers ignored the cries of Joseph as the caravan of Ishmeelites moved slowly out of view. In a matter of only a few hours, Joseph's life had gone from picture perfect to positively pitiful. But in spite of this radical turn of events, God had a purpose and a plan for Joseph's life.

Once in Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, captain of the guard. Things began to improve. God was with Joseph and everything he did prospered. Potiphar took notice and put Joseph in charge of everything in his household. Unfortunately, someone else had noticed Joseph, too. Potiphar's wife. It wasn't long before she began tempting Joseph to sin. His refusals made her angry, and finally she lied about Joseph and had him thrown into prison. Imagine Joseph's confusion! What was going on? First he was sold as a slave by his brothers, and now he found himself in prison for a crime he hadn't committed. Even with circumstances looking bleaker by the moment, God still had a plan for Joseph's life.

Although he may not have understood why his life had taken a turn for the worse, Joseph trusted God. And God didn't disappoint, "...the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison, "(Genesis 39:21; KJV). Soon Joseph was in charge of the prisoners. When Pharaoh's butler and baker landed in prison, Joseph took care of their needs as well.

Dreams had always intrigued Joseph. The dreams of the butler and baker were no exception. Each had experienced a strange dream that neither could interpret. God enabled Joseph to interpret their dreams: the baker would be hung in three days, while the butler would be restored to his position in the same time frame. Joseph had only one request of the butler, "...think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house," (Genesis 40:14).

Such a simple request. But did the butler remember Joseph? No! It wasn't until Pharaoh had a disturbing dream, TWO YEARS LATER, that the butler finally thought about the man in prison who had interpreted his dream. Joseph was called from the prison house and finally God's purpose and plan for his life became clear. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream. Because of Joseph's wise counsel, Pharaoh elevated him to second in command in all the nation of Egypt!

God was able to use the difficulties in Joseph's life, being a slave and a prisoner, to prepare him for the incredible task of being a leader. Joseph's story gets even better. Remember his brothers? They end up traveling to Egypt in search of food. And yes, they DO end up bowing before him! Joseph forgives them for selling him into slavery, because he now understands God's bigger plan, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive," (Genesis 50:20). The family is reunited and even Joseph's Dad ends up moving to Egypt.

Just like Joseph's life, I know that God has a purpose and a plan for my life, even when I don't understand it! Circumstances may not always add up in my mind, but my job is to trust the God of the universe to work all things together for good.

Is it hard to understand why certain things are happening in your life? Trust that God is in control. He just may be using those difficulties to prepare you for the awesome plan He's got for you!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You that You have a purpose and a plan for my life, even when I don't understand it. Thank You for the story of Joseph that illustrates that everything happens for a reason. Help me to trust You when things are difficult. In Jesus' name, Amen.