Friday, August 29, 2014

Taking the Time to Smell the Fragrance of God's Word

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16

Isn't it amazing that with all of our modern conveniences, most of us are more time pressured than ever? And yet with the advent of technology, there is a certain portion of my day that is given over to it, almost like an obligation. And why? What never ceases to amaze me is that no matter how many times I do the same dumb thing and think I will get a different result, I never, ever do. (The definition of insanity.)

I deceive myself thinking I need to keep up with the news. There is so much information on the internet I could never digest it all, yet I attempt this vain thing all the time. I was reading a writing book by Dani Shapiro called Still Writing, and she commented that she used to take a cigarette break from her writing (before she quit smoking). She said now that had sometimes (unfortunately)been replaced by the internet break. She did not recommend it at all, because it only served to distract from her focus, and yet the temptation to lose focus by surfing the net is so easy to do. How about checking facebook a dozen times a day? Yet this all adds up to precious minutes, minutes that add up to hours, hours that add up to days of mindless wandering all in the name of my "recreation."

On the other hand, time spent in the Word of God is never fruitless. Years ago, my sisters and I enjoyed doing counted cross stitch. We made little gifts for each other. One for my older sister had the verse from Proverbs 24:3 along with a pretty little house. The verse said: "By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established." As I stitched along, I wondered what that verse meant.

The other day, in my reading, I came across the verse again and decided to look up some cross-references.One of them was from Proverbs 9.

"Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars; She has sent out her maidens, she calls From the tops of the heights of the city: “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks understanding she says,“Come, eat of my food And drink of the wine I have mixed. “Forsake your folly and live, And proceed in the way of understanding.” Proverbs 9:1-6

I looked up some cross references again, for the part about the food that was prepared, and it led me to Luke 14:16-24, about the wedding banquet. The primary application was for the Jews who would not accept Jesus as their Messiah, so the gospel went out to the Gentiles, but in another way, could this not be wisdom from the Word of God speaking to us?

"But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;
and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it;please consider me excused.’Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out;please consider me excused.’Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’“And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”

Could not the dinner be the Word itself, it is all prepared for us, to nourish us, build us up, to help us build our own spiritual house? But with all the distractions of technology, I let it pass me by. Yet there is no excuse, for as never before do we have the Word available to us for study, with online Bibles and teaching aids.

My husband planted some wildflowers in the front of our house, yet it was not until late in the summer that they finally, gloriously, bloomed. The colors are vivid shades of fuchsia, yellow, white, and reds. Underneath are small lacy white and delicate purple flowers. One day, I noticed they had a beautiful fragrance, but you had to bend close to the flower in order to detect it. Once you put your nose close to the petals, the sweetest smell exuded from it. Could that be how it is with the Word of God? On the whole, it just looks like a big book, formidable, even, until you pick it up and start smelling the sweet perfume within? This perfume reveals to mankind the loveliness of none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

My pastor says you have to build an appetite for the Word of God. Well, start with just a taste then. And know that the Bible is from first to last, His-Story.Ask God to reveal to you these truths as you peer into His lovely Word:
O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (Psalm 34:8)
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Psalm 119:18

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Best Commentary on Scripture...

"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Psalm 12:6

I reacquainted myself with a tried and true method of Bible study this week. I usually like to just read in a variety of different books of the Bible every day, and eventually make my way through the whole Bible as often as I can. It is my habit every morning: read the Bible as I sip my morning coffee. Lately I added daily journaling to this habit, and writing down whatever Bible verses spoke to me each day.

One of the books I have been reading in is the Gospel of John. When I got to Chapter 7, it dawned on me that this gospel is so rich, so loaded, I wanted to slow down and look into some of the verses deeper. I have an excellent resource to do just that called Nelson's Cross Reference Guide to the Bible edited by Jerome Smith. I love everything about this resource: even down to the fine paper it is printed on. Keyed to the King James Version of the Bible, it breaks the Bible down into cross references for the whole Bible, book by book, line by line. Sometimes there are multiple references given even for just one word or phrase in one verse of Scripture.

I have explained this before, but a big stumbling block for me in my days of questioning God as a young woman dealt with the issue of fairness. How could God ever be fair when some people went to hell, I reasoned. This really tripped me up. It was not until I started to read the gospel of John that I started to find answers to this and many other questions. One day I came across this statement in John 7:17: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine..."

Suddenly I had an answer to my question! If a man was willing to know, God would make sure that person got to know! Now, back in reference to the cross reference guide, I decided to look up some of the cross references for that verse, and it was so edifying! Scripture commented on, and reinforced Scripture. As a friend of mine says, "The Scriptures are so consistent."

"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine..." For the two little words "shall know" in John 7:17, here were some of the corresponding verses:

John 3:21 "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."

Psalm 25:9 "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way."

Proverbs 3:32 "For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous." (Froward means "those who turn aside"- Companion Bible, E.W. Bullinger, p.869)

Daniel 12:10 "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand."

Hosea 6:3 "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."

I wrote down all these verses in my journal, and when I got to the Hosea 6 passage, I was intrigued to discover more about what Scripture said about "following on to know the Lord."

Here were some of the verses that speak of "following on" to know Him:

Proverbs 23:12 "Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge."

Daniel 11:33 "And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days."

Matthew 24:13 "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (delivered- Bullinger, Companion Bible, p. 1365.)

Luke 8:15 "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (keep it-"hold it fast"-Companion Bible, Bullinger, p.1455)

John 8:31 "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed"

John 15:9-10 "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love."

Years ago, when I was confused, I would get a commentary when I found a verse of Scripture that I did not understand. Today I find this a much better way to "get the sense" of the Word as in when Ezra the priest gave the Jewish people the Book of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:2-3
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

Nehemiah 8:8-10
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What Marriage has Taught Me

"Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up." Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

By God's grace, thirty years ago this coming Monday I became joined to my beloved life's companion. I look back and wonder how the time could have passed so quickly, the kids grown, raised and gone, and now we two are grandparents to two delightful little grandsons. God has brought us through many times of testing and trial, but I am so thankful we are together to share this milestone. I am glad or all the things God has taught me. I learned these things the hard way. After thoroughly discovering my own ways didn't work, (and through the help of a Titus 2 woman, Mrs. Judy Seligman) I found God's ways did.

When I walked down that aisle, I foolishly thought that my husband's purpose was to make me happy. It was an impossible task, something the very first woman discovered in the garden of Eden. After Eve ate the forbidden fruit and then gave it to her husband Adam to eat, mankind fell into sin and death, and God told her: "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you." (Genesis 3:16)

Was that some kind of cruel joke on Eve? Or was it a place of safety for her? I used to definitely think it was a cruel joke, even on the day when I walked down the aisle. The word for desire in Genesis 3:16 is tĕshuwqah. It means desire, longing, craving. I had a craving alright, to make sure I got what I wanted. But I did not realize that women are especially vulnerable to the enemy's lies and deception, and God gives the authority for the household to the man, not the woman.

How was it that I did not know that in I Corinthians 11:3 it states: "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." I was created for my husband, and he was not created for me, just as Eve was created to be Adam's helpmeet?

And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:18 It is up to each woman to find out what her husband wants from her to be his helpmeet. There is true satisfaction in finding it.

And yet, for my heart's ultimate happiness I do not have to rely on my husband. For he is only human and has good days and bad days, just like the rest of the human race. I can aim to fulfill my God given role as the Holy Spirit empowers me, but there is One who is even closer. Proverbs 18: 24 tells me, "A man who has friends must himself be friendly,But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." I believe that Jesus Christ is that friend. He will never stop loving me. He is the One who tells me to submit to my husband and He does it for my safety, not to be a killjoy. I can trust Him to work through my husband and turn my husband's heart if my husband even if he appears to be making a foolish decision. For like the king in the book of Proverbs, I can ask for the head of my home's heart to be turned, for Proverbs 21:1 states: "The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes."

I simply turn to the Lord in prayer and entrust the situation to Him. Even if the answer is no, I can still trust God to work all things in my favor if I love God. Therefore, there is no need to worry or plead or try to twist my husband's arm. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

When I got married, I wanted to know God, but had many misconceptions about Him, His grace, and especially the finished work of Christ. I thought God was a hard taskmaster. I thought I had somehow to add to Christ's finished work. It was my husband who first heard about the light yoke and easy burden of Christ and told me I needed to hear it. I am so grateful that he did.

And so I say, here's to the next thirty my dear Kevin. Thank you for hanging in there with me, and loving me, warts and all.
To young wives who may read this, hang in there, grow in grace, read the Word, and may you too find yourself happily married thirty years later.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ever Drinking the Living Water

"The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made." Psalm 145:13

The above was today's verse on my perpetual calendar, a gift from a sweet daughter in law. A perfect promise for this day, and for every day. For He ever proves Himself faithful and true.

I've been asking God lately to revive my Spirit within me, for in many ways, I resemble the believers in the church at Ephesus, who Jesus said lost their first love. He told them in His first of seven addresses to the seven churches in Revelation 2:2-5:

"I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent."

So many things distract me from my first priority. There are too many good books to read, movies to watch, crafts to do. I spend time with Him in the morning but somehow lose the closeness as the issues of the day press in on me. My world crowds out Christ, just like it did when there was no room for Him in the inn. Slowly, Jesus gets put on the back burner of my life, even though I have the best of intentions, and I've lost my first love.

The other evening at a ladies Bible study we talked about Jesus' remarks to the woman of Samaria in John 4 and how the water He offered her represented the Holy Spirit. I made the comment that we probably never in this lifetime could fathom the depths of what Jesus was saying when He told her about the living water He could give to her.

Thanks to the wonderful website, I looked into some of the words we talked about:

Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.” John 4:10

If I only knew (oida)which can mean, in its Biblical usage:

to know
to know of anything
to know, i.e. get knowledge of, understand, perceive
of any fact
the force and meaning of something which has definite meaning
to know how, to be skilled in
to have regard for one, cherish, pay attention to (1Th. 5:12)

the gift (dorea) a free gift with emphasis on its gratuitous character (definition from Hebrew and Greek Lexicon Spiros Zodhiates, ed.)

living water: a metaphor of an inanimate thing:bubbling up, gushing forth, flowing,with the suggested idea of refreshment... is figuratively used of the spirit and truth of God as satisfying the needs and the desires of the soul

(from Thayer's Greek Lexicon)

That is what Jesus was offering to the Samaritan woman: the gift of the Holy Spirit, freely available to anyone because of what He did for us on the cross. I get tired and weary, but the Holy Spirit that He gives is ever fresh and ever bubbles forth real life. It is not something we can produce ourselves, but comes from a realm totally outside of us.

Jews never spoke to Samaritans, yet there was Jesus, offering this freely flowing spiritual water to a woman who obviously had some failures in her life, just as I have failures in mine. He offered her something we all crave: a drink of refreshment that quenches eternal thirst. This thirst can't be satisfied by possessions, by prestige, by the accolades of others. It only comes from having a relationship with the God who created the universe. We become forever cleansed from our old lives and old habits by taking one sip of this Living Water. Once we have truly tasted it, nothing else in this world will satisfy us.

The Samaritan woman was not alone in her thirst, so was the Psalmist:

Psalm 42: 1-2 "As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?" ~ Psalm 63:1 "God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water." ~Psalm 143:6: "I spread out my hands to You; I am like parched land before You."

Though I have partaken of some of that living water, I still have so much more to drink! Every morning I need a fresh sip and every time I step out of bounds, I quickly can name the sin for my sake to God, and quickly refresh myself in the living water of the Spirit again. There is yet so much more to take in, so much more of His Spirit to drink, so many more promises to believe. In all of the ten thousand distractions, there is still only one way to be satisfied in this world:

Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! Psalm 34:8

He gave me a reminder of the treasures, of the riches that are behind every single one of His statements to us. And He also reminded me that in eternity, we still will be musing on the wonder that came the moment we drank from His life giving fountain.