For Your Own Good

Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.

‘And as the bad figs which cannot be eaten, they are so bad’—surely thus says the Lord—‘so will I give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, his princes, the residue of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them, till they are consumed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.’ ”  ~Jeremiah 24:4-10 (emphasis mine)

I’m quoting the above from the NKJV, but it was the New Living Translation that caused me to stop and ponder. It says as follows:

“The good figs represent the exiles I sent from Judah to the land of the Babylonians. I have sent them into captivity for their own good. I will see that they are well treated, and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them hearts that will recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.

“But the rotten figs,” the LORD said, “represent King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, all the people left in Jerusalem, and those who live in Egypt. I will treat them like spoiled figs, too rotten to eat. I will make them an object of horror and evil to every nation on earth. They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I send them. I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.

If you’re like me, you have probably thought of God giving His people over to Nebuchadnezzar as His judgment, and it was, yet in the above verses, He said that the people who were sent to Babylon were the ones that He was protecting. It’s those who thought they were spared that were going to suffer. It’s obvious that God had a plan for Daniel and his friends to be a light to the Babylonians, but there were many more that were exiled which God no doubt used in some way as well.

I have often pondered whether God causes suffering or simply allows it. I have come to the conclusion that He can do either one. In the case of Job, God allowed Satan to torment him but God set the parameters while in the situation above, God made provision for His chosen people to be sent to Babylon while He poured out punishment on those who stayed in Jerusalem.

There is a reason that we are told to rejoice in every circumstance, and I expect it is because we don’t see the bigger picture like our Father does. Things we view as negative may, in reality, be for our good. When we truly believe that we have a good, good Father, we will better trust Him with our lives.

I know the last couple of years have not been easy for anyone, but I encourage you not to stop praising the Lord. And if you have stopped, this may be a good time to begin again. As hard as things may be, you don’t know what He might be sparing you from.

Continue in Holiness

I heard a story of a woman who was constantly beaten down. The perpetrator eventually accused her of harboring things against him from years past. The woman replied, “I remember things that were said years ago, but I don’t hold those against you. I’m just trying to deal with the things that were said recently.”

I expect that this is how God feels. When we come to Him and repent of our sins, He graciously forgives us and welcomes us into His family. But some do not continue in that walk of repentance, and they turn back to the sins that previously defined them or they become involved in new sins that break God’s heart. He is still ready and willing to forgive a person who humbles herself and turns from unrighteousness, but He does not, as many think, overlook current sins because someone repented once of something done a long time ago.

Holiness tends to be treated too flippantly these days. Repentance is not merely apology and acknowledgment that you have sinned. It is turning from those sins and crying out to God to show you the way of escape when your willpower to withstand is weak. As I wrote in my last post, you do not have to be afraid to meet God, but sin cannot dwell in His presence. You need to be totally cleansed, having a desire to please Him above all else.

Let’s not give our Father a reason to be disappointed with us, but let us live lives that please Him, being an example to those who are watching because, undoubtedly, someone is.

Get Ready!

A friend recently told me, “Although I’m a Christian, I’m not ready to die.” My initial thought was, How can someone be saved and on their way to Heaven and yet not ready and even eager to go there?

Over a month ago, I contracted COVID and had the opportunity to examine my own heart on this subject. I had a light case so I was not on the verge of death, but I thought of the people who thought they were fine and then died of a heart attack, and this concerned me. Was I ready to die suddenly if that were God’s will and, if not, why?

For many people, I expect that they know they are not ready to meet Jesus because they are not living a pure life here on earth. Sin causes people to be terrified of meeting their maker. If this is the reason you don’t want to die, I implore you to repent and do whatever you need to do to be ready for Heaven. Even without COVID, there is no guarantee that you will still be here tomorrow.

For those who are young and living for the Lord, I think what is not being expressed is a nagging feeling that their work is not yet finished. They do not want to arrive in Heaven empty-handed, and they feel like they would be doing just that if they were to die at an age that they deem to be premature. If this is your concern, only God knows if that is true or not. Whenever He calls you Home, your feelings are irrelevant. Your readiness to meet Jesus is all that matters. However, the feeling that you have more work to do should inspire you to get busy and do whatever God is laying on your heart while you still have life to do so. If you don’t know what your calling is, ask Him. Take as much time as you need to get an answer and then do it. Once you get to Heaven, it will be too late to say, “But, Lord, I didn’t ____________.” His response might be, “What did you do with the time that I gave you?”

The older a Christian gets, the more they long for Heaven and wonder why God leaves them on Earth so long. But young people often don’t feel “ready.” The fact is that it doesn’t matter if you feel ready or not. People die every day at all ages. In Matthew 5:23, Jesus tells us, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” We need to be ready!

As usual, I am preaching to myself too. It is easy to fritter time. Dealing with adrenal fatigue, I have gotten in ruts where I do more mindless things than profitable work, but I am praying to be faithful. I want to be the best editor I can be; the best sister, friend, and aunt; one who points others to Jesus in everything that I do; and one who lives the life that I tell others to live.

I encourage you today to determine whether or not you are ready to die. It goes beyond just lip service of being a Christian. If you knew you were going to die tonight, would you go in peace knowing that you have faithfully served the Lord and done His will to the best of your knowledge? Or would you beg Him not to take you yet because there is too much you need to do or repent of? I pray that all true Believers will be able to sing with Horatio Spafford:

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The cloud be rolled back as the scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

CD Report: From the Heart (Billy Blackwood & Friends)

Back in 2019, Billy Blackwood released a CD that mostly features him, but he does have some guests that join him on some of the songs. Most of these are old songs from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s as well as one from the ’90s (Is that old?!?!?!), but there are a couple post-2000 songs as well. Unfortunately, I have gotten behind on reviews so, although this is not a brand new CD, I figured it’s better to give it a late mention than none at all.

Songs included are: People Need the Lord, It Is No Secret, In the Garden (featuring Yvonne Lewis-Shelton), Without Him, Willing Heart (featuring Kelly Willard), I’d Rather Have Jesus, A Strange Way to Save the World (featuring Dave Clark), Your Grace Still Amazes Me, Love Held Jesus to the Cross (featuring Gene McDonald), If People, and You’re in God’s Hands.

Befriend Faithfulness

Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.  ~Psalm 37:3

I don’t think there is a group of people I enjoy being around more than those who have been faithful–faithful to the Lord, faithful to their spouse, faithful to whatever ministry God has called them to. They inspire me, as that is my greatest desire–that I would be one of those faithful saints.

Proverbs 12:26 tells us:

The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray.

Proverbs 18:24 says:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Children are often thrown into classrooms where their companions become those they are stuck with. As adults, we get to choose who we hang around and learn from and, although you may think you are not influenced by your friends, think again. It is good to befriend people for the purpose of encouraging them and sharing the Gospel, but your true bosom friends should be those who are influencing your life for good, continually pointing you to the Savior.

I am thankful that I am surrounded by people who exhort me to love and good works, and I like to think that I do the same for them. I have also had friends that can be draining. Sometimes God puts these people in your life so the answer is not just to hang around those who are easy to get along with. But if your primary social life is with those who cuss, get drunk, watch raunchy movies, etc., it most likely will affect your walk with the Lord. Solomon started his reign following after his father David who was a man after God’s own heart, but it didn’t take long until he was following the example of his pagan wives and worshiping idols. You could easily go that route.

I encourage you to examine your closest friends. Are they walking with God, constantly endeavoring to put Him above all else, or are they feeding their flesh and encouraging you to do the same? If the latter, I encourage you to seek out new friends who will challenge you. You may begin to feel uncomfortable if you have been living a compromising life, but you will be in a position where you can begin to come out of your complacency and be a strong child of God. Then you can be that faithful friend to someone else.

 

Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash

Rethinking Hebrews 10:25

I expect just about every churchgoer knows Hebrews 10:25 and has used it to guilt trip those who haven’t found a church that they feel comfortable attending, but I am going to argue that this verse was not written to stress the importance of warming a pew. Taken in context, the verse says the following:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.  ~Hebrews 10:24-25

Now prior to this, the author did talk about entering the Holiest so that may be why people associate this with attending church, but I think we do a disservice to view that as the primary focus.

I have seen plenty of people come into church at the last minute, find a seat, listen to the sermon, and leave right afterward. I guess they technically assembled, but they did not stir anyone up to love and good works, nor did they exhort anyone. On the other hand, I know people who are constantly ministering, showing hospitality, and otherwise getting together with God’s people. If they never stepped foot into a church building, they are fulfilling Hebrews 10:25.

I am in no way knocking church meetings or suggesting that they are not important. Those who have stopped going to church and have distanced from everyone they know are not thriving. We are not meant to be islands. Assembling is important. But be careful to not be harsh with those who spend their lives serving the Lord and are not at church every time the doors open.

Take Your Time

When I was a teenager, people would talk about suicide and remind us that, no matter how bad things are, they will get better. Someone else commented that life doesn’t always get better, but it does change. Regardless of your view, the fact is that nothing remains the same. Some days will be better and some will be worse, but we need not to react to those “worse” days.

My life has been quite a roller coaster. I have been through some dark-as-midnight valleys, but I have also seen some beautiful mountaintops where my heart filled with joy that was hard to contain. It is most likely these experiences that keep me holding on to hope even when I’m not seeing any at the time.

I have had times where I came close to making decisions that would have drastically altered my future, and probably not for the better. I’ve learned that if I give it time, I can typically think more clearly and better hear God’s voice instead of reacting in my flesh.

I know people who think they have to make decisions right away, therefore they act impulsively. I can go to the opposite extreme where I take too long to decide what to do, but I am trying to find a balance. For me, this sometimes means waiting a day to respond to an email or a text so that I produce the best response. It is rarely necessary to respond with the first thought that comes to my mind.

People talk about how easy it is to pick fights online because it’s impersonal but this does not make sense to me since it is easier to think through what you want to say when you have to type it out versus when you are face to face. We live in an age where it should be easier than ever to think before we speak (or interact online as the case may be).

In this fast-paced world, we want everything “right now,” but sometimes the best things still come to those who wait. Be sure that the decisions you make, the words you speak, the reactions that you exhibit are Spirit-led. If you feel anxious, angry, annoyed, or any like feeling, it would be better for you to take time to pray before you respond. “May your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Continuing through the Psalms

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  ~Psalms 25:8-9

God even instructs sinners. They don’t realize it at the time but when a person comes to know the Lord, I bet they can often look back and see various ways that God was leading them in decisions they made, places they worked, etc. He looks for those who have humble hearts that are open to Him and then He begins His good and perfect work.

I can hear someone saying, “I was proud when God found me.” Yes. You didn’t know the Lord and yet God could still see a heart that was sick and tired of life and ready for a new beginning. And so He lifted you out of the mire and revealed Himself to you.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  ~Psalm 51:17

Oh, to continue to grow in humility, to not have to have life constantly revolve around me and what I want, to keep growing in quick and absolute surrender to my Father, to be quick to repent when I realize that I have displeased Him or hurt one of my Brothers or Sisters.

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.  ~Psalms 25:14-15

Have you ever thought about the fact that you can actually be friends with your Master? You can. He desires a genuine relationship with you. Not one-sided where all you can talk about is yourself but one where you are willing to listen to Him as well.

Humility begins in the heart and then exhibits itself in how we treat those around us. If you struggle to hear God’s voice, I encourage you to look at your heart and see if it is full of pride or a genuine willingness to know what God desires and to follow Him in all things.

 

Photo by Anthony Intraversato on Unsplash

The Path of Righteousness

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  ~Psalm 23:3b

A couple of years ago, my sister and I attended a Bible study on Psalm 23. At the time, I felt like, although it was encouraging, it was just fluff, and I wanted something deeper. As I read this chapter again today, I realized that there is depth if I read slowly instead of breezing through yet another well-known passage of Scripture.

Verse 3 especially caught my eye.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

I’ve divided this into three separate sections for you to ponder. If you are following God, He will lead you down a path of righteousness. This means that if you are living a life of unrighteousness, you are not following God. However, living a right life isn’t just to make you feel good and give you a clear conscience (although these can be great benefits); He desires that His children live righteous lives so that they do not bring Him shame. (It’s not all about us!)

As you follow Him down that path, it is then that you can know assuredly that goodness and mercy will follow you for the rest of your life. This doesn’t mean that everything will always go your way, but you can rest in the fact that your Father will always be good and merciful to you. What a blessed assurance!

I don’t know where you are at in this journey toward the Celestial City, but I pray that you are staying on the straight and narrow road, not looking right or left or backward but focusing 100% ahead.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  ~Philippians 3:13-14

The Lost Art of Longsuffering

But the fruit of the Spirit is … longsuffering …  ~Galatians 5:22

Charity suffers long and is kind.  ~1 Corinthians 13:4

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was staying at some friends’ house at night while the house I live in is under renovation. I was there about a month before I took a pre-planned trip to visit some friends for a few days and then spend a month with my dad. When I go back home, I expect I will go back to my friends’ house for a time until our house is ready for me to move back into.

I rely on other people’s grace quite a bit, and I do not take for granted their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort and routine to accommodate me. That said, I have observed many people who are not that gracious and longsuffering, and I seek to figure out why.

One thing I know is that it is a lot easier to be patient with others when you realize how patient people are with you. People like to talk about how hard relationships are, but I don’t think they should be. Yes, you have to give and take but if both parties are giving and taking, it shouldn’t be drudgery. It is easy to say “I love you” to people who don’t live with you, but the true test of your love is how you treat those that you see day in and day out.

I have plenty of friends and family that don’t agree with me in every area. Most areas are not hills worth dying on from my viewpoint. I will listen to their side and often still disagree when they’re done but if they continue to want to be friends, I am willing to do so.

I am in no way recommending that people have no convictions and become accepting of sin, but most of the things that the Church gets up in arms about do not fall into this category. The key is in being led by the Spirit. If God places someone in your life, you need to work on being longsuffering with that person. Don’t just say that you love him or her but show your friend how much by how you treat them. Begin with those in your own household, and I expect it will be easier to show love to those around you.

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