Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Calling, compromising, chastening - where are you in the cycle?

Photo by Hunta1, courtesy
Hello dear friend, welcome back to A Good Bible Study where we are discovering A Passionate Love: the Relationship Between God and You.

Sometimes the synonyms we find for passion, like zeal, fervor, fervent, enthusiastic, etc. refer to God's desire for our hearts, His excitement with our lives, or His heartbreak over our childish behavior. Other times, it refers to his determination not to let us go on forever in willful sin, throwing away our future, and our hope.

Let me illustrate: We spent a recent Sunday at Calvary Memorial Church, in Gering, NE and the Pastor said something that really tied up some loose ends for me. He said the history of Israel can be summed up in a cycle of three words: calling, compromising, and chastening.

Israel was meant to be a light for the rest of the world; set apart to point others to God. They were the first called. Unfortunately, the people struggled with being in, but not of, the world around them. Sound familiar?

They always started out loving God, being grateful for the last time He got them out of hot water; but sure enough over time, the Israelites slowly lost their passion for God and began sinking into the culture around them, to the point of taking on their evil practices of idol worship and human sacrifice.

They began to compromise, just a little at first, just leaving up one or two idols, just small acts of disobedience, (look, nothing happened, see, God doesn't even know what we are doing) then more and more, until the Israelite was unrecognizable from the people around him.

God gave them some rope, often for centuries, giving the people prophets to first plead with their hearts to return to God, then to offer dire warnings of what was coming down the pike if the Israelites didn't repent. Finally, to announce the consequences, the chastening, of refusing to obey.

It's tough love at its, toughest. You're a parent, right? Or a child. Think of it as a monumental count of "1 . . . . 2 . . .  don't let me get to three young man . . . OK, have it your way, 3."

Read Ezekiel 5:13-15.

13 “Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath on them, they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal.
14 “I will make you a ruin and a reproach among the nations around you, in the sight of all who pass by. 15 You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with stinging rebuke. I the LORD have spoken. NIV

This is one of those "3" moments when no matter what God did or said, the Israelites just weren't going to listen. They were depraved, doing vile and disgusting things inside the very temple of God, from sexual acts to child sacrifice. Hard to believe, isn't it? It's hard to believe anyone could fall so far. Yet, they did.

God had warned them and warned them, and the Israelites, chosen or not, were so mired in their evil desires that a major shake up was the only thing going to get them out of their own mess. They were in love with their own depravity.

Sometimes my husband and I read parts of the Old Testament and just want to scratch our heads at the stubbornness of this people. I mean, we're thinking, if God led me out of captivity with a pillar of fire at night, and a pillar of cloud during the day, fed me with manna, then meat, and made water come out of the rocks, I wouldn't need a sign every five minutes to follow him! Nor would I need to be told more than once that I was getting off track, right?

Or would I?

How often do I question God's attention to the details of my life when things are not turning out my way? How often do you?

Now, think about this: How much pleasure do you think Satan gets out of leading the called, the chosen ones, the light of the world, into compromise, even depravity?

Nearly every year some story breaks (substantiated or not) about a Protestant or Catholic leader involved in sexual impropriety on church property. Now in relation to the rest of the world, it's likely an extremely small percentage of the population, but it sure gets headlines, doesn't it? And why? Because these are some of the called.

If Satan can convince you that no one, no one, is sincere about their faith, then how easy do you think it will be to get you to start crossing your own line? Not a big line. Just a tiny, inconsequential one . . . at first.

Do you think the Israelites, or Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, or countless Catholic priests, do you think they woke up one day and said, "today I will defile God's temple, or today I will take advantage of the trust of a child?" . . . or do you think a series of small compromises led to a completely distorted sense of right and wrong?

Understanding the cycle of calling, compromising, and chastening might clear up a few things in our lives, what do you think?

So, where are you in your faith right now? Ask yourself honestly. Are you being called? Are you compromising? Are you being chastened?

If you are being called, what is your response?

If you are compromising, this is your chance to re-evaluate on your knees, asking God to help you before things go all to pot.

If you are being chastened, are you going to thumb your nose, or welcome a wake up call? We don't waste our time chastening people we don't care about. It's the ones we love that we don't give up on, no matter what. It's those we invest our energy in, calling, and even chastening when needed.

God loves you. He will call you, and after giving you enough time to have it your own way and really get yourself turned in a knot if that's what you insist on doing, He will finally chasten you.

Where are you? What's your response?

Let's pray.

Lord, thank you for loving me. Thank you for refusing to let me stay in depravity! Help me to listen to your voice and see the beginning of compromise before it's too late. Help me to see Satan's plan to undermine my joy, my light, my calling and instead give me ears to hear Your call, and a spirit to obey. In Your name, amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Raise the battle cry and triumph over the enemy!

Photo by Lauren Thamels, courtesy
Welcome back to A Good Bible Study! Don't you love discovering A Passionate Love: the Relationship Between God and You? I do and I am so blessed to be sharing this time with you.

We are searching for synonyms of "passion" in the Word of God. We've seen so many examples of His passion for us, and His desire for our passionate response, that there can be no doubt of God's incredible love for each of us. Can you deny it any longer?

God is a poet and his language is love, pure, passionate love.

The Book of Isaiah is rich with prophetic Hebrew poetry. "The Hebrews used parallelism in poetry and prophecy as a literary technique to emphasize a particular thought. . . Prophetic poetry uses colorful images that point to further meanings . . .with the use of evocative language." Nelson Study Bible

Read Isaiah 42:13 and you will see what I mean:

"The Lord will march out like a mighty man,
like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
and will triumph over his enemies." NIV

Think about any great war movie you've seen. Braveheart comes to mind for me. Who is the hero every time? Someone self-sacrificing. Someone brave. Someone so passionate about his people that he will suffer anything and everything for them. Someone who is able to stir up the passion of all those around him with his eloquence and zeal for their freedom!

That's what this verse is describing. Can you see it?

Is there anything going on in your life leading you to need a hero? A mighty man of valor? Someone to stir up your zeal? Do you need a champion?

Pray. He is fighting for you. Sometimes the victory is right in front of us, sometimes it's hard for us to see where the battle has been won. But we can trust we are not alone and we can call on His nature as the One who is passionate about us and our needs!

Father, be a mighty man for me. Stir up your zeal on my behalf and triumph over those who try to destroy your work in me! I am so grateful that I am not alone in the trials of life. That I have a champion in You. Help me to recognize Your hand in my life and see Your triumphs, instead of looking only for my own will to be done. Help me to follow You, my victor, my champion, my Mighty Man of Zeal and celebrate in Your victories! Amen

Love, Karen

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Life is unfair but God is not

Photo by Silo Nos, courtesy of
Hello! I am so glad you've come to A Good Bible Study. We are thick in the process of discovering A Passionate Love: The Relationship between God and You!

There are so many examples of God's passion for you and I in the bible, and just as many encouragements for each of us to delight just as passionately in the Lord. Today we are looking at
Psalm 119:139.

Let me ask you: have you ever felt like you have been unfairly punished?
Have you ever felt like you are trying to do the right thing, your heart is right, but someone only wants to misunderstand your intentions?
Have  you ever been ostracized, left-out, ridiculed or criticized because you want to do what's right, or even because you love God and are following what you believe He wants for your life?

If so, then the Psalms are right up your alley.

David had been chosen as the next King of Israel. This didn't go over very well with the current King, unfortunately. Formerly like a son to King Saul, David was now hunted like an animal across the land. He survived in caves, and from the kindness of those in the kingdom who knew David had only tried to serve Saul well. But Saul only saw David as a threat, even though God first chose Saul as King, too.

The problem was that Saul got a taste of power and decided he didn't need God anymore. Saul was going to do things Saul's way. He figured if he got rid of God's next in line, all of his problems would be solved.

Have you ever noticed that when you are trying to live your life to serve God, even if you don't put any expectations on anyone else, there is always someone who tries to tear you down? Part of the reason is that when we change our behavior, it makes others around us uncomfortable. This can be due to a natural human desire to resist change, or it might be because seeking a higher level of behavior just highlights the negativity in someone else. In their eyes, you're making them look bad.

It's hard to continue to pretend your living a life of integrity, when faced with someone who actually is, you know what I mean?

Saul was only pretending to serve God but David was all in. The people were chanting David's name in the streets because David was out there defending the kingdom, while Saul was sitting at home in a terminal bad mood. David sang and played music praising God, and Saul was sneaking off to visit mediums and witches, pretending God didn't know what he was about. As you can expect, Saul didn't much appreciate David highlighting his own sinfulness. He wanted to get rid of David, so he didn't have to face himself, or God.

Read Psalm 119:139 "My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten your words." KJV

 David sings of his zeal (passion) having consumed him because of his anguish at the lack of love his enemies have for God. He wants God to renew his spirit and give him fresh hope in spite of the actions of his enemies meant to discourage and dishearten him.

Barnes Notes say, "My zeal hath consumed me - Margin, "cut me off." The word which is here translated "consumed" is rendered "cut off" "vanish," "destroyed." It means here, that he pined away; that his strength was exhausted; that he was sinking under the efforts which he had put forth as expressive of his deep interest in the cause of God and of truth"

It was breaking David's heart that Saul was trying to kill him, and David hadn't done anything wrong to Saul. David was perfectly willing to serve Saul, love him as a son-in-law and best friend to Saul's son, until God saw fit to remove Saul from the throne. David didn't want any part of hurting Saul, but Saul couldn't see past his own jealousy and envy.

Can you relate? Who can you turn to when even the people you thought loved you the most, praised you the highest, claimed to always be your friend, are the very ones talking behind your back and trying to ruin your life?

David turned to God. David reminded himself of God's love for him, God's strength when David had none left, and God's promise to bring good out of everything terrible going on. Let's follow his example:

Lord, there are things happening to people all over this world that are unfair, that don't make sense. How can it be when we are doing our best to serve you, obey you, and love you, that others don't see our hearts are sincere? Help us to remember that when no one else sees, You see. When no one else is my friend, You are. When I think I am alone, I am not for You are there. In His name, Amen.

Love, Karen

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A passionate love: the relationship between God and you - The zeal of the Lord

Photo by JS Creatonzs.
Courtesy of
Welcome back to A Good Bible Study. We are passionate here - passionate about a passionate God!

This God of ours loves us with a love like no other. It never ends, it never dissipates, God never tells us "It's not you, it's me," is never too tired, too stressed, too angry to spend time with us, comfort us, listen to us, or advise us. He's passionate for us!

But, sometimes it seems like God is not listening to our prayers, not answering our prayers, not acting on our prayers. Sometimes we believe we are on our own and that we aren't even on God's radar.

This isn't some new phenomenon. People have been looking for the next sign since the beginning of time. Remember Adam and Eve? They had a unique relationship with God. God spent time with them physically in the Garden, walking, talking, and exchanging ideas. Can you imagine hanging out with God and having no doubt He is real? You would think that would make it easier to obey God, right?

God was cool. God was a lot of fun. Adam and God were good friends. In fact, God gave Adam only one rule, just one. Don't eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He didn't say take a little bite. He didn't say eat it if you think you've got a better plan. He didn't say check with the serpent for permission to eat it. He didn't say let your wife get confused about what God said and go along with it. He said, "Don't eat it. Don't. Eat. It. Don't touch it, don't smell it, don't hang around under it's branches, DON'T EAT IT."

Pretty clear, right? So how come it took about 5 minutes for Satan to convince Adam and Eve that God really didn't have their back and they should just go ahead and do whatever seemed right in their eyes? Of anyone in history, Adam and Eve should have been the ones to say, "Uh, I don't think so." Or how about, "I'm gonna double check with God because I know He said don't eat that." Now, I guess it is possible that Adam and Eve had never been exposed to a liar (kind of like that movie The Invention of Lying) so may be they were kind of gullible.

I'd like to let them off the hook like that and say that God sure is harsh. After all, He made them. . . So it's really His fault, right?

God did make them and He doesn't make stupid. So sorry, no dice. Consider this: Adam and Eve were created with the original DNA, uncontaminated and unmutated by chemical damage, environmental pollution, and poor diets. They were the most intelligent beings in the universe second to God. A far second, but still, they rocked.

Let's be honest. They wanted that fruit.

Satan only shows us what is in our own hearts. He dangles the bait, it's called temptation, and we either run to God, or we start trying to justify why we should go ahead and do what we know in our hearts is wrong.

Adam and Eve started playing the justification game. They deserved that fruit. After all, they did all the work in the Garden, Adam named all the animals and he and Eve tended the plants and oversaw the animals. God obviously didn't want what was best for them or He would share His precious Knowledge, right?

They were on their own and they needed to take what they wanted because God was never going to share the good stuff anyway! Besides, God hadn't even been to the Garden that day to talk with them so He probably wasn't even coming back. What happens in Eden stays in Eden . . . wrong.

Like most of our mistakes, the minute that fruit touched their lips, Adam and Eve got a whole lot of knowledge they wish they hadn't. Ever done that? Wished you had minded your own business and found out something you wish you hadn't? Ever wanted to turn back time and take it back? You and me and Adam and Eve and all the rest of us.

So, let's not kid ourselves that we are the first ones to feel like God is ignoring us. Let's not pretend we can take a time out from God and like a little one year-old child say, "If I can't see You, You can't see me." Let's get honest. Let's be real.

Now, about now you might be thinking that since Adam and Eve couldn't cut it, we are all doomed to fail. Let me tell you a story with a different ending.

In the time of Isaiah the prophet of God, there was a King of Assyria, named Sennacherib, who had conquered much of the land around Israel and was after the Israelites next. "The Assyrian Empire extended from Ur of Chaldes, up the Tigress-Euphrates valley toward Baghdad then across to the Mediterranean, taking in modern day Syria. So Assyria in the Bible included modern day Iraq and Syria" (Pat Robertson)

This guy had a lot of reason to be confident. He sent word to the King of Israel, Hezekiah, that he was coming down there to take care of business. Read 2 Kings 18 for the whole speech.

Reading this I had an image of this King's emissary doing a rap before the King of Israel, bragging about his King and talking smack against the God of Israel. Then he goes out and starts rapping to the people outside the palace, telling them in other words, "Who's your daddy?"

This emissary tells the Israelites not to believe their God will save them, because no one else's gods have saved any of the people King Sennacherib has conquered. He literally starts mocking God, saying what is a real insult in that time, "haven't you gotten the news", or "did you not hear", basically meaning, what, you didn't know I'm the biggest stick in the land? He was boasting that he, the King of Assyria was the only one with any power and they better get in line or be destroyed.

As you can imagine, the people of Israel were pretty concerned. I mean, they hadn't had a word from God for a while. May be God was out of the office.

So, King Hezekiah sent for word from Isaiah, the prophet of God.

God says through Isaiah, "Don't be afraid." I got this, God says. Don't you wish we had a prophet nowadays?

King Hezekiah is pretty relieved, and begins praising God. 

And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.”

God answers the King's prayer with a promise, first to King Sennacherib, then to King Hezekiah.

To Sennacherib he says, and I am paraphrasing here, "Who do you think you are talking to? Let me tell you a little bit about the Holy One of Israel, son."

God reminds Sennacherib of all the ways he "reproached the Lord," bragging about how he was going to cut down all the trees and dry up all the waters of defense. Then God uses Sennacherib's own words against him, saying (paraphrase) "Did you not hear that I made this world, and that I allowed you to conquer these lands and made the people defenseless against you?"

God is in Sennacherib's face now, and God tells him He knows alllll about the smack he has been talking.

In fact, God uses Sennacherib's own methods of dealing with prisoner's of war against him, saying in 2 Kings 19:28, "I will put My hook into your nose and My bridle into your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came." Oh yeah, Sennacherib knew exactly what God was talking about. I love it. Nothin can set you down like a word from the Lord!

See, sometimes we read the Old Testament without any cultural references and we think, jeepers, God was harsh! We've got to look deeper, search out a study bible (I use the Nelson Study Bible, NKJV) and get the "whys" behind the "whats."

After this, God gives a promise to the Israelites. He says you are going to be fine. You are going to have plenty to eat and drink. You are going to rebuild and it's going to be good. I am going to make sure of this because "the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."

Zeal, a synonym of passion.

See, the way in which Adam and Eve responded to temptation and the way in which King Hezekiah responded made all the difference. Adam and Eve assumed God wasn't looking and that God was keeping back something good from them. They went out on their own and we have been feeling alone ever since.

King Hezekiah was tempted to be afraid, to give in to the demands and the promises of the Assyrian King, but instead he went to the Lord. He prayed. He asked God to guide his decisions and believed God wanted the best for him. He waited for God's insight in the face of the taunting, demanding, ridiculing King.

What will you do today in the face of temptation? Will you seek God and believe He loves you passionately? Or will you hide your face and pretend He can't see you?

When I was at probably my lowest point in life, holding my son in my arms as he breathed out his last breath, I knew I had to make a decision. I was on the brink of temptation. My husband and I decided for our household, we would still serve the Lord.

I decided this in spite of the temptation to let my heart grow cold because He didn't answer my prayer to save my baby. I chose to believe God is good, even when my life seemed so bad; to believe in who He is, instead of what I could understand.

Soon after, I discovered I was pregnant again. I couldn't believe God would put me through this when I had just lost my boy. I prayed for a girl. I had a son. What was God thinking?

I will tell you. God is thinking about His zeal for you and me when we are only thinking about what we think we want and need. We are thinking about pain and He is thinking about restoration.

We named our son Joshua. I thank God for him every day. 

Joshua 24:15

New International Version (NIV)
15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

God, help me keep straight who is God and who is not. Amen

Love, Karen

What is the zeal of the Lord?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Good news: the end of the world is just the beginning

Photo by Karsten Fischbach,
courtesy of
Hello again fellow God-lovers (and those who are still a bit unsure!) Are you feeling a little more passionate these days? That's what we are talking about in A Good Bible Study today! It's A Passionate Love: The Relationship Between God and You.

We've talked about many words in scripture that mean "passion." Most of the time the terms have referred to God's love for us, or our emotions or actions; but in 2 Peter 3, Peter describes the Day of the Lord and yes, it's a day reflecting great passion!

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up." 2 Peter 3:10 NKJV

Can you imagine the level of heat required to literally burn up and destroy the earth? Yikes. God says it's a fervent heat, a heat of passion.

What then? The earth is gone. Are you and I gone, as well? The answer for some of us is yes. But, if you are interested in sticking around for what follows, read what Peter says in verses 11-18:

"11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?"

Good question! I know most of us think we have all the answers. Be more good than bad, right? How's that working for you based on God's definition of good (perfect) and bad (see the 10 commandments, and remember it refers to thoughts as well as actions) Still confident?

Peter continues:

 "You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

Peter says there will be a new heaven and a new earth for each of us who love God and accept His forgiveness offered by His Son, Jesus Christ! What a deal!

However, Peter continues to remind us that forewarned is forearmed. We can either plan for this day, or we are planning for our own destruction. Like Benjamin Franklin said: a failure to plan, is a plan to fail.

In other words, you can keep on pretending that everything is going to continue on, business as usual, or you can accept that God has an ultimate plan for your life, and for this earth and all it's imperfections.

Peter agrees, saying, "14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." NIV

So there you have it : grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Peter isn't suggesting that on our own power and strength we somehow make ourselves perfect, blameless or spotless in God's eyes. It's the sacrifice that Jesus made, that purifies our self-centered hearts.

It comes down to this: do you believe in God, the real God, not one made up for your own convenience? Do you believe God is the ultimate authority on right and wrong?  Do you believe you can ever be good enough, all the time, every day, to earn the badge of perfection?

In that case, do you accept that you need a Savior to pay the price of your imperfection? Do you accept that Jesus in all His perfection paid the price for your lack? Do you gratefully accept His gift?

Yes? Then will you spend the rest of your life loving Him for it? Following His example as best as you can? Seeking a new relationship with God who loves you so much, He sent His willing Son to clean up your sin so you can enjoy an eternity of peace, love, and joy in a new earth and heaven?

The only answers to these questions are Yes, or NO. There is no kind-of. Do you want a passionate love?

Here's how the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines "fervent" or passion:

Synonyms: ardent, blazing, burning, charged, demonstrative, emotional, fervid, feverish, fiery, flaming, glowing, hot-blooded, impassioned, incandescent, intense, passional, passionate, perfervid, red-hot, religious, superheated, torrid, vehement, warm, warm-blooded, on fire!

Or . . . you can keep living as you have been:

Antonyms: cold, cool, dispassionate, emotionless, impassive, unemotional

You choose.

Let's pray: God I want to be spiritually on fire! There is no middle ground that interests me. Fill me with Your passionate, incandescent, torrid excitement for living a life with You! A servant of Jesus, amen.
Love, Karen

Friday, October 14, 2011

Passion: The greatest commandment

Photo by Arvind Balarman,
Hello again my friends! Welcome to A Good Bible Study - our current topic is A Passionate Love: the relationship between God and you.

There are so many ways God expresses His passion for us! I love the incredibly expressive and eloquent words used to say "passion." Let's find more synonyms for this wonderful term so we can walk our walk instead of just talking our talk!

Let's read 1 Peter 4:8
New King James Version (NKJV)
8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”[a]
Fervent, zealous, enthusiastic, with-all-that-you-have kind of love. This is a passionate love we are talking about here. Not a romantic passion, but a sincere, active, God-centered love that encompasses your whole heart.

Do you remember what is the greatest commandment? Read Matthew 22:36-40.

The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, and the second is to love others as you do yourself. Here Peter reiterates that message, encouraging each of us to have fervent love for one another. A whole heart love. And why? Because it enables us to see the best in others, to assume the best of them, and to overlook one another's less than perfect personalities. Am I talking to anyone out there?

 This specific love word is the Greek "agape." Interestingly, this word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. It refers to showing kindness to strangers without complaining about it, extending hospitality (putting traveling believers up) and being charitable to others. In this verse, it takes on a more special meaning, specifying volitional love versus emotional love. It's active. It's participatory. It's sacrificial.

Peter gets even more specific with the concept of passionate agape love: He says each of us are given gifts from the Holy Spirit. Contrary to popular belief, these gifts are not for our benefit, not for our pleasure or profit, but a tool by which to minister to one another as believers, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. As stewards, we are trustees of the gifts, not owners. We are managers of God’s gifts, entrusted to use our gifts to honor and glorify God. That’s powerful news because it goes against a lot of today's motivational teaching and even some preaching!

That means we are not blessed with talents and abilities so we can prosper financially, although there is nothing wrong in prospering in and of itself.

We tend to think that gifts and passions are given to us for us alone, to please us and to prosper us, to benefit our lives primarily and others secondarily. We consider our gifts to be our own personal property, meant to gain financial reward and prestige, the “wealth” of our age.

It's a lie. The same lie Satan told Adam and Eve and like us, they bought it! “What’s in it for me? What is God trying to keep back from me? Why shouldn’t I have a share in the glory?”

We forget we are stewards. It wasn’t our sacrifice that brought the Holy Spirit to comfort and bless us, it wasn’t our pain that paid the price of forgiveness on the cross, it wasn’t our power that enables us to do more than we are able. And as managers, we will be held accountable for using our gifts and whether we used it in the best interest of the One who gave it. Think on that for a moment.

So, how do we use our gifts in God's best interest? Peter tells us to use the mindset of a representative of God. He says if we speak and teach others, we need to do it as an oracle of God, with reverence for God’s Word, so our listeners will also respect it. He reminds us that we get into trouble when we start believing our strength comes from the gift itself, instead of the giver.

I know when I get caught up in all I can do, I lose strength and stamina. I lose heart. Paul asserts that by relying on God’s strength and power to minister your gift to others, not only are we honoring God, but we can be sure that when we need a powerful presentation or manifestation of talent, we are connected to the unending Source!

Let's pray:

Father, thank you for all the good gifts you've given me. Help me to remember they are a blessing, not a self-endowed right. Let me honor you with my attitude, as well as my gifts. In your name, amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting prayers answered

Photo by Jamie Dupluss, courtesy
Hello, my friend. Pull up a chair and warm yourself, it's time to delve into a Passionate Love: the relationship between God and you, and find out how to get prayers answered!

Are you starting to get it that God is passionate about you? Specifically you, not a general "you?"

He wants a relationship with you that is both like, and unlike, any other. Like any other in that He wants a two-way street. Imagine any relationship with someone you love. What do you do to express and increase that love?God wants that, as well.

He wants to spend time together in prayer both talking and listening, for us to make time for Him to read His Word, seeking wisdom and understanding, and to be proud to be with Him versus being a closet believer who acts one way in private and another in church.

He doesn't want us to fake it. He wants us to live it!

Unlike any other in that the subject of our passion is no mere human who can leave us or forsake us, but the Creator of Heaven and Earth who promises He will never leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)

He wants us to experience the passion and power of a real, living, active, relationship with the Most High.

Now, this is where it gets dicey, because it's so easy for all of us (me included) to slip off into seeing God as a personal genie, there to make our dreams come true regardless of what His vision and plans are for our lives. We too easily take advantage of His loving nature and begin to make demands.

"If you will only do this for me, then I will serve you forever."

"Lord, if you will just help me out of this self-created mess one more time, I promise I will change my ways."

"If you give me one more sign, then I will believe in You."

"If you don't start making things turn out my way, I'm giving up on You."

"If you really loved me, you would not let this happen to me."

It gets dicey because God really does want the best for us. He wants to give us all that we need and even quite a bit of what we desire. He wants to bless us and answer our prayers.

The problem is that sometimes what we pray for is not going to give us what we really need in the long run, or what someone else really needs in the long run. So here is the dilemma.

How does a good parent say, "no," "not now but may be later," or "I know you think this is the best for you, but I am working out something even better," or even, "I know this hurts and doesn't make any sense to you, but it's got to happen this way for a bunch of reasons you just are not going to be able to accept or understand in this lifetime," without incurring the anger, hurt feelings, or even temper, of a child?

It's easier if the child believes the parent is overall good, loving, and would not do anything to intentionally hurt her. That the parent wants the best for that child, and would die for him, if necessary. That like it or not, the right thing to do is obey, and trust that even if she doesn't understand, the parent does, and something good will come from this situation.

Can you, as a parent or as a child, imagine this scenario?

We are the child, and God is the loving parent who is willing to do the job of parent, instead of trying to please us constantly like an over-achieving best friend. Sometimes (often) allowing us to feel disappointment, anger, and anguish for reasons that at times, we just don't understand.

We can choose to believe God is good, that He loves us, that He does have a good plan for us, and even when He does not intervene to prevent what hurts us, that He will bring something good from our pain. We can believe that He will comfort us, even when we don't understand why life does not seem to be working out the way we want it to.

Or, we can choose to stomp our feet and demand "Why isn't what I want happening!?"

I heard a self-defining comment at a sermon Sunday at StoneRidge Community Church in Decorah, IA. The pastor basically said that we want God to change our situation, but He is more interested in changing us.

See, we are interested in what's happening to us, but God is interested in what is happening in us. I think much of what we get so worked up about is keeping us from having what we want: answered prayers. Our focus is off.

According to the Word of God, we can have exactly what we want, as long as we are wanting the right things. What does that mean?

Well, do you really believe God wants you to have an expensive new car? May be He does want to bless you that way, but I bet His first concern is your heart, your intention, your financial behavior, your treatment of your family, and as for having a car, isn't the true need transportation and not an $85,000 trinket? 

Hmm, I am getting in your business now, aren't I?

May be He wants you to get married, but it might not be to that particular man or woman who is going to cause you nothing but heartbreak down the road.

May be He is shutting the door to that job you think is the answer to all of your prayers, because He is creating a situation in which you will become so desperate for His answer and not your own, that He can bring you into a job that will end up being exactly what you need, but one which you would not have even considered on your own.

So, the real answer is when does God answer prayers? Read James 5:16 .

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” NKJV

What is effective? A prayer that is answered and is active.

What is fervent? Come on now, you know this one. Passionate, sincere, humble, believing in His ability and desire to answer you.

What is righteous?  "It is living by every word of God (Matthew 4:4)

So the prayer of the righteous is answered . . . the prayer of one living by every word of God is answered.

Living by every word of God is not living perfectly, but living forgiven. It is not living without making mistakes, but living with a heart for God's will in your life. It's seeking His will first thing every morning, and it's living according to that will as you understand it.

Neither does living by the word of God mean living in fear of punishment. It means being truly sorry when you have behaved wrongly, been hurtful to others, or held a grudge, and telling Him so. It means getting to know God and doing your best to show Him love, in return for His. It means wanting what He wants, which is the best for your life.

Let me ask you, if your daily prayer was altered from "Lord, make my plans work out," to "Lord, I trust your plan for me today," do you think your level of satisfaction with your life might change?

Can you imagine praying, "Father, open my eyes to your will in my life, and give me a heart that desires only what is good for me?"

Taking yourself off the throne of your life, and putting God there instead takes a leap of faith. If you want a passionate relationship with the Most High, if you want your prayers answered, if you want to enjoy your life instead of seeing all the ways you are not getting your way, then it's worth it.

Let's pray:

Father, I've often stepped into Your role as King, in my life. I am sorry. I want Your will to rule my desires and my actions from now on. I want my prayers answered. I want to love what You love, and to enjoy the excitement and passion for life that only following You will give me! Take my life and make it Yours from now on. Help me to pray each day, and all day, "Not my will, but Yours." Amen

Love, Karen