Creating Your Best Life By Honoring Others

Do you want to live longer and better? There’s a secret God hides in plain sight in the Bible, the concept of honoring him and others.

My darling Grandma, Charlotte Skinkle, lingered between heaven and earth for several weeks while cancer slowly shut down her body.  Every evening, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered with my grandfather around her hospital bed to sing her favorite hymns in four-part harmonies. Schedules were altered, sitters found, and other things set aside to honor her in a way meaningful to her.

Grandma didn’t respond much of the time. My family might have stopped their evening gatherings rationalizing, “She can’t hear us anyway.” They didn’t. They kept coming. They kept singing. This is honor.

When I brushed off Malachi, for my series on the book this month, I discovered sermon notes from twenty years ago. They come from my former pastor, Wayne Benson, an extraordinary Word teacher. Reading them again, I know his ideas are even more relevant now as our culture continues to sink to lower and lower levels of dishonor. So, here they are, with my own comments and applications.

Honor is a foundational concept in God’s kingdom. Ancient Israelites knew this yet chose to ignore it. In Malachi 1:6-14 you can read a feisty butt-kicking Malachi delivers to Judah from God. His anger is inflamed because they are careless with holy things. They sacrificed blemished, sickly animals to him, instead of perfect ones. They became flippant about temple worship. He is so fed up, he tells Malachi to send someone to nail the temple doors shut. Ancient Israel forgot how important honor is.

  • Honor elevates everything around it.

When my husband Ken and I observed increasing levels of disrespect shown to police officers and first responders, we wanted to do something pro-active. Through a partnership with our adult and servant evangelism ministries at our church, we began to drop off snacks and thank-you notes at our local public safety stations. The first few times I brought in the snack baskets, the duty officers greeted me suspiciously and insisted I hand baskets through guarded windows.

 

After a few months, smiles and welcomes greeted my monthly drop offs. When we started catering in a quarterly lunch to all the stations, many barriers dropped and Ken and I, along with our volunteers, are now invited back into the secure areas of station houses to engage with officers and fire personnel. Hugs, laughs and conversation flow easily. Honoring these men and women lifted us all into a higher level of relationship and encouragement.

 

Honor changes an environment, whether it’s a house of worship, a classroom or a fire station. What environments are you changing through honor?

 

  • Honor draws attention to greatness.

Israel failed to acknowledge God’s awesomeness. He made them a nation, gifted them with land, protected them, and yet they couldn’t be bothered to worship him correctly. They kept the best produce and livestock for themselves and gave God leftovers. They knew better. I wish Americans knew better.

 

We elevate Hollywood stars with minimal talent and maximum egos to dizzying heights of cultural greatness while our military veterans struggle to find jobs and afford homes. This speaks so poorly of my country’s attitudes about honor. Yes, many of us go out of our way to honor and care for veterans. (See note at end of post for a fresh idea on that) Nevertheless, a country with godly priorities and right concepts of honor would never treat our veterans, or our elderly, the way many are shamefully treated in veteran and nursing homes.

 

People who understand honor will always draw attention to those who live sacrificially, whether they are military, missionaries or the elderly neighbor next door who knits blankets for children entering foster care. Who are you honoring who is worthy of honor? How?

 

  • Honor wars against familiarity.

Where was it Jesus couldn’t do miracles? Oh right, in his hometown, with his family. What lives might have been changed forever if only they had honored Christ in their midst instead of dissing Jesus, James weird older brother.

 

I am cautious in how I treat familiar folk when they are elevated. Maybe I did change that youth pastor’s diaper in nursery or teach that worship leader during their squirrely middle school years. Now, I speak to them and treat them with the respect that position deserves. Too many times I’ve overheard people trash talking their friends and family who achieved status, position or honor. Dishonoring people God chooses to elevate, whether they are believers or not, is not a nice look. Our role in that person’s previous history, does not grant us license to diminish their current position. Even when people are observably not deserving of honor bestowed, I leave that with God. He lifted them up and he will bring them down if they don’t embrace humility. Remember Pharaoh, King Saul and Nebuchadnezzar. I will also point at God’s harvest principle,;sow dishonor and you will reap it.

 

  • God promises long life to those who honor their parents.

In Exodus 20:27 God issues a command with a promise; honor your parents and live long. What that looks like is for you and the Holy Spirit to decide. Your family may be highly dysfunctional.  Don’t trash talk them. Ask God for ways to honor parents who may be very challenging to respect.

 

Ken and I enjoyed loving relationships with our parents and worked hard to honor them and do things that mattered to them. We still do with the one parent we’ve got left, my Dad. I love hosting Thanksgiving, but it’s become increasingly harder for him to travel so we will celebrate at he and my stepmother’s home instead.

Ken and I also did our best to meet many needs of his parents in their last years on earth. Sometimes that involved cleaning up horrific messes and giving up vacation time to care for them. We are left with no regrets and no thoughts of “I wish we had….”  Many I know are doing far more than that to care for aging parents.

 

However weird you might think your parents are, remember, God chose them for you. The command didn’t come with clauses or conditions but it does come with a promise.

Honoring God starts with foundation stones like faithful, frequent church attendance, volunteer ministry, tithing and consistency in quality Bible study and prayer. After that, we build our houses of honor brick by brick with each act of love and respect we show to others. Inside those walls, life is better.

Veteran’s Note:  If you are a Twitter of Facebook user, I recommend following and supporting Gretchen Smith founder of Code of Vets. Her Twitter handle is @Codeofvets.   Every single day this godly woman  processes needs requests from veterans then uses social media to mobilize folks to meet those needs whether it’s prayer for a despondent, suicidal vet or one with a hole in the roof.  Check her out if you’d like to be more pro-active in honoring those who sacrificed the best years of their lives for our safety and security.

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Love Is Unchanging Even When We Can’t Hear His Voice

Do you ever struggle to hear God’s voice or know his will for your situation? I struggled with the idea that God spoke clearly to others but not me. By faith, I knew he unconditionally adored me, but at times it seemed like I was getting the silent treatment.  I recall in college, one of my dearest friends took offense at something I said and stopped speaking to me. With all the emotional intensity that college girls living together can generate, our mutual friends ran between us. They carried confusion from me to her, “What in the world did I do?”  They returned with, “She knows what she did.” Ugh. I really didn’t. We eventually worked it out, but that wall of silence created some high drama amidst our circle of friends.

Silly as it sounds, I behaved as if God pulled the same thing sometimes, but God is not petulant or vague. He’s not waiting for me to do or say the perfect thing. In fact, sin often inspires God to speak loudly, as he must penetrate worldly wax stuck in our spiritual ears. No, the truth is, God chooses silence at times.

The Israelite’s felt his holy silence for a painful period between the book of Malachi, and the gospel stories of Christ’s birth. Four hundred years passed after Malachi, before God spoke to his people again. During that time, they moved from the humiliation of Babylonian captivity to the crushing boot of the Roman empire.

This last prophet’s words burn in my heart today for several reasons. First, Malachi contains the final words of God before the gospel writers. Second, they precede Christ’s birth, so December seems timely to me now, but I didn’t think of that a year ago when I made up this schedule. I simply wrote about the minor prophets in their Old Testament order. This is where it gets interesting in a Holy Spirit way.

Last week I studied Malachi to prepare for this moment of writing on Monday morning. I took notes and wrote down key ideas. Yesterday, my pastor, during a sermon series from Haggai, asked us to turn to Malachi for companion passages. He then preached some of the exact concepts I wrote down a few days earlier. This is a pattern with God and me. Whenever he highlights the same passage from multiple sources, I know that he is trying to communicate important stuff.

So, what are these critical last words before God’s long silence? Today, I’m extracting key ideas from chapter one that will lay groundwork for improving our spiritual hearing and ability to discern God’s methods and plans.

  • Israel questioned God’s love for them. (verses 1-5) God reminds them that he chose Jacob, their forefather, over his brother Esau, a gigantic message of love. Israel became recipients of God’s promises while Esau’s descendants struggled to find God, if they chose. He also spoke his love to them through his prophets.

In the same way, I remind myself that God chose me to be his child. He gifted me with a supernatural book through which he communicates directly to me. Additionally, He sent me the Holy Spirit and other anointed believers to teach and train my heart and mind. Thinking that God was giving me the silent treatment, says I don’t understand his love.

 

I believe God started this last book, reminding Israel of his passionate love for them, because he knew there would be a long silence. When I struggle to hear from God, I go to verses like I John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us,” and others in that vein. God is a perfect father who is not playing games with me.  I’ve learned to trust that love when I can’t hear his voice plainly. He will let me know what I need to know when I need to know it because he loves me and wants me to join him in his work.

 

  • Israel became complacent and careless with their worship and this provoked God’s anger. (verses 6-14)

Huge chunks of the book of Leviticus are devoted to the specifics of Israel’s worship of God. The concept of first fruits worship is established in chapter 23. The big idea is that God is given the very best of their livestock and crops. By the time of Malachi, Israel slipped far from that standard.  “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he accept you?” (Malachi 1:7-8)

 

There are times when God’s constant mercies become a sharp contrast to my spiritual laziness. I don’t always offer him my first and best. Some days it’s getting sidetracking housework or social media before I hunker down in my quiet time. Other times I spend too much time watching TV or reading mysteries rather than balancing that by reading and pondering the scriptures or godly nonfiction.

 

I’ve met other believers that struggle with faithful church attendance or tithing or serving in ministry. Any time I offer God my leftovers, I presume upon his grace. He deserves my best efforts, whatever that looks like for you. This week, offering him your first fruits might be by hosting Thanksgiving dinner, serving turkey at a homeless shelter or doing some Christmas shopping for an aging parent. First fruits can take many forms all through our days.

 

As we enter the holiday season, let’s establish two firm footholds. First, his love for us is boundless and unconditional. He will creatively speak to us in many ways because we are his children whom he dearly loves. Second, he deserves our best. I’m challenging myself to use my finest resources for his agenda these next five weeks when I’m typically tempted to prioritize other fun stuff. Let’s be certain our time and energies demonstrate that we worship the Ancient of Days, not the holidays.

 

 

How to Find Strength for Hard Situations by Partnering With the Holy Spirit

Do you ever feel helpless and weak in certain situations? Whether you’re up against a life-threatening disease, served divorce papers, contending with an unreasonable boss or agonizing over rebellious children, nobody likes to feel powerless. What if I told you those are precisely the places where God loves to demonstrate his strength?

Teaching in an inner-city school, I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit strengthen me to do and say right things boldly, even though my jelly knees and icy hands told a different story. One time, the Spirit empowered me to stand fast when a student hurled a chair towards me, screaming obscenities and challenging my authority. In the silence that followed the crash of the chair on the linoleum, something supernatural happened. I remained unmoved, looked at the student sadly, handed her a detention slip then asked her to remove herself to the hall. She did. Quietly, in fact.

I experienced many incidents like this with troubled students from families living on the edges of society. Each encounter tested my reliance on God and ultimately demonstrated his strength in my weakness. One of the greatest displays of the Holy Spirit’s partnering power I ever witnessed at this school though, occurred with my husband, after a choir concert.

Some of the students’ family members belonged to local gangs. Before the concert, I noticed some disturbing body language exchanged between two groups of folks seated across the aisle from one another. I suspected that rival gang members unwittingly sat too close to one another or wore the wrong colors, or who knows.

I prayed for Christ’s peace to fill the auditorium and allow the choir to present the music we worked so hard to prepare. After the concert, I became caught up talking with various parents, completely forgetting about my uneasy feelings of earlier until a student’s voice rang out, “Mrs. Stults, Mrs. Stults you better come see what your man is up to!” Simultaneously, I noticed much of the remaining crowd running over to the auditorium windows which overlooked a parking lot.

Two groups of men clustered in opposite corners of the lot, clearly hostile and gearing up for a brawl. Worse yet, my husband, stood alone in the middle of the two groups of Goliath-sized, angry men. Three stories up, I watched, amazed, as it appeared that average-sized Ken spoke to both groups. Within a few minutes, the men dispersed and left the lot.

I asked Ken why he went out there and what in the world he said. “I saw what was about to happen and felt like I was supposed to intervene and share a few facts, he said. “I pointed out the working security cameras in the parking lot and the group of witnesses up in the windows. I guess they decided it wasn’t worth it,” he finished.

That, friends, is what it looks like when our weakness partners with the Holy Spirit’s power. Ken was smaller than most of the men. They didn’t know him, nor did he possess any authority as a teacher or administrator. There was no good reason they allowed him to walk into the middle of their conflict, but they did, because the Holy Spirit partnered with Ken and brought peace into strife.

In Zechariah 4:6, Zerubbabel, the governor of Judea, feels weak in his God-ordered task to rebuild the temple. His small group of laborers are overwhelmed by the massive piles of rubble and chaos created when invaders destroyed the building. When Zechariah prophesied, these guys had been working for twenty years and yet, tons and tons of broken stone and metal sat on the temple site. When God saw Zerubbabel’s discouragement, he spoke these beautiful words through the prophet,

“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain” Zechariah 4:6-7.

In other words, God said to Zerubbabel, “This temple isn’t going to rise because of the strength of your workforce. The power will come from my Holy Spirit who is so strong, these mountains of wreckage will become like flat plains.” As Dr. Thomas Constable says in his expository notes on Zechariah, “If success is to be gained in the achievements of the people of God it will not be secured by what man can do but by the Spirit’s work.”

The prophet Hosea echoes this same thought.

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God.  I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen” Hosea 1:7.

Paul the Apostle says it this way.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak then I am strong,” 2 Corinthians 12:10. 

Dear brother and sister, whatever the situation is that’s confronting you, making you feel defeated and kicked down, it will not be overcome by your willpower or determination. What does partnering with the Holy Spirit to become an overcomer look like?

  • Admit that we are powerless to change people or situations with human strength alone and stop making ourselves crazy trying to do that.
  • Yield to the Holy Spirit and ask him for understanding and insight as to what our role is. Just, as he did with Ken, he will tell the listening heart what to do or say. Sometimes he wants us to do or say nothing and leave things be for a bit so he can work on moving some mountains and softening some hearts.
  • Obey whatever he tells you to do, even if it seems goofy.
  • Trust God for results remembering his timeline is usually different from ours.
  • Study and memorize Scripture. When I faced tough financial strain, I memorized verses about God’s provision and goodness and spoke them out loud every time I felt powerless about money. God’s Word changes environments and brings hope into hopeless situations.

Let feelings of weakness be a trigger reminder going forward, like the Apostle Paul. Recognize those times as opportunities for God to manifest his glory and power through you and around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What To Do When You’re Struggling To Feel Relevant and Purposeful

Are you struggling to feel relevant and purposeful in some area of your life? This can be any place where we think we don’t matter as much as we’d like to or used to. Christ followers know that we are of great value to God but when humans don’t echo that, well, it stings and can be discouraging.

Many years ago, when God called my husband Ken and I out of ministry into the marketplace for a while, I transitioned from being a worship arts director, leading three different services a week, to one of 35 sopranos in our new church’s large choir. The first two rows seated the brightest and best of the sopranos. I started in the third row.

The abrupt change from lead dog to follower, created weird sensations inside me. I felt unnecessary. Eventually, God restored me to leadership ministry but first taught me some deeper lessons about humility. That time in God’s waiting room, stirred up junk I didn’t know was inside me and provided the opportunity for God to cleanse me and change me.

There are so many circumstances that can make people feel like a rotary dial phone surrounded by smart phones.

  • All your kids fly the coop, and you’re left with a house of deafening silence and recipes for six.
  • Someone else got the promotion you deserved at work while you’re still slogging it out in your cubicle.
  • Your last preschooler climbed onto the kindergarten bus. You stare at jelly hand prints on the walls with tears in your eyes.
  • Your spouse died and your couple friends don’t know quite what

to do with you.

  • Retirement isn’t quite as meaningful as you imagined. Your adult children don’t have as much time for you as you expected, and you feel purposeless and unproductive.
  • You’ve been trying to have a baby for years and the pain of that is hard enough, but most of your friends are knee deep in diapers and Legos and conversations have become awkward.

Whatever set of circumstances is conspiring to make you feel less-than, in any way, take heart. The great news is that you are strategically located in a place where God often looks for candidates for his next great story. Think with me for just a moment, about the people God likes to partner with to accomplish miraculous stuff.

  • The Israelite’s were slaves, treated like animals, when God pulled them out of Egypt and chose them to be a light for the nations of the world. The rest of ancient civilization knew little about them, except for their brick making skills.
  • Gideon was one of the smallest men of his tribe and by his own words, lacked courage.
  • Noah was a faithful man of God but clearly, the people around him didn’t think he was anything special since no one else believed God through his testimony and joined his family on the ark
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a nobody teenager from nowheresville.
  • David’s brothers and father deliberately minimized him when the prophet Samuel came looking for God’s next anointed King. They still didn’t recognize God’s favor on him when he showed up on the battlefield volunteering to fight Goliath.

 

If you feel like the unused coffee cup at the back of the cupboard, I’m telling you, that’s where God will hunt for a useful mug. As I’ve noticed the way God directs the changing seasons of my life, I’ve learned to relax in the truth that my life is a treasure, masking as a jar, or mug of clay. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Ceramic ware becomes stained, cracked and worn out and eventually useless when it’s heavily used non-stop. So too would we, if God didn’t provide resting places between our seasons of life. Thus, sometimes we feel back shelved and unconnected.

When God moves us into a back row or simply a different row, it’s often because he wants to do some interior work in us. He needs to remove the coffee stains that the acid of trials left inside of us. We may need cracks repaired from our hearts, minds or bodies being broken. Sometimes he breaks us up entirely and does a completely different work, setting us into new relationships, careers or opportunities, just like those recycled mosaics that are made of broken ceramic dishware. My husband Ken attended seminary to become a pastor. Never did he dream that God would make him a successful business owner for several years.

In Zechariah 4:10, I found this precious verse that encourages me when I’m feeling like the unused mug. “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”  Zerubbabel was the governor of Judea, overseeing the rebuilding of the temple during the time of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The construction lagged and workers sagged for twenty, discouraging years of “small things,” progress-wise.  I love what the Enduring Word commentary says about this verse.

“In many of God’s choice workers He uses a powerful season of small things. Those days are not a mistake nor are they punishment; they are days of priceless shaping and preparation. They are not days to despise. When Satan tempts us to despise the day of small things, he shines as an outstanding liar because Satan does not despise the day of small things. Satan fears the day of small things in our life because he sees what great things God does in them and brings out of them.”

 

If you are currently in a back-row spot in some area of your life that does not mean you are no longer relevant, and your life is not purposeful. Often, process matters much more to God than product. I encourage you to relax and submit to God’s methods. If you remain humble and obedient, he will use this time to prepare you for the next part of your unique destiny. Don’t despise your “day of small things.”

 

#purposefullife #relevantlife #Godswill #Godspurpose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decluttering Our Hearts and Spaces

Yesterday, I said good-bye to four large boxes of Santa Claus figurines, which I’d collected over 30 years. God nudged me about them last Christmas as I struggled again with where and how to display all of them. I used to find joy in placing them around our home. The past three years I noticed a distinct lack of joy and a mechanical approach to putting them out.

All summer I struggled with those Santa’s. Their twinkling little eyes stared back at me every time I turned the light on in the storeroom and I wavered a bit, but I knew my season with them was over. Please don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with hunting for and collecting special items then displaying them. I simply had too much of a good thing.

I appreciate all that Marie Kondo and others did to awaken people about decluttering their lives, in this last decade or so, but God has been dealing with me about this for many years. This isn’t the first collection I’ve given away.

In different ways, God keeps teaching me the same lesson about living uncluttered, peacefully. I am to manage well the homes, yards, cars and possessions he allows me to own but they should never hinder me from achieving God’s purposes for me because they use up too much of my resources. My current season of life doesn’t allow for dozens of hours for Christmas decorating without robbing time from other things with higher eternal priority.

Every day, in small ways, we must make the choices for the best over the good. Honestly, I felt joy about all my Santa’s one last time, when I dropped them off at the mission thrift store. The delighted looks on the faces of the volunteers, used to sorting through a lot of donated junk, made me grin.

Too much of anything of this world, no matter how good or valuable, can sidetrack us away from higher callings and obeying God. Modern civilization didn’t invent this problem. Fallen human nature did. Even in ancient times, God’s people messed up their priorities and valued temporal things more than the eternal. This is what happened to the people of Judah, to whom the prophet Haggai prophesied.

Haggai holds the unique distinction, among all the minor prophets, of being the only one Israelites listened to enough to change their ways. The prophet wrote the book shortly after the people of Judah returned home from their humbling, sixty some years in Babylonian captivity. God commanded them, before they even arrived home, to rebuild his temple. The people obeyed for awhile but then became caught up in their own pursuits and abandoned the project, according to Ezra 4:24. Sixteen years passed, and Haggai delivered this message from God.

 “Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” Haggai 1:3-6

Can you make out the picture of these people? In a short time, they restored themselves to beautiful homes and surroundings but apparently did not enjoy their lives. Why? I believe the Lord became angry with their stewardship and disrespect for his priorities and so removed his blessing from their crops and incomes. The people of Judah loved their homes and stuff too much and ignored God’s direction to rebuild his temple first.

God’s agenda hasn’t changed. The temple in Judah was to function in the center of a society that God created to be a light to the rest of the ancient world. In the same way, he will always prioritize our primary 21st century mission, to bring souls to the saving knowledge of Jesus and teach them to be disciples, over anything else. We are designed to be world changers. Can we use beautiful church facilities, lovely homes, cottages and even Christmas decorations to accomplish that mission? Yes! Of course! We are to be ambassadors of God, in every way, in this darkened world, and that includes representing his love of beauty in all things.

Beauty is diminished though, in the presence of clutter, whether it’s in the physical realm or in our hearts and minds. Whether it’s too many Santa’s or too many activities, I’ve learned that de-cluttering my life is an ongoing process for me. I used to live amidst too much stuff, with a too-full schedule, trying to maintain too many hobbies and relationships. My ability to hear from God, obey him and to live peacefully, yet powerfully, became elusive. Here’s some suggestions I followed that helped me to change:

My “Why”

Read the following scripture then ask God where he wants you to start. Without a biblical, Christ-centered “Why,” decluttering anything is just a nasty chore, not a life change.  1 Corinthians 14: 33 and 40, Ecclesiastes 3:6, Matthew 6:19, Mark 4:19, Matthew 19:22, Matthew 6:21, 1 John 2:15, Matthew 6:33, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Philippians 1:21, Colossians 1:10

My “Where”

  • Start with whatever God impresses on your heart. Whether it’s home, job, relationships or schedule, begin with only one area. Don’t try to change everything at once. You’ll simply create more stress.
  • . If you have a spouse and/or child, you need to share your thoughts before you start canceling dinner dates and giving away Santa’s. Share the above scriptures with them and talk about your desire to live a more balanced, available-to-God existence.

My “How”

There are so many wonderful books and podcasts available to help you declutter everything from your mind to your kitchen cabinets. Look on my Facebook page,” The Pastor’s Feisty Wife,” for some helpful book recommendations. There is no need for you to feel overwhelmed by the how, if you take things step by step, day by day. It takes time for us to set unhealthy life patterns and time to undo them. This post is merely a kick start to get you moving in a right direction.

Whoever is following behind you, whether it’s a church, a family, a group of friends or co-workers, you are intentionally or unintentionally teaching by example. What is your life communicating about priorities, peaceful living and God’s kingdom values? If people imitate your everyday life, what will that look like?  I know I need more of Jesus radiating in my choices, speech and behavior, and a lot less of me. His supremely focused, obedient and sacrificial life inspires me to allow him to change me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Connection Between Holiness and Happiness

“What makes a people holy, will make them happy.” When I encountered this statement in Mathew Henry’s commentary on Zephaniah 3: 14-20, my first response was, “Huh.” I’d never heard that equation before, that a state of holiness and a state of happiness are shared ground. Past seasons of unhappiness paraded through my mind like:

  • The years when I longed for a teaching job but could not find one
  • Some long-term conflict situations in churches where my husband and I served
  • Sitting home with pneumonia several winters in a row

Henry’s statement caused me to view those times with fresh eyes. I wondered how I stepped away from holy ground and its privileges, which Henry says include happiness. Digging deeper into the chapter, I found clues in verses 1-6 where the prophet compares the sinful behavior of God’s people in Jerusalem and the righteous actions of God. Look at the contrast between verse 2 and verse 6.

(Speaking of Jerusalem) “She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God” Zeph. 3:2 NIV

“The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice and every new day he does not fail…” Zeph. 3:6 NIV

Verse two rang with conviction as I considered my behavior during those unhappy seasons. I used the failing of the Israelites as a personal checklist.

  • Obedience

Truthfully, I didn’t comply with God’s commands about several things. For example, I didn’t fix my mind on all the lovely and true things God graced into my life (Philippians 4:8-9).  Instead, I focused on troubles and disappointments. Rather than counting trials as joy and character builders (James 1:2), I fumed, fussed and moped, not all the time, but too much.

  • Accepting Correction

When the Holy Spirit or a family member pointed out an ungodly attitude about my situation, I often justified it instead of repenting.

  • Trusting God

I knew many verses, like Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 84:11, plainly told me that God’s hand is generous toward me and that he will never keep good things from his children.  I questioned the truth of those promises being specifically for me. I felt jealousy when God granted the things I desired, to others, but not me. I wanted answers but God wanted my unwavering trust.

  • Drawing Near to God

Typically, I spent more time talking to people about my troubles and sorrows then communing with God, listening carefully for his voice and insights.  Times of pain are the times when we should pull our chairs in closer to God than ever. Sometimes I did that, but not consistently.

My conclusion?  I was the architect of my own unhappiness, not my circumstances, health or other people. Me. God made tables for me in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) but I didn’t dine with him nearly enough.

Dear one, if you find yourself in a place of great unhappiness right now, use Zephaniah’s yardstick as a measure of your own attitudes and responses to life. God wants your feet planted firmly on holy ground, in His presence, where there is fullness of joy. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Am I breaking one of God’s commands by action or inaction?
  2. Am I receptive to suggestions or criticisms about my behavior and attitudes?
  3. Am I trusting God completely, regardless of the loneliness of the desert of disappointments, or the choppiness of the sea of troubles?
  4. Am I deliberately drawing nearer to him, spending more time in prayer in the Word?

What makes you holy, will make you happy. Can you see it? Ask God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in you. (Psalm 51) Jesus promised us troubles in this world but in the same breath assured us that he overcame them. I don’t think he equated overcoming with instantaneous problem resolution. Instead, I think he meant that our spirits can soar above whatever circumstances attempt to drag us off the high, narrow road down into the pits.

That’s why I love Psalm 103 and often say it out loud when I sense I’m being tempted into an unhappy state. I encourage you to use this one or another similar verse attesting to God’s goodness. Use your mighty sword of the Spirit, as soon as you find yourself slipping off the holy ground.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

 

 

Loving God Well-Dangers of a Stagnant Heart

 

Crusty is not a word I ever want anyone to use as a descriptive of me. Except for freshly baked bread, there are more negative connotations of that word than positives.

“Promises are like pie crusts- easily made, easily broken.”

The “Upper Crust- “referring to society’s elite

“…a crusty old man….”   Popular descriptive in fiction of a grumpy guy

“Oh my, that’s quite a crust there!”  My eye doctor commenting on my

nasty eye infection.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word two ways; either an irritable older person or something with a hard, outer layer or coating.  Even the Urban Dictionary uses it in a negative way which I cannot adequately describe to you as it involves language that would shock my keyboard. The point is, I’m not the only one who thinks of being crusty as a negative quality.

Turns out, God’s not a fan of that quality in humans either, according to Zephaniah 1:12. In this case, the King James version comes most close to the original Hebrew thought.

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.”

“Settled on their lees,” is an interesting phrase that made me excited when I read it’s meaning.  According to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s commentary, it refers to a hard crust that forms at the bottom of a wineskin that is long left undisturbed. Can you see it? God is saying he will punish hardened, crusty folk who think that since they’ve gotten away with sin so long, God apparently doesn’t care.

The Amplified Bible version also captured my heart, putting a slightly different color on the Hebrew words.

“It will come about at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps
And I will punish the men
Who [like old wine] are stagnant in spirit…”

While old wines today are valuable, due to bottling technology, in ancient times, old wine could be become very stagnant with a nasty crust on the bottom. That’s quite an interesting word choice God uses.

From the outside, old wineskins may not have looked completely different from newer ones but when you touched them the difference became obvious. Aged wineskins become very brittle and can burst as the wine continues to ferment in them, creating more yeast and expanding its volume. Do you understand better now what Jesus meant in Matthew 9:17?

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved”(NIV).

When I put all this knowledge together, I came away with several conclusions about God’s view of the human heart.

  • A crusty, stagnant heart displeases God.  Proverbs 4:23 warns me to guard my heart because everything I do, flows from it. Therefore, God determined to punish these hard-hearted folks in Judah. The dreadful fruit flowing out of their lives reflected their sinful hearts.
  • God will not pour fresh wine into brittle wineskins. God is always on the move in billions of ways we can and cannot see. Amazingly, he chooses to partner with flawed humans to fulfill his purposes on earth. Although he accepts our imperfectness if we remain submissive and soft, he will not force the details of new things he’s doing into complacent, sour hearts. His new work every day is like the best, most flavorful of wines. Jesus intimates that only a fool would pour beautiful new wine into a stagnant, brittle wineskin.
  • Delayed discipline does not equal no discipline. Time and time again, the settled Israelites made the mistake of thinking they could continue in sin unpunished. I wonder if they turned the stories of Miriam’s episode with leprosy and the earth opening and swallowing Korah and his rebellious followers alive, or the venomous snakes God used in the desert to teach complainers a lesson? Did they legendize these true stories and forget that God’s nature is justice?

 

They are a cautionary tale to me to faithfully pray as David did in Psalm 139:23-24.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT).

There’s lots of things I hope people remember about me when I’m gone, particularly my grandchildren. Crusty, is not one of them. I’ve resolved many times that by God’s grace and the Spirit’s work in me, I will never become one of those folks who make pastors and deacons roll their eyes and young people groan under their breath.

My goal is that they will recall a woman whose wineskin stayed soft and poured out sweet refreshment on those around her until her dying breath. For someone whose natural character leans towards spicy hummus, this will be an ongoing battle.

 

 

Trying To Love God With A Divided Heart

Growing up Baptist in the 1960’s and 70’s meant no movies, dancing, playing cards, smoking or drinking. Externally, I obeyed these rules, but internally, I chomped at the bit, certain I missed out on great times. On my own in college, I followed friends to bars and nightclubs and learned to enjoy different forms of alcohol.  I never took up smoking (it tasted horrible!) and I never once became intoxicated. I formed a new set of morals that seemed to be very high road compared to the low road on which many of my college friends lived.

Sundays, I attended a church near the college, logging extra spiritual points for getting up early and going, even when I stayed out late the night before. Although I didn’t consciously think this at the time, I believe that I thought I lived the best of both worlds. I enjoyed all the security of knowing my heart belonged to Christ while still kicking up my heels with some of the world’s pleasures.

What fruit did I produce during that season of life? I earned a bachelor’s degree. That’s it. Unlike high school, I led no one to Christ, nor did I disciple anyone.  I dare say, many college folks who intersected with me didn’t know I was a God-follower.  How would they?  I was home from church on Sundays before most of them rolled out of bed and never once invited a soul to attend with me.

The illusion that we can live with one foot in the presence of God and the other dancing with the world, is just that, an illusion. The prophet Zephaniah dealt with people in Judah, much farther down the road with this divided kind of lifestyle than myself, yet who knows how far I might have gone had the Holy Spirit not grabbed onto me like a tenacious Rottweiler?  They still worshiped in the Jewish temple while offering their children in the fires of Moloch and Baal.  I doubt that’s where they started, but it’s certainly where they ended up.

Maybe it began with a house god on the kitchen window by the herbs. Or perhaps their entrance to evil living started as a spectator at one of the many pagan festivals the godless nations around Judah hosted. Small sins grew to large ones over time until they became as perverse as their pagan neighbors.

I’m not endorsing legalism. That’s a different sin in which we adhere to rules more stridently than we passionately seek God. There is, however, a call on the life of all who profess Jesus as Savior and Lord, to love God best, before anyone or anything. Then, our obedience to him flows out of love and gratitude, not obligation. Honestly, it’s not as complicated as we make it. I spend time with God in scripture and prayer then listen. After that, I do what he says and stop doing what he dislikes. Ancient Judah forgot how to do that.

Zephaniah is the last prophet, in a series of nine, that warns God’s people of impending doom if they do not repent.

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,  those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord
and yet swear by Milcom (the king of Judah) those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him”
Zephaniah 1:3-5.

Like me, I think those folks thought they could ride the fence between God and the world, but that’s an untenable life. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Zephaniah 1 says, “If Satan have half, he will have all; if the Lord have but half, he will have none. Neglect of God shows impiety and contempt.”

Obedience to God is an all or nothing thing and will look different for you than it does for me.  This is the problem with rule-oriented living. One set of rules does not fit all. For example, playing card games with face cards doesn’t lead me into sin. For my grandfather, a reformed gambler, those cards had completely different meaning.  This is why the Pharisees had like a bajillion rules, covering all bases for all people all the time. That’s some crazy living.

On occasion, I dip my toes in sin’s pool with poor media choices, but I found that I recognize quickly now when I’m grieving God and step out. There’s a sensitivity to the Spirit of God I want to develop even more deeply where I won’t stick my toes in at all.

Zephaniah’s first chapter is not just a prophecy against wicked Judah, it is a call to assess our walks of holiness, as 21st century believers. The pagan culture around Judah perceived THE God of heaven and earth as just another god because of the behavior of his people. What are the godless in our society understanding about our God by watching you and me? What are the people following behind us in the body of Christ learning about being a God-follower  by observing me and you?

 

 

Hearing From God by Positioning Yourself Rightly

There are times when I think God is quiet towards me when, in fact, he is speaking but I’m unable to hear. Why?  I’ve discovered several reasons, but one of the biggies is how I position myself spiritually. The way that we listen to God and others is important. Deficit listening skills affect every relationship. I didn’t comprehend that for years because, well…………..I didn’t listen well. Clear communication with God and others around me is crucial for healthy relationships, so it’s a good idea to think about what kind of receiver I am, on the listening end.

In our early years of marriage, I didn’t understand that my husband is a thinking-first, internal processor while I am a feeling-first external processor. When we disagreed, I started throwing a lot of words and ideas at him, wanting him to toss the same back to me. Sometimes he did holler back, mainly to  defend himself, but eventually he’d exit the premises, so he could think. Alone. Quietly. I misinterpreted that as a lack of caring, which I usually shouted at his retreating back. We needed to learn to communicate more productively when we disagreed.

In the book of Habakkuk, chapter two, the prophet has finished quite a list of complaints to God about the unpunished evil in the world around him. God replies and Habakkuk complains more. Then, a marvelous change occurs in his attitude, and he re-positions himself completely towards God.  Instead of shaking his fist at the heavens, he takes a humbler posture.

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint “Habakkuk 2:1.

Commentator, Matthew Henry’s wisdom about this verse is powerful.

“When tossed and perplexed with doubt about the methods of Providence, we must watch against temptations to be impatient.  When we have poured out complaints and requests before God, we must observe the answers God gives by his word, his Spirit, and providences; what the Lord will say to our case.  God will not disappoint the believing expectations of those who wait to hear what he will say unto them.”

In the past, I used the same poor listening skills with God that I used with Ken, expecting him to fit through my narrow funnel of hearing.  When Habakkuk positioned himself rightly, God told him profound things and inspired him to write a few of the most beautiful verses in the Old Testament. (See the bottom of the post for my favorites.) God wants to speak weighty things to me today. I don’t want to miss any more than I already have in the past. What can we learn from this prophet to improve our God-listening skills?

  • Designate quiet times and spaces in each day.

Most of us live in a crazy, loud world compared to ancient times. Media, traffic, families, workplaces and such create a lot of noise.  Whether Habakkuk went to a literal watchtower or a figurative one, there is an implied quiet there. Ancient watchtowers were often manned by one or two people, high in the sky, away from the bustle of their communities. Whether it’s a quiet room in your home, walking trail or even your bathroom with the vent fan running, (my mom used to do this for quiet) it’s so important to carve out physical quiet in your day, specifically to talk with God and listen.

  • Be prepared to wait.

God does not move on our timetable.  That’s an important fact to wrap our 21st century minds around. He may take days, weeks, months and even years to respond to a prayer request or complaint. Think about the lapse of time between all the Old Testament prophecies about Christ and his date of birth. Being impatient with him demonstrates a lack of trust. We are implying that he is doing nothing, simply because we can’t see his movements.

 

  • Accept that the answer you receive may not be the outcome you expect.

Notice that Habakkuk says, “how he will answer my complaint,” in verse one.  In the first chapter, the prophet implies that God is not doing what Habakkuk thinks he should do concerning the evil Chaldeans, who are oppressing the Israelites, but here I see a change in his attitude. There used to be times when I looked for that one right answer from God. When it didn’t come the way I imagined, I felt disappointed. I missed entirely the other things he did instead in those situations.  He is Alpha and Omega who sees the entire picture and knows what is ultimately best. We see a limited viewpoint of any set of circumstances, colored by our own perceptions, experiences and prejudices.  God is not limited by any of that junk.

I want to position myself in a spiritual watchtower where I hear and discern the words and movements of God in my world and the world around me. I long to pray effectively, lined up with the will of God. Wherever you are in your God-listening skills, are you ready to come up to the next level?

 

Treasures from Habakkuk

(all from NLT)

“For as the waters fill the sea, the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord.” 2:14

“But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.” 2:20

“I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works.” 3:2

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren…yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” 3:17-18

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” 3:19

 

Standing Alone In A Compromised Culture

Standing up for your beliefs gets lonely when no one joins you. I worked in a skilled care facility years ago, as part of a team that did music and activity therapy with Alzheimer’s and stroke patients. One day, my team leader asked me to start “enhancing” the notes I put into patients’ charts. She wanted me to indicate that certain patients participated at higher levels than they were, to justify their stay in a rehab facility as opposed to a regular nursing home.

An awkward conversation followed. She pleaded with me, explaining that our department could experience layoffs if the patient count didn’t remain at a certain level. I knew, I couldn’t lie, regardless of what name my superior called it or the resulting consequences. Tight-lipped she listened to my explanation, and although she accepted it, after that I ate lunch and took my breaks alone. The team made it clear I’d been culled from the herd.

The prophet Micah expresses some of those lonely feelings in chapter seven. From his perspective, he’s one man standing alone for righteousness, amid people who called themselves God followers.

“How miserable I am! I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat. Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger. The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth.  They are all murderers, setting traps even for their own brothers. Both their hands are equally skilled at doing evil. Officials and judges alike demand bribes.  The people with influence get what they want, and together they scheme to twist justice” Micah 7: 1-3 (NLT).

Micah poetically describes the corruption and lack of integrity within Israel and Judah, alluding to righteousness as a fruit that can’t be found anywhere in the culture around him. Fellow believers, all in for God, share similar feelings with me sometimes. Along with me, they’ve felt spiritually alone when they make a stand against a cultural current that contradicts God’s values. Family gatherings, workplaces and friendship circles can become cold and distant when you are the one salmon swimming upstream.

In the 6th grade, my daughter Jennifer, experienced God in a fresh way. Her heart became sensitive to behaviors that didn’t please her Heavenly Father. She realized that within her circle of school friends, conversations trended towards gossip and criticism. Since most of the girls professed faith in Christ, she tried to say sweetly (truly, she is one of the kindest people I know) that maybe they all needed to stop talking about other girls’ flaws. Sadly, they did not receive the suggestion well and shunned Jennifer the rest of the year. The loneliness she felt tore my heart, while at the same time swelling it with admiration for her courage to follow Jesus more faithfully.

How did Micah hang in there and how do we stand firm when God calls us to be a spiritual trendsetter instead of a cultural lemming?  First, I need to recognize, like Micah did, that although I might be strong in one area of righteous living, I might be weak in others. If there’s even a glimmer of pride in my stance, I’ll probably tumble hard, at some point. Standing for righteousness demands that I do it cloaked in humility, otherwise, I can come across as legalistic, judgmental and arrogant. Micah acknowledged his own sin within a wicked culture, and I need to do the same.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. For though I fall, I will rise again.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies” Micah 7:7-9 (NLT).

Second, only intimacy with God will show me where the narrow roads are and which broad highways I need to exit from. The Bible gives us a wealth of guidelines and laws but only the Spirit of God can help us to rightly apply them to circumstances.  Lots of complex situations created by sin, which I might encounter, are not specifically discussed in the Bible. Handling them in a Christ-like way takes finesse and wisdom from God.

Third, the only way I can endure the rejection of standing solitary without caving, is when my strength comes from God alone, not the approval of others. I don’t like it when people are ticked off at me because I won’t go with a flow, I believe to be wrong. People who are cheering for you one day may be snarling at you the next. Remember the crowd that shouted “Hosanna,” to Jesus one week then screamed for his crucifixion the days later?  Some things never change. When your behavior pricks people to consider that they might be caught in sin, they seldom thank you, initially.

David’s Psalms comfort and stabilize me in those moments. Psalms 11 and 13 are special favorites of mine. There are many others in which David cries out to God concerning his feelings of fear, isolation and loneliness, caused by opposing wicked King Saul.

I want to live dangerously, like Micah, Joshua and Caleb, Corrie Ten Boom, A. W. Tozer and so many others who stood up for God’s agenda when the Christian culture around them did not.

God, help me to steer my ship right into the wind and waves of people’s rejection and disapproval if that’s the price for obeying you.