Saturday, November 29, 2008

Eternal vs. Temporal

To complete our study for the week, we are going to look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. This is the reason that I chose this passage for our study.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

It may seem like your spirit is being squelched by the troubles of this world, but it isn't. As we continue to watch our bodies decay, our inner self is being built up. Our true selves are not being destroyed by the powers of this life. In the midst of a life that builds up to death, our spirits are being strengthened, built up by the grace of God.

It may seem overwhelming at times. The way that suffering, pain, and persecution afflict us can make us feel run-down. We don't feel like we're being renewed, but that's because we look more at the temporal things than at the eternal reality. The troubles that we endure are minuscule when compared to eternity. I like the way that the English Standard Version puts it:

2 Corinthians 4:17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

In order to carry the glory that we will receive in eternity, we must work out our spiritual muscles. By trusting God in every situation, and allowing Him to carry us through the greatest temptations and pains of our lives, we are strengthening our souls to carry the weight of glory that we will receive upon returning to our true home and our Creator.

There is a choice here. We have to choose to fix our gaze on the eternal truth of Christ Jesus. We have to consciously decide to turn our focus from the things of this world to the things of the next. When we do that, we are allowing God to take care of the junk that clutters this life. We are strengthened by His power to continue moving through this world by the knowledge that we are just passing through.

We are blessed, sweet Christian sister, to be able to live this life with the joy of a glimpse of what lies ahead. We can focus on the blessings that await those who persevere, and because of that focus, the troubles that we face in the here-and-now will be more bearable.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

The hope of what is to come, patience in tribulation, and constant prayer go together. They are a team. If you can't muster the patience to persevere through difficulty, start with prayer and remembering the hope of where we are going, and the One who will receive us when we get there.

I will leave you with one more passage. No commentary on this one, just the Word of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Keep On Preachin'

Yesterday we looked at 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. After Paul discusses how God is with us through persecution and suffering, he goes into the importance of evangelism and service. Why do you think that is? Acts of service and faithfulness to God are very likely to result in difficulty and challenge. This is one way that God is glorified through us. One of the biggest differences between Christians and non-Christians is how we respond to suffering. You've probably heard people say things like, "I can't believe that a good God could allow such suffering." This doesn't jive in the life of a Christian though. Yes, we will suffer. Everyone does. But this is temporal. Even in the midst of horrible suffering, there is a Comforter. In our distress, we look to Him, and we never stop spreading the Gospel of His suffering and victory.

2 Corinthians 4:13-15 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, "I believed in God, so I spoke." 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God's grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

A belief in the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is going to cause us to open our mouths. Some people aren't big talkers. It isn't as easy for them to "preach," but even they can't keep the Truth of the love of God out of their mouths. When we know God, believe in what He says, and have faith that He will do what He says, it's just not possible to stop talking about it. We don't have to be rude or loud. There are some people who open their mouths a little too easily and about anything. This isn't necessary. We don't have to make every conversation an argument. It's about telling people about the greatest love story ever written, not scaring them into submission. Most people struggle with one thing or the other: unwillingness to speak or over-willingness to argue. It's a good idea to figure out which category you fall into, pray that God will give you the strength and discernment to obey Him, and take Him at His word and act. Both truth and love are necessary when speaking to the lost world of the grace available to them.

2 John 1:3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

What truth brings us hope in the midst of all of the suffering we endure, as we preach the Word of God to the dying? We have been joined with Christ. He suffered, and He died, but He was raised again! So will we be raised with Him and presented to God, without blemish. This is why we can seek His glory in the midst of our pain. It is am opportunity unlike any other to show the grace of God to a world so desperate for it.

The expansion of the Gospel of Grace to more and more people develops into something interesting... thanksgiving! Even those who aren't as active in sharing the Gospel as they ought to be are able to find thankfulness in seeing the lost around them come into a relationship with the Father of Lights. We can all be grateful when we hear the stories of entire African tribes coming to know Christ because a family left the comforts to which we still cling. This gratitude brings God glory. Gratitude is loud. When something fills our hearts with thanksgiving, we talk about it. We sing about it. We shout... maybe. We tell people.

The faithfulness of a few leads to the gratitude of many. That gratitude leads to action. Action brings new faithfulness, and the cycle continues. You never know what your faithfulness can do. Only God knows what kind of chain you can begin by choosing to believe that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. It may take years. You may not see it on this earth, but your faithfulness is always worth it, even when it leads to suffering. Jesus was faithful on the cross, and it's His example that we follow. No, it isn't easy. It's not always fun. It may not seem like it's worth it. But it is, dear Christian. Believe it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Clay Jars

The past couple of weeks have been challenging, as much for me as for anyone. This week we are going to look at some verses that focus more on the faithfulness of God through all things and the eternal value of suffering and difficulty in the Christian life.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

The first verse, verse 7, refers to "this light shining" which is mentioned in verse 6.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

Our hearts are the not the source of the light. That light comes from the Creator and is placed within us for the purpose of bringing Him glory. We may look like nothing much, and we will most certainly fail at times, but His light is still shining. His treasure continues to dwell within our own, depraved hearts so that He will receive glory and He will be honored above all else. This light is the source of power that belongs to every Christian. We are granted the Holy Spirit so that we could triumph, dear Christian. We are given the power of God, very God, so that we can triumph over sin, suffering, and persecution. Never forget that you don't have to be strong enough. He is strong enough, and He is at work within you!

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. (New Living Translation)

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (New American Standard, 1995)

I included two translations of these two verses because I think that it may help us to digest the significance of what's being said. The word for pressed or afflicted can also be used for crowding. It's a feeling of confusion and pressure. I'm not sure about you, but I've felt that way. The feeling that there is nowhere to go for safety. You are looking for a way out, but there is none. The situation seems hopeless, but in the midst of that thought, there is hope. In a similar way, we can be at a loss, perplexed, but protected from despair. The word for despair is a superlative for the word for perplexed. Perplexed means "at a loss" and despair means "at a complete loss". Even in the pressure of affliction, there is a promise. Amidst the confusion and helplessness, there is protection. He is there with us, and He is so big that He can keep the walls from caving in. He is provides a light in the darkness that keeps us from despair. Our confusion is never allowed to overcome us.

I like the NLT's translation of persecution. We are being hunted down. The world is coming after the light that is in us, and they will try to squelch it. We won't always be in the middle of persecution, but if we are never being persecuted, we aren't doing all that we are supposed to. If you never feel like someone is out to get you, you really aren't experiencing the fullness of God's grace. It is the midst of being hunted that we are being held tightly to the King of Kings. Although it may not feel that way at the time, let me assure you that you will never endure a hardship without Him. Once you are His, He will not abandon you. You will not be forsaken.

Why would someone want to hunt down a Christian? Why is the salvation of which we have partaken so offensive to some?

2 Corinthians 2:15-16 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

This passage is earlier in the same book as the passage we are studying today. When the Spirit is at work, He smells up the place. To those who are members of God's body, it is a reminder of the life in us and the life that we will receive in eternity. To those who are outside of the body, it is a smell of death. It is a constant reminder to them of the fact that they are rotting away here on Earth and that they will endure an eternal death, full of pain and separation from God, after they have left here. Nothing gets people angry like conviction. The constant reminder of the death eating at the sinner leads to the persecution that we endure. We have the strongest odor when we dwell in the Spirit, which is why we are persecuted more when we are being the Christians that we are called to be than when we are neglecting the high calling for which Christ paid.

The final part of verse 9 says that we are knocked down. We are being beat up, thrown to the ground, trampled, but even in the weakness that we feel at such times, we are receiving grace upon grace. He shields us with Himself so that He receives the blows. We may feel a few of the strikes, but it is an honor to share in the suffering of Christ, as we will see in the next verses.

2 Corinthians 4:10-12 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

We are called to be a part of the suffering of Christ as well as His resurrection. We're all more than happy to receive the life that He has bought for us, but we are missing the blessing that is the suffering of Christ. I'm not saying that it is fun to suffer for Him. I'm saying that it is a duty, like military duty, but it is one with great benefit for the one who endures it. When we are hanging on the cross of Christ, gasping for air, we are closer to Him than at any point. We are sharing the cross with the Son of God, born not of flesh, but of the will of God. What a privilege!

The final verse, verse 12, is Paul referring to the sacrifice that he has made on behalf of the Corinthians. It wasn't just for God that he had suffered. It was for the people who did not know Him. Paul suffered because He shared the Gospel of Christ. Some smelled the aroma of life; others smelled death. He was willing to suffer for the Word of God to be spread. They weren't people that he knew. Most of them were Gentiles, people that he grew up hating, being taught that they were evil, God-hating people. And they were. Gentiles were against the God of Israel, for the most part. But those were the people that Paul was called by the grace of God to reach. He gave up the earthly comforts He'd once known. He gave up his own life, in the end, in order to bring the Truth of Life to people he did not know.

Sometimes we refuse to share the Gospel with people because they aren't like us, or maybe we aren't sure that they deserve it. We forget that we didn't deserve it. We forget that we were sinners, far from God, who had hated Him, even as young children, until He came into the darkness to carry us into the Light.

Remember the light that is in you. Remember the power at work in your heart. You will suffer. You may even die for the cause of Christ, but this is the joy of our calling. Even in death, He is there. It is in death that we receive the fullness of the gift we have already received in Christ. There is nothing that can separate us from Him. What love!

Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Are You Hiding?

For our final study this week, we will be looking at the little things we hold back from God's authority. You know, the things that aren't "that bad" according to most people's standards, but they just aren't glorifying Christ the way that we are commanded to.

How often do you find yourself defending a habit or action to your conscience by telling yourself that it isn't that big of a deal? Or that your friends at church do it? Or that you can't find anywhere in the Bible that teaches against it directly (although you haven't actually looked)? These are the things that we will be talking about today.

2 Corinthians 6:16 - 7:1 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Have you thought about what it means that God dwells in you? Have you allowed yourself to take in that idea? If you know Christ Jesus personally, He is alive within you. You are His temple. Not just your body, all of you. He resides within you, and it is in your spirit that commune with Him, the living God personally, intimately. That has some big significance to how we live, doesn't it?

After this passage looks at our status as temples of God, it directly moves into the calling placed on believers to be holy. Holy means "devoted to spiritual use" (Webster's Pocket Dictionary). In some ways, the holiness of the Christian is similar to the fine china. Most people have a special cabinet for it. They don't eat sloppy joes off of it. We are careful with it because it is so valuable to us. When Christians allow ourselves to participate in activities that we excuse as "not that bad," we are using the fine china to feed the squirrels. It doesn't make sense, does it?

The final verse (7:1) says that we are to cleanse ourselves from every defilement. Webster's Pocket Dictionary defines defile as, "to corrupt the purity of". If a gold ring has silver mixed into it, it's defiled. Is silver worthless? No. Silver has a value, but it's not nearly as high as gold's. We can allow things into our lives that are okay, maybe even good in some ways, but they detract from our mission as ambassadors of Christ.

What's the motivation? Fear. We are to fear God because He is completely holy. Not because He's mean. Not because He'll strike us dead the minute we fail. We should fear Him because He has done so much for us that to disappoint Him would be devastating. We should fear Him because we know that we will see Him face to face and give account of our actions, big and small.

Ephesians 5:15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Do you use the actions of the people around you to justify your own questionable behavior? This verse says to make sure that you don't walk like the unwise people around you, but wisely. We said on Tuesday that true wisdom comes from the Father, so His Word is the best measurement of what is wise. We are commanded to live according to the Bible.

This verse takes for granted that we will be around people who aren't walking like we are supposed to. There are unwise people all over the place, and they tend to mock those of us who are trying to live the way God teaches us to.

Why are we being so careful? Why can't we just try to be a good person and see how that works out? Because time is creeping up on you, sister, and God is expecting you to make every moment count. You will stand before Him and explain why you decided that the romance novel was such a great use of your time when you hadn't read your Bible yet that day. You will be accountable for the time you chose to go out to lunch with friends, but didn't invite the lost woman you just met because she smells a little funny. It's His opinion (though I'm pretty sure that when God has an opinion it's really a fact) that counts when you choose to write a check instead of going overseas when you feel that maybe God wants you to be His feet in another country.

It's a terrifying thought. He has given you all the time, wisdom, talents, and money that you need to bring Him glory. Every resource is yours. His Spirit is working inside of you, enabling you to do more than you ever imagined.

Let's look at a few examples of common decisions that Christians make that aren't holy or wise:
  • Gossip (Psalm 19:14; Psalm 141:3). This one can be awfully sneaky. It can be disguised in the form of a prayer request. Maybe you tell yourself that you are just being concerned, or you might even sneak a sentence into your prayer time to rid yourself of any guilt. The question is "why?" Why did you want to share that story so badly? Why were you anxious to hear about what's happening at the church down the road? Do you think that God was glorified through the conversation that surrounded the "prayer requests" or just, plain gossip that was being shared?
  • Overeating (Philippians 4:11-12). Do you just keep eating, even after your full? Is that the best use of your body, or the food? This is another one that can come in disguise (fellowship). Just because a table is crowded with Christian doesn't mean that you can eat twice as much as you actually need.
  • Television shows/ romance novels/ movies (Psalm 19:14; Psalm 119:27). I just can't say it enough: what you put in your head matters! Your mind is the dwelling place of God; take it seriously. Even if it wasn't offensive to His perfect nature, questionable television, books, movies, and music take up time. That time doesn't belong to you either. Soap operas and Oprah count as junk t.v.
  • Spending excessive time getting ready. This isn't usually an issue in my life, but it was before kids. Some women spend a lot of time fixing their hair, putting on makeup, choosing their clothing, and making sure that their handbag coordinates just so. You may not do all of these things, but you probably know if you're spending more time than necessary getting ready. Why are you spending so much time? Is it pride? Vanity? Fear of being less valuable if you aren't the best looking girl in the room? It isn't your hour and a half (or two, or three) to spend in useless things. I find it interesting to hear women say that they just have no time for a real quiet time when they spend so much time getting dolled up. Do you care more about how you look to God or how you look in the mirror?
If you aren't sure if there's something you're holding back from God, ask Him. It may be something totally different than what is on the list. Here's a hint: if something comes to mind, but you automatically think, "oh, that's not so bad", you've probably found something. Once God reveals something for you to work on, ask Him to help you get rid of it. You'll have to make some effort, but He will give you the strength to do it. You can't try half-heartedly and then blame God that it just didn't work out. Keep working. It may take a while, but God is at work in you! It's a beautiful thing, this grace!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bedroom

As promised, today we are going to talk about sex. Why would we do a Bible study on sex? A few reasons:
  • We live in a sex-crazed society that doesn't know anything about how sex is supposed to be.
  • God designed it.
  • It's in the Bible, therefore it should be studied.
Let's start with the most basic element of sex God's way. He has one plan for it. Sex is an element of marriage. It's not an element of dating. It's not a good way to get to know someone. It's for marriage.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 For this is the will of God, your sanctification that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

The word for sexual immorality here is literally fornication, but that word isn't used much any more. Fornication, according to Webster's Pocket Dictionary, is "sexual intercourse between unmarried persons." If you think this is just a goof, check out the verses below (it should be noted that the Bible contains no "goofs", but I think it's always best to provide more than one verse.) :

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

1 Corinthians 10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

Romans 13:13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

Maybe you believe that this expectation is unrealistic in today's society. Maybe you think that as long as you love one another, premarital (or extra-marital) sex is okay. God doesn't say that. Look at a few of the things that He does say:

1 John 2:16-17 For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Philippians 2:15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

When God says to do something, He isn't trying to make your life easier, or even more enjoyable. He is working to make you holy, Christian. He knew that the command to abstain from sexual immorality would make you weird. How can you remain pure in this sexually overwhelmed and confused world? Let's let Him answer through the words of Paul:

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

You can remain pure. He can stay away from sin. You can survive, and even thrive, living as a freak in a sinful world. Not because of who you are, but because of the power that is at work within you. When you know Christ and receive His Spirit, He will make it possible, though not easy, to obey Him.

Let's move on into other aspects of sex. You may not want to read any further if you are single. Use your best discernment.

Song of Solomon is a collection of love poetry. In the Bible? Um, yeah. Remember, God designed sex. He is the Creator of marriage and of romance. When I say romance, I don't mean the overly sensual lust depicted in media. True romance finds its roots in a shared love of Christ. Let's look at some exerts of Song of Solomon.

Song of Solomon 4:9-15 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! 11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. 12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. 13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices - 15 a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.

These two are newlyweds, enjoying each other. Notice that he refers to her as his sister. There's more than just romantic love here. There's camaraderie. They share a world view.

He is enjoying this bride. Her kisses are sweet; her scent captivates him; the experience of being loved by her is intoxicating. Notice what he says in verse 12. She has kept her love locked away, saving it for him. What affect does this have now that they are married? The fact that she has remained pure deepens the attraction that he has for her.

Song of Solomon 5:1 "I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh along with my balsam. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.

Eat, friends; Drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers."

They're really enjoying each other now. He's taking it all in. They aren't holding back any longer. Now they are enjoying every bit of what they saved. The next line is interesting. The friends and relatives of the couple are cheering them on. Strange, isn't it? We should rejoice in the greatness of married sex. I'm not saying that we should sell tickets or anything. Sex should remain private. There is no reason, though to make sex seem evil or dirty, though.

When we're raising our children, we need to be giving them a healthy view of the beauty of sex. Some parents try to make it seem wrong in hopes that this will prevent their children from sinning in this area. It doesn't work. Teenagers tend to gravitate toward things that their parents deem "dirty." It has the opposite affect. It's much more successful to explain that sex is a wonderful, enjoyable thing when kept in marriage. Help them understand that it's worth waiting for. Teach them that if they want to have a happy, and active, sex life, waiting is the best plan. The friends that I have that waited until they were married to have sex are much more active now than those that didn't.

Premarital sex is not the unpardonable sin. God can forgive you. If you are in a relationship with Him, He already has. His grace and mercy are so much bigger than even your greatest mistakes. Allow Him to make the changes to your heart that can change everything!

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This is not a job that He does half-way. Take joy, sweet Christian! He will bring you to completion, to holiness!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Time for Fun!

Yesterday we looked at the desires and motivations of our hearts and how they relate to the Kingdom of God. Today we are going to look at the things that we do for fun and the friendships we develop.

If you are the parent of a teenager, have ever been the parent of a teenager, have ever worked with teenagers, or even remember being a teenager yourself, you know the power of friendships. Let's look at a verse about the people we hang around.

Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

How wise are your friends? When you need advice, how often is the Bible a part of their answer? Do they quote Oprah, or Jesus? By wise, we aren't just talking about smart. There are a lot of smart people on their way to Hell. Let's define wisdom according to the Bible.

Proverbs 3:7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 15:31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.

Job 12:13 "With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.

Proverbs 2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

1 Corinthians 3:19-20 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," 20 and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."

James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Let's develop a list of what to look for in our closest friends from the verses above:
  • Humble
  • Willing to receive criticism
  • Trusts in God, the Bible specifically, for wisdom
  • Doesn't believe everything some smart-sounding person on television or radio says. Doesn't trust a magazine or a person over the wisdom of God.
  • Is what they are saying pure, peaceful, gentle, merciful, impartial, and sincere? Are they willing to discuss and debate about what they are saying?
Obviously, no friend can meet all of the above requirements, and not many can meet most of them. Our best friends, the ones that we go to for advice and share our secrets with, need to be able to meet higher standards than we would place on anyone else.

It's not that we can't have anyone in our lives that don't know Jesus. We need those relationships in order to further the Gospel. Just make sure that's what you're doing. I've met a lot of teenage girls and young women who try their hand at missionary dating. Big mistake! Big. Mistake. The people who are in your world help you determine what is normal. You may have some positive affects on them, but when you spend a lot of time with a lost person, or someone who says that they're saved, but doesn't act like it, they will have a negative affect on you! Develop relationships with people who are lost, but keep a healthy distance.

Make sure that you're being the kind of friend that you want to have. I'm not just talking about kindness. I'm saying that you need to apply the above list to yourself and see how you do. Note: if you think you got a perfect score, check the first question again ;) !

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

What you do for fun matters too! What movies do you watch? What games do you play? What radio stations do you listen to? Where do you go out to eat? What are you talking about when you bust into giggles?

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

It's okay to giggle about things with a good, godly girlfriend that you may not say with just anyone around. I am very grateful for sex (we'll discuss the general subject of sex tomorrow), so I'll talk about it with my friends, and probably get a few giggles out of it. The question is: "How am I talking about it?" Am I talking about sex the way it's portrayed on Grey's Anatomy, or am I talking about a very good, and fun, part of marriage?

Do you require the help of a certain substance to have a good time? The Bible never condemns drinking occasionally, but getting drunk for fun is unacceptable.

1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler - not even to eat with such a one.

Titus 1:7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Godliness and drunkenness just don't go together. 1 Corinthians tells us to not even hang around people who are known to get drunk. Titus tells us that getting drunk is absolutely unfitting for anyone who holds authority in church. Ephesians brings up an excellent final point as well.

It's important to not get drunk. All good Southern Baptists know that (though many tend to go overboard and act as if taking cough medicine is the quickest route to Hell). It's more important to be filled with the Spirit, though. If you want to obey this command, just staying away from all things alcohol ain't gonna cut it. You have to make a point of allowing the Spirit of God to dwell within you.

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Do you want the good life? Jesus came and died so you could have it. You have to let Him define what that means. The abundant life isn't always pleasant, or even enjoyable. It doesn't focus on self. Check out this verse on the abundant life:

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

God promises us difficulty, but He promises us the greatest of comforts as well. Everyone will suffer. What makes the Christian, abundant, life different is that we have the comfort of an all-powerful God to see us through it.

Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

He will do so much more than we can even imagine once we are willing to seek His glory above all. His power is infinite. We can't even imagine the work He is performing within us. The abundant life comes when we let Him be God, and that means accepting difficulties as par for the course. It also means that we can always take joy in knowing the Creator. Knowing Him, now that's fun!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If It's Good Enough For the Youth...

The youth at our church are having a discipleship weekend this week. I'll be leading the girls' Bible studies, so I'm spending a lot of time studying up for it. Instead of doing a separate study for this blog, I decided to develop a sister study from the youth material. I hope you won't mind. The interesting thing is that the youth study is adapted from an adult study. There's a lot of adaptation around these here parts.

We're going to start off by trying to understand what the Kingdom of God is, and how it affects our desires and priorities.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jesus talks about this kingdom a lot in the Gospels. He uses parables to describe some of its characteristics. We use the term a lot, but how often do we really think about what it means? I've had to put quite a bit of thought into the concept, and it's complicated. Let's look at a few verses that deal with the subject to get a better understanding of what it is.

Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Mark 9:1 And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."

Mark 9:47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,

Mark 10:14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

Mark 10:23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

From these verses, we can gather that there is a duality to the kingdom of God. By duality, I mean that it has two sides, but both are the same thing. (I said it was complicated :) One side is eternal, and hasn't come yet. The other side is here, right now, and available to us. Once Jesus died on the cross, the kingdom of God was open. The first two verses listed deal with the current kingdom of God.

What does that mean, exactly? In the here-and-now, the kingdom of God is the glorification of God on this earth. To seek His kingdom is to seek to make Him known, to love Him as a King. We want to place all that we are and all that we have under His authority because He is our King, and our lives are His kingdom. Later, every human ever born will see Jesus for who He is. They will give Him the glory due Him, and His kingdom will reign above all others. The kingdom of Heaven will overtake the earth. All will be set right, with Him in the center.

What does that have to do with our desires and motivations? Let's look again at our theme verse of the day, this time with the full context. It's long, but so very worth it.

Matthew 6:19-33 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

There is a contrast here. We can either store our treasure here on earth, or we can store it in Heaven. Treasure doesn't just refer to material possessions or financial gain. It refers to any earthly value, such as success, popularity, comfort, etc. When we are concerned with the category of earthly values, we end up worrying. God isn't interested in making earthly successes; He's building a kingdom here! It's not that He doesn't care about our needs. Jesus says plainly that He is aware of our needs, and that He is able to fill them.

He may ask us to go without at times, but it is still within His control. This is a part of the reason that Jesus says that it is harder for the wealthy to enter His kingdom. The more we have to lose, the more difficult it is to give it up. You really do have to choose a side. It's not that you can't have both. There are wealthy Christians, for which the building funds of American churches are quite appreciative. The issue is that you can't love both. You can't seek both. You have to choose.

God's kingdom is infinitely larger than such earthly concerns. When we store our treasure in His kingdom, we don't have to worry about it being destroyed. By aligning our priorities with His, we are freed from anxiety and are granted a peace in knowing that even if we starve, go without clothing, or even something as necessary as cable television, we haven't even begun!

What are seeking? To seek His kingdom and His righteousness is to let go of the opinions of the people around us. It is a choice to believe what God says. It is a choice to trust Him at His word, and take a step. Most people have been very supportive of Edwin and I as we look to go overseas to do missions. Still, there are some who look at me as if I were crazy. They seem to think that removing my children from the oh-so-safe United States is tantamount to child abuse. Let me assure you, I will do my best to protect these precious charges. They have never slipped from the forefront of my mind in all of our planning. Even so, I want to teach them to store their treasure in Heaven. I want them to value things that are actually valuable, like God's provision, people coming to know God personally, the Word of God itself. If something were to happen to them, I hope and pray that I will recognize the grace of God in taking them Home early. I hope that I will be able to see the kingdom of God coming one step closer through the glory He will receive from the life, and death, of my little ones.

An additional note: Jesus mentions in these verses how valuable you are to Him. The King of the Universe deems you precious! That should be a good motivation to let loose of all of the things that fight for the throne of your heart, and allow Jesus to take His rightful place!

What are you seeking? What are you loving? What does your soul long for? Meditate on Matthew 6:19-33 today and ask God to help you answer these questions. It may be very helpful to you as you take Him at His word. I'll be doing the same.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Final Look at an Annoyingly Cool Woman

We've been discussing the Proverbs 31 woman this week. Anyone else been challenged by this portrait of the ideal woman? But remember, that's what this passage is, a look at the ideal woman. It makes for a good goal, though. Let's continue looking at the mark, in hopes that we will come closer to reaching it.

Proverbs 31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.

We've talked about this previously. This is a woman who takes responsibility for her family. We live in a world that loves to blame. We are sue-crazy because we genuinely believe that everyone else should be looking out for us, though we have no plan of looking out for them. Notice, that math doesn't work. At the end of the day, the Proverbs 31 woman is willing to shoulder the responsibility of her family. This leads us right into the next thought. Who has time to be idle when there's so much riding on your work? She doesn't just let things come to her. She goes out and makes good things happen.

Our families are at stake, ladies. Don't get me wrong, husbands are responsible to God for their families. Adam was reproved for allowing Eve to be taken in... by a snake! But when we join together to take responsibility, amazing things can happen.

If your husband doesn't know Jesus, you really can't expect him to act like he does. You have a mighty job on your shoulders. You are ultimately responsible for the spiritual care of your children, as are single moms. I know, that's a big job. There's only one way to get that done. We'll look at that in just a moment.

Proverbs 31:28-29 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 29 "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all."

What happens when a woman works her tail off for her family? They notice! It may not seem like your toddlers, children, or teenagers are paying much attention, but they are. Their eyes are on you, soaking in what it means to be a parents, and an adult. Your husband is paying more attention than you realize. Now, he may not notice the lack of dust on the knick-knacks, but c'mon! Let's be realistic! He will notice the lower credit card bills that come from a wife who takes responsibility for her purchases. He will notice the pleasant attitude that comes from seeing the mundane work of the household as a divine calling. And he will most definitely notice his wife looking hot at the dinner table (tastefully hot, if kids are around!).

What do they have to say? Well, it's no surprise that her family realizes that this woman is beyond normal. Many do well, and that is great, but this woman is super-great. We can compare ourselves to other wives, and sometimes let certain things go because, "no one else does all that!". It's true. We can get away with doing a good job, and impressing a few people along the way. We can be satisfied with making it to the Olympics. How many people can say that, anyhow? The other option is to go for the gold. We can leave normal in our dust as we sprint for spectacular. The road is littered with burned cookies and bad hair days, but we keep running. We want to excel them all, no matter how difficult that may be.

Proverbs 31:30-31 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.

Finally, we are going to look at the source of Superwife's power. We spend a lot of time trying to impress people, don't we? We're afraid of saying the wrong thing (some more than others). We cringe at the idea of walking out of the house with our hair a mess and our faces unpainted. How do we feel about letting ourselves go in the spiritual realm?

The way to accomplish all this woman does lies in the phrase "a woman who fears the LORD." This fear isn't the kind out of a horror film. This fear is extreme reverence. You would be afraid to walk into the presence of the Queen of England, right? That whole deal about saying the wrong thing or looking the wrong way reaches a whole new level when royalty is involved, huh? How do you feel about walking into the presence of the King of Kings with bitterness in your heart? Or unconfessed sin in your life? Or just, plain, wrong thinking? Why is it that just doesn't bother us?

That lack of fear is a big reason, if not the main reason, that we fail to meet the standards set in this passage. We try to work on the outer stuff like a checklist. Where should we start? Start with how you think about God. Know who it is you should fear. When you see God in His glory, it won't be difficult to fear Him. When you do fear Him as you should, the other things fall into place. If you aren't rich and beautiful within a week, don't lose heart. He thinks you're gorgeous when you come into His presence with love and peace in your heart. Start with Him, and you'll end right where you should be.

The final verse is an instruction to the Proverbs 31 husband. He is told to let her enjoy all of the success that she has earned. Oh boy, has she earned it!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Challenging Example

We've been looking at the relentless example of an ideal wife given by Proverbs 31:10-31. Notice that I said ideal. This isn't meant to be a summary of every day of your life. It's meant to be an overview of the life of an excellent wife. Even with that in mind, it's some hard shoes to fill. Still, let's trudge forward in hopes of coming a little closer to where we are supposed to be.

Proverbs 31:21-22 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

From these verses we can gather that our example has some cash. We saw in our earlier studies from this passage that she brings money into the home. It should be noted that this chapter of Proverbs was written by King Lemuel, as taught to him from his mom. (Can you imagine having her for a mother-in-law? Talk about demanding!) That's right, King. He had some start-up money to get his sweetheart's business underway. No wonder she was able to consider a field and buy it. That may not be an option for all of us.The lesson is the same, however. She takes the welfare of her children into her own hands. She finds a way to get them what they need.

She dresses well herself. Now, I've spent the better part of the week in a ponytail. I tell myself that it's mostly because I've been baking, and I wanted to be sanitary. Still, I didn't rush into the shower and get dolled up before Edwin came home from work. It wouldn't be a bad idea, at that. There is nothing wrong with being aware of one's appearance. It's a hard habit to get into as a stay at home mom. When you never go out, it's difficult to find the motivation to get hottified (to make oneself hot; to become a hottie). If you don't think that your hubby is paying much attention to you (notice, this is referring to marital relationships), it may help to give him something to pay attention to. No, you shouldn't have to dress up every time you want a little attention, but this isn't about getting what you should get. Sometimes you just have to make things happen. Remember, he's the person you should be dressing up for anyway (it doesn't hurt your own self esteem, either).

Proverbs 31:23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.

This line is right in the middle of a description of an excellent wife. Why is that? Here's a glimpse of the affect that a wife can have on the success of her husband. When a wife works as hard as this woman does to help her husband and children reach their potential, it works! He becomes well-known. He gains respect. It would be pretty challenging to be married to this kind of woman and not work hard to be successful.

Proverbs 31:24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

There she goes, being all industrious again. She makes thread, juggles real estate, creates clothing for her family and herself, and now we see that she trades goods, such as linen clothing and belts, as well. Even if her children were older, this is a lot to get done for any woman. These verses don't even mention the tasks that were taken for granted, such as schooling the children and playing nurse to their boo-boos. We saw earlier that she has maidservants, so there is a good chance that a lot of the daily tasks of wifehood are being covered by the "help". That being said, she sees over all of the work of her maid servants. She oversees the food choices, the family's clothing, and finances.We're going to look at the source of her abilities tomorrow.

Proverbs 31:25-26 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

These are two of my favorite verses from this passage. I love the description given in verse 25. Why do you think this verse refers to strength and dignity as clothing? Clothing protects us from the outside world. This thought is confirmed by the second part of the verse. She isn't worried about her future. Why not? Because she is protected by strength and dignity. Clothing also prevents us from shame. There is an extreme vulnerability to nakedness. It's a humiliating thought to be naked in front of people. Maybe there has been a time when you let your guard down and said something foolish, and afterward you felt ashamed. By wrapping herself in strength and dignity, she prevents such mistakes.

By strength, we are referring mostly to strength of character. She doesn't allow the people around her to control her. She is too strong to allow someone's words or actions to dictate her reactions. She doesn't give into temptation.Dignity can also be interpreted as honor. She is not going to lose control of her emotions, or her tongue, as the next verse discusses.

How wise are your words? Can you say that you open your mouth in wisdom? Allow me to say that I hope and pray that God's work in me will accomplish this in my life. I have a naturally loose tongue. When I have a thought, I feel the intense desire to share it with the world. This woman only opens her mouth when she has wisdom to impart. Wisdom requires thought. The woman described here speaks after thinking over her words.

This brings us to another question. Where does she get that wisdom? The passage doesn't explicitly say, but I can assure you that the Bible is the best source of wisdom known to man (or woman, in this case). Always remember that what you put in your head will come out of your mouth. The things that you hear and read become normal to you. Don't you want the ways and thoughts of God to define what is normal for you?

Our last note for the day is about the teaching of kindness. What is something that you hope that your children learn from you? Math? A love of reading? How to plan an entire week of meals during the sermon? This woman places an emphasis on teaching her children (and possibly her friends and younger women, as well), kindness. Sometimes we give our children exceptions for when it is okay to be rude or just, plain mean. ("If he hits, you can hit back." "If he keeps calling you names, you just call him a do-do head.") This gives our children the idea that sometimes sin is okay. They don't have the judgement to understand that there are rare occasions when it's okay to cause someone else pain or to say things that aren't very kind sounding. And maybe, just maybe, we justify our own sin with such "exceptions". Very rarely does God give an "unless". We are to honor our parents, even when they aren't honorable. We are to always tell the truth, even when it could cause pain. God commands us to be emotionally and sexually faithful to our spouses, even when they aren't available to our needs.

Are you consistently making it a point to bring attention to ways for your children to show kindness? Are you leading by example by jumping on as many opportunities to show kindness as possible?We'll continue looking at our Proverbs 31 woman tomorrow. Ask God to search your heart and show you areas that you need to offer to Him and submit to His authority, so that He can help you improve in those areas. I'll be doing that as well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Cool Chick

We're going to continue looking at Proverbs 31 today. The woman being described in verses 10-31 is an ideal. There isn't an actual woman after whom she is modeled, that we know of. There are lots of things that we can learn from this passage about how to be the women God wants us to be.

Let's start today where we left off, verse 16.

Proverbs 31:16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.

This is a capable business woman. She knows what to look for in business transactions. She has earned enough respect from her husband through wise decisions that he has no problem with her making very big decisions on her own. First she buys a large piece of property, then she plants a vineyard. Remember, this is not a parent-child relationship. Man and wife are to be partners.

Proverbs 31:17 She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong.

What does gird mean? It's the term used when a person in biblical times tucked the back of their dress-like clothing into their belt, which enabled them to run. This was done often in war scenarios. It's also used as a verb to describe the action of putting on a girdle. It means that the person is surrounded or bound by the object being used.

In this case, our Proverbs 31 woman is surrounding herself in strength. She is using strength as a way to prepare for the difficult times life may bring. She is ready, mentally and physically. She works out. She isn't just a manager, she is a doer.

Proverbs 31:18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.

Proverbs 31:18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.

I used two translations on this verse, because the meaning isn't quite as clear as the other verse. At first I thought that it meant that she was aware of how well she was doing at her work, but after looking through all sorts of translations and reading the notes written by people who understand the Hebrew, I'm not sure that's really what it means. It gives the picture that she doesn't leave her success to other people. She checks the books. She makes sure that her merchandise is selling, that her vineyards are doing well. She takes her financial success into her own hands. Because she puts in that extra effort, her family is able to use as much oil as they like. It doesn't run out in the middle of the night. That's a good thing because she's going to be getting up early tomorrow morning.

Proverbs 31:19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.

What's a distaff? It's a tool used for making thread. This might not be the best use of our time, but it does give us a good picture of her attitude. She works in many areas. Although she can afford to buy thread, she chooses to make it. She doesn't spend extra money just because she can. She doesn't use her past success as an excuse for slacking off.

Proverbs 31:20 She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.

Although her family is her main mission, the Proverbs 31 woman isn't consumed so much with them that she ignores the rest of the world. She uses the money that she has worked so hard to make to help the people around her. She isn't afraid to touch the untouchables. She doesn't use their laziness as an excuse to let them suffer. They may have earned their poverty, just as she has earned her success, but she still reaches out to them. She doesn't even wait for them to fo to her. She goes to the need and fills it.

Reality Check:
How'd you do today? It's a difficult task to see the bulls-eye and then look at where we are. Sometimes we are much farther from where we want to be than we thought. Here are some more questions to help as we try to develop the servant spirit that God has called us to have:
  1. How well do you understand your family's financial situation? How are you helping to improve it? What are some things that you can change to do a better job at that?
  2. How prepared are you for difficult times? Are you emotionally ready for the loss that life inevitably brings? Are you spiritually mature enough to handle it when God says, "no,"? Are you physically strong and healthy? What changes can you make to improve your readiness for life's difficulties?
  3. Do you expect other people to take care of you and your family? The government? Insurance? Your husband or parents? How can you take more responsibility for your own situation?
  4. Have you ever used past hard work as an excuse to let things go undone? I'm not talking about working yourself to death, but make sure that you don't allow laziness to creep in and ruin the work that you've already put in.
  5. How do you help the needy people around? What about the spiritually needy? How concerned are you with missions? Do you wait for the needy to find you before you throw a quarter into the pot, or do you seek out opportunities to help people? Do you sometimes excuse your selfishness by calling the poor people lazy? Or do make excuses like, "They'll just buy liquor!" Remember: they are responsible for their actions. You are responsible for yours.
I hope that you were as challenged by this passage as I was. I have a lot of work to do to become more like the woman God designed me to be! We'll continue tomorrow. Until then, remember that God's grace is sufficient. Just because you aren't at the finish line doesn't mean that you're out of the race!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Worth Searching For

It's good to be back at the keyboard! Last week my husband and I were out of town, looking into the possibility of going overseas to do mission work. I would appreciate any prayer you could offer to God on our behalf as we continue to seek out His will for us and our children.

This week we are going to be looking at a passage of Scripture that most women have read and have felt threatened by. Myself included. Proverbs 31:10-31 is a poem written with the purpose of teaching a young man what he should be looking for in a wife. Obviously, culture has some effect on the literal applications, but the message remains the same. The heart of this woman never changes. It's challenging, but there's nothing wrong with realizing that we are not yet complete.

This passage is applicable to all women, married or single, young or "seasoned".

Proverbs 31:10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.

The woman described in this passage is rare, just like diamonds or rubies. You have to search through a lot of worthless rocks before you can find a jewel of value. If you are married, this verse is a reminder of the influence that you have over your husband and children. When you are the kind of woman that God wants you to be, your husband and children are going to be able to appreciate you better. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, men appreciate women that follow the criteria that God has given to us.

If you're single, it makes the point that the kind of man worth catching is out there looking for a woman that is outstanding. You have to use the right bait in order to catch this fish. That means working hard to be the kind of woman that a godly man is looking for. It may require a certain amount of alone time to prepare to be that kind of woman. It may mean feeling rejecting by men who are looking for all the wrong things. What it doesn't mean is that you should give up looking for the man who will help you grow in Christ, who will pull you up, not weigh you down. That isn't always easy, but it is so worth it! If you're going to join in a life-long commitment with someone, you better be very careful who it is.

Proverbs 31:11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.

How trustworthy are you? Can your husband let you loose in the mall with his credit cards without worry? I've heard more stories than I care to count about couples who don't communicate about finances. It never ends well. Many divorces have resulted from husbands and wives not trusting one another, or from a spouse breaking that trust.

The trust of a husband is worth so much more than a new outfit, or a whole wardrobe. Without that trust, it turns into something similar to a parent-child relationship. We are supposed to be partners with our husbands. That requires communication to ensure that we are on the same page. It also requires submission when we can't agree. I know, I know. It can be frustrating to know that a man is making the wrong decision, and we just have to support him in it. But a man that feels respected by his wife is going to be much more likely to listen to her opinion and take her feelings into consideration. Two people can't have final say. Only one person can, and God decided that one person would be the husband. Notice that the verse says that the husband in this scenario sees gain. When you're financially partnered with your husband, that means that you see gain too.

Let me say this before moving on, being submissive is not the same thing as being silent. God gave us brains, and He wants us to use them. If you see a pothole barreling toward your family, speak up. Respectfully, honestly, let your husband know about your concerns. You worked hard to gain your husband's trust. Now you're working hard to maintain it. Make sure that you use that trust for your husband's benefit by sharing your wisdom. How you do that depends on your husband, but you're doing your husband a great disservice by refusing to communicate.

Proverbs 31:12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.

Why does her husband trust her so completely? For one thing, this is a woman seeking out ways to help and support him. She doesn't say things that demean him. She doesn't go behind his back or hide things from him. This is a woman that looks for ways to help him. Everyday is a day that she wants to make his life better. It takes a lot of effort. It takes time. It takes humility. The result of all that effort, time, and humility is a grateful husband who respects his wife and her opinion.

Proverbs 31:13-14 She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight. 14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.

This woman works hard, but not just hard. She works with delight! Okay, so there are some days that I'm standing over the stove, humming a happy, little ditty, but most of the time the work that I put in isn't delightful. It's work. This woman works hard to find good deals, even if it means working harder, like starting from raw materials to make clothing and dinner. She also seeks out the tastiest of dishes for her family. They aren't eating meatloaf every night!

How does she delight in that kind of work? Why is it such a joy to do the most mundane of duties? She remembers the reason for her work. She loves her husband and children. Because of that love, she is able to work with joy. It's not always going to come naturally. Just because I love my husband and kids, I don't want to wash his dirty underwear or mop the floors... again! Sometimes we just have to choose to be happy about things. Think about how happy it makes your husband to come home to a hot dinner. Remember how much easier it makes his day to not have to look for his socks.

As I've said multiple times before, I'm preaching to myself here! I am far from mastering this area. I hate doing dishes, and I don't feel like putting in the mental and emotional energy to choose to delight in it most of the time. Still, it's the best thing for my marriage when I do, which means that it's also the best thing for me, my children, and my husband.

Proverbs 31:15 She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens.

If you know me, you know that waking up isn't my area of expertise. I do a lot of things well, but I also do many things poorly. Getting up early falls in the poorly column. That being said, let's look at what we can get out of this verse.

In the time that this was written, people went to bed much earlier, and they were up with the sun. In order to get to work before everyone else was up, this wife had to wake up before the sun rose. The heart of the matter is that this is a woman who is willing to do whatever it takes to care for her family. This is a lady who is truly humble. She wakes up early to take care of people who work for her. She's their boss, but she is sacrificing to make sure that they have what they need. My guess is that her maidens work better for her than they would if she ignored their needs. It's no wonder that her husband is successful. He is married to someone who takes his success very personally.

Reality Check:

None of us are going to live up to this all the time. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine how you're doing:
  1. Am I more concerned about the welfare of my family than what I deserve?
  2. What makes me feel successful? Having the things that I feel I should have? Getting the appreciation that I want? Or do I take joy in helping my husband become successful?
  3. Am I annoyed by the work that I do, or do I delight in helping my family reach its potential?
  4. Am I willing to sacrifice my own comfort for the benefit of my family?
How'd you do? I wish that I could say that I've mastered these things, but I can't. God isn't finished working on me yet. I am confident, though, that He continues to develop a servant-heart in me.

Tomorrow we'll continue to look at this passage. Until then, think of one thing that you can do to improve the life of your husband, or, if you aren't married, think of something that you can do to improve the life of one of your children, a parent, or a co-worker.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

God's Love Song

We're going to finish up Zephaniah tonight. Pull out those Bibles again, gals. Read through Zephaniah 3.

This chapter returns to speaking to Israel. Again, these are His people. They should be acting the way that He wants them to, but they weren't. Look at how the prophet describes the "people of God" in verses 1-4. He describes them as:
  • rebellious
  • defiled
  • oppressing/tyrranical
  • listens to no one
  • accepts no correction
  • doesn't trust in God
  • doesn't draw near to God
  • corrupt/angry leadership
  • judges are taking advantage of the people for personal gain
  • spiritual leaders are fickle, treacherous, they profane holiness, and are violent against the law given to them to teach to the people!
Verse two is pretty interesting. We all understand the fact that we should draw close to God, trust Him, remain pure from corruption, and not rebel against authority and God, but how easy is it to give you constructive criticism? I know that my first reaction is to defend whatever it is that is being corrected. God can use people to give us criticism. We have to look at the person giving us the criticism and ask ourselves if God is trying to tell us something. God also uses His Word to correct us. How many times have you read a verse that shows you how guilty you are, but you dismissed it by saying that it just refers to the culture, or it's outdated, or maybe "that's just too hard in this day and age"?

When we can't receive correction, it is impossible for us to become who we are meant to be. You are finished yet. Neither am I. We are works in progress. We have to accept that we are going to have to improve some things in order to become the people that God wants for us to be. Look at what God is willing to do in order to make His people listen to Him. Read verses 6 and 7 again. God has laid waste to the nations around Israel. He wants them to see what He is doing and fear Him. Nothing humbles people or makes them more willing to accept correction faster than a tragedy. What does God have to do to get your attention?

Verse 8 looks at the painful refining process that leads to a purified people. Out of this Israel, Jesus is to be born. This Israel that is so impure that it forces God to take drastic measures is a stepping stone on the path to the Savior! If you think that your sin is too big for God, think again. It may be a painful experience to get there, but there has never been, and never will be, a person too sinful for God.

What is the result of God's refining process?
  • pure speech (9)
  • service to God (9)
  • offering/ sacrifice to Him (10)
  • humility (11)
  • no more shame (11)
  • a willingness to seek after God (11)
  • a love of justice (12)
  • truth (12)
  • confidence in God and His ways (13)
After all of the pain of being purified, look at Israel in verses 14-20. It's sweet stuff! It is grace that God would discipline His children. When He does, He is keeping them in a safe place where they can have His joy. When He brought the other nations down, it was in preparation for the time when Jesus would come and salvation would be opened up to Gentiles in a way that it hadn't before. God was making a way for the whole world to see Him and love Him.

Look at 17. The point of this isn't just the happiness of man. The real point, the main point, is the glorification of God. When His people have been purified and they are guiltless before Him, He gets happy. Sin makes God really angry, as we saw in the previous studies. Sinlessness makes Him really happy. It's not that we can ever be perfect, but the sin is paid for. It is purified away, justified. When He has done this for us and we are innocent in His presence, He starts singing to us. He rejoices over us, pull us close to Him like a mother with a child who has had a nightmare, and sing sweet melodies in our ears. How precious is our God?

He takes the lowest of people, the rejects, the poor, and He brings them together and gives all that they lack. He takes the last and makes them first. Why? Without pride in the way, God is able to do amazing things. He wants to show off His grace by treating us well. He wants to love us, both through discipline and by kindness.

God is love, but He has wrath against sin. He is too good to put up with it. Because of His wrath, someone had to die. He sent His Son to take our place. He died so that we could be quieted by His love. He faced our punishment so we could be a source of joy to the Almighty God of the Universe! I hope that you are able to find joy in this news. I hope that you are able to see God's discipline as an expression of His love for you. Praise God that He is a loving Father who will never fail us! Praise Him that we are able to receive correction from His Holy Word! Praise Him.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, I would love to hear from you. No kidding, I would love it!