Our Brother’s Keeper

Life Lesson #14: Your gift of salvation is not a private affair.  We are to be our brother’s keeper.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save 
others by snatching them from the fire; 
to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating 
even the clothing stained by corrupted 
flesh. 
Jude 1:22-23

When I first started going to church, I had two other friends who were also exploring their faith.  It was a great time when we gathered with our families and openly shared our questions and concerns about religion and our beliefs.  One friend became a devout Catholic – the faith of her husband’s family.  Another followed me into the Presbyterian church – which was my husband’s background.  At one point my fellow traveler baptized her youngest and we were honored to be his God parents.

Shortly after joining the church the horrifying event of 9-11 happened.  It drew many of us to church each week.  But as the months went by, my fellow faith traveler began to drift away.  As a new Christian I wasn’t skilled or knowledgeable enough to help draw her back in.  I felt it was none of my business.

And there lies one of the great debates of the Bible.  Are we our brother’s keeper or not?  Before we got to the message in 1 Thessalonians of caring for our fellow Christian’s state of faith we heard from Cain.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is 
your brother Abel?” 
“I don’t know,” he replied. 
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” 
Genesis 4:9

Setting aside the audacity of Cain speaking so flippantly to God, we see the immediate need to shrink from our duty to care for our fellow man.  Of course, in Cain’s situation, it was to cover for a great sin.  This is the “I have my own problems so why should I be concerned about anyone else’s?” way of looking at the question of are we our brother’s keeper.

God does not ask or require of us to take on all the burdens of our fellow man.  In fact, throughout the Bible it’s made clear that a heart change and therefore a behavior change is a very personal responsibility.  Something that can only be accomplished between an individual and God.  

No man can be his brother’s keeper in the sense of taking upon himself another man’s responsibilities.  

Charles Spurgeon

A friend once told me that after a long, difficult day of being a school counselor, in a particularly troubled area of town, she would go home and eat an entire pint of ice cream.  The stress of responsibility she felt was physically taking its toll.  God does not require us to be this heavily burdened with a person’s faith conversion.  But what if we took it at least as seriously as we do so many other things in our lives?  

Our responsibility is heavy enough without our exaggerating it; we are not men’s sponsors, and if they reject our Saviour whom we faithfully preach their blood must be upon their own heads.

Charles Spurgeon

So what of our verse from Jude today?  What is our responsibility to being our brother’s keeper?  So often, I believe, when we hear this phrase, we imagine ourselves constantly correcting and judging someone.  But a careful study of the Bible’s message about this topic leads to one conclusion – speaking the truth of the Gospel and nothing more.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you 
should wander from the truth and someone 
should bring that person back, remember 
this: Whoever turns a sinner from the 
error of their way will save them from 
death and cover over a multitude of sins. 
James 5:19-20

Wandering from the truth.  Remember my fellow faith traveler?  She is the person mentioned first in the verse today – “one who doubts.”  She wasn’t sure she believed in all that Christians teach.  She was being called back into the world daily.  What she and all new Christians need from their fellow believers and churches is special care and compassion.  

I love how my younger daughter’s church places new members (and even non-members) immediately into a small faith family.  That’s where they can share their questions without judgment.  They are welcomed weekly with open arms and open hearts.  On the opposite end, I’ve been in churches where small groups are barely mentioned and seem to be a place only for mature, involved Christians.

“It is much easier to instruct new Christians and keep them away from the false teachers than it is to snatch them from the fire.”  

Warren Wiersbe

Jude then goes on to admonish us to snatch others from the fire.  According to Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe, these are people who have left our Christian fellowship and are now part of an apostate, or false teaching, group.  What is our responsibility to them?

We might be led to think we have no responsibility at all.  “Who am I to tell them what they think is wrong?”  It’s a refrain I’ve heard from quite a few long-time Christians.  But who are we?  We are the recipients of the greatest sacrifice of all eternity.  A gift that has always been meant to be shared.

I tell you a cold-hearted Christian makes worldlings think that Christianity is a lie.  

Charles Spurgeon

I have friends who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.”  What I’ve come to understand is the word “religious” is actually a substitute for believing that Jesus is the one and only Savior.  Usually in the same conversation I hear “who am I to say there’s only one path to God?” 

If we are not secure enough in our own faith and the Word of God, we won’t have an answer.  We may not be responsible for someone’s heart decision but it is clear that we are responsible for knowing that Jesus is the Way.  And that knowledge is not to be held in a lockbox.  Jesus isn’t for some people.  He is for all people – every race, creed, and nationality.

With truth plus love we can stand for God in the face of our “spiritual” friends.  When the opportunity arises in conversation, we must see it as God’s open door.  And if we refuse to take the step through the door, we must then accept some responsibility for that person’s place in eternity.

If you want to destroy a man you need not teach him to drink or swear: keep back the gospel from him. Be in his company and never say a word for Christ. Be where you ought to speak and be sinfully silent, and who knows how much blood will be laid to your door. 

Charles Spurgeon

Our burden is to do God’s bidding.  Not for God to do ours.  How many times have you had the opportunity to speak God’s truth yet shrunk back in fear of reprisal or embarrassment?  

And so, we come to the last person described by Jude.  The person or people to whom we should show mercy mixed with fear.  Not many of us are equipped to deal with false teachers or with their ardent followers.  These days people have turned from the religion of God to the religions of the environment, of self-love, of wokeness, of the state, and so on.  And their followers are admirably zealous.  To stick a Christian toe into the mind of one of these believers can be quite dangerous.  But that doesn’t mean God wants us to forget about them.

The very fact that there is a Christ at all means that there was one who cared for others, and that our Lord became a man means that he loved his enemies and came here to rescue those who rebelled against his authority. 

Charles Spurgeon

I was praying the other day for something I realized later was wrong thinking.  I prayed that this blog would have a larger audience.  That same day I watched a video by a pastor from Colorado titled, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality.”  It was a great deep dive into related scripture.  And then came the comments.  I will summarize them by saying his responses to the vitriol were very Christ-like.  Notice the title wasn’t, “What I think about homosexuality.”  And yet the personal attacks were disturbing.  In reading his responses I realized that in no way am I prepared to dive into that pool.  

So, what is our responsibility in situations like these?  Again, if God opens the door, He will also have your back.  But if He doesn’t, He always asks us to pray for others.  Knowing who and what we need to pray requires us to be mature in our faith.  We need to pray fervently for the saving of souls.

And, you saved ones, you owe much to God, but do not think that you are saved for your own especial benefit alone. 

Charles Spurgeon

The gathering of souls for God should be every, single Christian’s mission in life.  Starting first in our homes, then amongst our friends, our neighbors and then the world.  We may not always have a one-on-one conversation but we can always pray.  We can give with open hands to mission programs.  Most importantly, we should always be asking God, “who can I help you save today?” And then walk through that door.

The Charles Spurgeon quotes used in this blog come from the sermon titled, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper.” Check it out and be energized for our mission of sharing the gospel!

A Tiny Message #9

But mark this: There will be terrible times 
in the last days. People will be lovers of 
themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, 
abusive, disobedient to their parents, 
ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, 
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, 
not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, 
conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than 
lovers of God— having a form of godliness 
but denying its power. Have nothing to do 
with such people. 
2 Timothy 3:1-5

So often when we turn to God for help we look for comforting words. I’ve heard it said many times recently that our churches have mostly eliminated the “difficult” messages in the Bible. And while Jesus’ messages to love one another are powerful tools in our battle against the devil He never asked us to turn a blind eye to sin and lies.

Satan is constantly at work trying to turn us away from the entire message of God. In fact, when I went back to edit my post titled, “Identify the Enemy,” I ran into a number of technical glitches. You see, my original post didn’t include the name Satan. After praying about what I had written I received a clear message to highlight how Satan is the Great Liar. I first couldn’t access the document. Then my computer kept saying I was off-line. Then the document wouldn’t save. I closed my eyes and said, “I know this is you at work, Satan. I’ve got all day and God on my side.” And lo and behold everything started working!

Satan is in our midst. He uses the greedy, the boastful, the abusive, the deceitful and lovers of pleasure to try and destroy our faith. And if we choose to turn a blind eye to his ways then we become his instruments. When we face the enemy head on, with our God-given armor, we step on to the battlefield. Our weapons against these “terrible times” are the truth of scripture, prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and our God All Mighty.

Here’s a prayer I read that we should all speak each day:

Lord, help me stand my ground and defend what I have gained, no matter how difficult it might be to do this. I know that with Your supernatural help, I can outlive and outlast the resistance. With Your Spirit’s power working inside me, I know I can indefinitely and definitely stick it out until the enemy realizes he cannot beat me and decides to retreat! I pray this in Jesus’ name!

Identifying The Enemy

Lesson #13: To win a battle you first need to identify your adversary.

For certain individuals whose condemnation 
was written about long ago have secretly 
slipped in among you. They are ungodly 
people, who pervert the grace of our God 
into a license for immorality and deny 
Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. 
Jude 1:4

About 10 years after I started at my first professional job out of college, I decided I needed a new experience.  So, I accepted a job at one of our vendors.  I was worried that I wasn’t as experienced as the other professional staff because I had only worked at one job.  But almost instantly I was able to identify the warring factions.  

You see, the fire I went through starting a new public relations and marketing department at the age of 21 prepared me in more ways than I had realized.  While others at my new company struggled with office politics I already knew how to work around the “up, in your face, dragon lady” and the “she speaks sweetly to your face and then stabs you in the back.”  These two women were powerful forces who worked solely for their benefit and at the expense of others.  Had I not quickly assessed the situation I would’ve been tossed about in turmoil like the rest of the staff.

They are wild waves of the sea, 
foaming up their shame; wandering 
stars, for whom blackest darkness 
has been reserved forever. 
Jude 1:13

A number of the letters written by Jesus’ disciples include warnings to churches about the enemies within their midst.  It’s appropriate that our next mini-letter, written by our LORD’s half-brother Jude, is a call to arms against the infiltrators.  Why? Because it also is the last book before Revelation.  It’s almost a final warning to secure the gates, gather the brethren, and stand strong against the enemy before Christ comes.

These people are blemishes at your 
love feasts, eating with you without 
the slightest qualm—shepherds who 
feed only themselves. They are clouds 
without rain, blown along by the wind; 
autumn trees, without fruit and 
uprooted—twice dead. 
Jude 1:12

So how, as Christians, are we to discern who the “blemishes” are in our churches and protect our hearts and minds from them?

Let’s first state that every false teacher, every apostate comes from Satan. He is the enemy. As the Great Liar, Satan has plenty of fodder to create chaos in our midst. When our motivations stem from fame or popularity, greed, lust, and more, Satan is quite happy to make us like yeast — using us to spread his lies about God and Jesus.

I am currently looking for a new church.  But I’m going about it much differently than in the past.  For the first time I’ll be able to truly evaluate whether the teachings of a church are biblically based.  It’s amazing how what God has led us through in our lives always serves to prepare us for the next trial.  I could never had known that starting a small Bible study over a year ago would be one of my greatest weapons against falling prey to apostasy.  

apostasy uhpos-tuh-see ]

a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

When I first started going to church, we selected the church of my husband’s family.  I trusted my in-laws’ choice and therefore felt comfortable with attending the same denomination.  As for the theological ins-and-outs, I really didn’t understand them or care to know much about the details.

And there lies the dangers.  Satan loves when we are ignorant about God. Sometimes we take more effort dissecting the ingredients in our cereal than what is taught to us from a pulpit.  We think, “Hey, they’ve got training and approval from someone higher up so they must know what they’re talking about.”  And for the most part that’s probably true.  But there’s plenty of churches that have few ties to standard, accepted, religious teaching. There are also all the authors, TV and radio preachers, podcasters, Instagrammers, and yes, bloggers.

Dear friends, do not believe every 
spirit, but test the spirits to see 
whether they are from God, because 
many false prophets have gone out 
into the world. 
1 John: 4:1

My younger daughter was mentoring a new, young member of her church.  This young woman was distraught and thought she had failed God.  Why? Because she couldn’t speak in tongues.  Her church, in which she had grown up, taught that every single person who truly is a follower of Jesus speaks in tongues.  In one short conversation based on scripture this woman’s life was changed.  Because of the truth of the Bible. 

My parents are in their 80s.  I find that when they speak to their doctor, they treat what he says with almost reverence.  They don’t question a word any doctor says.  I keep telling them that doctors are just people.  They also don’t always have the best bedside manner.  So, questions go unanswered.  And fears and missteps with their health abound.

The same is true with faith leaders, be they pastors, priests, elders, deacons, Bible study leaders, famous authors, or church committee members.  They are all people.  Yes, they may have at some point received a calling but they are still people.  And people sin.  Some get greedy.  Some lie to protect themselves.  They all make mistakes.  It’s our responsibility as Christians to know the Word of God enough to question if something doesn’t sound right.

The short letter of Jude has an emphasis on sexual immorality and its promoters who have burrowed into our Christian lives.  How many of us are willing to say to our pastor search committee that our applicants must not be living with someone outside marriage or can’t be homosexual?  In fact, our major denominations have decided neither of those is a “big deal.”  And I ask, is that biblically based?  

If we want to escape the (Christian) struggle we have but to draw back and accept the currently accepted low-keyed Christian life as the normal one. That is all Satan wants. That will ground our power, stunt our growth and render us harmless to the kingdom of darkness.

A.W. Tozer

The struggle, the battle, the enemy.  The Christian life is not a playground.  Yes, we have peace in the fact that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit have our backs.  They direct us and empower us.  But to truly live a complete Christian life is to face the enemy.  We are to be always on watch for those that would twist the Word of God.  

It sounds harsh to say but according to the renowned Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe an apostate is not a true believer who has abandoned his salvation.  Instead, it is a person who said they accepted the truth but then turned away from the truth.

These are the people who divide you, 
who follow mere natural instincts and 
do not have the Spirit.  
Jude 1:19

As Christians we want to live by Jesus’ admonishment to love one another, especially our brethren.  But at the same time, he called out the “den of vipers.”  Jesus has never asked us to forgo the truth in the spirit of getting along.  Our first steps are to be honest as to who our adversaries are and to acknowledge that Satan is always at work creating chaos.  Only then can we pray for direction and preparation for any battles that may ensue.

Are You Prepared?

Lesson #12: God’s kingdom will be established and we need to be prepared.

“But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; 
it will be holy.  Jacob will possess 
his inheritance.” 
Obadiah 1:17

My current BSG Bible study focuses solely on Easter and the days leading up to Jesus’ death.  The other day we were asked to read Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:19-20.  And if you do, you’ll find almost the same words written in each about Jesus’ instructions to the disciples in His final hours.  As Christians, we should be very familiar with what took place – the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine.   What I love about actually studying the Bible is you see all the ancient links back and forth and the promises for the future, supported by those fulfilled promises.  

While they were eating, Jesus took 
bread, and when he had given thanks, 
he broke it and gave it to his disciples, 
saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 
Then he took a cup, and when he had given 
thanks, he gave it to them, saying, 
“Drink from it, all of you. This is my 
blood of the covenant, which is poured 
out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  
I tell you, I will not drink from this 
fruit of the vine from now on until that 
day when I drink it new with you in my 
Father’s kingdom.”  
Matthew 26:26-29

“When I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  Jesus is drinking from the traditional third cup of the Passover meal – the one representing the blood of an animal sacrificed for sins to be “passed over.”  He establishes not only himself as the sacrifice for all eternity for our sins but then gives us the promise of reuniting with us.

“The kingdom of God has come near.  
Repent and believe the good news!” 
Mark 1:15

You’ll notice throughout the Bible that we humans are warned of how we should behave, what the punishment will be, and in the end those who believe will receive great reward.  In the prophesy of Obadiah, the people of Edom received their warning of destruction because of pride, gloating, treachery, thievery, and violence.  Yet, they did not listen.

“Just as you drank on my holy hill, 
so all nations will drink continually; 
they will drink and drink and be as 
if they had never been.” 
Obadiah 1:16

Obadiah warns the people that what they sought for so richly would be turned against them with voracity.  Imagine now our current world.  And imagine all the sins turned against us two-fold.  The killing of millions of unborn children alone must make God so angry.  I can only imagine that we would be struck barren and childless in an instant.  And therefore, unable to continue creating new generations.

Thank God gives us the warnings.  And in heeding them we can then receive the glorious inheritance.

“Before we can pray, “Lord, Thy Kingdom come,” we must be willing to pray, “My Kingdom go.” 

Alan Redpath

Yes, our kingdoms.  So many of us have built our own kingdoms on the hill – just like the people of Edom.  We look down on our fellow man with a smugness that “we have it all under control.” Our bank accounts are satisfactory, our marriages are holding together, our homes protect us.  And yet we are warned all this will be “stubble” (vs 18).  How many of us live with the anticipation of “Thy Kingdom Come?”

Because it will come.  You may be fortunate to be in a church where that is a focus of the teaching.  Where you are tasked to constantly be in a mode of preparation.  Where you are admonished to gather up as many people as possible for the kingdom.  I have yet to be in such a church.  And yet the entire Bible is a warning of the coming kingdom.  

If this last year, during the great pandemic, has taught me anything is that our earthly time is limited and we are tasked with no more greater act than preparing our hearts and minds for the coming kingdom.  Situations in which I find myself that are not godly become glaring reminders of the coming of Jesus.

How about instead — “Are you prepared?”

Throughout this last year we kept hearing the teaching, “Faith over fear.”  And yet fear held most of us captive.  And fear of what? Death?  If that was the case, as Christians we should have been at the front of the line shouting “hallelujah, our time has come!”  The signs on our churches should have asked, “Are you ready?”

And what of that readiness and our own kingdoms?  

The underlying foundation of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possessions; not making decisions for Jesus, but having such a sense of absolute futility that we finally admit, “Lord, I cannot even begin to do it.” Then Jesus says, “Blessed are you…” (Matthew 5:11). This is the doorway to the kingdom, and yet it takes us so long to believe that we are actually poor! The knowledge of our own poverty is what brings us to the proper place where Jesus Christ accomplishes His work. Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers

God has issued His warnings.  Just like with the people of Edom, He has called us to prepare for the onslaught of His power and might.  He has promised us the inheritance of the kingdom.  Are you in constant training?  Are you ready to be called up in an instant?  Which side of the battle lines will you be on?  

A Tiny Message #8

“What more can David say to you? 
For you know your servant, 
Sovereign Lord." 
2 Samuel 7:20

In one of my Bible studies last year I was asked the question, “What are you hiding from God?” During my group discussion we all, of course, laughed at the idea of hiding something from God. But in reality don’t we all do that? We think He won’t see us thinking bad thoughts about “that neighbor.” We think He won’t notice if we cut off that driver on the road — because we have someplace important to be. And He definitely won’t know that we posted that comment on Facebook.

But He does.

When I wanted to lose weight before my daughter’s wedding I decided to use a weight loss app called Noom. I had tried using other methods and just didn’t keep with the program. After a month I had already lost almost 10 pounds. After six months I had lost almost 30 pounds. I got close to my goal weight and quit using the app. And then the pandemic hit. I got bored and started snacking. I tried using other programs but wasn’t committed. And six months later I went back to Noom. This isn’t a sales pitch. It’s a realization of why I was more committed.

You see, on the Noom program you are assigned a coach. That coach can see if you are entering your daily weight, your meals, exercising and reading their articles. If you fall behind by a day or so your coach checks in and looks for ways to support you. I realized that “overwatch” aspect was keeping me on track. I knew someone was checking in on me. And that accountability was just what I needed.

But how often do we forget about our minute-by-minute accountability to God? We don’t know the day or hour Jesus will return. It could be as I write this post. How many of us see that day as “a far way off” and therefore think our daily thoughts and behavior just aren’t that big of a deal?

Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our life coaches. They check in with us through staying in His Word and close to them. What part of your life are you trying to hide from the Sovereign God today? Here’s a pro-tip, He sees it all.

His Will Be Done

Lesson #11: God is sovereign over all, even unbelievers

“The day of the LORD is near 
for all nations.” 
Obadiah 1:15

There’s a song one of my previous churches used to sing a lot that goes, “Our God is an awesome God.”  That refrain is sung over and over throughout the song.  I’ve always thought that wording was a bit odd.  If we have “our God” then which “god” does anyone else have?  Once, after a service, I went up to the pastor and asked him that question.  I said, “Shouldn’t that song just say, ‘God is awesome?’”  He replied that he’d never thought about it before.  So again, there I was asking the weird questions.  As someone who not only likes to talk but also write,  I sincerely believe that words matter – even words we sing.

In our verse today from the prophet Obadiah he makes it clear throughout the prophecy that there is no “our God” or “your god” but only one God – the God of the Universe, God the Creator of All.  

“The God who made the world and 
everything in it is the Lord of 
heaven and earth and does not live 
in temples built by human hands. 
And he is not served by human hands, 
as if he needed anything. Rather, he 
himself gives everyone life and 
breath and everything else. From 
one man he made all the nations, that 
they should inhabit the whole earth; 
and he marked out their appointed times 
in history and the boundaries of 
their lands.” 
Acts 17:23-26

As Christians it can be dangerous to fall into the trap of “our God.”  It leads us to forget that God’s judgement comes to all, eventually.  So, we get outraged over the seeming lack of justice in our human concept of time.  We forget that God doesn’t just have expectations of us, as His faithful believers, but also of those who have chosen not to believe.  Non-believers don’t get a “free pass,” in the realm of eternity. 

Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, un-known to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all the creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.

A.W. Tozer

Even when I was, as a what can only be called a “Christian-lite,” I had to laugh when people put limits on God’s authority and ability.  If you listen to an atheist, you’ll hear all the limits they wish to place on a being that is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Their expectation is if they can’t figure it out then it just isn’t true.

“It is only the loyal soul who believes that God engineers circumstances. We take such liberties with our circumstances, we do not believe God engineers them, although we say we do; we treat the things that happen as if they were engineered by men.

Oswald Chambers

The atheist can be forgiven because, for whatever reason, God has yet to open their eyes to Him.  But for the Christian to place limits on God is to deny His sovereignty.  As stated in the above quote by Oswald Chambers, we Christians sometimes opt for the “coincidence” excuse when God answers our prayers.  Or we take complete credit for the win or the loss.  Or worse yet, we just assume God won’t or can’t answer our prayers.

So much of our issue with God’s sovereignty comes back to our limited sense of time.  We live in a blink of God’s eye.  And yet we have the gift of looking back over the history of God’s work in our human existence and see His hand throughout.  I heard a good analogy of how God’s timing works along with the issue of free will:

“Perhaps a homely illustration might help us to understand. An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities (God). Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty.

On board the liner are several scores of passengers (Mankind). These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.

Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfilment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hope and firm assurance of future well-being.” A.W. Tozer

One of greatest prophesies in the Old Testament is Isaiah 53 and one in which all Christians should be well versed.  He writes of the coming of God’s Son, Jesus.  Isaiah was called into ministry in 739 B.C.  And when you read his prophesy of Jesus you can’t help but be amazed of the details which came true.  That’s because God has a plan.  He has a plan for every single one of us – believer and non-believer.  He uses bad circumstances to bring us closer to Him, if we choose.  He never makes a mistake. He never has a “Plan B.”  

Our human story that started with Adam and Eve was not a mistake.  It is all going according to plan.  It may not seem, in our small timeframe, to be going all that well right now.  But that is the beauty of faith.  Today, during a meeting of my BSGs, we shared how during this pandemic there has been some amazing blessings.  Yes, a lot of not so great things have happened.  But each of us could share how God has used this terrible time as a means for sanctification in our lives.  

His sovereignty means we can hold on to all of the promises He has made.  God is not a covenant breaker.  If anything, it’s us that likes to break covenants.  Our ocean liner is on a steady path to the glorious port He has waiting for us.  It’s up to us to decide to have faith in our captain that He will get us through any squalls.  Some of us will jump ship thinking we know better.  Some might even try to take over the ship and turn it around.  But God’s will never fails.  So, let’s enjoy the ride and know He will bring us home. 

“Good is not always God’s will, but God’s will is always good.” 

Watchman Nee

A Tiny Message #7

"Tell the priests who carry 
the ark of the covenant: "When 
you reach the edge of the Jordan's 
waters, go and stand in it." 
Joshua 3:8

I was once asked by God to take on a year-long project. It wasn’t my idea. I hadn’t even been thinking about it. I recognized His request immediately as a test of my growth of faithfulness. What I have found is so many of us worry that we will look/sound silly, weird, or even crazy if we obey God’s directives.

Think about Joshua leading millions of Israelites into the promised land. He gets told by God to stand in the Jordan river with the ark of the covenant — which at that time of the year was at flood stage. The ark was their most valuable commodity and here was this “lunatic” telling the priests to go stand in the water with it.

What I have also found is that when, not only myself, but others obey God and set aside our pride, we don’t look foolish. We look victorious. We are victorious.

When I finally set aside my pride when it came to my relationship with my younger daughter, God smiled on us and created something I could have only imagined. We were victorious.

"But on Mount Zion will be 
deliverance; it will be holy, 
and Jacob will possess his 
inheritance." 
Obadiah 1:17

I want that victory for you. God wants to share in victory WITH you. So listen to His Word, hear His voice and step forward ready to win your battles.

The Ripples of Pride

Lesson #10: Make Jesus the King of every aspect of your life, especially the parts you grasp tight control over.

“The pride of your heart has deceived 
you, you who live in the clefts of the 
rocks and make your home on the heights, 
you who say to yourself, “Who can bring 
me down to the ground?” 
Obadiah 1:3

My BSGs (Bible Study Girls) now know each others’ longstanding mini-kingdoms that we like to control.  When we are asked questions in various studies about our sins we laugh and say, “Oh, I can answer that for you!”  This is why I love these ladies.  We have opened our lives to each other in trust.  And, we expect to be held accountable for growth in our troublesome areas.  I, for one, had an epiphany a month ago about one of my mini kingdoms which brought me a bit of embarrassment along with conviction.

These last few months I’ve really struggled with how angry I become when I head out for all my errands.  My irritation and annoyance with people in general was heightened with the COVID related rules and fears.  I’d see a person alone in their car with a double breather mask on and wanted to roll down my window and scream at them.  The one-way rules for the grocery store aisles frustrated me when I found myself accidently going the wrong way and got dirty looks.  People were either too slow, too lazy, or too dumb – in my opinion.  I kept it all bottled up and would arrive home in turmoil.  And then one day, while doing my Bible study, it hit me.  My problem was pride.  

“When pride comes, then comes 
disgrace, but with humility comes 
wisdom.” 
Proverbs 11:2

Yep, I was being the queen of “Miss Know It All” land.  And I had to admit it to my group.  It wasn’t until that conviction hit me that God could then begin the re-building process.  I’m now praying each day I leave my house that the Holy Spirit will remind me to live as a loving, compassionate, forgiving person.

In this week’s small Bible book, we hear from the prophet Obadiah.  As prophets go, he’s not all that well known.  In fact, there’s quite a lot of disagreement about who he was and about what time period he prophesized.  But what we do know was he came to warn the people of Edom about their prideful ways.

Edom was a city from the line of Esau.  You might remember him as Jacob’s brother.  And ever since Jacob illicitly received Isaac’s family blessings there was enmity between the two brothers.  One of the great, longstanding feuds began that day.  

So, hundreds of years later we find ourselves in Edom, who conspired with Judah’s enemies to overthrow Jerusalem.  And God is not happy.

“Though you soar like the eagle and 
make your nest among the stars, from 
there I will bring you down, declares 
the LORD.” 
Obadiah 1:4

Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s people, some of whom actually had the cloud of God living among them, attempt to take control over every situation.  They conspired with enemies, took the opposite path, demanded earthly kings, worshipped other idols to bring favorable weather.  We have the benefit of looking through the entire Bible and shaking our head in disbelief.  “Why didn’t they just do what God directed them to do?” one of my Bible study questions asked.  I can only look at my own life and ask myself the same question.

“For everything in the world – the 
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, 
and the pride of life – comes not from 
the Father but from the world.” 
1 John 2:16

When we build up our own mini kingdoms, be it about finances, our care and keeping of our children, our jobs, our social life, our health, and so on we seek to place ourselves higher than God.  Our pride tells us that we know better.

And the Edomites thought they knew best.  They were going to destroy Judah through alliances with her enemies.  Meanwhile the Edomites, who built their city high up in the mountains as sturdy fortresses, were sure that no harm would come to them.

“But how Esau will be ransacked, 
his hidden treasures pillaged!” 
Obadiah 1:6

The thing about God though is that so often instead of an outright destruction of our mini kingdoms we get hit from the flank.  We demand or beg to be in charge and He sits back and says, “Ok, have at it.”  And we think we’ve won the battle.  And then the stress comes, the destroyed relationships, lost sleep, ulcers, and more.  And yet some of us hold on tighter because our pride won’t let us release our drawbridges and welcome God into our kingdom.

When we hold on to the sin of pride it creates ripple effects throughout our entire lives – and maybe even beyond.  We pass down family hatreds and attitudes toward others.  We teach our children to “never give an inch” in situations.   We divorce because we couldn’t see the other side and therefore create broken homes.

My friends, the people of Israel were promised, while still in the desert, a great year of Jubilee.  In that year, all debts would be forgiven, all slaves set free.  It was to be a year-long celebration of God’s love for His people.  And it never happened.  Before they could even get to the promised land, they decided they knew better.  Thousands of young men died because they wouldn’t trust the God who had taken care of them.  The God who created food out of nothing and gave water from a stone.

God wants you to experience His Jubilee – a freedom from the slavery that pride brings.  Jesus paid the price to release us.  It’s already done.  It ourselves that have re-shackled our hearts and minds.  I read this story the other day that I hope will bring you your own epiphany.

“There was a farmer that got word that one of his sheep had been stolen and lie dead in a ditch outside town.  He headed out to retrieve the carcass.  Once he arrived, he realized the sheep wasn’t dead.  It appeared as though its legs were still bound together although no rope remained.  The farmer called to the sheep to get up but the animal laid there as though unable.  He smacked the sheep on the backside to get up and yet it remained.  He realized the sheep still thought he was tied up.  So, the farmer pulled the animal’s legs apart to show him he was no longer bound.  And finally, the sheep hopped up and ran up the hill.”

Are you that sheep?  Jesus has already released you from all bondage.  But are you still acting, out of pride, as though you are still a prisoner inside your own mini kingdom?

Be A Heart Changer & Soul Saver

Life Lesson #9: Christians are in the job of changing hearts and saving souls.

Perhaps this is the reason he was 
separated from you for a while, 
so that you might have him back 
forever, no longer as a slave but 
more than a slave, a beloved 
brother—especially to me but how 
much more to you, both in the 
flesh and in the Lord. 
Philemon 1:15-16

When I was in college, I was approached by two missionaries on campus.  I believed in God, to an extent, but didn’t know anything about Him or Jesus.   I asked the typical questions – “Why does God allow bad things to happen to people” and “Why did He give us free will instead of just making us all good people?” I’m sorry to say they couldn’t give me even a best guess.  I wonder if you were tasked with talking to a friend about Jesus would you be ready with passable answers to these questions?

I heard a talk by Joyce Meyer the other day where she took up the question of why evil things continuously happen in the world.  She’s seen some pretty bad situations in all of her world-wide missionary work.  She prayed this question one day.  The answer she got back was, “I’m waiting on my people to obey me and take care of each other.”

The righteous know the rights of 
the poor; the wicked have no such 
understanding. 
Proverb 29:7

I’m currently doing a study that takes me through the entire Bible.  It’s fascinating to see in Leviticus how sin offerings are adjusted for the poor.  Even thousands of years ago God was making sure the downtrodden were taken care of.  But notice you won’t find in the Bible that the Israelites or Christians are told to take up arms to eliminate poverty.  Verse after verse we are tasked to do one thing with the poor – to help them.

In Joppa there was a disciple named 
Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); 
she was always doing good and 
helping the poor. 
Acts 9:36

As social justice issues go, the poor are always on the lips of “social justice warriors.”  Their desire appears to be to eliminate poverty and all social injustice via legislation, protests or even through violence.  But as Christians we are shown a different approach.  Take the issue of slavery, as discussed in the letter from Paul to Philemon.  The subject is the slave Onesimus.  Notice in the introductory verse that Paul does not chastise or demand of Philemon the release of his slave.  Paul, instead, appeals to faith principles.  He reminds Philemon that as a faithful follower of Jesus our hearts and therefore, our minds are changed.

“To me, a follower of Jesus means a friend of man.  A Christian is a philanthropist by profession, and generous by force of grace; wide as the reign of sorrow is the stretch of his love, and where he cannot help he pities still.”  

Charles Spurgeon

By teaching slave owners about the power and love and salvation found in following Jesus, the disciples were slowly changing the hearts and then minds of people who, not only owned slaves, but behaved in any number of sinful ways.  The new Christian is tasked with living in a new loving and giving nature.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, 
the new creation has come: The old 
has gone, the new is here! 
2 Corinthians 5:17

Had the disciples come into new cities preaching about abolishing slavery (let’s remember too that slavery in that time was mostly more like indentured servitude) they certainly would’ve been met with resistance.  Slaves were costly commodities – just as they were in the early years of the United States.  To preach that people had to give up much of their wealth in order to follow Jesus would not have been as successful as first telling of the Good News.

Last year, I watched as protests and violence broke out in cities across the United States by self-professed social justice warriors.  To be honest, at times I wasn’t even sure what some of it was about.  In Portland, Oregon, the young people rioting just seemed to hate everyone.  It was a perfect time for the church to rise up and do what we should do best – show love and help change hearts.  I hoped and prayed that in communities hit by violence that God’s people would come together and form prayer chains around the cities – enveloping it in God’s love.  Instead, I watched as pastors led more protests and took to microphones and megaphones yelling about injustice, pointing fingers at different races.

“It is easier to make laws than to make Christians, but the business of the church is to produce Christians and everything else is a by-product of that new creation.”

Vance Havner

The people of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah to come and bring justice.  They wanted punishment of those who had wronged them.  They wanted to see governments and whole groups of people destroyed.  But Jesus was not that kind of social justice warrior.  From town-to-town He cared about one thing – changing people’s hearts.  He did out-of-the-box things like sit with sinners, touch the leper, heal on the Sabbath, talk with the outcasts.  He brought the bread of life and the refreshing water of the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks 
this water will be thirsty again, but 
whoever drinks the water I give them 
will never thirst. Indeed, the water 
I give them will become in them a 
spring of water welling up to eternal 
life.” 
John 4:13-14

How amazing would it have been if, when our churches closed down in March 2020, they instead remained open.  Not just open but open 24 hours a day with a sign out on the street that said, “Need someone to talk to? We’re always open and ready to listen.”  I know this idea is radical.  And you’re probably thinking of all the reasons why your church can’t do this. But the work of Jesus and His apostles was radical.  So is the work of every Christian you probably admire.

“Behave at them.”

Ken Blanchard

As Christians we are not tasked to be worldly “social justice warriors.”  We are commissioned to be God’s soldiers.  When we are tempted to join a protest march and carry a sign we should first think how we can directly help those for whom we are marching. God’s plan for the world will only be accomplished through our active showing of love, grace, charity, and forgiveness of others — while espousing His truth. The spreading of the message of Jesus brings the changes we so long for – maybe just not as fast as we like.   He designed us this way.  

I do get outraged by many things going on in the world.  And then I remember to pray to God for peace in my heart so that I can listen for my marching orders.  When I feel overwhelmed by the problems we face, I remember that God works out-of-the-box in radical ways.  It’s up to me and it’s up to you to be in the heart changing business when God puts opportunities right in front of us.  We will always find ourselves on the right side of “He who is most important” when we obey God.

The Apostle Paul worked on one rich, slave owner at a time.  And over time, our Christian faith has led to a world-wide abolishment of sanctioned slavery.  What small step can you do today to help change one heart?

A Tiny Message #6

Therefore, since we are surrounded 
by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that 
hinders and the sin that so easily 
entangles. 
Hebrews 12:1

I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Sure, I realized at some point that my hormonal situation was partially to blame but so was my environment. More specifically, I had surrounded myself with friends who, to be honest, weren’t all that great of friends. When I asked for help one day because of a medical problem my friends said, “no.” Even my parents said, “no.” I found myself at the end of my spiritual rope.

I remember sitting at my computer looking at Facebook and slowly deleting every single “friend” while sobbing. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t let go of us.

I will not leave you as orphans; 
I will come to you.  
John 14:18

What I was led to do in the coming weeks was to seriously evaluate what environment I had created and how I could create a better one. I went down the list of women I knew casually and had shown themselves to be people of character. And I started calling them, inviting them to lunch, Bible study, or for a walk. About a year later I told some of them what had happened that day I needed help. Some of them cried for me and said, “I wish you had called me. I would have dropped everything for you.” And then I cried. But this time tears of love and joy.

Sometimes we need to have a truly hard moment to see what we have created around us and how it hinders our spiritual connectedness. And the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us to our new home. I found this prayer about laying aside all our hinderances that I thought you might enjoy.

“Lord, I want to stay in an environment that will keep my faith alive and strong. Help me recognize those relationships and places I should avoid to keep my faith from being negatively affected. As you show me places, people, and things I should avoid, give me the strength I need to do what is right — and give me the wisdom I need to know how to avoid those places and people! I pray this in Jesus’ name!”