Author Archives: jenlvest

2 Kings 11; 2 Chronicles 22-23; Psalm 131; Matthew 8

Today’s readings are a study in contrasts.  Pride vs humility.  Disbelief vs faith.  Athaliah, the wicked queen who was prideful enough to take matters into her own hands and commit murder in order to place herself on the throne of Judah.  Jehosheba who, along with her husband, the priest Jehoiada, was faithful and trusting enough to essentially kidnap her nephew, Joash, from his grandmother, Athaliah, in order to save him and preserve the line of David.  David in Psalm 131, displaying maturity even as he wrote of his childlike trust, his choice to be content and rest in God. 

Then, in Matthew 8, the leper, a diseased outcast who audaciously approached Jesus asking for healing.  He wasn’t prideful or arrogant; he simply believed that Jesus could heal him and was brave enough to say so.  The Centurion, a high-ranking Roman officer who most Jews would have considered an enemy recognized Jesus’ authority and had faith that Jesus could heal his servant.  The citizens of Capernaum, many of whom were healed and relieved of demonic influence simply because they came to Jesus believing He could do miracles for them.  The scribe and the disciple described in Matthew 8 SEEMED genuine.  They asked great questions and probably assumed Jesus would respond with “Great!  Let’s go!”  But their pride and unbelief were evident when they didn’t like Jesus’ response.  And then there are Jesus’ own disciples.  The very same guys who gave up everything to follow Jesus.  Surely their faith and humility would be apparent!  Yet even they questioned Jesus as they feared for their lives.  These same men, (including several experienced fishermen who were no doubt used to storms on the sea!) who had just seen Jesus perform numerous miracles still doubted!  And, finally, the citizens of Gadarenes.  Jesus had performed yet another miracle, casting fierce demons out of two men, yet they just wanted Him out of their town.

Do any of these describe me?

Am I like Athaliah?  Do I sinfully presume I can handle things on my own and take matters into my own hands, hurting others and missing God’s greatest blessings?

Am I like Jehosheba?  Am I willing to take a risk and do what is right even if my desired outcome is a long-time coming?  Jehosheba and Jehoiada hid Joash for SIX years!  Am I faithful even when it seems like an answer will never come?

Am I like David?  Have I matured spiritually to the point that I calmy and quietly trust that God’s plan is best?  Am I confident that He is always working even if it doesn’t seem that way?

Am I like the leper?  In my pride, do I really think I can hide my sin and faults from God, or am I humble enough to bring them to Him and trust that He will forgive me and heal my heart in the process?

Am I like the Centurion?  Do I acknowledge God’s supreme authority in my life? Do I care so much about others that I’m willing to go out of my way to help them and petition God for them even if that puts me in a difficult position?

Am I like the citizens of Capernaum?  Am I willing to simply come to Jesus and ask for help, believing He can and will answer?

Am I like the scribe and the disciple?  Do I know all the right words to say, the right questions to ask but, when the rubber meets the road, am I ready to make the sacrifices required to follow Jesus?

Am I like Jesus’ disciples? Have I made a commitment and gotten “on the boat”, but when things get difficult and Satan starts to gain a foothold, do I ask “Can you see this, Lord?  I obeyed and this is what happens?”

Am I like the citizens of Gadarenes?  I’ve heard and seen God do amazing things.  I know He has always been faithful, but am I content to try do life apart from Him? 

Father, I know that You are trustworthy, yet I choose not to trust.  I know You have great power to accomplish all things, yet I choose to do things in my own strength.  I know You are in control and working all things for my good, yet I choose to worry.   Please give me a faithful and trusting heart that is desperate for You.  

Jen

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1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 13-14, Titus 3

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient,
led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures,
passing our days in malice and envy,
hated by others and hating one another. 
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness,
but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration
and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly
through Jesus Christ our Savior, 
so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs 
according to the hope of eternal life. 
Titus 3:3-7, ESV

I can tell by the highlighting, underlining, and notations in my Bible that I have read this passage many times and found it meaningful.  But because God’s Word is living and breathing, well-loved passages that have been meaningful for one reason in the past often come alive with new meaning as I read them again and again.  This time, three little words from this passage jumped out at me in a way they haven’t before.  Three words I’ve read a million times and probably even committed to memory at some point:  He saved us. 

Paul begins verse 3 by reminding his readers (and me!) of our previous sin-filled state.  I love that Paul uses the word “we”.  He doesn’t see himself any better than any other sinner.  Even with all his success and authority, he gives God all the credit.  The list of sins Paul mentions is pretty daunting as he sets up a contrast by using the conjunction “but”–such a small word that means so much.  The list reminds me just how sinful I was, but Paul follows it quickly with the best news!  But God.  God appeared.  He showed up, purely out of His goodness and love, and HE SAVED ME.  He could have acted differently.  In fact, that’s exactly what I deserved.  He should have punished me, damned me, banished me, turned from me.  But He chose another action instead; He chose to SAVE.

And the best part?  I did nothing to make myself more “saveable” or more worthy of God’s good and loving gift.  I didn’t deserve it.  I couldn’t earn it.  But God.  He chose to look past my failures and shortcomings.  In His mercy, He saw an opportunity to do what only He could do:  He saved me.  I now stand justified, clothed with God’s righteousness, promised an inheritance of eternal life! The entirety of the gospel found in these three small words:  He saved us. 

Image credit: /r/Reformed

Jen

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1 Kings 8; Psalm 30; 1 Timothy 3

“If we don’t stare at God, we’ll spend our time staring at lesser things. Namely, ourselves.” Francis Chan

Often, in my Bible reading, I am so eager to find the application—how a certain passage can comfort or convict or guide me—that I miss all it can teach me about God.  After all, knowledge yields delight.  If I want to truly LOVE God, I must first truly KNOW Him.  To that end, while reading and rereading Psalm 30, I attempted to just “stare at God”, to concentrate solely on HIS nature and character rather than staring at myself. 

First, a bit of context—David wrote Psalm 30 as a song of praise at the dedication of the “temple”.  There are differing opinions on whether the “temple” David mentions was his personal home or the temple that his son, Solomon, would later build in Jerusalem.  However, because my intention was to “stare at God”, the physical building David was referring to wasn’t important.  In fact, it was a good reminder that God’s nature and character never change regardless of my physical location or circumstances. 

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
God deserves all the credit.  He alone is my deliver and my vindicator before others. He will not allow my enemies to gloat.

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
God longs to help me. He hears me whenever I call.  He heals me (physically and otherwise) according to His will not my plans and desires.

O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
God is powerful enough to save me from the “pit of hell”, whether that is spiritually through salvation in Jesus or physically by preserving my health and safety. He delights in giving me “second chances”.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
God longs to hear my praise—individually and corporately.  His good works on my behalf should be shared with others who can, in turn, praise Him along with me.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
God’s holiness demands loving discipline.  But His short-lived displeasure with my sin is never greater than His endless pleasure in me as His daughter.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
God allows sorrow and pain to increase my dependence on Him.  But He is also my hope and peace in those times. Just as I am certain that morning will always follow night, I can know that God will always bring joy after sorrow.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
God blesses me with good things, but they are never meant to replace my dependence on or joy in Him.  He longs for relationship with me, and He is grieved when I think I can manage without Him. He alone is enough.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
God never tires of hearing my prayers.  David cried out to God in verse 2, and he’s crying out again (still?) here.  God’s mercy is guaranteed.  He wants me to request His help.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
God is worthy of my praise in happiness or sadness.  He is loving and powerful enough to remove the darkness of my sorrow and replace it with utter joy SO THAT I will give Him the endless praise He deserves.

Father, help me seek YOU with the assurance that as my knowledge of You increases, my joy in You will increase as well.     

Jen

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Proverbs 22-23; Psalm 117; 1 Thessalonians 1

As you probably know, iPhones have this (pesky) built-in app that tracks screen time.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I usually keep it turned off, but recently I slid that toggle switch to “on” in an effort to get a better idea of exactly how much time my phone was sucking away.  Needless to say, I was shocked!  And as I read through 1 Thessalonians 1 in preparation for sharing today, I was reminded of and convicted about not only that little “idol” that I literally hold in my hand but many others that I figuratively hold tightly.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1:9-10, ESV)

The order of Paul’s wording in verse 9 is very interesting to me.  The new Thessalonian believers didn’t turn to God from idols but from idols to God.  They had experienced new life in Christ, seen the glory and beauty of God, and realized their “idols” were lacking.  They didn’t leave their idols in search of something more meaningful.  Once they became children of God, they realized the worthlessness of the things they thought would satisfy them. 

As a modern believer, it’s easy for me to envision idols/gods as lifeless gold or bronze statues and to dismiss “idolatry” as something that would never consume me simply because I don’t worship literal idols.  But as Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.” 

This past year revealed many “idols” in my life that looked nothing like statues or graven images.  Locked in my home without friends or family or restaurants or Target (!), I realized those things were very important to me, usually more important than time in God’s Word or simply being still and listening to Him.  And, for me, idols aren’t just “things” like my iPhone or a Netflix series.  They’re also people and places and even my dreams.  They aren’t, in and of themselves, inherently bad but, too often, I choose them over God.  And, when it comes right down to it, Netflix and Target and people and dreams aren’t the idols.  Really, the idol is ME.  I turn to each of these things seeking my own comfort, my own pleasure, relief from my own sadness or boredom, which puts ME front and center.  Yet, when my selfishness demands satisfaction and happiness from them—when I look to them as my “functional savior”— the result is always emptiness and loneliness.  Someone once said, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.”  And when my idols take precedence over God in my life, my sensitivity to Him is gradually dulled, and delayed obedience (disobedience) becomes easier and easier.  

The new Thessalonian believers didn’t have this problem.  They didn’t passively turn from idols in word only.  They weren’t interested in delayed obedience.  Their faith was active. They turned, they served, and they waited.  And they did it all with JOY.  So much so that earlier in the chapter, Paul writes:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere (1:7-8, ESV)

Their newfound faith—in spite of much trial and persecution—was well-known and served as an example for believers everywhere.   They were willing to put aside their idols and joyfully endure hardship in order to be obedient and faithful to their Savior.

Father, open my eyes to the “idols” that keep my heart far from You and can never provide true happiness and satisfaction.  Help me, like the Thessalonian believers, to turn, serve, and wait with joy in You alone.

Jen

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I Kings 2; I Chronicles 29; Romans 7

I am a textbook firstborn, perfectionist, Enneagram 1, Meyers Briggs ESTJ.  In my world rules were meant to be followed.  I don’t even really care what the rules are, I just want them to be obeyed.  I would have been a great Old Testament Jew!  All those rules about eating and drinking and cleanliness and uncleanliness would have made my heart sing, and I would have done my best to keep every single one of them right down to the smallest detail.  Unfortunately, this means that I tend to reduce my Christian walk to a list of rules to be followed as well. Read the Bible for 30 minutes. Pray for an hour. Don’t listen to that style of music or read that genre of literature. But the truth is that following the rules is not following Christ. 

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. (Romans 7:7, ESV)

Are all the laws/rules I want so badly to follow wrong?  No!  In actuality, the law is for my good because it illuminates my shortcomings and reveals my need for a Savior.  But the laws that I think will make me a good Christian are not what make me good. Only God’s grace can accomplish that.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15,18-19, ESV)

My personality is such that I believe that I think I can just “buckle down”, figure out what rules need to be followed and follow them.  I make it all about me and my own capability to obey.  Too often, I’m more concerned with following the rules than having a relationship with Christ, which can make me look at that relationship as something I HAVE to do rather than something I GET to do. 

Like Paul, my problem isn’t a lack of knowledge or desire.  I KNOW what’s right and I WANT to do it but relying on my own strength will never work.  The law reveals my sin, but it has no power to save me from it.  CS Lewis wrote “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good.”  In God’s perfect plan, the law was not given to be perfectly followed but to prove that following it perfectly was impossible.  When I realize this and stop trying in my own strength, I will truly understand my need for a Savior and will be released from the prison of my own (and others’) expectations into true freedom in Christ.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a, ESV)

Legalism will always reveal my “wretchedness” and will either make me self-righteous, thinking I can do it on my own, or so hopeless that I give up on following Christ altogether.  When I focus on “keeping the rules”, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings, which isn’t always a bad thing unless I also fail to remember God’s grace.  But when I focus on Jesus and the freedom I have in Him, I become more like Him.

Father, it’s so easy for me to get caught in the cycle of trying harder to be good, failing, getting discouraged, and giving up.  Thank you for sacrificing your Son and providing freedom from the Law.  Help me to depend on You so that I’m not just modifying my behavior but changing my heart and becoming more like You.

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