LEAD US NOT

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [Matthew 6:13 (NASB)]

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when in is accomplished, it brings forth death. [James 1:13-15 (NASB)]

wrong wayWhen I was a little girl, I had a beautifully illustrated picture book of the Lord’s Prayer. I clearly remember the illustration accompanying these words: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” A beautiful angel stood at a crossroads in front of two children and blocked their way down the wrong path.

While we ask God to guide us away from tempting circumstances and situations, we also know that an angel doesn’t always block the way. Sometimes God allows or even leads us into temptation and trials. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by Satan [Matthew 4:1] and God tested the Israelites during their forty years in the desert to know whether or not they would keep His commandments. [Deut. 8:2] In the book of Job, God allowed Satan to tempt the man by mercilessly attacking him.

While God may allow us to be tempted, Scripture affirms that He never tempts us and He never will be the author or originator of evil. God can’t put evil desires into our hearts because there is no evil in Him. Nevertheless, God may bring us into situations that will sorely tempt us. When He does that, however, His plan always is for our good. Satan tempts in the hope of ruining us but God allows temptation to strengthen or test us. He doesn’t lead us into temptation to see us fail; he leads us into battle with evil so that we may be victorious.

We pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” because we know we are weak. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that a man who carries gunpowder on him wisely asks not to be led where sparks are flying. We may not be carrying gunpowder in our pockets, but things like pride, anger, fear, worry, despair, vanity, greed, and even lust are deep in our hearts and so we ask God not to lead us into situations where they might explode. But, in spite of our request, there are times that’s exactly where He leads us. That’s why, admitting our powerlessness to overcome evil on our own, we continue the prayer with, “deliver us from evil.” Life is a series of temptations and we ask God to give us the power and strength to withstand every temptation we face.

When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted, the Holy Spirit was with Him the entire time. When we find ourselves in that same wilderness, we have the Holy Spirit, as well. Rather than an angel blocking the way, the Spirit will deliver us from evil!

Temptation is the best school into which the Christian can enter; yet, in itself, apart from the grace of God, it is so doubly hazardous, that this prayer should be offered every day, “Lead us not into temptation;”’ or if we must enter into it, “Lord, deliver us from evil.” [Martin Luther]

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB)]

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THE SCARLET CORD

tulip kaufmanniana - fire ball

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

One of only two women listed in the book of Hebrews’ “Hall of Faith,” Rahab married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz (who married Ruth), a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’ ancestors. Not an Israelite, she was a prostitute from Jericho who collaborated with her nation’s enemy. Yet, her faith is commended in Hebrews, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy, and James speaks highly of her in his epistle. Why?

Rahab met many travelers in her dubious profession and heard how the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, defeated the Amorite kings Sihon and Og, and slaughtered all of their people. Recognizing the Israelites’ God as supreme, she anticipated Jericho’s defeat and the perceptive woman judiciously aligned herself with the winning side. After protecting two Israelite spies by hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of herself and her family. As Rahab lowered the spies to safety on a scarlet cord, they warned that her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused her to be mentioned so highly in a gospel and two epistles or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, they erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. While the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. By then, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had they forgotten about her or did she pick the wrong ally? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns followed by 40,000 silent soldiers paraded once around the walled city with the Ark of the Covenant before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the Israelites marched once around Jericho and returned to their camp without ever lifting a weapon or shouting a war cry. Was her faith shaken by their strange behavior? Were the Israelites too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

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KORAH’S SONS

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. [Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah”]

monarch butterflyWhen researching their genealogy, most people hope to lay claim to ancestors who were nobility, war heroes, statesmen, historical figures or people who performed note-worthy deeds. Nevertheless, every tree has a few bad apples and we all probably have a few scoundrels in our line. For those seeking infamous rather than famous ancestors, several web sites provide access to court records, outlaw and criminal biographies, and lists of prisoners, convicts, executions, “pirates and buccaneers,” and inmates of asylums.

With the “sons of Korah” having written at least eleven of the psalms, the question of genealogy arises because we wonder about Korah’s identity. In Scripture, “son” has the broad meaning of descendants and Korah was the bad apple on their family tree. A Levite from the Kohathite clan, Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16. The Kohathites had the honor of transporting the most sacred objects of the tabernacle. Korah, however, wanted to serve as a priest—something that only could be done by Aaron and his family. Whether jealous of Aaron or resentful that the holy items had to be carried on his shoulders rather than transported on an ox cart, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Along with two malcontents from the tribe of Reuben, he challenged their leadership. As a result, the rebel leaders were swallowed by a sinkhole, 250 of their followers were consumed by fire, and 14,700 people died in a plague. Korah’s three sons, however, were spared and, seven generations later, the prophet Samuel came from his line.

Scripture tells us that Korah’s descendants (Korahites) joined David in various military exploits and, when he was king, they led the choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle. Three of those sons are named: Heman the Ezrahite (grandson of Samuel), Asaph, and Ethan (or Jeduthan). Along with being David’s chief musicians, all three men served as “seers” or prophets. Once the Temple was built, the “sons of Korah” became doorkeepers and custodians for the tabernacle.

For those of us with rotten apples on our family tree, unless we publicize their sordid history, it’s our secret. Korah’s descendants, however, had no secrets; their ancestor’s rebellion was a significant part of their nation’s history. I wonder if, when they wrote of the earth giving way in Psalm 46, they remembered the story of their rebellious ancestor sinking into an abyss. Korah had been given a special ministry by God but didn’t appreciate it. Covetously, he wanted more and people died because of him. His “sons,” however, never allowed the infamy of their ancestor to keep them from faithfully serving both God and their king as doorkeepers and musicians and using their God-given gifts to magnify the Lord.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  [Psalm 84:10-11 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah]

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BAKING A PRAYER

Once Jesus was praying in a particular place. When he had finished, one of his disciples approached. “Teach us to pray, Master,” he said, “just like John taught his disciples.” [Luke 11:1 (NTE)]

ibisI used to look forward to our occasional stops in the bank where a tray of homemade cookies always was laid out for their customers. I admit to having no will-power when it came to their white chocolate chip/macadamia nut cookies. With a hint of lemon, they were so delicious that I searched the internet to find the recipe so I could skip the bank visit. Several recipes came close but none were quite right so, using those as a guide, I developed a recipe that met the taste test!

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He recited what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It’s important to remember that the disciples asked how to pray but not what exact words to use. Being a good teacher, instead of a lecture on praying, Jesus gave them a model prayer, but certainly not the only prayer to be said.

My recipe search told me the basic ingredients I needed for the cookies: flour, baking powder, brown and granulated sugars, butter, eggs, and lemon extract. Jesus’ model prayer included basics like praise, an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, acceptance of His will, confession, forgiveness, and petitions for daily provision and protection from evil. I found other recipes that included ingredients like cornstarch, lemon zest, nuts, and vanilla extract. If we look at other prayers said by Jesus, we find things like thanksgiving, a desire to bring God glory, and pleas for others and for the church.

When Jesus showed the disciples how to pray, He gave them an outline (or a basic recipe) rather than a comprehensive list of components. Like a recipe, it’s up to us to put them all together. Some days, I give God an extra cupful of thanks and praise because, unlike salt, we can never overdo those ingredients. It’s often easy to skip the confession and forgiving but, like forgetting the baking powder in cookies, prayers don’t seem to come out right without them. While it’s possible to add too much flour to a cookie recipe, our prayers seem to improve the more we pray for the needs of others. God, however, probably won’t find our prayers very appetizing if we spend more time mixing in petitions for ourselves than for others! Unlike a cookie recipe, there is no set amount of time for baking the perfect prayer; that’s a judgment call. As for me, I often find it necessary to bake my prayers a long time before acceptance of God’s plan forms in my heart.

When we grow bored with the food we’ve been preparing, we create new recipes or tweak the old ones by adding something extra like dried cherries or cinnamon chips to oatmeal cookies. The same goes for our prayers. If prayer seems boring, we need to change it up by gathering the ingredients and presenting them to God in a different way. Just as there are countless ingredients with which to bake delicious cookies, there are countless components that can go into our prayers. Regardless of the recipe, my grands are pleased whenever I bake; I think God feels the same way about our prayers!

Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. [John Calvin]

“So this is how you should pray: Our father in heaven, may your name be honoured may your kingdom come may your will be done as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today the bread we need now; and forgive us the things we owe, as we too have forgiven what was owed to us. Don’t bring us into the great trial, but rescue us from evil.” [Matthew 6:9-13 (NTE)]

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THE HALLEL

Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever. Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord. [Psalm 113:1-3 (NLT)

Southern MockingbirdSeveral years ago, our mountain church hosted a concert sponsored by the small Jewish congregation in town. I vividly remember the end of the program as Jews and Gentiles sang Hava Nagila, joined hands, and danced the hora around our large sanctuary. Impressed by the performer’s energy, passion, and love of God, I purchased one of his recordings. Yesterday, after sorting through some old books and CDs, I listened to it for the first time in over 10 years. The music was composed and performed by a man who still performs today but the Hebrew words he sang were those of the Hallel and over 2,000 years old.

Hallel means “praise” and the Hallel is a liturgical prayer found in Jewish prayer books today that consists of all or parts of Psalms 113 through 118. Considered the cornerstone of Jewish liturgy, it testifies to the glorious miracles performed by God. Except for the solemn days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the jubilant Hallel is said or sung on all major Jewish holidays.

The author or authors of the six psalms of the Hallel are unknown but the psalms share a common theme: the events surrounding the exodus, God’s covenant with Israel, and the people’s obligation of praise and thanksgiving for God’s loving-kindness and sovereignty over Israel and all nations.

It opens with the simple song of praise found in Psalm 113 which begins and ends with “Hallelu yah” meaning “Praise the Lord.” Psalm 114 follows with a poetic description of the exodus and all of nature reacting in dance to God’s great work. Psalm 115 is an appeal for God’s assistance, not for Israel’s sake, but to bring honor and glory to God’s name among the pagan nations. The next psalm is one of gratitude by someone who, in a time of trouble, called upon God and was saved. Ending with a commitment to serve the Lord, it is followed by the shortest of all the psalms with a call for all nations to praise the Lord. The final psalm, 118, begins with thanksgiving followed by recounting God’s salvation in troubled times. It echoes the words Moses and the people sang after crossing the Red Sea: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.” [Exodus 15:2] This last psalm ends as it began—with thanksgiving.

Until now, I don’t think I appreciated the psalms as what they are: an ancient hymnbook. Reciting or singing the Hallel was a well-established part of the Jewish Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkoth celebrations by the first century. When I’ve sung or spoken the psalms in unison at church, I didn’t think about Jesus singing or saying those very same words (in Hebrew, of course). That Jews continue to sing the same hymns of praise sung by Jesus and the disciples when they worshiped—the same songs they sang together during the seder on the night He was betrayed—is mind boggling. That we still have those beautiful words of praise and thanksgiving, words we can say or sing any time, is a blessing. Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, all you nations. Praise him, all you people of the earth. For his unfailing love for us is powerful; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 117]

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HIS HAND IN MY GLOVE

This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel. [Ephesians 2:10 (NTE)]

Canadian RockiesLast summer, we moved permanently to our home in Florida. Knowing we’d no longer be spending any time in the cold winters of the Midwest, I packed up our winter attire for the charity resale shop. Along with the many coats, scarves, hats, and boots, I had a pile of winter mittens and gloves. Along with our super warm double ragg mittens, my husband and I had an assortment of wool, fleece, and leather gloves. He had a pair of heavy duty insulated Carhartts and I had some polyester/spandex gloves I often wore while walking. While packing up the rest of the house, I came across work gloves in the furnace room, rubber gloves by the wash tub, gardening gloves in the garage, silicone heat resistant gloves by the grill, fingerless gloves in the gym bag, vinyl gloves in the first aid kit, a pair of oven mitts, and even some chemically treated silver polishing gloves! Each pair had a specific use but, without a hand inside any of them, they were nothing but empty shells.

Thinking about our mittens and gloves, I remembered the words a pastor said many years ago: “Let the hand of God slip into the glove of your life.” When God slipped His hand into Gideon’s life, the fearful man became a warrior. When He slipped His hand in David’s life, the shepherd boy became a giant killer and king. By slipping His hand into Mary’s life, a peasant girl became mother to the Messiah and, when His hand slipped into Peter’s life, a fisherman became a Rock. When God slipped His hand into the glove of Saul’s life, the persecutor of Christians became the builder of Christ’s church.

Those gloves are nothing more than pieces of fabric and leather until they are filled by a hand and put to use. Like a glove without a hand, we are but empty vessels until God’s Holy Spirit fills us. Each glove is designed for a specific function and so are we; each of us has been God-designed for a specific reason. When we let God fill the gloves of our lives, we become His hands and can do the work for which He specially made us. When God fills the voids in our lives, we truly come alive and gain both a sense of purpose and the power to achieve it.

Father Almighty, fill us with your Holy Spirit. Give us loving obedient hearts and servants’ hands so that we joyfully do your holy work.

May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence and not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for Him to fill full of His Spirit and His love. [Andrew Murray]

May the God of peace, who led up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in every good work so that you may do his will. May he perform, in you, whatever will be pleasing in his sight, through Jesus the Messiah. Glory be to him for ever and ever, Amen! [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NTE)]

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