SEEING THE WHOLE THING

Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval. [2 Timothy 3:16 (GW)]

ELEPHANT - SERENGETIThe story is told of four blind men who, while walking together, collided with an elephant. The one who bumped into the elephant’s trunk concluded they’d run into a giant hose. The second man, feeling the elephant’s huge ear, disagreed and said it was an enormous fan. As he pulled on the tail, the third man assumed that it was a heavy rope. The fourth blind man, feeling the thick leg, pronounced them all to be wrong and declared they’d encountered a tree. Because none of them felt the entire animal, all of them were incorrect.

Jesus doesn‘t want His followers groping in the dark; He wants followers who can recognize Him. He doesn’t want faith that can’t see; he wants faith that comes from seeing the truth. Blind faith can’t answer the question, “Why do you believe?” nor can it stand firm when challenged. It can’t explain, “How do you know Jesus is the Son of God?” or “What makes you think the Bible is true?” Uninformed faith certainly can’t respond to difficult questions about evil, condemnation, redemption, and salvation. Blind faith can’t answer, “What would Jesus do?” if it doesn’t know what He said or did. It certainly can’t share the Gospel if it doesn’t know what the good news really says! Undiscerning faith can’t stand strong when Satan instills doubts nor can it recognize false teachings. Faith requires trust but how can we trust when we’re unsure of what and why we believe? Reason and intellect are not abandoned when we accept Christ; reason and intellect are what show us the truth of God’s way.

Without reading the Bible, we are like the blind men with the elephant. Depending entirely on what they felt at the time, they drew incorrect conclusions and missed the enormity of what was right in front of them. Let us never forget that the entire Bible is “God breathed” and not just our favorite verses. Without reading the whole thing, however, it’s easy to misunderstand what is right in front of us or to focus only on the concepts we like, such as love, mercy and God’s forgiveness, instead of other more demanding concepts, like sacrifice, humility, self-denial and obedience.

It has often been said that, “Knowledge is power.” Indeed, Biblical knowledge is powerful, but not because it gives us brute force. Biblical knowledge gives us the power to understand our lives as they relate to God’s plan, to discriminate between right and wrong, to resist evil and make the correct choices. It gives us the power to know our Lord, to share God’s word and, most of all, to stand strong in our faith.

Father, open our eyes and minds so that we grow in our knowledge of you. Let your truth grip our hearts and strengthen our faith.

We must not select a few favorite Bible passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. [A.W. Tozer]

So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:31-32 (GW)]

But dedicate your lives to Christ as Lord. Always be ready to defend your confidence in God when anyone asks you to explain it. However, make your defense with gentleness and respect. [1 Peter 3:15 (GW)]

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WE’RE LIMITED; HE’S NOT

Bow Lake - Alberta CanadaDo you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, Stretching farther than earth’s horizons, far wider than the endless ocean. [Job 11:7-9 (MSG)]

God is above us, below us, within us and all around us. Although he is indescribable, we need words when we speak of Him. Having only human language to use, we say God does the same things that we do: creates, moves, blesses, feeds, walks, talks, hears, sees, sends, tests, and judges. None of these words, however, can capture the true essence of a being who always has been and forever will be—a being capable of fashioning something from absolutely nothing and seeing into men’s hearts.

God is unlimited; we, however, are not. There are certain things we can’t create, places we can’t walk, and things we can’t see. Some of the vocabulary we use when speaking of God implies that He has limitations, too. God is indomitable and yet he “rested” on the seventh day; does God get tired? God sees everything but “asks” Adam where he is; is there a limit to His sight? Noah is given the rainbow so God will “remember” their covenant; does that mean God forgets? God gets “angry;” does that mean he holds grudges or throws dishes? The Bible says he “regretted” making Saul king; does that mean he makes mistakes? When Scripture refers to God’s body—His face, hands, eyes, arms and even feet—does that mean He needs nourishment, clothing or baths?

Having no other vocabulary, we use human terms regarding God’s actions, emotions, and appearance. There is no danger in giving human characteristics to God; it truly is the only way we can visualize Him. There is, however, danger if we let our limited vision and inadequate vocabulary constrain our concept of God. If we want human explanations for a being far beyond human, it isn’t going to happen. There are questions that can’t be answered and answers that are beyond our understanding. God is an incomprehensible, infinite and immense being; He is our audacious, amazing, invincible and almighty God. We must never let our ineptitude at fathoming His power keep us from believing in it and we must never let our inability to comprehend His omnipotence cause us to have weak faith and timid prayers. Nothing, absolutely, nothing is impossible for God.

Trying to analyze His [God’s] omnipotence is like an amoeba attempting to comprehend the behavior of man. [Dr. James Dobson]

I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:27 (NLT)]

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 (NLT)]

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THE PROVERBS 31 WOMAN

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. [Proverbs 31:10-12 (NLT)]

osprey pair - rookery bayProverbs 31 is said to have been written by King Lemuel. We only know that Lemuel was “the king of Massa,” possibly an Arab king, his name means “devoted to God,” and his words were written somewhere between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Attributing his words to counsel from his mother, the first nine verses sound like the sort of thing a queen-mother would tell son about government and the dangers of wine and bad women. Verses 10 through 31, however, are an acrostic poem outlining the qualities of the ideal wife.

Lemuel’s mama would have been a hard mother-in-law to please because the woman described in Proverbs 31 could be called Wonder Wife. She seems to be a cross between Shark Tank’s Barbara Cocoran, Martha Stewart, Little Women’s  Mrs. March (Marmee), and Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver. Rising before dawn and burning her lamp late into the night, the Proverbs 31 woman juggles family, home, business, and charitable activities effortlessly and without benefit of carry-out, Amazon, Instant Pot, car pools, complaint, spa days, naps, or any help from her husband.

Because I don’t spin wool, sew clothing to sell, plant vineyards, or make our bedspreads, I used to feel a twinge of guilt whenever I read Proverbs 31. There are weeds in the garden, fingerprints on the walls, stains on the carpet, and my kids often outgrew clothes before I got around to sewing on a missing button! These words, however, aren’t about specific activities, they are about values. In these twenty-two verses, rather than a to-do list, we find the qualities every woman (and man) should want to emulate. She is virtuous, trustworthy, strong, supportive, enterprising, resourceful, compassionate, industrious, energetic, considerate, generous, honorable, and wise and we don’t have to gather flax, weave our own cloth, dress in fine linen, or get up before dawn and prepare breakfast to be any of those things! In actuality, the Proverbs 31 woman is the epitome of the ideals found throughout the book of Proverbs. She is what true wisdom looks like in real life (or real life more than 2,000 years ago)!

Some women find this chapter objectionable with its somewhat dated sentiments. Let us remember that these verses are from a time when the highest compliment a man could give a woman was that she was a perfect homemaker! Although mothers have been advising their sons about the kind of woman they should marry for centuries, some scholars think these verses actually may be King Lemuel’s tribute to his mother: a woman of “noble character.” In fact, in many traditional Jewish homes, these verses (known as the Eshet Hayil) are sung or recited at the Sabbath meal Friday nights as a way for the husband to honor his wife and show the family’s appreciation for all she’s done for them. Rather than a list of wifely duties, these words are a song of praise!

Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. [Proverbs 31:28-31 (NLT)]

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RULES

This is what the Lord has commanded: A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. [Numbers 30:1-2 (NLT)]

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. …For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’” [Matthew 23, 15-16 (NLT)

water lily

As any parent of a teenager knows, it’s impossible to have enough rules to cover all the ways your child can err. Schemers that they are, they’ll always find a way around restrictions. When I attended boarding school, for example, several of us girls had our ears pierced by a fellow student (an aspiring physician). We knew that neither school nor parents would endorse numbing our ears with icicles and piercing them with a sewing needle and dental floss but, without a specific rule against it, we pierced them anyway. Because it was the school’s second year, the administration hadn’t anticipated all the ways we teens could misbehave and our student handbook was only one page. Now, 57 years later, that handbook is 33 pages long and covers such things as body piercings and tattoos, drones, room searches, recording devices, prohibited clothing, subwoofers, a roommate’s rights, and unauthorized access to the school’s computer system. I imagine next year’s handbook will be even longer and reflect yet another way its students have managed to flout authority.

Of course, it’s not just teenagers who assume that, if something isn’t specifically prohibited, it must be allowed. No matter their age, people will try to find a way around every inconvenient or bothersome rule. For example, God made it clear that a vow made before Him was binding. Keeping promises, however, can prove problematic and, through a convoluted re-interpretation of the law, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time created a loophole. If one swore by the gold on the altar, the promise was binding. But, if one swore only by the altar or temple, it was like crossing your fingers and the promise could be broken with impunity: a promise was only a promise if it was expedient.

We girls knew we shouldn’t have pierced our ears that way, the Pharisees knew that God meant for all promises to be kept, and today’s students shouldn’t need a specific rule stating that roommates must be spoken to in a respectful manner. While there were plenty of laws in the Old Testament, Jesus boiled them all down to two simple ones: love God and love our neighbor. In a perfect world these would be the only laws necessary. The world, however, isn’t perfect which is why we still have regulations and school handbooks.

Just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it right and just because something isn’t specifically prohibited doesn’t mean it should be done. Jesus lived by one law: the law of love. Regardless of the rules, like Him, we must let the two-fold commandment of loving God and loving our neighbor guide us in everything we do.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. [Romans 13:8-10 (NLT)]

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IN GOD’S TIME

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT)]

Humility is the proper estimate of oneself. [Charles Spurgeon]

silk floss tree“Haven’t they ever seen this show? They’re sure to fail!” I exclaimed as we watched the two chefs attempt to make panna cotta in the final round of Chopped. An Italian dessert made of sweetened cream, gelatin, and flavorings, panna cotta usually requires a minimum of four hours to set. In spite of chefs using quick process gelatin, liquid nitrogen, or the blast chiller to speed things up, I don’t think there’s ever been a successful panna cotta on the show. In fact, Chopped judge chef Alex Guarnaschelli calls panna cotta “Chopped suicide!” Nevertheless, these two chefs were sure they would be the ones who could pull it off in the allotted 30-minutes. As expected, instead of ending up with a dessert resembling a Jell-O mold made with cream, they both served something more like melted ice cream. I wondered what made them think they were that much better than any of the other chefs in the twelve years the show has aired. Apparently, competitive chefs tend to be a little short in the humility department!

We may not be chefs who think they’re more skilled than everyone else but, sometimes, we think we’re more skilled than God! As unwilling as the chefs were to accept that gelatin needs time to set, we’re often as unwilling to wait for God to do His work, His way, in His own time. So, rather than humbly admitting that God knows best, we try to be God and make things happen our way and in our time.

“Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you,” often is attributed to St. Ignatius and that advice may be wise in some cases. Nevertheless, there are times when we must humbly step back and leave it all to God. Just as it’s impossible to make a panna cotta in thirty minutes, we can’t make other people change. We can’t make them reconcile, forgive, love, heal, believe, or get sober but, sometimes, we act as if we can! Instead of using the blast chiller or extra gelatin, we try to nudge things along with intimidation, meddling, prying, interference, or concealment. Take it from one who’s learned the hard way, when we think our way is better and faster than God’s, the result is far worse than a runny panna cotta.

A certain amount of arrogance probably is necessary in cooking competitions. The chef needs to think he can achieve the impossible and, someday, a chef may prove victorious over 30-minute panna cotta. Prayer, however, is not a competition; it is a lesson in humility. It is admitting our powerlessness and handing the challenge to God for Him to deal with in His own time and way. Victory alone comes from Him!

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of “good time” is seldom in sync with ours. [Oswald Chambers]

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. … Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. [Psalm 62:1,5-7a (NLT)]

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HALT

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35 (NLT)]

chicoryAlthough they were twins, Esau and Jacob were as different from one another as oil and water. Esau, the first born, was impulsive. An outdoorsman and hunter, he was his father’s favorite. Jacob was the quiet (and cunning) stay-at-home mama’s boy. Esau would have watched the Outdoor and Sportsman Channels while Jacob would have watched Food Network and HGTV.

Returning exhausted from one of his adventures and claiming he was starved, Esau asked for some of Jacob’s stew. Exploiting his brother’s hunger, Jacob offered to trade the stew for Esau’s birthright. The stew must have smelled delicious because Esau, who should have been outraged at the idea, accepted his brother’s offer. Foolishly, he relinquished his double share of their inheritance along with all the privileges and responsibilities due the eldest son simply to gratify his hunger.

Esau’s story reminds me of the acronym HALT which stands for hungry-angry-lonely-tired. Halt is what we should do before making a decision if we’re feeling any of those things! Esau was both tired and hungry when he made that life-altering decision. Granted, Jacob’s insistence on making a bargain before feeding his own brother was both sly and selfish of him. Still, the fault for that decision falls solely on the shoulders of Esau.

Esau wasn’t starving; his empty stomach may have been growling but he wasn’t malnourished or wasting away. Nevertheless, he was far more interested in immediately gratifying his hunger with a bowl of lentil stew than the ramifications of his choice. Like Esau, when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, we look to quickly meeting our needs without thinking about the consequences. In short, we’re blind to the enemy’s tactics and vulnerable to sin.

Our hunger may simply be for food, as it was for Esau, but it also can be for things like money, fame, attention, understanding, or acceptance. Simon the Sorcerer, for example, was so hungry for the power and authority of the Holy Spirit that he tried to buy it from Peter and John.

The time to make decisions is not when our emotions are on high alert. Acting in anger is dangerous and can lead to name calling, broken relationships, criticism, belittling, destruction, and even violence. Anger is what caused Moses to rashly smash stone tablets that had been written on by the hand of God! When insulted by Nabal, an enraged David immediately set out to kill every man in Nabal’s household. Fortunately, Abigail stepped in, pled for mercy, and cooler heads prevailed.

Making decisions when we’re lonely isn’t a good idea either. Feeling abandoned and alone, Elijah wanted to lie down and die. Being lonely, however, doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. We can feel isolated and disconnected even when surrounded by plenty of people. Perhaps, in spite of his wives and concubines, it was that sort of loneliness that caused David to desire Bathsheba. Halting helps us remember that God always is with us.

Being tired can be physical exhaustion, as it was with Esau, but it also can be a sense of being overwhelmed and drained. For forty years, Moses faithfully led the Israelites but it was his weariness and exasperation at their constant rebellion that caused him to disobey God and strike the rock at Kadesh. Sadly, his impulsive act meant the weary man never entered the Promised Land.

It’s been said that the difference between school and life is that, in school, you’re taught a lesson and then take a test but, in life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson! Let us learn the lesson about halting without having to make a mistake like Esau’s. As the old saying goes, “act in haste, repent in leisure.” Poor decisions come when we’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. When you’re in one of those situations, halt and pray instead!

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

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. [Psalm 37:7 (NLT)]

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