This month we are looking at the book of Ezra. His name means “helper,” “strength” or “Yahweh has helped.” This word is descriptive of God when we say He is the stone of help. In Hebrew its “Eben-Ezer.”  This word is also used for a wife, that she is a “helper” to her husband. Don’t think for a second though that this is just some meek servant. The context in each usage of the word refers to God and His ARMY. Imagine God’s huge army coming to assist, support and help YOU in your struggle. That’s enormous help! They would need it to finish what God had required. What is God requiring of you in this hour? Is that same supply of “help” available today?

Look for the big themes when you study Ezra—return, repent, rebuild, restoration, etc. Those words formed the blueprint for rebuilding the Temple and just happen to also be the exact words we need to rebuild the Church today. It is God’s blueprint.

God told His people that He was going to judge them for bad behavior.  If God speaks a warning, He is not playing. True prophecy is not just all bad news though—then or now. It usually contains some appeal that IF we do something demonstrating a turnaround, that God’s favor will return and even bless us. Zerubbabel is stirred by God and commissioned to go back to Jerusalem and build the wall. He not only obeys that call but takes his buddies with him. I don’t know if he begged them or gave them incentives. I don’t know if they heard from God also or just went along because he was their friend.  What I do know is the list of names of those who returned, because it appears in Ezra 2:2 and Neh.7:7.

These guys were commissioned to return and rebuild the temple back in Jerusalem. Maybe they thought this was their one big chance to return to their former homes, occupations, and Temple. Maybe this was their daily prayer until it was realized. But there was one who perhaps did not realize that this event was more about his daughter than it was about him. You see in the list of those who return there was a man who had adopted a little girl whose parents were either killed or died along the way. It’s possible he even returned and stepped into their lives when he returned. He was a godly man and promised to watch over the little girl. We are not told if she was in exile and returned with him or he returned to find her in need of a guardian but nevertheless Mordecai, perhaps the uncle of Esther is the Mordecai in that list.  On top of God using Mordecai to restore the Temple and return, he is granted to be a fill-in dad. Pure religion is this—to help the widow and orphan. Sometimes our moving into a new season is not for ourselves but for others. Whenever we step in to obey God and fulfill His plans, He tends to bless way more than we could think or imagine.

God answers Ezras prayers in chapter 8 when he requests traveling help and mercy. He has to move a large number of people. People who were traumatized and exiled. See chapter 8:23: “So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and He answered our prayer.” Not only was Ezra their spiritual guide, but he became their travel guide and mobile priest as well. Ezra demonstrated to the people around him that God was his helper. We got to see from the beginning to the end of his journey that God was beside him, assisting all the way.

There are many detours and distractions in their attempts to rebuild. Some cranky folks come along and impede the progress by saying the work was not authorized. It gained momentum and for FOURTEEN years the legitimate work is stopped. This work was stirred by God and sanctioned by the King. Those who stayed should have been thrilled God’s word was finally coming to pass but because they were not the ones leading the revival, they were jealous and tried to abort what Jeremiah had prophesied long ago. It’s also possible that when they were rebuffed with their help they rose up.  However, this did not stop God’s plan or prevent it from being fulfilled because God keeps His promises.

The original folks living in Jerusalem remind me of the prodigal son’s older brother—“but we’ve been here all along.” On the East Coast they have a category for that, they call it the “from here” or “come here” people. Well, the from here people in Ezra’s day did not want the “come here” people directing traffic! Both sides were Israelites and God’s people. All were needed for the rebuild. However, those who were exiled came back very different. Some had married, some had lost spouses, some had taken on Babylonian ways. They were more than a hot mess. The new leaders were shocked at the changes. Ezra got very disillusioned with the carnality of the people around him. Those who had made the long, hard journey now acted carnal, they talked wicked, they walked wicked. So, Ezra, disappointed, cries out to God and prays:

Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.  Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed: “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in His sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.10 “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. . . .

Chapter 10 starts out saying, “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.” This is a beautiful moment but here is where it takes a wrong turn: Neither God nor Ezra told the people to divorce. Malachi, a contemporary of Ezra, later sets the record straight by preaching that God hates divorce. In this moment someone comes up with an idea and they, in their own strength, are going to make things right. They then followed the suggestion of a man who was in the crowd. Not a revelation or leading from God after wise council, but the mere suggestion of a mere man.

 “Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”

Their solution was to send away the women. Conversion, teaching is absent here.

In chaos, in spiritual warfare, in reflection of their own sin, that was their big idea. There is no evidence they sought God’s approval, even took a beat to pause and reflect on the implications for the wives and children! Reconciliation to prevent broken homes was not the plan. Shekaniah wanted the leaders to make a covenant. Note the difference between that and God making a covenant with them or them making a covenant with God at His direction. We make many vows, agreements in our lives but without God’s opinion or intervention it is just a human contract. Their “vow” to fix the problem was just as bad as the problem. Good works are different from God works.

We can appreciate that Ezra was a man of prayer. We can appreciate that he mourned over broken covenant and commandments. We can appreciate that rebuilding and restoration and repentance were part of his ministry—all good characteristics of a leader. Where we MUST stop short is that when he moves on to lead or let others lead in the flesh, it is not God’s heart that he was representing. Galatians tells us, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? In the effort to be holy, it got worse.

Zerubbabel rebuilds the temple, Nehemiah rebuilds the wall and Ezra takes on the spiritual and moral challenges to rebuild the people. All three of these leaders working together came close to the heart of what God was wanting for His people. In spite of the many pauses, misses and mistakes, their goal was eventually reached but it was not perfect by any means. We see the human side of Ezra’s leadership here also.

Ezra set his heart from an early age to seek God and know His word. He prepared His heart to know and understand God. Ezra made sure his heart was postured, set, aligned to God so he would know and serve Him forever. This is this man’s legacy. He served him all the days of his life. He became what his name was—help. Not just being a servant but being the help of the  One who ran the Heavens. Divine help. He sought, He heard and He carried out God’s instructions to build the Temple.

A temple made by human hands with both the “from here” and the “come heres,” did not work so well. The Temple in the future would need to be made with the permission of a King and without human hands. A Temple that would be rebuilt perhaps by God Himself. . . . That leader would need to be sent from above. That builder would be worth the wait!

May we be like Ezra in our day—full of prayer, repentance, revival and restoration. May we know and obey God’s word. God help us to follow Ezra’s example and be holy, listening, in covenant with God, in our generation.

Renae Roche 2024

Gods’ plan and the frequent “changing of the guard” is repeated King after King in this power -packed book. The theme of “rise and fall” can be seen throughout Chronicles. If you watch the leaders in our political landscape today, you may see similarities. People tend to group around the leader that most represents what they want in life. There were great kings and there were wicked kings. Some lead well, then ran on their own strength, and fell. We are like that too, right? We do well, then think we did it by our own power, then fall.[1] It’s human nature. We soar in our strength and then realize all our “soaring” was really Gods’ doing to begin with. Those that sought God– had favor and success. Those who were wicked – morally fell, and their people fell with them in death. Chronicles even lists stories of children who were burned and sacrificed. Gods’ people were doing these things! It was shocking to see these leaders take a turn for the worse within just one generation. God shows us why this took place. We can learn much from these cycles.

One surprising section is in chapter 15. Verse thirteen says,

“That whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman and they swore unto the Lord with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets… And all Judah rejoiced at the oath; for they had sworn with ALL their heart and sought Him with their whole desire; and He was found of them; and the Lord gave them rest on every side.”

My teenagers Bibles say the people “whole heartedly”  and “eagerly” sought God. It stirred our hearts. Whole–hearted is very different than tepid or lukewarm. My family likes food that is hot and if it is even close to cold, they will let me know it. I used to get grumpy, as it is a fiasco to get everyone to the table on time some nights, but now I capitalize on those moments and remind them that God wants us to be piping hot spiritually as well!

So, what did the leaders who were successful do which set them apart from the wicked leaders? Can we learn from their actions in our generation? In chapter seven we read, “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.”  That is some kind of praying! That is not a trite, “thank you for the grub, God” type prayer. Solomons’ prayer so impacts the people, that they erupt in praise: “God is good, and His love endures forever.” Fervent prayer evokes worship. It also produces sacrifice as we gain Gods’ perspective. Solomon “offered a sacrifice of twenty-two thousand head of cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats. So, the king (Solomon) and all the people, dedicated the temple of God. The priests took their positions, as did the Levites (collaborative ministry) with the Lord’s musical instruments, which King David had made for praising the Lord…  Solomon consecrated the courtyard and offered (offerings)” … So, Solomon observed the festival at that time for seven days…he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel. He blessed them (corporate fellowship) and blessed them in their homes. That is good leadership. We will also see similar traits in King Josiah later in the book when he sets (establishes) people in places of service and then abundantly and intentionally encourages them. There is much we can learn from these Kings.

The Lord then appears to Solomon and lets him know that He has heard his prayer: “When I shut up the heavens, so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,  (when life gets really tough),

IF my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, ….(2 Chr.7:14)

Pause here for a minute. Note what God is sovereign over – Sky, Land and People and the trials that go with that. It says WHEN God does this, so we can expect it. The IF starts a conditional clause, meaning if you do what God requests, then the following things will be done in accordance with that action. It is a third person plural – if they (corporately) will humble themselves. That’s good peer pressure –if we realize results will not come unless everyone is  going hard after God! It would change our meetings and their outcomes. We recently watched the movie, “The Boys in the Boat” and watching their transition from a team of eight to work as one was very motivational. [2] I’ve enjoyed over the years being part of teams that work seamlessly. It is thrilling to watch the results.

The word “humble,” in this verse, means to bend low, to be submitted. It is comes from a word that means to contract wings, like an Eagle.[3] The word suggests going low and bending ones’ knee. I wanted to understand this reference, so I studied eagles flying.[4] Eagles do something when they fly and bend their wings low called a “wing tuck.” [5] The winds catch their feathers and can pull them in many different directions. When their wings are tucked –they are secure and stable. When turbulence comes while they are in flight, instead of jostling on the air streams, they simply draw their wings closer to their body. They free fall, for a few seconds, until it passes. It momentarily prevents stress on their wings. Humble yourself – before the King of all Kings, tuck in, bend low and let Him steady you in the fray.

When we are young, we are tempted to fight the winds. We think we are tough and “ninja” as the kids would say. It is in our DNA to fight and struggle and prove we are strong. It is not however, part of Gods’ DNA, for those reborn. His way often comes with trusting and being still. Think of all the trials in your personal life and in the nation and world currently. When turbulence comes – and it will, we need to hear Gods word in Chronicles to His Kings and to His people now: Reposition yourselves low by bending your wings, your knee. Go low. Be submitted to the Sovereign Lord.

When the winds and rain are beating against your face– you need a reprieve. The answer is to  quiet your heart.  If my people would go low – stop flapping, stop fighting, stop squawking and draw in, do that themselves, (collectively and individually), God will move.

Then, in that posture, we pray. Do not just tell God what you want, but listen and hear what He is speaking – a dialogue. Here it is a give and take. Lord, this is what we see, what do YOU see? This is what we hear, Lord what do YOU hear? What is our/my part Lord and how do we/I carry that out today? It is individual and corporate. It reaches into their homes. Those times must be fostered in our places of worship. It must be taught in our homes. The temple of the New Testament was Christs body. Post Pentecost, WE are the Temple. Gathering people -it was Gods heart then and it is Gods’ heart now.

So, what is the difference between praying and seeking Gods face? There must be a difference, or one word would have sufficed. To seek here is not just a casual looking for something but an all-out search party! It means to strive after, to beg for, to go after, in worship or prayer with great desire, to demand an answer. It looks to secure and actively find what one is seeking. “Well sister Margaret, I just don’t like it when that one person prays, it’s almost like they are bossing God.” Our views of God must line up with Gods words, not some sissified version of Sesame Street. Come on now! It was God who said “if my people would SEEK my face…” If you are “His people” you have permission. The verb tense in Hebrew is not a sweet, polite asking but a demanding, radical begging and pleading. God is not scared of our emotions. “God, we need you now, desperatelyplease heal our hearts, heal our land!!!”

I remember when I first met my husband. We both smelled so good. I cough thinking about all that fragrance. His truck was clean and shiny. He was early for every date and had everything planned to the T. The energy was electric, and I was highly sought after. I enjoyed that season very much. He is still good on all those things, but the “chase” is not as fervent as in those days –because we are married and secure in our love. While we still enjoy dates, the effort looks a bit different than in those days before we said, “I Do.”  Similarly, Jesus wants to be pursued like a Bridegroom coming to marry His bride – because He is! That’s not old news, that’s good news! 2 Timothy 4:8 tells us there is a reward for those who “long for His appearing”.

We want the “hear, forgive, heal” part. We want Gods eyes to be open and His ears attentive to our prayers, but we are often — remiss to prepare. Remiss to fully seek. Sometimes, we also may have misunderstood scripture and seek Gods’ face without passion or purity.

Also in this scripture is the word SHUV (meaning to turn). It means to go the opposite direction. STOP sinning. To go back, repent from all wickedness.  God does not consider our “rights.” We do not get a say or a vote. He makes this promise conditional – we get the benefits, IF and only if, we follow HIS directions.

IF you, do these things…then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.      

God tells them why things are falling apart, “This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by, will be appalled, and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why He brought all this disaster on them.’” It is one thing to fight an enemy, it is a fearful thing to fight the living God. Turn, turn now.
February is a good month to give God our WHOLE heart. (See the Rest for individuals page on this website if you need a place to start). It is a good month for us to humble ourselves before the Lord. It is a good month to pray and radically seek His face and turn from all our wicked ways. Start with one prayer, free fall into His loving grace, He awaits you.

I would love to hear your stories of what takes place as you follow these scriptures and God then starts to hear, forgive, and heal. I will post as many as possible.

Happy  month!
Renae Roche 2024

 

[1] Joe Roche, Morning Devotion Jan.15, 2024

[2] The Boys in the Boat. A movie by George Clooney based on a true story. 2023.

[3] Blueletterbible.org 

[4] The word  is “kana”.

[5]  On Eagle’s Wings, a Revelation About Flight – The New York Times

www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/science/on-eagles-wings-a-revelation-about-flight.html

 

 

  LOVE ONE ANOTHER                                                                                                                                                     LOVE ONE ANOTHER

The new school year is off to a great start. Students are in classes, teachers are teaching, and a handful of people are still wearing masks, reminding us that Covid was real, lest we forget all those we lost. The curriculum in some schools has changed drastically, while courts debate what history should be rewritten. Names have changed, genders have changed and in Florida, living situations have changed as houses washed into the ocean during Hurricane Ian.

It is a different generation than when I went to school. So many things have changed. I’m reminded of many things now that my kids are older and ask questions. Did anyone feel confused when you found out the Underground Railroad had no train or that the Whitehouse plumbers never worked on any sinks? Hmm. Many students struggle to understand the difference between the words red and read and wrestle with other oddities in the English language. I would bet that modern students would also be flummoxed at the long list of narratives to wade through in American politics. Education is anything but simple these days. So, what does this have to do with 2 and 3rd John. Quite a bit.

Whether you are talking the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Pentagon Papers or something smaller, fraud is a part of our everyday life. It gives truth a run for its money. Lies range from why someone is late for work, to “I’ll be ready in five minutes” to Santa is bringing you presents –or coal for Christmas. The world spins around these bigger and lesser lies. Young people get their “cues” from adults who tell them how things really work.

“What is the world’s greatest lie?” the little boy asks. The old man replies, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”[1] This truth – Its innate to our very being. God is the One who controls and guards over us. God loved us then, loves us now and will love us to the end. That’s true. If we doubt that, then we live in opposition to the God who created us. It’s a big deal. It is core to our being and the basis for our belief about love. It also impacts how we love one another.

Boundaries and legitimate warnings were given to Adam and Eve, yet they still fell for the lie given them that affects all of humankind today. Love echoes all the way back to this couple – did God really say? Do we forge our own way, trust in Gods’ love and care? Or do we look out for ourselves only and grab the apple as Adam did, defending ourselves, providing for ourselves and looking out for me and mine? Our belief system is core (pun intended) to how we receive and give love.

In these tiny little letters at the back of our Bibles, John points out sound advice for the churches he was writing to. He was the beloved disciple who knew Jesus’ best. In the time of persecution, he could not get too detailed. He says the word TRUTH eleven times. That is a lot of times for such short letters. They were to walk in truth, live truth. It is foundational for Christian lives, theology and in order to have a relationship with God.

I recently heard a story about a friend that did not seem accurate. When I traced it back, there were about 30 people who had heard the story, added to it, debated and discussed it but not one person had gone to the source – in person. Speculation had molded over the main issue. Literal hours had been spent dialoguing about this person, but they were left out of the discussion entirely. Research demands that you go to primary sources. If we base arguments, assessments or opinions on hearsay rather than firsthand verification we will never get to the truth. It seems people like to spin a tale for amusement rather than embrace veracity. That’s serious. It also blocks love – for individuals and congregations.

I was looking into lies told in our country, while researching this month. Truth in advertising came into the legal realm after many people had been sued or injured because of lies. One Mexican fast-food restaurant was found to have put oat filler in their meat – it wasn’t seasoned goodness; it was horse food – oats. Volkswagen had the Diesel gate lawsuit, Activia said its yogurt would help with gut bacteria even though they had not run any scientific studies and Red Bull was sued because they told consumers their drink would “give you wings.” [2] Imagine thinking you would get wings from drinking a beverage and then suing to prove you couldn’t. They won. 

Truth is the root and foundation for love. Without it – love is just a feeling or a fad. Small lies, white lies and mistruths do not protect, they block. Changing, misrepresenting and not being forthright makes people give up and will build mistrust. Remember when a man’s word was his bond? A woman’s word should be so guaranteed, you could take it to the bank and cash it? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone’s love was so solid? Love is defined, according to the Bible, as walking in the truth.

John goes on to tell the believers:  LOVE one another. Sounds gooey, nice. But then he defines love – walk in love and this is love that you walk in His commandments. John is not talking about the worlds love; your neighbors love or cultures idea of love. Gods’ love is defined by following His precepts, ways, commandments. What are they?

  1. You shall have no other gods
  2. You shall not make any graven images- idols
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath – to keep it holy (set apart for God time).
  5. Honor your father and Mother
  6. You shall not kill
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

Remember when these were posted in every church, every school? It was a standard, a paradigm all were to follow – a definition if you will. Whether a visual reminder or discussion starter it impacted how we thought and carried out our lives. True love is –true. It brings rest, it represents the living God, so it is not dull, stagnant or a lie. It represents the very person of God because God is LOVE.

Truth is a litmus test for love. No masks, no fraud, no deception.

Perhaps that is why the enemy is frantically trying to get us to lie about what we know is real. You can say a goat is a sheep all day long, but the reality is not going to change. If we learn to deceive ourselves, the truth is not in us. Twisting truth, rewriting history, ignoring facts, and using unjust balances are things God addressed in His word from day one.

You can’t love someone if you are slandering them. You can’t walk in truth towards someone if you fill your conversation with lies and half-truths – “my phone is dead, my schedule changed, I didn’t know you needed me”, etc. When we walk in honesty and Gods will – love will abound.

Whether in ministry, homes, workplaces or school settings, our integrity is foundational to our relationships and growth. Love is living because God is living. If you do shady business or deceive people, God knows that. If you exclude, gossip, cheat, steal to get your own way or hide your sin, God still sees that, and love grows cold. Ouch, this is even difficult to write – it is so antithetical to modern day Christianity. White lies cover things that make us nervous. White lies smooth over half truths and politically correct leading. White lies prevent truth. Still serious.

I no longer think these two little letters are little. Their message is HUGE. I think they are placed before the book of Revelation for a reason – Jesus is coming back for a pure Bride, a spotless Bride and John wanted to get us ready. Really ready. Love one another and watch yourselves- John made it clear.

We can apply this book by being honest with ourselves and those around us. Say what we mean and mean what we say. The ten days of Awe celebrated by the Jews before Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) was a ten-day spiritual discipline of looking inward, repenting and examining one’s life. Where there are spots and blemishes, we can confess. Where there is gross darkness and sin we can turn around and go the other way. Where there are fractured relationships, we can do the hard work and reconcile. Some observe Lent, some make confession, some do a daily introspection – – however you do it, do it. Because without truth we cannot genuinely love ourselves or others.

Having a love deficit? Check out the level of truth in your inward parts. Are you bathing your heart daily in scripture? Are you refreshing your prayer muscles in worship? Are you allowing the God of the universe to saturate your mind and life in His presence? Real love comes from The Real Love and walking in His ways. It can not be fabricated or mimicked.

Love defined by walking in the truth requires intentionality, prayer and absolute devotion to God and His ways. It reveals the Hoax of the enemy, it grows the church. We must be like Demetrius and prefer others, faithful and full of charity. Where does love come from in a home, church, nation? From Gods heart, His word and commandments. It comes from being right with Him and having a heart that is renewed daily. Do you want to love without guile, pretense or falsehood? Hear David’s prayer:

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. 5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive  me. 6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. 9 Hide thy face from my sins and blot out all mine iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right  spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.  Psalm 51

We cannot muster up love or manufacture it. We cannot force it on others to perform because we want more of it. We can only give what we have first really received. We can point them to the God of all love and encourage them to love like He loves. We can foster love by staying close to this One who has shown us perfect love. LOVE one another is more about living in truth and Gods presence than it is a command to do extra good deeds. When we lay down our good for Gods best – there is room for love– Jesus’ style. Living love is a breeding ground for miracles, Holy expectation, and much joy. It is very opposite of temporary, fading love.

I pray that you press into God today. Let Him cleanse your heart, heal your spirit, help you walk in His word and ways. That’s the spiritual condition for love to grow and thrive. It is also the foundation for loving one another.  Like John, may we love, truly love one another and look for His appearing.

Loving Him and you,

Renae Roche 2022

  1. In discussion with others after reading this blog, it came up that to truly love someone you must truly know them. To love them in the way most meaningful to them you must know their love language and how they receive love which requires time, investigation and truth. We also processed comments about facing our true selves and acknowledging the lies we live with and those we refuse. Jesus said, “I am the truth”, so to embrace truth ultimately is to embrace Him.

[1] Source unknown

[2] Julien Rath. Business Insider. Eighteen False advertising scandals that cost some brands millions. Feb.27,2017. BusinessInsider.com  Accessed 10/1/22.

 

 

Ephesians  –  “Dressed to the T”   

Ephesians is such a profound book. It was fun to read it with my family. We took turns studying and teaching it. A local thrift store just happened to have a big shield, so we had good visuals to go with the lessons. I’m going to highlight two sections that were especially meaningful.

Ephesians 3:14

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen  you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.

*Dwell:  “To house, inhabit permanently, to reside. (Not a visiting guest but to take up residence) To settle down, make a  home, dwell fixedly. “

through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established  in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp (dimensions)
how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and

*Grasp:  ” Comprehend.  Not just to obtain but to attain, meaning to vigorously seize, appropriate, and make one’s own.  It comes from two root words: Kata: a preposition denoting motion or diffusion . lambano: to seize, catch, receive.”  

to know this love (feel, perceive, understand) that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Years ago, I preached  this passage at a seminary. The tough thing about preaching and being recorded is that every mistake is remembered – permanently. Preachers have a much harder time today because you have to carefully say every word for virtual playback.  I  made the mistake of saying this particular school had “arrived”. I was nervous and it just popped out as I was so impressed- and intimidated. The point of the text was that even though we had “knowledge” the arrival of excellence Paul was seeking was not brilliance– but love. I finished and tried my best, but that expression would haunt – and stir me for years to follow. It was foundational for me. Paul wanted the church to be so filled with love that it would surpass knowledge. That is a worthy goal for schools and churches today! Our highest aim should be our love for the Lord, the lost and one another.

Recently we  have moved to the sand hills state. I didn’t fully understand what that meant,  until my plants started dying off. Each of my pots outside had rocks  in the bottom of them for drainage and then local soil. It is sandy and will not  work to “root and ground”  plants, so they die quickly. So much to learn. I miss  black dirt! In the middle of whatever you plant you need traction – something solid for the plants to root in. We need to be “rooted” in Christ. My son planted his little jalapeno plant out back and it quickly wilted. We needed to mark off the area so there was room for it to spread out. We needed to make sure what was beside it wouldn’t kill it off and what was above wouldn’t eat it. It needed to be shielded  from shade and critters. Growth does not come without struggle!  Paul tells the believers that they are to know the width, length, depth, and height of Gods’ love. It starts with good soil , getting rooted and grounded in Christ.

This month – will you have your family each take one of these dimensions to study? How is Gods love deep?  ”How deep the fathers love for us, how vast beyond measure”. I live with a husband who has sailed the ocean deep and his stories are incredible. “Lots of water” does not do justice to the deep blue sea where he lived for many years. We need to get curious when it comes to scripture and dig deep. We can never “fathom” the things in the ocean and wonders that exist there. How wide is God’s love? Wide enough to stretch out a visual message on a wooden cross.  How long is God’s love? Long enough to span time, long enough to reach eternity? Long enough to reach your heart and mine. How high is His love? I remember flying an airplane when I was younger – looking down and seeing little cars and houses and fields. I was in awe of Gods  viewpoint and amazed that He would search all over the world for those whose hearts were postured towards Him. Each one of these dimensions is inexhaustible– but as you study– your heart will stretch in new directions.

Knowledge is wonderful but love surpasses it. We need to be immersed in Gods’ love – and the knowledge of it. Note that grasping also includes “diffusion”. What if that love diffused and spread faster than Corona or Delta or sin? What if the love that we embrace– affected others around us? (One sneeze spreads millions of droplets and can reach from 6 to 27 feet. How far does a hug, a smile, an encouraging music note spread?  It takes less than a second to hum a hymn that will circulate for hours. Church folk should be the best spreaders of love on the planet. Hmm, how do we love fervently while social distancing?  A—chhhhhh—ooooo!

At the end of this powerful book is  the imperative to put on the armor of God.  Our family studied this at a church night, led by our friend Carol a few years ago. She did so while standing with  a full-size soldier in armor. Her handouts were amazing. She introduced us to a weapon we had not considered before : the cloak of Zeal. It  is a fascinating study.

As we reviewed Ephesians afresh this  month, we noticed something interesting in the chapter 6 list:  Praying in the Spirit and praying for your Pastor (Paul) and the saints. I previously looked at it as just a ending remark, but we now believe it is part of the soldiers “dressing and armor”.

The pastor and spouse are front line warriors.  My youngest son said , “They care about us and pray for our safety, and we do the same for them.” That’s pretty important to have people  fight with you. Our pastoral family is going thru something currently and we have felt the battle raging. They  lead the troops and things are not the same when they are not out in front. What happens to them affects the whole body, so we need to cover  them on a daily basis!

One night after I had been hit by many fiery darts, I dragged myself into church and sat there. It was too complicated to ask for prayer, I was discouraged and could not shake the oppression of the day. I grabbed the pew in front of me and said a silent prayer for God to help me make it through the night. Have you ever been too burdened to even pray? The world and enemy can be noisy and confusing. The worship leader hit a few notes on the piano. As we waited for the rest of the church folk to filter in, he played the melody  “I’m going to see a victory.” It slowly replaced my fears and reminded me who wins the final war. Faith started poking my doubts and a smile crept across my face. St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach often and if necessary, use words.”  Those notes silenced the enemy.  It changed the atmosphere and gave traction. Praying for the pastor,  leaders and saints is not trivial – its part of our  armor, necessary equipment to WIN the battles before us. Hear Paul:

18 And pray in the Spirit (worth an entire study) on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

The war for souls Sunday morning is not waged just before the service – it is waged when the pastors plumbing breaks during the week, when the pastor’s spouse gets stuck in traffic, when the sound system is broken down. Praying for our leaders not only ensures that they will make it to church and live to fulfill their calling –but to press through for victory for the congregation. It also ramps up praying for people who come into the church with  chains they can not break by themselves. Prayer, fasting and support are  critical – it makes all Gods’ saints ESSENTIAL. YOU ARE ESSENTIAL if you are part of the house of God.

When our pastor was going through a medical situation, we received updates from people in the church and his family. It helped us to keep focused in prayer and brought great comfort. There’s this one lady that is in our church (Tina) that works in various areas. She is the voice on our telephone prayer chain and she records special phone messages.  I got to spend  some time with her and her husband at a youth event. I know her as the one who ” brought bacon and grilled onions” for the burgers. If you’ve ever been camping—that is a BIG deal. She was the joyful “extra” that made that meal special. She keeps us In the loop when people go to the hospital. Those “touches” from the Lord, those ministries that don’t fit in a five- fold description are an essential part of the Army of God. Flipping burgers and enemies might just be a thing.  (LOL) A single smile goes a long way for a weary sargeant or  soldier. Whether its an angelic host  led by God, a battalion of disciples led by a  Sunday School teacher or saints that are “seasoned” and bring the seasoning, we hold out hope that “We’re going to see a victory.” Michael W. Smith sings, “This is how I fight my battles” and lets us know that we fight surrounded by God. I think  Paul would add – with fierce, prayed up saints surrounding us also!

So,  put on the whole armor but lets also pray in the Spirit, for the leaders and seasoned saints as part of our weaponry.  Ephesians 6 :

“Tychicus , the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.  I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Eph.6:14-21

 

A AAAA     —cccccchhhhh—-oooooooooooooooooooooooooo…….!!!!!!!   !!!!!

RenaeRoche2021

 

 

 

ould 

 

I attended North Central University in Minneapolis in the 90s. I was a non-traditional student so decided to live off campus. Unaware of the dynamics, I moved into an apartment off of Lake street – just a couple blocks down from the third precinct. The pizza shop around the corner was filled with police officers one night and a gang drove by and gunned them all down. I had never encountered anything but respect for the police and this was devastating to me. Racial reconciliation was at a stalemate as lawlessness seemed to prevail.  I prayed for their families and the precinct while getting to know my neighbors which included a variety of families trying to make a living. Most used that bus stop shown on CNN this week. Many did not drive so they relied on the local businesses. Many of my neighbors were minorities. That same year there were riots due to the Rodney King incident and cars were burned outside my bedroom window in protest of injustice. I got to experience – a city that feared gangs and a city that feared police. What I heard was vastly different than what the news portrayed. When I heard the stories of why some got involved and the stories of young sons being beaten and even killed, my heart broke. I could not bear all the suffering. Watching the news this week was like a rerun and I wonder what it means that the same passions and biases are in play. Many are citing MLK on both sides of the fence, wishing he was still here to address the issues. Billy Graham has passed, Ravi Zacharias has passed, and many voices of reason have left the stage.

This month we are studying Zephaniah the minor prophet. History records he was the son of Cushi (an Ethiopian).  He was a man of social standing. His genealogy line has royalty in it – King Hezekiah and King Josiah. His name means Yahweh has hidden. Somehow, he lived through the atrocities of his time to share God’s protest. He was sheltered while the battle raged around him. Being from a royal family he had much to lose by sharing the judgement and word of the Lord.  One of my boys’ teachers (in her twenties) posted her experiences of discrimination and when they found out who it was, they had tears in their eyes. I was ashamed and cannot fathom how these things still happen in their generation. Where did we fail, why did we tolerate things, how does it continue?

So, in a land that was supposedly fertile and growing because the foreign gods were active, God dries up everything (man, beast, birds, fish, etc.). He shuts down the marketplace so they can listen. He gives them much room to consider their ways but they – don’t, so God increases the judgement and gives them time to consider their doings and change their ways but they – don’t. Sound familiar? He lets them know He is cutting the false worship down and that the syncretism must stop. Before we get a chance to feel morally superior to these folks, let us examine who else God was frustrated with:

Those who turned back from following the Lord (The Backslidden)

Those who have not passionately sought the Lord (The Apathetic)

Those who did not seek God frequently or with persistent care (The Arrogant)

Yikes. That is harder to dismiss isn’t it?  In many of the reforms the people changed their outward behavior but did not change their inward hearts, so revival was short-lived. Zephaniah brought the word that God was after BOTH. God tells them through Zephaniah that He will punish those who leap over the threshold (Looters, robbers and thieves). Even young believers know crime is bad but look at the next sentence – God will also punish the men (women) who are settled in complacency. Like the lees and dregs in a bottle of wine, they were worthless and needed to be shaken up.  It points to being in a rut and not being stirred up for God. Sometimes I wonder how many are staring at God instead of following Jesus. This group is not worried at all but prefer staying in their houses and oblivious to others pain. I am guessing these are the folks that say, “it’s not my problem” and go on with their day. God places this group right along with the looters! You won’t hear that on CNN or FOX news. We know what political leaders prefer but how many are aware of what the sovereign Lord thinks on these matters? This same group in Zephaniahs day thinks (but are to pious to say it out loud) “God will not do good, nor will He do evil.” They had decided He was not going to get involved in any of it. It is a fate or karma statement. God doesn’t work that way. God addresses both groups and tells BOTH that the DAY of the Lord is coming. Then God through Zephaniah defines it and it is scary. No matter what your political party or church affiliation the Lord will return and that Day will be intense. Zephaniahs choice of words in the Hebrew states God is so angry His nostrils are flaring and He is full of indignation regarding rampant sin.

God then calls them to GATHER or as the writer of Hebrews states, “forsake not the assembling of yourselves.” We are commanded in chapter two (verse three) to massively, intentionally, and passionately SEEK the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. It is imperative that we seek righteousness (justice), and humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”

Zephaniah continues to remind the people caught in the unrest of the day that God has seen their plight and has heard the insults and arrogant threats against them. He is well aware of the actions of those who were trying to harm them. He lets them know that God will visit and intervene. What a promise!

I want to draw your attention to chapter three of Zephaniah. The city (and by extension the people) have not obeyed, received correction, trusted in God, or drawn near to Him. It is filled with spiritual pollution and oppression. Her

princes,
judges,
prophets
priests

have not protected but allowed the injustices to continue! That is a problem. They have done violence to the Law and have acted fraudulently, recklessly profaning what is holy. The ministers are described as frothy, light and wanton. Those who could protect, instead brought harm. Ouch. I can’t imagine Zephaniah, looking back over this cities history, wondering how things had gotten so bad.

Beloved, listen to God’s Word through Zephaniah. In contrast to all the wickedness:

The Lord is JUST/Righteous in her midst (God being just means this – that God guarantees to punish ALL evil, reward ALL good and keep ALL His promises).

He  will not do unrighteousness or iniquity

Every morning He brings HIS JUSTICE to light;

He NEVER fails (perpetual, continual – does not cause to want or lack and never ceases to help, like one that disposes an army).

So, God says, “I have made their streets desolate, with none passing by.” He hopes they will honor Him and receive instruction but instead they multiply their efforts to do evil.  

“Therefore WAIT …

(Piel- an imperative verb commanding us to WAIT, TARRY- this means to cut or carve a space for your waiting confidently for Yahweh, tying a knot to hang on)

until the day I rise up…   In other words carve  out time to long for, encounter and hear God!

He prophesies a day will come when He will restore to the people a pure (shining and kind) language and that the worshippers will come forth. This reminds me of the book of Acts and people having one language and magnifying the Lord together.

If you celebrated Pentecost Sunday you would have heard something about the Spirit being poured out on ALL flesh. Galatians 3:28 says it like this: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are ALL one in Christ Jesus. Through Zephaniah, God promises to restore to the peoples a pure language that they ALL may call on the name of the Lord to serve HIM in ONE accord. Accord means with one shoulder bearing the burden or with the same yoke.

In the midst of the judgement — God tells His people to sing, shout, be glad and rejoice with all their hearts and gives them the sweetest promise:

THE King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst!

Though it has been many years the message that follows still pertains to us in the midst of racial conflict, a pandemic and political war:  …

Do not fear (be dreadful or afraid)

Zion, let not your hands be weak (dropped, slack, disheartened, sunken or withdrawn)

The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness (joy, mirth, and pleasure)

He will quiet you with His love (cause you to rest)

He will rejoice over you with singing. “I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly who are among you to whom its reproach is a burden. Behold at that time, I will deal with (undo) all who bother and afflict you; I will save the lame and she who limps and is weary from the journey. I will abundantly and radically gather those who were driven out; I will appoint them (ordain and establish them) for praise and fame in every land where they were put to shame. At that time I will cause you to be brought back even at the time I gather you; for I will give you (a name/ reputation), and praise among ALL the peoples of the earth, when I return (turn back to restore, refresh and renew) your captivity (restored to former welfare and happiness, i.e. Job 42:10)  before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Dear Readers, you have seen the news, you have experienced the cultural temperature, you have lived through racial conflict. The ONLY hope of things changing is in Christ. I watched this week as leaders repented of apathy and coldness. It came from an authentic place and I believe God was pleased. I heard a former police officer pray for both officers and victims and I began to believe change was possible. I saw children wrestle with these topics and I too wondered how those in power and authority, how we could let such injustices take place. I am comforted that God is in our midst and that HE is just, He never fails and there is a DAY coming when ALL will be revealed. May we hide ourselves in that Leader- the Lord who is just and righteous, seeking His face and His heart, praying for our nation.

God says ALL matter and wants praise from ALL the people of the earth.

Thankful for our Ethiopian brother Zephaniah who waited on God to hear His voice and proclaim it! Thankful for others who repeat it today.

RenaeRoche2020

Habakkuk 
This morning the quarantine ban from COVID-19 lifted in our city. We had pondered how long it would last. It felt like forever. Impatiently I waited as events got cancelled and the stores all closed. Day after day more activities were prevented and awaiting “tomorrow” became the norm.  Isolated in our homes, we wondered how many deaths would take place, how long the suffering would continue. Nation after nation endured Covid-19 and prophetic and nervous people scrambled to make sense of things. I noticed as the earth began to rest and the skies became clearer, that many panicked, Facebook posts became more suspicious and grumbling more acute. The anxiety of the world was matched by sincere folks scrambling to be heard and not forgotten. Can we still be “worthy” if we do not do Keto, sudoku or webinars?

I am not sure if violence went down or the news editors just decided not to print crime stats due to overwhelmed readers. Political disagreements and injustice were not quarantined.  News cycles kept in front of us the seriousness of the day and Facebook kept us sane and laughing as funerals were held online. The absence of the deceaseds’ names bothered me.  How could all this grief get processed? How long will this continue Lord? How long? Habakkuk is the perfect book to read during this season. His name means “embracer or one who clings”. It contains answers to many of our current dilemmas. I invite you to discover the riches of this text with me during the month of May.

 

The prophecy (burden) that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,         
    but you do not listen? (accusation one)
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save? (accusation two)
Why do you make me look at injustice? (accusation three)
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? (accusation four)
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds. (implied that God is unaware, unconcerned)
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.                             
The wicked hem (encompass or circle around / Corona) in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

“Look (imperative) at the nations and watch (imperative) —      
    and be utterly amazed (imperative).                                               
For I am going to do something in your days                                      
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told.                                   
I am raising up the Babylonians,                                                        (Their enemies!)
    that ruthless and impetuous people,                    
who sweep across the whole earth                     (Gods ways are large scale to make a point)
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people;
    they are a law to themselves
    and promote their own honor.                                
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
    fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
    their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
    they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
    and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
    and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
    by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
    guilty people, whose own strength (idolatry) is their god.”                  

12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?                                      
    My God, my Holy One, you will never die.                          
You, Lord, (not the enemy, culture or fate) have appointed them to execute judgment;
    You, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
    you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?  (accusation five)
    Why are You silent while the wicked
    swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (accusation six)
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
    like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
    he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
    and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
    and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
    destroying nations without mercy?

            I almost did not put the full text of chapter one in here but if you read it and re-read it, note that GOD saw it ALL. He knew all about their circumstances, enemies, and plight.  The list is so specific. God did not miss a beat – He was involved in every detail.

I want to linger here.  Let’s slow this way down to see what Habakkuk did in his crisis.

We rush to gain the “big verses” that we can quote, memorize, preach, even live by. But here, in this darkness, ….in this cloud covered reality is where we are living today. I want to point out that Habakkuk was a realist. He saw things for what they really were and not just what he hoped they would be. Habakkuk was a prophet that dealt with real pain, real injustice, real death. He did not ignore it or sweep it under the rug. He did not candy-coat things and suggest being “more positive”. He did not give clichés or pithy statements to erase the sting of the situation. He went to the other extreme- but He told it to God FULL STRENGTH.

Many people live in the balance of life and death, tyranny and oppression, scandal, and defeat. The church at large, has often hunkered down, and suggested people see things almost whitewashed. Euphemisms and subtlety are encouraged.  Possibly things are pushed down because of the silent accusations against God in our minds that we cannot or will not express. Sometimes in our own doubts, we sweep others questions away, silently hoping God is stronger than what we believe. Habakkuk does not do that.  He looks at the bad in full light. He faces the circumstances head on. Then, he goes straight to the Top with his doubts and appeal for justice.  A Friend in the highest place!

Habakkuk did not just hear from God and then pop it out like a Pez dispenser to his kinsman. Habakkuk did not start by rallying the troops. We hear him FIRST pouring out his soul to God, agonizing over the injustice, bearing in his heart the crimes and atrocities around him. He asked, then waited for the Lords’ reply. Habakkuk was a man, not of excuses or substitutions. Habakkuk was a man of prayer.

Many skip the process of waiting, opting instead to give God a grocery list o needs. Forming habits for your prayer life can help with this so it becomes second nature. We bargain to see what answer God will give because we want resolution to our prayer. But what if the connection with God was the resolution God was after all along? Staying silent does not guarantee anything. Habakkuk stirred it up and went to his Source – “How long Lord, when and why?”  Knowing the end of this story, we may be tempted to rush to the victorious part but before the praise comes the pain, before the triumph and testimony comes the test.

So, how then do we live like Habakkuk?  I think we realistically look at what is happening in the circumstances – and bring it to the God who sees all. If we cannot get honest with God, who can we get honest with? Fake prayers get fake results. Maybe Paul says to “count it all joy” because we first need to reckon or list it! He knows our heart before we utter a word.

We breathe, we pause, we ask…. we anticipate His voice.

To live like Habakkuk means we do not put our heads in the sand because the “news is too much” or the nations are “someone else’s concern”. We fully immerse ourselves in our world, embracing the good, the bad and the ugly. Habakkuk was informed in his generation. To live like Habakkuk means we face what is taking place in us and others. Automatically that lifts us out of a Netflix, couch sustained mindset. Automatically that invites us into pain and suffering served up face to unmasked face — not curbside. Automatically we view our lives not as separate, but part of a human race that needs salvation, deliverance and justice.

How long Lord? Why? When?

My son was meditating on Jonah recently. He pointed out that if Jonah had been left in the whale just one additional day, he might have gone blind. I thought of Joseph in the pit or Paul in prison– just one extra day they could have caught pneumonia and died. Just how fragile is God’s will?  When will God intervene, and will it be soon enough? When our shelf life is expired, is God still watching? Lazarus and his sisters would strongly say yes and amen!  Life and Death are sovereignly in God’s hands, whether we agree or disagree. We are subject to God’s timing, as well as His compassion. The disciples were told repeatedly it was not for them to know the day or hour. God’s timing and deliverance was solely Gods’ business. Who alone knows the minute or hour? The One who is in control.  (Read Hebrews 11 for perspective).

Do we miss a crucial part of God’s mercy by overlooking pain and tragedy? Do we separate ourselves from those who live in deaths shadow? Do we isolate ourselves from believers overseas who face martyrdom while declaring God’s grace here in America? Closed eyes and stopped ears do not produce praying saints. Questions signify someone is listening!

Habakkuk saw the suffering around him but instead of doing multiple things, Habakkuk

spoke with God,– with God. Not just from or to God.

The time that Habakkuk stayed in prayer, decrying injustice, and laying out solid facts concerning the world around him was met by a holy God who was—

STILL IN HIS HOLY TEMPLE,

STILL LISTENING    

STILL ACTING on our AND the nations behalf….

God was not sullied by the suffering, insulted by the issues, restrained by the ruckus, pressured by the problems, hindered by the hurt or discouraged by the disloyal.   

Despite all the injustice, evil and idolatry around the nations –

God IS still in His temple, still on His throne.

This book has great verses regarding faith – so great that the apostle Paul and Martin Luther would repeat them. The wonder of this book did not start with God’s answer regarding circumstances. It came from the Revelation that the deepest depth of our pain – is heard, seen and understood by the God of the universe. It is not dismissed, it is not sidelined, ignored or forgotten. Every cry, every tear, every fear… not wasted. Every cry, every tear, every fear – material needed for God’s purpose, every cry, every tear, every fear – surrendered to GOD, will be met with GOD Himself.    

During Habakkuk’s accusations, we hear him identifying God as everlasting Lord, Holy One and his Rock. These are the words of a man who BEFORE the trials, had made God his LORD. This is not a prophet begging a master, but a son inquiring of a father. It speaks to relationship, connection and trust– before the answer comes. The foundation is Habakkuk having enough of a bridge that when times got hard, he could go to God in prayer and ask the tough questions. God was not shaken by Habakkuk’s fears or doubts, He was not irritated by his accusations.

Maybe you struggle with prayer, wanting to do “right”.  See Matthew 6 and Luke 11 for the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray. I believe that we are to pray not as a beggars but as children of the King. We are invited to pray with real pain, real problems, and questions, in full anticipation of Gods reply. Do whatever He says, then trust Him for His timing and results. ”Oh, the sweet substance of things unseen! Oh, the evidence of a God who is WATCHING! Our faith is not in the outcome here but in the Lord, who sees the outcome—in Eternity. “

Lord, our faith, our lives, our trust is in You.  

Phil.4:6,

RenaeRoche2020

 

 

          We’ve a story to tell to the Nations…

 

N A H U M

I usually post a blog a month. This one is for April but I decided to post early as people have more time to study. I included notes from the entire book of Nahum. It is long but life-changing. I promise your view of God and trust will increase if you ponder and study this book.  Happy reading. It’s not a lightweight book but will yield great results in your life.

Nahum is a little known or preached book. For those of you old enough to remember Paul Harvey, this is the “rest of the story” regarding Ninevah. After Jonah preached there, the people and the King repented but it was short lived – 100 years later they were back to their old antics. Lest we think it was just being lukewarm or culturally not PC, it was more than that. This group of people were involved in prostitution, killing children, skinning men alive and dismembering people they didn’t like. I’m so glad Micah is placed between these two books because we need a stronger reminder then and NOW that God is just and will NOT let sin go unpunished.

Unlike Jonah, who was strange with wild miracles under his belt, Nahum was cut from a different cloth and his life can be traced historically. Both were needed to reach Ninvevah.  Perhaps we know less about Jonah because the scholars, like Jonah, could not tolerate these “unsavory individuals” getting converted. People are not pleased when their enemies avoid wrath. Nahum does a great poetic work as he explains his “burden”, the prophetic vision. At first and second read it seems discouraging – at least if you are a Ninevite. The punishments are deserved and final. Nahum will cajole them to rally if perchance something will change, while still knowing God has reached His limit.

Typically you won’t hear this book preached to encourage the saints. This is a dark book of atrocities and judgement, however, If we draw out the pattern of God’s oversight, we will see clearly His intent to bless any who turn to Him. Can God move even in dark seasons and trials? Even in this book we can come to know and love the God who oversees everything.

This book is powerful if you want to know and clearly see God’s heart.

Anxiety in this book is off the charts as people process God’s wrath.   When people are running to idols, rejecting God and repeating sinful practices, it is imperative that we look for God, look to God. Nahum does that for the people of his generation and for us. Many know about God but wouldn’t you like to know what He’s like and how He acts? These are some of the things I learned about God while reading this book:

I: The Lord is a Jealous God

He does not like His people to serve idols. That does not just mean foreign gods, it also means when our jobs become gods, when our family comes first, when cars, money, a church building, a hobby, persons or fame separate us from our One True Love.

II. The Lord is an Avenger.

He takes vengeance on His foes and vents His wrath on His enemies.  Wow. That means God is not sitting back just hoping we all sing Kumbaya and endure. God actually pursues His enemies into darkness.  We trust God has our back, we trust He is making all things work together. According to Nahum, we can also trust that God will vent His wrath and avenge us, which seems foreign to “good Christian thinking.” That is the impetus for moving on (complete trust), not pausing to confront accusers or scoffers, we move forward in Gods grace to do His bidding. A NT verse comes to mind, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, we will reap what we sow (for good or bad).” Gal.6:7-9.

III. The Lord is slow to Anger

We saw that when Jonah preached and God spared them but here –their time is up and we are told that God will “not leave the guilty unpunished.” The thought is developed that yes He is slow to anger but when it comes –it comes with might and power. God releasing His wrath against the Ninevites was part of His power and mercy towards the people of Judah/ Israel. One punishment would bring deliverance to those who suffered and it would be swift. Please keep in mind as you read this that the cross will bring forth both God’s justice and mercy.

IV. The Lord is GREAT in power

I think the following verses are definitions of His greatness. He is above all, beneath all and everything in between. Note the contrast– the sky, the sea and flowers. That’s full circle greatness. I loved meditating on those verses. Surely THAT God is in control!

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; 
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
    and clouds are the dust of His feet.
He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
    He makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
    and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
The mountains quake before Him
    and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at His presence,
   

V. The Lord is Good

Is He? That’s what the enemy asks during crisis times. We need to settle that in our hearts long before the pink slip comes, long before the virus is announced.  It is difficult to see goodness when in trial, especially if it was God who brought it on. If we are opposed to God and repent, His hand of favor will once again rest on us. If we return to the Lord we no longer have to question if we are being judged or sifted. For those who seek God, for those who walk in His ways, the Bible states they will see His goodness. Nahum defines God’s goodness in this way:

God is a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for (knows) those who trust in Him, 
but with an overwhelming flood
He will make an end of Nineveh; 
 He will pursue His foes into the realm of darkness.

 

Not only is God a refuge during tough times – times of trials and tribulation, may I also add pandemics,  He knows His people. He is specifically good because He knows each persons’ needs, wants and cares for them.  How difficult it must have been for Nahum to prophesy to both groups of people knowing some would choose to reject God and suffer the consequences.

Whatever they plot (imagine strongly) against the Lord
 He will bring to an end; trouble will NOT come a second time.

The verb in Hebrew (plot) is an extreme one and reveals to us that the people in Ninevah were actively seeking evil, actively trying to go against God and His people to achieve their own ends. Talk about a political nightmare. Can you imagine in this day and age people actually plotting against someone, treason with  leaders, hoping they fall? Sounds familiar doesn’t it? The prophetic voice of Nahum must have sounded religious, probably out of step with the popular crowd making decisions. If only they had realized it was not Nahums’ message that was being proclaimed but Gods’. The lack of fear, reverence and awe of God is evident. In our vernacular we could read this verse:

                                                       It ENDS HERE AND IT ENDS NOW !!!

When I read these verses to my children, I shouted  in my best “mama is mad” voice. It startled them. They said they did not think of God being mad. They did not realize that was possible as He is always represented as loving and patient. Hmm? (Side note: all books of the Bible need to be taught so we see all of who God wants to be in our lives). We talked about obedience and that even God has a limit to nonsense. Why do we portray God as a milquetoast? Why do we make Him out to be some elderly sweet grandpa without teeth – or justice? Where there is no restraint, evil abounds. Throughout the years, God has sent preachers, teachers and prophets to let the people know Gods heart. In these last days, Hebrews 1:2 tells us God has sent His son to speak to us. The message remains pretty clear – follow God and obey Him and you will be blessed. If you depart and do cruel things you will be pursued and punished. All the Netflix in the world can’t silence that, all the music can’t drown it out.

Here is  the big question for us this month:  Can ONE person make an impact? In a family, a town, a city, a nation? One? 

 
11 From you, Nineveh, has one come forth
    who plots evil against the Lord
    and devises wicked plans. 12 This is what the Lord says:

“Although they have allies and are numerous,
    they will be destroyed and pass away.
Although I have afflicted you, Judah,
    I will afflict you no more.                         

                                                               We can be one to harm. That’s tragic.  


VI. The Lord is a Yoke Breaker

13 Now I will break their yoke from your neck
    and tear your shackles away.”                         A prophecy of hope! NOW!

 

 The people of Ninevah, Judah and Israel lived in wicked times, chaos and turmoil. How bad do you have to be for God to point you out as the most wicked or vile? This one who appeared in Ninevah made a difference but for evil! He (or possibly she)  had literally planned to be against God, plotted and devised schemes that would hurt God’s heart and harm other people. Evil plots the second you want to harm another, not when full blown. Wickedness begins the second you wish others injury, not when the event occurs. Remember the wickedness in this city was dismembering innocent people and skinning alive their adversaries. They were cruel tyrants. One person had an affect that multiplied throughout the whole city. I really hope it was not a wayward believer. I’d like to believe it was someone from another ideology, but it may have been someone discouraged, rejected or lost in their faith. When we fall away from God we can not predict our outcome or the others we negatively influence. We need to take that trajectory seriously in light of Nahums words. Apostasy, a falling away will happen – we determine daily if that will be us. Father intervene!

VII. The Lord is a Good News / Peace Giver

15 Look, there on the mountains,
    the feet of One who brings good news,
    who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, Judah,
    and radically fulfill your vows.                        Keep praising – in spite of the tribulation!

I’ve read this numerous times but never stopped to understand it. Why feet? Feet are what we run with, position to stand with, provide motion forward. It is not knees sitting in a recliner that Nahum sees but feet positioned at a top level. Isaiah 52:7 states, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” When you live in a climate of death, torture and idolatry you take note of those who have something uplifting to say or do! I believe this refers to the Lord but it may have referred to a godly messenger. The word bring here is the Hebrew word basar (pronounced bah sayer). It is a participle that screams actions. The One is massively, with excitement and passion bringing good news, not grudgingly, out of compulsion or because someone at their church told them it was a good idea. My early ministry was in children’s church so when I hear this I think of a little sheep preaching the good news – a “bah” sayer. This person is rosy, fresh, brings gladness, announces beauty and is joyful. Wow! That’s the person I want in my corner of the world when darkness comes near. That’s the one I want to hear from when all other voices cause me fear or anxiety. Oh that the world could have more basars!  Oh that someone would stand on their mountain and proclaim peace. Did you catch that? I want that, I want someone to be that for me says the little sheep. We need to be praying “Lord, make me a basar and lead me to those who need Your message.”

Take time to adjust your prayer today.

Before the Pandemic started we had plans to help out a church plant. We had prayed for their city and made plans to advertise church services. We had looked forward to this event for months. When people are quarantined it’s hard to reach them. We began to pray for wisdom. Lord, help us to be “basar” (ones bringing good news) in our generation.

The one proclaiming the good news is sharing shalom peace. We know what peace feels like, we understand Christ to be our peace but how do we define that? The commentary’s say it means “Completeness, soundness, tranquility, friendship, favor, peace from war and rest. “It refers to wholeness. The one on the mountain told the people how to find and have peace. That’s good news!  Speaking about solutions and sharing with people that ALL peace is found in God and His son Jesus Christ goes way back to Nahum. Will we preach, will we go, will we publish? It mattered then, it matters NOW.

VIII. The Lord God is a Restorer

The text goes on to warn Ninevah and comfort Jacob. Were they wondering, “what will happen to us?” Did they consider the murder they saw around them, the chaos and think they were next? God, in the midst of evil, unrepentant Ninevah tells them thru Nahum, “The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines.” We forget that these powerful assurances came during their darkness – not on a sunny day in the middle of a church service. While their neighbors were being tortured and infants were being dashed against the rocks, they were hearing promises. We have a crippled faith if we only believe promises in times of prosperity.

I’m not sure if this is the place to say this but have you ever considered that we are not like Judah but Ninevah? If we have not established a relationship with God or given our lives to Him (see the how to get to Heaven page on this website) it’s possible we should be hearing the judgements given to Ninevah. I don’t want to falsely think all reading this blog are the ones receiving the good promises. If that is you, go back and read Nahum. Read both sides so you know where you will stand on that day. Are we more like the evil, unrepentant Ninevites or are we more like Judah and Israel when they were restored to God? It’s worth asking the question.

You’ll note I am skipping the part where God states they are vile and  “I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty. God spells out how angry He is about how they treat infants. Is that true today? Yes, according to the Bible. He’s tired of their prostitution and idolatry  (rebellion). It is spelled out in this book what God will do after He has warned and re-warned His people. I think of the many calls to rest in the Old Testament – they were warned. After they mock, ignore and trample God’s word they are put into a mandatory rest in Exile in Babylon for as many years as they had ignored Him. God will have His way and as earlier stated, when it ends, it ends immediately. There will NOT be a second time for trouble.

I’m a wife, mom and blogger. I don’t claim to be a prophetic voice. I can however read Nahum and see similarities in our nation. Do we as a family, church, city or nation anger God by atrocities or sins? Have we ignored multiple warnings in our government and school system? I’ll let your heart answer that for you and yours.

I  believe there is another attribute of God (though silent in the text) that shouts from the end of this book. In 3, vs. 17 f it states: “Your guards and officials are like locusts – fleeting.” “Your shepherds slumber and your nobles lie down to rest, …no one can bring you healing.” Tough times.  It seems in every area the Ninevites had ignored God’s word and their fractured society was the result. God was seeing, was watching, was guarding, was shepherding. How awesome that God sends the forgiving one, the delivering one, the healing one and the saving One.  

IX. The Lord GOD is Active

After reading this book, I KNOW that the God who was watching over Judah and Israel will “never leave or forsake us”. This God neither sleeps nor slumbers. The Lord is our Shepherd and Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. What a contrast! This God also offers Healing because of the cross. Communion reminds us of Christs amazing grace and blood protection. Under the law in the Old Testament and in the Saviors words in the NT, God is telling us this is who He is and wants to be for us. Many need to hear that during this pandemic- it’s good news, its GREAT news! In this hour, in this nation and in our hearts, we have a choice – will we repent like Jonah’s Ninevah or remain hard hearted like Nahum’s? Will we stand and “basar”– bringing GOOD news and proclaiming peace or cower in fear and isolation? Nahum’s challenge is fresh today. We have a choice. We can avert wrath. We can be like the One who impacts ALL- for Good.

 

I urge you to reflect on the judgments against Ninevah in this book. I implore you to meditate on the characteristics of God that are so evident. Get to know the God of this book and the God of your circumstances. He wants to know you and be known by you. I believe He also wants those living in darkness and tribulation to see His goodness and greatness. Now you know some of His characteristics – Go, SHARE the Good news!!!

 

“Lord, speak this to our hearts anew and afresh. We choose YOU.”

RenaeRoche2020  

             Our son Josiah’s feet of courage

Micah

               I love Facebook and it is fun to interact with people, hear their updates and share stories. I especially enjoy the encouragement and scripture from other believers. Lately, I’ve noticed that there is a predominant thread about our society not “listening” to one another. Young people don’t listen to older people, Republicans not listening to democrats, Evangelicals not listening to Catholics and of course the reverse happens when they don’t listen as well. I’m not sure if this is a new thing or ramped up because of politics but it sounds dangerous to not “hear” one another. By the time we do hear one another it may be too late. Consider this guy:

A 92-year-old man went to the doctor to get a physical. A few days later the doctor saw the man walking down the street with a gorgeous young lady on his arm. At the man’s next appointment, the doctor said, “You’re really doing great, aren’t you?” The man replied, “Just doing what you said, ‘Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.’” The doctor said, “Listen, I didn’t say that. I said you got a heart murmur. Be careful.”[1]

It is important to hear instructions clearly from a doctor but how much more important from God? In Micah we will come to understand just how important it is to listen carefully. Micah knew that judgement was coming, and that God was building His case.

This prophet was more than a visionary as he called people to HEAR, to really listen. It fascinates me that he called us to listen to something that he “saw” from God. God was upset with the nation because they were seeking idols, involved in prostitution, coveting others’ gifts, defrauding and robbing people and passing by others without a care. (God sees these public and private sins). They also had defiled and corrupted their resting and sacred places. While we can’t blame everything that goes wrong on God, in this case God tells them that HE is the author of the calamity coming upon them. Yikes.

There are many imperatives in this book as God through Micah points out that they really, truly NEED to hear what is being said to them. God tells them that He will massively gather them back after they have been scattered and that it is His will that the left-over folks, the residue, those remaining will be collected and gathered into one-fold.

The verse that meant the most to our family was this one:

“Break open the way – the One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their King will pass through before them, the Lord at their head.”

 So often we hear that God is the “Way maker”[2] and in this passage He shows Himself to be just that. We don’t make breakthroughs happen, we are to get behind the One who breaks through and follow where He is leading. Praise God! We can still kneel, fast, cry, scream and eat grapes all month to try to gain a breakthrough but Micah is pretty clear when he tells us to get behind the One who breaks the way open. Seems pretty simple – if we follow.

God calls out the leaders and asks them why they hate good and love evil. Imagine if our politicians answered directly to God. Wait, they do? While they should be embracing justice, they continue to have dishonest weights, scales, biases, actions and all kinds of nonsense going on. The culture is rampant with dishonesty and the people are weighed down with sin. In this wretched crowd Micah stands out:

               “But as for me, I am FILLED with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.” 

Is Micah arrogant or God- confident?

That is very different than the other leaders around him. So, what was Micah’s secret? Thankfully Micah didn’t have Facebook or the internet, or we would have to pay $19.95 to get his five tips to success. Thankfully Micah didn’t make DVDs, or we would have to wait for them in the mail to discover why he lived in a different category. We aren’t told in a concise formula but in vs. 2 we are told to “come up” to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. What an open, beautiful invitation. Can you hear that in your life today – “Come up higher?” God, who melts the mountains like wax – HE will teach us HIS ways, so that we may walk in HIS paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Later in that chapter we are told “we will walk in the Name of the Lord”. I believe these things were part of how Micah lived out his faith. Rejecting the idols and shame, sexual promiscuity of his age and following God’s law, word and ways seemed to keep Micah on God’s path, doing God’s agenda.

So how does one follow the law, aren’t there over 600 commandments? God gave us the law of love and said ALL laws were fulfilled through Christ. See Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:10. We can read His word and we can walk in His name meaning we take on His name through spiritual adoption by giving our lives to Christ. (Go to the page on Heaven on this website for more information).

Our pastor has been preaching about Daniel for the last month or so and talking about courage to live differently in the midst of a corrupt culture. It has been a powerful series. He suggested we write “Daniel” on our shoes to remind ourselves to walk like Daniel walked. I think our walks would be different, bolder, more courageous if we did. We need reminders or we may walk like those going down wrong paths.  Micah, like Daniel, knew who he was and WHOSE he was.  

In the midst of a polluted, rotten, sinful group of people that knew God but refused to obey Him, comes this amazing promise that God will send them a new plan – His plan. In the midst of these promises the daughters are promised courage and strength – power to rise, thresh and break to pieces many nations. God empowered women in the Old Testament. Yes, it’s right there in the text! This One that comes will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. IF you compare this passage of abiding and dwelling with John 15 where Jesus talks about abiding in the Vine, you will be amazed. This One coming will be recognized as the Vine that dwells or abides with us!

Vs.8 is a powerful verse that has been used by politicians and ministers alike. It reminds us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God—however, it doesn’t start there. That verse stems from vs. 5 where God calls His people to ZAKAR – to remember. He wants them to remember their journey, remember the stories that God points out for a purpose. What is that purpose? We look back not to stay stuck in the past but to “get to KNOW the righteous acts of the Lord”. Knowing those acts builds our faith as we are reminded of God’s track record. Faithful He has been, faithful He will be. When we look on His goodness, when we think about His love, when we remember the way He was our WAYMAKER….    We are humbled, we are reminded of the mercy and justice we have received and how to act.

Micah points out that considering all that God has done the people are no longer acting like God and God is angry. This God who delights to bend down and show love, kindness, favor, benevolence and mercy is seeing in His people something very different. How disappointing. In our highly politicized world today, these words seem to resonate more than ever:

Everyone lies in wait to shed blood; they hunt each other with nets. Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire – they all conspire together. “Then Micah contrasts himself again and it is refreshing to hear:

“But as for me, I watch in hope (expectantly, eagerly, continually observing and carefully looking) for the Lord. I will cause myself to wait for the God of my salvation and my God WILL HEAR ME.” (Translation is from the Hebrew). This guy is all in. This is not a casual Sunday Christian or mere church attender. This guy is setting his alarm clock to check in on God’s doings. This guy is the king of spiritual disciplines and causing himself (through prayer, worship, word, fellowship and rituals) to understand and become intimate with His God. He is not merely sitting by waiting for the action but is literally bringing the action to himself, training himself to wait in God’s presence. Oh Lord may we be like Micah!

Was Micah legalistic? Maybe. Was Micah zealous and intense? Maybe. Was Micah rejected by his peers – most assuredly yes. We don’t know how the others around him behaved but this guy – according to his testimony, when others were becoming more hedonistic by the hour, this guy was high on holiness and experiencing Gods voice and love. I want to be like Micah! In the midst of a crazy culture gone astray, he was dedicated to seeking and finding God. That is admirable.

If you get a chance, reread this book – or may I say cause yourself to read this book again and notice the hard times and the high hopes of this prophet. He realistically sees the depravity around him, the lies, deception, fraud and hatred. But… he looks up to the Way maker and gets behind HIS agenda. He trusts that in an unjust world – the JUST ONE is coming! 

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I WILL RISE. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord WILL BE MY LIGHT! Because I have sinned against Him, I will bear the Lords wrath….(How humble and honest that Micah puts himself in the company of the wicked, not assuming he’s more righteous but deserving of the same wrath being poured on the nation).

UNTIL ….  HE pleads my case and upholds my cause.

He WILL bring me out into the light; I WILL SEE His righteousness.” If you are not shouting after reading these verses, you may want to check your pulse!   What hope, what expectation, what faith!

               If these weren’t enough, in verse 18 it states, “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I WILL SHOW them MY wonders.” 

God does not just want to be a dry dusty book on your bookshelf or a cold religion that you assimilate with on Sunday mornings so you can appease the family. God wants to be your everything and show YOU wonders. Wonders mean healing, salvations, transformed lives, etc. The God who pardons sin and forgives transgressions awaits to reveal Himself to those who are looking for Him. That’s incredible! Micah goes on to tell us that this God is patient and delights to show mercy. We know His favorite hobby – showing compassion and favor to His children. What a good, good Father, it’s who He IS.

Last year I was given some money to distribute to people that were in need. The requirement was that they were not told where it came from but were just being blessed because God loved them. I honestly can say I don’t think I have enjoyed anything as much as that experience. I got to feel God’s delight. I randomly chose people the Lord put on my heart and handed them provisions they were not expecting. Some cried, some shouted, some sang … all were so surprised and began to thank God. I got to feel the mercy and tender love of Christ. It was life altering. These people became aware that the Big, massive God of the universe SAW them. God delights, enjoys, takes pleasure in meeting needs, blessing, promoting and showering people with Himself and gifts. God is not a killjoy. God does not give rules and laws/words to restrict us –but to bless us and make room for HIM. If we follow Him, we will see His goodness. If we turn to idols and our own worldly pleasures, we will perish.

Micah was warning the people not because they were evil but because God was so good. God wanted them to NOT block Him because of their sin. He wanted to enjoy and take delight in them. The ones’going to idols missed out on their blessing and caused others to fall.

No wonder Micah called out and said, “WHO is a God like you?”   

“That was back then, and a lot has changed”, you may say. Micah affirmed his faith and caused his heart to be refreshed when he declared, “Lord, You WILL AGAIN have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You WILL be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, …

               In a nation where promises are the buzz word for political campaign slogans you may have become jaded. Everyone says they will make things better only to make things worse. We watched this last week as those guaranteeing they were THE candidate to change the nation drop out of the race to pursue other goals. And it’s not just politicians, I read the other day that the O’Hare airport in Chicago has doubled their budget continually over the last 10 years never reaching their promise to build a magnificent airport system. Each year they go over what they contracted by double and triple digits. The reporter suggested it is the running joke in Chicago because no one believes the “promises” any longer. It reminds me of diet goals – New Year’s promises that are in stone… until the golden arches come into view. Many spouses have promised to be faithful then leave for someone else. Promises kept seem like a dream from yesterday. But God, in our day, like He was in Micah’s day – does NOT change or lie. Listen to this, what Micah declared: “You will be faithful and show love….  AS YOU PLEDGED on oath (promised) to our ancestors in days long ago.”

Let’s fact check Micah’s prophecy:    Did Messiah come as promised?  Yes. Did He redeem His people as promised? Yes. We know from the NT that He died, rose and ascended to Heaven. Yes. God’s never broken His word.

        God promises us He will forgive. God promises us He will come again.

Until then, we can delight with Him in mercy, we can act justly and walk humbly as we look to Him for our example.

Lord, help us to hear your word to Micah. Help us to walk as he did with courage and strength before you. Thank you for this example Lord. In 2020 may our vision be firmly fixed on YOU. Amen.

Renae Roche 2020

 

 

[1] Start ASL.com/ deaf jokes. Accessed 3/4/2020

[2] Michael W. Smith – Waymaker composed by Joseph Sinach. 2019.

We Place You at the Highest Place….

Obadiah (NKJV)

The people that Obadiah wrote  about were mountain dwelling people. They were those who felt safe and unreachable, secure. Because of their security they grew in self-reliance. Have you ever noticed how poor or oppressed people cling to the Lord, trusting Him for their every provision? Some successful or wealthy people falsely think that being able to pay for their needs makes them unshakable. Obadiah was used by God as a mouthpiece to tell them otherwise. They were being warned that their time of judgement was near. In verse 3 Obadiah tells them the pride of their hearts had deceived them. Pride is an ugly thing. It begins with presumption. Presumption according to Webster is :

 

“Something you think is true before you know any facts about the matter.”

 

Reflect on that for a moment. How does that differ from assumptions? That  something you think is true when you are missing information but think you have it. [1] Ouch. No one is indispensable and no one’s fame lasts forever. When I read this book I can’t help but remembering  Electric Light Orchestras  song “Don’t Bring Me Down”. The Beatles who were thought to be invincible were overshadowed by this new group. They,  would be reduced in popularity as the years went by and the shocking truth is that we all have an expiration date.  Just ask the people in the cemetery. When we live like we don’t have an expiration date, pride creeps in.

 

Pride is characterized by arrogance, haughtiness and disrespect. It works its way into families, churches and schools. The “ism” group is produced by Pride and displays its ugly work. Ism refers to an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief. [2] It does not seek God’s opinion or report but creates its own. You know the ism group – racism ( rejection due to one’s color), sexism (rejection because of ones gender), ageism (rejection based on one’s age), elitism (rejection due to one’s education or lack thereof). It shrieks, “I’m better than you” and reduces its victims to being less valued, loved, appreciated, employed or involved. Sometimes the most prideful are those who insist they have the most “common sense”. It begs a comparison to be made with another which is at the very heart of pride and arrogance. It may even be a shadow – one thinks someone  else is better than them  and then lives accordingly. Sometimes pride comes in the form of pretending to be humble, real or righteous. Anytime we take on the role of  judge and presume or assume, we are headed for confrontation with the ONE who sees and truly knows ALL – especially the facts. As a New Testament believer I believe that BAPT–ISM levels the ground and makes us all valuable based on the work of Christ. All jostling for power, wisdom, strength, etc. rest at the foot of the cross. whew. 

 

The people in Obadiah’s world were listening to God. They took time to hear from God.

This past week I decided to stay home from a fellowship, overwhelmed with tasks, chores and holiday plans. I wanted to see friends. Toward the end of the day I felt a pressing on my heart to leave all my important tasks, “it’s time to pray”. It wasn’t booming but very quiet. I responded not to my day planner but God’s voice. I had to make a choice WHO and what I valued more in that moment. I was going a mile a minute on my own track when I felt corrected to pause. Choosing God’s kingdom vs. our own is imperative. Seeking God’s report and agenda is critical if we want His kingdom to reign in our lives.  If we slow down, pause… we give God room to speak.  How can we do kingdom work if we don’t know what the King wants on any given day or week?  How can we run with His word if we have first not heard it? I want 2020 to be Spirit-led. The people in Obadiah’s time did not have a need for God or His resources. Their self-reliance and self-confidence led to them pushing God away.

 

Cs. Lewis once said,

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself — less. “ 

When we look up and think most of God, everything else comes into perspective. At our house we have to “catch up” on the weekends or we go into a new week drained and empty of that perspective. When we pause to seek God, we find Him.  Schedule the catch-up lest it turns into months and years.

In Muhammad Ali’s heyday as the heavy weight champion in boxing, he had taken his seat on a 747 which was starting to taxi down the runway for take-off.  When turbulence  became really strong, the flight attendant walked by and noticed Ali did not have on his seat belt, and said, “Please fasten your seatbelt, sir.” He looked up proudly and snapped, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The flight attendant did not miss a beat and replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane either.” [3]

Andrew Murray, in his book on humility said,

“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.”[4]

I think that makes confession, communion and self-examination imperative for individuals, families and churches. How often? Well that shouldn’t depend on when you feel you need it because quickly we would all assume we were fine and go on without it. Heaven does not come from programs, events or agendas. When we try to achieve success or grandeur apart from God, we exist in a state of pride. Those who choose to share the mercies and  compassion given to them by a loving God, in order to impact others, live in a blessed state of  God-centered humility.  That then feeds a love and gratitude for Christ and blessings are exponential.

God also rebuked the people of Obadiah’s day for gloating, rejoicing over others demise. He drives this point home by repeating Himself several times saying basically that they were jerks in the day of their brothers “calamity”. God not only cared about how they treated Him but how they treated OTHERS. That’s true religion. He reminds them that “The day of the Lord upon ALL the nations is near; …as you have done, it shall be done to you… As I watched the media this past month I was alarmed. Obadiah’s words seemed to come to life and became very relevant. Many thinking they were acting for God were caught with blood dripping from their chins as they pointed out others flaws and sins. Obadiah describes the prideful people as “standing on the other side” when they were not loyal or even kind to those they should have been. May I ask the question, when did America become two sided? This prophetic word from Obadiah is not for the Democrats or Republicans, it’s for ALL who are under the Lords watchful eye. When did Christians go with Apollos or Cephas and think God would not notice?  Whose side are we leaning on? It MUST be the Lords side.

Hear the contrast:

17 “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance (escape from slaughter and war- a timely word!), and there shall be holiness (consecration and sacred setting apart from the common and mundane);

the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions ( to enjoy, inherit and take by seizing, to delight in).
18 The house (family) of Jacob shall be a fire (A theophany, an altar of fire),

And the house of Joseph a flame (weapon, sword, spear);
But…. the house of Esau shall be stubble;.

What do you want your house to be in 2020? Who do you want to be in God?

19 The South shall possess …– Obadiah lists mountains, lowlands, fields; and states that these will be possessed. Not because Obadiah decreed and declared it but because he humbled himself to sit before the Lord and hear GODS’ REPORT. God knows and determines the outcome based on His will and obedience to it. He was declaring and sharing what the LORD had to say. Big difference in the focus and results.

I love the contrast and comparison in this very short book. It is concise and God does not use many words to communicate His heart. Choose. Choose who you want to be and reflect. Edom or Jacob/Joseph? Pride and arrogance (Self-created wishes and whims) or humility and consecration (Gods’ word and directives)?  Free-will means we are given a choice but God firmly and finally determines the outcome of those choices.

The house of Jacob – they are positioned like logs awaiting God’s fire so they can become heat and light, an altar of God’s presence. Joseph – like a flame, a sword and spear in God’s hand, yielded to Gods direction. He was not content to fill in his goals for the year and then take ownership of his schedule and accomplish it. He wants GODS AGENDA and purpose. He was GOD led and directed, not purpose or goal driven. Timely word for Obadiah’s generation AND 2020.

21 Then saviors (plural)  shall come to Mount Zion
to judge the mountains of Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

 

The last line to me is the strongest – the Kingdom SHALL BE the LORDS.  That is our source and place of loyalty. It is not what we direct or imagine. His report is His will and intention, heard by those who will take the time to receive it. Not what we decree or declare like a mantra but an accomplishing of God’s heart and purposes in the earth.

So Father, we posture our hearts in 2020 to sit before You, wait in Your presence and hear Your report. We want Your will and Your commands. Your opinion is our delight. Your guidance is what we long for. Speak to us, direct us; guide us for

                                                                                     Your glory.

We also pray that you would make our families, our houses, our churches and schools like Jacob and Joseph – ready for YOUR will, altars of fire. We love you Lord, KING of ALL.

RenaeRoche2020

 

[1] Dictionary.com

[2] Merriam-Webster.com/dictionary/ism

[3] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), p. 7

[4] Andrew Murray, Humility

 

 

A little boy grew up, favored by his mom and dad so much so they gave him a special coat. He was hated by his half- brothers. Early on in scripture we see a blended family and this chosen little boy forced to be a suffering servant. Joseph, once secure in his parents love was snatched away and served a King in the land of Egypt. Surrounded by pagans and astrologists and magicians, Joseph learned the culture and brought deliverance to the kingdom because of his wisdom and the King of Heaven he proclaimed. Favor came to the entire land because of this God that Joseph served. After the telling of a few prophetic dreams, God used Joseph as a wise man. His family was treated as special guests and honored in the midst of magicians and Egyptian royalty.

Just a few centuries later, the Israelites were being treated as slaves. The tide had turned and no longer were the Israelites welcome in Egypt. One Hebrew family had a baby boy and had to hide him from a violent king who murdered all the male children. He was pulled out from the water, between the reeds. His Hebrew parents were scared for his life and what would happen to him. He was rescued by a Kings daughter and given royal privilege. Later on this same boy would grow to be a man and in the midst of many magicians prove to Pharaoh that deliverance had come to God’s people. The magicians had competed time and again, taunting with their authority and powers. Moses left Egypt with many gifts from the neighbors. Moses, trained by secular people brought the people from Egypt to worship the Lord. Where was God in this? It seems unfair that this Hebrew boy bowed at the feet of Egyptian royalty when he was God’s chosen one. Both of these sons were born to Hebrew parents, both were in Egypt and had dreams, encountered magicians and secular training was a part of their history.

Remember the original search for a wise bachelor? Serving for the right reasons, specifically with the heart goes way back. There once was a young, wise royal woman from the East who fell in love with the supposed “wisest man in the world.” She came to visit on a camel bringing treasures of gold, spices and jewels. Extra biblical writings suggest that Solomon would not accept this woman’s gifts—he wanted more than her prizes, he wanted her heart to turn to his god. How could such a request be made and why would one’s heart condition be of any significance to a wise king? What would be more important than gold, spices or jewels? The Queen of Sheba and her influence on wisdom and culture would long be remembered. That encounter impacted Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It was a set-up.

Consider Daniel. His parents must have been proud of their son, hoping God would use him. Then one day an evil king abducts him and he gets enrolled in Babylon University. His culture changes, his food, clothing, friends and everything his mama warned him about. It was a non-prophet school and Daniel had to live incognito regarding everything holy. The homeschoolers back home were freaked out and no one thought anything good would come of this season, how could it? Add in some dream interpreters, magicians and astrologers and the young God boy was all but destined to blend in with the crowd. After studying Aramaic and being mentored by Babylon’s wisest men, how could Daniel prevent seeing his new culture as the best? Yet, somehow he ends up seeing a different outcome – Lions so full they can’t eat and angels so saturated they don’t catch on fire. Why do the wise men not understand this stuff? We hear of Daniels outcome but what of these wise men that Daniel influenced? He became a teacher and had an impact on the magicians due to his wisdom and prophetic interpretation. But then what?

Fast forward to a new little blended family with big plans for their son. Wisdom was not the first thing written about the little tyke. Instead we hear of angels singing of His arrival. Shepherds nursing their little sheep on a hill outside of Bethlehem and family love came first. The murderous actions King Herod did, must have struck a nerve in Hebrew homes though and then there’s the wailing echo of Rachel crying through the ages for sons slaughtered without mercy. The fulfillment of everything Isaiah ever hoped for would have resonated with the Jewish families.

Next when the little child was a probably a tween, the Magi come riding in on camels.  Were the magicians and astronomers any relation to Pharaoh’s court jesters? Were the men bringing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh in anyway connected to those who served in Joseph’s court? Were they more magicians, wise men, astronomers or Kings? Or a combination of all three? History is very silent on this. We do know they were not Pure Bred Hebrew people. We do know they were not expected or necessarily invited. Scripture almost hides their existence other than the basics. They knew about stars, royalty and had a pretty good GPS system. These wise fellows (and possibly females also) came not to offer their wisdom but to worship the One they deemed wise. Magicians are not typically welcome in Jewish homes yet these wise folks came to offer their worship and in the very first years of this little babies life we all get a window into what conversion looks like. The hopes of Joseph, Moses, King Solomon and Daniel, the light they shone in the darkness, the witness they were in secular society, becomes real. Were they placed in these secular bastions of darkness for this moment? Was all that trial for this testimony, all that mess for this message? One day… the royalty will bow down to the Hebrews, you just wait. But it wasn’t at a throne, but a manger, yet He was certainly a king.

Today is Epiphany. It marks a week of celebration. It is a time that the world celebrates the families not part of God’s original chosen to welcome the Savior, Deliverer and King. This is Christmas in most countries. Not one day to receive gifts and sing Silent Night but a week of festivities and joy to celebrate a wise King born to all – joy to the WHOLE world, the Lord for US has come. It is a message about joy coming to the astronomers, fortune tellers, magicians, pagans, gentiles and all the wisest men and women secular institutions can train. That means there is hope for them, and the smelly likes of you and me. Don’t you just love Jesus more knowing that while he was still a youngster – foreigners; magicians and not your typical church going type folks were welcome in His house? Did he tell them stories of  Joseph, Moses and Daniel? Did it happen between demonstrating the floss and bemoaning teenage acne or after his mom told him to clean up his room? This odd collection of worshippers is hidden in most Christmas stories but I think worth celebrating. What kind of party would that create? The next story of Jesus is Him training with those in the Temple – not learning secular culture or their ways but teaching them His. His suffering would come after, not before.

The tree can stay up another week, there is grace for that. To be “biblical” about Christmas it’s time to welcome the unusual who also want to worship. It’s time to make room for those bearing gifts seeking someone wiser than themselves. People that can’t be bought with gifts but people who want to turn to the King. Conversion showed up at the Christ child’s home- long after the manger. Will it show up at your house? Will the story continue in your hearts and include those along the path of history just watching and waiting to see how God redeems this group of people? This baby drew a diverse crowd. This baby brought families together from centuries prior to His birth. What we do today and tomorrow will unfold next Christmas, for Jew and Gentile. Welcome to Christ, welcome to Worship… let’s get this party started!   RenaeRoche2019