Monday, February 28, 2011

According to Your Word...

According to Your Word,
because of Your Word,
comfort can be mine.

Delightful is Your Law, and
everlasting are Your commands;
forever I'll obey them.

Glorious are Your ways,
hidden in my heart;
in them is my hope.

Just is Your Law, O God, and
knowledge of it is from You.
Learning it is my longing,
meditating on it more and more.

Night and day, I consider Your ways,
O Lord, please give me understanding;
please, Lord, grant me wisdom.

Quietly, I wait for You, O Lord;
remember me, O my God, and
speak, for Your servant is listening.

Teach me of Your decrees, O God, for
upright is everything that You say, and
virtuous is everything that You do.

Wonderful is Your Word, O Lord;
exemplary are all of Your laws.
Your Word, O Lord, is the light of my life, and
zeal for it consumes me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Prayers of the Bible, Part One--Job

A couple of years ago I read a book that spoke of the importance of using both Scripture and prayer in developing spiritually and of how powerful the two of them are together. I've decided to start a series here along those lines, by looking at prayer in Scripture. This may take awhile...in fact I anticipate it taking all year long, as my desire is to identify (to the best of my ability) places in Scripture where we have actual prayers recorded. (I foresee myself spending a lot of time in Psalms this year.). To be honest, I'm not sure what, exactly, I hope to gain from this study, and I have no idea what conclusions, if any, I'll be able to draw. But if nothing else, I think the exercise will do me some good. I'm afraid some of these posts may be lengthy, but as I've said, dear readers, this blog is primarily for me anyway, as a place for me to write out loud whatever it is that I'm learning. If you're up for it, though, feel free to join me in this walk through prayers (and pray-ers) of the Bible. First up, actually, is perhaps one of the most surprising pray-ers, with perhaps some of the most shockingly honest prayers in all of Scripture. Readers, meet Job, the man who lost literally everything. We'll look at some of his thoughts and reactions, which go on for the better part of some 40 chapters. There are many thoughts that Job expresses that could be construed as prayers, so I've tried to limit this to the places where Job addresses God directly. But first, I do think it's noteworthy that the first words we hear from Job after losing everything but his health (but it'll be soon to follow) are words of praise, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."--Job 1:21 After a few chapters worth of conversation with his friends, it is in chapter 10 that Job gives the complaint that he would give to God. It consists of Job asking: --Let me know why You contend with me. --Is it right for You to treat me this way? --God, can't you see what's happened? Job claims that the Lord knows he is not guilty. In words somewhat similar to David's Psalm 139, Job acknowledges that the Lord created him and has cared for him all these years. "Why destroy me now?" he asks. Job wonders why God even let him live at all, if only to be brought to the ruin he is in now. A few chapters later, Job claims that he has prepared his case, and he is seemingly more frustrated. He says things such as: --Remove Your hand from me. --Call to me and I'll answer--or I'll speak and You answer. --Why do You treat me like an enemy? --You are the Judge of men--You set his limits. --Give a guy a break in his few short years here. --Set a limit for me, and remember it! In chapter 17, Job is upset because no one, not even his friends, understands his plight. He says to the Lord: --Lay down a pledge for me Yourself. --Be my guarantor. --You have kept them from understanding. By the time we get to chapter 30, Job is basically done arguing his innocence with his friends, and he is just in despair with his current state, as opposed to the way things used to be. He says: --I cry, but You don't answer. --You have become cruel to me. I'll be honest about the fact that the book of Job is one of my least favorite Scriptures to read, but I gotta admit that it does have one of the awesomest scenes in all of Scripture, as Job does finally get his audience with God. However, it's important to note what he does not get, which is an answer to his questions. Though I primarily intend this study to be of people's prayers to God, I feel like in Job's exceptional case, God's response is noteworthy. In chapter 38 of the book, God shows up and asks, --Who is asking me such foolish questions? --Job, get up and get dressed. I'll ask the questions now. --'I AM' will ask the questions and you'll give the answers, understood? --Where were you when I created everything? --Do you know how anything that I made works? --Can you control the environment around you? --Job, don't you know anything?
(Questions taken from the McClanahan Paraphrase) After God shows up with His series of questions for Job, Job is eerily silent. He has nothing more to say, except, "I now repent in dust and ashes." Perhaps this is just me, but the flow of the tone of Job's thoughts that I notice as they progress is seemingly natural. At first he is questioning what is happening. Then he is frustrated and angry. Then he is just in despair. And Job is able to share every last bit of that with his Creator. And you know what? God is okay with that! That, to me, is the beauty of Job's prayers. He pours out his heart to his God and in the end, God acknowledges that Job has done nothing wrong in doing so. May we all be so willing to pour out our hearts to God in prayer.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Project Love--January--God Is Love

If you read my previous post, you know that my church's goal for 2011 is to take what we've learned from Project 4:4 last year and put it into action this year by loving God and loving others. We were given a packet with some material and some ideas of practical ways to go about that. Along with those assignments, we were also given a little bit of study material to get into the Word a little bit more concerning love. I wanted to post some of that study here, so I figured I'd better go ahead and write about January's study, since I picked up my new February packet yesterday!

The theme we were given to study for January is "God is Love".

We looked as several aspects of God's love: it is self-giving; it is sacrificial; it is unconditional; it is eternal; it is holy; it is comforting; it is life-changing.

There were also several questions which we were asked to answer:

1. Put the statement "God is LOVE" into your own words.

I'm not sure if this counts or not, but rather than putting it in my words, I will borrow some words from the Apostle Paul and say that "God is LOVE" means that "God is patient. God is kind. He does not envy. He does not boast. He is not proud. He is not rude, He is not self-seeking. God is not easily angered. He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects; always trusts; always hopes; always perseveres. God never fails."

2. How would you explain the "unconditional" characteristic of God's love.

I think it was easily explained in the verse listed above, Romans 5:8, which states that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We did absolutely nothing to deserve His favor. Yet that's what He shows us. He LOVES us, just because we are His!

3. Other than Jesus, which person in the Bible best exemplifies an understanding of "God is Love"?

I'll admit right away answer to this question probably is not typical. As I thought about this one, my mind raced quickly through the Scriptures from beginning to end, but this person is the one that I couldn't seem to get out of my head. And I don't even know her name.

But in Luke 7, Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. I'm not entirely sure why this Simon invited Jesus to dinner, because Jesus didn't exactly win many friends among the Pharisees. And it is apparent from the passage that Simon hasn't exactly treated Jesus with the proper courtesies of the day.

But since Simon's behavior toward Jesus was less-than-proper, it's very, shall we say, Pharisaical (?) of him to be passing judgment on what happens next, when a woman "who had lived a sinful life" comes to see Jesus. She wets his feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and pours perfume on them.

Simon can't believe what is happening. He thinks, "If Jesus knew who she was, He wouldn't let her touch Him!" Simon apparently doesn't realize his own sin, yet he can't get over the fact that this is a "sinful" woman. And, let's be honest, "sinful" is cleaning it up quite a bit. She was a prostitute. I'm certain Simon would've called her a whore.

Just when Simon is thinking this to himself, Jesus says, "I have something to tell you...Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

When Simon responds with, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled," Jesus continues speaking to Simon, but at this point He turns toward the woman and continues, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

This woman, in my mind, demonstrates an incredible understanding of "God is Love" as she realizes who Jesus is, and because of that, she loves much.

4. How have you experienced God's love this month?

There's not enough time for me to answer this question, honestly. I've experienced His love in more ways that I can even begin to list. Beyond every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms that He's blessed me with, I get to wake up every morning. I have a wonderful family and friends. I live in a beautiful city and go to work every day at a great job. More than anything, I get to have a relationship with Him.

5. How has God's love changed your life?

It has changed my life in that I try to live with an awareness of His love for me and I try to
show that love to others. It means that my life is no longer about me. It's not about what I need to do or what I want to do. It's about how I can try to bless someone else, how I can try to love them, because God has loved me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Project Love

Last year, my congregation spent all of 2010 going through the entirety of God’s Word in what we called “Project 4:4—One Year, One Bible, One Church, One Lord”. I could write a novel on how I was blessed by that project, but I won’t do that for you now. I will say that there are some wonderful leaders within my congregation. After spending so much time in His Word, they decided that there’s really only one response that is appropriate…

That’s why we’ve decided to spend all of 2011 working on “Project Love—Love God, Love People”. Because after reading every single word of the Bible…all of the wonderful passages in Hebrews (my personal favorite)…all the beauty of the Psalms (yes, that right, I said ‘Psalms’)…all the Old Law and commandments (in all of their mind-numbing detail)…all the genealogies and numbers and chronicles (in their also-mind-numbing tediousness)…all the rich history of what God has done for His people…what He did for us when He came to live on this earth Himself…what He’s promised to do for us in the future (see Revelation 22)…

After all of that, it can be said that what He wants us to learn from His Word really boils down to those two things: Love God. Love people.

Our leaders are giving us specific avenues to participate in Project Love:

(1)There will be a church-wide service project each month, that everyone will be encouraged to participate in, the first of which is a canned food drive for a local ministry with which our congregation is closely affiliated.

(2)We are being encouraged to pray more actively and more often for our elders, ministers, and missionaries. Each month, we will be given a couple of names in particular, with some information about the work that they are involved in, and a specific request or two that they've asked us to pray about.

(3)We will be given devotional material each month to help us spend some of our personal study time learning about God’s love.

(4)We were given “Project Love” business cards to leave behind when doing some act of love, random or otherwise, for someone to whom we want to show God’s love. This card directs them to this site, where they can read of God’s love for them. Along with these cards is a list of suggestions on how these might be used to bless someone else.

(5)We were given a list of challenges, specific things to do in the month of January to make love a verb.

I especially love the last two, because they are ways that I can challenge myself to personally be more about His business of loving others and trying to make a difference in the lives of those around me. I also live that we've been given practical lists of ideas, if for no other reason than the fact that I'm not a creative person and need someone to help me out with ideas. I hope we'll be given a new list of some sort each month, and I'd like to try to recap each month in a post as the year progresses. (Monthly posts have to be much easier than daily posts. Surely I can do that, right? I couldn't do the daily posts, but surely I can squeeze a Project Love post into my schedule once a month! Here's hoping!)

Now, it’s confession time. I don’t feel like I’ve done very well at this so far this month. I will say that I have participated in the church food drive, and I hope that we are able to meet our goal.

I will also say that I have prayed a few times for the church leaders that we were requested to pray for each month. It really, really helps me to have something specific to pray for someone, so that's been really good.

I will even say that I studied the material that was given us for the month of January. The theme we were given for this month was "God is love". I will try to write a separate post recapping the info from that study soon.

Beyond that, I struggled this month. On my list of challenges, I only feel like I was able to do four or five of them. And I've not yet found what I feel like is an effective way to use my Project Love cards.

So I know I need to work on things like that in the months to come. I'm trying to remind myself everyday that no matter what else I do, my main task should be to bless the lives of those around me, to love others as I have been loved by God.

God, help me to do that very thing.