Are you Cold and Bubbly or Hot and Steamy?

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“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Christianity is more than a mere list of dos and don’ts. God does have boundaries, and we do reap the consequences of our actions here on earth. But when we become wrathful, angry, bitter, and slanderous in how we respond to the mote in our brother’s eye, we need to get the beam out of our own, because those are the works of the flesh and as poisonous to us as what we are attempting to correct in others–in some cases, more so even.

Let our kindness and tenderness be truthful, directed towards encouraging one another to godliness. But kind and tender we must be if we want to be like Jesus–and we have to forgive like Jesus, too. God forgives when we repent and turn from our sin in sorrow, so we must not hold past sins God has forgiven against our brothers and sisters, either–and bitterness and anger against all offenses must be put off (into Christ’s hands in prayer.) So we must forgive everyone in the sense of the word where we are simply letting go of bitterness and anger and leaving vengeance/payback to God. But you can forgive someone in that sense but still protect yourself and not reconcile with someone who is still a threat to you. Only when the person has repented in the sense of turning from their sin and thus ceasing to be a threat does the Bible requires us to forgive in the sense of reconciling with the person and continuing on as if they had never sinned against us.

photo credit: JLS Photography – Alaska Sign of spring . . . via photopin (license)

Being on fire for God is a good thing, but lets remember what was so amazing about the burning bush. The Holy Spirit’s manifestation as fire in the bush was not burning the bush or anyone around it. When we’re full of the fire of the Lord, we should have more in common with a bubbly cold spring that consistently gushes forth sweet and refreshing than a hot, steamy geyser that scalds anyone who happens to be standing too close when it erupts.

Lord, search our hearts. If there be any hidden anger, bitterness, or an unforgiving attitude in our way today, reveal it to us, and strengthen us and grant us the will to share that pain honestly with you and release the offense into your just hands. Show us the path in which you would have us walk and grant us the courage to take those steps with you. Pour into our hearts today grace, love, and kindness that overflows and gushes onto others so we might build up one another and not tear down your work. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

[tweetthis]Are you Cold and Bubbly or Hot and Steamy? #devotional #forgiveness #kindness[/tweetthis]

Revised version of a devotion originally posted on May 11, 2011

Three Lessons from Esther.

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condesign / Pixabay

If you’re looking for Esther and having a hard time of finding it, don’t feel so bad. It’s all of 4 chapters. Find Psalms and go left two books. The book of Esther is read in Jewish homes at Purim, which celebrates the survival of the events in Esther. Now, to do this properly, you need to remember that you should hiss whenever the name of the bad guy comes up (Haman. Hissss)1. Okay. Now that you’re prepared, let’s dive in.

There was much argument about whether the book of Esther should be included in the canon. There’s no mention of God anywhere in the book … at least not in the open. The name “Esther” means “Something Hidden.” The name YHWH is actually encrypted behind the text. If you take an equidistant letter sequence starting from a couple places, you get the name YHWH more often than is statistically expected. So, God is in the book. Per her instructions, Esther, the queen and the book, hid her heritage2. For your very great amusement, there’s another hidden bit of text in there, too. “Haman and Satan stink” is concealed in the text using an equidistant letter sequence3.

Anyway, back to the point. The king of Persia at the time was very volatile. In Chapter 1 of Esther, we find that he put away his wife, Vashti, because she wouldn’t appear before a group of guys who’d been drinking for seven days. Some commentators suggest that this wasn’t just a matter of her wandering in to join the party but rather that she would perform, dance, or otherwise become the entertainment4. When she declined, Ahasuerus kicked her out.

So, that gets us to Esther, who was the ward of Mordecai, a descendant of Shimei. Does that name sound familiar? If you’re familiar with David’s adventures, it might. Shimei was a kinsman of Saul. This relative of the former king cursed David as David fled his son’s rebellion, and the king’s soldiers wanted to explain very clearly to this rabble rouser that cursing the king was not healthy. David wouldn’t allow his people to kill Shimei5. Now, I’m not suggesting that David might have known the significance of Shimei’s descendant, but if Shimei had been killed, there wouldn’t have been a Mordecai.

Esther ended up in the king’s harem, then so impressed the king that she became queen. Meanwhile, Uncle Mordecai made one of the king’s advisers, Haman (Don’t forget to “Hissss” when his name comes up) mad by refusing to pay homage when he passed. Haman decided to concoct a plan to make this annoying Jew pay.

Now, when you read Esther 3:1, you find that Haman was an Agagite. That’s also significant. Saul had been instructed to wipe out Agag and his people but chose to spare at least Agag and possibly a few others, unless there were some escapees6. If Saul had followed God’s directions and destroyed everyone and everything, there wouldn’t have been a Haman.

To cut to the chase, Haman hatched a plan to kill the Jews. Mordecai got wind of it and warned Esther. Esther thwarted the plan, and Haman died. For the details, read Esther. It’s short and very engaging.

So, if all Scripture is there for our instruction7, what are we supposed to do with this?

There are actually three good lessons for us to find here. First, Esther had been placed in a position to do something on behalf of God’s chosen, and she took a great deal of personal risk to do it. Not only did she walk uninvited into the throne room, which bore the death penalty unless the king extended his scepter; but she also revealed her identity as one of the condemned Jews, confronted Haman, then worked with her uncle to find a way to give her people a chance in the impending slaughter. Do you take any risks for God’s kingdom? Do you ever step out of your comfort zone to do something boldly for Christ? You may not have to face a volatile king and his wily adviser, but you might have to risk upsetting someone or facing the unknown. God won’t let you do this alone, but the initiative to do it is yours. He won’t force your hand.

Secondly, consider David’s response to Shimei. If the soldiers had gotten their wish, Shimei would’ve died that day, and there would’ve been no Mordecai to raise Esther or get word to her of the impending death sentence. David showed mercy, which is “not giving people what they deserve.” God shows us mercy, too. Are you merciful toward others, or do your thoughts go to making sure a well-deserving adversary gets his comeuppance? Instead, we should be kind to our enemies, and thereby dump burning coals on their heads8.

Finally, Saul’s error could have been very costly. Haman was an Agagite, and Saul had been told to wipe out every single one of them some generations before. He chose not to, Haman’s ancestors survived, and Haman had an opportunity to wipe out God’s chosen. He didn’t succeed, obviously, but as a result of Saul’s disobedience, things were much more difficult for Esther and Mordecai, among others.

Likewise, if we choose not to do God’s will for us, the work still gets done, but there may be hardships and extra burdens for others down the road. James says that God will give you wisdom if you ask for it9. So ask, find out what God wants you to do, and get it done.

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Cindy Koepp is originally from Michigan. She moved to Texas as a child and later received a degree in Wildlife Sciences and teaching certification in Elementary Education from rival universities. Her recently concluded adventures in education involved pursuing a master’s degree in Adult Learning with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Cindy has four published science fiction and fantasy novels, a serial published online, short stories in five anthologies, and a few self-published teacher resource books. When she isn’t reading or writing, Cindy spends time whistling with a crazy African Grey. Cindy is currently an editor with PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain Press as well as an optician at monster-sized retail store.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Three Lessons from Esther by Cindy Koepp #bible #devotional #commentary #faith #mercy #obedience[/tweetthis]

Endnotes:

1 Missler, Chuck. Verse by Verse Commentary on Esther. Koinonia House

2 Esther 2:10; Ibid.

3 Missler, Chuck. Verse by Verse Commentary on Esther. Koinonia House

4 Ibid.

5 2 Samuel 16:5-13

6 1 Samuel 15

7 Romans 15:4

8 Proverbs 25:21-22

9 James 1:5

By Faith, Noah Built

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noahsarkrecreation
An internet meme of unknown-to-me origin, if it came from a Christian, puts its foot in its mouth with this “clever” zinger of a sound byte: “Grace didn’t save Noah, …obedience did.”

At best, this is a half-truth (and a half-truth is usually dangerous.) Hebrews 10:38 tells “Now the just shall live by faith;” and HE 11:7 continues, “By faith Noah . . . prepared an ark for the saving of his household.”

And Genesis 6:8 (KJV) says “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Thanks to Alice Spencer for supplying me that verse.)

Walking in faith does mean obeying God, but in the context of being first saved by grace through faith. Grace saved Noah by God warning him of the flood, telling him how to build the ark, and providing what he needed. That is as important as the faithful response.

True, Noah had to cut down an entire forest and build the thing, but God made sure he had all the tools, literally brought all the animals to him and had them load themselves on the ark even. Noah wouldn’t have achieved anything apart from grace. What God did must come first or we are preaching man must save ourselves, exalting man over God.

I like to think that wasn’t the original author’s intent at all. Probably the person was fed up with lazy Christians expecting God’s grace to hand-deliver us everything we want instantly without ever asking anything of us. We are saved by grace through faith, and read the Hall of Faith (Heb 11) if you think all faith ever does is sit around and wait. There is a season for waiting by faith, yes, but there is also a season for acting by faith.

Trouble is, the slogan generation boils truths down into such short sound bites they’re no longer exactly true. Sometimes, in trying to be clever, we miss glaring logic errors or where we’ve denied the power of God’s grace. Ro:1:22 “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”

As Cindy Koepp and Elysse Baumbach pointed out, when I was discussing this with my Facebook friends, we were never saved by works. We could never keep the law, we always needed grace. In fact, Christ died to save the Old Testament saints, too, and the coming messiah was foretold to God’s people well in advance.

Obedience means nothing unless it is done by faith through grace.

I like to optimistically hope the original meme’s author understood that and that a ton simply got lost in translating an entire sermon/devotional into a 5-second spiffy saying/meme. However, what the author hopefully meant needs at least 30 seconds to a full minute to be conveyed at all in a Biblical manner.

James said it best in his “Faith without works is dead.” speech in James 2:14-26 (suggest reading the whole thing.)

Quite a few Christians need reminded of that and encouraged to listen to the Lord and act in obedience to God by faith. However, let’s remember “Saved by grace” is as much a teaching of scripture as “faith without works is dead.” The mystery of the gospel is we’re called both to salvation by grace, Christ’s finished work on the cross, and an active faith that obeys God out of gratitude. God likes to involve us in miracles, like a father including his kids in a family project, but without Him we can do nothing.

[tweetthis display_mode=”box” remove_twitter_handles=”true”]”Obedience means nothing unless it is done by faith through grace.” @andreagraham By Faith Noah Built[/tweetthis]

Flashback Friday: Holy Grace

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A revised reprint of a timeless article from May 11, 2007.

grace of god

 

The Church is a family, not a daycare. Yet many churches say “when you’re here, you’re family” à la the Olive Garden. While we focus on numbers like a business, some in our churches today have been raised in church their whole lives and still have little understanding of the gospel.

The surrounding culture says, “there are no absolute boundaries of right and wrong. We each get to create our own, and all of our contradicting boundaries are valid as long as we’re each doing what is right for us.”

gracethornHow should we respond in the Church? By explaining the gospel like this? “Bad news, you were born on the wrong side of the boundary, and are incapable of getting on the side where God lives. Good news, Jesus died to remove the boundary.”

While this may sound good, what the post-modern soul makes out of such teaching is, “By saying a little prayer, you can live however you want and still go to Heaven.”

The only difference the unchurched postmodernist sees between that and what they’ve already got is the prayer of salvation and getting up early on Sundays to get hit up for money. And quite a few of them did say the prayer once, back when their parents dragged them to church as kids. This gospel is attractive to those looking for a commitment-free eternity-insurance policy, not a life-changing relationship with a Holy God. In this business transaction, the throne of their hearts rarely comes included.

We are born sinners on the wrong side of God’s boundary and incapable of changing that on our own. Jesus died to make a way for us to cross over the boundary, transform from sinners into saints. He nailed our sin to the cross, yes. And as Ephesians 2:8,9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:Not of works, lest any man should boast.” The common cultural misunderstanding comes in with our understanding of grace.

Grace isn’t a static thing where Jesus accepts us as-is by enabling us to commit our pet sins consequences-free for all eternity. On the flip side, Jesus also isn’t a far-away-tyrant demanding we do what the Bible teaches we’re incapable of in our own strength.

When we’re born again, God freely places within us a new spirit–-a new heart–-one that lives on the right side of the boundary and wills to act in accordance to His will. This is a gift solely of God’s craftsmanship. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

At the same time, we still live in a body of dead flesh that’s just as wrong-side-of-the-boundary as ever.

At every minute of the day, Christians face a choice whether to walk in the ways of our dead flesh, or in the Spirit, with Christ’s grace actively giving us the will and the strength to live in accordance with God’s ways. Let’s ask for it, step back, and let God change us.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true”]The Church is a family, yet many churches say “when you’re here, you’re family” à la the Olive Garden.[/tweetthis]

 

 

Enough

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For Christian women who struggle with feeling like we’re not enough. Warning: I cried.

Are you enough? With God, you don’t have to be. He has enough. His love can make you enough.

The poised, young professional woman in white came boldly before the throne of God, dragging alongside her a battered, bruised little girl in filthy rags. “Lord, I’m surrendering this to you, my broken, wounded heart. I caught her running away from you and thinking wrong things again, so I’ve taken her captive, brought her back, and am presenting her to you again. I know she’s not much, but she’s all I have to offer, and I trust by faith she is enough. I have so much to do for you, and so little time, so I won’t keep you long. Amen.”

With that, the professional adult scurried away to get about the Father’s business.

The wounded child curled up on the floor in the fetal position, trembling, and sobbed. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The Son knelt before the terrified little thing and caught her tears in a bottle.

The girl shirked back. “Why are you collecting those? Aren’t my tears bad? Don’t you already have plenty of evidence of how bad I am? Who is she kidding? I’m not enough. I’m a worthless thing trampled on, not a valuable treasure worthy of belonging to the king. I can never live up to her expectations, or the expectations of others. She dumps me here with you so she doesn’t have to deal with my brokenness. All I do is get in the way and make trouble. If I’m not enough for flawed humans, how can I ever be enough for a holy God?”

“This is how.” Compassion in his eyes, the Son showed the wounded child his nail-pierced hands, spread open wide. “This is enough. Your value is not based on works or on the approval of men. What I paid for you is what you’re worth. How much is my blood worth?”

“It’s priceless.”

The Son hugged her. “You are my priceless treasure. You shall be a royal diadem in the hand of the Lord. You are accepted, and you are loved, simply because you are my child.”

He scooped her up and carried her toward an incomprehensibly vast, wide, deep pool full of liquid red love.