Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In-Flight Safety

It seems like everyone dreads the safety films when they’re on an airplane. Over the years, most folks have seen enough of these to give the demonstrations themselves. But that doesn’t make the message any less important. Likewise, bringing up the subject of Bible reading and study habits can cause a lot of church folks to roll their eyes.

In the safety films we’re told to put on our own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. That’s true for Bible study too. You’ve got to be well-fed and nourished on God’s Word before you try to give “oxygen” to others. You can’t give away what you don’t have!

Here’s a diet that is sure to fail: Eat just one meal a week, on Sunday mornings from 10:45 to noon!

Deuteronomy 8:3b "Understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord."

Journal Suggestions:

Interview one of your spiritual mentors about their Bible study habits, and then write about the new habits they've inspired you to try.

Recall a valuable lesson you learned as the result of seriously digging deep into the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Mind the Gap!"

It has been nearly thirteen years since my husband and I traveled to England to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We had a blast back-packing around from city to city and riding on Britain’s fabulous system of railways. One of the things we found so memorable was the recording that played over the public address systems in all the subways and train stations: “Mind the Gap!” These three words played repeatedly whenever a train’s door opened and continued until it was shut again—warning passengers, in a distinctly British female voice, that the gap between the platform and the train car posed a danger. The same three words graced the walls of both the trains and the stations in the boldest of red, white, and blue. So you could imagine how I jumped at the opportunity to purchase and take home a key ring with this symbol as a token of our trip.

It has been years since that vacation. I still have the key ring, but my husband has now passed away and that phrase has a new meaning for me. In the hours immediately following my husband’s death, I sat stunned and unbelieving what had just happened. I was crying out to the Lord, feeling so lost and not having a clue what tomorrow would bring. Then I looked down at my lap and noticed the keys I still clutched in my hand. “Mind the Gap!” The phrase was almost audible—but not in the familiar British female voice that had echoed in my mind since our trip. On this day, it seemed like the Lord Himself was speaking to me and saying, “Mind the Gap!”

The shock of being so suddenly widowed awoke me from a deep, comfortable sleep. Over the next couple years, I gained a more biblical perspective on my life and re-ordered my priorities. It was like how the Prodigal Son is described in Luke 15:17; he “came to his senses” when he decided to return home. That’s the sort of thing that had happened to me; I had finally “came to my senses” and realized God expected me to use this time He’s given me to be a good steward for Him and I needed to quit wasting my days dwelling on the past. I needed to press forward and “Mind the Gap!” Eventually, the Lord gently let me see that being widowed wasn’t meant to be a divine punishment from Him. Instead, He had given me the opportunity to see beyond my pain, replacing it with a new desire to serve Him.

Recently, Ephesians 5:15-16 has become very special to me. “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” I like this passage because it reminds me of a dear family friend who just never got tired of doing the Lord’s work. As a young man, he served as an overseas missionary, but he retired from that to become a church pastor, then he retired from that to establish a non-profit camp for people with special needs. He was a living example of what Paul meant by “run to win” and “finish well”. And he had faithfully demonstrated to me what it is to “Mind the Gap!”

But just last week, the Lord helped me to put a new spin on Ephesians 5:15-16. I have an NASB reference Bible that is over-flowing with margin notes. For verse 16, “making the most of your time”, it gives an alternate reading: “redeeming the time”. In case you’ve missed this, let me point out that these Bible translators and editors just equated “redemption” with “making the most of something”! I’m overwhelmed at the thought of how wasteful my life was when I was unredeemed and therefore, serving Satan. But, Praise God, because I am now “in Christ”, He helps me make the most of my time!

I’ve also realized that everyone has a personal gap of their own that needs to be tended. Every believer has a past that can’t be changed and a future they hope for and long for. But beginning today, and until that heavenly future comes, we all have a gap. For some it will prove to be a long road; for others of us, the end may be just around that next bend. But the Lord expects us all to “Mind the Gap!” Take heed to do today what you can to help usher in His Kingdom and His Righteousness.

Turning now to Luke 2:36-38, we read about Anna, a prophetess. Here was a widow of many years who undoubtedly had known heartaches and sorrows. Yet Luke tells us, she served the Lord faithfully, every day in the temple with prayers and fastings—and she proclaimed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. Anna knew her priorities, she was minding her gap, and doing it very well! Likewise, we need to snap up every opportunity to serve Christ and tell others about Him.

But let’s get practical here for a moment—what does one do to “Mind the Gap!”? Well, for instance, I try to balance time spent in the Bible, prayer, witnessing, and fellowship and daily try to do each one. I know that when I do that, my life will become more spiritually balanced and focused on eternity. This, to me, is what it means to “Mind the Gap!”

Redeem your days by making the most of the time God has allotted to you. Rescue each and every day from Satan’s jaws. “Mind the Gap!”

Galatians 5:13For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Here are some Journaling Suggestions for you to try:

Tell about someone whose example of “time stewardship” has inspired you.

Recall a day when you were particularly successful at redeeming your time for the Lord.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Zacharias and the Blessing - Luke 1

I’ve had the privilege this last week to read through several times the familiar stories found in Luke’s first chapter. I’ve known for quite a while that there is blessing to be gained by doing this – simply re-reading the same passage for many days. Eventually, you begin to notice things that are just simply missed with a casual once through pass of Scripture. I’m convinced this is a key to unlocking some of the mystery of the Bible and I’m personally choosing to use this method for Bible study throughout 2012.

On my first pass through the reading, I usually mark anything that jumps out at me as either a word or phrase I’m unfamiliar with or something I just want to investigate a little further. Then I start digging around in my various Bible resources to see what I can find out. Much to my surprise I found an answer last week to a question I wasn’t even asking. The Priest Zacharias was performing his service in the holy of holies when the angel appeared and told him he and Elizabeth would soon be having a child, John the Baptist.

Luke 1:21 reads, “The people were waiting for Zacharias”. So here’s the question, “Why, what were they waiting for?” And the answer I came across in 3 different resources all said this – they were waiting for him to say the familiar blessing found in Numbers 6:22-27. And what a blessing it is! I’m sure this is familiar to you:

The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace

However, because Zacharias doubted the words of the angel, the Lord caused him to be mute and the people waited in vain on that day, they did not receive the blessing they hoped for.

We’re not told exactly what Zacharias doubted. God’s words? The angel is really from God? God’s power to cause his aged and barren wife to conceive? Or was it a combination or all of these that Zacharias was doubting? Even though we aren’t sure what was the cause, we can still learn from his momentary lack of faith.

When we doubt God’s Word, the reality of God’s presence, God’s ability or willingness to act on our behalf, the result is that we, like Zacharias, will be mute. Doubts, of any kind, leave us with our lips sealed, shut tight – unwilling and unable to properly witness to anyone around us. And the result is that we have failed to bring the Lord’s Blessing to others. We no longer tell of God’s wonderful and merciful dealings with us – because we doubt they really happened because of God!

But notice in Luke 1:64, Zacharias was ready to be obedient as evidenced by his choice of name for his son. And now, his once mute mouth, brought forth PRAISES! I think any time we have doubts, if we will just begin to praise the Lord, the doubts will disappear. It is as if the doubts are brought to our minds by Satan’s minions – and they won’t stick around if you’re verbally, out loud, praying, witnessing to others, or singing God’s praises. It would be like in the movies when they splash holy water on a vampire! Praise vanquishes Doubt!

Then something wonderful happens in verse 67, Zacharias is now filled with the Holy Spirit and is used by the Lord to utter prophecy. This is a great lesson for us. Zacharias first praised God, THEN he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and THEN the Lord used him, gave him a job to do – a ministry that only he was able and suited to carry out.

Oh, if we would only learn to do this simple thing – vanquish all our doubts with praise! Then we too can be entrusted to do great things for the Lord, helping to establish His Kingdom. When we praise the Lord, we become useful to our God; it shows our humility and a proper attitude. Praise Him!

Romans 15:13 – “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Journal Prompts:

How have the words of others served as a blessing in your life?

Recall a time when you conquered your fear to speak with someone about the Lord.