Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Best Kind of Wall to Have

I scanned through photos this morning, looking for a blog topic, and came across this one from my time in Israel. It's a picture of the Golden Gate taken from the Mount of Olives.

This gate is the only one on the eastern side of the city. It's also sometimes called the Mercy Gate. It's the gate through which Jesus is thought to have arrived on Palm Sunday and through which He is expected to arrive on His second coming.

The purpose of the gate was to allow access to the walled city. The walls, of course, were built to keep invaders and enemies out. Today, as I pondered those walls, I realized that some of the worst enemies of the city were likely inside the walls already.

Scripture tells us that kings, priests, and people alike strayed far from God. They replaced a relationship with the Most High God with a form of religion that left their hearts cold and distant. Every man (and woman) did whatever they wanted to do, whatever seemed right to them. 

When God decreed judgment on the nation because of their sin, it was as good as done. There was no military might that could keep the invaders out. There were no walls strong enough to keep the people safe within. 

Eventually, invaders entered the city of Jerusalem and carried the people into captivity. They were able to enter because of the sin in the hearts of God's people, not because of a problem with the walls.

The people of God in ancient times were no different from us today. They did whatever they wanted. They wrapped their action in "God-talk" in an attempt to cover their sin, but God saw their hearts. He knew exactly what mattered to them. He knew their desires, their hurts, and the things they used to ease their pain. Just as He does today.

It wasn't city walls that gave the greatest protection to God's people. It was God Himself. Disaster came when He removed that protection in response to their sin. 

What the people didn't quite understand was that the wall they needed most was the one around their hearts. They needed the wall that kept sin out. 

We, too, are in desperate need of the walls-of-diligence that keeps sin out of our hearts.

Today, let's stop for a moment and consider the spiritual walls of our heart. Are we careful about the things that enter and take up residence there, or have we flung the gates wide to allow anything the world offers inside? 

The best walls aren't made from brick or block or wood. The walls that offer the most protection are the walls that guard our hearts and keep sin out. Let's be sure those walls are in good repair. If it won't please God, let's choose not to let it take up residence in our heart. 

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." 
Proverbs 4:23 NLT

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Very Dumb Wise Man  (
And here's the link to the Snake Story: Sam The Snake Handler and Our Big Adventure 
#guardyourheart #faithlife #Jesus

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Very Dumb Wise Man

The book of Proverbs has never made me cry before, until today. This is a book of "wisdom", wise sayings by King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. He learned many of these wise things from his daddy, King David, the "man after God's own heart". (Prov. 4:3)

He addressed "my son" many times, so I assume he was a relatively young man when he wrote these bits of wisdom. I read the first four chapters this morning and wished that Solomon had read his own writing when he was old, because it appears he forgot all he knew.

Here are two of his many "wise bits": 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7 nasb

My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
Proverbs 1:10 nasb

For the upright will live in the land;
And the blameless will remain in it;
But the wicked will be cut off from the land; 
And the treacherous will be uprooted from it.
Proverbs 2:21-22 nasb

As I read those words, I remembered all that happened when Solomon was old. His foreign wives enticed him to idolatry and he consented. (1 Kings 11:1-4) He built shrines for the idols and worshiped at them. He even worshiped Molech (the god to whom child sacrifices were made). 

He forgot his own wisdom.

Sinners enticed him and he followed like a lamb going to slaughter. Solomon became one of the wicked whose descendants were cut off from the land; he became one of the treacherous whose offspring were uprooted.

His sin led to a civil war that split the nation and accelerated Israel's descent into idolatry and eventual captivity by the Assyrians.

Solomon, like the church in Ephesus mentioned in the Revelation, had "lost his first love", and it cost his family and an entire nation a terrible price.

At Bible study Wednesday night, a man mentioned something he did when he was young. "Somehow, along the way, I'd quit doing that." He told of how he'd returned to his initial fervor for Christ. 

I wish that Solomon had regained his fervor. But he didn't. 

He was wiser in his own eyes than he was in God's eyes, and that arrogance came with an awful price.

This morning, I'm sobered by Solomon's experience and praying that I will embrace the wisdom from above, not from this world. Praying that, even when I'm older than I am now, I'll cling to Christ. Hold to my initial fervor. Love Him more than at the start.

Bill Gaither wrote a song that sums up how the Christian life should be. The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows.

Today, let's take a close look at our own lives. Have we lost our fervor? Are we wise in our own eyes or in the eyes of God? Let's turn back to the wisdom of God alone. Take a step closer if we've strayed away.

Let's determine to live for God every day for the rest of our lives. When "sinners entice", let's say no and press on. 

The decisions we make, day by day, determine the direction our lives take, down the road. Let's choose God's path and continue on that path for the rest of our lives.
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Sam the Snake Handler and the Big Adventure 
#wisdom #Solomon #faithlife

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sam the Snake Handler and the Big Adventure

"You want me to kill him?" Sam stood at the bottom of the stairs, and hollered up into the screen porch.

I was hard at work on Hosea, as I moved between multiple commentaries and my Bible, and typed as fast as I could. It took a few seconds to realize he was talking.

"Kill what?"

Kill this snake that's trying to get in your house."


"Shor' nuff. They's a snake down here climbing up this wall." 

I was out the door in an instant. Sam was right. A snake had started up a low brick wall on his way to terrorize me on the screen porch.

"Kill it." I was not as calm as these two words might imply.

"Well give me a stick and I'll whack it in the head."

I would much rather Sam kill a snake than for me to do it myself, so I handed him a 1"x 2" x 24" piece of wood I'd been saving for a craft project. He whacked away at the brick wall, but never managed to hit the snake. 

"Sam, you're missing the snake." I had forgotten about his very poor vision. He sees everything double, and he couldn't tell which snake was the real snake.

"Hang on. I'm bound to hit it in a minute." He pounded away, but missed every time.

"That's snake gonna bite you. I'll just shoot it."

I ran for the rifle, slammed the clip in place, and prepared to take aim. 

By this time, Sam was determined to kill the snake for me, so he gave another whack. He missed the snake again.

That was the final straw for the snake. He slithered off the wall and under my truck. It was truly amazing how fast a creature without legs could move. I was momentarily in awe. But then I remembered he was a snake trying to get in my house, and his legless running wasn't quite so awesome, after all.

"Back your truck up. That snake's done gone under it," Sam ordered me.

Just so you know, I was in a sun dress and flip flops. I was not at all interested in getting my bare toes near that snake, (which I would have to do when I got in the truck) but I ran for the keys. 

When I got back, the snake was no where to be found. "You chased it off, Sam."

"No, I didn't. That snake has crawled up in your wheel."

"No, it didn't." 

"Yep. It did."

I looked, from a distance, but didn't see the snake. Since Sam's vision is terrible, I didn't believe he could see inside my wheel, but he could. 

This might not have been the smartest move I've ever made, but I took a stick and poked around inside my wheel. The stick hit something soft and mushy and my stomach lurched. I had found the snake.

I made the snake mad with my poking, but he was determined to stay where he was, so I called The Hired Hand. I'd forgotten he was at the doctor's office with his daddy and couldn't come. 

"Just drive around the countryside for a while and you'll fling the snake right out."

That seemed like a reasonable idea, so I climbed in the truck and started backing up. I had a clear vision in my mind of driving down County Road 278 at 45 mph as the snake flew out of my wheel. Dogs and people would be so surprised to see the flying snake, and I would be free of him. 

I was so happy with my new plan.

I backed up as far as the cattle gap, but stopped when I heard Sam holler. "You've flung him out." 

That was not the plan. I slammed my brakes on and got out.

By this time, Sam had managed to step on the snake. There are a lot of things that would have been a good idea at this point, but what Sam did next was not one of them. He picked up the snake. In Sam's defense, he picked it up behind the head, but he thought he could squeeze the snake with his bare hand and choke it to death.

I was yelling, "Put it down, Sam. Let me shoot it."

"No. I've got it now." 

The choking plan did not work. Partly because Sam was laughing so hard at me. 

When he finally decided to put the snake down, he did another thing didn't seem too smart to me. He put his foot on the snake's tail, but left his head free to do all manner of snakey things.

At this point, the snake was furious. He got away from Sam for what might have just been a few seconds but seemed much longer. Since I was the one who had flung him out of the wheel, he came after me, sticking that snakey tongue out as he ran (if running is what you do with no legs). 

I did what everyone should do when a snake starts after them. I screamed and ran. 

You may not believe this, but it is true. As I was running, I thought, this is what we all should do when that serpent, the devil, starts coming after us with temptation. And it is. There's no need to stand around and let a snake bite you, and there's no need to stand around and let temptation overcome you. Flee.

Paul's instructions to Timothy came into my mind. "Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness." (2 Timothy 2:22) I hoped all the Hosea people figure this out while they're studying, so I sent up a little prayer for them, because I didn't have time to send a big one. (This all happened very fast.) 

"I got him." Sam laughed harder than I'd seen him laugh in a long time. He had stepped on the snake's tail again.

He had the snake in a manner of speaking, but the snake was now determined to have Sam. That snake struck at Sam's boot like crazy. Sam was so tickled, all he could do was laugh. Then, the snake struck at Sam's skinny jean-covered leg but he couldn't get his teeth through the denim. 

I thanked God for that, and stepped closer to warn Sam, but the snake turned and started striking at me. He'd have bit me, too, if I hadn't screamed and run. 

Sam was laughing so hard, he had tears in his eyes. While he tried to hit the snake with the 1x2, which worked no better than it had before, I ran for the pruning shears.

Together, Sam stomped the snake and I applied the pruning shears to his body. The snake was still writhing, but Sam pronounced him dead. I wasn't satisfied.

A wonderful thought popped into my mind, so I put the pruning shear blades around that snake's head and announced, out loud, "I am crushing your head like Jesus crushed that serpent the devil when he rose from the grave." And the snake's head split and he died.

That's just how fast Jesus defeated the serpent devil, Satan. He died on the cross, and the devil thought he'd won. When everyone least expected it, Jesus burst open the grave and came out in all His splendor. The devil's head was crushed under His feet, and He won the victory over sin and death.

We don't have to live defeated. 

That one quick crushing sealed the victory. We can live free, if we want to. So run when temptation comes your way, and embrace the One who rose again, for He is the Conqueror, the King, and the for-all-time Serpent Crusher, and (if you're willing) He has set you free. 

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise Him on the heel. Genesis 3:15 nasb

P.S. The picture above is of a different snake that Sam killed. We got excited and forgot to get a picture of this one.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Importance of Purpose (
#snakes #Jesus #crushedhishead

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Importance of Purpose


Why? Why? Why? Even as a child I wanted to know why. Why do things one way and not the other? Why do these words mean this and not that? Why is this right and that wrong? Why do things a certain way? Teachers and family grew tired of my incessant "why's", but I truly wanted to know.

And I still do.

I want to know the reason for actions, the rationale for thought processes, the purpose behind a certain path. Knowing my purpose has helped me keep the goal in sight and press on to achieve it.

King David, for the most part, understood who he was and why he was in leadership. He saw himself as a shepherd who was king, but he also knew his primary position was "servant of God". King David knew his job as the king-who-served-God was to shepherd God's people, and that's what he did.

I'm not sure Solomon ever understood his purpose in life. The more I read about him, the more convinced I am that Solomon served Solomon. He was king and he spent his life accumulating gold, and horses, and wives. He built houses and traveled, but he spent very little time worshipping God.

Except for the dedication of the temple, there is only limited evidence of Solomon having a heart for God.

I found it interesting to read the account of the Queen of Sheba's visit. Solomon spent time answering questions and demonstrating his wisdom. He showed her the things that mattered most to him. He revealed his riches and dined with her using goblets, plates, and utensils of gold. 

Queen Sheba was impressed with Solomon. Stunned by his wisdom. Astounded by his wealth. In some ways, though, she was far more wise than Solomon.

She summed up the visit with these words:

"Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; Because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness." 1 Kings 10:9 nasb

The Queen of Sheba understood what Solomon, perhaps, did not. God loved Solomon, but He didn't make him king to give him a storehouse full of gold. God made Solomon king to practice justice and righteousness in order to bless Israel.

We, too, have a purpose, and it is one of righteousness, obedience, and love. We are to love the Triune God, our Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Our purpose is not to accumulate wealth or gain knowledge. Our purpose is, like David, to serve God. We may gain riches and wisdom along the way, but, when we die, we will leave all our accumulated treasure behind. 

Only our relationship with the Almighty will matter in eternity.

Today, let's stop and ask ourselves that little question that matters so much. Why?

Why do I do the things I do?

Why did God place me in this place at this particular time?

God's goal for us is a relationship with Him that results in righteousness and justice. That should be our goal, too.

Let's live in such a way that we pursue His goals, His righteousness all the days of our lives.
The photo above is the field that once belonged to Boaz, the field in which David shepherded his sheep. It's also the field where the angels appeared to the shepherds the night Jesus was born.

In case you missed it, here's the link for yesterday's post: Prosperity Does Not Equal Godliness (

For those doing the Hosea study, the Chapter Four lesson is now live and here's the link: Chapter Four 

#purposeinlife #goals #disciple

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Prosperity Does Not Equal Godliness

In yesterday's blog post, I wrote about Solomon's prophetic prayer. He prayed that, when Israel went into captivity, they would repent and God would hear and help them. Solomon was the third king of Israel and he married many foreign wives who drew his heart away from God. He ended up worshipping at the altars to the idols.

This morning, I still wondered how this mess came about. Didn't anyone complain? Didn't the priests chastise the king? Where were the Pharisee-types when the people really needed them? Where was Nathan, who confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba? Surely someone could have stood up to Solomon.

But it doesn't seem that they did. 

I wondered why not, until I read two verses that might explain the failure of the people to confront their king about his idolatry.

"And the king made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem, and he made cedars as plentiful as sycamore trees that are in the lowland." 1 Kings 10:27 nasb

"Now the weight of gold which came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold..." 2 Chronicles 9:12 nasb

Solomon brought immense prosperity to the land, but he also began their plummet into idolatry.He built shrines to the false gods of his foreign wives. He worshipped there himself.

It's easy to equate prosperity with the favor of God, but the two are not synonymous. 

666 talents of gold is equivalent (in today's measures) to 22,660 kg of gold, or 799,307.98 ounces of gold. With gold prices at $1,323 per ounce, the value of the gold that came in to Solomon each year (in 2016 dollars) was $1,057,484,457.54.

People looked at the unprecedented prosperity Solomon achieved, listened to his beautiful words, and deemed him the wisest man alive. They missed one important fact, however. 

Neither our bank account nor our words truly reflect the men or women we are. Only our actions can do that.

Solomon's actions showed that he not only flagrantly disregarded the law of God, but dishonored the Lord with his idolatry.  

No matter how wealthy or wise we are, our life won't count for much if we fill it with sin rather than righteousness.

Today, let's take a close look at our lives. When people see us, is the focus on our finances or our faithfulness, our holdings or our holiness, our words or our righteousness?

We will never please God with the gold we get. We please Him with the love we give.

Let's be sure our lifestyle reflects the faith we say we have.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39 nasb
Photo above is of a sunrise in Galilee (above the Sea of Galilee)

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: If I Had Only Known

For those doing the Hosea study, the Chapter Four lesson is now live and here's the link: Chapter Four 
#wealth #godliness #priorities

Monday, May 23, 2016

If I Had Only Known

When King Solomon dedicated the new temple, he prayed the benediction to open the festivities. As I read through that prayer, I realized it was a kind of prophecy, in part addressing the coming captivity.

(Leanna Paraphrase) "When the people sin and are carried into captivity by their enemies, if they truly repent, please forgive them and help them in that place." from 1 Kings 8:46-48

It was, in a way, a surprising prayer. Since they left Egypt, the people had known great prosperity and military victory, with very little defeat, but Solomon was right. Sin would come and, along with it, consequences.

The most remarkable thing about his prayer is that Solomon, in a way, started the journey to captivity. He did the thing he prayed against.

He married many pagans wives and followed them into idolatry. He set up high places and shrines to the idols. He sacrificed to them there. He worshipped Molech, the idol to whom child sacrifices were made. 

Israel never recovered from it. Idolatry became widespread in the nation. Idols were a problem until, 250 years later, they were taken into captivity by Assyria. Just as Solomon had prayed.

As I read his prayer, I wondered what he would have done differently if he had known what his sin would cost him. What it would cost the nation. 

Would he have believed it?

I look back on my own life and see how the sins of earlier years have brought consequences and results years later. If I had known what those sins would cost me, would I have done them? Maybe not.

And yet, we do know. The law made it clear that sin has consequences. It made it clear what those consequences would be. Deuteronomy 28 is filled with the specific results of ongoing sin. If they persisted in their sin, and refused to repent after all God's disciplines, He would scatter them and send them back to slavery. (Deut. 28:64-68)

Solomon did know. Yet he sinned anyway.

And we do the same.

We know sin has a price, but we don't believe it will happen to us. Even when we're told ahead of time. I do it, and you probably do, too, but it's not wise.

We can, however, make a different choice. A better choice. 

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants." Deuteronomy 30:19 nasb

We can have blessings if we want them, but we have to choose them with our lifestyle. 

Since we know better, let's do better. Let's take a step closer to Christ and follow Him. Let's love God first, with every fiber of our being, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. 

It's not just the right thing to do. It's the best way to leave a legacy of blessing for our children and grandchildren.
In case you missed it, here's the link for yesterday's post: The Crummy Soil and the Traveling Plants (

For those doing the Hosea study, the Chapter Four lesson is now live and here's the link: Chapter Four 
Here's a link to another blog post about choosing blessings or curses: Blessings or curses: We can choose

Dealing with unclean spirits, part 8: Blessing of obedience

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." (Luke 11:27-28 NASB)

In the midst of Jesus' teaching, a woman shouted out a word of commendation for His mother. "Blessed is your mother who bore you". Jesus replied with a phrase that is translated by NASB as "on the contrary" but might be better written as "yes, but". The word here is one that connects the two phrases and gives greater importance to the second. It's important to bless your mother. It's more important to obey God.

Jesus was not disagreeing about His mother but was moving the woman's attention from the physical to the spiritual. This woman had heard His words and cried out in admiration. Jesus agreed that His mother was blessed above all women, but He said there was an even greater blessing for those who not only hear the word of God but also obey it. 

When I read that, it's almost too much to imagine. The Virgin Mary was chosen by God, entrusted with His only Son, and honored by bearing and rearing the Holy One. One of Jesus' last acts on the cross was to make certain that someone would care for His mother after His death. He loved His mother. 

Despite the blessing Mary received, those who hear the word of God and obey it receive an even greater blessing. It's worth it to obey. 

Obedience is not always easy. I don't always like doing what God says. Praying for my enemies, doing good to those who curse me are not my favorite instructions, but I've been blessed every time I've obeyed. I've watched God turn enemies to friends and bless me when I've prayed that He'd bless them, and I've marveled every time. It makes no sense in the natural, but in the spiritual realm, it reaps big rewards.

It's not enough to read the Word of God, nor to hear the Word of God. What Jesus asks of us is that we obey the Word of God. It's often harder than I think, but it's also a greater blessing than I could possibly imagine.  Today, commit to obey the Scripture you know. Don't just read it, do it! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Crummy Soil and the Traveling Plants

I should've learned from past experience, but I didn't. The Hired Hand tried to tell me it was a bad idea. Repeatedly. But I didn't listen. I was determined to have a garden. A big garden. So, we forged ahead.

We plowed and harrowed and tilled until I was sick of preparations. The Hired Hand told me the ground wasn't right. We needed soil testing and to add whatever it is this ground needs. Yes, the soil in the photo is the very pitiful soil in my garden. 

"It isn't ready." He said it until I couldn't stand to hear it any more.

I planted anyway. I'd grown a garden in that crummy soil before, and I was determined to do it again.

In retrospect, my garden had always struggled in that location, but I had planted so many seeds that I managed to get as much produce as I could use. 

Yesterday, I took a serious look at the plants in my garden and made a decision. The Hired Hand is right. The soil isn't ready for a garden. I looked at my raised beds, filled mostly with "barnyard fertilizer" and realized they aren't quite ready, either. They do have nutrients in the soil that make plants grow, and they are definitely the better choice for my struggling plants.

It wasn't what I wanted to do on a Saturday, but I spent a good portion of yesterday making a swap. I carefully dug up all the Brussels sprouts and planted them in one of my raised beds. Next, I dug up all the cabbage, then the red cabbage, then the onions. They all have a new home in a raised bed with much better soil. 

Before I'm done, all the plants will have a new home. They'll make it or they won't, but, in their new home, they will definitely have a better chance to thrive.

All this has, of course, brought the parable of the sower to mind. You probably remember that story. The sower scattered seed along the roadside. Some of it fell beside the road and the birds ate it. Other seeds fell on rocky soil, others among the thorns. None of those seeds survived. 

It was only the seeds that fell on good, fertile soil that grew a crop. 

Jesus said our hearts are just like the soil. Some are so enmeshed in the world that we hear the truth of Jesus, but can't understand it. Others make a start but don't follow through. Our hearts aren't prepared to persevere enough to learn the ways of God. Some of us allow the worries of this world to choke out the truth we know.

There are only a few, Jesus said, who hear the truth of Jesus, understand it, and apply it in their lives. It is those people whose lives bear fruit in ways we cannot even imagine. They bring forth thirty, sixty, even one hundred fold what was planted in them. 

When I look at the soil in my garden, I know it needs some serious work. When I look at the soil in my heart, I can see it needs some work, too. 

What about you? 

Today, let's take a look at our own hearts. Do we have hearts of fertile soil for God's truth or not? 

If not, are we willing to allow God the freedom to change the "soil" of our hearts? 

Will we allow Him to test us and modify us so that we can begin to be the fruitful disciples He intended?

"And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." Matthew 13:23 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Touching the House of God (

For those doing the Hosea study, the Chapter Four lesson is now live and here's the link: Chapter Four 

In case you're interested, here are links to two other sower blog posts: The Roadside Seed and The Special Seed

#gardening #goodsoil #disciple