What’s Your Identity?

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John 1:12  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

What are you basing your identity on?

Note:   Many of the ideas in this entry can be attributed to a sermon I heard preached by my Pastor last Sunday….I take notes, and so from the notes I’ve written this blog entry and added some thoughts, explanations and examples of my own.  Sometimes, I tell him that I am going to use what I heard him preach on in my blog.  I really enjoy Pastor Jerry’s sermons, and learn a lot from him.  I hope you will enjoy this glimpse also.

Read Matthew 23:1-12  

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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Jesus is pretty clear that his disciples should not be doing things that glorify themselves.  Funny thing is that he tells them to be careful to do what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law say to do, but not to actually do the same things they themselves do.

We all know folks who do this, and at any time we are all guilty of being “hypocrites” or “actors”.  Sometimes, it is unintentional, we simply get new information or change our minds about something that we felt/believed deeply in the past.  Jesus is not talking about the unintentional hypocrisy that happens in those cases.  For example, We have all used the phrase:  “I would never do……(fill in the blank)” and then we have proceeded to condemn someone else for doing that very thing….a few years go by and maybe we have done the thing we said we would never do.  Perhaps…we would “never stay out after midnight because nothing good comes of that….” then we find that we have a job which requires us to stay out after midnight.  This is a very mild example, but this kind of hypocrisy happens all the time.  The problem comes with the self-righteousness that comes along with those kinds of statements. The unloving and condemning/judgmental attitude that comes with the hypocrisy.

That is the very thing that Jesus was warning his disciples against…the “do what I say,  but not what I do” attitude that the Pharisees and the Scribes were filled with.  They were largely filled with their own righteousness, and filled with the need for gratification and glorification by mankind.  They were not focused on serving God, but they were serving themselves in the pretense of “doing it all for God.”

A very unfunny joke I heard last Sunday goes like this: Hypocrites in the church?  No, our church is not full of hypocrites….it is a long way from being full yet.

Yet this unfunny joke does describe many churches and the view of many people about Christian churches and the people who go to them.

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This is a beautiful church I saw while traveling…I really enjoy looking at churches…people put their best into building them to honor God…we should also put our best into building ourselves to honor God.

Another way of saying this is said by Paul the Apostle in  Titus 1:16  

16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

So Jesus realized that people want to be known as something – he knew that this is a need that people have..so he laid out clear instructions to his disciples about this..because if you are known for something then you can be known for the wrong thing….even something harmless can become harmful if it goes to your head.  The Old Testament is full of people who let their own ego take over and it ended up causing harm to themselves and others.  The thing is that some of those people such as King Saul and King David, were actually people who believed in God and attempted to follow God, but because of their self centered nature they failed to be obedient to God…they made the choice to glorify themselves instead of being true to God.

In God’s eyes we are called to be loving servants to others, instead of lifting ourselves up, we should be lowering ourselves down.

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These are reputed to be the “bones of St. Mark”.  I find there is some irony in  that Mark would probably not appreciate the luxurious gold plated place where his bones have been placed…St. Mark’s basilica in Venice, Italy.  Though the place is beautiful to behold for sure.

Even though Jesus was God in the flesh, he emptied himself out and became obedient to the death.

So back to the question at hand…How do you identify yourself?

-by relationship? -by Education? – by position? -by skills? -by bank balance? -by residence?

The truth is that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are in relation to others – “What do they think of me?”  We all do this to some extent.  Everyone gets a vote in who we are – even strangers – we give them smiles and politeness…or scowl at them if we are having a bad day…even the driver in the next lane forms an opinion of who we are to them….”I saw that really rude driver when I was coming home…”

People through out our lives will sometimes give us nicknames…some are very nice and some are really rude.  I remember that an office I worked in had a woman with really gigantic hair…so she (rudely) became known as “the hair lady”…we have almost all of us come across a person or two known as the “snob or the grouch”…then there are more affectionate nicknames such as “shorty, or cuteness, or pet names we call our kids or spouses.”  Nicknames also can come as short versions of your real name:  Vicky (Victoria), Lexis (Alexis or Alexandra).  Sometimes, nicknames can reveal something about us that we don’t wish to have the world know…such as “stinky”  (some unthinking Mom who said that at the wrong moment and the kid was tagged with it for life!)   I know that when we were going to have our first child I had a sequence of names that I really liked and it was a very nice boy’s name…however, my husband was more on the ball than I was…he said, “No we cannot name him that, if it is a boy, because the initials form the word “GAS”…that kid would be teased unmercifully for life!”  I was shocked to hear the initials. (You are laughing now for sure, but this is a true tale!)

Every day we come to this path choice and our choice is determined by our core longings…do we reveal the false self, the small self or the true self?

Core Longings (Dr. Robert B. Shaw) – Belonging, Purpose, Love, Understanding, Significance and Security.

If we don’t have our core longings satisfied, then we can get into trouble by searching for  ways to have these longings be satisfied.  This leads to creating a “false self.”

There is also the “small self” identity which comes from living below your privilege, living without prayer, living with false humility.

We, who are believers, need to understand that in order to continue to become mature in Christ and stay on the mark as Christians…we need to understand that God is the only “legitimate” source for the satisfaction of our core longings.

We should never get our identity from something that can be taken away from us!

Have you ever met someone who spent their lives so wrapped up in their job that they did nothing else…then they retired..or lost the job..that person is usually very lost emotionally.  They just don’t know what to do with themselves…it is like they lost their entire identity when they lost the job.  The same thing can happen if you use your relationship to identify yourself…what happens if your only identity is “Mom” or “Dad” and the kids do what you have raised them to do…grow up and move out and get independent…again…you can become very depressed… it is hard to see this happen to a person from the outside too. It is hard to help them.  It is hard to redefine yourself.

Here are some things to remember:

Ephesians 2:10  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(This tells us that God has a plan for our lives, the plan was prepared before we were created!)

Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–

(This tells us that part of God’s plan was for us to be adopted into his family through Jesus Christ…that it is his pleasure and his will that we be added to his family of children.)

1Thessalonians 1:4-5  4 Brothers who are beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction—just as you know we lived among you for your sake.

(This tells us that God loves us and chose us, and he chose people to share the gospel with us, and that the Holy Spirit acts in accordance with the gospel to draw us to God.)

Philippians 4:19-20  19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

 

So again…I ask…who are you?  Where do you get your identity from?

I am hoping that your answer will be that you are a “child of God”…that is the best and most valid identity any of us can have…and it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything…not even by death!

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Yahweh, Jehovah, I AM

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Commandment #3 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Exodus 3:13-15: Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”  God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your fathers- The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”

John 8:58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born I AM.”

Notes:  In Unger’s Bible dictionary it says that the word Jehovah is a misspelling of the word Yahweh which in Hebrew means “He causes to be or He exists, or He creates.”  This explains why God uses the term I AM to describe himself.  I AM is a short way to say that he exists and has always existed, that God is not a created being.  He is the Creator of Everything.  The tradition of the Hebrews was to not say God’s name out loud in conversation.  This tradition probably has a lot to do with the fact that God’s name is Holy, and that misusing God’s name was punishable by death.   After all, if you don’t say it out loud, then you cannot misuse it accidentally or on purpose.  Historians believe that this is what led to the mispronouncing of God’s name Yahweh (Yahway) as Jehovah.  Since it was never pronounced out loud, some forgot how to pronounce, and spell it.  Also as you can see in John 8:58 Jesus describes himself with the traditional title that God used for himself with Moses.

Exodus 20:7  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Read Leviticus 24:10-23  The story of the Blasphemer.

10 Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. 11 The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) 12 They put him in custody until the will of the Lord should be made clear to them.

13 Then the Lord said to Moses: 14 “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.15 Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; 16 anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.

17 “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. 19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. 22 You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’”

23 Then Moses spoke to the Israelites, and they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him. The Israelites did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Reading this story of the blasphemer who was put to death and the indictment that God laid on him is very hard.  There are many things that are hard to understand, but if you realize that God is a Holy God, and that he was in the process of making the people of Israel into a group of people who were to be living examples of the character of God to others on earth…then it can be seen that a person who did not respect the God who was providing for them and caring for them could not be tolerated.
I know, you are probably saying that they could have just thrown him out of the camp, but again, if you think about the environment outside the camp…a dry and desert environment…wouldn’t throwing this person out be the same as sentencing them to death?  There was a reason why people traveled in caravans in those days.  There was no city, no civilization…just their camp.
At the same time, it is shown in verse 21 that God was not giving this instruction lightly…the value of human life is of the utmost importance.  God also did not want anyone to believe that there was a separate law for the native Israelite and the one who lived in Israel but had an Egyptian Father, so in verse 22 he reminds them that the law is for both the Israelite and the foreign born.  The same law.
We have a lot of conflicting beliefs over the death penalty as a punishment, but the Bible clearly had laws regarding this, and considered that someone who took God’s name lightly or ran down God’s name should be treated to that punishment.  The punishment of death was not lightly given…but for very grave offenses, such as adultery, murder, and blasphemy.
There should also be an understanding that God was applying these laws to those who lived within the boundaries of Israel and with the Israelite people.  The 10 commandments were given so that people could understand how to live with each other….to have respect for each other, and the land of Israel was a Theocracy, not a Democracy.  We Westerners, as a rule, have a hard time understanding what a Theocracy is, and how people can live in one.  That is because we believe that the individual freedoms of people are more important than our individual beliefs about God….in other words, we are generally more self centered, than God centered.
The peculiar thing here is that the Pharisees used this law to try and trap Jesus.  They found that despite all the scriptures about the Messiah, they were unable to believe that Jesus, who was identifying himself with God…could be that Messiah.  All they saw was blasphemy.
Luke 5:20-21  20When Jesus saw their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21But the scribes and Pharisees began to consider this and ask, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemy?  Who can forgive sins but God along?”
If we were a strict Theocracy then we would be having everything in our lives revolve around God, and all of our laws would be looking to make God centered decisions.
Personally, I am grateful that we do not live in such a strict society; because even a strict theocracy is governed by human beings who are incapable of making good judgements about people.  In the days of Moses, God was in direct and certain communication with Moses…there wasn’t any doubt about this within the confines of the Israelite people.  God was their rescuer and Moses was the leader that God had given to them. Moses, himself, was under the punishment of God for misrepresenting God’s character to his people.  He was banned from ever entering the promised land for doing that.
God is a loving God, but we cannot forget that he is a Righteous and Holy God who is not to be taken lightly.  Whether in speech or in action.  The good news is that he is a loving God who is just to forgive us whenever we ask for it sincerely….If you look back at that story we do not hear that the blasphemer of Mose’s time was asking for forgiveness at all…it is not made clear to us…but if we look at the pharisees…even thinking that Jesus was a blasphemer they picked up stones to stone him..John 8:59  At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. 
The seriousness with which the Jews took this law of God and the Holiness of God’s name into their hearts was still in effect in Jesus’ time which was thousands of years after Mose’s time. The thing is that Jesus was who he was saying he was, yet the Pharisees could not see it!  They were blinded by their own self-righteousness!

King Jesus

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Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice Greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee:  he is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon a donkey, and upon the colt of a donkey.

Read Zechariah 9:9-17 This is about the coming of Jesus and his Kingdom. 

Read Matthew 5:17-20 Here Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Read 1 Samuel 8: 5-22  Here the Israelites demand a King for themselves.

Notes:  God gives the Israelites a king when they asked for one, after warning them that kings are human and tend to be demanding.  Then in Zechariah God promises the coming of Jesus as a king who is just and has salvation.  Then in Matthew Jesus refers to His Kingdom as the Kingdom of Heaven.

As you can see from these verses the Hebrews were expecting another earthly king, but one who was more perfect, and less demanding than their other earthly kings.  They could not conceive of the idea of a heavenly king coming to earth.  There are many verses in the New Testament in which we get the idea that the disciples and the people did not understand the idea of a heavenly kingdom.  They believed that the Messiah would be an earthly king!  There are many verses and parables where Jesus attempts to enlighten them, but many people do not have the ears to hear or the eyes to see God’s word.

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Think about some of these questions:  If you were to create a kingdom how would it be? How are you going to govern?  How are you going to protect?  How much freedom are you going to allow?  Can there be too much freedom?  What happens if there is too little freedom?  You must make your subjects happy and content and well fed.  How are you going to do that?  Think about the problems involved…what if someone is unhappy? or disagrees with how you are planning to do things?  

When we look at what Jesus says about the Kingdom of Heaven we don’t see him talking a lot about government at all.  He really spends time telling us about God who is loving, and that those who wish to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven should strive to be servants.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 right after the Sermon on the Mount that “unless a person’s righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law they cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Now, that is a real problem for most of us if we are depending on our keeping the law to get us into the kingdom of heaven.  Thankfully, God’s idea of righteousness is different from our worldly view of righteousness.  Righteousness is not about being a perfect person.  It is about loving God faithfully, and pursuing him and trusting that he is a God who keeps the promises he makes…or the very basic idea of righteousness is to have faith in God…not just to believe that God exists.

When God tells us in Zechariah 9 that the King will come riding on a donkey, and then we read that this is exactly what Jesus did…Jesus fulfilled every single prophecy about the Messiah that God gave to the people of Israel through his prophets.  There is not a single one that he did not fulfill!

Jesus is the heavenly King come to earth…to bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  We cannot simply be Christians who treat the Kingdom of Heaven as some place that you go to when you die.  As I recently heard someone state, “We cannot treat our Christianity as simply a life insurance policy for the hereafter!”  If we do that then we are only experiencing a very small part of what God has for us.  As Jesus states in Matthew 22:32, Mark 12:27 and Luke 20:38 God is a God of the living, not a God of the dead!  I like Luke’s version, he adds “for to Him all are alive!”

I don’t know about you, but I want Jesus to be my King and the Lord of my life while I am still alive…I don’t want to wait to meet him and spend time with him until I am dead!  There are so many things in life to experience, and it is much better to experience them with Christ as your King, than looking for a human King or president to “save” you…if you look at the record of the world leaders today, they are the same types as those listed in the Old Testament…the same types as God warned the people of Israel about.  The Kings/leaders of today, are takers…they are not givers.  God is a giver!  He gives and gives and gives and takes pleasure in giving to us.

Now, don’t go thinking that if you follow God you will be gifted with great amounts of material wealth…that is not what I am talking about.  God will give you what you need to bring about his plan for your life!  What God gives us is not always a tangible material good, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.  The gift of salvation and freedom from the things that weigh us down emotionally…the freedom to love others the way they should be loved!  Not to be loving them for their status in this world, or for their physical beauty, or for what they can do for you!  To simply love people for who they are, as they are  “warts and all”…the way that God loves them!  God loves people from the point of understanding everything about them and loving them anyway!  This is how he wants us to love them also!  These gifts of salvation and freedom are only a couple of the gifts that God gives to his believers.  There are many other gifts listed in the Bible that he gives to his people in order to allow them to use those gifts to glorify Him.  img_0552

Honest Prayer

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Psalm 99:5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Read Matthew 23 

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

Matthew Chapter 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5 That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
  2. Matthew 23:14 Some manuscripts include here words similar to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.
  3. Matthew 23:39 Psalm 118:26

(From Bible Gateway.com… the NIV)

 

In Matthew 23 we find that Jesus is very condemning of the actions of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  He tells his Disciples to learn from them by following what they say because they know the law well..(they are sitting in the seat of Moses).  However, Jesus warns his Disciples not to act the way these men act.  These particular Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus was talking about (Jesus and Paul the Apostle were both Pharisees by the way)  were men who failed in their responsibility to God.  They were supposed to be teaching the people about who God was, that he was a God of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  

Instead they were teaching people the letter of the law, but not the Spirit of the Law.  The Spirit of the Law is supposed to bring you closer to God.  Following the Spirit of the Law also brings you closer to your fellow man.  Just look at the characteristics of God given by Jesus, Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  If we use those characteristics in dealing with each other we also draw closer to each other in love.  It is nearly impossible to understand Justice, Mercy or Faithfulness without having love involved also.  I am not talking romantic love here, but the love of your fellow humans..compassion.  I mean who doesn’t want to be around and spend time with someone who is compassionate and gentle, merciful and forgiving, and fair?  That is God and those are God’s character traits…we are told to be like that to each other.

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(Now there are some people who want to judge God and say that God is not always fair…but for those people ask yourself…are you really qualified to judge God?…if you are…then doesn’t that mean that you are taking on the position of God?  Just think about that a bit…it is a hard thing to wrap your mind around…but either Jesus is the Lord of your life….or he’s not..if he’s not, then that means you are trying to be the Lord of your own life…that never actually works out well. -Just refer back to the story of Adam and Eve and see how it worked out for them)

Jesus wanted his Disciples to follow both the letter and the spirit.  He wanted his Disciples to know that the law was not just something to be talked about and taught to others.  It was to be followed by his Disciples too.

The Pharisees were telling everyone else to follow the law, and making it so hard on the average Jew that they were having trouble following them all! However, they, the Pharisees themselves, were not following all of the laws that they were putting upon others.  They were sinning themselves, the sins of pride, and self indulgence, and hypocrisy.  Yet they were busy bodies who were constantly telling other people how they should live, and criticizing what others do.

Jesus tells them that they are all shine, and no substance…they look nice on the outside, but the inside is rotten.  (I think we have probably all met people like this.)  I really love the phrase used about the white washed tomb filled with the bones of rotting corpses (unclean things)…slight paraphrase there, but the meaning is very clear.

The Pharisees in question were clearly hypocrites (aka actors) they were putting on a constant show of “whoo, my poop don’t stink because I am so very Godly..it wouldn’t dare stink….I always look and smell like roses!”  That is what is meant when Jesus says talks about their garments and phylacteries….he is saying that they are making them larger and longer to make them seem like they are more important to them and make themselves seem more holy.  Kind of like if you see someone who is carrying around a Bible and quoting scripture  all the time, but then you hear them tell a whopping lie to someone.  That would probably be the equivalent situation in our time.

If you think about it there are a lot of people who are running all over telling everyone how Christian they are, but then they just don’t act like they know God at all when dealing in their day to day life.  They are just giving God the nod of their head on Sunday and the rest of the week doing whatever they want.  In other words they are not taking God seriously, are they?

Jesus gets on them about the importance they place on the gold in the temple instead of the sacredness of temple itself, and why the temple is sacred.  Now that happens a lot even now.  People put more emphasis on the building they are worshipping in than they do God whom the building is for, or God’s people who are in the building.  That is a sad situation for sure….if a person takes their focus off of God for a second or two, then it is easy to end up with your focus on the wrong thing.  People get panicky whenever they are trying to hold onto something that they perceive that they may lose….at times like that it is easy to get side tracked from God.

This idea of “swearing on the gold in the temple” has carried over into more modern days, and is still around now.  Back in the time of Martin Luther the monk (not Martin Luther King Jr.) the church sold “penance” to people.  Martin Luther did not agree with this and was verbal about it. The church allowed people to buy forgiveness and many rich men took advantage of this to use their money to get away with doing whatever they wanted. 

Today, there are still many Christians who have wealth and believe that as long as they tithe enough money or spend enough on charities they are excused from their actions. 

Jesus did not agree with this and he condemned people who where praying or acting holy  for the sake of pretending to be Holy, while having the education about God to know that this is wrong. They are ignoring what they know in pursuit of themselves and their own glorification on earth. 

Jesus states that these Pharisees are greatly damned for their actions. In other words, the more they know, the more they are expected to represent God to the people, so the greater their damnation when they misuse what they know for their own gain.   It is really important to be honest in your dealings with God and with others. 

Keep in mind that God knows what you think and what you are doing, what your real motivations are.  The only person you are fooling with your behavior is yourself.  The Pharisees fooled themselves.

Deborah’s Leadership – Make a Joyful Noise

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Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands

Read Psalm 66  This is the psalm of praise of making a joyful noise to God. It is important to thank God for his gifts, and blessings, in the form of praying praises to God.  Just as you would thank a friend for a gift they have given you.  God gives you gifts and blessing all the time, you must thank Him in prayer.  God enjoys being appreciated.

Read Judges 4 thru Judges 5:3  This is the story of Israel being freed from captivity to Canaan, and take note of Deborah’s use of prophecy from God to bring this about, and that they praised God’s name for their deliverance.

Judges Chapter 4 – Judges 5:3  4 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[a] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law,[b] and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.  

Judges 5 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
    when the people willingly offer themselves—
    praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
    I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;
    I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Judges 4:4 Traditionally judging
  2. Judges 4:11 Or father-in-law
  3. Judges 5:3 Or of

***NIV via Biblegateway.com***

Now, I have run across many people over the years who are completely ignoring that Deborah was a woman who was the leader of Israel.  Not only was she a woman, but also a wife, and a prophetess of God.  It is evident that she was well respected in that position from the fact that she was able to send for Barak and tell him how many men to take and what to do with those men.  The fact that Barak actually came when she called for him, and refused to go to war without her presence shows us that he probably considered Deborah’s presence as a prophetess of God and the leader of their people to be like having God along in endorsement of the venture.

Now, Deborah’s reaction to his insistence of her going with him was that God looked upon that as a lack of faith and would give the enemy, Sisera, into the hand of a woman.  In other words, Barak wouldn’t get the glory for vanquishing Sisera.  Despite this, Barak did what he was told to do, and went forward faithfully into battle.  It came about as Deborah had said, and a woman named Jael was used by God to vanquish Sisera.  However, Barak and his men did conquer the rest of the “900 chariots” belonging to Sisera, so Sisera was running away trying to find a safe place to hide.  Jael was to Sisera like the saying of the spider to the fly…”come right in and you will be safe.”

Personally, I find this story of Deborah to fly in the face of many of the commonly held misconceptions passed down in the church about only men can lead.  Certain denominations still hold to that idea, and many are so caught up in it that they sometimes make the feminine members of their congregants feel as if they are lacking something.  There are many examples in the Bible of how important women are in God’s plans.

While the New Testament books are certainly written by men, there are many women in them also whom Jesus interacted with, and who very clearly lead their people to Christ.

We don’t have to look far…the woman at the well was responsible for leading many in her village to know the Messiah(John 4:1-42), and Jesus told Martha that her sister, Mary was doing what was important.  That is listening to Jesus and learning from him. (Luke 10:39-42) 

There are many other women in the Bible who fulfilled critical roles…Esther, Ruth, Rahab to name a few, and of course, Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The common thing that we find with these women is that they all loved God, and recognized what a huge gift God’s love, forgiveness/grace was to them.

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When I see this teapot it gives the idea of sitting down at the table with a friend and having a chat…I get a warm feeling from the image, just as I get a warm feeling from the idea of having a chat with God.

Even Martha in her own way was trying to edify and serve God by being a good hostess to Jesus in her home.   What Jesus wanted most from her, though, was for her to give him her personal time and attention. (Another thing to take note of was that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to two women, Mary and Martha.)

When we spend time thanking God for what he has done for us, and praising him through prayer and song we are also to spend time listening and communing with him.  We are actually celebrating not just what God has done for us recently, but also celebrating our relationship with him while we are doing this.

I know this blog entry put emphasis on the women in the Bible and their relationship with God, but the act of praising God joyfully through song and prayer applies to everyone regardless of gender…the point is that God created us all differently, but wonderfully and we should always celebrate with him whatever role he has called us to fulfill in life.

Celebrate that he has loved us and given us a purpose to fulfill — to be in close relationship with him, and to help draw others into relationship with him by sharing what we know about God with them.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (NIV)

Follow God through Prayer

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This is a picture of a burnt log and some flowers growing next to it in Yellowstone National Park.  All through the park there was evidence of recovery.  Even in the events of our lives that cause some dreams and aspirations to die, God is with us and can bring beauty from ashes.  If only we talk to Him and follow His leading.

Psalm 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this, He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn.

Read 1Samuel 23:1-14 David asked the Lord if he was to go to Keilah and stand against the Philistines, God told him to go and that he would deliver the Philistines into his hands.  David did so, and God did as he said he would. God protected David and used him (even though Saul was trying to take his life) to save the people of Keilah.

Read Psalm 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this, He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn. The justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, do not fret, when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

This is an excellent verse to take to heart when you are praying for something, you must trust in God for the answer, even if you don’t see immediate results, be committed to knowing that God is committed to you and that He hears your prayers, and will take action on your behalf.  

God’s justice is always much more accurate and precise than anything that you and I can come up with.  Sometimes the person whom we want justice from has suffered an even greater injustice than we have, but we don’t know it.  That doesn’t excuse the injustice we suffered by them, but it may help us to understand where they were coming from and find a way to love that person despite what they have done.  

David, makes it clear through out his relationship with King Saul that he does not despise Saul and has no wish to take his throne from him before the appointed time that God will give it to him.  David continues to attempt to serve Saul to the best of his ability despite Saul’s hatred of him, and his constant attempts to take David’s life.

I mean, Saul throws spears at David while David is entertaining Saul with his music.  Saul chases him down and tries to kill him.  When you look at some of the Psalms that David wrote, the headings on some of them tell us that they were written in caves while he was hiding for fear of his life.  That fear is because King Saul is after him.

King Saul actually admired David and promoted him to the position he was in, but after God turned from Saul and David was anointed by Samuel as the next King of Israel (the United Kingdom of Israel) Saul then started to fear David when he saw how mighty he was.  After Saul heard chanting in the street that “Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands…”  (1Samuel 18:6-8) then King Saul could see that David could take his throne as he was held in higher esteem by the people of Israel than was King Saul.

As far as I can find in the Bible there isn’t any direct statement to Saul that David is the one anointed to take his place.  King Saul is just told that another will take his place as King.  King Saul went off of the deep end without a life jacket once he figured out that David was considered “mightier than he!”

However, David despite being given an opportunity of temptation to kill King Saul as he was urinating in a cave where David and his men were hiding….refuses to succumb to the temptation to go ahead and get his kingdom through assassination!  Even with his men egging him on!

1Samuel 24:1-22 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day theLord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed,or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lorddelivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (NIV via Biblegateway.com)

This kind of thinking and acting is why the Lord stated that David was a man after his own heart.  David loved Saul and loved Saul’s son, Jonathon who was his best friend, like a brother.  I am sure that it pained David to know that he was going to be taking the throne which would have gone to Jonathon, if Saul had remained King.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to have affected the close bond between the two men.  They looked out for each other. Jonathon tried his best to protect David from his father, King Saul.

If we try to understand King Saul’s actions they were largely out of fear…he drove himself crazy from his fear of losing his kingdom.  This tells us how deep Saul’s belief in the words of Samuel the prophet…even though he continually acted against what Samuel had told him to do.  Saul feared people more than he feared the Lord, and fear was his chief motivator.  So in essence, Saul was a person who looked good on the surface, but his actions did not bear scrutiny once you got to know him.  He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a leader and he was in charge of leading his people in the way that the Lord wished them to go.  He was catastrophically unable to do this because of his fears. He was not a Psalm 37:5-7 king.  (Though that Psalm written by David when he was King was written well after  Saul’s demise…perhaps David may have thought of and remembered Saul when he wrote it.)

David suffered a lot of injustice at the hands of Saul, we are never told why Saul acted with so much fear.  Hazarding a guess and going into Saul’s background he was simply not built for the demands of Kingship…it was a great big stress to him, but once he was there, he wanted to keep the job.  He didn’t want to be a failure.  However, he was a failure.  He was self centered instead of God centered.

Simply put, Saul failed to follow God, so God replaced him.  David, despite his faults, never forgot or let his own thoughts replace his love and respect for God.

If you are a leader that God has put in place, you are held very responsible by God for how you lead…more so than the average person who has no one they are leading.  Be a good leader if you are called to lead, pray and follow God’s leading…Wait upon the Lord in all circumstances.  Prayer is the way to “wait upon the Lord.”  If you don’t talk to him, then you won’t know what God wants from you.

 

Note: As an exercise I find it helpful to look up the different places spoken about in the Bible and see where they are on a map.  It kind of gives me a scope of how far things are from each other, and what the terrain is like.   Keilah is 8.5 miles NW of Hebron, the Desert of Ziph is 4 miles SE of Hebron.  Keilah is now satisfactorily by archaeologists as identified with Khirbet Kila.

http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-old-testament.html

Upholding Man’s Freewill

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John 8:34-36 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (NIV)

Read John 8:34-36 and 1 Samuel Chapter 8, Jesus talks about being a slave to sin and how to escape that slavery. The people of Israel wanted a king, so Samuel took it to God in prayer, and God told him to give them a king, and sent him to anoint Saul.  God upholds mankind’s freedom of choice, even when we are wrong. 

Why do you think that the Israelites asked for a King? I mean they already had God personally available to them through his prophets and through prayer. If you think about it, the only thing they didn’t have was the Holy Spirit living within them and salvation through Christ.  However, when Jesus came he died for all who accept him, whether they died before he was born and was sacrificed or not.  

I know, you are say, “How does that work?”  “How could they have accepted Jesus as their savior if Jesus had not been born yet?!!”

I know it seems a difficult concept, but if you realize that God is timeless, and that time is not an issue for Him, then it becomes more easily acceptable.  The main thing is that the Jews were living with the prophets and the prophecies that were being made about the Messiah and they accepted that there would be a Messiah who would come to save them.  Although for the most part they didn’t understand what to expect from that Messiah, and believed that he would form an earthly kingdom in the there and then when he came.  The most important thing is that they had faith that what God said would happen would happen, so they accepted the Messiah, Immanuel – God with Us, would come and save them.  God gave them “credit” for following him and believing in him and his promises.

We are told that God justified those in the Old Testament who followed and believed in Him by their faith.  Habakkuk 2:4 Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith. (NKJV) and Galatians 3:11 quotes Habakkuk in this to reiterate what is said in the Old Testament  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. In Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” we are further told that it is faith that justifies not anything that we can physically do for God.  However, to show that we love God we are told that the way to do that is to be obedient to him…John 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

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So now, back to the idea of a King…why would anyone want one?  If you look at all the things that God had Samuel tell the Israelites would happen to them when they got a King it is a daunting list of undesirables.  Samuel was heartbroken about them wanting a King, but God told him that it wasn’t his fault..that the one who was being rejected was God himself, not Samuel who was only God’s prophet.  The person who conveyed God’s words to the people.  

So looking at the Bible we were told that the primary reason the Israelites wanted a King was “so that we can be just like everyone else around us….just like our neighbors”  1Samuel 8:4-5 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (NKJV)

So if we look at what they are saying, 1) they wanted to be just like the people around them in the neighboring nations, and 2)  they didn’t trust God to provide another good prophet for them.

After all, just because Samuel’s sons were the sons of a prophet and Samuel appointed them to be judges over the people, does not necessarily mean that God would make them his prophets…or let them remain the corrupt judges that they were.  Samuel should have understood that from what happened with Eli’s sons.  They didn’t get to take over for him either…God took care of that situation.  Apparently, Samuel wasn’t any better at parenting and teaching his sons to be honest and Godly than Eli was…they were bribe takers.

Now God, chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the people of Israel to be his people so that they could be different from the nations around them.  He wanted them to be in close contact with Him so that they could be living examples of God’s grace and love to the other nations.  So that they could show the other nations the character of God and bring the other nations closer to God.  God wanted them to trust Him and let Him lead them.

By asking for a King they were failing to trust God in all circumstances.  They were not trusting God for the future…they were trying to plan around Samuel’s sons.   They should have done that by praying and then asking Samuel to tell them what God was going to do about the future when he, Samuel, wasn’t there to lead them anymore.  That would have been the correct response of trust in God.  However, they didn’t and so we have the Israelites distancing themselves from God instead of drawing closer to Him.

God is kind enough to warn them of the consequences of their actions…but they don’t listen.  This is kind of like when a parent tells the kid not to eat too much candy, that it will make them sick to their stomach.  Then allowing the kid to eat too much candy anyway because they keep insisting on more candy.  This is a case of the parent allowing the kid to learn their lesson the hard way.

God was doing the same thing, allowing the Israelites their “freewill choice” of accepting or rejecting God.  He was allowing them to have a King and see that it was just as bad as He said it would be.

How many of us in our various nations are still looking for that next “leader” who will “fix” everything?  I know that my own nation is doing that.  Every time there is an election everyone talks about the candidates and what they are and are not going to do.  Although they are elected instead of appointed, they are still our leader….in a smaller vein we find in work places and churches and groups when things are not going so well that people are more likely to look to finding a new work place, church, or group, or finding a new “leader” for that work place, church, or group, than they are to sit down as a group and pray and look to God to see how the group can be made to be functional and unified and Godly again.  So it appears that it is rather hard to sit in “judgment” on the Israelites in this case, as man has not changed…people are still looking in the wrong place for leadership.  God keeps allowing that, because He wants us to voluntarily without reservation choose to follow him. He doesn’t want servants who are reluctant, God wants his people to love him and obey him because they want to do so!  God does not want people who are obeying him because someone else made them do it, but by their own free will.  The choice is always up to us.

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

Hebrews 12:2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NASB)

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