Relationship with Others


Psalms 131-133 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He blesses our unity with life everlasting

Olive oil has been an essential commodity since early civilization, and it’s still a lucrative product in Italy.  Imagine the excitement for this Italian girl to be taken by dear missionary friends to a castle in the hills of Tuscany, one with a working olive grove and press.  The kind workers allowed us to watch the oil making process from start to finish.  Yes, be still my heart!

The process was lengthy, beginning with a thorough rinsing to remove soil, then the olives were crushed and pulverized into a paste.  At the end, the paste was pressed under pressure, the vegetable water extracted and the finished product was the fragrant liquid we know and enjoy as olive oil.  Olive oil doesn’t just happen – it’s a process under pressure. 

@ Psalm 133
“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.” (1-2)  This anointing oil not only went through the pressing process, but it was also combined with pure fragrances, producing an extraordinary aroma to the Lord.  In this same way, heaven is filled with a pleasing fragrance when God’s people live together in harmony and peace.  But just like the olive oil process, harmony most often results from a process under pressure.

The harmony that believers experience is the result of a process that involves lives that were once soiled by this world but are now cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  Their individual agendas and selfish goals are surrendered to the breaking or crushing process of the Holy Spirit to where their hearts are contrite to God’s desires and plans. This pressing, this process under pressure, produces a precious aroma of unified worship that pleases the Lord.  “And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.” (3)

I like to visualize the anointing of Aaron as the oil was poured saturating his hair, down his face and beard, filling every crevice, every fold of fabric and all the way down to his hem.  The oil saturated and marked the fabric, as oil will do, and left an amazing fragrance that filled the nostrils of God and everyone around Aaron.  All this was a visual and sensory reminder of God’s anointing on him. When God’s people live in harmony with love toward one another, we are marked and fragrant in a way for all those around us to sense. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

Just as the best perfumes today attract people to them, our fragrant harmony will attract to us those who have never experienced it.  They will wonder, what is that? Where can I find it?  Just as Jesus prayed for unity in John 17, when we live together as believers in harmony, God blesses our unity, and lost souls are attracted to it because they find it nowhere else.  No wonder David sang, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” 

Moving Forward: Along with all believers, my goal today is to be saturated and marked with the oil of harmony, so fragrant that others will be attracted to us. 

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 7-8

Acts 11-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  He calls us to be His followers regardless of the cost

I really dislike labeling, for the most part. Of course, I don’t mean the labeling on my files or canned goods, and I must admit I enjoy an upscale label or two on my clothing.  I don’t appreciate labeling people or people groups because our labels are often judgmental and confining.  However, there is one label you can give me all day long, and that is Christian.  A Christian by definition is a believer in Jesus Christ as Savior. Unfortunately, in the jargon of today, I’m not certain what is meant by the term Christian.

“Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)” (11:25-26)  For many, the term Christian has become a generic term for anyone who is not a pagan, but the New Testament Christian was much more than a label, “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church.  He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter.” (12:1-3)  In the early church, professing to be Christian was life-threatening!

I remember reading the interesting conversation between Jesus and the Sons of Thunder, James and John, “Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do us a favor.’ ‘What is your request?’ He asked. They replied, ‘When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking!  Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?’…‘Oh yes,’ they replied, ‘we are able!’” (Mark 10:35-39) And, of course, they did drink from that cup.  Peter said to Jesus, “I’m ready to die for you,” (John 13:37) and he did.  These disciples were Christians to the death. There were many early Christian martyrs who were tortured for their faith, like Stephen and like Polycarp who declared to his death, “I am Christian!”

Many individuals in this century also who know what it means to be Christian. I met a young woman from a Muslim country who accepted Jesus as her Savior.  She was forced to run to save her life because her father was ordered to kill her.  She was now living in a foreign country, no home, no job, but said to me in her broken English and with tears in her eyes “I love my Jesus so much. I never forsake Him.”  She is Christian.

Jesus explained the walk of a Christian in Matthew 10:37-39, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”  The words of Jesus beg the question, “Am I Christian?”

Moving Forward:  More determined than ever, I declare today I am Christian.  I understand the meaning.  No wavering, no hesitation.  I am Christian. 

Tomorrow @ I Peter 1-3

Acts 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: God uses our difficult experiences to touch the hearts of others

When we receive salvation and follow the Lord, we make a decisive break from the old way of life, the old way of doing things.  We become new creatures, yet we bring along with us memories from our experiences in life to date.  God is faithful to help us move past the difficult moments we’ve experienced so that we can look forward to better days ahead, but He doesn’t always remove all painful memories and feelings.  He has a purpose in this.  Paul is a great example of how our past experiences can serve God’s greater purpose for our lives. 

@ Acts 9
“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.  So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.” (1-2)  When we think about hateful leaders and individuals throughout history who murdered Christians for their faith, we might as well throw Saul into the mix because he was one of them.  Talk about painful memories and feelings.

Better than just about anyone, Paul understood the hearts of those who were blinded to the truth about Jesus.  Highly educated and qualified, Paul made his appeal for Christ to the Jewish leaders, to government leaders and to Jews and Gentiles alike.  He understood their hatred, their confusion and their doubt because he had lived it.

Just as the scales fell off of Paul’s blinded eyes after his glorious conversion, we read throughout Acts how he was so very capable in opening the blind eyes of others to see their need for salvation. “Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.” (22)

Paul remembered enough of his painful past to make this statement to Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”(I Timothy 1:15-16) God used Paul’s hateful past to serve a higher purpose of which we, too, are the recipients today through his written words.

Remembering our difficult experiences in the past makes us more sensitive to others who are walking through similar trials.  We understand their fears, their broken hearts and sometimes even their anger at God and everyone.  Like Paul in his day, we are able to help them and convince them to believe in God.  “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

We can fulfill His greater purpose to touch others who walk where we have walked only through opening our hearts and eyes to see their need of Him.  Our understanding of this walk and our victory through Christ challenge us to share with them that “they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

Moving Forward: My prayer today is that God will open my eyes to see those whose pain I, too, have felt so that I may lead them to Him. 

Tomorrow @ James 4-5

James 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He reveals Himself through our salvation and our good works

Most of us have encountered the wheeler-dealer, the pitchman, who makes promises but doesn’t deliver.  Our dealings with them often result in difficult learning experiences.  Years ago we planned a mission’s trip to Paraguay with 200 youth and leaders.  A travel agent approached us with the best price on tickets we could find, and more importantly, he was the only agent who found seats on the days we needed to travel.  We sent him the money with the understanding he would meet us at the airport with the tickets – lesson #1.  And indeed, he met us at the airport on our day of departure, but could not produce the tickets because … well, at that point it really didn’t matter.

There we sat with 200 eager students on a mission with no tickets. Through a series of miracles, and I mean miracles, we reached our five cities of ministry in Paraguay, and those churches we helped to plant are still reaching the lost today.  God is faithful when others are not.  That travel agent could say he was a travel agent all day long, but until he produced the tickets, it really didn’t matter what he said – lesson #2.  We have to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  James, one of the Jerusalem church leaders, was all over this one. 

@ James 2
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (14-19) Show me the tickets!

To prove a contradiction in scripture to James 2, Bible skeptics love to point to Romans 1 where Paul teaches, “‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’…people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” (3,5)  Good works do not save us, only the blood of Jesus can do that, but good works are an indicator that we have received salvation.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (2:8-10)  Show me the tickets!

God sees our faith, our belief in Him, because He sees our hearts.  Man sees our faith through our love and good deeds.  Many of us have begun the Christmas shopping tradition and what a great opportunity to show our faith to those without food or clothing.  I know a family that first buys Christmas with all its trimmings for a needy family, and then with the money that is left, they buy gifts for each other.  I see Jesus all over them.  However, our good deeds should reveal our faith to others all year long.  We don’t want to be like the useless travel agent who never proved to us that he was a travel agent.  Show them our good works! 

Moving Forward: I plan to do some good works today because of the great work He did for me when He saved me. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 4-6

Proverbs 31 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His love shines through women who reverence Him

Well, I knew the day would come when I would have to address Proverbs 31 and the perfect woman, I mean virtuous woman.  Reading her amazing attributes reminds me of the old perfume commercial with the gorgeous woman singing, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let him forget he’s…” and so on. In defense of all women, everywhere, let’s remember that this woman in Proverbs 31 had help!  She “planned the day’s work for her servant girls.” (15)  I dream of what I could accomplish in a day with help!

“Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?  She is more precious than rubies.” (10)  And that really is the question, isn’t it?  Who can find a woman like this?  Most scholars believe that Proverbs 31 is a composite of the ideal characteristics that a Godly woman may possess.  I’ve known many women in my lifetime who exhibit a great many of these attributes – industrious business women, great homemakers, crafty and generous, but nobody does it all by herself and lives to tell about it.  “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” (29)  She is our model to examine, to study and to emulate.  Bottom Line – Because of her great respect for the Lord, all that she does is selflessly done to bless and help others

We have no idea if the Proverbs 31 woman is always faultless and perfect in all that she does because, after all, everyone needs to rip out a seam or throw out the burnt toast on occasion.  But we understand that in her very busy life, she manages to plan well, give generously and treat others with kindness.  If we try, we all can accomplish that!

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.” (30)  With surgery and cosmetics, beauty seems to be lasting longer than it did in the past, but physical beauty isn’t really how we want to be remembered.  Beautiful women entertain us today and significantly influence the world with their style, but when their beauty fades, we hardly remember them.  One of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known worked in my church when I was very young. She had a birthmark that covered a third of her face, but when she smiled and taught me about Jesus, she lit up my world, and I will never forget her.

“Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her.” (28)  I’ve carried in my Bible a Mother’s Day note I received from my husband several years ago.  On the days when I’m a little discouraged, when my day isn’t so faultless and perfect, I pull it out and read his kind words of admiration, respect, and encouragement.  Let me tell you, it is like a shot of adrenaline to my spirit.  I also cherish the kind notes and words from my children that I’ve received through the years that let me know every effort I made was well worth it. Their words challenge me to live a life worthy of their praise.

May verse 28 encourage us to give our praises and blessings to the wonderful women who have enriched our lives through their respect for the Lord, their careful planning, generous hearts and kindness.   We should speak our accolades and write our notes of praise today because I would imagine that now is when they are most needed. 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today for my precious mom and all the women through the years who have shown me the wonderful graces of the Proverbs 31 woman. 

Tomorrow @ Nahum

Numbers 29-32 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: Just as He is faithful to His word, He expects the same from us

Sometimes it’s difficult to accept people at their word, particularly if we don’t know them very well.  In fact, if we’ve been taken a few times, it’s easy to become a little cynical when we’ve provided goods or service for someone in exchange for a promise to return with a payment.  When I’m asked to do this at my book table, I have to admit I sometimes hesitate for a second or two. That old spirit of suspicion creeps in, and I wonder if I’ll ever see the promised payment.  I’ve learned, however, sometimes for God’s people to be blessed, we have to put aside cynicism or preconceived ideas and just trust. 

@ Numbers 32
Moses understood this scenario all too well.  After leading this challenging group of Israelites for over 40 years and experiencing many disappointing responses from them, He was asked a favor, a request from the men of Gad and Reuben that involved trust. “The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock.  If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.”(4-5)  Because Canaan was to be divided amongst the tribes of Israel, this request did not seem so unreasonable, except that the rest of the territory west of the Jordan had not yet been conquered!

Moses may have choked on his manna at this request as he offered this immediate response, “‘Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?’ Moses asked the men of Gad and Reuben. ‘Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land…’” (6-8), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Moses ends with, “You brood of sinners, doing exactly the same thing!” (14)

Even a great leader like Moses was capable of jumping to the wrong conclusion on occasion. The men of Gad and Reuben had no intention of deserting their brothers before conquering the land.  They desired to leave their wives and flocks east of the Jordan while they joined their brothers in the battle for the rest of the territory. These tribes were true to their word and fought alongside their brothers until the land was conquered.

We can’t really fault Moses for misjudging the intention of these tribes.  As a whole, the Israelites had not lived over the previous 40 years in a manner that would develop trust in them, but giving others the benefit of the doubt rather than living with cynicism is a much more enjoyable way to live.  If we lose something tangible in the process, it’s good to remember everything in this life is fleeting.  On the other hand, if we live our lives in a way that builds trust in the hearts of others regarding us, this discussion is a moot point.  I’ve always told teenagers that their parents will trust them when given a reason to do so, and the same is true for us in our relationships.

Perhaps Moses was sensitive to the request of Reuben and Gad for another reason as well.  Why did these tribes desire to stop short of the Promised Land? Rich pastures and grazing land were a substitute for God’s intended blessing for them.  Some people just choose to live on the edge of God’s blessing, but then that’s a discussion for another day. 

Moving Forward: I choose to live my life today without cynicism towards others and to live with integrity so that others will know I am true to my word. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 11-15

Obadiah (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He watches over His children and brings justice to their enemies

Everyone remembers the schoolyard bully, the individual who was always mocking, pulling hair, pushing down and taking lunch money.  The bullies seemed to be six foot tall and weigh 200 lbs., but usually, they were just meaner than anyone else.  Somehow they were able to do their evil deeds when the teacher wasn’t looking.  For the bully in the book of Obadiah, the day of reckoning had come.  The teacher was watching, and punishment was on the way.

Israel had been bullied by Edom for a very long time.  When the brothers, Jacob and Esau, parted company many years back, everything appeared to be amicable.  Jacob went on to inhabit the land of Canaan, and Esau lived in Edom, but apparently, the stolen birthright from so long ago did not settle well with the Edomites.  They showed repeated hostility throughout the centuries and would not let the Israelites who were escaping out of Egypt make passage through their land.  Now the final blow had been dealt when they cheered the invading Babylonians who destroyed their brother and then they proceeded to plunder the land themselves.  However, God was watching.

“The Lord says to Edom, ‘I will cut you down to size among the nations; you will be greatly despised.  You have been deceived by your own pride because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’ you ask boastfully. But even if you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I will bring you crashing down,’ says the Lord…Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever.” (2-4,10)  Bullies are filled with pride and arrogance, but when they harm God’s people, they put themselves in a position to be brought crashing down, whether in this life or in eternity.

“As you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you.  All your evil deeds will fall back on your own heads.” (15) In the fourth century, Edom was swallowed up by the invading Arabs, and it no longer exists as a nation.  Israel, however, is a nation today.  God was watching, and He is watching all the bullies in our lives, those governments and individuals alike, who mock us, push us down and try to steal our faith. God will take care of it

Paul told the Romans, “Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (12:19) Even when it looks as though our bully has the upper hand, God is watching and taking note.  He knows how to handle bullies. 

Moving Forward:  I’m so thankful that God is watching over me today, taking note and tending to the bullies that come my way! 

Tomorrow @ Acts 1-2

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