Cleaning House

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17, NAS)

Jesus was at home in the temple, teaching, healing, worshiping. A Son, in His Father’s house, going about His Father’s business.

But on this day? It was time for a little housecleaning.

The outer court of the temple was more like a bustling marketplace than a peaceful sanctuary. Tables had been set up for the convenience of visitors who needed to exchange money or purchase a sacrificial animal before proceeding to the inner courts of the temple. Upon entering the courtyard, one’s senses would have been assaulted with the sights, sounds, and smells of this carnival-like atmosphere. Regular temple worshipers had probably become somewhat desensitized, accepting the scene as normal.

Not Jesus. He had had enough of this bizarre bazaar. Fashioning a whip, he drove the sellers and money changers out in a rare display of angry passion.

Zeal for His Father’s house, we’re later told by His disciples, had simply overcome Him.

That temple is long gone, reduced to Roman rubble in 70 A.D. But now there is a new temple. One erected in every heart where Jesus dwells.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NAS)

And just like the days of old, “money changers” come and set up their tables in the temple courtyards of our hearts. Some have occupied space there for years. The Bible calls them “strongholds.”

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NIV) 

A stronghold can take many forms. It could be a persistent sin, struggle, or addiction. It’s something that “sets itself up” in our lives to keep us from intimacy with God. It is anything that consistently robs us of what is rightfully ours.

Strongholds were never meant to be tolerated. Yet we grow accustomed to their presence and accepting of their chaos. We even start to “own” them, personalizing them…my anxiety, my insecurity, my anger. Strongholds are thieves masquerading as friends.

I allowed a long-standing stronghold of Fear to set up camp in my heart. It was a familiar presence, one I had learned to put up with and had begun to call my own. But according to 2 Corinthians 10:4, strongholds are meant to be demolished. Destroyed.

Thankfully, Jesus is on the scene. And He is still passionate about His Father’s house. He possesses the power to clear the temple courts with a whip and a word.

That word is our weapon.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV)

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword… (Hebrews 4:12a, NLT)

His word is the gleaming sword that pierces, the swinging hammer that crushes, and the raging fire that can consume all of our strongholds.

Regarding “my” stronghold of fear, He placed this particular weapon from His word in my trembling hand:

Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18, NIV)

His word IS alive. And amazing. I doubt it’s coincidence that the Greek word for “drives out” in 1 John 4:18 is the same root used in John 2:15, when Jesus “drove out” the money changers.

I decided that Fear had littered my temple ground long enough. Perfect Love swept in and swept it away.

Does this mean I’ll never battle with fears again? No. But when I do, I’ll take them captive, rather than the other way around. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.)

What strongholds have staked a claim in your life? Are you tired of paying their exorbitant fees? Do you long for peace in the sacred spaces of your heart?

Jesus is here. He is ready to clean house, overturn some tables, and drive the money changers out.

Just say the word. Then take Him at His word.

He is zealous for you, lovely temple of His Holy Spirit.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer…” Jesus (From Matthew 21:13) 

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Call Me Old-fashioned

I’m used to being called “old.”  Teenage daughters make sure of that.

But I had never been called “old-fashioned.” Until the other day.

I was extolling the benefits of marriage to a young unmarried gal at work. I shared how my husband and I had been blessed with three wonderful daughters and had recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I hoped it might serve as an inspiration, an example worth emulating.

Instead, I was dismissed as being “old-fashioned.”

Ouch.

I pondered her perspective.

To her generation, monogamy is monotonous. Marriage? An archaic institution, a mere piece of paper. Traditional family values have gone the way of land lines and snail mail.

I suddenly felt out of touch and out of style.

Then the Lord brought this verse to mind:

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

Commentators on this verse agree that the image here is of travelers who have lost their way. They’re standing at a crossroads, where many paths converge. Which way should they go? The Scripture answers by encouraging weary wanderers to choose the “ancient” paths, the “good” way.

The Hebrew word for “ancient,” or “old” (in the NLT) is defined as: (of) long duration, everlasting, eternal. The word “good” can also be translated: beautiful, beneficial, best.*

Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it has lost its relevance. God’s principles are timeless, eternal, intended for every generation. Choosing to follow His ways isn’t outdated or old-fashioned.

It is wise.

…look into the Scriptures, they are the best directory to us… (John Gill)

The benefit of sticking to God’s time-tested paths is also laid out for us in this verse: You will find rest for your souls.

I love the way Matthew Poole describes this “soul rest” in his commentary:

…you will find God to stand by you, and be a sanctuary to you. You will find things mend with you; it will be well with you…you will be satisfied and quiet; you will not doubt any longer which way to follow…”

Isn’t this the kind of well-being we’d all welcome? The type of satisfaction we should each seek, regardless of age?

I shared this verse with the young woman the following week. I am praying that she considers it.

Each of us, at various points in our lives, will encounter figurative forks in the road, those spiritual crossroads. Let God’s reliable Word be your guide. Trust that His plans for you are good. Walk in His paths and you will find true satisfaction and rest.

Call me old-fashioned. I don’t care.

His Word is timeless.

His heart is wise.

His ways are best.

signposts

Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation. (Psalm 90:1b, HCSB)

 

*Definitions are from The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon.

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The 1 1 : 1 1 Experiment

As I perched on the edge of the bed to slip on my socks this morning, I happened to glance over at the alarm clock on my husband’s nightstand.

There it was again.

1111

It seems lately I notice this time, all the time.

In case you’ve never noticed, it’s the only time of the day that all four numbers on the clock are the same.

Some folks think this means it’s time to make a wish. Various authors claim that seeing 11:11 on a clock is an auspicious sign. Others believe that 11:11 indicates a spirit presence.*

Now I don’t know about all that.

But I do know that for me, those single digits have become a prompt. Not to make a wish, but to quote a verse. You see, I started a little “experiment” after teaching on this Bible verse last summer:

She considered Him faithful who had promised.
(Hebrews 11:11b, NAS)
 

Hebrews 11 has been called “The Hall of Faith.” The “she” referred to here is Sarah, the patriarch Abraham’s wife. Sarah made the cut when, despite their advanced age, she believed that God would bless her and Abraham with a child. Just because He said so.

I doubt my name would be nominated for any “People of Great Faith” category. I’m more of the “Oh Ye of Little Faith” variety. But I want to learn from Sarah’s example. So whenever I happen to spot those four numbers, standing like sentinels on the microwave clock or my IPhone screen, I now stop and repeat Hebrews 11:11.

And then, I…

Consider.

I pause to think, ponder, meditate. Regardless of how I’m feeling at that particular moment in time. What do I consider?

Him.

Not me, not my problems. HIM. This gets my eyes of off myself and my feeble faith and onto the One who is…

Faithful.

By definition, this means He is “worthy of trust, can be relied on.”** My faith is not in my faithfulness, but in “the faithfulness of a promising God.” (John Gill)

Who promised.

Focusing on God and His promises is the key to developing faith. We are fickle, but God never changes (Hebrews 13:8). He cannot lie, so if He has promised something, it is as good as done! (2 Corinthians 1:20)

So what promises has God made? They are so numerous that counting promises in Scripture is a little bit like counting stars. (One person’s count exceeded 8000 promises!)

Psalm 138:8a is an example of a promise I have been claiming lately, as I stare down an intimidating upcoming wedding checklist:

The Lord will accomplish what concerns me. (NAS)
 

I take a moment to recall this promise and make it a simple prayer:

Lord, You ARE Faithful. You WILL accomplish ALL of the things that concern me. Thank you! Amen.

My heart rate slows. My faith grows.

What began as a little experiment has now become a faith-fortifying habit!

So how about you? Want to try the 11:11 Experiment? It’s easy! Just memorize Hebrews 11:11. Or copy it on a sticky note and put it by a clock. Find a promise or two in the Bible that apply to your current situation. Then watch and wait.

When those four single digits pop up, stop. Take that single moment out of your day to pause and consider the promises of a Faithful God.

It will do you–and your faith–a whole lot of good.

I promise.

 
*Wikipedia.
**The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon.
 
 
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Recipes

Rachel and her friend Katy had just worked out at the gym.  They were starving.  They wanted enchiladas.  They wanted them NOW.

I offered to share my tried and true chicken enchilada recipe with them.  Recipe?  Nah.  Recipes take TIME.  Who needs a recipe?

“We got this,” they said.  So I got out of the way.

They combined corn tortillas, leftover grilled chicken, Mexican cheese and enchilada sauce.  LOTS of sauce.  Into the oven it went.

Thirty minutes later, out came something that resembled soup more than enchiladas.  They called it “dip.”  I called it grounds for a nomination to “Worst Cooks in America.”

Still, it was food for thought.

Because I think this is how many of us well-meaning folks approach Life.  We want to be happy.  We long to be loved.  We hope to make a difference in this world.  All good and desirable things.

We set out to assemble what we believe to be the essential ingredients:  friends, education, job, spouse, house, kids.  We throw them together, in no particular order or quantity, anticipating something a-mazing.  Or at least satisfying.

What we end up with is often less than appetizing.

As I stood idly by while Rachel and Katy took over my kitchen, I wondered if this might be a taste of how God feels as He sits back and watches us try to tackle life.  He is more than willing to share His recipe for abundant living with us.  He was even kind enough to write it down for our easy access and quick reference.  But impatience (“We want it now.”) and pride (“We got this.”) get in the way.  We disregard His instructions, and He steps aside.

And the result can be a gloppy mess.

The good news is that He is still standing by, patiently waiting for an invitation to step in.  He knows just the right timing, ingredients, proportions and seasoning to make life work.  His recipe has been tested over time and proven to be superior to anything we could concoct on our own.  He’ll gladly help us mop up our messes and start over, His way.

The question is:  Will we let Him?

“Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:2b, NAS)

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On Vacation!

Well, not exactly.

It may be summer, but I’m still here.  I thought you might like to know that, in case you’ve been concerned about this absentee blogger.  And in case you thought I had run off to some exotic, beachfront locale.  No need for worry.  Or jealousy.

I have, however, embarked on another kind of journey, right in front of my computer screen.  I’ve been researching and writing the material for a nine-week class I’m teaching at my church!  The class, which commenced this week, is called “Foundations:  Christian Living” and explores the practical “how-to’s” of a vibrant life in Christ.

I’ve never been much of a beach person.  (Fair skin and sun do not coexist happily.)  So, I’ll be spending my summer floating on a sea of study, wading in pools of preparation, and basking in the light of God’s Word!  Now that’s MY idea of some serious summer fun! 

I’ll try and post some highlights of my “summer project” on here as it unfolds, so you can dive in with me too, if you like!

Well, now that I’ve checked in, I’ve gotta go! 

It’s time for a “swim!”

 

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Iron Woman

A thick sheet of ice on the windshield of my van threatened to make me late for my doctor’s appointment the first week of December.  I tried to hurry, but my arms felt like heavy blocks of ice themselves as I weakly chipped away at it with my little plastic scraper.  After struggling to clear an opening large enough to see out of, I plopped into the driver’s seat, exhausted.  All I wanted to do was take a nap!

What was wrong with me?

My question was answered within the hour when the doctor informed me that I was iron deficient.  My next question was to ask if I could just correct this through diet or by taking a multi-vitamin, but she informed me that my levels were too low for that.  More drastic measures were needed.  So my daily routine now includes a little red tablet every morning and every night.  After three months I will go back to have my ferritin levels rechecked to see if they have improved.

Before the ice scraping incident, I really didn’t have many other indications that I was anemic.  According to the Mayo Clinic,  initially anemia can be so mild it may go unnoticed.  But signs and symptoms increase as anemia worsens and may include: fatigue, pale skin, a fast or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, cognitive problems, cold hands and feet, and headache.

I believe a Christian can develop “spiritual anemia” from a lack of “iron” fortification from the Word of God.  Initially spiritual anemia can be so mild it too may go unnoticed.  But signs and symptoms increase as spiritual anemia worsens.  These may include:  spiritual apathy and fatigue, a lack of joy and vibrancy in one’s spiritual life, decreased passion for the things on God’s heart, diminished desire and energy to serve, difficulty thinking from a biblical perspective, and feelings of being stuck and unable to move forward.

If one or more of these describe your recent spiritual experience, you may be spiritually anemic.  You might be wondering if this condition can be corrected by spending a few minutes each day reading a devotional book, watching sermons online or listening to the Christian radio while driving in your car.  But that’s not going to cut it.  What is needed is intensive iron supplementation.

1 Peter 2:2 tells us to “long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”  Daily, consistent time receiving nourishment from God’s Word is essential to restoring spiritual strength.  Pick a book of the Bible and read and meditate on a chapter each day.  A few months ago when I realized my spiritual diet was deficient, I started reading through the book of Isaiah at night before I went to bed.  Join a Bible study group or class, which can provide structure and encouragement for establishing a consistent time in the Word.  Many churches begin new studies this time of year.  In fact, I’m excited to start one at my church on the book of James in February!

Weak.  Tired.  Apathetic.  Anemic.  These words should not describe Christians.  Simple tasks should not overwhelm us.  Serving God should not exhaust us.  Instead, we should be able to say with David, “For by You I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall!” (Psalm 18:29)

As we begin a new year, join me in praying that God will “strengthen, revive, and sustain us according to His Word.” (This prayer was taken from Psalm 119.  The entire Psalm is about the spiritual benefits of the Word!)  Commit to a daily intake of God’s Word.  Then check back in three months and see if  your spiritual vitality hasn’t greatly improved!

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