R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

When someone becomes a Christian, one of the many gifts they receive is that of Priest in the Kingdom of God. For me, as a woman, that sounds and feels a little weird, I’ll admit. But, nonetheless, it is true…

and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 1:6 HCSB*

With that great assignment comes great responsibility. We are given full access to the Father through Jesus, the Son of God. That means we do not have to go through any man (or woman) in order to pray. When Jesus died on the cross God tore the curtain blocking the average man or woman from entering the Holy of Holies in two…from top to bottom like you or I would tear a piece of irrelevant mail…because in that moment the curtain was wonderfully and beautifully irrelevant. Jesus blazed the path and paid the price that would forever make worship and prayer a personal and intimate act between human and God, child and Father.

So what are we doing with this incredible privilege that was bought for us at an incomprehensible price? Are we being faithful to our calling as priests to God?

In Malachi chapter 1, God comes down on the priests for compromising the excellence He expected of them and attempting to satisfy Him with less than their best:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.”

Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?”

“By presenting defiled food on My altar.”

You ask: “How have we defiled You?”

When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”

“When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

“For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.

But you are profaning it when you say: “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.” You also say: “Look, what a nuisance!” “And you scorn it,” says the Lord of Hosts. “You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.

“The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “and My name will be feared among the nations.

Malachi 1:6-14 HCSB

Now, before I dive into this passage I want to remind you that we live under a state of grace. The requirements of the Law were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, therefore we no longer have to follow the Old Testament system of sacrifices, etc. BUT…the principles contained in these passages still stand today. No, we cannot earn the favor of God. Nothing we do makes Him love us more and nothing we fail to do makes Him love us less. It is out of love and a desire to serve our Father that we seek to learn from the Biblical history contained in the Old Testament and incorporate what we learn into our spiritual practices and disciplines of today.

That being said, how does this passage written nearly 2500 years ago have to do with us?

The first verse says, “A son honors his father and a servant, his master.” As a daughter of the King, this applies to me and to you. If I proclaim God to be my Father, then it would make sense that I honor Him as such in my daily life. If I am a servant, it would be expected that I would act respectfully toward my master (or employer).

So, what was the problem with the priests? Why did God accuse them of “despising” His name and saying that His table was “contemptible?” Doesn’t that seem awfully harsh towards someone who spends their life in service to Him day in and day out? Weren’t they better, more holy even, than the general population who had to depend on them to make the sacrifices and perform the required rituals at the temple?

But God was mad. Livid. He had standards and they were not even trying to meet them.

The Mosaic Law was very specific and sacrificing lame, blind, or sick animals was expressly forbidden. The purpose of the sacrifice, which pointed forward to the promised Messiah, was to cover (atone for) the sins of the people and only a perfect, spotless animal could do the job. The priests were offering to God what they wouldn’t have fed to any human ruler. What they offered God was not honoring to Him, but an insult.

It wasn’t like they had nothing else to offer. They had acceptable sacrifices in their flocks, but they were stingy. What they were saving them for, I don’t know. They were keeping the best for themselves, though, and giving God the leftovers.

God wasn’t having it. He reminds them in no uncertain terms exactly WHO HE IS.

For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.

Malachi 1:11 HCSB

In essence, God is setting them straight as to who deserves what in the pecking order of the Kingdom. It is HIS name that will be great among the nations. It is HIS name in which pure offerings and incense will be presented in EVERY place. Not the governor’s, not the priest’s, and certainly not the king’s. God deserves the very best because He is the Creator and Lord of all, including the lower level rulers that the Priests were probably hoping to gain favor with by offering what belonged to God alone…worship, honor, and the very best of their flocks.

My goodness, this is convicting.

How am I guilty of this? How are we, as a church, as women, as wives/mothers/friends guilty of this? This passage of Malachi is closely tied to one commonly read during most churches’ offerings but I think we do it a great disservice when we limit what it teaches to tithing.

How often do I give God my leftovers? I wake up early, grab my Bible and head to the porch with coffee in hand. I sit down…thirty minutes later I realize I spent half my quiet time quietly checking email or social media. My Bible sits open on my lap with my phone or I-pad resting on top. Ouch. I rush through reading and prayer because now it’s almost time for the kids to get up and we have a full day ahead, then I struggle to give them the overflow of God’s love and presence in my life because, to be truthful, I didn’t exactly get filled all the way up myself.

Friends, we cannot give what we do not possess.

How about your typical Sunday morning? If you are like me, it is prime opportunity to catch up on sleep. Our church has second service at 10:45, which means I can sleep until 8:00 and still get all the morning things done…hallelujah! We head to the service and arrive before it starts, often surprised by “the small crowd today” but wait…the worship begins, music and praise filling the air and the Holy Spirit igniting our hearts. Eyes closed, I realize the empty seat next to me is suddenly filled as are most of the ones around the room. When did all these people come in? The music ends and the pastor takes his place to give the sermon and I feel kind of sad for all the latecomers who missed the worship service. Is God not worthy of our taking part in corporate worship? I have a hard time believing nearly half of the congregation had an unexpected interruption to their Sunday morning which made them a good thirty minutes late. And this is not just in our current church…it has been typical of every single church I have attended since becoming a Christian when I was 21 years old. Every single church.

Now I am fully aware that the “order of service” is a more contemporary tradition than the way early Christians worshipped. I am not trying to be legalistic or have a religious spirit about quiet times or getting to church on time. What I am hoping to do is help you think about your “why.”

Why do you get up in the morning…or not?

Why do you read your Bible…or not?

Why do you leave your phone off or in another room so you aren’t distracted during your quiet time…or not?

Why do you go to church…or not?

Why do you skip worship and just show up for the sermon…or not?

It all boils down to who we are really serving. Am I giving God my very best or saving the best for myself and serving Him the bruised apples and day-old bread? Am I putting my walk with Him first, above my marriage, friendships, family and/or job or am I worshiping my husband,kids,friendships and/or job, effectively making them idols and serving them over the God who created me? Am I living a life that is self-centered (because even idolatry is self-centered at it’s root) or Christ-centered?

​ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12:1-3

We cannot do it all, and we certainly cannot do it all with excellence. In order to show proper respect to God, we begin by finding out what respect means to HIM. I think Aretha Franklin said it best…

“R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me!”

The dictionary gives three main definitions of the word, respect, in it’s noun form. The first two apply to our discussion here:

  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.

What or Who I respect will, in large part, dictate the habits and routines of my day. If I have misplaced or disproportionate respect for anything or any one besides God, it will show.

For instance…I talk a good game about getting up and reading your Bible every day. I’m consistent with it most of the time, but not always. On the days that I am “off”, what is my problem? It is lack of respect. I, for various reasons, have decided it is ok to put God at arm’s length for the moment. Either I am mistakenly believing “I’m good” and can slack off since no major crises are impinging my plans, or I’m so distracted by the turmoil that I want to escape into someone else’s life, even if for just a few mindless minutes. Either way, I’m shutting the door in God’s face and showing disrespect to the only One who can calm my storms and keep me on the right path.

Another word for disrespect is good ol’ PRIDE. Yep, I’m referring to the persistent pride-monster responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve as well as every attempt of man to do it himself, thank-you-very-much, for the millenia since. We like ourselves way too much. We want to be in charge and run things, only singing “Jesus Take the Wheel” after He has forcefully pried our stubborn fingers off the dang wheel and allowed us to run ourselves into a ditch once again. We like how it feels to do things our way, in our timing, and on our own until it backfires and we find ourselves in the pity pit, crying out to God for mercy and deliverance.

I know I’m not just talking to myself here.

I’m not going to tell you what to do now. I’m not going to suggest amethod or rule that will help you get up thirty minutes earlier or arrive to church on time, because we don’t need rules.

We need respect, a healthy respect of our Savior who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died. How easily we forget this! We need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves that we justify fudging on our calling to serve God with all that is in us and live humbly, realizing our great need for His love and mercy at all times, whether rocky or smooth. We have been bought with an unspeakable, incomparable price, friends. Instead of finding ways around it, instead of coming up with modern explanations to justify idolatry and sin, conforming to a world in which we do not belong, we must be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We must live life on HIS terms, not ours, as a kingdom of priests to God the Father who is worthy of all honor, glory and power. This is our high calling and most noble duty. I pray we will find our why and live forward into who our Father created us to be, starting now!

*All Scripture is quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

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Self-imposed Misery

You may not consider this a “joyful” post, but bear with me. I believe what I have to say is important for us to understand.

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through the Bible with the intent of reading it cover to cover by the end of summer. Yesterday I finished the book of Judges and thought, ‘Whew, I’m glad that is over.’

I told my husband it read like a horror movie at times, just one miserable story after another. A vicious cycle of sin, consequences, crying out to God, his mercy, then the people forgetting and starting the whole thing over again. Sometimes I read a story, certain that I was misunderstanding it…that surely God would not expect them to do that.

Take, for instance, Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of Judges. He thought it would be a good idea to “make a deal” with God in order to ensure victory against the Ammonites.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

Note that this was instigated, not by God, but by Jephthah.

So Jephthah wins the battle and Israel conquers the Ammonites. All is well and good until his only child, his daughter, comes out of the house with her tambourine. Dancing.

I’m sure his heart exploded in terror as he realized the vow he had made. He had expected to sacrifice an animal.

Not his child.

It is hard for us to fathom following through on a vow such as this as Jephthah did, especialy through our Western filter. But in that time, and in that culture, such things were commonplace among the Pagan religions and idolotrous worship practices and it appears Jepthah had allowed his theology to be influenced by his surroundings.

Sound familiar?

Note, again, that God expecting Jephthah to follow through is not mentioned. Jephthah dug this hole. Jephthah made this bed. He had even trained his daughter, as well, to the point where she apparently did not question his decision. She grieved that she would die unmarried, but accepted that she would be sacrified.

What in the world?

How is this possible?

But look at our world, friends. Every day, children march into battle toward certain death because they have been taught from infancy that to die for their god is honorable and will be met with great reward. It happens in Africa and the Middle East and it happens here, in America.

Children are sacrificed and sent into war, as collateral in trafficking and abuse, and through abortion. Sometimes they are aware of what they are being asked to do but have been brainwashed into accepting it. Often, though, they have no idea why they are facing abuse or death at the hands of those who should be protecting them. The place where they should be the most safe…among their families, in the home or in the womb…is where their lives come to a tragic end.

Jephthah made a vow, one that God did not ask of him and, I believe, one on which God did not expect him to follow through. His misery was self-imposed because he had added to the rules God had already put in place.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That is as true now as it was back then. Every time God’s people decide to add to their status and “holiness” by keeping extra rules or striving beyond their neighbors to win the heart of God they fall…and fall hard.

The reason for this is simple. As children of God, those who have accepted His Son as our savior, we already have His heart. We are holy, chosen, and dearly loved. He goes before us and fights for us because we are His and He has promised to do so. We do not have to bargain with Him and would be wise not to try because we will only heap misery upon ourselves by doing so.

I believe God had already planned to give Israel the victory over the Ammonites. It was part of the story He had written before Jephthah was even born, the saga of the unbreakable covenant made with Abraham when God stopped him from doing the very thing Jephthah thought he now had to do. In making the vow, Jephthah put his own hand on the wheel, seeking a modicum of control over the outcome.

The result was disaster.

A daughter, dead at the hands of her father.

This was but one tragic end to a story wrought with terrible decisions for years leading up to this point and that would continue for millenia.

We rebel, we suffer, we fall.

We cry out for mercy and our God gives it knowing full well we will forget and repeat the sin-cycle all over again.

But we must understand that only Jesus can stop the cycle. Only the Lamb that was slain can conquer death which relentlessly hunts us down. And only the Risen Lord can deliver us from our self-made graves into life everlasting.

Praise God. Praise God for His patience because, y’all, we have got to drive Him nuts.

Do we ever learn?

For the sake of the next generation, I pray so.

But I’m not holding my breath.

 

Digging Deep: Defending the Truth in a Culture of Lies

As the world continues to change at breakneck pace, more and more Christians are caving in to doctrine that is destructive at best, heretical at worst. Everything the church once held as sacred is up for grabs…marriage, family, morality, and the sanctity of human life are only a few of the issues being questioned and trampled beneath the snowballs of modern religious (or anti-religious) thought. As I have watched these changes gather strength I have often lamented the world in which I am raising my children. How do we combat such strong worldly influences when so much competes for their attention? Social media alone has changed everything regarding how the world thinks, interacts, and even how we parent.

The arguments against faith are many and varied. Sometimes I have no problem identifying the flaw in logic but there are other occasions when, though I know the idea presented is wrong, I haven’t been able to articulate why. “Because the Bible says so” simply is not effective when speaking to someone who does not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Book after book is being published that pose real danger to the hearts and minds of women. They boast catchy titles and carry messages that make all kinds of promises that my friends are too often falling for…hook, line and sinker. Christian leaders hedge their answers on important topics and leave room for the uneducated lay person to fill in the blanks with what seems right to them, which is extremely dangerous and unbiblical.

A year, or so, ago I read an article that piqued my interest and led me to a podcast by Alisa Childers which completely changed how I would spend my (precious few) free minutes. All of a sudden the world of apologetics was accessible to this average small-town girl! I have had an insatiable thirst for more ever since. Not only have I found verbage to help me answer questions I hear from my teenagers and their friends, I have experienced an incredible increase in faith as I have learned logic and evidence for the accuracy of the Bible and fallen deeper in love with the Savior who changed the entire course of my life when I was twenty one years old.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, Apologetics is defined as the discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. It is knowing why you believe what you believe and being able to defend it using logic and reason. In my opinion, the study of apologetics is extremely important and worthy of pursuit by all believers, no matter our level of education. We need to know what we believe and WHY.

When I think of apologetics, C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias are the first to come to mind. Good apologists ardently defend the faith, refusing to bend to the societal trends of their time and striving for excellence in everything they write and teach. Biblical literacy and knowledge of truth are the most important skills we can acquire and, really, the only way we will successfully stand against the lies that are flooding our culture.

In other words, my dear sisters, you have GOT to read your Bible. Make it happen, whatever you have to put aside, but DO IT.

We have to stop depending on celebrities (including celebrity pastors) and media to define truth. There is only one way to the Father, and that is through his son, Jesus Christ. God is holy and, through Christ, we are made holy. That means we are different, set apart. That means we live by a high moral standard, even if it steps on the toes of those around us, because we know who we would have been without the Cross. It means we deny ourselves and follow Jesus, even when that results in being labeled as intolerant or narrow-minded because we refuse to bow to the gods the world offers. And it means we speak the truth, in love (always in love) but we speak it, nonetheless. Because the truth sets us FREE.

Take the time to learn the Bible for yourself. Let the Holy Spirit be your teacher. Seek the wisdom of God and don’t settle for books “about” the Bible. Stop letting your ears be tickled by teachers who refuse to address the problem of sin and depravity and choose to pursue excellence in the study of God’s word. Yes, I know that sounds overwhelming. I know you may have little kids running around your legs all day long or a boss who has placed time-consuming demands on your waking hours but you must make the time to educate yourself on the things of the Kingdom. What are you willing to cut out in order to pursue deeper knowledge of God? I am sad to admit that, even when I claimed I could only steal 5 minutes to read a devotional (rarely opening my actual Bible), I had no trouble keeping up with my favorite TV series or scrolling through social media. It is all about priorities. He is worthy of our sacrifice of time and effort!

If you don’t know where to start, I have a few links to share with you:

Alisa Childers (alisachilders.com)

Mama Bear Apologetics (http://mamabearapologetics.com)

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (rzim.org)

The FreeMind Podcast by Seth and Nirva Ready with Stephen Robles (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/freemind/id1448136168)

All of these are either podcasts or have podcasts available along with their written blogs. You can listen to them while you are busy doing other things. (My favorite type of multitasking!) They will help you think through current issues and arguments and drive you straight into studying God’s Word with the intent of finding answers and not just checking off an item on your to-do list. They are not a replacement for Bible study, but will give you direction as to how to read the Bible with an eye for context and culture. If you have apologetics sources/blogs/podcasts you would like to share please do! Just post the link in the comments either here or on the A Life of Simple Joys Facebook page. (Link is in the margin)

The world around us is completely upside-down, exactly as God said it would be. (2 Tim. 4:3) Our only defense against the lies that swirl around us is knowing the truth; HIS truth, not our fanciful version. Sisters, please, lose the fluff and dive deep for the sake of Christ! There is so much richness awaiting us in the depths of His Word. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of lost time for which I need to make up. There is no better time to start than right now.

 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  (Ephesians 5:6-17)