Archive for March, 2009

Scripture: (1 Sam 13:19-22 NKJV)  Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.” {20} But all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare, his mattock, his ax, and his sickle; {21} and the charge for a sharpening was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads. {22} So it came about, on the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan. But they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son.

Observation: Saul’s reign was not peaceful as he battled the Philistines and other nations that surrounded Israel.  And while his beginning was promising, prophesying and making the right choices, little by little he began to decline in spirituality, in the respect that the people had for him, and in power.
The Philistines exerted enough control over the nations around them, including Israel, that they would not even allow them to have their own silversmiths so they would not make their own weapons; obviously, this was a problem for the Israelites as they tried to defend themselves.

Application: I read this story and immediately thought of what today’s world is doing in our homes by creating a thousand and one distractions so that we don’t spend any time “sharpening our swords,” that is, studying the Bible.  I’m particularly concerned with parents who believe that sending their children to non-Adventist or even public schools is a good choice and will not affect their children adversely.  It is as if the world has disarmed parents so when the battle for their children’s lives comes parents are  totally unprepared for it.
I don’t want to take this image too far, but the reality is that unless we are studying God’s word, for ourselves, daily, as the battle lines are drawn and we’re called to fight the enemy of souls, we are in peril of losing the only battle that really matters and carrying our children to the same fate.  Spend time each day with God’s Word, treasure it in your heart and mind, and see that your children enjoy the benefits of your study so they may follow your example and have their own swords sharpened and ready for the ultimate battle, the battle for their souls.

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your Word, the weapon You have given us to battle the forces of evil.  Help us to keep it sharp and ready by studying it every day.

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Scripture: (1 Sam 9:5 NKJV)  When they had come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, let us return, lest my father cease caring about the donkeys and become worried about us.”

Observation: Saul’s father had asked him to find some donkeys that had ran away.  After traveling throughout the territory for several days, Saul decided to go back home so that instead of worrying about the donkeys his father would start worrying about him.  In looking for the donkeys someone suggested they consult Samuel, the prophet, and it was during this encounter that he was anointed the first king of Israel.

Application: Whatever we may think about Saul, from this story we can learn that he was a loving son who did not want to make his father worry about him.  It seems that children reach a certain age and they gain or are given a certain amount of independence, which is a normal, natural step in their process of growing into adulthood.  Parents, however, never gain independence from care and concern for their children.  So two worlds collide – on the one hand children wanting their independence, and on the other hand parents still being concerned about their children.  And where this becomes a challenge is where the children show no concern for the worrying they cause their parents.  For instance, when kids go out without telling their parents where they’re going, when they plan to come back, without calling to check with their parents, etc.  At home, their parents worry about their kids’ whereabouts, if they have been in an accident, if something has happened to them, etc.
The simple act of picking up the phone to call their parents show care and concern for them.  This simple act, a few words, can not only bring peace to their parents but will also reassure them of their love for them.

Prayer: Father, may we demonstrate care and love to our parents not only in words but in caring actions toward them.

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Scripture: Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. 2The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. (1 Samuel 8:1-3 NKJV)

Observation: Samuel’s sons were corrupt and like other religious leaders at the time they took advantage of their position to exploit the people.
The Israelites, on the other hand, wanted to “keep up with the Joneses” and asked Samuel, the God-given leader of his time, to give them a king to reign over them.  This obviously displeased Samuel.  God, however, understood clearly that it wasn’t Samuel but God they were rejecting, and yet, God kindly tried to show them what they would get if they chose a human king for themselves instead of God.

Application: As I visited with a pastor-friend over the weekend, we talked about PKs – Pastors’ Kids.  Even in the homes of the best of pastors, children have gone astray.  Even in the home of a beloved, life-long prophet like Samuel, his children went bad.
How is it possible that from godly parents would come children who leave the church, some even leave God?
I recognize that it’s not always a single event or situation but rather a number of these which drive them to take those steps.  Maybe it’s the “constant” moving from one church, one community, one school to another.  Maybe it’s leaving friends behind and being put in the position of meeting new ones only to leave them again a few years later.  Perhaps it was the school or series of schools they attended.  Maybe it was the series of teachers and principals.  Or maybe the church people, the conference, or what the view as “the church” in general.  Or maybe it was us, their parents, who spent more time doing the work of the Lord than spending time with His and our children.  Whatever it might be, we certainly recognize the challenges of our, and other, PKs, and how much pain their decisions cause us.  I said to another pastor-friend that maybe God, considering the pressure and the challenges that PKs live under has a special dispensation of His grace for them.  At least that is my hope and prayer for my own PKs.

Prayer: Father, I pray for our children, particularly PKs, who are targets of the enemy and sometimes even of members of the church family.  May Your grace be sufficient for them, too.

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Scripture: For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. 28Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.” So they worshiped the Lord there.  (1 Samuel 1:27-28 NKJV)

Observation: The situation at home between Hannah and Penninah, Elkanah’s wives, was very tense.  In a society where childlessness was seen as curse from God, or at least as God withholding his blessings from the woman, Penninah, who had several children, picked on barren Hannah, who must have felt singled out by God and others for unfair treatment.
But Hannah prayed and God granted her a son; in fact, later we read that she had three more sons and two daughters (1 Sam. 2:12).  Hannah evidently was a praying woman who continued to do so not just until Samuel was born, but for her other children, for as long as she lived.

Application: Christian couples should most definitely pray for God’s gifts of children as to whether they should even have any or not.  Once the mother is pregnant, the couple should redouble their prayers for life, health, and protection on both the mother and child.  These prayers should not only be personal and silent, but together as a couple and audible – what a wonderful way for the growing baby inside the mother to get used to his or her parent’s voice but to hear them praying for them!
And praying for our children does not stop at their birth but must continue throughout their and our lives.

Prayer: Father, we pause right now to pray for our children.  May they sense Your presence in their lives this day, and may they come to know You, love You, serve You, and share You all the days of their lives.

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Scripture: (Ruth 2:11-12 NKJV)  And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. {12} “The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

Observation: After the death of her husband and their sons, Naomi returned to her home land.  While Orpah, one of her daughters-in-law went back to her own home and family, Ruth, her other daughter-in-law, chose to travel with Naomi and settle in Naomi’s home land, be forever part of her family, and to fully accept and worship her God.  While they lived together Ruth was devoted to the care of Naomi and her attitude, actions, and devotion to service did not go unnoticed.  In fact, Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s, noticed Ruth’s care and indirectly made provision to help them.  It is in this setting that we read Boaz commending Ruth in our text for today.

Application: The close relationship between Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth is special but by no means unique.  Many mothers-in-law have been have been specially loving, supportive, and kind to their sons or daughters-in-law, and in some cases they have had a closer relationship than with their own children.  The same has been the case with daughters or sons-in-law toward their spouse’ parents.
I borrow the title today from a book by Christian psychologist H. Norman Wright he speaks about this relationship which could be most damaging to a couple’s relationship or a tremendous blessing to all.  For some reason, mothers-in-law have one of the worse reputations – in some cases probably well-deserved, but in most it is probably totally unwarranted.
One way to change the negative dynamics is to make every effort to learn from the other person.  My wife and my mother had a very good relationship in spite of a language barrier, and I credit both for it.  My wife was always very kind and respectful of my mother, and she learned from her many of the things that I like and  have since been cooking for me some of my favorite dishes.  My mother was more than willing to share that information with Pam, but she also was careful not to usurp Pam’s place as the lady of the home and the one who holds first place in my life.  In addition, both of them also were very generous with the time that I was able to spend with each and that we spent together.
So those are three very simple things that anyone can do to have the best of relationships with their in-laws: 1. Make every effort to learn from the other – family history, tradition, customs, recipes, etc.;
2. Show respect for the other person’s position in their own home.
3. Watch carefully the time spent with each, giving preference to your spouse first while not neglecting time with your own parents.

Prayer: Father, may we all be blessed with a loving, supportive relationship with our in-laws, whether they are our parents-in-law or our children-in-law, that we may have the type of relationships that will be uplifting to everyone in the family.

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Scripture: (Ruth 1:20-21 NKJV)  But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. {21} “I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Observation: In just a few verses we read of all the reverses that Ruth and her family suffered.  First they had to leave their home and become immigrants in a foreign country.  Then, she became a widow, and then her two sons also died.  The last of her sorrow came when one of her daughters-in-law left her to go back to her own home.  About the only bright moment in the midst of all this darkness was when her daughter-in-law, Ruth, chose to stay with her and travel back home with Naomi.  Her bitter, painful experience led Naomi to ask that she be called Mara, reflecting the bitterness of her heart and life.

Application: My parents were married twenty-eight years until the afternoon, one early day in January, when my father suffered a massive heart attack that took his life and left my mother a widow.  For twenty-eight years they lived together, traveled together, and managed to have and raise six children.  The shock of her sudden change in her life and the loss of her life-partner plunged my mother into the darkness of pain and the bitterness of widowhood which caused her to loose more weight she should have and which cause her three children still at home to be very subdued and mask their own pain so they would not cause her any more pain than what she was already carrying in her heart and reflected in the black, mourning clothes she wore from then on and for over a year.  The closeness of the relationship between a husband and wife is so strong that it has been compared to gluing two pieces of paper and then trying to separate them – it doesn’t happen without causing damage to one or both.  And the longer a couple are married, the deeper their strong bond and their feelings toward one another; no wonder so many people pass on shortly after the death of their spouse – it is a separation some just simply cannot bear.  At the same time, what a wonderful thing it is to live together in the strong bonds of love and marriage with the person closest to you, your spouse.

Prayer: Father, while the pain of the death of our spouse may come to us, I pray that our life together may be of such quality that we may live without regrets, and may the memories we’re building together carry us through the darkest, dreariest valleys of sorrow and pain.

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Scripture: (Judg 19:1-3 NKJV)  And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote mountains of Ephraim. He took for himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. {2} But his concubine played the harlot against him, and went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there four whole months. {3} Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back, having his servant and a couple of donkeys with him. So she brought him into her father’s house; and when the father of the young woman saw him, he was glad to meet him.

Observation: This is one of the strangest stories in the entire Bible.  A Levite set out to win back the love of a woman, but when the men of the city wanted to have sex with the Levite, instead he gave them his woman for then to do with her as they wished.  After an entire night of abuse, the woman died, the Levite took her home, cut her in pieces, and sent the pieces throughout Israel seeking justice.
When sin controls people, they will stop at nothing until their sinful desires are met.  Not only were they trying to do what God calls unnatural (Romans 1) by having homosexual relations, but also by abusing this  woman to the point of death.
On the other hand, if we can look for something positive in this story, it is the Levite’s actions and words to win this woman back related at the beginning of the story.

Application: Even though the woman played the harlot and left him the Levite went to look for her, to speak kindly to her, and to bring her back.  These three steps can also be critically important to win your wife back after you have caused harm any kind of pain – like speaking harshly to her, being unkind to her, betraying her trust in you.  Let’s look at the three steps:
1. He went after her.  He took the initiative.  In the same way, if you have done or said anything that hurt your spouse, don’t ignore it as if it would go away on its own, or don’t expect the other to forget it as if nothing had happened.  Take the initiative to go to your spouse and make things right with them.  Apologize, ask their forgiveness, make every effort to make things better in the future.
2. He spoke kindly to her.  Don’t make things worse by denying what happened or by becoming defensive.  A recognition of what you did and kind words can go a lot farther in the healing process.
3. He brought her back.  It’s not enough to just get back to normal but to establish a new, better normal I your relationship with your spouse.
We can make our relationships better and win back our spouse, if we are sincere in our desire and honest with our feelings, and if our attitude and actions show them we indeed love them and want the best for them.

Prayer: Father, we praise You and thank You for your gift of our spouse; may we treat them accordingly.

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Scripture: (Judg 14:1-3 NKJV)  Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. {2} So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” {3} Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.”

Observation: Samson became obsessed with a woman from Timnah and insisted, against his parent’s advice, that they get her for him.  They objected because marriage with an unbeliever, in fact a pagan, was strictly forbidden.  But Samson was insistent and his parents, who were obviously indulgent of their only son, gave in and made the appropriate arrangements for Samson to have her.  Just reading the rest of the chapter tells us of the horrible results of such actions which eventually led to his involvement with a prostitute, Delilah, and to his capture and eventual demise.

Application: In our day we don’t have arranged marriages, at least in our western culture, and yet I can’t help but wonder how many people I personally know would be so much better off if they had only listened to their parents and of others I know right now who are going against the advice of family and friends totally ignoring their advice, their feelings, and their dislike of the person they are dating.  It’s as if they believe that by stubbornly staying with that person they will force their family and friends to dismiss their concerns for their relationships and they will come to like, or even love the other person.  In the PREPARE inventory I provide to couples contemplating marriage, one of the areas we look at is the parents and friends’ reaction to the couple’s relation.  When their reaction is positive, the couple not only seems to do better but also, logically, they have one less thing to work on or worry about.  The opposite is also true of the couples who don’t enjoy the support of their family or friends; it’s like fighting an uphill battle as they begin to form their new relationship and without the love and support of those closest to them.
While the family may not always be right in their feelings or opinions of your boyfriend or girlfriend, if there are negative feelings already going into the relationship, chances are that they won’t get any better later.  Listen to what your family and friends are trying to tell you; they are trying to help you, and they may be saving you from a life of hardship and pain.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the wise counsel of family and friends.  May we be attentive to what they have to tell us, specially if that has to do with following Your guidance and when it comes to those relationships which we hope will be life-lasting.

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Scripture: (Judg 11:30-31 NKJV)  And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, {31} “then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

Observation: Jephthah led the Israelites to defeat the Ammonites, but before he went to war with them he asked God for the power, the strength, the ability to defeat them, and then promised that if he would indeed win he would present God an offering of the first thing that came out of the house.  I’m not sure what he thought would come out – an cow, a goat?  Or if he thought that maybe one servant might come out.  But great was his distress when it was his only daughter who came out to greet him and to celebrate his victory and great her disappointment when instead of a great joy, her celebration turned into great sorrow.

Application: Just as careless as Jephthah was with his vow, so are many parents with the promises or threatened discipline.  We have observed many parents, specially parents of small children, threaten discipline unless their children change their actions, but they do it in a way that the children know are vain words.  Some  count: “Jimmy stop that!  One. . . two. . . two-and-a-half. . .”  Children know that counting doesn’t really mean anything until it gets to three.  Others would threaten by repeating themselves: “Sussy, come here. . . Sussy, I told you to come here. . . Sussy, I’m not going to tell you again, come here. . . Sussy, I’m getting upset, you better come here. . .” and on and on.  Other parents use their staccato voice and the children’s names to show the escalation of their command: “Ronny pick up your toys. . . Ron, pick up your toys. . . Ronald, pick up your toys, Ronald Arthur, I told you to pick up your toys. . . RONALD ARTHUR SMITH YOU COME RIGHT NOW AND PICK UP YOUR TOYS OR I’M GOING TO. . .”  It is finally at this point that children take their parents more seriously and begin to either move in the direction of complying or rebelling further to see how far they can push their parents.
When it comes to discipline, it’s best to follow these steps:
1. Set clear limits and consequences, according to the age and understanding capacity of each child.
2. If the child crosses the limit, apply discipline immediately.  This does a number of things.  First of all, you as the parent applies the discipline without losing your temper.  Secondly, the child learns to comply with the pre-defined limits.
3. Immediately after applying discipline, reassure your children of your love for them.
In the same way, don’t make threats that will affect you or the rest of the family because you will end up punishing everyone else or you will find yourself in the position to break the threat.  For instance, if your child comes home later than they should have and you tell them something like: “You’re not going anywhere for a month!”, you may have to stay at home for that month and therefore the entire family is punished with the transgressor.
On the other hand, don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Don’t say, “if you get good grades I’ll buy you a new car,” when you may not be able to afford the car and all related expenses, and if your child does get good grades, then you may not be able to fulfill that promise and therefore give negative messages to your children, such as: My parents don’t keep their promises, it doesn’t matter if I do well in school, etc.
These things are part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Mat. 5:37).

Prayer: Father, help us to make no promises or threats we cannot keep.

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Scripture: (Judg 9:4-6 NKJV)  So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him. {5} Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself. {6} And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.

Observation: In previous chapters we learned of the Gideon and how he tested God with a fleece, how he destroyed Baals altar, and how he defeated the Midianites.  But not all of Gideon’s experiences were positive.  Toward the end of the last chapter we read he built an ephod in his town of Ophrah and people came there to worship and prostituted themselves and became a snare to Gideon’s family.  Gideon had many wives so he also had many children, seventy of them.  Abimelech emerged as the leader among Gideon’s children and did it by winning the support of the people of Shechem who paid him to become their king after which he killed all but one of his seventy brothers.

Application: Stories like this make me cringe to thin of how one person could deal with his brothers in that  cruel way, and all for the sake of power and money.  And yet, I personally know of two families where a brother has dealt in similar ways (except for killing them) with his siblings by robbing them of what rightly belongs to his siblings, by taking advantage of them, and by enriching himself at their expense.  When it comes to money, some people will do anything they have to even if that means taking it from their own family members.  What is the point of selling your soul for money while your siblings or those closest to you suffer?  If the funds God gives us are not used to help others, then our selfishness will destroy something that is much more important and worth a lot more and that is our family relationships.

Prayer: Father, help us to never place material things over our family or any other person.

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