Bitter to Better


Imagine what would happen if I picked fresh fruit from a lemon tree, squeezed the lemon juice into a glass and took a big gulp. Oh-oh! My face would probably pucker. The lemony liquid would be so sour that I would have a bitter taste in my mouth. Quickly, I would add a big spoonful of sugar. Hoping for a more refreshing taste, I would take another sip. From sour to sweet. From bitter to better.

The process “from bitter to better” results in the pleasant drink of lemonade. The opposite happens for a woman in scripture. The process “from better to bitter” occurs for Naomi in the book of Ruth.

We first learn about Naomi when she and her family move from Bethlehem to Moab. While living there, her sons married Moabite women. Over time, Naomi’s husband and two sons died. Then she returned to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law Ruth. She had no money and no male relative to provide for her. When she arrived, she requested to be called Mara. While Naomi meant pleasant, Mara meant bitter. Ruth 1:20-21 says, She said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?’”

Subsequently, Ruth married a kinsman-redeemer named Boaz. According to Old Testament law, a kinsman-redeemer was a male relative who had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. Boaz was a kinsman who redeemed, or vindicated, the family of Naomi by marrying Ruth. He redeemed the family of the deceased Abimelech, Kilion and Mahlon.

Ruth had a son, Obed. According to custom, Naomi became the nurse of this baby boy. The women of the community exclaimed that Naomi was blessed. Ruth 4:14 says, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!”

Naomi had a grandson. She had a family heritage. Obed is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:5. Any bitterness Naomi once experienced was turned into joy.

Naomi went from better to bitter – and back to better. God knew Naomi had encountered a hard life and understood why she felt like Mara. However, He added sweetness to her bitterness. He revealed a kinsman-redeemer named Boaz.

God knows we will encounter difficulties that may cause us to become bitter. God provides us with a kinsman-redeemer named Jesus. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. With the help of Jesus, we can become better rather than bitter.

Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” There are numerous reasons why we may feel bitter. Unforgiveness can ferment within one’s heart resulting in a bitter feeling. Discouragement can settle into bitterness. Telling a lie can leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. If we focus upon a fleshly attitude, we will become bitter. If we concentrate on the Spirit, we will become better. We become pleasant as the name Naomi implies.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.“All things” means everything. With God’s help, we can learn from our mistakes and become better rather than bitter. Romans 8:29 goes on to say that God uses everything that happens to conform us into the image of His Son. Jesus was never bitter while living on earth.

With God’s help, there is no good reason for us to be bitter. Romans 8:31-35 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

With God’s help, we can be better. Romans 8:37-29 tells us, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why be bitter? We can be better when the Holy Spirit is our helper.

Although Naomi had been bitter, she changed for the better when Boaz became the kinsman-redeemer of her family. From bitter to better – from Mara to Naomi. Jesus is our savior, our kinsman-redeemer, who changes us from bitter to better. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (my emphasis)

II Corinthians 5:17 say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!The new is better – no longer bitter.

Naomi’s story reveals the changes in her personality from pleasant to bitter to better caused by her circumstances. It is interesting to note that the people of Bethlehem never followed Naomi’s request to call her Mara. She is always known as Naomi throughout the book. To the people of her heritage, she was always considered pleasant. They saw her as God saw her. I am glad God intervened in her life allowing her to become the woman He wanted her to be.

We have all heard the proverbial quote, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Naomi was given a bitter lemon. With God’s help, the sweetness of a kinsman-redeemer became part of her life. In her old age, she drank lemonade.

My Reader, what is happening for you today? Do you feel bitter? Do you want to feel better? Psalm 119: 103 says, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Through His Word, God adds sugar to our bitter lemons. When we say yes to God, the Holy Spirit reveals His will through His Word making the bitter circumstances of our lives sweet. Drink the sweetness of His Word! Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Be refreshed with a glass of spiritual lemonade.

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Mercy Drops

I woke up this morning having an old-fashioned hymn fest with the Lord. The first song in my heart was There Shall Be Showers of Blessing  by Daniel W. Whittle. The words of the chorus are:

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need;
Mercy drops ‘round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

Our summer has been very dry and we need rain. We want rain showers – not just a few sprinkles. However, when we get only a few raindrops, I visualize the blades of grass lifting their thirsty heads and licking each little moisture droplet possible.

We have a similar spiritual desire. We want all the big blessings that the Lord can provide. This is not wrong, but we also need to be thankful for the mercy He drops into our lives. Don’t wait for the big spiritual rains. Receive the mercy drops with thanksgiving. In time, droplets become showers. A rain often begins with a few sprinkles that evolve into more abundant showers. Let us drink deeply the mercy drops the Lord extends. Great things have small beginnings.

My thankfulness for the mercy drops, brought another hymn to mind, The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases by Edith McNeill. The refrain proclaims:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Your mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning,
new every morning:
great is your faithfulness, O Lord,
great is your faithfulness!

I love this promise! God’s mercy drops will never cease to rain down on our lives. No wonder I woke up singing about His mercy! Our God is faithful to provide what we need to accomplish His plans and purposes for us each day.

Although nature’s cycles of rain and drought come and go, we can always depend upon God to provide the spiritual moisture we need to grow in Him. Sometimes His provision comes in droplets of mercy and other times our souls are flooded with abundant blessings.

Receive the following mercy drops found in God’s Word.

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abundant in mercy.
Psalm 103:8 NKJV

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed.
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
I Peter 1:3

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence
, so that we may receive mercy and find grace
to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
Luke 1:50

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Matthew 5:6 NKJV

O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good;
for His mercy endures for ever.
Psalm 136:1

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
Jude 1:2

The Arms of a Father


A man
understands the meaning of being a father when he holds his first newborn baby. His arms will never be the same. His arms are filled with a new responsibility. He embraces a role that can only be filled by a man. Dad is his new name.

How does a man learn to become a father? By following the example of his Heavenly Father.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’”
Deuteronomy 33:27

I remember my husband holding our first-born child. Our baby looked so small in the arms of his father. Gary lovingly supported this little eight pound bundle of boy. I saw both gentleness and strength in this new dad’s arms. Daddy was not going to drop his son. He would take care of him. He would protect him. This new father desired to follow the example of God, his Heavenly Father.

The years advanced. My husband was still Dad but his hands and arms had a new purpose. Our baby boy no longer depended upon his father’s arms to be held. However, the growing boy still needed guidance. A helping hand was required – and often requested by our son.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13

A father holds his child’s hand so he/she will not run away. Otherwise, he or she might get lost in the crowd. I can still see Gary extending his arm down toward Greg’s little upheld arm. They clasped their hands together. Greg held tightly to his dad’s hand as the three of us maneuvered our way through a crowd of people at a local parade. Many things can crowd into the life of a growing child.

There are times when a helping hand is advantageous. Our kitchen table was the scene of various school projects for father and son. Dad’s wisdom was appreciated. A father helps, but does not do everything for the youngster. A good father relies on the Holy Spirit to be his Helper as he helps his family.

Now our son is a man. He is a father. However, he still returns to spend time with his dad.

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still
a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him,
and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

This scripture is part of the parable of the lost son. Our son is not, and never has been, a wayward son. However, this verse is another example of a father’s arms. When Greg comes to visit his dad, a hand shake is not an adequate greeting. Father and son’s arms become entwined in a hug. The strength of their arms draws them close. There is a bond between a father and his kids regardless of their ages. This embrace is an expression of affection. I think of an acronym for hug: Heartfelt Unconditional Gesture.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he,
I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah 46:4

Through the prophet Isaiah, our Heavenly Father assures all earthly fathers that He extends His arms to them no matter their age. In addition to setting the example for earthly fathers, God desires to be the Heavenly Father of all dads. His everlasting arms offer affection, protection, guidance and strength to all His kids.

Happy Father’s Day!

ASK!


Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives,
and he who seeks finds,
and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Matt 7:7-8

While “ask” is the first word this scripture, it is also the acronym for the three verbs:
Ask
Seek
K
nock

There is a corresponding promise for each action:
Ask and receive
Seek and find
Knock and be opened

ASK

When praying, can we ask for anything and get what we want? Can each of us be like a little child and say, “Give me, give me, give me!”? No, more is involved if we are to be confident that we will receive.

In Mark 11:24, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
We must have faith in God’s ability to answer our request. We must have the kind of faith that trusts God to answer according to the way He sees best.

Jesus goes on to say in John 14:13, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
First, we must ask in the name of Jesus. This involves more than saying “in Jesus’ name.” Joseph Prince emphasizes that when we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we acknowledge that our prayers will be answered because of what Jesus Christ has done for us – not because of who we are or what we have done.
Secondly, our Heavenly Father must be glorified. Ultimately, prayer is about what gives God glory.

SEEK

Seeking is not simply a verbal request. It’s action time. We seek God’s will by searching the scriptures. This helps us find out how to pray.

Luke 8:17 says, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.
There is something to seek. And, there is something to be found. God plays a game of spiritual hide and seek with us. Amazingly, He always lets us find Him.

Matthew 6:33 instructs us to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Seeking is looking. Looking for God’s kingdom. We are not only to seek health or wealth. We are to seek God’s will. He has a unique plan for each of us. Unless we seek to know His kingdom plan, we may ask incorrectly.

David says in Psalm 27:8, “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.
To grow in our relationship with the Lord, we must seek Him rather than just what His hands can do for us.

KNOCK

Knocking is more than tapping on a door. It is a repeated pounding. When we are confident in what we ask and seek, we will knock tenaciously until the Lord answers. Knocking implies that we believe God has better and deeper things yet to be acquired.

In James 1:6 we are told, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.”
I associate knocking with believing while tapping reflects doubting. Knocking is persistent.

Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
If we have answered Jesus’ knock at our heart’s door. If we have invited Him into our life. Then, He will answer our prayerful knock upon the door of His throne room. Our answer may be just behind a door.

ASK – SEEK – KNOCK

The parable of The Lost Coin in Luke 15:8-10 is a good example of asking, seeking and knocking. The woman knocked on her neighbors’ doors asking them to help her seek her lost coin. Her need, or her prayer, was answered – the lost was found.

Jeremiah 29:12-14 is another inclusive scripture. “Then you will call upon Me (ask) and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search (knock) for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD.”

Thank you, Lord, that we can ask and receive – seek and find – knock and have it opened!

enJOY – JOY – JOYful

JOY – a simple three letter word with big potential. Add a couple of letters
and we have ENJOY or JOYFUL. How about REJOICE?

Let’s play around with JOY today. We will also do a little language study.

JOY
To begin, we must know what JOY is.
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, . . .
Galatians 5:22
Joy is one of the nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is the result of the
Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. It is not something we can conjure up by ourselves.
The prospect of the righteous is joy
Proverbs 10:28
Joy is the reward of living in right relationship with the Lord.
the joy of the LORD is your strength
Nehemiah 8:10
Joy is more than a feeling when it is the Lord’s joy. It imparts
spiritual strength to our internal muscles.

ENJOY = in joy
En” is a prefix that transforms a noun into a verb. Enjoy means to cause
a person or thing to be “in joy.”
In Your presence is fullness of joy
Psalm 16:11 NKJV
When we are in the presence of Jesus, we are in joy. Through praise,
we enter the Lord’s presence and enjoy Him.
I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.
Jeremiah 33:6
When we trust the Lord, we will enjoy His promises. If we enjoy something, we are in joy.

JOYFUL = joy full – full of joy
The suffixful” is defined as “full of” or “plenty.” We become “joyful” when we are full of joy.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13
God fills us with His joy. The Holy Spirit gives us more than a little bit of joy.
When we are “full of joy,” joy bubbles up inside and flows out of us.
This joy overflows to others. It even extends into the atmosphere.
That is what I call being “joyful!”
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Psalm 98:4 ESV
When we are full of joy, we desire to joyfully praise the Lord. We let our joy overflow to Him.

REJOICE = re-joys
Re-joys” is my play on words for “rejoice.” The prefix “re” means “again.”
Joys” is more than one joy. We can experience joy in multiple ways at numerous times.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4
Paul encourages us to “rejoice” twice in one verse. The New Living Translation says,
Always be full of joy in the Lord.”
This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
I say it again—rejoice!”
Psalm 118:24 NKJV
We have the choice of whether or not to rejoice. First of all, we must know and receive God’s joy. Then we can enjoy Him – be in joy. When we are filled of God’s joy, we are joyful.
We experience joy, and then more joy. This fullness of joy multiples into “joys.”
Because of these “re-joys,” we rejoice.

JOY – ENJOY – JOYFUL – REJOICE
Let us summarize our study of joy with a few final scriptures.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5 NKJV
We will not always feel joyful or have joyous experiences, but we do have God’s
assurance of forthcoming joy.
I (Jesus) will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:22
Jesus spoke these words to His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion. He speaks the same words to us in our challenging times. His joy is everlasting and cannot be taken away.
Shout to God with joyful praise!
Psalm 47:1 NLT
Let us praise God for His promise of joy. Let us rejoice together because we are full of joy.

Mary – JESUS – Mary

Imagine a group of books being held upright by a bookend at each end.

Now make some changes to this image and create a spiritual picture.

Replace the books with the life of Jesus. (Maybe a collection of 33 books – one for each year of His life.)
Instead of bookends, imagine a woman named Mary at the beginning and another Mary
at the end of Jesus’ life. Two ladies supporting Jesus at His birth and death.

Let’s make some comparisons between the two Marys. I will refer to one as Mary Mom (the mother of Jesus) and the other as Mary Magdalene (a woman uniquely positioned in Jesus’ inner circle of followers).

  • The young Mary, chosen by God to be the mother of His Son, was from Nazareth, a small town in Galilee. (see Luke 1:26)
    Mary, known as Mary Magdalene,
    was from Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of Lake Galilee. (denoted by her name)

  • Mary Mom was a pure virgin whose baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. (see Luke 1:31)
    Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene – at one time she was not so pure. (see Luke 8:2)

  • Mary Mom encountered an angel (Gabriel) when told she would bear a son named Jesus. (see Luke 1:30-31)
    Mary Magdalene saw an angel (a young man wearing a white robe) at Jesus’ empty tomb. (see Mark 16:5-8.)

  • Mary Mom was fearful but was told not to be afraid. She was perplexed by Gabriel’s visitation and message. However, he told her not to be afraid because she had favor with God. (see Luke 1:26-38 esp. v30)
    Mary Magdalene was fearful but was told not to be afraid. When she saw the empty tomb, she was bewildered. Then the angel told her not to be alarmed because Jesus had risen. (see Mark 16:5-8 esp. v8)

  • Mary Mom would have been the first person to hold Jesus as a human baby. (Isn’t this the privilege of a mother?)
    Mary Magdalene had intended to be the last person to hold Jesus’ human body. (Had she fulfilled her plan of preparing His body for burial at the tomb, this would have been her privilege.)

  • Mary Mom anointed Jesus for life. I think Mary Mom may have anointed Jesus (with baby oil?) before she wrapped Him in warm blankets. (an assumption by author)
    Mary Magdalene desired to anoint Jesus after His death. Because she had spices with her, I believe Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. (see Mark 16:1)

  • Mary Mom wrapped baby Jesus in swaddling cloths before she laid Him in a manger. (see Luke 2:7)
    Although Joseph of Arimathea had already wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth, I believe Mary Magdalene had intended to provide a proper burial for the crucified Christ by wrapping His body in a linen shroud. (see Mark 16:46; John 19:25)

  • Both Mary Mom and Mary Magdalene were near the cross when Jesus was crucified.  (see John 19:25)

Looking closely at the spiritual image, I see one Mary holding baby Jesus at the beginning of His life and another Mary with the intent of holding His body at the end of His life. Jesus was surrounded and held by Mary Mom and Mary Magdalene. The words of Jesus in Revelation 1:17-18 seem an accurate description of Jesus’ life,Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the Living One;  I was dead, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever!

This Sunday, we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the Living One. We no longer hold Jesus as a baby in our arms (as Mary Mom) and there is no need to hold His body in the grave (as Mary Magdalene).

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

(Images provided by Pixabay.)

Sacred Fear or Scared Fear

(Click on images to find the credit for appropriate images.)

When rereading The Fear of God by John Bevere, I was reminded of the confusion that can arise concerning the word “fear.”

Several years ago, we were in Australia for my husband’s work. We stayed at an apartment that had maid service. When one of the girls saw John Bevere’s book on my table, she was very adamant that we were not to fear God. Although we both spoke English, I could not adequately explain to her the difference between sacred fear and scared fear. I wonder how many others struggle with this concept.

According to spelling, “sacred fear” and “scared fear” look similar. However, the fears described are different. Both are mentioned in scripture.

Sacred fear is a fear reserved for God who deserves our praise and worship. A person experiences awe and wonder when overcome with reverential fear.

Several Proverbs and a couple of quotes by John Bevere, help clarify the meaning of sacred fear. (or reverential fear)

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge. – Proverbs 1:7aNLT
Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. – Proverbs 9:10a NLT
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life. – Proverbs 14:27
The fear of the Lord is the beginning, or the starting place, of an intimate relationship with God.” – John Bevere
To fear God is to believe God. To believe God is to obey Him.” – John Bevere

Scared fear is a fear of man that causes anxiety and agitation. A person may become worried or panicky when feeling afraid.

The following scriptures reveal that scared fear can be overcome with sacred fear.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. – Proverbs 29:25
The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?Psalm 118:6 NLT
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self- discipline. –
II Timothy 1:7 NLT
The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?Psalm 27:1

Sacred fear of the Lord overpowers any scared fear of potential harm by another person. When we place a higher value upon God’s Word than man’s opinion, we turn our hearts to Him with reverential awe.

Hebrews 13:5 NLT says, “So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” To boldly and confidently declare this statement does not mean that bad things will never happen to us. But, it does give us courage during difficult times.

Scared fear is a force that opposes the spiritual force of sacred fear. While scared fear urges us to believe what is seen and doubt the unseen, sacred fear is the result of faith – believing what is not seen. (see Hebrews 11:1)

God knows we will encounter fear. He also promises to help us overcome our fears. We can cling to  Deuteronomy 31:8, “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

In conclusion, we can say that sacred fear reveres the Lord while scared fear dishonors Him.

John Bevere asks, “Are my actions influenced more by God or people?”
My answer is found in Psalm 56:11, “In God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?

What is your response?
If you are unsure of your answer, I encourage you to think about Isaiah 41:13, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Sacred fear is full of awe while scared fear is awful.