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Clean On The Inside

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

I am a person who likes to have her house clean. In fact, I can kind of get a little obsessed about cleaning it. Every month I deep clean the dishwasher. I scrub everything I can scrub and send it through a cycle with 2 cups of vinegar and then scrub it out again. I thought I was keeping it squeaky clean but it was only an illusion.

Last week while I was cleaning it I noticed that there was some gunk underneath the silverware holder and under the plastic grate at the bottom of the dishwasher. I try hard to scrub those things with a brush but for the past few months they weren’t getting really clean. And the dishes weren’t getting as clean either. Of course, my clean freak senses kick in and I start pulling things out for further inspection. I even got my husband involved which meant that the whole dishwasher got pulled apart.

Under the grate was gooey slime. In fact, this gooey slime was clogged in the drain which was backed up by a few toothpicks and a bit of napkin or paper towel. This goo was behind everything and in every nook and cranny of the sprayers. To say I gagging is an understatement. I was grossed out that I couldn’t even make dinner and forced my family to have leftovers.

This is only a little bit of the gooey stuff we pulled out of the dishwasher.

I soaked EVERYTHING in vinegar and then I scrubbed EVERYTHING with a brush. I used Q-tips to dig into places I couldn’t get. We even ran it through another cycle without the sprayers before deep cleaning it one last time. It. Was. Disgusting!!!!!!!!!!

I was so mortified that my dishwasher was this dirty and gross. Here I was thinking I was keeping my it clean when in fact, it was beyond dirty on the inside. It reminded me of these verses in Matthew. The Pharisees were very careful to make sure they looked good on the outside by showing how religious and moral they were. When in fact, their hearts were full of extortion and self-indulgence. God wanted them to make sure their hearts were clean through repentance and faith which would make their outward behavior and appearance acceptable.

We need to be careful about how we take care of our hearts. I know it is hard not to put more emphasis on outward appearances/personality so others accept us. God is more interested in who we are on the inside. This morning let us start to be more concerned with maintaining our hearts than keeping up appearances to be acceptable to those around us. Psalm 51:10 says, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” I pray that this will be your prayer this morning.

My dishwasher is now squeaky clean like in the first picture. Trust me when I say my poor husband may be required to take it apart once again so I can make sure it also stays squeaky clean on the inside.

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A Story About Tithing

“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Malachi 3:7-10

I came across this passage in Malachi that reminded me of a time in my life when we experienced God providing for our every need. Next to this passage in my bible is the date of October 16, 2001 with a note beside it saying, “Time for us to stop robbing God of His money. Take a leap in faith.”

I’ve shared this story a few times but always feel the need to share it again when I come across this passage during my yearly read through of the bible. I know many of you have already heard this story. In fact, several of you lived it out with us. I hope that it’ll encourage you to see tithing in a new perspective if you aren’t regularly doing so.

2000 to 2001 were life altering years for us. Our youngest was born in March of 2000. I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in August of 2000 and went through 6 months of treatment. My husband was laid off of his job of 5 years in May of 2001 only two months after I completed treatment. By the summer of 2001 we were trying to make ends meet on $900.00 a month from unemployment. All living expenses and unforeseen expenses had to come out of this money. It seemed impossible to meet all our needs.

On October 16th of that same year we heard a sermon on tithing and these verses were brought to our attention. We were never good at tithing and always made it the last check of the month to write out. If we didn’t have the money we didn’t tithe. Our pastor challenged us to tithe every month even if we didn’t have the money to do so. To take that leap of faith and see how God would take care of our needs. As frightening and impossible as it seemed to be we decided to take up the challenge.

Our needs were great and the unemployment check didn’t even cover our house payment let alone everything else. We did have many wonderful people help us along the way which really did keep us going and for which we’re so thankful for. But writing out the first check of the month to tithing before paying the bills was a scary thing to do. It didn’t make sense on paper. Yet, God stretched our $900.00 so that we were able to pay every bill and stay afloat for 14 months. Twice we were blessed with $1,000 in cash in the mail that was the exact amount we needed for those months. Who gave us $2,000 is still a mystery but God moved them to bless us with it.

You may think tithing is a way for the church to get your money and, yes, through tithing the staff is paid, the building is paid for and kept up and other ministries are supported. But in all reality, what we are given is from God and what He asks back is an act of obedience and a leap of faith. In doing so, He is showing us that He cares for us and does watch over ALL of our needs and we grow in ways we never expected.

To this day I can’t tell you how we ended up in a better position financially then before my husband lost his job. I have no clue how God worked it all out and I give Him all the glory for blessing us in so many ways. God cares for us and wants us to live the life He intended for us to live. Take the leap of faith by taking Him up on His offer to show you how He’ll provide for you when you make tithing a priority.

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Wandering from God

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I Peter 2:9

This fall I’m going through a bible study on Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. I came across something she said that made me stop and think, “When we wander from God, we will wonder who we are. And, when we wonder who we are, we will wander further from God to find out. We will wander off to other places and people to find our identity.”

In the book of Hosea we are at a point in the history of God’s people that they have yet again wandered away from Him. They have lost their identity in looking for it outside of God. Every time I read through the bible I keep on thinking how fickle these people are. WHY can’t they seem to stay away from following after the idols of other nations? WHY can’t they accept that God loves them so much that he saved them out of slavery and has called them His chosen people?

Why? Because they are human and bent on turning away from him just like I am.

I go through the same cycles as the Israelites. Some seasons I feel like I’m one with the Lord while other seasons I feel like there is a wall between us. We go through seasons. We take joy in walking on the mountain tops only to turn around to wallow in the muck in the valleys. It happen because we’re human and life can often be messy. The one thing I want to start learning to do is to identify when I start to fall into the valley quicker. I know when it happens and it happens just like Mrs. Rothschild says it happens, “When we wander from God, we will wonder who we are. And, when we wonder who we are, we will wander further from God to find out. We will wander off to other places and people to find our identity.”

As soon as I start to wander from God I do start to look for my identity in other places and people. When I do this life gets mucky. I feel my self-worth tank. I become depressed because I don’t feel like I can live up to what society thinks I need to be. The list is long but I’ll leave it at that because I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I think the key is to recognize the red flags of when we start to wander from God. I’ve been alive long enough to know what those flags look like but I’ll often ignore them thinking this little thing isn’t a big deal when in all reality it is and becomes a stumbling block.

The amazing thing about the God we serve is that He loves us and wants us to come back to Him. In every instance of the Israelite’s wandering there is also forgiveness and restoration. They suffered the consequences of their sins for sure but God was there to restore them when they turned back to Him.

Remember that God has called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Let us not put ourselves back into the darkness.

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He Knows Our Name

Have you ever felt like no one knew your name? That you were invisible to others?

I am more on the shy introverted side. It takes me a while to warm up and get to know people. I tend to hang back and observe before I jump into anything. When I was younger I struggled with being introverted which lead to social anxiety and depression. At times caused me to blend in and not have many friends. It didn’t help that I couldn’t establish roots at school when I changed schools 8 times for various reasons. By high school I had had enough and didn’t even attempt to make friends at the school I graduated from. I had a best friend and boyfriend so what else did I need? It still didn’t help the fact that I felt lonely, ate lunch alone and rarely talked to my fellow classmates. I do want to point out that this is not a poor reflection on them. They are wonderful people who probably didn’t know how to handle someone as shy as I was. One can’t make friends if one doesn’t talk to people right?

How thankful I am that the Lord knows me. I’ve never been invisible to Him. If He knows the stars by name I know without a doubt that He knows each and every one of us by name. Isaiah 43:1 says, “But now thus says the Lordhe who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'” Did you read that? God created you. You are HIS! You aren’t alone. You are wanted. You are needed. You have a purpose. You are loved!

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Trust God

This morning I read through Isaiah 36-37. Within these chapters we read about King Hezekiah. In Isaiah 36:1 we read that the King of Assyria, Sennacherib, attacked and captured all the fortified cities of Judah. He not only attacks these cities but he also sends his field commander to Hezekiah in order to tempt Hezekiah to despair as well as cause the people to revolt (verses 2-22).

How did Hezekiah respond? He went directly to the Lord (Isaiah 37:1-7).

Sennacherib doesn’t stop with trying to stir up the people and causing Hezekiah to despair. He continues by sending messengers to Hezekiah with blasphemous letters about not trusting God to defend and protect them like He said He would. He wanted them to be fearful of the powerful armies instead of trusting in God (verses 8-13).

How did Hezekiah respond? He went directly to the Lord again (verses 14-20).

When I read this story I am reminded about the times we live in today. So many people don’t know the Lord and work hard at making a mockery out of Him and how those who follow Him live. It can be discouraging to see sin praised and encouraged. It can be discouraging to be cut down for your faith. It can be discouraging to have people tell you they are accepting of all people, walks of life and beliefs only to not accept your faith because they hate Christianity. Apparently they aren’t accepting of all.

The good news is, we don’t have to listen to anyone but God. We also have a choice in how we respond. We can allow all these things to make us feel discouraged and bring us down emotionally and spiritually. Or we can be like Hezekiah and take what we are seeing, hearing, experiencing to God. Let God remind you that even though it may seem like the enemy is winning that God is the victor. He has given us the ability to stand strong and trust in Him alone (verses 21-35).

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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The Interest of Others

I have read through the book of Jonah since my Sunday School teacher taught about it when I was very young. Sometimes it is hard not to glean something new from this well known story. And yet . . . God can always show us something we haven’t focused on before . . .

Most of us know about Jonah’s story. How God told him to go and preach against the city of Nineveh. How Jonah chose to try to run away from God. While he was fleeing on a ship bound for Tarshish, the Lord caused a great storm to arise and cause fear in those on the ship. In the end, Jonah realized his disobedience was the cause of the storm and the only way to end it was for him to be thrown overboard. (Jonah 1)

We all know that a big fish swallowed Jonah where he stayed for three days and nights. We know that Jonah repented of his disobedience while in the belly of the fish and his prayer ended with this, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have owed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” The Lord chose to command the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land. (Jonah 2)

The Lord came to Jonah a second time and said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:1). This time Jonah did go, the king and all of Nineveh heard the message and repented. Unfortunately, this was not what Jonah wanted to see happen. He wanted them to be punished for their sins but the Lord showed compassion upon them and saved them from destruction. (Jonah 3)

At the end of this story we find Jonah sulking under a vine the Lord provided for him. It helped ease his discomfort from the heat and sun. The Lord also provided a worm that ate the vine so it withered and died. At this point Jonah starts to wallow in a misery of his own making and becomes angry with the Lord for killing off his only protection from the sun. (Jonah 4)

Here is how the conversation went between God and Jonah:

“When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live’” (verse 8).

“But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’

‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead'” (verse 9).

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'” (verses 10-11).

It amazes me that Jonah witnessed a miracle first hand. He was part of being used by God to save people from destruction. He learned a valuable lesson about obedience. Lived through being swallowed by a large fish. And yet, he throws himself a pity party because he didn’t get what he wanted. Jonah was more concerned about his precious vine than he was over a nation of people who didn’t know the Lord God. My study notes say, “Are the souls of men not worth as much as a vine?”

As I finished reading through this book I had to ask myself if I was more concerned about myself and material possessions than I am about those who are lost? There are so many things in this world that we can be concerned over that overshadow what we really should be concerned about. The Lord is more concerned about the lost than He is about our personal and material comfort.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

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Peace Amidst Stormy Weather

Last week I was able to spend five days on the Oregon coast celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary. Our first day there we woke up to the rain falling sideways in the wind. We bundled up in our warm rain gear to take a short walk on the beach. By the time we got back to our cabin we were soaking wet. Like everything we wore needed to be rung out. The next day we woke up to calmer weather. The rain had stopped, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds throughout the day and the temps had risen. We spent most of the day on the beach wandering through the tide pools.

Zechariah 10:1 says, “Ask the Lord for rain in the spring, for he makes the storm clouds. And he will send showers of rain so every field becomes a lush pasture.” It is the Lord who controls the weather. It is He who knows how important it is for storms to blow into our lives. The winds make us stronger as we push forward into them. The rain soaks us to replenish us. It does this so that we can face the bright sunshine of a new and beautiful day a stronger person. A person who has weathered the storm while leaning on the true anchor – their Lord God.

This quote reminded me of the stormy day we spent on the beach: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is not noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”