Welcome to Rice Memorial
Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Becky's Blog

July 2022
 

"It’s About Resuscitation NOT Recitation"

Psalm 119:111 “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

So, how is that we think the “hiding” process takes place?  I suspect your immediate mental response was “Memorize it”.  You wouldn’t be entirely wrong but what we tend to do is see it as a solo mission, not realizing that it’s a partnership process – us and God and we are just asked to show up!  As with all things designed to help us, our flesh and our spiritual enemy seeks to make it harder than it’s meant to be.  Don’t we envy those individuals who can recite verse after verse, perhaps entire chapters, from memory?  We think, “What a super Christian he/she must be”.   Maybe, maybe not.  I would point out that our enemy, Satan, can quote more Scripture than most Christians.  In fact, the enemy would love for us to see God’s Word only in the context of a one word following another in a string of sentences.    

There’s no intent here to minimize those who have the wonderful capability of easy memorization, but it really is a precious few who can both memorize and recall long term what they’ve memorized.  Most of us are lucky to retain something memorized for a brief period and then it seems to come apart at the edges when recall is attempted at some later point in time.  However, God’s living Word is different.  He never intended for the burden to be on us – His Word is designed to do all the heavy lifting. 

Over the years, along with a number of individual verses, I memorized both Psalm 73 and Psalm 139 in their entirety.  Sounds impressive but here’s the thing, if I was asked to recite either one of those Psalms right now from memory, it won’t happen.  I mean, I’m not even sure if I would make it through the first verse!  As I acknowledge that, I am still thankful that I made the effort as while I can no longer recite these passages – or even some of the individual verses memorized - word for word, their message is now part of me. How do I know that if I can’t recite them anymore?  Because if you ask me to tell you about what they promise or mean to me, I’m all over that.  Also, I can be in the middle of a situation or conversation and the message of those verses will come to my mind.   It may be just a phrase or a sentence, but something wondrous happens.  I inexplicably find my perspective steadied with wisdom on what to do or say.  Another unexpected blessing is that when the verse or verses are referenced, perhaps in a conversation or a sermon, I am surprised by how much of the actual verbiage does come into my mind, not reluctantly but confidently.  I find myself feeling excited, like a best friend has come to visit.  I realized that just because I can’t remember God’s Word exactly doesn’t stop God’s Word from remembering me.  That’s the living nature of God’s Word!  

So, what have I learned recently from the Holy Spirit as I’ve thought about this?  The critical aspect of hiding God’s word in our heart is not about recitation but resuscitation!  To recite something is to repeat it but to resuscitate something is to see it brought to life!  Isn’t that what God’s Word is all about – speaking life?  The power in God’s Word doesn’t come from being able to recite it word for word but from having sought it out, leaned into it, wrestled with it, and, where led, memorized it because a transformative thought or promise has been personally experienced.  We need to stop worrying about not knowing the exact order of the words but, instead, look for what the Word wants to say to us.  Hebrews 4:12 promises that the Word of God is living and powerful.  God doesn’t intend that power to be hoarded or withheld from us and that power isn’t predicated on our ability to first recite His Word in the right order for it to work.  His Word is always working and waiting to share God’s heart so that we can better know His faithfulness and unfailing love! 

Think about this.  Are we compelled to memorize what friends and family say to us so we can repeat it just as it was said?  No, of course not, but in the interaction with them – talking and listening – those conversations are etched into our memories and will come to mind as needed.  If the Lord would create our brains to handle that, how much more so when it comes to interacting with His Word? 

So, let’s take the leap and include memorization as part of our study of God’s Word; but, let go of the burden of recitation.  That’s thinking too small for what God has planned and, frankly, empty, if the words are just being repeated in a certain order without any thought as to what those words are saying to us.  Memorizing Scripture isn’t different than any other good thing – it comes from God (James 1:17).  For our part, we are to trust that the Helper dwelling within us will take care of hiding what we study & learn of and from God’s Word nice and tight in our hearts. 

It's time to say goodbye to recitation and instead, bid welcome to the promised resuscitation of immeasurable wisdom, love, truth, hope, peace, and so much more that God’s Word has designed for each of us!

===============================================================================================================================================

 
June 2022
 
"Investing In Faith Always Promises Great Returns!"
 
Jer. 32:17 “Ah, LORD God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched
arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”
 
While investing for future wealth these days requires nerves of steel, that’s nothing compared to the risky future
investment Jeremiah was directed by God to make. Chapter 32 of what Jeremiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write
of his earthly life opens telling of his imprisonment in the palace because King Zedekiah was tired of hearing the
prophesy about Judah’s coming downfall due to their disobedience. As Jeremiah waits to hear from the Lord, he gets
another command. Picture the scene: he’s hated by his people, imprisoned by the king, the city is surrounded, starving
because of the siege by the enemy nation he’s spent years telling everyone from slave to king is chosen by God to take
them all captive and … now, buy some property in the land being given to said enemy nation (v. 6-10). Say what – real
estate investment now, when a 70 year captivity is on the schedule? Ok, that would be my response but thankfully, he
handles it in a way that becomes an example of faithfulness from which we can all greatly benefit. He obeys but goes on
to write of his struggle in doing so (v. 24-25). Jeremiah then put the deed to the land he purchased in a vessel for
safekeeping recognizing that it had value only because of the One He trusted to be faithful to the promise made of
restoration for God’s people and their land. (v. 42-44)
 
An important principle that can’t be overlooked is that he took his struggle to God – he didn’t let it fester within, he
didn’t complain about it or grumble/murmur to others. Because of that, he was blessed and encouraged by God’s loving
encouragement (v. 26-27). God wasn’t angry or disappointed that Jeremiah struggled in his faith; He provided the
strength, hope and affirmation that Jeremiah needed to persevere. It is convicting to me how much I still have to learn
about the importance of going to God not only first but expectant of His help with the struggles of this earthly life.
 
“Invest” is one of those words that has a little known meaning other than for what it is commonly used. The first thing
that comes to mind is the common use: “to put money into business, stocks, bonds, etc., for the purpose of obtaining a
profit”. However, the primary Latin word from which it comes means “to clothe or array, cover or surround as with a
garment.” Think of references in some denominations to “vestments” that are worn by church officials. Imagine if we
determined to invest (clothe, cover and surround) our priorities, choices, decisions with a trusting faith, steadfastly
holding to the belief that there is nothing too hard for God or outside His plan that is promised for our good.
 
Something we must never forget - humanity was under siege of death. It was hopeless, we were surrounded and
captive to the enemy who planned complete destruction for us. However, in that dark and what appeared to be
hopeless time, a purchase was made at great cost so that we, too, now have a deed held in safekeeping. One that is
priceless and carries the greatest investment of all time. We are now clothed and arrayed with unfailing and
unconditional love from a perfect Savior that purchased the greatest deed of all – that of eternal forgiveness from the
penalty/punishment of our sin.
 
Because we currently live in a fallen and broken world, there are times in our earthly life - perhaps a time for some right
now - where siege mounds of sorrow and trouble surround us. The enemy, with help from our flesh, is ever ready to
cause us to doubt God’s sovereign control, His goodness, loving faithfulness and unstoppable sufficiency. That doubt
looks to imprison and take us captive because deliverance looks hopeless, at best, or impossible, at worst. Is the grave
situation we face beyond any human effort to resolve? Is the hole we dug for ourselves too deep for rescue? What
would be our response to the prompting at that moment to invest faith further in a way that seems completely
contradictory to the current circumstances? Are we ready to follow the example set by Jeremiah - first praise God,
follow it with obedience while humbly and trustingly opening our hearts to Him, believing wholeheartedly that what is
waiting for us is comfort, hope, strength to persevere and peace to trust the One who holds the outcome just as firmly
as He does our deed of eternal life?
 
Our wondrous and faithful God is calling us to trust, believe and invest in our faith, daily – or even hourly, if need be. It’s
okay if that faith has a little unsteadiness because He’s ready and waiting to encourage and comfort now with that same
promise to us that He made to Jeremiah – nothing is too hard for Him.
 
==========================================================
 
May 2022
 
"Choose Truth"
 
Prov. 8:1-4 “Listen as Wisdom calls out!  Her understanding raises her voice!  On the hilltop along the road, she takes her stand at the crossroads.  By the gates at the entrance to the town, on the road leading in, she cries aloud, I call to you, to all of you!
 
Covid-19 continues to lurk behind every corner, grocery shelves are dusty and bare, workers are nowhere to be found, billions rerouted for international aid to war torn countries while recession knocks on our country’s door, the stock market is crashing, women’s healthcare is about to fall off the edge of a cliff, a kingdom for a can of baby formula.  Sound familiar?  Because of the worldly news media and spiritual darkness of hardened hearts, headlines pointing at those issues are bombarding us every day - along the road, at the town gates, and in our homes.  If words could have volume, the decibel level would risk deafness.  Given the message, that might not be a bad thing.  
 
In recent study of God’s Word, the promise of something better, something stronger and true called to me.  As I studied and prayed, I was convicted that if I was to focus my attention not on what is temporary but what is true,  it had to start with seeking the discipline to hear the voice of Wisdom.   Proverbs 8 in entirety is a fantastic remedy to gain the proper balance when it comes to the yelling of the current topics grabbing headlines and news sound bites vying for not just my attention but my agreement as well.   While being written thousands of years ago, there’s nothing about the verses above – or those in the entire chapter - that exempts applying them to handling present adversities.  Wisdom is waiting to remind us of the  promise that God remains sovereignly in control, a critical message because it is so relevant.  
 
An important disclaimer is needed.  We should not be unaware of what is transpiring in this world around us.  In fact, we are called to be aware so that we can be praying and serving where God assigns us to be salt and light.  Remember, in John 17, Jesus prayed for us to be both protected and engaged.  It is another great chapter to read for yourself to take heart about the prayer of our Savior to the Most High God that covers us today.  That intercessory prayer by Jesus for us is as living and strong today as it was then and no local, national or world event has any authority to push it aside.
 
Our generation is not the first to experience being bombarded by negativity.  Granted, there may not have been formal media, the internet or cable TV but there have always been those that love to pass along bad news – it may have come by scroll or donkey in those Biblical days but it still reached the destination of people’s thoughts and lives.  Pictures from God’s Word comes to mind – Daniel on his knees three times a day, King Hezekiah laying out an enemy letter before the Temple altar that promised his demise and that of the nation he ruled, Mary huddling at the feet of Jesus.  What were they doing?  They were determined to find and heed wisdom – to know what was true and not be deceived by what might have been loud or “in their face” demanding validity.  We have to remember that as well.  Saying something over and over or saying it loudly does not make it wise or true.  Truth belongs to only one source, God.  The more we know what He says, the more readily we will respond to wisdom pointing us to what is true.
 
Finally, wisdom doesn’t want to just hear from us on what we would call the big life decisions – what job should I take, what house should I buy, how am I going to forgive something deeply wounding?  Yes, wisdom stands at the ready through God’s Word to help us deal with those matters.  However, wisdom is also ready to hear from us about a struggle that no one else would find important, a fear that seems silly to have, or a bothersome question that keeps circling.  Wisdom cries out in welcome to us because she is working at the direction of our Savior, one of the guards of the heavenly realm that He has authorized to be a lamp unto our path here on earth as we look to trust and live out God’s Word in dark times.   
 
Go ahead –  watch the news, check your phone, your feed or your profile.  As you look at what the world has decided to present as today’s attention grabber, you have ready access every minute to something better - the truth.   Truth that God remains on His throne and in control with a plan that promises good for those that love Him.  Nothing is going to undo that truth, ever.  So, as today’s adversities may assault our eyes and ears, try King Hezekiah’s plan (2 Kings 19) and lay them before God and watch wisdom go to work.   It’s a choice that won’t ever disappoint!   

 

 

 

April 2022

"Deep Calling Deep"

Neh. 2:5 “And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you
send me to Judah, to the city of my father’s tombs that I may rebuild it.’”
 
In the book of Nehemiah, Chapter 1, we are introduced to a man clearly in a “comfort zone”. Nehemiah was in a high ranking position serving the king of Persia and well thought of in the court. However, when he had an opportunity to speak with one of his fellow Israelites who had returned from Jerusalem, Nehemiah chose to ask a hard question about his homeland. On hearing the answer, he was deeply grieved, acknowledging not just his nation’s disobedience to God but his as well. Chapter 1 goes on to describe a journey in repentance that we could all learn from today! Chapter 2 opens with evidence the grief and sorrow impacted Nehemiah in such a way that it couldn’t be ignored, leading the king to ask what was wrong (vs 4). When Nehemiah told him, the king asked him a critical question: “What do you request?”
 
As I think about that question, I wonder what my response would have been. Would I have been too intimidated by the one asking to answer honestly? Or, would I have been too selfish to put myself out there like Nehemiah did, first asking a hard question, letting the answer settle deeply so that an honest self-examination was triggered and accepting that it was time to walk away from the comfort zone. How easy it would have been for Nehemiah to have asked the king to
send others. He could have remained where he was in the castle away from the unpleasantness yet feel justified he had done something. The next sentence in verse 4 reads so quickly, yet carries so much power: “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” I ask myself, prayed what? Did he already know from his time spent repenting and praying “day and night” as we were told in Chapter 1 that he had to take the lead on this endeavor, this labor of love, personally? Or, was it at that moment, between the words spoken to the king and the few heartbeats that passed when he silently raced back to God’s presence that he knew then to utter the words in the verse above: “Send me”. Think about it, with one letter added – send men – what an opportunity would have been missed to be part of an amazing rebuilding project – physical and spiritual! Read all about it for yourself in the book of Nehemiah. It’s such an inspiring account of God’s faithfulness.
 
Jump forward to the present day. If we are asked, “What do you request?”, what would be our response? Are we quick to look at the surface aspects of life rather than go deep, prompted by the hard questions that God’s Word and Spirit have waiting to guide us to ponder, especially in the circumstances that may grieve us. A more challenging question to consider – are we willing to be grieved, especially over what grieves God. If you haven’t figured it out already, our flesh
willingly conspires daily with agents of our eternal enemy, Satan, to distract us from being grieved in our spirit, especially to the point of repentance and sacrificial service for God’s kingdom work.
 
What could happen to our spiritual maturity if we think deliberately and intentionally about our earthly lives, willing to go deep and ask the questions that will open opportunities to repent and be courageous to step outside what we know as our comfort zone? What if we approach each day with an intentional ‘send me’ perspective, desiring to stop drifting through our lives, comfortable, unaware and uninterested in what is really happening around us.
 
Rest assured, friends, these are questions that I, too, have been remiss in asking myself. Thankfully, God’s Word patiently and lovingly waits for us to start asking and rejoices when we do! Here’s my prayer for all of God’s children after pondering this passage. Let us hunger to ask the hard questions, welcome the truth, even if – especially if – it requires repentance. Let us ask to be ‘sent’. Let us be aware that we are on mission to rebuild and restore.
 
In closing, don’t let fear stop you from that deep dive. Psalm 42:7 speaks about the power of God’s merciful presence in the examination process in such a beautiful way. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” It’s time to get out of the shallow end of our faith so we are ready for the amazing opportunities to experience God’s faithfulness. Deep calls to deep and indescribable beauty is waiting to be discovered.

 

 

March 2022

"Not About Excess But Access"

Ecc. 2:26 “For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight, but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting that he may give to him who is good before God.  This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

At some point, have you had that conversation with God – you know the one that goes like this: “Lord, if You would increase my financial resources, I know I would be happier and be better equipped to tithe and tithe BIG.”  As I type that, it almost reads like a pre-lotto purchase prayer.  It certainly sounds noble and devout though, doesn’t it?  What we don’t recognize is the lie that quietly but alertly awaits activation – the ultimate “ransomware”.  The lie that not only cleverly disguises the truth about the work and the doubt – yes, doubt – that would quickly spring up in our lives should our resources exponentially increase; but also the fact that peace we were sure awaited would become more elusive than it was before.  Don’t think so?  Take a journey through the book of Ecclesiastes to get a “behind the scenes” look at wealth beyond what most of us would even think of desiring.   Solomon, the wisest and richest ruler that ever lived, decided he would go after every way that existed to understand and experience his wealth.   

Solomon uses the word “vanity” over and over throughout Ecclesiastes to describe what he learns about his earthly wealth, including the verse referenced above.  The same Hebrew word is used for every instance that vanity is referenced by Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  The meaning of that word is to be led astray by something found to be transitory and empty.  Today’s culture first softened the true message behind vanity and is now trying to erase it altogether given how both advertising and social media has created a frightening new realm that encourages, and actually requires, vanity in nuclear sized doses telling us the good life can only be found if it involves bigger, better, more.   

Over all the time Solomon spent in his quest thinking that excess would at some point become meaningful, he saw people that, while they had so much less than he did, had the peace that eluded him.   The more he sought happiness through wealth, he found just the opposite.  Along with that, all those employed and engaged to help in all his properties and possessions were being blessed by God through all his “work of gathering and collecting”.  

When all was said and done, the conclusion of the account of Solomon’s search for the meaning of wealth is found with these words in Ecc. 12:13-14 “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  After taking advantage of every pleasure of life, every resource at his disposal – nothing held back - Solomon recognized it was not in bigger and better that meaning and value existed, but quite the opposite - to make oneself small and humble, revering and obeying God. 

Please understand, there’s no intent here to say that wealth is evil or wrong.  There are many people of great wealth that without question are gifted by God to mightily bless the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth through financial means.  What would be found as the common denominator of those individuals is they aren’t living in pursuit of wealth by earthly standards.  They humbly and reverently fear the Lord, as described by Solomon, obedient as good and faithful stewards and God loves to abundantly bless and use those of His children that are found faithful.  They have asked for and accepted the most important principle of wealth.  It is planted and eternally rooted in the most priceless treasure of all – salvation through accepting that the Blood of Jesus Christ was shed on the cross for our sins.  Sins so great, not even an earthly wealth equal to that of Solomon would prevent the eternal condemnation appointed for us.  How much time have we all wasted by being confused about where true peace can be found?  Stop gathering & collecting.  Get that malicious  “ransomware” eliminated forever!  God, in His infinite mercy, has made it so very simple and available to all – those with much and those with less.   We are all equally in need of and welcomed by Christ.

One last thought.  Keep in mind that all physical trappings of this life will be left behind.  Regardless of what the world would try to persuade, anything of this world is not, never will, nor would we want it to be, ours.  We are just a temporary steward.  It is very easy to attach the wrong pronoun when considering our time here on earth.  When we use the correct one – HIS – things shift into the right and true perspective leading to truth and peace.  As is promised in Matt. 6:33, with the right access – Jesus – all else falls into place.  Peace is not about excess but about Access!  

====================================================================================================================================================

February 7, 2022

"Delay Me, Delay Me Not"
 
Genesis 24:56 “But he said, “Don’t delay me.  The LORD has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master.”
 
The verse above is an exchange between a servant of Abraham sent to fetch a wife for Isaac and Laban, the brother of Rebekah, the wife chosen by God.  The servant had already spent the night after arriving and identifying Rebekah as God’s choice and he was ready to get back on the road the following day; however, Rebekah’s brother and mother tried to convince him to wait another 10 days.  While their reasoning certainly would evoke sympathy, Abraham’s servant was steadfast about seeing it for what it was – a delay of his obedience and he refused to be distracted or put off course from honoring his master’s directive, the key of which involved, not the trip itself, but his return with Isaac’s bride.    
 
As I pondered that exchange, the Holy Spirit guided me to see how the simplicity of his response held a wealth of wisdom for us today.  When it comes to our obedience, we don’t have to guess what it should look like.  We have His Word and His Spirit that are laser focused on always teaching and preparing us to recognize (1) What we are to look for; (2) What we are to participate/engage in and (3) What we are to avoid.
 
What we are to look for:  God’s direction and faithfulness.  Abraham was very clear to his servant on the reason for his journey and his servant had given a solemn oath that he would follow Abraham’s directions (Gen. 24:9).  He set out with a caravan of gifts for a yet unknown party, identified only as his master’s “family”.  There are no Biblical details about how long the journey took, just that it was “distant”.  Trying to keep a bunch of camels loaded down and moving would probably make a few miles seem like a distance but a 1983 article in the NY Times titled Footsteps of Abraham by Malachi Martin indicated it was 2000 miles between where Abraham and Isaac were and where his family, from which a bride was to be sought, lived.  That is indeed “distant”, even by car or plane, let alone camel.  Some of the terrain would have been very difficult and dangerous, especially traveling with camels loaded down with expensive items.  
Relevance Today: Are we willing to take what God, our Master, gives us by way of information about an opportunity for obedience and stay the course, despite the missing details that would give us greater comfort, time it will take, or the hardships that present themselves along the way? 
 
What we are to participate/engage in:  Dependence on and testimony of God’s faithfulness.  Finally, arriving at the location where Abraham had told him to go, the first thing the servant did was pray for guidance and it was a pretty specific prayer (Gen. 24:13-14).  Determination will do that, won’t it?  When something is important to us, we can be quite specific on how we look for it to come about.  I have always been so encouraged by the beginning of verse 15 “Before he had finished praying…”  which began the amazing account of God’s faithfulness.  When it was revealed that God had already prepared an answer to his prayer and he was taken to Abraham’s brothers’ family home, he wouldn’t even accept anything to eat until he could give the full account of God’s faithfulness (Gen. 24:33-48).  
Relevance Today: When was the last time you couldn’t wait to tell everyone you talked to about how you experienced God’s faithfulness in a real and specific way?
 
What we are to avoid: Delayed obedience to God’s directives.   Notice there was nothing in the oath taken by the servant about how long the trip would take – just the outcome expected.  Wouldn’t that have been a convenient loophole for the servant to utilize to stay with Rebekah’s family and enjoy 10 more days of being fed and catered to as they had offered?  Especially as he had just traveled 2000 miles and it wasn’t going to be any less for the return trip!  What was it that kept him ready to make that return trip as soon as possible, even with the probable hardships?  It was love for his master and joy at being able to honor him with a successful mission.  He couldn’t wait to get back to see Abraham and Isaac share his joy at how God had again been abundantly faithful.  
Relevance Today: What’s our motivation for obedience to God without delay, regardless of the cost to our comfort and convenience?  When was the last time, if ever, that motivation was solely to bring joy to God and others? 
 
While Scripture doesn’t give the name of this servant, he’s now on my list of folks I want to track down for lunch in Heaven to hear first-hand about that 4000 round trip dose of steadfast obedience to and complete dependence on an ever-faithful God.  I hope to follow his example when tempted to give my convenience an equal place to obedience of God’s directive(s) with the response: “Delay me? NOT!”
 
===================================================================================================================================================
 

January 3, 2022

"A Resolution Like No Other!"
 
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
 
Here we are - the beginning of a new year. As each new year begins, there are many intentions, plans, resolutions, goals; hopes that we would like to believe the new year will magically endow with a strength that no other time of the year will match. January 1 – it’s like there’s some sort of golden aura that surrounds that date. I’m not pointing any fingers as I certainly count myself among that group. I already have my goals written out and can’t help but feel more hopeful
about them than I did on the last day of December. Only one day difference between 12/31 and 1/1 and yet it’s as if a new strength and purpose somehow has presented itself in that short gap. It’s not long before we find out differently. Because, at the core, we – sinful humanity that we are – lack what is needed in and of ourselves to bring about something “new”. What is it that Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:9 - “That which has been is what will be. That which is done is what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun.” Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story!
 
Rest assured, there’s no intent here to suggest we do away with goals and resolutions; they serve a valuable role to keep us learning and growing. A key definition of the word resolution is “a thing determined upon; a decision as to future action” and similarly, the word goal is defined as “an end that one strives to attain”. Efforts associated to both of these are good and purposeful. However, they are also quickly aged and easily discarded if not viewed with the right lens. Again, I confess to be numbered among those who have been determined to climb to the summit of success with
goal(s) at the start of the year only to rationalize as the year progresses that stopping at lower base camps can be an acceptable alternative.
 
As the ink from writing out my 2022 goals was drying, I opened God’s Word. Knowing God’s Word is living and powerful and not to be taken casually or lightly, I had asked the Lord that the Holy Spirit stop me where ever I needed to be stopped. So, on January 1, as I turn the pages to Genesis 1:1 and read “In the beginning…”, I experience a stirring from the Holy Spirit to stop for prayer. What? The first three words of the entire Bible required my full attention? A phrase that is so familiar to me that I don’t even think twice about…… Well, that was certainly quick (and humbling).
 
As I sat quietly, pondering and praying, the Holy Spirit brought to mind the contrast between how we so narrowly view “beginning” and what the “beginning” truly is. The idea of beginning a new year is nothing compared to what His Word tells us of the very first beginning that introduces us to a decision (resolution) that was perfectly designed, executed and fully complete with no delays, restarts, compromises, excuses or mistakes. It can never be undone, repeated or exceeded. It was a beginning that now “is” and “will be” a means of grace, hope, promise, expectancy, strength and purpose for every single day, regardless of where it falls on the calendar! To be clear, the fourth word in that very first sentence is key – GOD. Without Him, the first three words wouldn’t carry the hope and truth that they do. God doesn’t need new year after new year to try again. What He planned, started and finished was complete and perfect as soon as He spoke it into existence. My life and your life was part of that perfect beginning. Not that we’re perfect but we are perfectly loved from that beginning and into eternity because, as John 1:1 promises, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Jesus and His redemption resolution was front and center “in the beginning”.
 
So, let’s keep – or perhaps, start – making resolutions and/or goals and feel free to put aside those calendars, or at least the perspective that we are bound by them. They don’t hold any special power. No matter what day it is, what year it is, God’s resolution promise from the beginning of love and redemption is perfect and complete – unchanging and as strong now as it was on the day He created and spoke it into existence. Let’s be bold and brave as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance as to what God has already designed as the resolutions and goals for each of us to glorify and honor Him (Jer. 33:3;Eph. 3:20). We will be blessed to witness how they will all fit together perfectly to be of service to His Kingdom. That’s the lens through which they are designed to succeed. Why? Because we are created in the likeness of He who “in the beginning” authored and completed the most wondrous resolution that can ever exist – one that serves as the bedrock of why our resolutions and goals are possible every day!
 
“In the beginning, God..” – a resolution like no other, indeed! Is it any wonder that the heavenly realms sing His praises for all eternity? Let’s design and pursue our resolutions and goals to join them, shall we?
 

 ==================================================================================================================================================

November 8, 2021

John 16:9 “The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in Me.”   (NLT translation)

"The Root of the Matter"

For being so short, I found the verse has a huge dose of powerful truth.  During a recent time of study, the Holy Spirit didn’t let me rush past as was my first intent.  At first, I was resistant to ponder, thinking “I know this, Lord.  It’s Christianity 101.  Surely there’s nothing new here.”  I’m so very thankful for God’s mercy and grace when confronted by my certainty that I’ve “arrived” when it comes to any part of His Word.  As I slowed down to read it carefully, pray over it and then let it be the primary focus of my journal entry for that day, the Holy Spirit revealed to me how I had become careless in my perspective of unbelief. 

We use the term “unbelievers” casually when, instead, it should generate great sorrow in our hearts for those that do not believe.  How much more comfortable is it to think of the contrast of “believer” versus “non-believer” in the same way that we would think of any other contrast of opposites: light versus dark, sour versus sweet, up versus down, wet versus dry – you get the pattern.  It certainly makes it more palatable to think of it in terms of just being another either/or factor, doesn’t it?  However, this is eternity we are talking about when considering the contrast between “believer” and “unbeliever”.  It’s a difference that will lead to either spending eternity with Jesus honoring and celebrating God, forever delivered from our sin in perfect peace, or spending eternity separated from Jesus and God, tormented and devoid of peace in any way as the sin of their unbelief comes to bear in full measure.  I was convicted that I had become desensitized to the awfulness of that contrast. 

In addition to the desensitization aspect, I realized how easy it had become to associate sin to actions that people take when the truth is far deeper and far more dangerous.  There’s a tendency to be distracted by trying to deal with something that is on the surface rather than addressing the source.  Yes, the actions we see may be sinful but seeking to change the action is the wrong focus.  Addressing the source requires an investment of time, attention and humility.   As I thought about that, a memory was brought forward of a few years back when there was a particularly ugly weed in my yard.  I didn’t want it there so initially I dealt with what I could see.  The stalk was very tall and thick and I cut it down to the soil level.  Within days, growth of the weed was well underway again.  I realized that there was a root somewhere that wasn’t deterred at all by my surface efforts and if I wanted the plant gone, I had to find the root.  It took me the better part of an afternoon and some serious digging up of my yard to locate it.  I was amazed at how well entrenched it was but once that root was gone, that weed was as well.  In the same way, Jesus points out that sinful behavior, no matter what it is, has a root and that root is unbelief in Him.  When the unbelief is changed, the behavior follows suit.  Our role as believers is not to change unbelief to belief – that’s only done through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit.   However, knowing as much truth as possible about sin’s agenda is a powerful tool in being able to be used by God in the process, should He so choose to do so. 

As the Holy Spirit was generous in helping me to further realize, being a believer doesn’t guaranty that unbelief won’t find some available “yard” in this earthly life. Yes, I know Jesus as my Savior and Lord but I still live in the presence of sin and this earthly flesh which is all too ready to doubt and be deceived about God’s goodness, His faithfulness and sovereignty.  Our enemy is also relentless to identify weak or blind spots in our lives to try to steal our joy and interrupt our fellowship with God and what better way to do that than with a suggestion of doubt about God’s love and forgiveness in one area or another?  God tells us to be on guard (see Proverbs 4:23) – an active process that means constantly joining the Holy Spirit in examining our lives through Scripture and prayer, looking for where unbelief has crept in somewhere.  That weed I mentioned earlier didn’t just shoot out of the ground overnight to the height of about 3 feet.  It had been growing for some time, I just hadn’t been paying enough attention to that part of the yard to realize it was there until it had grown quite large. 

So, brothers & sisters, how appropriate that we are in the Thanksgiving season!  Please join me in praising God with heartfelt thanks that we know Jesus is the root of our belief.  Let that thankfulness quicken us to continue to pray fervently for those God puts on our heart that remain under the bondage of unbelief.  Let’s be thankful always that we have the means to not be distracted by what we see but hold fast to what the Bible teaches is true.  Finally, be thankful that with the Holy Spirit always on guard against the presence and danger of unbelief taking root and growing unbeknownst in our lives, we are guided to claim the promise of what Scripture teaches in Mark 9:24 “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, Lord I believe; help my unbelief”.     AMEN!!!!

=================================================================================================================================================== 

JULY 21, 2021

Jeremiah 10:19 > Woe is me for my heart and my wound is severe.  But I say, ‘Truly this is an infirmity and I must bear it.’

“The Woe and the Wound in the Waiting”

Who loves to wait?  If you said “I do”, sorry, I am going to flag a foul on that play.   I doubt anyone, who, if asked where waiting is on their list of things desired or hoped for, would even have considered it.  No judgment here – I’m right with you in experiencing an aversion to waiting.  We are impatient by nature, made even more so by the conveniences of today where we’ve been groomed to expect an instantaneous response or use of an app that has whatever we need ordered and waiting on us, not the other way around.  Yes, there is a waiting that comes into play for things like a trip, a gift or perhaps a gathering and in that waiting, we experience pleasure and excitement.  However, it seems like that kind of waiting is pretty much attached to our efforts and actions, quickly comes and goes and usually deals with the temporary aspects of life, doesn’t it?  Not much learned and quickly forgotten.

What about waiting that is attached to fervent prayers lifted up day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year – perhaps decade after decade – knowing that what it is we are waiting for is beyond our control and completely dependent on God?  Jeremiah describes it very specifically in the verse above - a woe and a wound.  Woe is not a common word used anymore but for being only three letters long, it has a lot of meaning.  It means great sorrow, grief or trouble.  A woe that lingers, that is deeply experienced, could become a wound.  You know, those questions that start to creep in – why isn’t something happening, does God even care, how much longer will this go on?  Those are just a few of the common ones.  It’s hard to acknowledge and accept that we are now waiting on God’s purpose with a timetable that doesn’t have our comfort and convenience as a determining factor for duration or scope.  There’s always a temptation, especially one of self-preservation, to put down or walk away from a woeful burden that can’t be quickly removed so as to avoid being uncomfortable or inconvenienced.  In giving in to that temptation, are we also walking away from spiritual maturity and growth that far exceeds the growth we expect to occur from attending church regularly, reading our Bible, doing good deeds and the like?  All good things, yes, but perhaps not the best things.

As I read Jeremiah’s statement, I felt such kinship with him as there’s a particular need that I’ve been praying about for 20 years.  Some times more fervently than others, admittedly; but it is still a prayer that, to my limited human understanding, remains unanswered.  I can definitely relate to the “woe” aspect as there have been innumerable times where I have cried tears of grief over the situation, one such time lasting several hours – an entire sleepless night weeping and mourning and yes, questioning God why it has to be the way it is.  In the end, as Jeremiah did, I  acknowledged that God’s faithfulness and timing is perfect and He would provide the strength needed to continue the wait.  There’s no question in my mind that this prayerful waiting has brought about spiritual maturity for me in ways that nothing else would have as I am drawn back to Him in prayer over and over again.  

I suspect anyone reading this has had, are currently having, or will have a time of waiting with a woe that involves prayer after prayer - sometimes just silence at God’s feet because the words won’t come or don’t even seem to exist.  It’s so important to remember that we are never in that waiting alone, though our enemy would try to deceive us otherwise.  Emmanuel, God with us, is loving, transforming and preparing both the one praying and what is awaiting revelation of His intervention.  God is also prompting so many others to join us in our prayers.  I love the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and my favorite scene is at the very beginning when as the scenes of a town are shown, prayer after prayer is heard being lifted up to God by people all over town in concern for a man named George Bailey.  That’s how I picture the church praying for one another and I can’t wait for the accounts in heaven for all the times that happened.

So, dear friends, don’t give up or give in to the temptation to lay aside the burden of woe that may be assigned to you.  Thank you for taking on the sacred burden of waiting and faithfully lifting up prayers over and over.  The church is stronger for your faithful and sacrificial obedience.  I’ve heard it said that who we become in the times of waiting is as important, perhaps more so, than what it is we are waiting for.  May what we become as we wait bring honor and glory to God and God alone.  As we pray for the burdens in our care, and come alongside others doing the same, may God mercifully grant us the strength needed to be steadfast and stay the course as we follow in the footsteps of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore the greatest woe of all – the penalty of our sin.  
 

Author:  Becky Ely can be contacted at RLELYY@AOL.COM

 ===================================================================================================================================================

MARCH 26, 2021

"Tithing = Celebration?"   It’s a promise from God and He never breaks a promise!

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” 

So, how many of you reading that verse found in 1 Cor. 9:7 winced just a little or maybe a lot?  It’s those last 2 words, isn’t it?  “Cheerful giver”.  Almost seems like it expects too much commitment to the process.  Trust me, I am not throwing any stones here – there have been many times over the years that I played with this phrase like the lawyer in Luke 10 who toyed with the idea of just who is a neighbor?  You know, how cheerful does cheerful need to be, really? 

I had such an amazing shift in my understanding when it comes to the aspect of tithing recently as I was studying Deuteronomy in my quiet time with the Lord.  I will admit that tithing had become something that I did as part of paying my bills and I had become rather pleased with myself that I was obeying the Lord so faithfully.  Who would have thought there was more to this than an act of obedience?  I thought that was pretty big, actually.  Oh, dear friends, I should have known that when it comes to God, there’s always so much more!

“You shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the Lord your God is giving you and put it in a basket….And you shall go the one who is priest in those days and say to him ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us’.  Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.  And you shall answer and say….”   Deuteronomy. 26:2-5

“Say…..” what?   I encourage you to read for yourself through to verse 11.  The detailed description of God’s amazing faithfulness in verses 5-9 that the individual was to give voice to reveal quite decisively that what was in hand was nothing compared to what God was recounted to have done for them.  Verse 11 even goes on to say that a celebration is expected to follow.   Suffice it to say, NOT the usual course of events in our time.

As I read and prayed through those verses, I saw the tithing experience very differently than I ever had before.  God’s people weren’t told to file past the altar, drop off their offering and move on to the next aspect of the ‘service’.  His Word describes intentionality, a thoughtfulness designed to draw the one offering closer to the One receiving by means of personal appreciation.  

I was convicted as I pondered this passage.  I saw that what I thought was my act of tithing obedience was in actuality a pretty sad attempt at an experience that God designed to be powerful and transformative for me.  He doesn’t need anything from me; His command to tithe isn’t meant to take away anything but instead just the opposite - to fill me up further by enriching my relationship with Him in every way possible.  

So with this week’s tithe I did something different.  I prepared my tithe and I stood up – holding it in my hand – and asked Jesus, the eternal High Priest, to accompany me as I went from room to room in my house and began to pray out loud all the ways God had blessed me.  It started with the provision of the room and all that was in it but then memories flooded into my mind. Priceless memories of family, friends, and experiences - it was almost overwhelming to give voice to them and certainly far more valuable than any tithe amount I could think of.  It was an incredibly moving and very sacred time of preparation.  By the time I was done, there was NO doubt in mind about the privilege of presenting this offering back to the Lord. 

Deut. 26:11 “Afterward you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household….”  

Dear brothers & sisters, I can assure you that when I put the tithe “at the altar” that morning at church, I was ready to celebrate.  What a difference – no thoughts of anxiety or worry or doubt…just joy!    I can’t wait until it’s time to do it again.  I pray to see you all soon at the celebration!

 ===================================================================================================================================================

JANUARY 30, 2021

"A Celebration is At Hand!"
                                                                                                
Exodus 28:41 “Clothe your brother, Aaron, and his sons with these garments and then anoint and ordain them.  Consecrate them so they can serve as my priests.” 
 
On January 30, 2021, the families at Rice Memorial were blessed to celebrate a sacred event, the ordination of our brother, John Ols.  I don’t think it was any coincidence that my devotion time that morning fell in Exodus 28-29 telling of God’s directives to Moses on the ordination and anointing of Aaron and his sons into the new priesthood of God’s chosen nation – a nation that was called to be priests to the world itself. 
 
I know that there are so many people today who struggle to stay faithful to the reading and study of Exodus once the people are through the Red Sea and about the business of waiting on God’s timing and instructions.  However, there is much treasure to be found and I was blessed to come across some of it as it was also being lived out in our church that same day. 
 
God takes the process of ordination of those called to shepherd His people most seriously – He devoted two entire chapters to it!  It was written out in such detail, the care & attention for design of the clothing, where they were to stand, how they were to be washed in readiness for the new clothing they would wear that would set them apart and that was even before the consecration process began that involved sacrifices for their sins, sacrifices for their service and sacrifices for their obedience. 
 
Because of Jesus serving as the final sacrifice for our sins, those physical sacrifices are no longer necessary but I don’t think that the ordination of one who is humbly presenting himself before the living altar of Jesus Christ for service in His Name has lost any sacredness or holiness in the eyes of the Most High God. 
 
We are so very blessed to be part of John’s journey in his desire and hunger to serve God as a minister of His Word to us and all peoples.  As John underwent rigorous testing by a counsel of godly men to confirm His calling to the pastoral ministry, let us not be careless in our own responsibility as God’s people and as John’s church family.  God’s Word gives us some very specific commands as well in how we are to come alongside John and his family, how we are to be in holding him up in prayer and thanksgiving.  Make no mistake, the enemy was paying close attention, closer even than us.  We must surround our brother and his family in diligent and fervent prayer, not fearing the enemy but fearing any apathy or carelessness of our own that would keep us from seeing the wonder of this moment and experiencing the beauty of God’s faithfulness to us.
 
Welcome Pastor Ols.  May God bless you and shine His countenance on you with His gracious favor.  May we, your congregation and your brothers and sisters in Christ, be faithful to celebrate God’s ever present faithfulness to you and through you.