Living In The Light…

“I want to be in the Light as You are in the Light…”  Can you name that tune?  YES!  It’s “In The Light” from dc Talk’s CLASSIC 1995 album, Jesus Freak!  It is one of my favorite dc Talk songs, second to the title track from that album.  “…what will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak, what will people do when they find that it’s true!?!”  Okay, yeah.  I could go chasing a major rabbit trail there!  (But it’s throwback Thursday, so I could technically get away with it…right?)  What’s the point of mentioning this?  In Proverbs 4, the path of those who pursue wisdom is likened to the shining light.  And I couldn’t help but sing… “Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation, cause all I want is to be in the Light!”

That said, day six is Proverbs 4:10-27…

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“10 Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many.  11 I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.  12 When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; and if you run, you will not stumble.  13 Take hold of instruction; do not let go.  Guard her, for she is your life.  14 Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men.  15 Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on.  16 For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.  17 For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.  18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.  19 The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.  20 My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.  21 Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart.  22 For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body.  23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.  24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you.  25 Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.  26 Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.  27 Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.”

PROVERBS 4:10-27, NASB

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Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many.  The path of those who intentionally pursue godly wisdom does not just lead to maturity in life on this earth but the incomprehensible (because it’s better than life) ultimate reality of eternal life in heaven with God never to be separated from Him.   “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NKJV).  Did you catch the “fruit to holiness” statement?  Our eternal destiny– where we’re going– ought to be reflected in our daily journeys as a testimony to it.  If I am planning to go to Swaziland again, I wouldn’t hitchhike out to the Midwestern United States.  I would get a plane ticket and head eastward across the Atlantic to South Africa!

I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; and if you run, you will not stumble.  In other versions “upright paths” is sometimes translated “straight paths.”  Hmm, where have we heard that before?  A couple of verses earlier, we learned that this “straight path” is one of trust…and not of self-confidence but of the truest trust, confidence in the LORD (See Proverbs 3:5-6).  It is not that we won’t be impeded when we walk nor stumble when we run because it’s an easy journey or because of our ability to keep ourselves from such.  No!  It is because our God is our capable Guide!  He lights our footsteps even though a world of darkness fights to encompass us.  He is the true Light in whom is life (John 1:1-9)!

Take hold of instruction; do not let go…The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.  The wicked don’t act wickedly on accident.  They engage in wickedness deliberately…they thrive from doing wicked things (v.17).  And they aren’t happy to do it all by themselves.  “They are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall” (v.16b).  Ever heard the saying, “misery loves company”?  Well, it is somewhat true because misery just doesn’t love any kind of company…misery loves miserable company!  There are even those who aren’t happy about themselves unless they’re putting someone else down.  Know someone like that?  Perhaps guilt won’t let them find rest, so they convince themselves with excuses that they’re not really all that bad because someone else is worse.  Sin is still sin.  It doesn’t matter if it’s “more” sin or “less” sin, the payment remains the same for sin… it’s death.

My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.  Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body.  A continuous reminder of the pertinent plea to pursue the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and His righteousness.  Lord knows it’s not always easy, however, it is more than worth it!    

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.  Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you.  Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.  Putting away perversity from our mouths, keeping corrupt talk from our lips, letting our eyes stay fixed upon Christ, etc. are all indications of our hearts!  Our hearts and the lives we live (our attitudes, actions, etc.) as a result MUST be set on and pleasing to Jesus Christ.  We cannot do this without the Spirit of God working within us.

Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.  Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.  This is a motto for blameless living.  Stay the course, fight the good fight and keep on fighting, trust in the Lord and keep on trusting.  Don’t depart from it.  The paraphrase of Psalm 119:1-16 in the Message gives us a good prayer to pray as we’ve been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)…

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.  You’re blessed when you follow His directions, doing your best to find Him.  That’s right—you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road He set.  You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now You expect us to live it.  Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course You set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with Your counsel.  I thank You for speaking straight from Your heart; I learn the pattern of Your righteous ways.  I’m going to do what You tell me to do; don’t ever walk off and leave me.  How can a young person live a clean life?  By carefully reading the map of Your Word.  I’m single-minded in pursuit of You; don’t let me miss the road signs You’ve posted.  I’ve banked Your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.  Be blessed, God; train me in Your ways of wise living.  I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from Your mouth; I delight far more in what You tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches.  I ponder every morsel of wisdom from You, I attentively watch how You’ve done it.  I relish everything You’ve told me of life, I won’t forget a word of it.

Victoria

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Focus, focus, focus…

How many of us know what it’s like to be overwhelmed in the midst of intense circumstances? How many of us have experienced what it’s like to suffer with analysis paralysis or distraught thoughts? How many of us get frustrated when we feel like we’re losing or have completely lost control? If we are honest, we’d raise our hands to all of the above.

In the midst of those overwhelmingly intense circumstances, our analysis paralysis or distraught thoughts, and frustration…what or who have we focused or are focusing on? Have we focused on the negativity of the situation or what has gone (or is going) wrong? Have we given all our attention to the impossibilities that have knocked or are knocking at our doors? Have we lost or are losing sleep over wrestling with thoughts about what should have, could have, and would have been if only…? What about wrestling with worries about what might or may be? Again if we are honest, we’d probably each admit that focusing on all these kinds of things seem to be our natural, initial reactions or even intentional responses.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not pointing fingers.  I am by no means innocent of reacting or responding with wrong focuses. The point is that we all have settled at one time or another for awfully lousy and foolishly troublesome alternatives instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ.

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We can’t appropriately function when we have the wrong focus! Remember Peter who nearly drowned when he took his eyes off of Jesus to focus on the surrounding frightful storm instead (See Matthew 14:22-33).
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 So if focusing on Jesus is the right focus and not focusing on Jesus is the wrong focus, what does that have to do with initial reactions or intentional responses?

Having a right focus (one that is set on Jesus) is a conscious choice, an intentional response. Such an intentional response is contrary to the reactions of our sinful nature. But there’s good news! There is hope! The Lord Jesus Christ is able and wants to give us a new nature, a justified and sanctified nature– a nature which becomes more and more like Him so that our initial reactions AND intentional responses become more and more like His. We must genuinely seek His face and wisdom and will. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NASB95).

If you’re caught in the midst of an intense circumstance, chose to focus on Jesus Christ and have a deeper relationship with Him! Study His Word (the Holy Bible), pray to Him and listen to Him, trust Him, and praise Him!

Acts 16:16-40 gives us the account of Paul and Silas who were stripped, severely beaten, and imprisoned with their feet fastened in stocks! Even so, their focus was NOT on the injustice or wrongs done to them. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25, NIV84). Eventually, the jailer and his household came to believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior and after Paul and Silas came out of the prison they met with the believers at Lydia’s house and “encouraged them” (Acts 16:40, NIV84).

Why mention that account?

Because there are some really great lessons we can learn from it.
i) In the midst of their intense circumstance they chose to focus on God! It is possible for us to do the same by His grace!
ii) Others near to the circumstance noticed that they were rightly focused on God, and it impacted those others as well! People around us notice our initial reactions and intentional responses, as what we do speaks volumes.
iii) They were able to encourage and inspire others beyond the immediate circumstance to focus on God as well! Our personal testimonies are powerful in encouraging and inspiring others of the reality of the hope of Jesus Christ!

I’d like to share some lyrics to a song I wrote during a particularly intense circumstance in my life, it is my prayer that you will be encouraged and inspired to focus on the certainty of God even in the midst of uncertain circumstances:

“I’ve been thinking about all the things that I don’t know, calculations of what the future may hold; I’ve been worrying about all the things that I can’t see, the uncertainty of what might be. I didn’t stop to breathe, to remember that I believe…YOUR ways are higher than my eyes can see; YOUR thoughts are higher than my mind could every dream. Why should I fail to have confidence that YOU are much higher than this? I now know that all I need to know is YOU’RE in control and my future YOU hold; I now see what I was meant to see, the certainty of YOUR sovereignty. I’ve got to stop to breathe and remember that I believe… YOUR ways are higher than my eyes can see; YOUR thoughts are higher than my mind could every dream. Why should I fail to have confidence that YOU are much higher than this?” (“Higher” © Victoria Alfieri, 2012).

Victoria

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Consequences of Compromise

Compromise (verb): means to make disgraceful or disreputable concessions which jeopardize, expose, make vulnerable to peril, or endanger.  The consequences of compromising are inherent in its definition– jeopardy, exposure, vulnerability, endangerment.  How appealing does that sound?!  It is reasonable to assume that these consequences result from the disgraceful concessions of the compromiser and will therefore adversely affect the compromiser.  But how often do we consider that the compromiser’s disgraceful concessions will ALSO adversely affect others besides the compromiser?

In Joshua 7, we are told that some men of Israel were sent to survey the town of Ai.  The men of Israel who surveyed Ai brought back the report, “‘There’s no need for all of us to go up there; it won’t take more than two or three thousand men to attack Ai.   Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there”” (Joshua 7:3-4, NLT).  So Joshua, the appointed leader of Israel, sent about three-thousand soldiers to Ai in accordance with the report.

“[B]ut they were soundly defeated…Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothing in dismay, threw dust on their heads, and bowed face down to the ground before the Ark of the Lord until evening” (Joshua 7:4,6, NLT).

Could you picture this…the rejoicing after Israel’s miraculous defeat of Jericho by the hand of the Lord…the jubilant confidence with which Israel approaches the battle of Ai…then the wholly unexpected and gravely traumatic defeat of Israel at Ai…the retreat in utter panic…and the disappointment of Joshua and his lament along with the elders of Israel.  “Oh Lord“, I could picture Joshua desperately praying, “How? Why?

 “But the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this?  Israel has sinned and broken My covenant!  They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for Me.  And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings.  That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat.  For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction.  I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction.  Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow.  For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord.  You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”” (Joshua 7:10-13, NLT)

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This was certainly an “ay ay ay” at Ai!

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“Early the next morning Joshua brought the tribes of Israel before the Lord, and the tribe of Judah was singled out.  Then the clans of Judah came forward, and the clan of Zerah was singled out.  Then the families of Zerah came forward, and the family of Zimri was singled out.   Every member of Zimri’s family was brought forward person by person, and Achan was singled out” (Joshua 7:16-18, NLT).

 Could you picture this too…the Lord’s revelation of the reason Israel experienced such terrible defeat…then the morning arrives and all that are heard throughout the assembly of Israel are “gulps” as they wait in suspense until…”gasps” of horror resound because…it’s Achan!

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“[H]e has done a  d i s g r a c e f u l  thing in Israel” (Joshua 7:15, NKJV).

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Achan, Achan, Achan.  How could such seriously unappealing consequences ever seem appealing to the extent that you would dare to compromise, jeopardizing you AND all that you had AND all of Israel?

“Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel.  Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound.  I wanted them so much that I took them.  They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest” (Joshua 7:20-21, NLT).

Our initial reaction to this distressing account might be along the lines of: “What was he thinking?”  Honestly, I don’t believe that he was even thinking.  He saw, he wanted, and he took.  He failed to consider the inevitable consequences of compromising and as a result not only was he subject to the adverse consequences of his compromise, but ALL Israel was exposed to jeopardy because of it.

Doesn’t this pattern –of seeing, wanting, and taking— sound quite familiar?  Remember Eve, who saw the forbidden fruit, desired it, and took it?  Remember how that ended up?  Not only was she then subject to the adverse consequences of her compromise (estrangement from God), but Adam followed suit and was equally subject to the adverse consequences, and we are even subject to the consequences of their compromise to this very day!

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“Then Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought trouble on us?  The Lord will now bring trouble on you.”  And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies.  They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day.  That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry” (Joshua 7:25-26, NLT).

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Trouble…compromise brings trouble…not just for the individual who compromises, but for all those around the compromiser as well!  Our actions produce consequences which reach beyond ourselves.  We ought to be urged not to assume that our sins won’t find us out and not to act in rashness without considering the consequences of our actions.  Instead we must cry out to the Lord Jesus and seek wisdom and strength from Him by consulting His Word, listening to His Holy Spirit and prompting within us, and heeding the counsel of the godly leaders He has placed in our lives!

“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!”

(James Rowe, 1912)

 Victoria

What Kind Of People?

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people, belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV84)

This is a verse that is quite familiar to most churchgoers.  It is found in the second chapter of Peter’s first letter “to God’s elect, strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1, NIV84).  First Peter 1:15-16 explains that we are addressed as “God’s elect, strangers in the world” because “He Who called [us] is Holy, so [we are to] be holy in all [we] do” (NIV84).  In essence we are to be the definition of holy: distinct from the world and consecrated unto God.

We aren’t left hanging there.  We are told exactly what such holy living is…

– living in reverent fear;

– having faith and hope in God;

– obeying the truth;

– being rid of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind;

– longing for the pure, unadulterated Word of God; and

– coming to Him, the Living Stone and being built like living stones into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13-2:5).

Hmmm, there’s that term “priesthood” again.

Does that mean that we need to walk around in flowing robes with way-too-tall-to-keep-our-balance-hats atop of our heads?  We’d surely stand out if that’s what it does mean!

It pertains to a role or more expressively a character, not necessarily a garb.  And this character is described in Malachi 2:1-9 as well.  As a priesthood, we are to listen and set our hearts to honor the Lord God Almighty, revering God and standing in awe of His Name (vv. 1-2, 5) – living in reverent fear and obeying the truth.  True instruction must be in our mouths and nothing false is to be found on our lips (v. 6a) – being rid of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.  We are to walk with God in peace and uprightness, turning many from sin and preserving knowledge (vv. 6b-8) – preaching the pure, unadulterated Word of God in what we say AND what we do.

So as we approach the beginning of another year may I pose a question for us: What kind of people are we to be?  Seems like a pretty heavy New Year’s resolution to me.

Victoria

Light and Darkness

The words Light and Darkness appear through our Bible many times. Symbolically in scriptures light usually represents God’s glory and His holiness; where darkness represents sin, spiritual blindness, and separation from God. In many psalms David talks about the dark place of sin, he writes in Psalm 38 of his remorse for the sin of which he had committed, he tells of the dark and lonely place it left him in. However, after repentance David tells of his joy and gratitude to God for rescuing him from that place of sin. In John 3, John talks about how “the world loved the darkness and the sin rather than the light because their works were evil”. But even though our world has forsaken the Light we are given the hope in John 1:5 that, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has and will not overcome it.” In Matthew 17: 1-13, Matthew tells his testimony of the transfiguration. He informs his listeners of the glorious light which shown upon Jesus, “and His face shown like the sun and His cloths became white as light.” (Matt. 17:2)

John 8:12 tells us that Jesus is the “Light of the world, whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life.” We must fulfill the command which Jesus gave to us in Matthew 5 where Jesus teaches us the we are the light to this dark world and we are to “Let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.”

Today we live in a world that has forsaken God and has embraced the darkness. They are the people who Jesus told us about in John 3:19, but we have the hope that Jesus is on our side and His Light will never burn out, He is the same Yesterday, Today, and Forever. So be encouraged to go out and let your light shine and make a difference in this dark world!

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